MEAN GIRLS Review

This Trip back to North Shore High Justifies itself by still being Sharp in its Observations of Vacuousness.

ORIGIN Review

Director Ava DuVernay Adapts Isabel Wilkerson's nonfiction book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents and takes us on a journey of global investigation and discovery.

THE IRON CLAW Review

Director Sean Durkin Takes the Epic Tragedies and Triumphs of the Von Erich Family and Crafts a Devastating Story around Placing Your Convictions in the Wrong People.

AMERICAN FICTION Review

Writer/Director Cord Jefferson’s Feature Debut Splits the Difference Between Searing Satire and Emotional Family Drama Coming out a Winner in Both Respects.

POOR THINGS Review

Emma Stone is Daring and Mark Ruffalo is Hilarious in this Surreal Fever Dream of Philosophy and Attempting to Understand our Nature through Unorthodox Methods.

Tavern Talk: Video Reviews - ETERNALS & SPENCER

While the reception among critics and audiences has admittedly been less enthusiastic than what typically surrounds a new Marvel property, that seemingly hasn't stopped people from at least being interested in what and who the Eternals is and are. While I haven't written a review for the film I will say that despite it not being the home run introduction to a brand new layer of the Marvel Cinematic Universe like we all hoped it might be, there is still much to like and appreciate about the film if, for nothing else, being willing to make some big swings it knew might not pay off. As far as financial reception is concerned though, early projections put the domestic debut of the film somewhere between $75-$80 million. Of course, the star-studded epic about a race of immortal beings fell slightly short of those early predictions, but not as drastically as the headlines would have one believe. Directed by Chloe Zhao, whose Nomadland is the most recent Best Picture winner with Zhao also taking home the Best Director statue, Eternals debuted with $71 million making it the fourth-best domestic debut of the pandemic era, edged out - somewhat ironically - by only Venom: Let There Be Carnage ($90 million), Black Widow ($80.4 million), and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings ($75.4 million) all of which are Marvel or Marvel-adjacent properties. The film also began its box office run with a $161.7 million global haul which was the second-biggest worldwide debut of 2021 (behind only F9: The Fast Saga’s $163 million). Spencer was also initially released on November 5th, but only in 996 theaters and to the tune of $2.2 million. The R-rated arthouse drama from Neon starring Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana is one of the most anticipated contenders this awards season as many expect Stewart to be nominated for if not win in the Best Actress category. In its second weekend, Eternals added $27.5 million, holding off a strong debut from the live-action adaptation of Clifford the Big Red Dog which made $16.4 million despite premiering simultaneously on Paramount+. This was a -61.4% drop for the latest MCU endeavor meaning it falls between the second-weekend totals of the most recent Marvel releases in Shang-Chi (-52%) and Black Widow (-67%). After two weeks, the ensemble super hero flick sits at $118.8 million domestically while having pulled in $162.6 million internationally, bringing its current worldwide haul to $281.4 million on a reported $200 million budget. Spencer earned an additional $1.531 million in its second weekend as it expanded to 269 more screens for a total theater count of 1,265. This was a drop of only 27% from its debut weekend and, while impressive, one imagines this might only gain more traction (whether that be on VOD or in theaters) the deeper we get into awards season. Spencer has also not been released internationally yet. 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!

Official Trailer for SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME

In what is possibly the most anticipated trailer of all time (sorry, Endgame), Sony and Marvel Studios finally released what the whole world was seemingly waiting on...we are going "into the spider-verse". Of course, anyone who has paid any attention to the MCU post-Infinity Saga fully expected this to be the case - especially given Sony's involvement - but whatever doubt hanging over the project that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield might show-up seems to only be erased by the final seconds of this trailer. There is a lot to talk about here besides those speculations though. First, this is the third in what we can only assume is a trilogy of Holland-centered Spider-Man films which feels weird to say given it feels like the young actor is just getting started with the character, but it would seem his future in the franchise will solely be based on what Sony chooses to do with him and that would seem to be more team-up/crossover movies than continued stand-alone adventures. In essence, Holland's run will be more episodic from this point forward which, as someone who grew-up watching serialized cartoons of these heroes and always wished something akin to a live-action version of that might be created, I'm not mad about. Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige has of course done just this with his cinematic universe, but now we're truly venturing from character crossovers to studio crossover and Sony has always been intent on milking its Spider-Man property for all its worth and have somehow managed to make a hit out of solo Venom movies making this idea of Holland continuing to play Peter Parker and his alter ego in a series of movies a viable one. Who knows how everything will shake out or even what implications No Way Home will have on both the Sony-verse as well as the MCU (don't forget Doctor Strange is in this movie too!), but one thing is abundantly clear: there is more of a desire for this character and all the cinematic baggage he brings with him than ever and Sony isn't going to miss out on their third opportunity with him; let's just hope they've learned from their mistakes from the first two rounds and don't overly mandate what these movies need to be, don't attempt to overstuff each installment with too many characters just to crowd please, and actually allow the creative teams they hire to see the visions they pitched and were hired for through to the end. Much of this is already a concern with No Way Home, but while this may be the end of a trilogy it is very clearly the start of something new and hopefully...grand. Spider-Man: No Way Home will feature Holland's web slinger reeling from the reveal of his identity at the end of Far From Home while looking to Benedict Cumberbatch's Doctor Strange for help. Jacob Batalon's Ned and Zendaya's MJ return along with confirmed supporting cast members Marisa Tomei, Angourie Rice, Tony Revolori, Jon Favreau, Hannibal Buress, and will open exclusively in theaters on December 17th. 

Tavern Talk: Video Review - DUNE


The big question going into last weekend was not whether Dune deserved for people to show up to it or not, but more...would they? It had widely become known that Warner Bros. attempt to adapt Frank Herbert's 1965 sci-fi epic would be a tale of two halves from director Denis Villenueve (Prisoners, Sicario, Arrival) as past attempts at adapting the material, namely David Lynch's 1984 film, had all fallen on troubled times and disappointing outcomes. Would the bold move to only make the first half of the book into a movie and then wait and see if there was enough reason to make a second pay off or would this simply turn out to be another chapter in the long, hard road of bringing Herbert's worlds to life? Well, as of this week it looks like the gamble may have paid off as WB and Legendary officially greenlit Dune Part 2 as the film pulled in a not great, but probably better than expected $40.1 million domestic debut. This was the latest in WB's string of major releases this year that also premiered on HBO Max on the same day, but it seemed at least $40 million worth of folks had been listening to Villenueve for the past ten or so months as the filmmaker has been championing seeing his film in the most immersive environment possible since WB and HBO announced their collaboration last December. The catch with both the day-and-date streaming choice and how it might have impacted the ultimate decision as to whether or not a sequel could be justified is the fact Villenueve's movie cost a hefty $165 million. Villenueve is no stranger to large-scale sci-fi films that are well-reviewed and look gorgeous, but are questionable financial endeavors as his Blade Runner 2049 carried a $150 million price tag but made just less than $260 million worldwide (and that's not counting what was no doubt a costly marketing campaign). The good news is that Dune has already made $182 million internationally for a cumulative worldwide box office that currently stands at $223 million and will seemingly only continue to make strong returns overseas as HBO Max is not available in all territories. Questions over that simultaneous debut on a streaming platform and how that might cut into theatrical ticket sales were reignited again with the release of Dune, but have seemingly calmed with the announcement of Part 2 moving forward. Despite a lengthy runtime (meaning less showings, especially in the age of COVID where theater hours are limited on weekdays) the film managed to land a $9,721 per-screen average in 4,125 theaters in its debut weekend. It should also be noted that Dune’s release marked WB's best three-day tally since it began its day-and-date roll-out strategy with Godzilla vs. Kong back in April. Furthermore,  IMAX accounted for $9 million of the film’s domestic gross. 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 - HALLOWEEN KILLS


