Will Smith and Martin Lawrence Return to Michael Bay's Bad Boys Franchise Sans Bay, but the Chemistry and Passage of Time Help this Third Installment Shine.

1917 Review

Writer/Director Sam Mendes and Cinematographer Roger Deakins Craft a Technically Exceptional Film While not Skimping on the Emotional Aspects of War.


Robert Downey Jr. Departs from the Iron Man Character for the First Time in Some Time in this Overwhelmingly Bland Adaptation that Clearly Could have been More.


The Rock, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan Return in Their Second Video Game Adventure that Continues to Largely Defy Expectation.


JJ Abrams Conclusion to the Skywalker Saga is Everything and Nothing at the Same Time; Offering Grand Escapism with Little Heart.


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.


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 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. 


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.


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!


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.

Tavern Talk: Video Review - THE INVISIBLE MAN

Universal and Blumhouse's The Invisible Man delivered the goods this past weekend, becoming the first breakout among the numerous horror films that have been thrown at audiences during the first two months of the year. With $28.2 million, Universal and Blumhouse's The Invisible Man finished at the top of the weekend box office and on a reported budget of only $7 to $9 million I might add. Given Blumhouse productions that open in this range tend to go on to earn anywhere between $55 and $70 million things might not be looking so bad for Universal's "Dark Universe" after all. Furthermore, both critics and audiences responded favorably to the film as Leigh Whannell's (Upgrade) second feature currently holds an 89% critics score on RottenTomatoes and a 90% audience score. Internationally, The Invisible Man added another $20.1 million with its current worldwide tally sitting at $50.4 million. Paramount's Sonic the Hedgehog landed in second place adding another $16.3 million, pushing the film's domestic cume past $128 million as it is now just shy of the $131 million domestic run of 2001's Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, which will make it the second highest grossing video game adaptation of all-time not adjusted for inflation. In third place is Disney's release of 20th Century Studios' The Call of the Wild which brought in $13.4 million, dropping an expected -47% in its second weekend. The film's domestic cume now stands at $46.9 million after ten days in release and $80.7 million worldwide after adding another $11 million this weekend internationally. Of course, The Call of the Wild has plenty of ground to make up considering its $135 million production budget, but it seems doubtful the film will come close to that number domestically if not internationally. FUNimation's My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising landed in fourth place with a better than anticipated $5.9 million while Sony's Bad Boys for Life is still hanging on in the fifth spot as it added yet another $4.4 million this weekend for a domestic total that now tops $197 million. The threequel also added another $4.9 million internationally this weekend, pushing the international total to $208 million for a worldwide cume that just hit $406 million or approximately $8 million less than the worldwide total for the first two movies combined. 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! Hit the jump to catch our review of The Invisible Man featuring Podcast 241 now!


I've said it countless times in reviews for the likes of 2009's Friday the 13th, Ryan Coogler's Creed and the Safdie Brothers' Good Time, but I'll say it again as one can glean very early on that there has been tremendous care and a deep pride taken in crafting writer/director Leigh Whannell's (Upgrade) re-interpretation of the H.G. Wells story, The Invisible Man, and we know this due simply to the way in which the title sequence is conveyed. Do I wish Whannell and co. might have saved the main title until after the breathtakingly tense opening sequence? Absolutely, but does this take away from the fact Whannell pays homage to the 1933 adaptation starring Gloria Stuart by opening on such a classic horror setting as a stormy night in a mansion perched upon a hill as the falling rain outside gives only the slightest hint of light in the dark (almost as if the film were in black and white) as the rain drops begin to outline text across the screen? No, no it does not. Not at all. And have no fear, for the entirety of this review will not consist of how well this little touch of brilliance sets the table for everything that comes after, but know that everything that comes afterward is all nearly as brilliant. 2020's The Invisible Man is both a product of its time in that it casts Elisabeth Moss in the lead as a suppressed, but capable woman stuck in an abusive, controlling relationship who-even when she escapes her brutal fiancé (The Haunting of Hill House’s Oliver Jackson-Cohen)-has a difficult time accepting this freedom due to the nature of her life as it was with him and of course, her worst fears come to be realized when she not only senses that Adrian is still alive after it's been reported he killed himself, but through how he terrorizes Moss' character by slowly cutting ties with every person in her support system and painting her as the one who has lost her mind. This is what makes The Invisible Man so frightening as the film itself is not necessarily "scary", but it’s a critical look at manipulation and the power this allows not only for one person to have over another, but how this power spreads to other people’s perception of you leaving one with their own self-doubts despite knowing deep down they aren’t the crazy one. Adrian is a master manipulator who gaslights Moss' Cecilia to the extent that, as a viewer, your frustration is boiling over by the time Whannell reaches his third act; not to mention the shock and rawness through which the director has executed this psychological breakdown given the rather fantastical elements of the scenario. In short, The Invisible Man might not break any new ground as far as story or scares go, but it does what it intends so well that it's difficult to deny the effectiveness of the monster or the message.

