Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Black Panther

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been on a huge roll lately. They just keep churning out better & better films, with bigger & bigger box office results.

Black Panther not only continues this trend, but cements itself as the best Marvel film yet. The film follows T'Challa, AKA Black Panther (played by Chadwick Boseman), who has returned to the supposed Third World country of Wakanda, which is secretly one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world due to their abundance of vibranium, to assume the throne & the power of the Black Panther after the death of his father, T'Chaka (played by John Kani). He returns with Nakia (played by Lupita Nyong'o), T'Challa's ex-girlfriend, & Okoye (played by Danai Gurira), the leader of the Dora Milaje regiment.

In Wakanda, T'Challa's mother, Ramonda (played by Angela Bassett); his sister, Shuri (played by Letitia Wright); his best friend W'Kabi (played by Daniel Kaluuya); & elder statesman Zuri (played by Forest Whitaker) await his arrival. Jabari Tribe leader M'Baku (played by Winston Duke) challenges T'Challa for the throne, but is defeated.

Meanwhile, half-Wakandan, half-American ex-black ops soldier Erik Stevens, AKA Killmonger (played by Michael B. Jordan) teams up with South African arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (played by Andy Serkis) to steal a Wakandan artifact. They plan to sell it to CIA Agent Everett K. Ross (played by Martin Freeman). Now, T'Challa must face off against Erik, but not without T'Challa pondering on the future of Wakanda.

The cast is spectacular. Chadwick Boseman is powerful & commanding as T'Challa. Michael B. Jordan is absolutely phenomenal, turning what could have been a run-of-the-mill villain into a villain that you could sympathize with. Letitia Wright is the breakout, with her performance being so light-hearted & full of life. And the rest of the cast provides great supporting performances.

Ryan Coogler's direction is excellent. Coogler, who has previously directed 2013's Fruitvale Station & 2015's Creed, has directed his best film yet. Coogler has transcended the superhero film tropes & created something more than a superhero film: a cultural masterpiece.

The screenplay by Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole is brilliant. The dialogue & plot are both excellent, & the story is so incredibly told, being so much more intricate than you may think.

Rachel Morrison's cinematography is astounding. Morrison, who has worked with Coogler on Fruitvale Station & has recently become the first woman to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Cinematography for Mudbound, is cementing herself as one of the best cinematographers of her generation with her work here. There are so many majestically wide shots in the film, including one that is just jaw-droppingly astounding.

The editing by Debbie Berman & Michael P. Shawver is excellent. Berman, who co-edited Spider-Man: Homecoming, & Shawver, who has edited all of Coogler's films, keep the film on the right track without any terrible cuts.

Ruth Carter's costume design is absolutely beautiful. The costumes are realistically modeled from African clothing, & the costumes are just so colorful & respectful to African culture.

Hannah Beachler's production design is breathtaking. Beachler, who has worked on all of Coogler's films, has designed such spellbinding sets that look so awesome.

The makeup & hairstyling is impeccable. The makeup & hairstyling are both very authentic to African culture & also very lovely.

The sound design is incredible. From the sounds of the battles to the sounds of Wakanda, the sounds are loud & sound crisp & clear.

The visual effects are breathtaking. The CGI looks flawless, & the effects are just so absolutely colorful & beautiful to look at.

And the music is fantastic. The score, composed by Ludwig Göransson, who has worked on all of Coogler's films, is influenced by local music from Senegal & South Africa that is a treasure to listen to, & doesn't sound like a generic superhero film score. And the original songs, produced by Kendrick Lamar, one of the best rappers of our time, & also featuring songs by The Weeknd, SZA & Vince Staples, is not only a great film soundtrack, but a great rap album by itself.

This is the best film of the year so far. It's Marvel's best achievement so far, & has broke ground in terms of cultural significance. This may just be the best superhero film ever made.

Black Panther was seen by me at the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 in Troy, MI on Friday, February 16, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 134 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence, & a brief rude gesture.

