AMMONITE Review

Director Francis Lee's Second Film wants to Pull Viewers in with an Extremely Personal and Human Experience, but Results in a Distant and Emotionally Vacant One.

BLACK BEAR Review

Lawrence Michael Levine's Third Feature Film asks a lot of Questions (Many More than it Answers), but still Makes for a Fascinating Experiment in Introspection.

SOUND OF METAL Review

Riz Ahmed Shines in Darius Marder's Directorial Debut about a Heavy-Metal Drummer Whose Life is Thrown into Freefall When he Begins to Lose his Hearing.

NOMADLAND Review

Frances McDormand Anchors Director Chloé Zhao's Fictional, but Alarmingly Authentic Portrait of a Woman Looking to Discover a New Life in a Dying World.

MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM Review

Chadwick Boseman's Final Performance is Everything One Might Expect while the Film Exerts Meaning in Every Piece of Dialogue if not in Every Facet of the Production.

SOUL Review

Disney and Pixar have always had a tradition of being innovative if not groundbreaking, but with their latest - Soul - the animation studio pushes itself to what is unquestionably the most existential ground they've ever broken. What might have driven writing/directing duo Pete Docter (Up, Inside Out) and Kemp Powers (One Night in Miami...) to not only address death outright in an animated movie seemingly intended for children, but place it front and center as the biggest hurdle our protagonist has to overcome in the context of the film is a curious strategy. It's bold to say the least, but by the time my wife and I were a mere thirteen minutes in we were already convinced this would be far too much for our six year-old to handle as she already bursts into spontaneous tears at bedtime before bringing up that she doesn't want to lose her mom and dad to what Soul refers to as "The Great Beyond". It's not hard to understand why the ambition to tackle such difficult subject matter is present as movies are more than capable of being counseling and coping tools, but the question I was left to ponder as Jon Batiste's wonderful rendition of  "It's All Right" played over the closing credits was why Docter and Powers along with co-writer Mike Jones felt it necessary to try and steer children through the reality of death by barreling into the topic headfirst rather than finding an avenue through which to better explore the more prevalent themes like the idea of success equaling satisfaction or notoriety equaling credibility. There are glimpses of these ideas early on as we're introduced to Joe Gardner (voice of Jamie Foxx) and witness him wrestling with a conflict that pits his need for gratification against a more enduring legacy, but Soul quickly transitions to feeling as if Docter took the concept of Inside Out (as well as some of the character designs) and applied it to the afterlife as opposed to personifying emotions. It's like if a band started re-configuring their "greatest hits" while only being three full-length studio albums into their career; you want to remind the people why they fell in love with you in the first place, but you don't want your sound to stop growing and evolving. That isn't to say Soul finds fault for a lack of growth or evolution, but given the ethereal feel of this world we've never seen before along with the fact the film kills off its lead in the first half hour in order to answer questions about the meaning of life it would seem that, upon the film's conclusion, that some of the answers to those big questions would be a little more deeply felt, that they might tug at the heart strings a little more, or maybe even touch something deep inside ones...soul.     

MANK Review

I must admit I feel like something of a fraud even attempting a critique of a film so steeped in not only cinematic history, but history in general. Yes, I've seen Citizen Kane more than once and I've listened to season upon season of Karina Longworth's You Must Remember This podcast and specifically the series of MGM stories that centered on Louis B. Mayer’s rise and fall, yet somehow director David Fincher's Mank still feels so drenched in the world it re-creates that it's difficult to imagine being able to gain all the film has to offer after only a single viewing. As it were, Fincher's latest is likely too inside baseball for anyone outside of those that worship at the altar of cinema, but what might prove to be the most fascinating aspect of Mank is whether or not the core struggles of the main character appeal to a viewer who has no idea who someone like Irving Thalberg - or for that matter, Herman J. Mankiewicz - was. Naturally, those who do in fact worship at said altar are largely going to adore Fincher's latest exercise in clinical cinema that this time not only executes itself with profound professionalism and skill a la all of Fincher's work, but does so as it examines the "golden age" of the industry. The difference will be whether the details included and the approach taken will be enough to enthrall those already on board for a "movie about the movies" or if, while appreciating all of those things, the admiration for what Fincher has accomplished outweighs what is genuine love for it. That is to say, those on the outside looking in who come across Mank as they scroll through Netflix will either continue to scroll past it based on the poster alone or become fully engulfed in the confusion of the time and place Fincher drops his audience into should they be brave enough to press play. As an individual who admittedly knows more than the average Netflix subscriber, but a lot less than a lot of other people about the history of Hollywood Mank feels akin to a highly-stylized and extremely well performed re-enactment. Fincher's film clearly gets everything it possibly could right about the history, the costumes, and the character traits yet there is little that resonates emotionally. Never mind the fact Herman Mankiewicz is the only credited co-screenwriter to Orson Welles on what many consider the greatest movie ever made as Fincher's intent wasn't to make a movie about the making of Citizen Kane, but rather to capture the essence of a process and a person and leave the audience with a little more context and insight than they might have had before. As Gary Oldman's "Mank" says early on in the film though, "You can't capture a man's life in two hours, all you can hope is to leave an impression of one," and while Mank may not necessarily provide the catharsis one desires come the time the credits roll it undoubtedly leaves a strong impression.   

AMMONITE Review

While Lyme Regis, a coastal town in West Dorset that lies in Lyme Bay on the English Channel, may very well be a beautiful place to visit and/or live Director Francis Lee (God’s Own Country) has made it seem as if it is anything but in his second feature film, Ammonite. It’s not only the location, but it's as if everything in Lee’s film was designed to match the color palette and tone of the fossils our main character, acclaimed self-taught paleontologist Mary Anning (Kate Winslet), found in the cliffs along the Channel in Southwest England: grey and dead. From the furniture and fixtures inside Mary’s shop she now supports herself and her ailing mother with to the weather that constantly seems to be sweeping up on shore. Ammonite is grey, cold, and dreary to a fault. It’s almost as if Lee was so hell bent on having the audience mentally inhabit the mind of Anning that he determined it best to have the pacing, aesthetic, and attitude mirror that of Anning’s daily routine which is to say it's all exceptionally tedious. Tedious that is, until the narrative finds it surprisingly convenient to usher in an actual plot that couldn’t feel less natural or organic to the aforementioned tone set thus far. Strangely convenient in that the type of story this film wants to tell is abundantly clear and thus everything that happens seems to cater to this very particular set of circumstances; the problem being that as such developments unravel it becomes clear the depths of the core relationship won’t generate a strong enough investment to make such conveniences forgivable. It would almost be easier to dismiss the film as pure Oscar bait had it more scenes featuring characters explicitly yelling at one another about their forbidden love, but Lee’s intentions are more honorable than this. Though I've yet to see the filmmaker's debut feature that put him on the map from 2017 it would it would seem Lee was very much interested in making a similarly compelling if not subdued drama for his follow-up. Still, outside a single night of passion, Ammonite remains a somber and sometimes even dull experience that never fully lands the complicated and conflicted heart at the root of the dynamic the film seeks to establish and explore.

