Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Curse of La Llorona


½★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Ah, horror. The genre I consider to be that broken clock that's right twice a day. These horror films are a dime-a-dozen, but the vast majority of them are mediocre at best, & downright awful at worst. Every so often, there are some horror films that are truly great, but those sadly seem to be the exception & not the rule.

The Curse of La Llorona is an absolutely horrendous film. Set in 1973 Los Angeles, the film follows Anna Tate-Garcia (played by Linda Cardellini), a widowed social worker & mother to Chris played by Roman Christou) & Samantha (played by Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen). Anna has been recently enveloped in the disappearance of Tomas (played by Aiden Lewandowski) & Carlos (played by Oliver Alexander) Alvarez, the two sons of Patricia Alvarez (played by Patricia Velásquez), who has been visited often by Anna due to concerns over the boys' welfare. Anna arrives at the Alvarez residence & is told by Patricia to not open the door the boys are in; however, Anna does this, & she takes the children to a child services shelter.

While at the shelter, Tomas & Carlos see a woman in a white dress: La Llorona (played by Marisol Ramirez). La Llorona (The Weeping Woman) is a woman from Mexican folklore who was locally renowned for her beauty & had 2 young boys. However, she drowned both of them in the river, but regretted it soon after, cried, & killed herself soon after. They say she still cries to this day, looking for children to take & replace her children. Anna's involvement in the case is blamed by Patricia for causing La Llorona to come for her children, & now La Llorona will soon be searching for the Garcia family; however, Anna doesn't think much of it.

Eventually, La Llorona does come for the Garcia family. They go to a local church for help, but Father Perez (played by Tony Amendola) tells them that it will take a long time for the church to get involved. He sends them in the direction of Rafael Olvera (played by Raymond Cruz), a former priest, to help them defeat La Llorona. But their quest to get rid of her once & for all will prove to be tough.

The cast is awful. Linda Cardellini is completely wasted here, & after this & Green Book, I think she needs a new agent. Raymond Cruz is also wasted here, which is disheartening considering how great he was as Tuco Salamanca on Breaking Bad. And Patricia Velásquez is completely one-dimensional in her performance.

Michael Chaves' direction is terrible. Chaves relies way too much on poorly-executed jump scares instead of trying to build tension & terror, & ends up making the scares come across as unintentionally funny.

And the screenplay by Mikki Daughtry & Tobias Iaconis is disastrous. The plot has no nuance to it, the characters are flatter than pancakes, & the dialogue is poorly written.

This is one of the worst horror films I've ever seen. It has nothing even minutely scary in it, is incompetently made, & is unintentionally funny, but not in a good way.

The Curse of La Llorona was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Thursday, April 18, 2019. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 93 minutes, & it is rated R for violence & terror.

Amazing Grace


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Aretha Franklin was truly one of the greatest singers of all time, & she definitely earned her title of "The Queen of Soul." With 38 studio albums, 8 live albums, 1 soundtrack album, & hundreds of hit singles such as Respect, Chain of Fools, You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman)I Say a Little Prayer, & Think, Franklin became the most charted female artist in history, leaving an indelible legacy.

Amazing Grace is a soul-shattering documentary of the recording of one of her finest albums. The film follows Aretha Franklin as she arrives to the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles in 1972 to record her upcoming live gospel album, Amazing Grace. Franklin has assembled her usual crew for the album: Cornell Dupree on guitar, Pancho Morales on congas & percussion, Bernard Purdie on drums, & Chuck Rainey on bass, along with Arif Mardin & Jerry Wexler producing. Also, Franklin will be accompanied by Rev. James Cleveland & the Southern California Community Choir.

The church is packed with people in the audience, & they are welcomed to participate in the recording with words of praise. As the recording commences, the music is awe-inspiring. Little does the audience know how successful this album will be, as it will become Franklin's best-selling album & the best-selling live gospel album of all time.