The 15:17 to Paris

½★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Almost every great director has made a dud in their careers. Woody Allen had Scoop, Steven Spielberg had 1941, Francis Ford Coppola had Jack, Ridley Scott had A Good Year, David Lynch had Dune, & the Coen Brothers had The Ladykillers. Only a few directors are completely unscathed so far, namely Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Richard Linklater, Martin Scorsese, Denis Villeneuve & Wes Anderson.

Clint Eastwood has gone throughout his directorial career without a true dud, but that has come to an end with The 15:17 to Paris, a disappointing mess. Based on the 2016 book The 15:17 to Paris by Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone & Jeffrey E. Stern, which was in turn based on the true story of the prevented 2015 Thalys train attack, the film follows Anthony Sadler (played by Anthony Sadler), Alek Skarlatos (played by Alek Skarlatos) & Spencer Stone (played by Spencer Stone), 3 childhood friends. Alek lives with single mother, Heidi (played by Judy Greer) & Spencer also lives with his single mother, Joyce (played by Jenna Fischer).

Anthony, Alek & Spencer meet at a Christian high school & keep in contact with each other through the years. Alek joins the Army, while Spencer joins the Air Force. During their next leaves, Alek & Spencer meet up with Anthony in Europe, wanting to travel throughout the continent. After traveling through Germany & Amsterdam, they decide to go to Paris to finish off the trip. But a terrorist is planning to attack the train, & they miraculously stop it.

The cast is dreadful. Sadler, Skarlatos & Stone are horrendous as themselves. But Greer & Fischer are even worse. They are completely out of place here. They can do drama, but not here.

Clint Eastwood's direction is awful. Eastwood cannot manage to keep the film interesting at all. The film is completely boring, & Eastwood is seemingly unable to do anything about it.

Dorothy Blyskal's screenplay is a disaster. Blyskal has managed to overwrite, writing too much to fill the runtime. Also, the dialogue is nothing short of cringe-worthy.

Tom Stern's cinematography is terrible. Stern uses the shaky camera technique throughout the entire film, even when it is not necessary, which gave me a headache.

And Blu Murray's editing is horrible. The film has many scenes that do not belong in the film, & it's a crime that they were not left on the cutting room floor. Also, the film is horribly paced, as the film drags on & on, making the film's 94-minute runtime feel like 3 hours.

This is by far the worst film of the year so far, & one of the worst films I've ever seen. The film has horrible acting, direction, writing & technical elements, & the incident (which lasted only 2 minutes in real-life as well as in the film) does not have enough in it to warrant being a feature-length film. It would've worked a lot better as a documentary. If this still isn't the worst film of 2018 at the end of the year, then there must be something horrendous coming our way.

The 15:17 to Paris was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Saturday, February 10, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 94 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for bloody images, violence, some suggestive material, drug references & language.

The Insult

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

The power struggle in the Middle East between Israel, Lebanon & Palestine has been occurring since time immemorial. All 3 countries have fought over land & religion for centuries, & the fighting will definitely not end anytime soon.

The Insult excellently details the major consequences of a seemingly inconsequential event. The film follows Tony Hanna (played by Adel Karam), a Lebanese Christian garage owner in Beirut. He lives with his pregnant wife, Shirine (played by Rita Hayek). While working in his garage, he has inflammatory speeches from former President-elect & pro-Christian, anti-Palestine militia leader Bachir Gemayel playing in the background.

One morning, Yasser Salameh (played by Kamel El Basha), a Palestinian refugee, comes into the neighborhood with his construction crew. Yasser lives with his wife, Manal (played by Christine Choueiri), in a refugee camp, & his legal status is uncertain. Yasser's crew tries to fix Tony's broken pipe; however, Tony refuses to have his pipe fixed, even though it is against code as it is. Angered by this, Yasser insults Tony.

After this, Tony is angered, demanding an apology from Yasser. When Yasser comes to apologize, he notices Gemayel's speech playing in the background. Offended, Yasser refuses to apologize. However, Tony says a monumentally offensive remark to Yasser, leading to Yasser punching Tony.