BLACK BEAR Review

Black Bear may as well have been called Bat Shit because that's how crazy it is. Everything worthwhile that could be said about Lawrence Michael Levine's film almost can't be discussed for fear of spoiling any aspect of what lies beyond the title screen, but I'll do my best. For starters, Black Bear is seemingly about the creative process with the question of, "how far is too far?" looming over every facet. Levine is an actor, director, and writer himself as well as being married to fellow multi-hyphenate Sophia Takal which undoubtedly inspired certain details of the film if not having been based outright on actual conversations the couple has had. Add to the mix Aubrey Plaza who not only takes the lead role here, but the role of producer as her relationship with writer/director Jeff Baena (Life After Beth, The Little Hours) no doubt assisted in her understanding of if not being completely empathetic to the material and her character of Allison. What is then immediately fascinating about Black Bear is that despite the large possibility of self-indulgence or - as Sarah Gadon's Blair might say, "the large possibility of solipsism" - Black Bear somehow manages to steer clear of its own self-satisfaction by essentially becoming something of a satire not necessarily of the people, but more of the circumstances they've driven themselves to in pursuit of this creative endeavor they've put so much stock in. What's curious is that said creative endeavors and the process such require in order to fully produce them are, by virtue of the fact they're existence is only justified by an individual's existential need create them, essentially exercises in some form of narcissism themselves. Does that then make Black Bear Levine's attempt to try and suss out his own level of self-awareness and assure those in the audience that no matter the level of commitment and passion poured into his projects that at the end of the day he's blatantly aware his work could have as little an impact as it could a large one? It kind of feels that way as everything about Levine's third narrative feature would seemingly mark it as your standard indie hipster typically found at Sundance, but by nature of the exploration taking place Black Bear more intends to dissect what it means to exist as someone that constantly tries to subvert the mainstream while still appealing to it in real-life situations. How do we best embody and represent our beliefs through our actions? Why do we always want what we don't have? How far is too far? Levine asks a lot of questions (many more than he answers) with Black Bear and though the ultimate theme, intention, and even point of the film isn't all that clear it still makes for a fascinating experiment in introspection nonetheless.             

Tavern Talk: Video Review - FREAKY


It's been a while, but given original Initial Reaction co-host Charles Browder was able to return for a random review of one of the few new releases in theaters coupled with the fact I won't be doing a full write-up on Freaky, it seemed as good a time as any to re-vamp the video review posts. To add some perspective, the last post I wrote of this nature was back in March for the Disney/Pixar release of Onward which published on March 11th AKA the week the entire world shut down. This was honestly the day before major studios would announce delays in some of their biggest movies planned for the remainder of the calendar year and given this post focuses as much if not more on the box office results of the movie myself and my co-host had reviewed the week prior it seemed silly to try and talk about anything when nothing was coming out. Things have changed somewhat since the beginning of September when Tenet more or less forced theaters to re-open with a slew of low-key new releases premiering since and a lot of anniversary editions and restorations of older classics mostly being shown instead. That of course brings us to mid-November which saw the release of Universal and Blumhouse’s body-swap horror-comedy Freaky which has topped the box office for two straight weeks now (again, mostly due to lack of competition and no other new, wide releases), but while the film debuted to $3.6 million on nearly 2,500 screens in its first weekend the second week of the films release was plagued (pun intended) by news of COVID-19 cases continuing to rise across the nation resulting in an only $1.2 million haul for a total domestic cume just shy of $5.6 million. Not bad for a movie rumored to be budgeted at right around $6 million during a pandemic, but still pretty bleak in terms of theater-going prospects for the foreseeable future. Overseas, the film added $3.7 million bringing its worldwide total to $9.2 million. As Thanksgiving approaches, Universal’s animated sequel The Croods: A New Age is slated to hit theaters over the holiday weekend and there is still some hope that business will pick up, but with families largely (hopefully) remaining confined to their own households for the festivities this year the question is how many will risk going to the movies to see a seven year-later sequel to an animated movie? Time will tell, but hopefully we'll have more video reviews coming sooner rather than later. As always, be sure to follow the official TAVERN TALK by Initial Reaction YouTube channel as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter where you can find all the latest content! 

MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM Review

August Wilson's 1982 play, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom , was one of ten-plays in the writer's "Pittsburgh Cycle" (Rainey being the only one of the ten not set in Pittsburgh) that chronicled the twentieth century African-American experience. Like most if not all of Wilson's writing Ma Rainey was meant to "raise consciousness through theater". Wilson's writing of the Black experience was something I first encountered my senior year of high school via Fences. As a Caucasian who attended a school with a student body that was more or less split right down the middle when it came to racial ratios the African American experience was something that was present without being particularly regarded as drastically different. Maybe it was simply my naïveté, but in my fifteen to eighteen year-old mind it was as simple as the fact that slavery, racism, and Martin Luther King had happened, what they had to deal with was wrong and terrible, but the actions they took had been worth it and upended those injustices for future generations. We as a society had grown past the ignorance of such things and while that statement in and of itself may now ring of more ignorance than ever I genuinely believe if one were to ask any of the Black kids I attended high school with that many would agree they felt the same way. Obviously, this isn't a diatribe against the need to highlight the many injustices that have been inflicted upon African Americans throughout the twentieth century and into present day, but rather a slice of insight into just how powerful, eye-opening, and - most importantly - how necessary literature documenting the Black experience is. This is all to say that director George C. Wolfe's interpretation of Wilson's material focuses largely on the theme of the burden Black people feel to do something with their time in order to ensure prosperity for future generations. The idea many of these individuals aren't allowed to lead a life where such issues don't impact their day to day drives certain characters present in Ma Rainey to purpose while pushing others to the edge. Wilson's exploration of contradiction in this American life through faith versus vindication or expectation versus the truth of the matter transforms the heated racial tension of 1920's Chicago into a pertinent commentary on how a system designed on the promise of possibility grants equal opportunities for repression; all of which is conveyed through the mood of the blues.    

SOUND OF METAL Review

Director Darius Marder's Sound of Metal is both an eye-opening yet strangely calming experience. Co-written by Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines) the film has his trademark feel of being wholly inhabited by real people in authentic places with a visual aesthetic that reads just as pure as the subjects. Marder, who co-wrote Pines with Cianfrance and had only directed a documentary prior to this, his debut narrative feature, lands on the perfect type of story to apply to this style. The story of Ruben (Riz Ahmed) is a very human, very grounded, and largely - a very cleansing one - but as presented through this veritable style of Marder and Cianfrance Ruben's tale takes on what feel like mythic qualities, turning it into more than just a story, but a parable. While not your traditional parable as told by Jesus in the Gospels, Sound of Metal is a more raw approach to that age old serenity prayer that people repeat to remind themselves of the influence they have over the occurrences in their life on earth. "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." In Sound of Metal, Ruben comes face to face with a reality he can neither control nor accept. As a drummer for a two-piece metal band seemingly on the cusp of bigger and better things the sense of sound is one of the most critical aspects of Ruben's life. So, when the feedback becomes more consistent, the ringing doesn't stop even after a night's rest post-gig, and the frequency of other people's voices becomes so inaudible that everyone begins to sound like Charlie Brown's teacher he knows he can't ignore the issue and he knows it won't magically go away no matter how much he needs it to. Ruben runs head first into the question of how does one preserve the hearing they have left when they can’t preserve themselves without it? It would seem the only choice Ruben has is to accept this literally deafening blow and adjust the entirety of his life moving forward, but as is expected - this is not an easy thing to do; it's maddening even. It is in this frantic period of time where the unknown is the key player that Marder both finds the films tension as well as the gateway into exploring this thesis of dealing with change, adapting to that unknown, and understanding that the cruelty of the world isn't picking on you, but challenging you to discover new ways of finding the beauty in it.    