Tavern Talk: Video Review - THE CALL OF THE WILD

The newly minted 20th Century Studios released their inaugural film with the Harrison Ford-starring remake of The Call of the Wild and while it was number one in our hearts at TAVERN TALK this week it couldn't manage enough moolah to be number one at the box office as Paramount's Sonic the Hedgehog managed a second weekend at number one with $26.2 million, pushing the film's domestic cume past $106 million after just ten days in release. After only two weekends, Sonic already ranked as the fourth largest video game adaptation domestically of all-time and as of Monday it surpassed The Angry Birds Movie's $107.5 million to become the third largest earner in terms of that domestic video game adaptation stat. Internationally, Sonic added another $38.3 million, pushing its international cume to $96.5 million for a global tally that presently sits north of $216 million for the $95 million budgeted family flick. As for the weekend's biggest new release, The Call of the Wild finished in second place with $24.8 million, but with a reported production budget of $135 million (thanks, CGI Buck) and God knows how much more in marketing costs on top of that Disney and 20th Century Studios are going to need this one to have legs for days and for those Jack London Funko! collectibles and plush Bucks to sell like hot cakes-not to mention downloads of that Call of the Wild-themed video game for Nintendo Switch having to put up impressive numbers for all of this to pay off. I'm kidding, of course; a family-friendly re-telling of of the brutal, middle-school adventure story isn't exactly easy pickin' for cross promotional merchandise and we are. As of two days ago the film sat at $45.7 million worldwide with only $16 million coming from international markets. The issue is that The Call of the Wild tells a distinctly American story and while opening weekend audiences seemed to enjoy the film well enough (it earned an "A-" CinemaScore and a 90% audience score on RottenTomatoes) it's hard to imagine after the successful, but not necessarily justifiable opening weekend numbers that this will have the endurance to rationalize the amount of money the studio spent on this thing. The only other new, wide release last week was STX films and Lakeshore Entertainment's horror sequel Brahms: The Boy II which earned $5.8 million domestically and $2.22 million internationally for a global total just over $8 million which, while neither audiences nor critics were fans, isn't bad for a film that only cost $10 million to make. 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!


Director Chris Sanders, a man who has made his bones on animated features like Lilo & Stitch, How to Train Your Dragon and The Croods, might not seem like the first choice to adapt a novel originally published in 1903 with a story that follows a dog named Buck and contains a sentence that is described in as frank a nature as, “They closed in upon her, snarling and yelping, and she was buried, screaming with agony, beneath the bristling mass of bodies,” and yet that’s exactly where we find ourselves with this latest adaptation of the Jack London novel in 20th Century Studios’ The Call of the Wild. Though I’d never read the relatively short novel the film is based on nor had I seen either of the previous film incarnations (Clark Gable starred in a 1935 version while Rutger Hauer starred in a 1997 version) given the marketing campaign and the PG-rating I hadn’t anticipated that the source material was as brutal and unflinching as it apparently is especially when considering the fact that it’s immediately apparent that Sanders’ version of this story is one for families to enjoy and for dog/animal lovers to find the purest of entertainment in. Of course, this is mostly what I did expect from this version and so it more or less went without saying that despite much of the fuss in the run up to the release centering on the animated lead and the inherent comedy in picturing Harrison Ford acting opposite a tennis ball the fact Sanders’ background is in animation and the fact the project rung with a sense of commitment and passion for Ford more or less led to a more rewarding experience than a ridiculous one. Yes, there are still moments in which the CGI is heavily relied on and the animals look about as real as a stuffed animal, but more times than not the CGI-renderings of these wild creatures look and feel exceptionally real. This brings us to what 2020’s The Call of the Wild does well in that, despite our lead character-Buck-being a CG creation (with the help of Terry Notary), the film genuinely allows its audience to invest in Buck as a character and chart his journey as we are not only endeared to his personality, but we root for him in the sense that wherever his passions lie, we hope his strength takes him there. This, of course, is why Sanders and co. would want the freedom a CG Buck might afford them and, while likely not faithful to its source material in any true way, this Michael Green-penned adaptation conveys more a journey of growth and catharsis than it does a simple, three-act piece of family entertainment which, unlike almost everything else about the film, was completely unexpected.