The direction by Sydney Pollack & Alan Elliott is astounding. Pollack, who sadly never got to see the release of the film, as he passed in 2008, perfectly visualizes the soul-shaking music & the love & effort put into it. However, Pollack did not use a clapperboard to sync the picture & sound together, which caused the film to be left in the vaults for 38 years. Elliott came in to finish the job & put it all together. His realization is the cherry on top of this film, for we would not be seeing this film without his restoration work.

This is a truly awe-inspiring documentary. It is a true crowd-pleaser, as it makes you want to get up & sing with The Queen of Soul herself.

Amazing Grace was seen by me at the AMC Star John R 15 in Madison Heights, MI on Thursday, April 18, 2019. It is currently in 6 theaters in the Detroit area, including the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI; The Maple Theater in Bloomfield Township, MI; & the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, MI. Its runtime is 89 minutes, & it is rated G.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Missing Link


★★★★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Stop-motion animation is such a wonderful style of animation. The work that goes into it is so intricate & wondrous. Unfortunately, people do not go to see films like these, as they are more interested in the CGI-animated films that are commonplace these days.

Missing Link, while just short of perfect, is a great work of stop-motion animation. The film follows Sir Lionel Frost (voiced by Hugh Jackman), an explorer of mythical creatures. Despite his best efforts, Frost has consistently failed at trying to discover these creatures, & his assistant Lemuel Lint (voiced by David Walliams) has recently resigned. However, he remains determined to discover mythical creatures & join a society of great explorers led by Lord Piggot-Dunceby (voiced by Stephen Fry).

One day, Frost receives a letter telling of a sighting of a Sasquatch in the Pacific Northwest. Believing that this is true, Frost makes a deal with Piggot-Dunceby that if he finds the Sasquatch, he will be accepted into the society, to which Piggot-Dunceby begrudgingly agrees. However, Piggot-Dunceby does not want Frost in the society, nor does his right-hand man Mr. Collick (voiced by Matt Lucas), so he hires bounty hunter Willard Stenk (voiced by Timothy Olyphant) to stop Frost from succeeding in his attempt.

When he arrives in the Pacific Northwest, Frost discovers the Sasquatch (voiced by Zach Galifianakis), whom Frost names Mr. Link (& eventually Susan). Susan tells Frost that he wrote the letter, & wants Frost to help him find his Yeti relatives in the Himalayas, led by the Yeti Elder (voiced by Emma Thompson). Frost agrees to help Susan find his relatives.

Meanwhile, Adelina Fortnight (voiced by Zoë Saldana), Frost's ex-girlfriend, has a map to the Himalayas that her late husband had. Frost & Susan break into her house to find it, & although they get it, Fortnight catches onto them the next day. However, she allows them to use the map as long as she joins them. Together, they will make their way to the Himalayas, where mountain guide Ama Lahuma (voiced by Amrita Acharia) will help them get to the Yetis. But Stenk is right on their tail, & this will be a complicated journey for all of them.

The voice cast is excellent. Hugh Jackman shows off his great comedic timing. Zach Galifianakis is at his funniest in years. And the rest of the cast, especially Timothy Olyphant, give great performances in their supporting voice roles.

Chris Butler's direction is great. Although a couple moments have issues maintaining interest, Butler is able to overcome that with a colorful animated style & a warm tone throughout.

Chris Butler's screenplay is amazing. The plot is intriguing, the characters are well-developed, & the dialogue is consistently funny.

And the animation is terrific. The work that was put in to making this film is so evident here, as the attention to detail is awe-inspiring.

This is a very good stop-motion film. Although there are a couple small issues, they're definitely overcome by the voice cast, writing & animation.

Missing Link was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Saturday, April 13, 2019. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 94 minutes, & it is rated PG for action/peril & some mild rude humor.

Pet Sematary


★★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Remakes & reboots have become a bit too common these days. Although some of them are very good or even great, most of them aren't good, & I lament the lack of originality in cinema in this day & age.