With the likes of Venom and James Bond taking back the limelight that has evaded the movie industry for the better part of two years and with it now being mid-October it was time Michael Myers was afforded his time to shine. Director David Gordon Green's Halloween Kills, the twelfth film in the franchise overall and the direct sequel to Green's 2018 reboot AKA "HallowGreen", straight-up murdered the rest of the competition in its first weekend with a $50.4 million debut. This strong showing was especially impressive considering the sequel also premiered on Peacock (the NBC streaming service) the same day. The latest chapter in the horror franchise, again featureing THE Scream Queen in Jamie Lee Curtis, also had a notable showing this past weekend as it scored the highest-grossing opening weekend for a day-and-date premiere (meaning a simultaneous release in theaters and on streaming), as it beat out Godzilla vs. Kong’s $31.6 million opening back in March. Of course, not all new releases welcomed good news as the first of two major Ridley Scott releases this fall, The Last Duel, was essentially dead on arrival bringing in only $4.8 million on a reported $100 million budget. Maybe this shouldn't be surprising given it is a two and a half hour historical drama, but it was also touted as and is the first time Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have collaborated on a writing project since Good Will Hunting and one might think after venturing out for Bond last weekend that older moviegoers might be more inclined to begin giving this year's Oscar bait a chance. Where films like The Last Duel were once the highest form of and most respected Hollywood production they have now been usurped by the prestige TV drama and/or miniseries with movie theaters being dominated by the sequels and shared universes. Enter Halloween Kills which, when broken down, had a $13,589 per-screen average resulting in that $50.4 million haul that, while not reaching the $76.2 million domestic debut of its predecessor, is still considered a big hit given the caveats of its day and date premiere as well as the film's rather warm critical reception. The harsher reception was not only true with critics though as the film received a surprisingly low "B-" CinemaScore grade from opening weekend audiences as well. Internationally, the film earned $5.5 million, bringing its one-week worldwide total to $55.9. While unlikely to match 2018’s $255 million global haul Halloween Kills will still make more than enough profit for Jason Blum and Universal to feel good about next year's trilogy-capper in Halloween Ends. 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 - NO TIME TO DIE


With four year in between Quantum of Solace and Skyfall and now six years between Spectre and No Time to Die there seems no denying that the time has come for Daniel Craig to lay his Bond to rest. That isn't to say the movies have become tired or arduous to get through, but more that Craig's time as the suave British agent has been through a lot and the guy - if not the character - needs a break. Originally set to open in April of 2020, barely a month after the world seemingly shut down due to the COVID pandemic, Craig's official final chapter in the long-running 007 franchise finally arrived on the big screen last weekend. And? You might ask. Well, the film continued to do great business overseas, where it opened a week earlier than in the States - per usual - but one might be overselling it if they were to say MGM/Universal or the Broccoli/Wilson brain trust who own the rights to Ian Fleming's novels and the James Bond character were "thrilled" with the domestic opening. With a $56 million opening weekend ($62 million counting a rather strong Monday showing over Columbus/Indig. Peoples' Day) the ambitious (and lengthy) blockbuster both fell short of expectations while still managing to be one of the biggest openings of 2021. All that to say that after two weeks, the film has pulled in $259 million overseas making its current worldwide box-office a "fine" $326.4 million.  Of course, the aforementioned COVID-19 pandemic still bears part of the blame for this underwhelming opening even as Delta variant surges begin to plateau in many areas throughout the country given a large number of the franchise’s longtime fans are older and more cautious about returning to theaters. In fact, MGM internal polling is said to have shown that No Time to Die marked the first trip back to theaters for 25% of its audience since the pandemic began. Craig's previous two installments opened big with Spectre pulling in $70.4 million in 2015 while Skyfall is the series’ biggest opener ever with $88.4 million in 2012. Granted, neither of those films were catching a film industry on the rebound from nearly eighteen months of theater closures and release date shuffles, but it seems No Time to Die's debut will still be considered disappointing at least for the time being. With some time and perspective things could shake out in favor of Craig's swan song (pun intended), but with a $250 million price tag and a massive marketing campaign, the movie will need to make up for that lengthy running time and therefore limited number of showings with repeat viewers and a big opening in China when it debuts there on October 29th. None of this is completely out of the realm of possibility as China is known for being one of the bigger markets for Bond and the film did earn an 84% "fresh" rating from critics and an 88% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.  As always, we'll see! For now, 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 - VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE


It seems it will be as tough for me to keep this post coming on a regular basis as it has been for the box office to establish some type normalcy, but hopefully this first week in October means promising signs for the both of us. After Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings opened with a bang at the beginning of September it seemed as if everyone else knew to clear out for the latest character's introduction into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe as the film eared north of $75 million in its opening weekend and has gone on to sit at $389 million worldwide after a month in release. Last week saw the first real competition for the MCU title in the adaptation of the hit Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen, but with a quaint $7 million debut and adding less than $2.5 million this weekend, equaling more than a 65% drop, the PG-13-rated musical starring Ben Platt has earned only $11.8 million on a $25 million budget. The film has yet to open overseas, but it's hard to imagine this playing out in any fashion other than a disappointing one. What gives October reason to look on the bright side though, is the fact Venom: Let There Be Carnage kicked off the month by shattering all previous pandemic-era records with a $90.1 million domestic debut. One might even be so bold as to say that the debut of the Venom sequel combined with the October slate ahead makes a seriously strong case the Hollywood tentpole is finally back. And while Venom is not technically part of the MCU the follow-up to the 2018 original that also did surprisingly robust business and outperformed that predecessor’s $80.2 million debut definitely put up some MCU-sized stats. The original film ended up grossing $213.5 domestically and $856.1 million worldwide which was surprising to even the most seasoned of box office prognosticators, but even with that information Venom 2’s record-setting $90.1 million debut in a post-pandemic world blew past expectations as it did the unusual these days by also bypassing streaming and VOD services. To break it down further, Venom 2 had a $21,325 per-screen average in its opening weekend which is pretty astonishing as well as adding $13.8 million internationally bringing its global box-office total to $103.9 million after a single weekend. In other new release news, the United Artists’ animated sequel The Addams Family 2 also bested expectations, debuting to $18 million while also being available on premium VOD for $19.99. The much-anticipated Sopranos prequel, The Many Saints of Newark, opened in fourth place as Warner Bros.’ Tony Soprano origin story starring the son of the show’s late star James Gandolfini, accrued only $5 million domestically, but the fact it also premiered simultaneously on HBO Max undoubtedly took some of the business away from the big screen. 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 - FREE GUY & THE NIGHT HOUSE