Tavern Talk: Video Review - SONIC THE HEDGEHOG

After being delayed three months so Paramount could redesign their titular character (adding $5 million more dollars to the $90 million production) Sonic the Hedgehog finally arrived in theaters over the holiday weekend and defied expectations by delivering the largest opening ever for a video game adaptation. With a $70 million, four-day holiday debut and a $58 million Friday to Sunday gross Sonic topped last May's Pokemon Detective Pikachu ($54.4 million) to become the largest three-day opening ever for a video game adaptation. In finishing with that aforementioned $70 million over the four-day weekend the film, based on the iconic SEGA video game, is now the fourth largest Presidents' Day opening ever. Sonic not only performed well this weekend, but was a hit with audiences as well, earning an "A" CinemaScore and a 95% audience rating on RottenTomatoes. Furthermore, the opening weekend audience for the film supplied the stat that 70% of tickets sold were for those under the age of twenty-five. In second is where we find Warner Brother's Birds of Prey as it brought in another $17 or so million over the three-day and delivered almost $20 million for the four-day holiday frame, pushing the film's domestic total to nearly $62 million. Internationally, the film generated another $23 million over the weekend as the film's international cume now totals $83.6 million, pushing the global tally to $145.5 million on a production budget of $84.5 million. Rounding out the top five is Sony's Bad Boys for Life, which brought in $11.5 million over the three-day to finish with just over $13 million for the extended weekend as the sequel now tops $182 million domestic with a global cume of $368 million. In other news, the weekend's other two new wide release, Sony's Fantasy Island and Universal's The Photograph, finished in third and fourth place with only $504,493 separating the two at the end of the four-day weekend. Neon's Parasite received a huge bump for its many wins at the Oscars as the South Korean film expanded into over 2,000 locations over the weekend bringing in an additional $5.7 million. This performance pushes the film's domestic gross past $44 million, currently making it the fifth largest foreign language release ever. The other new release last weekend, Searchlight's re-make of the Swedish film, Force Majeure, titled Downhill and starring Will Ferrell and Julie Louis-Dreyfus landed just inside the top ten by barely clearing $5 million over the holiday frame with bad reviews and poor audience reception hinting this thing will disappear before the month is up. 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!


Sonic the Hedgehog is the kind of straight-down-the-middle piece of live-action family entertainment that we just don’t get as often as kids fed on this particular genre in the nineties were once accustomed to. At a certain point in time, it seemed as if audiences on the verge of puberty, but not quite there, were delivered a sports-themed adventure or underdog story featuring kids their own age on an annual basis-whether it was The Sandlot, The Little Giants, The Mighty Ducks, The Big Green, A Kid in King Arthur’s Court or Angel’s in the Outfield-the point is there were plenty of options not only for the youngest of youngsters, but for tweens before people even knew what tweens were. Lately though (and when I say lately I mean the last twenty-five years or so lately) that demographic has been lumped in with the more sophisticated audiences required to digest the lofty animated expectations of studios such as Pixar. That said, having never been a fan or player of Sonic the Hedgehog there was no real emotional or nostalgic connection to the original Sega property or its many animated incarnations over the years. As a live-action adaptation of a popular nineties video game is the closest we get to any of those aforementioned titles these days though, director Jeff Fowler’s feature directorial debut then fills the nostalgic void left by the absence of such titles by default. Fowler and/or Paramount Pictures seems to have known this to be the case thus their main objective becoming to not only entertain the kiddos of today with an updated take on a character they might have seen an episode of or played a game with at one time or another, but also to hone in on the same fan base that threw a fit when the first, original trailer for the film was released and the design of the titular character garnered such backlash that the studio delayed the release of the film and re-designed its CGI star completely. That is to say, not only did Paramount realize there was a large fan base for this property, but a passionate one as well and one that was not only anxious to see a childhood favorite get the live-action treatment, but to re-capture the feelings this character inspired and to re-live this time in their lives that Sonic represents. To this extent, Paramount went the extra mile and hired Jim Carrey to play the role of the antagonist in the evil Dr. Robotnik. This isn’t the Jim Carrey of Mr. Popper's Penguins or even Yes Man though, no, this is the Jim Carrey of The Mask or Ace Ventura as the fifty-eight year-old pulls off his most physically comedic role in what feels like forever to what I can only imagine is the pure joy and delight of thirty year-olds everywhere. It is this combination of Carrey playing the hits combined with the genre re-vamping that leads to Sonic the Hedgehog being as appealing as it ends up being, for despite not having any nostalgic connections to the character itself, these elements make up for this as Fowler’s film more or less accomplishes what it sets out to accomplish and will satisfy any resident of the 16-bit gaming era while still not mustering enough excitement to write home about it…and if I remember anything about The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog from my Saturday morning binges in 1993 that feels about par for the course.