RUN Review

I gave up on American Horror Story some time ago after consistently being intrigued for three or four episodes every year and then consistently realizing I didn't care at all about what was happening. Blame AHS for my complete lack of interest in Netflix's Ratched, but I say this to preface my review of a Sarah Paulson thriller to say I have not kept up with my Sarah Paulson performances as of late. Within those renewed opportunities I would give AHS each season though, I saw enough of the actress to understand how good she was at toeing the line between charming, conniving, and downright evil. Paulson likes to take on...complicated characters it would seem (Ocean's 8 feels more like the exception rather than the rule at this point) and that kind of duality, that type of unhinged serenity is again put to good use in writer/director Aneesh Chaganty's RUN. One may or may not recognize Chaganty's name for writing and directing 2018's Searching, but if not your memory might be jogged with the additional information that Searching is the one that takes place entirely through a computer screen and stars Harold from Harold & Kumar or Sulu from the new Star Trek films. Yep, that's the one. Searching illustrated that Chaganty had a knack for knowing how to meld story and execution in a way that provoked real understanding on the part of the character's plight while also delivering moments of genuine tension. Much of the same could be said for the filmmaker's follow-up (which he again penned with co-writer Sev Ohanian) as RUN almost feels more like an ode to Alfred Hitchcock than his previous film given the more traditional nature of the story and filmmaking approach, but while Chaganty's sophomore effort is somewhat predictable when it comes to the narrative (emphasis on somewhat due to extenuating circumstances he could not control) the film is still a grade-A thriller in regards to engaging the audience in the core mystery as well as making them feel a part of the experience. What is missing from RUN that propelled Searching into the next stratosphere though is what in fact makes this feel more like a traditional ode to Hitchcock in that there is no modern element to either convey a timely commentary or defiantly place Chaganty's own stamp on it. Instead, RUN plays things in a more orthodox fashion while doing so with the same level of craftsmanship Chaganty proved he'd mastered in his debut feature ultimately resulting in a modern mystery of a thriller that feels as if it could have debuted thirty years ago yet somehow manages to deliver if not necessarily a fresh take on the material, but a satisfying one nonetheless.  

HILLBILLY ELEGY Review

It's difficult to know where to begin with Hillbilly Elegy. In one sense, we have to consider the context of the individuals this story is about and in another we must accept this specific facet to be the truth of their lives. How does one reconcile that author J.D. Vance's memoir on which this film is based is both undoubtedly a vivid recollection of his own childhood as well as a romanticized portrait of a place in America where the pride of having been left behind has a lot to do with the refusal to move forward? The conflicted feelings about how and what the film is representing naturally extend to the DNA of the film itself as, in the opening moments, Gabriel Basso's Vance tells us how much he loved visiting rural Kentucky when he was a boy despite being raised in the rust belt of Ohio; it was the memories he made while visiting the Blue Grass State that he was most fond of. The film quickly contradicts these kind words with a scene where a thirteen year-old Vance (Owen Asztalos) encounters a band of local bullies before being rescued by his local relatives in Kentucky. Vance is obviously sentimental about these moments and has therefore made them more appealing in his memory, but how far does the gaze of these rose-tinted glasses reach? Depending on the author's age at the time of the events being described, what circumstances are being missed and what details are being diminished? How much is Vance actually misremembering? There are a lot of questions left unanswered that director Ron Howard doesn't feel the need to address as he largely focuses on the core family dynamic at the heart of Vance's story, but what's riveting about the execution of Hillbilly Elegy is that it feels the need to explain as much as it does chronicle the reasons these people have ended up the way they have. There is this notion that because they really are well-meaning people underneath their poor life choices that they deserve some type of exception when it comes to discussing said shortcomings. Aside from the complicated cultural discussion around the "hillbilly condition" though, and how sorry viewers should be made to feel for these individuals who can't get out of their own way, Howard and screenwriter Vanessa Taylor (The Shape of Water) smartly focus on the prevalent themes around how much community and family genuinely mattered to Vance while growing up in these undeniably unforgiving environments and the complexities of the problems he faced and deals with well into his adult life due to this jagged support system.       

FATMAN Review

Fatman is the kind of movie that is primed for embrace by movie nerds across the internet based on the concept alone. It almost doesn't even matter how well the writing/directing team of brothers Eshom Nelms and Ian Nelms pull this off or don't because all that really matters is that the idea remains the centerpiece. Whether everything surrounding the premise enhances the experience or not the fact they can say sixty-four year-old Mel Gibson was down for playing a disgruntled Santa Claus who has to contend with a hitman sent by a disappointed child is all they really needed to say to sell anyone on it. What does in fact actually sell said pitch though, is that the Brothers Nelms seemingly approached their script as if it were any other post-2010 Gibson actioner. In other words, St. Nick could just as easily have been played by Liam Neeson, Bruce Willis, Sean Penn or any other number of aging actors that tried their hand at the "old man action movie" genre post-Taken. While it may have been fun to see someone like Tom Cruise give this lowly low-budget B-movie a kick in the pants by playing into the bait and switch of the tone, Gibson is admittedly a perfect choice for this project. As the man will be working to rebuild his legacy for the remainder of his career these ghosts of Gibson's past somewhat work in the actors favor here as his public persona and very public meltdowns inform this version of a Santa Claus that has lost his influence and become little more than a joke to people. Hell, the role may have even been written with Gibson in mind as the screenplay is one thousand percent banking on the idea the audience will get a good chuckle out of the idea Gibson is playing Santa, a man whose whole deal is that he's completely altruistic in nature. There is no better way to appeal to the masses or earn back some gratitude than by taking the piss out of yourself and Gibson fully commits to doing so here. No, there isn't much more to the movie than this idea of a tongue in cheek take on the most innocent and well-meaning of holidays via a genre of movie that couldn't be more the opposite, but given Gibson's commitment to the bit, the Nelms' ability to manage a tone that's over the top without crossing the threshold from absurdity to stupidity, and the sheer presence that is Walton Goggins, Fatman turns out to be an amusing romp if not an immediate staple of the Christmas season.       

NOMADLAND Review

As much about those she encounters as it is Frances McDormand's Fern, Chloé Zhao's Nomadland chronicles a year in the life of a woman whose world is dying and her journey to discover a new one. McDormand's performance is as reassuring as ever, but its these portraits Zhao paints of those the grind has forgotten that give the film a sense of hope without ever romanticizing its notions. In fact, everything about Zhao's latest is as authentic as one would expect if familiar with the filmmaker's previous features in Songs My Brothers Taught Me and The Rider. While most will know Zhao's name soon enough for directing Marvel's The Eternals it is her documentary-like approach to fictional material that will seemingly carry over no matter the brand she applies it to. This stylistic approach is one that requires a certain level of patience and attention, but as with most things that are worth investing time and effort in if one is able to give those things over to the film completely what it delivers is more than a rewarding experience - it's a stunningly cathartic one. Such praise is heaped upon the film with caution, mind you, as Nomadland is also a film about both everything and nothing. It's a movie difficult to describe to people in terms of why it carries the weight it does as it would appear to be little more than a road movie from the outside looking in. This is a movie in which we see Academy Award-winner Frances McDormand play a character who goes from one job to the next, living out of her van, while allowing the third act of her life to be shaped by those she meets along the way. If this were a traditionally structured movie it would undoubtedly include some tangible goal McDormand's Fern was chasing and must reach before a certain deadline or a certain destination that holds the resolve to all her earthly issues she attempts to deal with while on her journey, but Nomadland has no such structure. If Zhao's style and approach are distinctive for nothing else it is actually the complete lack of structure her films exhibit. It is because of this abandonment of design though, that the film is able to capture the loneliness of the world without much dialogue, it is through this that it provides the audience with an exploration they themselves might be craving around who we are and what the point of all this might be while reminding us of how good we can be, need to be, and must be to one another while we're still here.