While Free Guy took the top spot last weekend (on what may have been the busiest weekend at the box office since pre-pandemic days) no one expected it to repeat on its second weekend especially against another slate of varied opponents and yet - here we are. While the list of new releases over the weekend included more low-key titles than Free Guy such as the Maggie Q/Samuel L. Jackon/Michael Keaton actioner The Protege from director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale), PAW Patrol: The Movie (which also premiered on Paramount+), the Hugh Jackman sci-fi thriller Reminiscence (which also premiered on HBO Max) as well as Seachlight Pictures' The Night House which we ended up reviewing this week largely due to the continued trend of no Thursday night screenings for these day and date HBO Max releases from Warner Bros. (The Suicide Squad being the lone exception). That said, David Bruckner's latest psychological horror trip starring Rebecca Hall seemed to at least be the most interesting of the new weekend crop if not the most successful as The Protege, The Night House, and Reminiscence landed in seventh, eighth, and ninth place to middling returns while the one new release able to compete with Free Guy was the big screen adaptation of Nickelodeon’s kid-friendly animated TV show.  Last week, (the surprisingly exceptional) Free Guy landed in the No. 1 spot with a $28.4 million haul and added another $22.5 million internationally, bringing its first-weekend worldwide total to $50.9 million. In weekend two, the Shawn Levy-directed and Ryan Reynolds starring irreverent comedy continued its winning streak despite COVID cases spiking higher than they’ve been at any point in the past six months. Free Guy saw a surprisingly small drop from its debut weekend, just -33.8% (which was good enough for the best second-weekend hold of the summer thus far), and while part of the reason for its success has to do with the fact it was not released simultaneously on a streaming service (look for it to arrive on digital platforms on 9/28 and on home video formats on 10/12) one hopes some of it has to do solely with the quality of the film and how much audiences are enjoying the theatrical experience of it all. While Free Guy (and the PAW Patrol gang) were likely the only ones happy about box office returns this weekend and while it remains to be seen how studios will react to the pandemic’s new wave of Delta-variant infections the hope can only be that more people continue to get vaccinated and that these cases peak soon so that the world might return to some semblance of normalcy by the time awards season rolls around. 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 - SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY


While it was expected that Marvel’s Black Widow would be repeating as the number one film at the box office this weekend the spirit of the NBA Finals apparently made a crossover with movie-going audiences as LeBron James' twenty-five year-later sequel to 1996's Michael Jordan-vehicle, Space Jam, turned out to be a much bigger hit than anyone was expecting. The Warner Bros. property (meaning it began simultaneously streaming on HBO Max on Friday) debuted well ahead of early predictions (most in the $20 million range) with a $31.7 million domestic showing easily giving Space Jam: A New Legacy the biggest opening for a kids-targeted film since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Because the film was also available free of charge to HBO Max subscribers and because it was more or less demolished by critics it seemed the momentum had somewhat stalled for this sequel that I - as someone who loved basketball, Michael Jordan, and movies as a child, was pretty anxiously awaiting - all the more sweet. Is the movie very good? No, not really - it's pretty patchy until it gets to the meat and potatoes of what it was explicitly made to do, but at the same time this is a movie whose critical reception was never going to sway or change the minds of the target audience thus not making it that much of a surprise if not still as impressive that James and the Looney Tunes collected a $7,982 per-screen average in 3,965 theaters. In fact, opening weekend audiences scored the film an ‘A-‘ CinemaScore. Back in '96, the original Space Jam premiered to the "toon" of $27.5 million while going on to gross $90.4 million domestically and $230.4 million worldwide. While it's impossible to know where A New Legacy will end up especially with today's theatrical climate and distribution model constantly shifting and a slew of big, new releases upcoming it should be noted that there is a distinct lack of family-friendly material until maybe Jungle Cruise (though it is PG-13), but more likely until August 20th when Paw Patrol: The Movie premieres as Space Jam would seemingly share a bigger portion of it's audience with that film. In second place, Black Widow suffered a pretty severe -67.3% drop from its first weekend, but while the film has accumulated upwards of $132 million in North America and another $100.7 million from international markets, it has yet to open in Chins where Marvel tends to do big business. For a film that cost an estimated $200 million to produce, is also available on Disney Plus for a $30 charge (where it apparently did very well in its first weekend), and has thus far managed to collect a cumulative worldwide gross of $232.7 million (during a pandemic nonetheless), I don't think it's time to start writing the "Is the MCU dead?" pieces just yet. 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 - BLACK WIDOW


It's been longer than I would have liked since posting one of these updates, essentially the month of June I guess, but now seems as fitting a time as any to dig back into box office, new releases, and new release reviews as Marvel Studios finally revealed Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow solo film to the world over the weekend. Originally set for May of 2020 with much debate over whether or not Disney and in particular, Kevin Feige, would allow the film to go straight to streaming a la Mulan and Raya and the Last Dragon it was finally revealed Black Widow would be arriving in theaters this July. While one could still purchase the movie for a premium price and stream it on Disney+ it felt evident that the first Marvel Cinematic Universe film to hit theaters in what ended up being just shy of two years was something of an event and something most might want to take in on the big screen. That said, Black Widow also faced the unfortunate circumstances of arriving just as many states are seeing a major surge in COVID-19 cases thanks to the much-discussed "delta-variant" that is causing some theaters to reduce their auditorium capacity once again or go back to upholding mask mandates despite returning to somewhat normal operating procedures earlier in the summer movie season. As for how Black Widow actually ended up doing at the box office once it finally premiered...well, the news is largely good for all involved but the caveat of the streaming option is certainly a new fold to be considered (is this the future of major movie releases?). This new layer is brought up as Disney did something rather unexpected this weekend when it - for the first time - released that Disney+ brought in $60 million in additional revenue allowing the Mouse House to claim that the film earned $215 million worldwide over the weekend whereas it actually pulled in $80 million domestic and $158 million worldwide in theaters. Sure, Disney still made all the money and there's an argument to be made for Black Widow having had a $120 million opening weekend, but even at $80 million the latest MCU flick sits as the biggest theatrical release since 2019's Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker beating F9's debut of $70 million just a couple weeks back. The one-two punch of F9 and Black Widow certainly serve as strong incentives to return to the theater and the summer releases only continue to roll from this point on with the long-awaited Space Jam sequel next week, a new M. Night Shyamalan thriller and a G.I. Joe/Snake Eyes origin film the week after that, and yet another Disney tentpole in Jungle Cruise capping off July. 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 - A QUIET PLACE PART II & CRUELLA


The box office is back, baby! Memorial Day 2021 will seemingly go down as the weekend the masses decided to return to the movies after many long months of theater closings, sporadic releases, and hesitant movie-goers it finally felt like the time had come to take a major step back to normalcy and apparently that step was seeing a movie on a big screen. With the C.D.C lifting mask mandates for those that are fully vaccinated last month and case numbers in the United States continuing to plummet with the fewest number of new infections being identified in nearly a year it would seem the Memorial Day weekend was bound to be seen as something of a celebration. Typically, the last weekend in May comes after a few weeks of summer kick-off releases and fun genre flicks primed for big audiences, but this year Memorial Day weekend served as THE summer kick-off with two major releases opening in theaters alongside one another for the first time in over a year. Also for the first time in over a year, the total box office take surpassed $100 million with A Quiet Place Part II and Cruella leading the way. While Cruella premiered in both theaters and on Disney+ with Premiere Access (which just means you had to pay an extra $30 on top of your monthly subscription price) John Krasinski's sequel to his 2018 hit arrived exclusively in theaters fourteen months after being one of the first movies delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It seems the wait was worth it though, as A Quiet Place Part II scared up $48.4 million in its first three-days with a four-day domestic take totaling $57 million and another $22 million internationally for a worldwide total just shy of $80 million. For the sake of comparison, Krasinski's sequel nearly matched his original film’s $50.2 million opening back in 2018. The follow-up opened with a $12,985 per-screen average in 3,726 theaters easily making it the biggest domestic earner of the pandemic era. As for Cruella, an origin story about the 101 Dalmatians villain starring Emma Stone, it also pulled in solid numbers despite that Premiere Access caveat. Opening with $21.3 million over its first three days while earning $26.5 million over the holiday period, the live-action Disney tale also earned $16 million internationally for a $42.6 million worldwide haul on a rumored budget of anywhere from $100 to $200 million. With the majority of the upcoming major releases falling into either the horror or action categories though, Cruella has the opportunity to leg it out alongside that Disney+ revenue. 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 - SPIRAL: FROM THE BOOK OF SAW