Official Trailer for Wes Anderson's THE FRENCH DISPATCH

The first trailer for Wes Anderson's follow-up to his 2016 stop-motion film, Isle of Dogs, is here and is his first live-action film since what is arguably his masterpiece in 2014's The Grand Budapest Hotel. The French Dispatch “brings to life a collection of stories from the final issue of an American magazine published in a fictional 20th-century French city.” Per usual, Anderson rounded-up quite the cast for what will be his tenth feature with both new additions and some returning favourites. Bill Murray plays the editor of the aforementioned American magazine who is trying to put together this publication’s final issue. As this narrative is happening, the audience will see three different stories being covered by his staff members come to life in a way only Anderson could seemingly conceive. It is in bringing to life these three different stories that I assume Anderson adopts the different visual styles we see glimpses of in this first trailer; there is of course the black and white, but the predominant characters of those clips also appear in clips that are in color while there also looks to be a circular shot of a host of characters that feels very out of character for Anderson. The fact I'm wholly intrigued by a director's choice to use a certain kind of shot over his typical, perfectly symmetrical style of framing is proof enough as to why Anderson is not only engaging as a filmmaker, but as a storyteller in general. I don't even know where else to start with how excited I am about a new, live-action Wes Anderson movie for as much as I love his animated outings there is something about seeing him breathe his vision through a cavalcade of famous faces all perfectly embodying his sense of tone and timing that is both strangely exhilarating and reliably uproarious. And while The French Dispatch looks to not skew too far from what everyone loves about Anderson's work this does have the feeling of the filmmaker having done something very big and quite special to celebrate it being his tenth feature. I wholeheartedly expect Anderson to continue making his own brand of movie for as long as he has something to say, but it will also be interesting to see if he, in any way, is evolving his own style here for despite believing the man is incapable of spinning his wheels it does feel it will be necessary to continue to show growth-even if that growth is only through his storytelling prowess rather than his visuals. The French Dispatch also stars Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Wally Wolodarsky, Bob Balaban, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Léa Seydoux, Benicio del Toro, Henry Winkler, Elisabeth Moss, Griffin Dunne, Lyna Khoudri and opens on July 24, 2020.


If one wants to talk about how much Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn doesn't care about precedent the movie could essentially be boiled down to a story about a girl, Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn, seeking out a diamond for a guy (a fantastically eccentric Ewan McGregor). No matter what you thought (or didn’t think) of 2016's Suicide Squad it would seem that at the very least the majority would agree that Robbie’s Harley Quinn was a highlight. With that, Robbie both brings us and takes on the Birds of Prey story while continuing to carry on Quinn's arc in a manner that is respectful to a character that hasn't always had the most respect for herself. While the film may take its title from the DC Comics team that made its debut in 1996 and originated from a partnership between Black Canary AKA Dinah Lance (played here by Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and Barbara Gordon AKA Batgirl (who is not in the film), this is mostly a spin-off of that aforementioned David Ayer flick centering on Harley Quinn and the trials she faces as she moves past being more than just the Joker's girlfriend to becoming her own person whereas the project as a whole seemingly serves as Robbie's opportunity to champion the formation of the more traditional "Birds of Prey" line-up so that they might earn their own spin-off. So yes, this is touted as Birds of Prey AND the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, but while Black Canary, Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) get their formidable introductions one would be mistaken were they to expect anything more than introductions to these new characters. That said, writer Christina Hodson (Bumblebee) and director Cathy Yan (Dead Pigs) take this combination of different DC elements and characters and create in Birds of Prey an energetic, vibrant, violent and all-around ambitious yet very playful production where the tone of the film and the world in which it exists are completely representative of the main character anchoring all of the story and action beats. Yes, this is the same Gotham City in which Ben Affleck's Batman once roamed, but as seen through the eyes of a crazed former psychologist who wants to blaze her own trail Gotham City possesses a more manic zeal that Yan stylizes to the hilt even when the Guy Ritchie-like narrative becomes muddled in moments. It is in this fresh and enthusiastic-feeling direction that Birds of Prey really comes together as Yan, despite not having the time to fully flesh out each of the individual members of this femme force, delivers a thoroughly entertaining and endearingly practical movie that doesn't upend expectations as much as it throws them out the window completely; giving the audience something wholly unexpected to experience yet completely satisfying in ways they probably didn't know they were ready for.

