Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Ma


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Sometimes, when we see something so incredibly bizarre, we must ask ourselves, "Damn ma, is it that serious?"

Well, in the case of Ma, it is that serious: seriously insane, & I loved every minute of it. The film follows Maggie Thompson (Diana Silvers), a teenage girl from San Diego. Maggie & her mother Erica (played by Juliette Lewis) have recently moved from San Diego to Erica's hometown in Ohio (which is the worst thing anyone does in this film). Not long after starting school there, Maggie befriends four people: Andy Hawkins (Corey Fogelmanis), son of Ben Hawkins (Luke Evans), the former popular guy at the high school back in the day; Haley (McKaley Miller); Chaz (Gianni Paolo); & Darrell (Dante Brown).

One day, they go out in search of someone to buy alcohol for them. They find Sue Ann Ellington (Octavia Spencer), a veterinary technician. Sue Ann declines at first, but then decides to buy it for them. The next time this occurs, Sue Ann invites them to drink in her basement, since she will be able to keep an eye on them so none of them will drive home drunk. Sue Ann has 3 rules: don't take the Lord's name in vain; don't go upstairs; & one of the kids must stay sober in order to drive everyone home. When Darrell asks, "You got any pizza rolls, ma?", Sue Ann likes that he called her Ma, which everyone starts to refer to her as.

Soon after, more people start to go to Sue Ann's basement, eventually making it the premier party spot in town. But Maggie starts to notice that Sue Ann is not what she seems to be, as her more despicable traits rise to the surface.

The cast is terrific. Octavia Spencer is at her most gleeful here, as she has so much fun in the role. Juliette Lewis does a great job, & it's great to see her again. And Diana Silvers is the standout of the teenage cast.

Tate Taylor's direction is excellent. Taylor makes sure that the film never takes itself too seriously, making it into a delightful piece of camp.

And the screenplay by Tate Taylor & Scotty Landes is superb. The plot is twisty & delightfully messed up, the characters are wickedly well-done, & the dialogue is iconic.

Ma isn't the best film ever made, nor does it try to be that. But it's the best piece of camp I've seen in years, & I can't wait for this to be a cult classic. Don't make Ma drink alone.

Ma was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Friday, May 31, 2019. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 99 minutes, & it is rated R for violent/disturbing material, language throughout, sexual content, & for teen drug & alcohol use.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Godzilla: King of the Monsters


★★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

2014's Godzilla was very good, although the screenplay could've used some touchups. 2017's Kong: Skull Island was a bucket of fun that was also incredibly well-made. So far, the MonsterVerse is 2 for 2.

However, Godzilla: King of the Monsters stops the MonsterVerse from going 3 for 3, as it is ultimately mediocre. The film follows Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler), an animal behavior & communication specialist who formerly worked for Monarch & is known for creating the ORCA, which allows humans to communicate with Titans, creatures who once ruled the Earth. Mark has been chosen by Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) & Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) of Monarch to help find his ex-wife Emma (Vera Farmiga) & his daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), who have been kidnapped by an ecoterrorist group led by Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) while watching over Mothra. While reluctant at first, as Godzilla killed his son Andrew during its rampage through San Francisco in 2014, Mark ultimately agrees.

Meanwhile, Godzilla is traveling to Amtarctica, followed by Jonah, where he intends to free a Titan known as Monster Zero. Monster Zero is awoken, killing several Monarch members. The Titan Rodan is also awoken in Mexico. The military, mainly Admiral William Stenz (David Strathairn), want to use weapons to take down Monster Zero at all costs, but Monarch believes that Godzilla is their best bet at defeating Monster Zero.

At Monarch's Bermuda base, they deploy their G-Team, led by Col. Diane Foster (Aisha Hinds), & including Jackson Barnes (O'Shea Jackson Jr.). Also at the base are Dr. Sam Coleman (Thomas Middleditch), Monarch's director of technology; Dr. Rick Stanton (Bradley Whitford), a crypto-sonographer; & twin mythologists Dr. Ilene Chen (Zhang Ziyi) & Dr. Ling Chen (Zhang Ziyi), who discover that Monster Zero is King Ghidorah, an ancient three-headed monster. They must all fight to stop Ghidorah from influencing the other Titans.