In the second week of being back at the theater we saw what was the ninth entry in the Saw franchise though it functions more as a re-boot and/or spin-off as Spiral: From the Book of Saw was produced by and stars comedy legend Chris Rock. Not exactly the personality you expect to re-boot a major gorror franchise, but here we are. The film, which was originally scheduled to be released first in October of 2020 before being moved up to a summer 2020 release, was then of course delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic yet somehow retained its "summer movie" status by helping to usher movie-goers back to the theaters in these early weeks of the new normal. Directed by Saw veteran Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, Saw III, and Saw IV) the new film follows a copycat Jigsaw killer and Detective Ezekiel "Zeke" Banks (Rock), working in the shadow of his father (Samuel L. Jackson), along with a new, rookie partner (Max Minghella) as they are tasked with investigating a series of grisly murders that utilize traps eerily reminiscent to that of John Kramer's. Zeke naturally finds himself at the center of the killer's game with plenty of twists and turns along the way. Scripted by Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger who also wrote the previous Saw film, Jigsaw, which was - to put it lightly - pretty terrible made for low expectations going in, but much to my surprise Spiral was a pleasant diversion if nothing else; a movie that felt oddly rewarding given the big screen context in which I saw it. As for the rest of the country, enough horror fans showed up to make Spiral the number one movie at the box office with an $8.7 million debut, easily beating fellow new release, Those Who Wish Me Dead, a survival thriller from writer/director Taylor Sheridan (Yellowstone) starring Angelina Jolie that premiered both in theaters and on HBO Max. The Saw franchise has collectively grossed just shy of $1 billion and while Spiral had the lowest debut of the series thus far I have to imagine that might not have been the case were it not one of the first major releases of post-vaccination life. Most theaters in the U.S. are still operating at a reduced capacity and the film has yet to open internationally so there is certainly room to grow. With higher profile releases beginning over Memorial Day weekend though, and the theatrical window only continuing to shrink it will be interesting to see what type of long-term business Spiral will do given the horror genre doesn't generally have the longest of box office legs. As always, time will tell, but for now 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 - WRATH OF MAN


WE'RE BACK! After what was over fourteen months of no theater visits given the random Tenet or Freaky screening here and there we are back at the Movie Tavern with what we hope will be consistent reviews of the biggest releases from here on out as studios begin to release bigger movies exclusively in theaters. The first of these releases on what is typically the weekend that kicks off the summer movie season is the reunion of star Jason Statham and director Guy Ritchie after Snatch fifteen years ago. Wrath of Man is a hard boiled, R-rated, action thriller/heist film that debuted at No. 1 in North America with $8.1 million. That's not exactly the type of numbers we're accustomed to discussing when talking about summer blockbusters and it's certainly a long way off from the $45.4 million domestic opening of Statham’s most recent leading-man vehicle, 2018’s The Meg, which honestly feels like a lifetime ago at this point. And yes, Hobbs & Shaw debuted with $60.8 million in August of 2019, but Statham had a little bit of help headlining that one. As for Wrath of Man, it debuted in 2,875 theaters equating to what is a $2,817 per-screen average. The film did better overseas, pulling in $17.6 million, bringing its combined worldwide total to $25.7 million on what is, as far as I can tell, an unknown budget though I would guess it lands somewhere around the $30-$40 million mark. While the box office may not be as robust as your typical "summer kick-off" movie the good news is that Wrath of Man actually performed on par with what is expected of a dark and dour Statham actioner that doesn't have the broad appeal of something like The Meg, The Expendables franchise, or anything in the Fast & Furious universe. For instance, Statham's 2016 film - released in late-August - Mechanic: Resurrection, earned $7.6 million in it opening weekend which was on par with every non-franchise, non-ensemble Statham actioner you can think of. With Wrath of Man being a big-studio release that was not simultaneously released on a streaming service or via premium VOD it would seem we may just be on our way back to some kind of "normal". 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!

Official Trailer for David Lowery's THE GREEN KNIGHT


David Lowery is a director who, from a generational perspective, I feel is all my own. Though he made his feature debut in 2009 with St. Nick it was 2013's Ain't Them Bodies Saints that put him on the map and the one I remember seeking out at my small, local arthouse theater to see if this was yet another imitator of Malick or if this was someone who would be building on his aesthetic with a fresh set of sensibilities. While Ain't Them Bodies Saints didn't knock me out with the emotional gut punch I recall hoping it would, Lowery would show everyone what he was made of a few years later with 2017's A Ghost Story which he'd been afforded the opportunity to make by hitching his wagon to the Disney train and re-imaging Pete's Dragon for them the year before. Pete's Dragon was a pleasant surprise - both in that Lowery had made it and that he'd been able to turn the campy 1977 film into something of a love letter to the innocence of childhood - which is all to say that A Ghost Story absolutely felt like Lowey making the kind of movie he'd always wanted to make and that he could finally afford to take a chance on. For me, that risk paid off as I absolutely adored A Ghost Story with Lowery's follow-up, The Old Man and the Gun, surprising me even more in 2018. While Lowery is now hard at work on another Disney adaptation which is yet another take on the J.M. Barrie novel, though this time it is titled Peter Pan & Wendy, Lowery first will deliver us The Green Knight or what is his take on the Arthurian story titled Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Dev Patel portrays Sir Gawain while Ralph Ineson's titular charater is certain to steal the show as his presence in this trailer alone is undeniable. I love how perfectly Lowery seems to have balanced his more introspective and challenging ideals he likes to base movies around with that of large scale, almost blockbuster-like visuals that he's employed the scope of here. The tone of the trailer is downright chilling and those aforementioned visuals are not only striking, but rather provocative in many ways; certain shots bringing with them immense amounts of weight regardless of dialogue or context. With the film originally set to premiere last May this feels as if it has been a long time coming. Needless to say, July can't come soon enough. The Green Knight also stars Joel Edgerton, Alicia Vikander, Sean Harris, Kate Dickie, Erin Kellyman, Barry Keoghan, and opens on July 21st, 2021.  

2021 Oscar Predictions


This has been something of a whirlwind awards season given the extended timeline due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has more or less turned everything about everyone's lives upside down in one form or another. Not only has the Academy had to adapt to the new landscape in which the masses are seeing or saw the majority of their movies last year, but they are also in the midst of continuing to catch-up with the ever-evolving social landscape around the movies being made that are in contention for nominations. From the onset of about October when it was clear there was still going to be some semblance of an awards season even if no one had any real idea what it would look like, it appeared there were two or three front-runners that had the potential to dominate. One of those has proved especially true in Chloé Zhao's Nomadland which premiered simultaneously at both the Venice and Toronto film festivals last fall. Not only did it premiere at those festivals though, but it took home major awards from each including the top Golden Lion prize at Venice and the People's Choice Award at Toronto. Needless to say, it's been the front runner ever since. The other major contender out of that early festival circuit was Regina King's directorial debut, One Night in Miami... which only ended up garnering a couple of nominations though this feels as if it might be due, in some part, to the delayed ceremony and extended qualifying deadlines. That said, a movie that premiered ahead of both Nomadland and One Night in Miami... has become something of a dark horse in the awards conversation meaning only that while it has been almost universally praised since its premiere at last year's Sundance film festival it never seemed poised for Oscar dominance. I'm of course talking about Lee Isaac Chung's Minari which ended up earning six nominations, only one of which it is likely to win, but this was a big win nonetheless for the micro-budgeted drama about a Korean family that starts a farm in 1980s Arkansas. The most nominated film of the year belongs to the most nominated studio of the year with Netflix's Mank receiving ten nominations whereas The Father, Judas and the Black Messiah, Nomadland, Sound of Metal, and The Trial of the Chicago 7 each earned six nominations alongside Minari while Emerald Fennell's Promising Young Woman scored five. I've included both who I think will win in my predictions below as well as who I think should win. Hit the jump for my full list of predictions.