Tavern Talk: Video Review - GRETEL & HANSEL

For the third week in a row Sony's Bad Boys for Life topped the box office as the long awaited third film in the franchise has now become the series' biggest film topping $148 million domestically. It also helps that the competition has been rather light over the past few weeks as well with both of this past weeken's newcomers failing to meet expectations and one almost failing to even make it into the top ten. With a total just shy of $17.7 million over its third weekend and another $30.8 million internationally, Bad Boys' international total now stands at $142.7 million for another franchise best equaling out to a current global cume of $271 million. It is in fourth place that we find the first newcomer in United Artists Releasing's Gretel & Hansel opening with just $6 million on a reported production budget of $5 million. This performance doesn't come as much of a surprise given the limited amount of promotion and press anyone involved has done as well as considering the fact it's the fourth horror/thriller to be released in theaters over the last five weeks. While I found more to appreciate than dislike about the film it seemed no one cared enough about the film or were interested in another "dark take" on a widely known fairy tale to go out of their way to see it over Super Bowl weekend. Opening weekend audiences gave the film a "C-" CinemaScore with a measly 20% audience rating at RottenTomatoes which I can understand given the slow pacing and lack of jump scares, but c'mon people! 20%?!?! That's insane! And so, while Gretel & Hansel will suffer a fate it doesn't wholly deserve and be forgotten by the end of next weekend it seems Paramount's The Rhythm Section, starring Blake Lively and based on a series of novels by Mark Burnell, will face a fate even worse as the $50 million flick brought in just over $2.7 million in its first weekend frame from 3,049 locations for what amounted to only a $918 per theater average AKA the worst opening ever for a film debuting on over 3,000 screens. 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!

Tavern Talk: Video Review - THE GENTLEMEN

This week on TAVERN TALK by initial reaction we were lucky enough to have Fox 16's Michael Cook stop by and discuss STX's The Gentlemen with us, but in terms of box office it was Bad Boys For Life that continued to dominate the conversation. Bilall Fallah and Adil El Arbi's sequel to 2003's Bad Boys II ended its second weekend with $34 million which was enough for the Sony picture to repeat atop the weekend box office, dropping just -45.6% from the film's impressive debut over the holiday weekend last week. This strong performance pushes Bad Boys For Life's domestic total past the $120 million mark after only ten days in release with it now being less than $20 million away from becoming the highest grossing domestic release in the franchise. Needless to say, a fourth film is already in the works though there is question as to whether or not Fallah and El Arbi will return. Personally, while it was necessary for some young blood to reinvigorate the aging franchise if we're going to make a "Bad Boys Fourever" it would be nice to see Michael Bay return to his baby and close out the series that started his career. We're here to talk about The Gentlemen though, and in regards to the new Guy Ritchie flick the results were...not bad? Landing in fourth, The Gentlemen pulled in $10.6 million coming up just shy of the estimated $11 million Sunday projections held for the weekend on an estimated production budget of $18.4 million. Of course, this was never going to break out in the way last weekend's R-rated, action-fueled, male-centric romp did, but as far as Guy Ritchie gangster pictures go this feels par for the course. In early 2001 Snatch earned $30 million domestic on a $6 million budget while seven years later RocknRolla struggled to make $25 million worldwide on a budget of $18 million thus signaling why Ritchie quickly jumped to big studio fare with his Sherlock Holmes films earning a combined domestic total of almost $400 million and well over a billion worldwide before going through the cycle once more with financial disappointments in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. ($107 million worldwide on a $75 million budget) and King Arthur ($148 million worldwide on a $175 million budget) and then returning to tentpole filmmaking with last year's live-action Aladdin adaptation which easily churned out a billion. Fortunately, to go along with an acceptable opening weekend The Gentlemen did receive a strong critical reception and a "B+" CinemaScore from opening day audiences. Internationally, Miramax still holds the rights and following a limited release in just a few markets over the past few weeks, this weekend saw The Gentlemen add another twenty territories where it earned another $3.1 million, pushing the film's early international cume to $22.5 million and a global total of $33.5 million with plenty of room to grow. 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!