This eventually leads to a court dispute between the two. However, it is taken to the highest court in Lebanon. But the court case opens up many old wounds, causing national confrontations & exposing repressed memories of the Lebanese Civil War.

The cast is excellent. Karam & El Basha (who won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor at last year's Venice Film Festival) play off of each other so well, with both performances being so human & so tense.

Ziad Doueiri's direction is amazing. Doueiri, a former camera operator for Quentin Tarantino, keeps the atmosphere so tense & claustrophobic that you can't escape.

The screenplay by Ziad Doueiri & Joelle Touma is brilliant. The dialogue is very realistic, & the plot is so intricate, starting off as one thing & ending up delving more & more than into unlikely & twisty territory than we could have ever thought.

And Tommaso Fiorilli's cinematography is excellent. Fiorilli excellently captures the grimy, intense atmosphere along with the brutal chaos.

This is one of the best foreign films I've seen in a while. This is a well-acted & well-directed film that is more than worthy of its Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.

The Insult was seen by me at the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI on Friday, February 9, 2018. It is currently showing at 1 theater in the Detroit area: the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak. Its runtime is 112 minutes, & it is rated R for language & some violent images.

Monday, February 19, 2018


★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

The Western genre, once the pinnacle of American cinema, had declined over almost the past 4 decades, beginning with Michael Cimino's humungously-budgeted commercial flop Heaven's Gate in 1980. Apart from a brief period in the 1990's (with films such as Dances with Wolves & Unforgiven being the standouts) that faded as quickly as it appeared, the Western genre has been dormant, waiting to be re-awoken.

Over the past decade or so, starting with James Mangold's 2007 remake of 3:10 to Yuma, the Western has had a small revival, continuing with Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained & The Hateful Eight. While both Tarantino films were commercially successful, the demand still hasn't shown up for the return to the classical Westerns, although modern Westerns may fill that hole.

Hostiles may not be as great as any of the classic Westerns like Stagecoach & The Searchers, but it is just as tense as them & even more brutal. Based on an unpublished manuscript by Donald E. Stewart, & set in 1892, the film follows Capt. Joseph Blocker (played by Christian Bale), a U.S. Cavalry officer. His commanding officer, Col. Abraham Biggs (played by Stephen Lang), assigns him his last mission before retirement: the escort of Cheyenne war chief Yellow Hawk (played by Wes Studi); his son, Black Hawk (played by Adam Beach); his wife, Elk Woman (played by Q'orianka Kilcher); & their son, Little Bear (played by Xavier Horsechief) to their tribal lands in Montana, as Yellow Hawk is nearing death. Blocker is reluctant at first, noting that Yellow Hawk has killed several of his friends, but he agrees, knowing he will be court-martialed if he does not comply with the orders.

Blocker brings 4 men to accompany him: Pvt. Phillippe "Frenchie" DeJardin (played by Timothée Chalamet); Lt. Rudy Kidder (played by Jesse Plemons); 1st Sgt. Thomas Metz (played by Rory Cochrane); & Cpl. Henry Woodson (played by Jonathan Majors). Along the way, they encounter Rosalie Quaid (played by Rosamund Pike), a grief-stricken woman who has lost the will to live after her husband, Wesley (played by Scott Shepherd) & their two daughters & infant son were recently murdered in cold blood by Comanche warriors. After burying her family, she accompanies the crew on their journey to Montana, eventually befriending Yellow Hawk & his family. But the nearby Comanche & the addition of the cruel Sgt. Charles Wills (played by Ben Foster) threaten their journey.

The cast is excellent. Bale & Pike are absolutely killer here, with both performances featuring so much regret & heartache that it shatters your heart. And Foster also further cements himself as one of the most underrated actors in film.

Scott Cooper's direction is amazing. Cooper keeps the tension high at every moment & doesn't hold back when it comes to the unflinching brutality of the Old West.

Scott Cooper's screenplay is good. While the dialogue is great, the plot has some problems. The plot furthers the Native American savage stereotype, moreso in the 1st act, & also tries to add in a love story that feels forced. Also, the story feels a little underwhelming at times, as some moments seem to be just filler for the film.