THE TRUE ADVENTURES OF WOLFBOY Review

A modern fable of sorts, The True Adventures of Wolfboy feels like it's intended to largely be an allegory while in fact being a pretty straightforward story that seems to have been concocted for the sole purpose of delivering as broad a message as possible about acceptance. What's not curious is that a film with "wolfboy" in the title feels akin to the type of story that might have been told around countless campfires in the past, but what is curious is how a movie with "wolfboy" in the title comes away feeling as poignant and tender as Martin Krejčí's film does. There is a moment barely two minutes into the film after we're initially introduced to Jaeden Martell's Paul and his father, Denny (Chris Messina), as they stroll through a carnival on Paul's birthday that efficiently places us inside the perspective we're meant to inhabit for the rest of the story. Paul is a thirteen year-old boy whose biggest fear isn't the onset of puberty, but rather dealing with the fact his body has been covered in hair since he was a baby. This is actually the result of a rare disease called Hypertrichosis AKA Werewolf Syndrome and it has forced Paul to wear a ski mask for the better part of his life in order to conceal the congenital disease. Paul doesn't want to be at the carnival and in fact thinks that because it's his birthday he should have final say on what they do, but his father knows were it up to Paul he would spend all day in his room, alone. As Denny describes a ride to his son called "the dragon's dilemma" (which is not coincidentally also the name of the first chapter in Paul's saga) they are approached by three local boys around Paul's age. The boys claim to be Paul's friends - which brightens his father's face - but it quickly becomes apparent they're only bullies looking to get a rise out of Paul and Denny. They make their jokes and quickly run away, Denny immediately demanding their names as if already planning retribution via their parents, but it is Paul's response that highlights the moment and reminds the audience who isn't aware they even needed reminding that just because this is the first abusive encounter we've seen Paul endure it is far from the first or last time he will have to experience as much. When Denny asks for the names Paul simply responds, "They don't have names." Such provocations and badgering have been aimed in Paul's direction for so long now the enemies don't even have names or faces. They just exist, like weeds in a garden, and the moment you try to eradicate them twice as many take their place. This is heartbreaking, sure, and the interaction rings as such between Paul and his long-defeated dad, but this also tells us why - if we couldn't already surmise and sympathize with as much - we'll come to find out that Paul is kind of a jerk. Immediately dropping the expectation that our protagonist is a noble character who forges past life's biggest barrier to overcome the odds allows Olivia Dufault's (Legion, Preacher) screenplay to take us on a rather dark, but simultaneously uplifting journey where the story beats and characters feel neither trite or absurd despite the outward facade that would have you believe as much by placing the word "wolfboy" front and center.  

Teaser Trailer for Disney's RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON

The first trailer for Walt Disney Animation Studio's Raya and the Last Dragon has arrived. Originally meant to open in theaters this Thanksgiving, the Mouse House's fifty-ninth animated feature is now set to premiere next March. Of course, this isn't the first bit of drama the movie has had to deal with as Disney Animation announced in August that three new directors/co-directors had been brought on board the film, as well as adding a new producer and recasting the lead voice actress. These changes were obviously not made at this time only announced publicly on this date, but past news stories from several credible outlets suggest the production of Raya, a Southeast Asia-inspired fantasy film, has not been smooth. New directors Don Hall - a director on Big Hero 6 and Winnie the Pooh, who also served as a co-director on Moana - was teamed with Disney new-hire Carlos López Estrada. Estrada, only thirty-one, is a Mexican filmmaker who directed a number of music videos and commercials prior to making his feature directorial debut in 2018 with the live-action film Blindspotting starring Daveed Diggs. Paul Briggs was originally announced as the director of Raya in 2018, along with Dean Wellins, who is no longer on the project as Briggs was seemingly demoted to co-director with John Ripa being brought on alongside him. Both Briggs and Ripa are story department veterans and have served as heads of story on past Disney hits. While the new directors are something of an odd couple in terms of both the amount and the kind of experience they possess it would seem Disney Animation Chief Creative Officer Jennifer Lee (the director/writer of both Frozen films who took over for John Lasseter in 2018) must have seen a spark of something unique the team could bring to the table as this first teaser trailer for the film highlights something of an unexpected, but wholly welcome tonal shift. The film is set in the fictional fantasy land of Kumandra, which has been inspired by cultures from Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Laos. The story - as penned by Adele Lim (Crazy Rich Asians) with revisions by Qui Nguyen - follows Raya (The Last Jedi's Kelly Marie Tran who replaced Cassie Steele) as she searches for the titular last dragon, voiced in the film by Awkwafina. As it turns out the dragon, named Sisu, is a water dragon who can transform into human form and the two set off on an adventure to stop an evil entity from taking over their kingdom. A somewhat by-the-numbers good vs. evil scenario, but we all know it's about the journey, not the destination and if this first look tells us anything it's that this should be one fun, exciting journey. Raya and the Last Dragon is set to open on March 12, 2021.    

ON THE ROCKS Review

Having only now seen half of Sofia Coppola's movies I still don't know where I sit with the filmmaker. That said, the four features I have seen likely sum up why Coppola's career has felt mostly hit or miss as Lost in Translation was lost on me when I first experienced it at fifteen, The Bling Ring was one of the biggest disappointments for me a decade later in 2013, while The Beguiled may very well be my favorite film of hers as I haven't seen Marie Antoinette, but appreciated the step back from the more relaxed yet reflective nature that seems to encompasses the majority of her work. While I also haven't seen The Virigin Suicides, the director's breakout 1999 adaptation of the Jeffrey Eugenides novel, it would seem that her latest, On the Rocks certainly positions itself more in the category of the Lost in Translations, Somewheres, and Bling Rings than it does her more ambitious work. That isn't to say these films don't have as much ambition from an emotional standpoint, but more that it seems all of the effort put in is emotional leaving very little room for Coppola - who also writes or adapts works for her own direction - to pour efforts and vision into the other, equally important departments. As this seems to be the case with On the Rocks, there is plenty to appreciate from the perspective of varying perspectives as well as themes and ideas that deal with societal double standards, father/daughter relationships where the daughter is the sole exception for how women deserve to be treated, as well as the sanctity of marriage past the formalities and legalities and beyond to the day to day where the love is sustained or quickly killed, but outside of the plot that pushes these thoughts to the forefront Coppola's latest doesn't really offer much by way of what are charming or funny ways of conveying as much. The saving grace of Coppola's eighth feature is her relationship with Bill Murray and what the actor is able to bring to a role that might otherwise be seen as a writing exercise for Coppola to work out her frustrations with men and the sense of entitlement too many seem to possess. Murray's performance makes the issues with the film feel senseless though, and instead welcomes the viewer in with such affection we feel lucky just to be able to witness Murray at his most "him". Whether the title be in reference to a drink or a relationship, Coppola's latest - while likely the undiluted film she wanted to make - unfortunately experiences some difficulties along with way.