Given my 1987 born ass has always been a fan of writer/director Guy Ritchie's (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, RocknRolla) post-Tarantino style that pummels you with said style until you are essentially forced by submission into appreciating it one wouldn't be wrong in recognizing that Ritchie has strayed from that which made him a star in the late nineties/early aughts as his most recent, studio-centric efforts (King Arthur and Aladdin) have not only leaned toward the more conventional in their style, but also in their storytelling. 2015's The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was our first glimpse at the next step in Ritchie's evolution as it was meant to be (no, I didn't see Revolver, but have heard terrible, terrible things) delivering an action/spy thriller very much in line with the attitude of his earlier work while possessing a more refined, more finessed outward style. If the Robert Downey Jr./Jude Law Sherlock Holmes films were the apex of early Ritchie style with a big studio mentality then The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was Ritchie evolving before our eyes and taking it a couple of steps further than he needed to just to ensure us he was in fact maturing. With his return to form as it were though, Ritchie's The Gentlemen finds the filmmaker striking the best balance yet between his past and his contemporary status among his contemporaries. A more subdued and self-aware English gangster romp than his first few features, The Gentlemen compiles many of Ritchie's most recognizable tropes including classic English geezer names and clever overlapping narratives, but most importantly it retains the sense of fun those early films were regarded for as The Gentlemen's pomp and wit are at full exposure more so in the characters than they are anything having to do with the double-crossing, drug-dealing plot we've seen and heard countless times before.

Tavern Talk: Video Review - BAD BOYS FOR LIFE

Twenty-five years ago a buddy cop comedy starring two of TV's biggest stars was made for an estimated $23 million which went on to gross $141.4 million worldwide. It was somewhat groundbreaking at the time to have two black men co-lead a tentpole action flick in a genre that had been made popular by the oddball pairings of Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte and Mel Gibson and Danny Glover up until that point. Martin Lawrence and Will Smith's debut would put to rest any doubts that the two of them were stars and eight years later they would return to the roles of Mike Lowery and Marcus Burnett for what remains, to this day, director Michael Bay's masterpiece of Bayhem in Bad Boys II. That second film, which featured so many subplots and two different drug runner antagonists who looked similar enough they may as well have been father and son and culminated in Smith and Lawrence's characters driving through a small Cuban neighborhood in a yellow Hummer was made for a staggering $130 million in 2003, but made back its production budget domestically on its way to a cool $273 million worldwide. Seventeen years later and we finally have a third film in the franchise and while I think they should have maybe saved the "Bad Boys 4 Life" title for the next go-around, but alas here we are and Bad Boys For Life defied all expectation and hope not just in its mid-January debut, but in overall quality as the $90 million production from Belgian directing duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah pulled in a whopping $73 million over the four-day MLK holiday frame. The film's $62.5 million three-day performance is also the second largest January three-day debut, just behind 2015's American Sniper ($89.26m) as well as Sony's largest R-rated opening ever, topping the $57 million for 22 Jump Street in 2014. Even better is the "A" CinemaScore and 97% audience rating on RottenTomatoes from opening weekend audiences indicating this thing could have some serious legs. Beating the opening weekend numbers of summer tentpoles like John Wick: Chapter 3 ($56.8m), Mission: Impossible - Fallout ($61.2m), Straight Outta Compton ($60.2m) and Hobbs & Shaw ($60m) which all went on to gross over at least $160 million bodes well for the film and the franchise as it's not hard to see this now landing somewhere between $170-$180 million domestic. Internationally, Bad Boys for Life brought in $38.6 million for a current global tally of nearly $112 million after four days in release. Needless to say, we'll probably be getting that Bad Boys 4 much quicker than we did two or three. 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!


As an individual who holds a special place in their heart for what was the pinnacle of everything a sixteen year-old boy could want from a movie it always felt something like destiny that Bad Boys II arrived in theaters eight years after the original in the summer of 2003 shortly after I turned sixteen. Bad Boys II was undoubtedly one of the first R-rated features I saw in theaters and I saw it simply on the basis of loving both Will Smith and Martin Lawrence (I'd bought the DVD of Lawrence's live stand-up show, Runteldat, the year before and Smith had always felt near and dear to me as my dad exposed myself and my siblings to The Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff's records at such a young age that they would lead to my brothers and I performing his songs at our elementary school talent shows) and so, with no point of reference for why there was a roman numeral in the title I saw Bad Boys II multiple times that summer. The fact it was a sequel to a movie I hadn't seen didn't matter. What I witnessed was Lawrence and Smith unhinged and completely free to do, say and act however they wanted and while I didn't yet know who Michael Bay was I can remember thinking after seeing Bad Boys II that I loved the style of the movie; not just the grandiosity of it, but the saturated look of every moment as we didn't just take it at face value that the movie took place in Miami because the movie made us feel like we were IN Miami...and the movement of the camera-while calling attention to itself, certainly-was still some of the coolest, most inventive camera work I'd seen up until that point. Cut to seventeen years later and for one reason or another a third Bad Boys film never materialized until now. Is it kind of a shame Smith and Lawrence didn't make another Bad Boys flick in their forties thus saving the appropriate title of Bad Boys For Life for the fourth installment that could very well be the film we now have as the third in the series instead? Yeah, it's kind of a bummer, but the extended break also admittedly marks the return of Lawrence and Smith to the big screen as these characters as something truly special and something that-just as I'm beginning to genuinely feel older and rapidly approaching the age Smith was when he made Bad Boys II-no other franchise could have done at this moment in time as Bad Boys for Life both takes me back to what it felt like during that youthful summer when the sun never felt like it would set while also bringing me into the present and reminding me how critical it is that we keep moving forward and don't get too caught up in the past.