Masanobu Takayanagi's cinematography is astounding. Every shot of the desolate deserts & plains of the West looks like a grand mural.

Jenny Eagan's costume design is phenomenal. The costumes are very period-accurate, especially the clothing of the Native American characters.

And Donald Graham Burt's production design is amazing. The sets are very period-accurate & transport you into the setting of the film.

This is a really good Western film. Although the screenplay could've used some work, the performances & period elements are enough to overcome the problems.

Hostiles was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Friday, February 2, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 134 minutes, & it is rated R for strong violence, & language.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The LAMB Devours the Oscars: Best Supporting Actress

As part of The LAMB's The LAMB Devours the Oscars series, I am going to be writing on the 5 absolutely amazing nominees for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. I will be starting off with...

Mary J. Blige as Florence Jackson in Mudbound

Previous Nominations: 0
Previous Wins: 0

In a film filled with exemplary performances, Blige is the standout. Going from her noted career as an R&B icon with blonde highlights, acrylic nails & big eyelashes, Blige ditches all of these for a performance where she is absolutely unrecognizable. Her character wants a better life for her family, & is caring & devoted to that goal.

Allison Janney as LaVona Golden in I, Tonya

Previous Nominations: 0
Previous Wins: 0

Janney, most known for her TV work in series such as The West Wing & Mom, has jumped over to the silver screen in one of her few pivotal film roles. And what a performance it is. Janney is both gut-bustingly hilarious & terrifyingly evil. She is The Mother from Hell. Janney's performance is even more defined by her character's disastrous bowl cut (thanks to the amazing makeup & hairstyling team), & her constantly-interrupting pet bird, which her character deems to be the "best husband she's ever had."

Lesley Manville as Cyril Woodcock in Phantom Thread

Previous Nominations: 0
Previous Wins: 0

Manville is more than likely the least well-known name of the nominees, but that doesn't mean she isn't as great of an actress as the other nominees. Most known for her collaborations with director Mike Leigh on films such as Topsy-Turvy, All or Nothing, & Another Year, Manville gets the juiciest role she's ever had here. Manville plays Cyril as a sidekick to her brother, Reynolds, (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) at first, being the only one to keep him in check, but eventually lets him know that she is not to be messed with.

Laurie Metcalf as Marion McPherson in Lady Bird

Previous Nominations: 0
Previous Wins: 0

This is nothing short of a phenomenal performance. Metcalf, also an actress more well-known for her TV work, jumps over to the silver screen for her role as a mother struggling to connect with her daughter, Christine, AKA Lady Bird (played by Saoirse Ronan). Along with the chemistry she has with Ronan, Metcalf has such an enormous feeling of relatability, as most of us have had mothers like her: high-strung, but loving nonetheless.

Octavia Spencer as Zelda Fuller in The Shape of Water

Previous Nominations: 2 (The Help & Hidden Figures)
Previous Wins: 1 (The Help)

Spencer, the only previous Oscar nominee (& winner) of this year's nominees, is an absolute scene-stealer again. As the friend & interpreter of Elisa Esposito (played by Sally Hawkins), she gets more of the lines, which is exemplary considering the time frame of the film. She provides some of the film's comic relief, & she excels in that role, along with some of the more dramatic parts of her performance.

Who Will Win? - Allison Janney. After winning the Golden Globe, Critics' Choice & Screen Actors Guild Awards for her performance, she is all but certain to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Who Should Win? - Laurie Metcalf. She was the early frontrunner, but has faltered recently. Her performance is the best of these nominees, as her performance is less showy & more subdued, but still powerful. There may be a chance that she pulls off the upset, as Lady Bird's Best Picture nomination might provide more momentum for Metcalf, as I, Tonya did not receive a Best Picture nomination, which might hurt Janney.

All of the performances here are exemplary, but there's one performance that is sorely missed & deserved a nomination: Holly Hunter in The Big Sick. She portrayed the catharsis, grief & trauma that was needed for the performance so excellently.