The cast is excellent. Kyle Chandler does some of his best work. Vera Farmiga shows that she is great in non-horror roles. Millie Bobby Brown shows that she has a great future in film. And Bradley Whitford is the standout in a role reminiscent of the character of Rick Sanchez on Rick & Morty.

Michael Dougherty's direction is great. Although Dougherty has some issues with making the first two acts interesting, he makes up for it with an action-packed third act.

The screenplay by Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields & Max Borenstein is mediocre. The plot is very thin & boring, the characters are underdeveloped, & the dialogue isn't the best.

And the visual effects are stunning. The CGI is incredibly well-done, & the fights & explosions are intense, in-your-face, & impressive.

It could've been better. In fact, from what the trailers showed, it should've been better. However, the action sequences & performances aren't enough to overcome a terribly weak storyline & an underwritten screenplay.

Godzilla: King of the Momsters was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Thursday, May 30, 2019. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 132 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for sequences of monster action violence & destruction, & for some language.

Aladdin


★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

I didn't see the original Aladdin until Memorial Day. I know, how could a kid have gone his whole life without seeing it? What must have gone wrong in his childhood? I don't know; & nothing went wrong. However, when I saw it, I loved it.

Aladdin is nowhere near as good as the original, but it has just enough to make it work. Based on the 1992 film Aladdin, the film follows Aladdin (Mena Massoud), a street rat in the Arabic city of Agrabah. He & his pet monkey Abu (Frank Welker) make ends meet by stealing, but they are both kind-hearted & do it to survive.

One day, Aladdin rescues Princess Jasmine of Agrabah (Naomi Scott), who wants to explore & not be so sheltered anymore by her father the Sultan (Navid Negahban). The Sultan has actively been looking for a suitor for Jasmine, & has settled on Prince Anders of Skånland (Billy Magnussen), but Jasmine is not smitten with him.

Meanwhile, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), the Grand Vizier, is scheming to overthrow the Sultan. In order to do so, he & his parrot sidekick Iago (Alan Tudyk) must find a magical lamp in the Cave of Wonders; however, only one who is worthy can enter it, the "diamond in the rough," who Jafar decides is Aladdin. Aladdin is forced by Jafar to help him find it, & he does, but is left behind by Jafar; however, Abu steals the lamp back & Aladdin survives. They find themselves trapped in the cave. Aladdin unwittingly rubs the lamp & summons the Genie (Will Smith), a nearly omnipotent being who has lived inside the lamp for ages. The Genie tells Aladdin that he can grant him three wishes; Aladdin uses the first to become Prince Ali of Ababwa in order to impress Jasmine, & promises to save the third wish for freeing the Genie.

Aladdin (as Prince Ali) manages to form a bond with Jasmine, while the Genie becomes smitten with Dalia (Nasim Pedrad), Jasmine's handmaiden. But as Aladdin becomes closer to Jasmine, the more he must realize who he truly is.

The cast is amazing. Mena Massoud gives a great breakout performance. Naomi Scott is also great & shows off her singing talent. But Will Smith is the standout, showing off a lot of humor & bravado, & although he isn't as great as Robin Williams was as the Genie, he definitely leaves an indelible impression on the film.

Guy Ritchie's direction is very good. Although he does have trouble handling all the plot points, Ritchie does have a lot of visual style, & his direction here is a slight improvement from where he was before.

The screenplay by Guy Ritchie & John August is good. The plot is incredibly formulaic, & the characters outside of the main 3 characters are underwritten, but the dialogue is well-done.

James Herbert's editing is mediocre. The cuts in the first half-hour are absolutely horrendous, & while it does get better from there, the bad ultimately outweighs the good.

Michael Wilkinson's costume design is wonderful. The costumes are extravagant, colorful, & just absolutely lovely.

And the music is terrific. The songs are lovingly performed, brilliantly written, & terrifically composed, making the film more enjoyable.

This is a far cry from what it could've been. There are things here that would usually make me not like a film. However, there are so many great moments here that make up for the bad moments, & push it over the line.

Aladdin was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 128 minutes, & it is rated PG for some action/peril.