Tavern Talk: Video Review - 1917

This week on TAVERN TALK by initial reaction we were lucky enough to have writer/director Daniel Campbell (Antiquities) join us to discuss what is now seemingly the front-runner for Best Picture at this year's Academy Awards in Sam Mendes' WWI film, 1917. While 1917 racked up an impressive ten nominations on Monday morning when the 92nd annual Oscar nominations were announced the film had even more to celebrate when it learned it not only earned an impressive $37 million after its nationwide expansion, but that it also unseated Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker to be the number one film at the box office. 1917 expanded into nearly 3,500 locations last weekend after playing in just eleven theaters over the previous two weeks. Prior to last week, tracking had the film opening somewhere in the $25 million range, but following a pair of Golden Globe wins on January 5th and some seriously strong word of mouth the film ultimately had no choice but to shatter such expectations and given this upcoming weekend only has the action/comedy Bad Boys for Life and family film Dolittle on the docket I wouldn't be surprised to see 1917 gain even more traction after its multiple Oscar nominations. Internationally, the film also debuted in thirty markets adding nearly $20 million, pushing the current worldwide total to nearly $67 million including what it earned in those first couple of weeks of limited release. 1917 also earned an "A" CinemaScore as general audiences seem to agree with the rave reviews being lauded upon it by critics. Yes, folks just like with Zero Dark Thirty (a $24 million opening weekend in 2013), Lone Survivor (a $37 million opening in 2014) and American Sniper (an $89 million opening in 2015) the first major "wide release expansion" of the year is a war themed film ripe with awards buzz and Universal knew exactly what it was doing in positioning 1917 in this spot primed to be consumed by the masses after screening it for critics just before Thanksgiving, letting that positive buzz build for a month before its limited run began on Christmas Day thus leaving both general and attentive audiences anxious to see what all the fuss was about. Kudos to Universal, DreamWorks/Amblin as well as Mendes himself for doing much of the press rounds on this thing and promoting it as an experience that is best seen on the big screen. 1917 is certainly that and while the film didn't make my top ten of 2019 it would certainly land somewhere in the top twenty as it is a film I'd highly recommend for its ambition alone. 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!

Teaser Trailer for MORBIUS Starring Jared Leto
The first trailer for Sony's second entry in their anti-hero universe, Morbius, has arrived and unfortunately it looks quite similar to Ruben Fleischer's Venom. Venom was an exercise in truly bizarre tone, acting, everything along with its weirdly nineties action aesthetic that sometimes felt more cheap than it did gritty which I have to assume is what they were going for. Luckily, with Morbius we are in much more reliable hands than Fleischer's one-hit wonder-ness as Morbius was directed by Daniel Espinosa, the man behind the likes of Safe House, Child 44 and Life. And while that sentence may be tinged with a certain amount of facetiousness I have liked each of those films to a certain degree and wouldn't label any of them as necessarily terrible. Safe House was a solid action/thriller as was Child 44 even if it had been hacked apart after sitting on the shelf for years and 2017’s Life was a fun little twist on a sci-fi, Alien-esque flick. So, it’s not really Espinosa that’s the cause for concern here, but more it is the writing team of Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless AKA the team behind such runaway hits as Gods of Egypt, The Last Witch Hunter and Dracula Untold (remember how that cinematic universe wound up?) and although a director can do a lot with an otherwise hackneyed script in terms of improving upon it with a certain stylistic approach and hiring actors that elevate the material-and say what you will about Jared Leto’s Joker, but the guy is a solid actor and puts in the time-what honestly feels most at the expense of the studio mentality here is whatever rich character history that comes along with this particular character from the comics. As someone who doesn’t read comics the only point of reference I have with the titular character prior to this is that of the animated Spider-Man series from the nineties, but Morbius was always an indelible presence in that series given he personified the horror genre to a kid who wasn’t allowed to watch horror movies yet. There’s certainly something Sony can tap into here, but only time will tell if Espinosa and crew dig beneath the surface or if they're simply covering the necessary bases. Of course, there is then the matter of that cameo at the end and what it means both for the future of the MCU and whatever Sony is trying to do here while raising serious interest in the details of the deal Kevin Feige and Avi Arad worked out, but whatever the case may be one thing is clear: Spider-Man: Senior Year is going to be nertz. Morbius also stars Adria Arjona, Jared Harris, Matt Smith, Michael Keaton, Tyrese Gibson, Charlie Shotwell, Corey Johnson, Archie Renaux, Abraham Popoola and opens in theater on July 31st, 2020.