REBECCA Review

First, some context: I haven't exactly been a big fan of director Ben Wheatley's films thus far. On the other side of this coin is the fact I've only seen two of the man's films in High-Rise and Free Fire. So, not a wealth of evidence on which to base my presumption that the filmmaker's take on Daphne du Maurier’s beloved 1938 gothic novel and the second major film adaptation after Alfred Hitchcock's 1940 version wouldn't live up to its acclaimed predecessors. Some further context: I haven't seen Hitchcock's film nor have I read du Maurier’s novel, so at the very least Wheatley's iteration of this story would not be viewed under the shadow of those former works. In turn, this works well for a viewer and viewers with the same circumstances given the mystery of the piece undoubtedly works better for those previously unaware of the specifics of the narrative. That said, the two films I have seen from Wheatley both very much fit into a small, very specific kind of niche genre in that both seemed to have been heavily influenced by the style and color palette of the seventies while carrying an equally sardonic tone if not admittedly varied when it came to themes and ideas. If nothing else, Rebecca would offer an opportunity for the director to branch out stylistically and tackle a different genre altogether in this very British, very romance-infused thriller as adapted by the likes of by Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass) and screenwriting duo Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse (Seberg). The idea is certainly ripe given Rebecca purports to be something vastly different than that of anything Wheatley has made before, but would seem to take a turn into terrain that the director is not necessarily accustomed to, but is likely more comfortable in. It is in this hope that Wheatley's mentality and strong penchant for bringing an attitude and point of view out of his images and into the tone of his films might make Rebecca more than a by-the-numbers account of jealousy incarnate, but it is in this hope that this latest endeavor ultimately fails as it more often than not feels like this new adaptation of du Maurier’s work could have been made by anyone. Despite having not read the novel and not having seen any other versions of the work Wheatley's film moves along at a pace that fails to ever make viewers fully invest in either the characters, the drama, or the character's drama. This is an adaptation that is just enticing enough to pique interest in the source material yet couldn't feel more like a condensed version of the literature; the depths of Wheatley's film only reaching so far as Mrs. Danvers' compassion rather than that of Rebecca's grave.

First Trailer for THE 355 Starring Jessica Chastain & Lupita Nyong’o

While Jessica Chastain's AVA wasn't exactly the quality actioner one might have hoped for given the actor's pedigreed résumé and reputation there is some (slim) hope that The 355 might be a different approach to the genre. I'm not sure what it was about working with writer/director Simon Kinberg on X-Men: Dark Phoenix that made Chastain want to work with the filmmaker again given her under developed and rather forgettable villain in that final nail in the 20th Century FoX-Men franchise's coffin, but whatever it was let's hope the second time is a charm for these collaborators as both could use some favorable reviews. Honestly, I'm mostly sold on the "stunt" of the movie if nothing else as it centers on CIA agent Mason “Mace” Brown (Chastain) who forms a team that includes rival badass German agent Marie (Diane Kruger), former MI6 ally and cutting-edge computer specialist Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o), skilled Colombian psychologist Graciela (Penelope Cruz), and a mysterious woman, Lin Mi Sheng (Fan Bingbing) who is tracking their every move. The team gets together in order to retrieve a top-secret weapon that has fallen into mercenary hands or some such boilerplate, but no matter the plot what the movie is going to live or die by is the camaraderie and chemistry this core group demonstrates. Written by Theresa Rebeck and Kinberg this trailer feels pretty generic with a visual style that looks competent and well-made without having a single distinctive aspect to it that would make me sit up and take notice otherwise. This could have been a short clip intended to advertise cars, jewelry, or guns from a company with a large marketing budget and I wouldn't have been surprised, but that isn't to say that's because it would make me want to buy any of those things, but more because a lot of it feels like white noise in the background. It's a "movie movie" in the vein of if aliens came to earth and we had to point out an example of the moviest of movies that ever movie'd this would seemingly be a contender. I have the urge to say just go back and watch Steve McQueen's Widows from two years ago as you probably didn't see as it at the time and it offers a similar all-female team up, but on a much smaller and more nuanced scale. Still, while Kinberg has done nothing yet to separate himself as a filmmaker and this trailer does nothing to sell me on this movie or story other than to say, "Hey! Look at this cast!" I can only hope the final product proves my initial pessimism wrong. The 355 also stars Sebastian Stan and Edgar Ramirez and is due for release on January 15, 2021.

New Trailer for FREE GUY Starring Ryan Reynolds


As Ryan Reynolds and the rest of the cast of Free Guy announced on the actor's YouTube channel yesterday the action comedy originally set for a July 4th weekend release is now definitely (probably) arriving in theaters on December 11th (maybe). With the recent news of No Time to Die officially being pushed back and today's announcement that Dune will be postponed an entire year the question of if theaters will be able to remain open through the end of the year is a huge question mark and obviously a determining factor in if we'll actually see Free Guy before the end of the year. Sure, there are titles like Robert De Niro's War with Grandpa and Liam Neeson's Honest Thief set to be released over the next two weeks and November actually has a solid slew of releases set for theaters including Blumhouse's Freaky, Pixar's Soul which is still on the schedule for a November 20th theatrical release for the time being and of course DreamWorks' sequel to The Croods which seems pretty locked in for the Thanksgiving holiday. Of course, all of these are titles that could easily transition to PVOD whereas Free Guy is a legit big-budget studio blockbuster from Fox/Disney that I could have seen going the way of Mulan had that panned out the way Disney hoped, but given the delay of Black Widow and the persistence that Free Guy will play in theaters it doesn't seem like this will be an option for the movie. All of that to say, I'm as eager as the next person to return to theaters-especially for fun, good-natured entertainment like Free Guy seems to be-but I just don't know that any major release is going to actually make it into theaters before the end of the year. As for how the actual movie itself looks, this new trailer certainly expands the world we first became privy to in the initial trailer while wisely putting on display the central theme of the film: the world can always use more good people. While the first, pre-2020 trailer played more into the spectacle aspects of the Pixels/Ralph Breaks the Internet-like premise, this new trailer ventures outside the video game world in which Reynolds' character exists and gets a little more existential with everything as our hero comes to seemingly represent a beacon of hope in an otherwise pessimistic and complacent world. Of course, the action still looks big and the ensemble cast looks like a hell of a lot of fun, but it's also refreshing to see a major movie with a high-profile star typically associated with mockery feel so...genuine? Whenever this ends up being released, it seems Free Guy will be the dose of positivity we can all use right now.       