MORTAL KOMBAT Review

I don't know if it's due to going without movie theaters and therefore big-budget blockbusters for nearly a year, but between this and Godzilla vs. Kong it has been a pleasantly surprising return to the tentpole extravaganzas that had become almost too common to pre-pandemic life. That isn't to say 2021's Mortal Kombat is anything more than someone with the loftiest of expectations might hope it to be, but it's an assured piece of both filmmaking and storytelling that knows what it is, embraces everything about its own ridiculousness, and runs with all of it to the point it almost forces viewers to genuinely care about what is going on with this silly yet compelling multi-dimensional death battle. Of course, one's level of enjoyment with the film may come from their affection for the now iconic video games and its catch phrases that have made their way into the everyday lives of an entire generation. Some enjoyment (or complete distaste for, honestly) may come from the nostalgia-tinted glasses those who loved the nineties movie adaptations still wear, but even if you're an audience member with little to no brand recognition or fondness for the property what is both slightly unexpected but also an advantage to this new iterations success is that Greg Russo (his first feature) and Dave Callaham's (2014's Godzilla, Wonder Woman 1984, and the upcoming Shang-Chi) screenplay makes it an accessible adventure for anyone inclined to see what all the fighting is about. That is to say, Russo and Callaham build out the worlds Mortal Kombat encompasses in a simple and straightforward fashion that doesn't overwhelm the audience with too many levels nor does it dig too deep into the politics of the tournament itself, but instead takes what everyone loved about the games and puts them front and center: the characters. I'll backtrack slightly on this point as the film does introduce a new character into the Mortal Kombat mythos with its main protagonist Cole Young (Lewis Tan), but other than providing this surrogate who will take the audience through and into this universe the movie is otherwise all about bringing these characters viewers will recognize to life in what is ultimately fun and entertaining ways. Sans a pretty impressive opening sequence that admittedly sets the bar too high for the nonsense that follows, nothing about director Simon McQuoid's film is what one might label as "good", but almost everything about what it does in service of re-capturing that feeling of sitting in front of your cousin's tiny TV in their bedroom and mashing buttons in hopes it will result in a combination that will defeat said cousin in a bloody battle to the death is one thousand percent enjoyable.         

Official Teaser Trailer for Marvel's SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS


Created by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin,  Shang-Chi made his comics debut in 1973 as a result of Marvel attempting to capitalize on the popularity of martial arts in America. There are reports that Marvel and Stan Lee were trying to develop a film adaptation as early as the 1980s, (one such planned incarnation was to have starred Brandon Lee) but it wasn't meant to be. After a long road to the big screen though, the martial arts master is finally joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe at a time when new blood couldn't be more welcome. Directed by Dustin Daniel Cretton — who was born in Hawaii and is of Japanese descent — the filmmaker initially made a name for himself with 2013's Short Term 12 (which now features a murderer's row of talent including fellow MCU hero Brie Larson) as well as helming the little-seen The Glass Castle, and 2019's Oscar-contender, Just Mercy. Cretton, who has said he never had any intention of making the crossover to big-budget tentpole cinema, has gone on to say that making a superhero movie with a predominantly Asian cast has, "helped contribute to what I think is a really beautiful update to what started in the comics a few decades ago." As for the titular star of the film, the casting of thirty-one-year-old Simu Liu, best known for his role as Jung Kim on the Canadian sitcom Kim's Convenience, is a Cinderella story in and of itself. The actor had been tweeting at Marvel as early as 2014, so when Shang-Chi was officially announced, he naturally followed up with the domineering movie studio and to Liu's surprise, actually received an invite to audition eventually landing the role in July of 2019. As the beginning of a new franchise for the MCU, this will be an origin story many (including myself) are very much unaware of which makes for the third film post-Endgame (and the first starring a new character) all the more exciting and mysterious. Cretton's film, which he co-wrote with Dave Callaham, will follow our protagonist from his raising as the son of Wenwu (frequent Wong Kar-wai collaborator Tony Leung) who serves as the head of a villainous organization known as the Ten Rings. Wenwu has gone by many names in the world of the film including that of The Mandarin who first appeared in 2013's Iron Man 3 to controversial and mixed reactions when he showed up as a fraud via Ben Kingsley's Trevor Slattery. When we meet Shang-Chi in this film, he’s been free from his father's influence for a decade after choosing to walk away from a life of death and crime, but of course he is unable to run from his past forever. With some terrific-looking fight sequences as shot by legendary cinematographer Bill Pope (The Matrix, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and a supporting cast that includes Awkwafina, Fala Chen, Meng’er Zhang, Florian Munteanu, Ronny Chieng, and Michelle Yeoh, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will hopefully deliver us back into the world of movie-going and the bright future of the MCU when it opens in theaters on September 3, 2021.

VOYAGERS Review

A quick ten minutes into the latest from writer/director Neil Burger and we're hit with the question of how fair or unfair is it that people don't get to choose the environment or the situation they're born into. It's unfair, of course, that some are born into wealth and privilege while racism, misogyny, poverty, and countless other disadvantages are intrinsic to the existence of others from the day they're ushered into this world. This is a typical conclusion when assessing systems and how each individual entering that system, by choice or not, has a different starting line. These cut and dry conclusions, as unfair as they may be, are still very much a fascinating topic though, especially when considered in the context of children being created in a lab and curated from the time of their birth for a single purpose, a purpose they solely exist to serve, and a purpose they have absolutely no say in. That they were born from donors and not loving parents willing to take on the responsibility of their nurturing is the first disadvantage they face, but that they are then expected to simply conform to the needs of the previous generation and sacrifice their own sense of purpose for the mistakes of those elders is the next daunting reality they have to accept. Thus is the premise of Burger's Voyagers, a science fiction action/drama that like any good piece of science fiction works best when it's exploring its main idea or concept and the questions that spurn from as much rather than trying to answer them. That said, what Burger is attempting to cover here is engaging ground nonetheless as he dives into the deep, dark void of space in order to isolate ideas around nature versus nurture and if the wiring and influence of these subjects' genetic inheritance is enough to guarantee they not only have the intelligence and ingenuity to complete their mission, but the willpower to avoid the predictable foibles of human nature. What these children are born into, what they are tasked with, and what is expected of them is not fair and one would be hard-pressed to find anyone that didn't agree with that assessment, but the fact remains no one is granted the opportunity to choose what they're born into though there is still the choice of what type of person they want to become no matter the circumstances. Voyagers seeks to examine the necessary balance of innocence and experience required to fully grasp the possibilities of this line of thought via the guise of a genre film that sports sleek sets and pretty people that thankfully succumbs more often than not to the whims of its notions than to the trappings of its brand. 