Booksmart


★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

I am now officially a high school graduate. May 28 was my last day of school, May 29 was my prom, & June 1 was my graduation. In the fall, I will be attending Oakland University in Rochester Hills, Michigan for cinema studies. Was I saddened to see my senior year go by so fast? Yes. Was I saddened about not seeing certain people every day anymore? Yes. Was I ready to get out of that school. Yes.

Booksmart is nothing short of an absolute miracle. In a time where most high school films stick to some sort of formula, Booksmart spins the coming-of-age genre on its head & creates something wholly original for the genre. The film follows Molly Davidson (Beanie Feldstein) & Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), two soon-to-be high school graduates & best friends. Molly is the class president, & Amy has been out as a lesbian for 2 years, which her parents, Charmaine (Lisa Kudrow) & Doug (Will Forte) are somewhat awkward about. Amy also has a crush on Ryan (Victoria Ruesga), a skater girl. These are their last days together for a while, as Amy will be heading to Botswana for the summer to help women make their own tampons. Together, they are 100% focused on their studies & have a deep disdain for the kids that party hard, including class vice president Nick Howland (Mason Gooding), rich kid Jared (Skyler Gisondo), balls-to-the-wall insane Gigi (Billie Lourd), gay theater kid George (Noah Galvin), other gay theater kid Alan (Austin Crute), brutally cruel Hope (Diana Silvers), orally proficient Annabelle, AKA Triple A (Molly Gordon), jock/skater Tanner (Nico Hiraga), & twice-held back Theo (Eduardo Franco). English teacher Mrs. Fine (Jessica Williams) adores them, while Principal Jordan Brown (Jason Sudeikis) finds them to be a bit too dedicated. Nevertheless, Molly & Amy persist.

On the last day of school, Molly finds herself in the bathroom overhearing Tanner, Theo & Triple A talking about Molly being so stuck-up. Molly comes out of the stall to tell them that while they were out partying & having sex, she was getting into Yale. However, in a shocking discretion, Triple A is also going to Yale. Where is Tanner going? Stanford. Where is Theo going? Not college, but Google, where he will be a coder. How did they party yet still get into high places? They cared about school, but they didn't ONLY care about school like Molly & Amy.

Molly is stunned by this. She then comes up with an idea: in order to change their stories, she & Amy will go to Nick's big party that night to cram four years of partying into one night. Amy is shocked & refuses at first; however, after some coercion, including the fact that Ryan will be there, she agrees to go. But that night will be incredibly life-changing in ways neither of them will have ever expected.

The cast is wonderful. Beanie Feldstein's performance is extremely outgoing, vocal, & incredibly hilarious. Kaitlyn Dever's performance is more shy, quiet, & still in her shell, & is a perfect yin to Feldstein's yang. Both of these performances are the best female performances of the year.

From the supporting cast, Billie Lourd is, by far, the standout. She is the biggest scene-stealer in a comedy I've seen in years. She is fierce, crazed, energetic, & uproariously funny. Jason Sudeikis also gets in some great moments (one of which got the biggest laugh from me). And the rest of the cast, especially Williams, Kudrow, Forte, Gisondo, Galvin, Crute, & Silvers, give great supporting performances.

Olivia Wilde's direction is phenomenal. Wilde paints the film with an incredibly warm feeling & a visual eye that is absolutely stunning for a first-time director. This is the best directorial debut of this decade.

The screenplay by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel & Katie Silberman is brilliant. The plot is the freshest for a coming-of-age film in years. The characters are so incredibly human & 3-dimensional, down to the smallest of roles. And the dialogue is superbly realistic & riotously hilarious.

Jason McCormick's cinematography is amazing. The lighting is incredible, & there's an absolutely wondrous long take that is just impressively gorgeous.

The editing by Jamie Gross & Brent White is excellent. The film is cut very well, especially for a comedy, & there's one scene where it's just incredible.

And the soundtrack is fantastic. The soundtrack is filled with modern alternative & rap songs, which are both right up my alley.

Booksmart isn't just the best film of the year so far. It isn't even the best film of this decade. It is, by far, the best film I've ever seen. It will certainly be my favorite film for many years to come. It is a perfect film that gets how it is to be right on the precipice of leaving high school & going off to college, & how it is to have a friendship that makes you feel so warm inside. Mark my words: this will be a cult classic. I'm glad I saw this when I did.