Pet Sematary had the potential to be good, but it ultimately settles for mediocre. Based on the 1983 novel Pet Sematary by Stephen King, the film follows Louis Creed (played by Jason Clarke), a doctor from Boston. He, along with his wife Rachel (played by Amy Seimetz), daughter Ellie (played by Jeté Laurence), son Gage (played by Hugo Lavoie & Lucas Lavoie), & cat Church, have moved to the small town of Ludlow, Maine. Just before they arrive at their new house, they notice a group of children wearing animal masks taking a dead dog to the cemetery in the woods, known as the "pet sematary." Their neighbor, Jud Crandall (played by John Lithgow), warns the family not to go into the woods alone, as they are filled with danger.

One day, at the university hospital, Louis encounters Victor Pascow (played by Obssa Ahmed), a student who was injured after being hit by a car. Despite his best efforts, Louis is unable to save Victor. The next night, Louis has a dream where Victor takes him to the back of the cemetery & warms him not to go further. Although Louis wakes up from the dream, he notices some things that show that it may have been more than a dream.

On Halloween, Church is hit & killed by a truck. Louis & Jud go out after dark to bury him, but Jud takes him further into the cemetery into an ancient burial ground. The next day, Church returns, but he is much more aggressive. Louis, wondering what has happened, is told by Jud that the ancient burial ground is inhabited by a spirit named Wendigo & is able to bring things back from the dead. But as the days go by & a horrific event occurs in the Creed family, they all begin to realize that sometimes dead is better.

The cast is amazing. Jason Clarke further shows his ability to show immense command in a lead role. John Lithgow is the standout of the supporting cast. And the rest of the cast give great performances in their supporting roles.

The direction by Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer is great. Although they can't stop the film from going off the rails in the third act, they do show a great ability for maintaining a dark tone & atmosphere.

And the screenplay by Jeff Buhler & Matt Greenberg is bad. The changes from the book to the film don't work out that well, & as the film goes on, the plot falls apart.

This is a prime example of a lackluster film. It had so much potential, but unfortunately, it didn't deliver on that potential, showing us that sometimes not remaking something is better.

Pet Sematary was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Friday, April 5, 2019. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 101 minutes, & it is rated R for horror violence, bloody images, & some language.

The Mustang


★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Redemption is a long, rough road. It may take less time for some, but it will always take a long time to redeem yourself. But once you do find redemption, you will feel at least close to normal again. However, some of us never reach that destination.

The Mustang, while a bit too familiar at times, is a powerfully-acted tale of redemption. The film follows Roman Coleman (played by Matthias Schoenaerts), a convict in the Nevada State Penitentiary. He has been in prison for 12 years for assault, & knowing full well that he has a violent temper & is prone to bursts of rage, does not want to be put back into society, despite the best efforts of the prison psychologist (played by Connie Britton). Roman's daughter Martha (played by Gideon Adlon), who is pregnant, has become ambivalent towards her father, & is not interested in mending their relationship.

While doing maintenance outside, Roman is met by Myles (played by Bruce Dern), a rancher. Myles places Roman in a rehabilitation program where he is to work with a mustang. These mustangs are trained for 5 weeks before they are sold at an auction. Roman struggles with training his horse, becoming violent towards it at times, but with the help of Henry (played by Jason Mitchell), an inmate who is also very experienced in horse training, Roman develops a companionship with the horse, who he names Marcus.

As Roman further develops his companionship with Marcus & forms a friendship with Henry, he tries to rediscover himself in the process. But the guilt of his crime may keep him imprisoned both literally & figuratively.

The cast is excellent. Matthias Schoenaerts is a force to be reckoned with. His acting prowess definitely shows in his loud, emotional moments, but it shows even more in quiet moments. Jason Mitchell, Bruce Dern & Gideon Adlon are terrific in their supporting roles. But Schoenaerts runs away with the film.

Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre's direction is amazing. de Clermont-Tonnerre goes for a very subdued approach to a prison drama, & it works very well, distinguishing it from other prison dramas that go for a more gritty approach.

And the screenplay by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, Mona Fastvold & Brock Norman Brock is great. Although the plot is a bit too formulaic, the characters feel very human & the dialogue is very realistic.

This is a very good drama. Although the screenplay could've been better, its strong performances & subdued direction propels it to the finish line.

The Mustang was seen by me at The Maple Theater in Bloomfield Township, MI on Tuesday, April 2, 2019. It is currently in 6 theaters in the Detroit area, including the AMC Forum 30 in Sterling Heights, MI; The Maple Theater in Bloomfield Township, MI; the State Theatre in Ann Arbor, MI; & the Rave Flint West 14 in Flint, MI. Its runtime is 96 minutes, & it is rated R for language, some violence & drug content.

Monday, April 15, 2019

The Beach Bum


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Every single one of us is trying to live a peaceful, meditative life. We yearn to relax away the years living life on our own terms, in the long-running quest for some semblance of heaven on earth. Unfortunately, many of us never get there.

The Beach Bum expertly portrays that yearning, & in the process, becomes the closest we will ever get to reaching true nirvana. The film follows Moondog (played by Matthew McConaughey), a poet in the Florida Keys. Living for sex, weed, & booze, Moondog just spends his days engaging in hedonism while the colorful characters of the Florida Keys praise him as a legend, although, in the eyes of the general public, he is way past his prime in a literary sense. His escapades are enabled by his loving & wealthy wife Minnie (played by Isla Fisher) & his R&B-singing best friend Lingerie (played by Snoop Dogg). However, his daughter Heather (played by Stefania LaVie Owen), her fiancé Frank (played by Joshua Ritter), & Moondog's agent Lewis (played by Jonah Hill) disapprove of his behavior & their enabling. Nevertheless, Moondog still does what he wants, although he truly does love the people around him.

The death of a relative brings an inheritance for Moondog: however, half of it will go to Heather, & the other half will remain frozen until he cleans up his act & finishes the novel he has been working on for years. However, an incident sends him to rehab for a year in order to avoid prison time. In rehab, Moondog meets Flicker (played by Zac Efron), a Christian metal-loving pyromaniac. Soon after Moondog's arrival, they break out as Moondog tries to find his way back, encountering some old friends like dolphin tour captain Captain Wack (played by Martin Lawrence) & Jimmy Buffett (played by Jimmy Buffett) along the way.

The cast is superb. Matthew McConaughey is nothing short of perfect in the role that was truly made for him. He completely sells it with his enigmatic sense of being super laid-back. Snoop Dogg is phenomenal as a semi-realistic version of himself. Zac Efron is devilishly crazy. And Martin Lawrence is hilarious in his return to the silver screen.

Harmony Korine's direction is terrific. Korine perfectly captures the hedonism at play in the Florida Keys with a style that is all his own, & that style is in top form here.

Harmony Korine's screenplay is brilliant. The plot is lovingly weird & enveloping, the characters are the most idiosyncratic characters in film this decade & are so well-developed, & the dialogue is masterfully written.

Benoît Debie's cinematography is gorgeous. Debie drapes the Florida Keys with the hot sun as it sits in the daytime sky & goes down to the beautiful sunsets, & marvelously captures the nightlife with the neon lights.

And the soundtrack is one of the best ever curated for a film. This soundtrack perfectly fits my musical taste so well that I think the soundtrack producers looked at my Apple Music search history. Filled with 1970s yacht rock hits such as Gordon Lightfoot's Sundown, Gerry Rafferty's Right Down the Line, & Jimmy Buffett's A Pirate Looks at Forty, the soundtrack transports you to a place of epic tranquility. The only things that could've made this soundtrack even better would be if they used Tommy James & the Shondells' Crimson & Clover (which was used in the trailer), Chuck Mangione's Feels So Good, Little River Band's Cool Change, & Jefferson Starship's Miracles. But if it's not broke, don't fix it, & it's certainly not broke here, so I must give the soundtrack every inch of praise I can give.