GODZILLA VS. KONG Review

While appreciating Gareth Edwards' aspirations with 2014’s Godzilla and becoming perplexed by how Michael Dougherty’s 2019 sequel could be so little fun despite its reactionary take to criticisms leveled against the first film, it seems the only movie in Warner Brother’s new monster-verse that knew exactly what it was and what it needed to be was Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong flick. This may then explain why in Adam Wingard’s (You're Next, The Guest) clash of the titans that Kong is made to be the center of attention; the lynch pin on which every cockamamie human character's quest hinges. That isn't to say the king of the monsters doesn't factor into the match of the century in any meaningful capacity, but more that Wingard takes up Vogt-Roberts' mentality of embracing the absurdity in this universe and then lets his imagination run wild more so than he does try to either ground this in any kind of reality as Edwards did or let it be brought down by the human characters as Dougherty did. There is little to no regard for logic and no one - especially screenwriters Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein - seems to have been bothered with the semantics of how a "sci-fi quack trading in fringe physics" is able to convince Rebecca Hall's Dr. Andrews AKA "The Kong Whisperer" to have military assets escort Kong from his home on Skull Island to Antarctica in order to enter a portal to Hollow Earth on the whim of a tech billionaire (Demián Bichir) who is looking to harness the energy of this "ecosystem as vast as any ocean" so that he may power a weapon that can compete with Godzilla who recently became a threat again after a seemingly unprovoked attack. The best part of it all though, is that none of this matters, not really, and only exists to prop up reasoning for how the two titular titans come face to face with one another. Whereas Edwards elicited Dante's Inferno in the Halo jump sequence in his Godzilla film, Wingard elicits a Saturday morning toy commercial in Godzilla vs. Kong and naturally - it's more fun than anything this monster-verse has produced thus far. One could complain the creative team behind the film doesn't take great pains to make any of this thought provoking in terms of Godzilla beginning as an allegory for nuclear war or discussing Kong's origins in analyzing colonialism and man's need for dominance over others, but this isn't about those things or even those characters individually. This is a movie about a giant gorilla and a giant lizard coming to blows with one another and it's just as stupid, ridiculous, and thoroughly entertaining as something with that simple premise should be.    

NOBODY Review

There’s a moment just under an hour into Ilya "Hardcore Henry" Naishuller's Nobody when Bob Odenkirk’s Hutch Mansell returns to his home where, moments earlier, he took out an entire squad of Russian goons; their bodies still lay strewn about the house as Mansell’s family awaits a verdict in their secured basement: will the father and husband return, will he set them free, and also what the hell is going on up there? Mansell's wife, Becca (Connie Nielson) along their two children (Gage Munroe and Paisley Cadorath), have zero idea what kind of predicament their father's gotten them into and the children seemingly have no idea there dad was once one of the baddest mofo's on the planet. It was at this moment in the movie though, some fifty or so minutes in, that I hoped Mansell might - instead of cleaning up after himself or burning the place to the ground - reach for his phone to order the services of "The Cleaners" from the John Wick franchise proving indefinitely that screenwriter Derek Kolstad (a writer on all three John Wick films) had connected Mansell's universe with that of the Keanu Reeves character inevitably leading to a cameo from Odenkirk in John Wick Chapter 5: Whatever Unnecessary Subtitle They Come Up With. Unfortunately, said "Cleaners" do not show up and Mansell, as he does with most things in life, takes care of it himself. It's easy to say this "missed opportunity" is unfortunate, but is likely - ultimately - for the best given Kolstad is clearly attempting something a little more knowing here than he's done with any of his previous efforts including the Keanu Reeves actioners or the other random, B-level action movies he's written that no one ever knew existed until they saw them at a Redbox and only seem to exist to answer the question of, "what has Dolph Lundgren been up to since The Expendables 3?" With Nobody though, Kolstad is looking to enlist the ambiance of a traditional genre movie only to upend tropes such as the pounding score or the grizzly narration with the mundanities that make Hutch appear to be the "nobody" he aspires to be, but can't help but resent. While its protagonist could easily be described as a wolf in sheep's clothing the opposite is true of the film in that Kolstad and Naishuller set the movie up as if it were a serious, R-rated action flick whereas in reality the movie couldn't take itself less seriously. It's a clever little conceit that becomes more clever the further it's executed amounting to something akin to a top-tier, late-stage Liam Neeson actioner with the self-awareness to stop and wink at the audience from time to time.  

COMING 2 AMERICA Review

Eddie Murphy, at fifty-nine, is two years older than James Earl Jones was in 1988 when Coming to America was originally released. This may appear to be little more than a heartbreaking factoid to most and have little bearing on where we land regarding Coming 2 America, but in many respects it absolutely sets the stage for where the narrative takes us in director Craig Brewer's (Dolemite Is My Name, Hustle & Flow) thirty-year-later sequel. The script, which went through several iterations, takes audiences through what is a nice balance of both the nostalgia likely related to countless experiences those who were raised on the film associate with it while changing things up enough, both story-wise as well as in terms of modernization, that it's difficult to imagine this movie making anyone angry it was made at all. It was a risky bet to in fact make the film of course, and it will never fulfill certain ideas of what it could or should have been for some and it probably won't come to mean as much to younger generations as the original does to their parents, but it's here. It exists. When someone undoubtedly goes to watch the original film for the five hundred and sixty-seventh time and then needs a chaser to remedy the desire to re-capture that same feeling without going through the exact same experience they now have Coming 2 America to show them what happened to these characters decades down the road, to show them how they grew-up, changed, adapted, and discovered who they truly were. The sequel is, if nothing else, a nice, comforting reminder of the simple values the original held near its heart underneath all the broad humor and heavy make-up. As much as it is a passing of the torch sequel (though I feel assured in saying to not expect any more sequels) it is also a sequel that sees how the progress made in the first film - when James Earl Jones' King Joffe Joffer allowed Prince Akeem (Murphy) to venture outside his arranged marriage and marry for love - now raises the bar for Akeem to progress Zamunda that much further under his own rule. It's a film that doesn't feel the need to get into any heavy themes or social or political commentaries, though there are topical jokes here and there, but rather it is a comedy that embraces the progress of not only the culture at large, but of these characters - even addressing in some respects - the stifled progress of those who were once invigorated by as much, but who have since become settled in their role and routine. It would have been easy for Coming 2 America to very much stay comfortable in its routine and simply repeated the beats of the original via a younger generation, but the world has changed too much for this to only be about a prince seeking his princess. Coming 2 America, if it's about anything, is about that very need for growth and how critical it is to never stop doing so in order to maintain the balance of discovering who one is and who they want to be...even if that journey is as small as deciding whether they should sing Whitney Houston again or move on to some Sister Sledge.    

CHAOS WALKING Review

A fascinating miscalculation if nothing else, Chaos Walking is a string of ideas in search of meaning. Having never heard of The Knife of Letting Go by Patrick Ness, the first in a trilogy of books that is known overall as Chaos Walking the most notable first reaction to this adaptation was that despite having a reliable captain in Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and Edge of Tomorrow) the film itself largely lacks a sense of direction. Of course, this might have something to do with the troubled production given the film was originally shot in 2017, but after what were reported to be poor test screenings of the initial cut, Lionsgate brought in a different director, Fede Alvarez (Don’t Breathe), for extensive and costly reshoots in 2019 before the pandemic delayed the release further. Though the film doesn't inspire enough curiosity for me to rally film twitter to initiate the #ReleaseTheLimanCut movement it does stand as a curious case of what might have been given Ness' material (he authored the series as well as co-wrote the screenplay with Christopher Ford) offers a number of possible interpretations, opportunities, and ideas that no one can blame neither Lionsgate (who acquired the rights to the book in 2011) nor Liman for wanting to pursue. That said, for a visual medium such as film to realize a concept that includes what is referred to as "the Noise" where every character on screen can hear every male character's thoughts there needs to be a certain level of credibility and innovation to its execution, but unfortunately this balance is never struck...or maybe it was never found in the first place. It's difficult to imagine what it must have been like to work in the sound department on a project such as this where there seems no good option in matching what is essentially Tom Holland doing Dustin Hoffman a la Rain Man in an attempt to verbalize streams of consciousness to different colored clouds of smoke that pulse like heartbeats around the men's heads. Manifesting this concept was undoubtedly a challenge, but it doesn't help that this concept is largely the key to making the film work as a whole and when it doesn't land - when we're not convinced of said manifestation in the first five minutes - then it's a problem. It also doesn't help that this key element was to be largely finalized in post-production allowing for little wiggle room in the experimentation of bringing the concept to life. Stream of consciousness thinking is confusing, often contradictory, and always messy, so how was anyone expected to organize this into something coherent much less consistently compelling in such a fashion that it could support an entire narrative based around a dystopian world where the women are gone and the men are literally left with only their thoughts? I have no idea either, but if anyone does, they should contact Chaos Walking.

RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON Review

The latest Disney princess to enter the chat is a Southeast Asian princess named Raya and she absolutely rules. It's always impressive when storytellers can manipulate your standard archetypes to somehow create what are still compelling characters experiencing fanciful if not familiar situations that they somehow manage to derive a particular meaning or elicit a specific theme from. That all to say, Raya and the Last Dragon isn't necessarily anything audiences haven't seen before, but it's so well thought out and so well executed that it makes the tropes it takes advantage of feel exceedingly fresh; as if one were experiencing them for the first time. It also doesn't hurt the film was inspired by cultures from Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Laos among others which inherently adds a certain vigor and resonance to the piece. It's abundantly clear how much the representation in the film mattered to its makers given Raya is Disney's first feature film inspired by Southeast Asia as the creative team that was put in place - namely screenwriters Adam Lin (Crazy Rich Asians) and Qui Nguyen - brought as much experience as they did research to the table. Having writer's representative of the culture at the heart of the story lends the film certain subtleties, nuances, and truths it would undoubtedly have gone without otherwise. Raya's strongest trait isn't how focused it is on diversifying the Mouse House's princess portfolio, but rather how seamlessly it integrates these cultures into Disney's age old formula while remaining true to the ancestry and traditions that have inspired this variation on the hero's journey. There is a difference in representation and concentration though, and while the representation in Raya certainly matters what makes it even more exceptional is how the film doesn't concentrate solely on the culture by placing it at the center of the narrative, but more by building the context of the story in a land many will consider fictional, but who just as many will recognize as home. Raya treats all princesses equal by giving the titular Asian princess as rousing an adventure as Mulan and as moving a quest as Elsa with nary a prince or romantic subplot in sight. In short, the representation occurs by using the tropes of the action/adventure genre to enlighten non-Asian audiences to a culture that isn't their own. By showcasing the importance of trust as its primary theme, delivering beautiful visuals that are meaningful even if all may not fully realize or comprehend why, as well as simply being a positive portrayal of what said trust, optimism, and understanding can do for the world Raya and the Last Dragon is a near-perfect film that takes the best of what movies have to offer and delivers them in spades if not necessarily breaking the mold. 

THE UNITED STATES VS. BILLIE HOLIDAY Review

The first hour of Lee Daniels’ oddly structured The United States vs. Billie Holiday is so plagued by the fits and starts of its three different narrative strands and the resulting meandering nature of as much that, despite the eponymous character being of indisputable interest, it's almost immediately evident this particular piece about her life lacks the focus to make any real sense to the casual viewer and won't be able to generate any lasting impact on even the most ardent of Holiday admirers. It’s not until nearly an hour and fifteen minutes in (or with some forty-five minutes remaining) that the film based on Suzan Lori-Parks’ screenplay from the novel by Johann Hari somewhat finds its footing by taking the character of Jimmy Fletcher (Trevante Rhodes) who, up until this point has been something of an extraneous detail in Holiday's life, and inserts him into the main arc of Andra Day's version of Holiday; placing their two very different trajectories in life on the same track and forcing those paths to merge into one. The funny thing is, this breakthrough doesn't occur because Fletcher and Holiday have this undeniable chemistry or even because their mostly deranged romance is so captivating, but more it has to do with the fact this feels like the first time the film is actually onto something regarding who Holiday might have actually been as a human being. Sure, this is due in part to the fact that in the sprouting of this romantic relationship the viewer is also given further context surrounding Holiday's childhood and formative experiences (again, not until over an hour into the film), but if anything has been established in Daniels' film thus far it's that Holiday was a woman who liked to live in extremes no matter what she was doing. There's that famous quote of her responding to the question of why so many jazz greats seem to die so early to which she replied, "...we try to live one hundred days in one day." This is all to say that in her relationship with Fletcher - at least in the film - Holiday finds something she doesn't understand and therefore doesn't feel in control of her emotions due to the fact there's only a certain type of love she's become accustomed to. Both ironically and tragically is the fact the kind of love that made Holiday feel safe was also the kind that kept her perpetually unhappy and paranoid. What might have been a study in a life that only felt purposeful when what caused her pleasure caused her just as much pain, The United States vs. Billie Holiday is ultimately a mess of a missed opportunity whose execution can't match its subject's ambition.  

CHERRY Review

In April of 2019, Joe and Anthony Russo had just come off of making the biggest movie of all time, but instead of taking the summer off to relax and enjoy the receipts (as well as the relief of somehow managing to meet and/or exceed all expectations with that MCU season finale) they decided to roll right into making another film. A completely different kind of film. Whether this had to do with needing a change of pace, tone, or a release from that much surveyed environment where every facet was picked apart by fans the one thing that seems abundantly evident is the fact the Russo's felt an urgency to bring the story of Nico Walker to the screen and address the opioid epidemic. While said tone and subject matter are vastly different when it comes to Avengers movies and something like Cherry it seems safe to assume no matter the material that the Russo's have now reached a level at which they operate that will be hard to come back from. That is to say that despite its humbler ambitions and price tag, Cherry still feels like an epic. This is one hundred percent an event film of sorts where, despite there being no Gods or heroes challenging mad titans for the survival of humanity, the characters are still addressed and treated with the same reverence of a Tony Stark; the shots just as elaborate, the scope larger than anticipated, and the score just as sweeping. It's almost as if the directing duo are keen to point out how these people and their problems are part of that humanity that is worth saving as well - or at least remind those that can empathize with Tom Holland's character that they are. In that, the Russo's have concocted a searing, but scattered takedown of the Iraq war through one man’s experience that essentially delivers him from one hell to another as set to Van the Man’s soulful yet oftentimes heartbreaking voice that moves beyond the words of Walker’s book of the same name on which this is based and into the raw emotions of his journey. 

At two hours and twenty minutes the Russo's, working from a screenplay by Jessica Goldberg and Angela Russo-Otstot, throw a lot at the wall much of which tends to work given the drastic tonal shifts of each act, but as a whole leaves the viewer in a state of both surprise and confusion. Surprise largely at how entertaining this mess remains despite those major changes in tone but confused simply by everything Walker’s story encompasses and what the focus of this story is by way of meaning. Not every movie necessarily needs a main idea or central theme and Cherry certainly has a thesis statement in that the memories of war are battles those in the armed forces have to fight long after they’ve left the actual battlefield, but what it says or means to say about these experiences feels as if it gets lost in the shuffle. That said, how it says what it wants to say is a different conversation entirely as the Russo's execution is never not grandiose or energetic. There is an indisputable amount of bold choices if not necessarily innovative ones that lend the project both an impressive sense of style and Holland’s protagonist a sense of self on top of all the work Holland is doing (and trust me, he's putting in some work). Every choice the directors make is seemingly in support of building the character that embodies Walker’s perspective here and not only his point of view but getting inside his head and taking us through his experiences in the most visceral ways possible. As is true of the novel, the sections covering Iraq feel the most honest and brash and are where the Russo's big swings work best. Choices that involve text flashing across the screen in unison with drill sergeants yelling them, brutally honest policy descriptions serving as bank names, or shot selections that literally put us inside Holland’s character show the fire in the Russo's bellies and an admirable determination to make this as raw and powerful a portrait as they can even if the movie itself ends up feeling like it's trying a bit too hard. 