Booksmart was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Friday, May 24, 2019. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 102 minutes, & it is rated R for strong sexual content & language throughout, drug use & drinking - all involving teens.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum


★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

The revival of the career of Keanu Reeves can only be described as a miracle. Destined to appear in straight-to-video films for the rest of his career after a series of critical & commercial flops, Reeves found a rebirth with John Wick. It changed how people viewed him: where he was once thought as a bad actor that was past his prime, he then gained new respect as an actor & action film icon. As the years went on, he solidified that status with John Wick: Chapter 2.

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum is the best film of the John Wick franchise. The film continues the story of John Wick (Keanu Reeves), a hitman in New York. After having previously killed Santino D'Antonio (Ricardo Scamarcio) in The Continental, Wick has been deemed "excommunicado" by Winston (Ian McShane), & now has a $14 million bounty on his head, but Winston has given him a 1-hour headstart.

On the run, Wick leaves his dog with Charon (Lance Reddick), the concierge of The Continental. After fighting off several assassins, Wick finds himself with The Director (Anjelica Huston), a woman from his distant past, who lets him pass safely to Casablanca as one last favor. In Casablanca, Wick reunites with Sofia (Halle Berry), an old friend & manager of the Casablanca Continental, who will help him get his bounty waived.

Meanwhile, The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) has come to tell Winston & the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) that they have 7 days to give up their leadership or face consequences for their indecision in not killing John Wick for his murder of Santino; they both refuse to resign. As a result, The Adjudicator sends the assassin Zero (Mark Dacascos) to do their bidding to enforce the rules of the High Table. Now John must continue to fight off the assassins & try his best to get back in the good graces of the High Table.

The cast is terrific. Keanu Reeves is at his best yet, seeming to get better with age. Ian McShane is spectacular in his supporting role. And Asia Kate Dillon is easily the standout of the supporting cast with their wonderfully devilish performance.

Chad Stahelski's direction is excellent. Stahelski's visual style is very striking & vibrant, & his handling of the big action set pieces is very well-done.

The screenplay by Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins & Marc Abrams is amazing. The plot doesn't fall into any of the sequel plot traps, the characters are well-written, & the dialogue is superbly written.

Dan Laustsen's cinematography is wondrous. The lighting, especially the use of neon lighting in nighttime sequences, is just absolutely marvelous.

And Evan Schiff's editing is phenomenal. Schiff makes sure that there are cuts only when they are absolutely necessary, which is a breath of fresh air considering that most action films use fast cutting, the vast majority of them in the wrong manner.

This is a terrific action film. It's the best in a franchise full of great action films, & I can't wait for John Wick: Chapter 4 on May 21, 2021.

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 on Saturday, May 18, 2019. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 130 minutes, & it is rated R for pervasive strong violence, & some language.

Monday, May 27, 2019

The Farewell


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

How do we say goodbye to the ones we love the most? How do we properly wish our loved ones off before they die? There's no definitive answer to this series of questions, but many of us have our own answers to them, & none of them are wrong, either. Personally, I don't have a definitive answer as to how I would do it, but I know I would do it sincerely.

The Farewell takes a look at saying goodbye to the ones we love the most, & it's done in a dryly funny yet sincere way. Based on an actual lie, the film follows Billi (Awkwafina), a Chinese-American girl in New York. A Chinese immigrant, Billi feels more & more disconnected from the Chinese part of her culture every day, & is all but completely Americanized. Although Billi is an aspiring writer, she was just denied the Guggenheim Fellowship, a fact she keeps secret from everyone else, mainly her parents, Haiyan (Tzi Ma) & Jian (Diana Lin).

One night, Billi is told by her parents that her grandmother Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, & that she only has about 3 months left. They will be going to China to spend time with her before she dies; however, they will not tell her that she has cancer, as Chinese culture believes that it is better not to tell for the belief that it won't put the emotional burden on the ill person. In order to not make the family's arrival look suspicious, the family decides to create a wedding between Billi's cousin Hao Hao (Chen Han) & his girlfriend Aiko (Aoi Mizuhara). However, Haiyan & Jian tell Billi that it is best that she doesn't come, as they believe that she won't be able to hold up her part of the lie.