POSSESSOR Review

It's crazy how our bodies are just vessels, right? In looking at myself in the mirror the other day I felt, for a moment, as if I didn't recognize myself and the belief that what people saw is all they associated me with if they didn't know me further kind of took me off my feet. We attempt to craft our outward appearance as much as possible to give others the best, most accurate first impression of who we are and what we represent as an individual, but there is so much more going on beneath the surface-beneath the skin-that it's difficult to sometimes grasp that others will take not from what you believe you have to offer, but what they assume you are or are not capable of. This isn't a new idea of course, everyone over the age of six knows one shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but I'm talking more about distilling down the difference between the identity and the character. The identity being who we truly believe ourselves to be on a level so personal you feel only you yourself know who you truly are whereas the character is that of the one you've constructed based on the context of your life. Whether it be little indicators in your physical appearance that make you lean toward dressing a certain way, the interests of your friends that you don't mind taking a liking to that influence your verbiage, or the beliefs of your parents that convey their expectations and naturally impact how you shape your own perception-there are a thousand different reasons as to why one might have constructed the outward character they've become. As we grow and as appearances and inhabited character traits become more and more a part of who we are we begin to discover what we actually like and don't like and more importantly-who we want and don't want to be. It would be easy to say all of these previous words have accomplished is to break down the psyche of what it's like to brave the terrain of the brain during one's adolescent years, but as much as that may be applicable what was actually the catalyst for these considerations are the ideas at the center of writer/director Brandon Cronenberg's second feature film, Possessor. From the outside, Possessor would appear to be a film made purely in the vein of Cronenberg's father, David's "body horror" genre and while the movie certainly has some gnarly violence woven into its fabric its clear Cronenberg, also like his father, is more interested in intertwining the psychological with the physical and in this movie specifically-the idea of how everyday life has become more like a movie than the movies have grown to reflect everyday life themselves. 

Official Trailer for BORAT 2


Borat 2
AKA Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, is not only real but now has a full-length trailer and release date on Amazon Prime. The film was made in-secret earlier this year during the initial shutdown from the Coronavirus pandemic. Sacha Baron Cohen returns in the role of his iconic character-the fictional Kazakh journalist-while also having collaborated on the script with what seemd to be at least eight other writers. The "subsequent movie film" was directed by Jason Woliner who replaces the original's Larry Charles and has thus far largely worked in television. Another person getting their big break with Borat 2 would be that of relatively unknown actress Maria Bakalova who will star opposite Cohen as Borat’s daughter as the film will seemingly focus largely on the duo’s journey to the White House in order to marry her to Vice President Mike Pence. One can only imagine the audition process for such a role, but given the fact Baron Cohen wanted to shoot and release the film prior to this year's election the idea of involving politicians and Borat's offspring only further confirmed how enlightening this long-awaited sequel should be. The film reportedly sparked a large bidding war between the streaming services with Amazon coming out on top as it was able to guarantee the October 23rd release date now being advertised. While the first film was released by 20th Century Fox which is now owned by Disney it comes as not surprise they were not involved with the sequel at all. Universal did help fund the comedy, but the film apparently belonged solely to Baron Cohen up until landing at Amazon. The experience of seeing the first Borat film in theaters is one of those vivid movie-going memories as it was a packed house where no one seemingly had any idea what we were about to embark on and by the time the credits rolled the majority of the audience, myself included, could hardly fight back tears from laughing so hard. It's good to see that this sequel will acknowledge the idea that Borat is now recognizable as the but in the Halloween shop with an adult Harry Potter costume already feels like classic Borat. Thankfully though, Borat's popularity still hasn't reached every part of the country as we see in the trailer when Baron Cohen quarantines with what we can safely assume are avid Trump supporters in a sequence reportedly shot during the pandemic once unions allowed the film’s minimal crew to return to work. According to Deadline, Cohen also had to wear a bulletproof vest on two separate occasions while filming. For example, in June, Cohen attended a Conservative rally in Washington state, where he encouraged others to sing along to racially insensitive lyrics. Needless to say, anticipation is high for what Baron Cohen pulled off this time. Hit the link to watch the first, full trailer.

THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 Review

Going into a film so steeped in historical events, facts, and undoubtedly some speculation it’s difficult to not want to feel both completely educated and entertained on and by the subject come the conclusion of the film. With the second directorial effort from A Few Good Men and The Social Network scribe Aaron Sorkin being based on the violent clash between police and antiwar protestors at the 1968 Democratic National Convention it’s even more difficult-given the similar cultural landscape we presently find ourselves in-to not want to first and foremost pay attention to the precision of Sorkin’s pen so as to not be swayed one way or another by the dramatization of it all. That said, it’s also difficult to not want to abandon the real-life aspects altogether and instead simply escape to enjoy the piece for its expertly crafted dialogue exchanges and period-accurate set decorations with hopes that what is depicted on screen respects the institution of integrity enough that we trust what the film is telling us and what it’s trying to convince us of are both genuine and honest. That the film takes the position it does will be an easier pill to swallow for a viewer who stands firmly on one side than the other which raises questions about how those on the wrong side of history now can’t see themselves in those on the wrong side of history then, but while this idea might be an aside of Sorkin’s it would seem his primary objective is to illustrate the strong foundations of our institutions, but also the myriad of ways in which they can be taken advantage of and the vitality of intent if one cannot find a complete, impartial view of the bigger picture; in essence, Sorkin seeks to create something as close to primary material as possible and in large part-especially for the first hour-you want to believe he has. If The Trial of the Chicago 7 hopes to make you feel any certain way though, it’s that type of “hurrah” mentality that no matter how evil the bad guys are the good and the just will eventually overcome it. Unfortunately, this take couldn’t feel more in contrast with today’s world despite the similarities in the challenges our protagonists are up against and the current assault our democracy is facing. Despite the stride towards a more triumphant rather than the more accurately sobering tone in the third act though, Sorkin has pieced together an airtight screenplay with an overwhelmingly impressive cast that executes the material in a substantial fashion giving the project the feel of something genuinely valuable.

THE NEST Review

As a huge fan of writer/director Sean Durkin's 2011 breakout feature, Martha Marcy May Marlene, I was very much looking forward to his follow-up which unfortunately has taken nine years to craft and unfortunately feels like it should have taken less than half that time. It's not difficult to see where folks who enjoy the art form that is the motion picture will derive pleasure and satisfaction from Durkin's The Nest for, despite watching hundreds of films a year, I still consider myself very much a novice when it comes to movies of bygone eras-especially those prior to the turn of the millennium. This could certainly have influenced my perception of The Nest as not only is the film set during, but very much feels like a film born of the late seventies to early eighties. That said, it's not difficult to see what Durkin is going for here with this assessment of preserving one's own identity within a marriage while simultaneously preserving the illusion of a unified union to the world at large as everyday actions threaten to tear it apart, but even that summarization makes the proceedings sound more exciting than they actually are and furthermore, lends me no idea as to how well Durkin is achieving his goal. To this untrained eye at least, the writer/director takes far longer to build the basis on which we will see the cracks that come to divide this family unit than he does on actually exploring those crevices. The Nest is the type of movie most modern moviegoers wouldn't consider a story-or more appropriately, a study-that necessarily needs or deserves to be told on the big screen. Of course, this is also the type of movie that the parents of modern moviegoers watched in droves in the seventies as this feels akin to the kind of work I expect Mike Nichols and the like were doing at the time. These smaller, character-driven pieces analyzing the fractured American dream and how the layers of such a facade easily fall apart when that's all it was to begin with: a deceitful outward appearance meant to conceal a less pleasant reality. Though Durkin's seeming objective of depicting an unpleasant reality is an unequivocal success, whether the film as whole is equally successful is more up for debate as what The Nest achieves is far easier to appreciate than it is to experience.