THE FATHER Review

What do you do with the people you love when they no longer know who they are? Writer/director Florian Zeller's film adaptation of his 2012 stage production, The Father, attempts to find solace in the answers to this question. What's so striking about this feature directorial debut though is not how assured it seems (which it absolutely does), but more how well-balanced and complete it is despite the narrative and its origins suggesting a rather small, narrow window through which the material might view the world. The confined setting certainly gives way to the roots of the piece, but there is also something distinctly cinematic to the film as if Zeller was intent to not simply exercise his skills as a first time filmmaker, but justify why this piece of writing was worth being adapted to the screen (one possible reason for this being this is actually the second time Zeller's work has been adapted after the 2015 French film, Florida). This is almost laughable though, as the structure and quality of writing alone make Zeller's work more than worthy of being told time and time again. That said, it's not simply the insight garnered through the elegant prose, but more it's how Zeller is able to both take the viewer inside the mind of an individual experiencing the aggressive progressions of dementia as well as simultaneously lend awareness and understanding to the roles closely associated with this disease and how those who must go through this experience with a loved one are equally impacted by it. 

Needless to say, Zeller is a master storyteller and in his directorial debut (I keep repeating it because I can't believe it) he carefully - and probably meticulously, as re-watches will undoubtedly assure - creates this ever-shifting and insular world in which Anthony Hopkins' Anthony is trapped. The awareness of every facet of his film is what creates this environment for which we, the audience, immediately buy into completely. Zeller has purposefully paired his protagonist with this somewhat stuffy yet still pristine London flat where the green of trees can be seen through the window, children can be heard running along the sidewalks outside, and classical compositions largely dominate the sound waves within the apartment. It's a context that feels familiar and thus the reality of it is without question, but as the severity of Anthony's diagnosis becomes more apparent it's clear Zeller is not simply conducting this film as a shared experience for the characters and the audience, but as a piece of art in which the audience willingly plays an active part; we're participating. As eye-rolling as that may sound, it becomes true the further one follows The Father down its path as the fundamental choices of the film not only invest the viewer in these people, but put us inside their heads and help us understand the fear and the confusion - among other things - constantly enveloping them. 

SEFCA ANNOUNCES 2020 WINNERS


February 22, 2021 – The Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) has named Nomadland as its Best Film of 2020. Chloé Zhao’s intimate, elegiac drama about life in America after the Great Recession also earned the organization’s awards for Best Actress for Frances McDormand, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for Zhao, and Best Cinematography for Joshua James Richards.

Nomadland was an overwhelming favorite among our members in this year’s award season,” said SEFCA President Matt Goldberg. “It’s clear that Zhao’s thoughtful, deeply humanistic and heartfelt portrait of life at the fringes of our country connected with our members across the Southeast, and it is our pleasure to name it the Best Film of 2020.”

SEFCA also bestowed its Gene Wyatt Award, which goes to a film that best embodies the spirit of the South, to Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari, the story of a Korean immigrant family that moves to Arkansas so the patriarch can realize his dream of becoming a farmer. Like Nomadland, Minari was a clear favorite among our members, and there’s no question that Chung’s film is a moving and authentic portrait of our part of the country.

Official Trailer for CRUELLA Starring Emma Stone


While it will be difficult to separate myself from Glenn Close's turn as the evil Cruella de Vil from the 1996 and 2002 live-action adaptations of the 1961 Disney animated film which in and of itself was based on the 1956 novel by Dodie Smith, but I shall do my best and if there's anyone charming enough to redefine the role it's Emma Stone. While the well seems to be drying up rather quickly for Disney on what exactly they can make into live-action versions next given 101 Dalmatians kind of kicked this whole trend off some twenty-five years ago there is undoubtedly plenty more Disney can mine from its vault as live-action versions of The Little Mermaid and Hercules are on the horizon (not to mention a Barry Jenkins-directed Lion King sequel) with untold new takes on plenty of other properties likely in the works as well. Unlike the Glenn Close films of the late-nineties and early-aughts though, this time around the evil de Vil is getting her origin story that might illuminate audiences on how someone could become the type of person that enjoys murdering a hundred puppies for the sake of their style. Man, when you really stop to think about Cruella's mission in that original story it's kind of crazy most kids walked away unaffected by that movie. This brings up what is to be the most curious question pertaining to this new film in how is Disney going to make a movie about a woman who finds puppy murder as satisfying as she does without making her the sympathetic hero a la Maleficent? How were they going to do this AND keep the movie targeted at the demographic they largely serve? Well, it seems the answer to both parts of that question is a simple, "they won't" as Cruella brings with it a PG-13 rating while this first, official trailer more or less indicates this will be the Mouse House's version of Joker. Directed by Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya, Lars and the Real Girl) and co-written by Dana Fox (How to Be Single) and Tony McNamara (The Favourite) the film has a broad enough range of influences to at least feel like it could become an oddity among the Disney live-action remakes we've seen thus far. As far as what can be derived about the film from this brief look it would seem Stone is going all-in on being over-the-top, ludicrous British accent and all. As with everything, we'll see. Still, this one feels like it could legitimately go in either direction which I guess is better than landing in the middle as most of its predecessors have. Cruella also stars Emma Thompson, Mark Strong, Paul Walter Hauser, Joel Fry, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, and is currently scheduled to open in theaters on May 28, 2021.     

I CARE A LOT Review

I Care A Lot is the type of film that knows exactly what it is and what it means to be from the very first frame. Healthcare workers divvy up monotonous rows of medications into small plastic cups intended to keep their targets as much in check as they do healthy. The first piece of dialogue is a woman's voice seemingly calling the viewer out, "Look at you. Sitting there," she says as she goes on to explain how the idea of "playing fair" is a joke invented by the rich to keep everyone else poor. All of this accompanied by the immediate needle drop of Death in Vegas' 1999 track "Dirge" or what is another word for a "sad song", an elegy. Writer/director J Blakeson (The Disappearance of Alice Creed) pushes all the way down on the syringe releasing every facet of his technique into the bloodstream as quickly as he can. From that first moment the tone is fully engaged and every tool Blakeson has at his disposal is being used to elevate the story being told; the film is firing on all cylinders. The difference between I Care A Lot and most films that begin with such promise though, is that it sustains its nasty yet overwhelmingly engaging tone throughout its nearly two-hour runtime. By the end of that runtime one is bound to be both satisfied as far as viewing experiences go, but also somewhat overwhelmed not simply by the lengths the narrative decides to venture, but the implications of our lead character's, the anti-hero in many respects, course of action. It is this course of action, this central scheme that Rosamund Pike’s Marla Grayson has cooked up, that provides much of the propulsion and confidence the film displays throughout as one would require such attributes to pull the type of legal Olympics off that she does here. While the tone is enjoyable - delectable even - and we, the audience are having a blast watching these people do these terrible things there is no escaping the fact that afterward, once the credits have rolled, we're also somewhat appalled at the fact we did enjoy this level of duplicity so much. 

How real and damaging the effects of what the character of Marla Grayson is doing here are the reasons Blakeson has chosen to employ that all-knowing and judgmental narration, why he uses bold, primary colors in both setting and wardrobe to heighten the world in which his film takes place, and why he utilizes Marc Canham's electronic-heavy score to give Grayson's actions an edge that, while understanding she's an inherently evil person, still makes her seem cool. It's the age old question of why we root for the bad guy, the villain, and often times it's because we can recognize their flaws in our own, but even Marla Grayson would tell you her only flaw is being too ambitious and too driven and that she finds no fault in doing whatever it takes to get to the top. It's not that these qualities aren't relatable or are the reasons we aren't sympathetic to Grayson come the end of the film, but it's how far she's willing to cross the line in order to make her ambitions a reality that separates the human being from the truly despicable.