This is the best film of the year so far, & quite possibly the best comedy of the decade. It is a peaceful yet rambunctious comedy that I hope becomes a cult classic very soon in the vein of The Big Lebowski.

The Beach Bum was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Saturday, March 30, 2019. It is currently in 2 theaters in the Detroit area: the AMC Forum 30 in Sterling Heights, MI; & the AMC Star Great Lakes 25 in Auburn Hills, MI. Its runtime is 95 minutes, & it is rated R for pervasive drug & alcohol use, language throughout, nudity & some strong sexual content.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Shazam!


★★★★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

I'll say it again: the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) is a mess. 4 of its first 5 films were poor to awful, the only good one being Wonder Woman, which is merely good. However, it has shown signs of improvement, as evidenced by Wonder Woman & Aquaman, but there is still a long way to go before it can have the same track record as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Shazam!, despite having a couple flaws, is a very promising step in the right direction for the DCEU. The film follows Billy Batson (played by Asher Angel), a foster kid in Philadelphia. Having run from several foster homes in search of his mother Marilyn (played by Caroline Palmer), Billy has a knack for getting into trouble. As a last chance, Billy is placed in a foster home run by Rosa (played by Marta Milans) & Victor (played by Cooper Andrews) Vasquez, who have 5 other foster children: Freddy Freeman (played by Jack Dylan Grazer); Mary Bromfield (played by Grace Fulton); Darla Dudley (played by Faithe Herman); Eugene Choi (played by Ian Chen); & Pedro Peña (played by Jovan Armand). He rooms with Freddy, who is obsessed with superheroes.

One day, Billy fights off some people bullying Freddy & runs from them onto the subway, but something strange happens on the subway ride: he is suddenly transported into an underground world where Shazam The Wizard (played by Djimon Hounsou) appears. Shazam has chosen Billy to be his new champion to protect the world from the Seven Deadly Sins. By touching Shazam's staff & saying his name, Billy becomes Shazam (played by Zachary Levi), an adult superhero who can change between his younger & older selves by saying "Shazam!" Billy, not knowing anything about superheroes, asks Freddy to mentor him in becoming a superhero. This leads to the discovery of his powers: electricity manipulation, super strength, super durability, super speed, supreme knowledge & flight.

As Billy learns of all his powers & tries to master them, he becomes a viral sensation. But this attracts Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (played by Mark Strong), who has a long-held vendetta against Shazam The Wizard for considering him as a champion then not picking him. Sivana has the Eye of the Rock, which allows him to unleash the Seven Deadly Sins. Now Billy must learn how to use his powers, defeat Dr. Sivana, & find his birth mom all at once.

The cast is spectacular. Zachary Levi is perfect as adult Billy Batson, & so is Asher Angel as young Billy Batson. Jack Dylan Grazer is terrific. And the chemistry between Angel & Grazer (& Levi & Grazer) is just incredible.

David F. Sandberg's direction is great. Although Sandberg lets a few things go on longer than they should, he is able to perfectly balance tonal shifts.

The screenplay by Henry Gayden & Darren Lemke is amazing. The plot is always intriguing, the characters are well-developed, & the dialogue is excellent (& very funny).

And the visual effects are superb. For a film with a budget under $100M, the CGI is very well-done, & shows that a small budget doesn't necessarily mean bad effects, & that a big budget doesn't necessarily mean great effects (*cough* Justice League *cough*).

This is a very good superhero film. Although it has a couple small flaws, it's a genuinely funny & heartwarming addition to the DCEU, & one that paves a new way for it.

Shazam! was seen by me at an advance screening at the AMC Forum 30 in Sterling Heights, MI on Saturday, March 23, 2019. It is now in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 132 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action, language, & suggestive material.