MULAN Review

As always, context is important and when it comes to Disney's 2020 re-imagining of the story of Mulan it should be noted that I was twelve years-old when the original animated film was released. That film, coming in between the likes of Hercules and Tarzan would signal the end of Disney's animation renaissance of the nineties and in many ways-though there are live-action re-imaginings of The Little Mermaid and Hercules among others in the works-this new Mulan somewhat feels as if it also signals the end of this particular brand exercise. What's most disappointing though, is this very easily could have felt like a turning point instead of a conclusion, but alas director Niki Caro's (Whale Rider, McFarland, USA) re-imagining of the material fails to inspire its own identity despite diverting the most from the original blueprint. Having now seen live-action adaptations of most if not all of those Ashman and Menken collaborations along with the likes of the classic princess tales (surely Disney won't make its own Snow White, Peter Pan, or Pinocchio again after so many iterations already having been produc...*googles furiously*...oh no) it would seem this trend has more or less run its course with more critical failures than successes even if most have knocked it out of the park in terms of box office. How this pertains to Caro's vision of the fictional folk heroine from the Northern and Southern dynasties of Chinese history though has to do with how audiences have come to perceive the film. Once regarded as the opportunity among the other, more formulaic fairy tales to become an authentic historical epic with sweeping visuals, large battles, and a brave female lead the sequence of events that have led Mulan to landing on Disney+ for an added premiere price seems to have reduced the impact of said opportunity. It's impossible to say if first impressions might have been stronger had the initial experience with Caro's film been on the big screen rather than from the comfort of my own home, but given some of the blatantly bad CGI work in a handful of shots it could have certainly come across worse as well, I guess. This is all to say that 2020's live-action version of Mulan funnily enough ends up making many of the same mistakes as its predecessors despite trying the hardest not to. This Mulan removes many of the elements that infused so much life and energy into the original without bothering to substitute them with anything new or substantial even as that seems to be the intent and not to simply strip away your favorite childhood aspects (and save money on a CGI dragon) for the hell of it. Good intentions are always honorable (at least, one would hope), but the danger in adjusting a narrative that already worked so well and leaning more heavily into a certain theme tends to undo the crucial balance that was struck-likely not easily-before. As someone who found not only the music, but the arc of the camaraderie between our heroine and her newfound peers along with the strong tonal balance the animated film exhibited alarmingly well as a child I had hopes that as an adult Caro's version-while clearly leaning into the more historical, less-musical side of things-might find its own balance and sense of self-being as well, but the biggest issue with Caro's film is that it knows it needs to be a massive, epic adventure, but doesn't really have any idea what it wants to be.       

Official Trailer for DUNE Starring Timothée Chalamet

While a big fan of science fiction and all the possibilities it brings, Dune is an elusive property that has always escaped my intrigue. My first introduction to the material was not Frank Herbert's 1965 novel nor was it David Lynch's 1984 adaptation, but rather it was the 2014 documentary Jodorowsky's Dune about how filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky would have adapted Herbert's classic sci-fi novel for the big screen. If I remember it correctly the collapse of Jodorowsky's project led to the development and ultimate release of Lynch's version, but while I may seek out advice as to whether I should see Lynch's version prior to the latest incarnation or leave it alone and just read the novel prior to seeing the new film maybe I'll just decide to go in completely fresh as the reason I am in fact excited to see what Warner Bros. has in store for audiences this winter is largely due to the fact this is the latest film from the one and only Denis Villeneuve. Villeneuve has made his presence felt in the industry over the last five or so years with critical and commercial successes in Prisoners, Sicario, and Arrival while 2017's Blade Runner 2049 didn't fare as well at the box office, but still won over the audiences that did see it and if nothing else proved that Villeneuve could handle not only the massive scale of a studio sci-fi project, but the ideas and themes of such heavy material. This no doubt made it a no-brainer for the studio to return to the filmmaker with a project that might offer him just as ambitious a challenge while hoping for a more auspicious result this time around. It's hard to tell how hot or cold Dune will trend at the box office especially in light of how theatrical releases have done so far this year, but after a non-existent summer movie season movie-goers may very well be anxious to get back to traditional holiday routines no matter how good or bad one perceives TENET to have done so far. It's also key to remember that online hype and ecstatic fanboys don't always lead to box office wins, but if anything is certain about Villeneuve's interpretation of the material it's that it will be breathtakingly shot and scored and will likely have some semblance of a soul within it...at least, that's what this trailer tells us thus far as it highlights both the well-rounded cast and the Greig Fraser (Rogue One, Zero Dark Thirty) cinematography. It is also worth noting Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, The Curios Case of Benjamin Button) and Jon Spaihts (Prometheus) collaborated with Villeneuve on the screenplay. Dune stars Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Javier Bardem, Zendaya, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista and is currently set to open on December 18th 2020. 

TENET Review

“Don’t try to understand it, feel it.” This is a direct quote from Clémence Poésy’s character in writer/director Christopher Nolan’s TENET which derives its name from the Sator Square (or Rotas Square) containing a five-word Latin palindrome. The text on this square may be read top-to-bottom, bottom-to-top, left-to-right, or right-to-left; it may also be rotated 180 degrees and is still able to be read in all those ways. In the simplest of terms, this is kind of all you need to know in order to understand what Nolan is going for in his latest if not necessarily grasping how he’s meaning to achieve it. “Broad terms” is a key phrase for an initial viewing of TENET as in: it’s best to try and understand everything in broad terms. If one tries to focus too heavily on the intricacies (or the exposition, as you may have heard) it’s without doubt that one will also become overwhelmed by the complexities Nolan and his screenplay are compacting into a narrative that is not only here to serve a story or an idea, but the filmmaker that is Mr. Nolan himself. Is the film complicated? Undoubtedly, but does it make sense in those broad terms to the extent there is something for audiences to take away from the experience? Certainly. As stated, this is Nolan functioning at his most Nolan-est. John David Washington (star of BlackKklansman, son of Denzel) is our literal protagonist here (seriously, that’s the character name he’s given), but the real star of TENET is Nolan himself. The director has explored time through multiple facets throughout his filmography whether it be backwards in Memento, the extended experiences of our dreams that might amount to only a few minutes of actual sleep in Inception, the relativity and dilation of time when travelling through the stars in Interstellar as well as in the ticking clock of war in Dunkirk. Nolan has always used this element as a point of view though, as a way to better understand what his characters are going through; what the individual experience of whatever story Nolan is telling might have actually felt like. TENET is a different beast. Whereas time has always been more a factor of the plot (maybe even the antagonist, I see you Interstellar) it has never become the purpose, the cog on which the entirety of the point of the story turns. TENET is both a spy film that ultimately culminates in our hero saving the girl and the world from a bad, bad man while also being a film steeped in the fantastical idea that someone has engineered a product that allows human beings to pass both forward and backward in time. Like I said, broad terms. What’s unfortunate is that while Nolan is spinning his impressive wheels at the highest of levels and combining his strong visual and atmospheric prowess with that of truly inventive and innovative ideas (per usual) he is still unable to make us care about the people parading through these locations and ideas. In short, Poésy’s character was onto something when she said, “Feel, don’t think,” as a lack of understanding regarding the world of TENET might more easily be forgiven if there were anything to feel for any of these individuals, but Nolan’s script is so intent on generating questions over care that it’s difficult to consider much reflection once the astonishment wears off. 