Billi travels to China anyway, since there's not much for her to do in New York as she struggles to pay rent. While in China, she reconnects with some family members she hasn't seen in a long time, including her great-aunt Little Nai Nai (Lu Hong) & her uncle Haibin (Jiang Yongbo). But the longer Billi stays in China, the more she yearns to reconnect with her roots & wants to tell the truth about what's going on.

The cast is phenomenal. Awkwafina is nowhere near her normal energetic self, but that's not an insult; in fact, this is the best performance of her young career. Tzi Ma is also terrific, making a step into the forefront from his years as an understated character actor. And Zhao Shuzhen gets in some great moments as well.

Lulu Wang's direction is excellent. Considering her work here, it's shocking to realize that this is only Wang's second feature film, as she has the visual eye & personal touch of a seasoned director.

And Lulu Wang's screenplay is amazing. Since this is a personal story for her, Wang puts her heart into the screenplay & it shows, & the focus on realistic characters & realistic dialogue is very reminiscent of the films of Mike Leigh.

This is one of the best films of the year so far. It's an often hilarious yet emotional look at a dysfunctional family.

The Farewell was seen by me at the Emagine Royal Oak in Royal Oak, MI for the 2019 Cinetopia Film Festival on Thursday, May 16, 2019. It will be released in limited release in the United States on Friday, July 12, 2019. Its runtime is 98 minutes, & it is rated PG for thematic material, brief language & some smoking.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Pokémon Detective Pikachu


★★★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

In my late elementary school & early middle school years, I absolutely loved Pokémon. I had all the movies, I watched the show (the original one), I played the games (the first 3 generations only). I wanted nothing more to become a Pokémon Master. As I've got older, I've weaned off the Pokémon fandom, but I'm still a Pokémon fan at heart.

Pokémon Detective Pikachu isn't anywhere near perfect, but it is a lot better than it should be. Based on the 2018 game Detective Pikachu, the film follows Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), a 21-year-old insurance salesman. Due to the death of his mother & being abandoned by his father Harry, Tim has given up on his childhood dream of becoming a Pokémon Master.

One day, Tim is told that by Ryme City Police Lt. Hideo Yoshida (Ken Watanabe) that Harry died in a car crash. Tim then travels to Ryme City, a city created by Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy), who sought to ensure bonds between humans & Pokémon. While there, Tim is approached by Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), an aspiring journalist working for Roger Clifford (Chris Geere). Lucy is suspicious of the circumstances surrounding Harry's death.

When he returns to his father's apartment, Tim hears something strange. He then finds Detective Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds), a Pikachu wearing a deerstalker hat & a trenchcoat who is a world-class detective & can communicate only with Harry. Pikachu was Harry's police partner who has suffered from amnesia as a result of the crash Harry died in. But Pikachu does not believe Harry is dead; rather, he believes that Harry is very much alive. However, they are at a crossroads, as Pikachu cannot remember who he is or where Harry is. They must work together to rediscover Pikachu's identity & find Harry, with the help of Ms. Norman (Suki Waterhouse) & Sebastian (Omar Chaparro). But the road to finding Harry will be a tough one.

The cast is excellent. Ryan Reynolds is perfect to voice Pikachu. Justice Smith has a lot of chemistry with Reynolds. And Kathryn Newton does well with her limited screen time.

Rob Letterman's direction is great. Although Letterman has some trouble shifting between tones, he overcomes that with a warm-hearted sensibility & a keen visual eye.

The screenplay by Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Rob Letterman, Derek Connolly & Nicole Perlman is very good. Although the plot is very predictable & most of the supporting characters aren't well-written, the dialogue is often very humourous.

And the visual effects are astonishing. The CGI is very well-done, but the best effects come in the form of the creature design & motion capture, which is flawless.

This is, due to the lack of such films, easily the best video game film ever made. Although it doesn't reach its full potential, it still manages to be very entertaining & solidly made.

Pokémon Detective Pikachu was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Friday, May 10, 2019. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 104 minutes, & it is rated PG for action/peril, some rude & suggestive humor, & thematic elements.