2020 Oscar Nominations

Here we are once again with the 2020 Oscar nominations and while I attempt to limit any coverage of the awards season hoopla (simply because there are so many to cover and too little to care about) the Academy Awards are obviously the biggest show of the season and so it was with great anticipation I awaited this morning’s announcements. What had been great about this year's award season up until really this past weekend was that there seemed a real lack of any clear front-runner, though 1917 quickly seems to be taking that spot with an impressive ten nominations this morning including for Best Picture and Director. There have been so many films vying for the attention of awards season audiences this season, including a few that seemed poised to make a big impression this year, but haven't garnered as many accolades as expected including The Lighthouse (which scored a cinematography nom here) and apparently Uncut Gems (my favorite film of the year) and while we're piling on A24 let's just go ahead and acknowledge the fact The Farewell received zero nominations alongside Gems. Returning to what did receive nominations though, while 1917 is currently making a strong case for Best Picture after its $36.5 million box office pull in its first weekend of wide release it was Todd Phillips' Joker that received the most nods with eleven total nominations. The Irishman and Once Upon a Hollywood join 1917 with ten nominations a piece (though Robert De Niro was not one of those nominations in the Lead Actor category) while Marriage Story, Parasite, Jojo Rabbit and Little Women all came out with six nominations a piece with the most noise surrounding any of those nominations being that Great Gerwig did not receive a directing nod for her sophomore effort, Little Women. While I understand that call to recognize a more diverse array of artists I wasn't the biggest fan of Little Women (I thought it was fine, but didn't fall in love with it) and would have preferred a nomination for The Farewell's Lulu Wang, Queen & Slim's Melina Matsoukas or Olivia Wilde for Booksmart (which also received zero nominations and is a travesty in my opinion). The fact remains though that 2019 was an incredibly string year for film and there were inevitably going to be some great films left off the list. It's also important to remember that just because your choice wasn't nominated that the other films deserve to be degraded; overall, the nominations largely went to deserving films, but we'll dig into all that in further paragraphs. For now, hit the jump for a full list of nominees.

1917 Review

At the risk of spoiling a truly grisly moment in writer/director Sam Mendes' latest film, there is an instance not fifteen minutes into the film when our protagonist, Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay), injures his hand on a barbed wire fence. It is not this injury that is cause for the gruesome winces 1917 is sure to induce though, but rather that moment comes a minute or so later when Schofield's mission partner, Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), knocks into him as the two hurriedly slide into a trench so as to not be spotted by enemy planes overhead. It is in this moment that occurs shortly after the film has set the stage for our expectations of what we might expect war to really feel like that it then shows us the reality of those expectations in turn aiding the audience in realizing that no amount of preparation or precedent could ever prepare one for the true nightmares that are the unspeakable things one human can subject another human to. It is in this quick, but effective moment that remained with me for the duration of the film's nearly two-hour runtime that emphasizes the power of the film in general over the would-be gimmick of the single-take experience in that not only does Mendes' and cinematographer Roger Deakins' technique provide an enticing challenge for seasoned filmmakers such as themselves, but it is in the challenge of balancing that technique with the ability to tap into something real, something raw and something that speaks to who these two men were in their souls that keeps the audience engaged. Successful or not, the technique of it all will largely go unnoticed by general moviegoers and in turn only make the immersion greater even if that general moviegoer isn't aware of what's creating said effect. Mendes and Deakins have proven time and time again they have the skill to pull off exactly what 1917 does, but for them to ultimately have the artistry to pair that craft with the character's drive to simply do the right thing in accomplishing their mission, a mission that will save hundreds of lives, while being surrounded by the ugliness of humanity on that mission is what makes the immersive quality of the single shot idea worth the trouble; the technique elevating the film to something unexpected not in that it is a dazzling technical achievement, but an emotionally involving experience with real stakes and a clear perspective.