ARKANSAS Review

Right off the bat I'd like to acknowledge the fact I live in Hot Springs, Arkansas which is situated about forty-five minutes north east of Glenwood where writer/director and actor Clark Duke was born; his experiences in the area clearly informing his connection to and desire to adapt John Brandon's best-selling book of the same name. And yes, the climactic scene of the movie takes place on historic bathhouse row, and was shot about five minutes from my house in downtown Hot Springs National Park. I say all of this not to try and convince you of how cool I am (unless it's working, then yes-I'm very cool), but instead to make it clear there will be no playing favorites here simply because the movie takes its name from the state I've called home for nearly three decades and because I recognized a few locations. In fact, despite the title of the film Duke and his crew shot the majority of his directorial debut in Alabama rather than in or around the Little Rock area as the movie suggests. So while there is certainly a layer of appreciation and affection for some of the sites we see and the accents we hear, there was almost more of an eagerness to see these things serve as a backdrop for what is a genre of movie we're all very familiar with whether from the natural state or not. Arkansas pays plenty of homage to the overall tone of the state, especially in its flashbacks to the mid to late eighties as we're delivered the backstory of Vince Vaughn's character, Frog, as he belts out the Gatlin brothers and cruises past open fields and dilapidated barns in his Nissan Fairlady 300ZX Coupé. At one point, Vaughn's Frog asks a couple of his associates what they're up to in which they respond with a generic comment before summarizing the feeling as being, "asleep at the wheel of the American dream." There's almost no better phrasing one could have concocted to define the stagnant air of progress yet fierce commitment to maintaining aged ideals (some good, not all bad). It is in this kind of mentality that we find the best facets of Duke's film as he's not simply telling a story of the "Dixie mafia" and funneling said crime/drama through the lens of the south, but he's utilizing this contradictory air of the south where everything feels ironic without the slightest bit of intent to add specific tone to his crime caper. Arkansas, the film, although a story about drug dealers is mostly a story about two generations of men whose aspirations are only limited by the economic options of their environment and whose intelligence is only undermined by their (mostly) unassuming appearances dictated by that same environment.

TROLLS WORLD TOUR Review

The Trolls franchise has had a somewhat varied journey in my collective memory as things began with hesitation at the concept alone though interest was piqued after Justin Timberlake released the ultimate feel-good summertime jam in that final, peaceful summer of 2016 with "Can't Stop the Feeling". Maybe this would be some kind of cool, animated riff on a musical with remixes of modern and classic songs as overseen by JT; something that was for the children, but made by one of the biggest pop stars of their parents childhood. Then came that November when all I remember about trying to cobble together a review was the fact I was writing about Trolls as I watched the Presidential election descend into madness. I gave the original film a straight-up-the-middle two and a half stars and thought of it essentially as colorful, but slight. It was fate that would have my wife and (three year-old at the time) daughter discover the movie some months later and as young children do my daughter latched onto Trolls just as I had Robin Hood some twenty-plus years prior and naturally decided to watch it on repeat until there was no other choice but for the characters to become endearing, the versions of the songs they sang to become the new normal and the weirdness of the world in which it existed to no longer feel strange or far-fetched, but more like home. We bought the soundtrack, we watched the Netflix animated series, and we anxiously awaited the sequel.

Tavern Talk: Video Review - ONWARD

Disney and Pixar's Onward topped the weekend box office, but fell shy of expectations with $39.1 million. For Pixar, this is on the low end of expectations as many went into the weekend expecting the film to gross as much as $50 million. In terms of inflation, this is the lowest domestic Fri-Sun launch ever for a Pixar film. Sure, there is plenty of opportunity in the near future for Onward as many schools will be on spring break over the next few weeks and given opening weekend audiences gave the film an "A-" CinemaScore and a 96% audience score on RottenTomatoes with critics also favoring the film and no sign of any other broad, children's entertainment entering the picture until Trolls: World Tour on April 10th, there's definitely room for Dan Scanlon's film to spread its wings. Still, even if Onward has legs that get it to $150 million domestic which seems somewhat reasonable at this time of year and given that opening weekend number this would still only place it as the second-lowest Pixar flick between The Good Dinosaur ($123 million domestic in 2015) and Cars 3 ($153 million from a $53 million debut in 2017). Internationally, Onward grossed an estimated $28 million for a $70 million worldwide cume from forty-seven territories, with several major markets (including China) where it has yet to open. On TAVERN TALK this week we were lucky enough to have DJ Kramer from the Doug Kramer Live! show who also happens to be a pretty big Disney guy give us his initial reaction (wink, wink) on the film which you can of course check out after the jump below, but other films we've recently reviewed fared better in holdover news at the box office and I'd like to touch on a few of those titles as well. Beginning with The Invisible Man, the Leigh Whannell-directed horror re-imagining ended its second weekend with $15.1 million for only a 47% drop and a $53 million domestic pull along with a $98 million worldwide total on what was only a reported budget of $7-$9 million. Though its run may be over sooner than later given A Quiet Place Part II opens next week, it's likely the film could end its domestic run at around $81 million, or what Tom Cruise’s The Mummy did three years ago on a $125 million budget. Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog earned another $8 million in its fourth weekend currently giving it a $141 million domestic cume with $154 million overseas and a current global total of almost $296 million. And finally, The Call of the Wild rounded out the top five box office spots as the Harrison Ford-starrer finished its third weekend with $6.8 million for a domestic cume that now tops $57 million while internationally, the film added another $4.8 million for an overseas total of $42 million and a global tally just shy of $100 million. As always, be sure to follow the official TAVERN TALK by Initial Reaction YouTube channel as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter where you can find a new review (or reviews) each week!

ONWARD Review

It's difficult to say what one would do if they were granted the chance to see a lost loved one again, but only for a limited amount of time. It would arguably be even more difficult if that lost loved one was a parent and not just a parent, but a parent you'd never met before; someone who has always been a creation of your own mind via the memories of others. Of course, while some might argue the possibility of such a meeting, the actual chances of this happening are slim to none and writer/director Dan Scanlon (Monsters University) obviously knows this and that is, I suspect, one of the reasons he penned Onward in the first place. It's not necessarily wish fulfillment per se, but it is a fantasy of sorts in that Scanlon has no doubt imagined many times throughout his life who his father might have been or what it might have been like to share in a conversation with his old man. I'm probably jumping ahead there, but if you don't know already, Onward is inspired by the fact Scanlon and his older brother lost their father when Scanlon was one and his brother, Bill, was three. In Onward, Scanlon has taken the idea of this fantasy about meeting his father and literally placed it into a world of fantasy where we meet elves Ian (voice of Tom Holland) and Barley (voice of Chris Pratt) who, on Ian's 16th birthday, are afforded the opportunity to spend the day with their father. Scanlon constructs a fantasy world that has long passed its expiration date on the "magic" and "fun" that one would inherently believe comes along in a world filled with fantastical things as pixies no longer fly, centaurs no longer run, and the once mighty Manticore (voice of Octavia Spencer) has been reduced to parodying herself in what is essentially a mythical-themed Applebee's. It is in this fantasy-less fantasy land that there seemingly resides some kind of metaphor about failing to see the magic all around you due to focusing on what's been lost, but Scanlon and co-writers Jason Headley and Keith Bunin don't so much hammer home the symbolic nature of Ian and Barley's world, but instead choose to let the natural emotions of Scanlon's cathartic exercise breathe via the character development and creativity channeled through the heartwarming story. Does Onward reach the emotional heights of Up or Inside Out? Maybe not. Does it surpass the creativity enlisted in Toy Story or Coco? Not necessarily. What Onward does do though is serve as this largely ambitious endeavor that's presented through the guise of this quaint, familiar package. It's a familiarity that, even in a film with genuinely heavy moments and poignant themes, resonates comfort and charm. Like any good product of the Pixar brand, it will have you beaming through the tears.