Thursday, June 28, 2018


★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Survival movies aren't really my thing, considering most of them feel formulaic & don't feel fresh, retreading the same stuff.

Adrift, while not completely fresh, is a really good survival film. Based on the 1998 book Red Sky in Mourning: The True Story of a Woman's Courage & Survival at Sea by Tami Oldham Ashcraft & Susea McGearhart, & set in 1983, the film follows Tami Oldham (played by Shailene Woodley), a world traveler from San Diego. She has made her way to the island of Tahiti in the Pacific Ocean. There, she meets Richard Sharp (played by Sam Claflin), a British sailor. Eventually, they start a relationship.

Eventually, Tami & Richard are asked to sail a yacht named Hazana from Tahiti to San Diego, which is Tami's hometown. At first, the journey is calm & uneventful. However, they eventually run into Hurricane Raymond, a massive Category 4 storm. They end up going straight into the hurricane.

After the hurricane, the damage to the boat is immense: the yacht is completely flooded, & the supplies in the boat are almost decimated. Richard's leg is badly injured. Now Tami must find their way back to land in order for both of them to survive.

The cast is excellent. Shailene Woodley's performance is terrific. Her character is filled with fear, despair, & anger, & Woodley portrays those emotions so well. Sam Claflin also turns in a great performance.

Baltasar Kormákur's direction is amazing. Kormákur directs with a great flourish, especially the storm sequences.

The screenplay by Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell & David Branson Smith is good. Although the narrative is a bit contrived, & the main romance is a bit underdeveloped, but the plot is still very intriguing.

And Robert Richardson's cinematography is fantastic. There are so many beautiful wide shots on the sea, & there's an excellent 3-minute long take that is one of the best of the year.

This is a very good film. Although it does have a few flaws, the film has a lot of great things in it, especially Shailene Woodley's performance & Robert Richardson's cinematography.

Adrift was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Tuesday, June 19, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 96 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for injury images, peril, language, brief drug use, partial nudity & thematic elements.


★★★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Picture this: 10 guys playing a game of tag for one month every year for over 30 years. Sounds crazy, right? Well, it's real. And now it's a movie (albeit with a few differences).

Tag is that film. While it's a bit scattershot at times, it's an enjoyably funny comedy. Based on the 2013 Wall Street Journal article It Takes Planning, Caution to Avoid Being It by Russell Adams, the film follows 5 life-long friends: Hogan "Hoagie" Malloy (played by Ed Helms); Randy "Chilli" Cilliano (played by Jake Johnson); Kevin Sable (played by Hannibal Buress); Bob Callahan (played by Jon Hamm); & Jerry Pierce (played by Jeremy Renner). Since, they have played a month-long game of tag every May.

Hoagie tells Chilli, Kevin & Bob that this is their last chance to tag Jerry, as he has never been tagged in the history of their game. Jerry is retiring after this year due to his upcoming marriage to Susan Rollins (played by Leslie Bibb). Rebecca Crosby (played by Annabelle Wallis), a journalist for The Wall Street Journal who is doing a profile on Bob, also accompanies them, & so does Anna (played by Isla Fisher), Hoagie's wife.

When they go to their hometown to stake out Jerry, Susan sees them & sets out ground rules for the tag game: no tagging will be allowed during any wedding activities. This, along with the reappearance of the childhood crush of both Bob & Chilli, Cheryl Deakins (played by Rashida Jones), will end up causing some challenges in everyone's quest to tag Jerry.

The cast is amazing. Helms, Hamm, Johnson & Renner are great at comedy, as they always are. But the 2 standouts are Fisher, who is hilarious because of her character's cut-throat style; & Buress, who always has a perfect deadpan style.

Jeff Tomsic's direction is good. Although there are several flaws in the direction, they're normal for a first-time director, & especially for a comedy director.

And the screenplay by Rob McKittrick & Mark Steilen is great. Although some jokes fall, most of them do land, & some characters are really well-realized.

This is an overall good comedy. Although it has several flaws, it has enough going for it to make it a solid film.

Tag was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Monday, June 18, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 100 minutes, & it is rated R for language throughout, crude sexual content, drug use & brief nudity.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Incredibles 2

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

14 years. That's how long we've waited for a sequel to The Incredibles. Although we understood that the best story needed to be realized & that it takes a while for that, we wanted it sooner.

Incredibles 2 was definitely worth the wait. In fact, I loved it even more than the first. The film once again follows our favorite superhero family: the Parrs: father Bob, AKA Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson); mother Helen, AKA Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter); daughter Violet (voiced by Sarah Vowell); son Dash (voiced by Huck Milner); & infant son Jack-Jack (voiced by Eli Fucile). They are still secretly operating as The Incredibles. After their attempt to stop The Underminer (voiced by John Ratzenberger) from robbing Metroville Bank is foiled, they are put in a motel since the Super Relocation program is being discontinued, this being the last favor being given to them by longtime supervisor Rick Decker (voiced by Jonathan Banks).

Not long afterwards, family friend Lucius Best, AKA Frozone (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) is contacted by Winston Deavor (voiced by Bob Odenkirk), an avid superhero fan & owner of technological company DEVTECH. Lucius asks Bob & Helen to come with him to talk with Winston about superheroes. Winston & his sister, Evelyn (voiced by Catherine Keener), propose a stunt to regain the public's faith & trust in superheroes. Helen is chosen as the first person for the job, as Bob & Lucius cause much more destruction in their heroic efforts than Helen. Reluctant at first, Helen decides to take up the offer.

Bob, disappointed about not getting back into the superhero life as soon as he hoped, takes up the task of being a stay-at-home dad, which he struggles with at first, as Violet goes through heartache, Dash struggles with math, & Jack-Jack's powers start to form. Eventually, he pushes through the struggles, thanks to the help of Edna Mode (voiced by Brad Bird).

On Helen's end, she's trying to face off against someone by the alias of Screenslaver. But the issue with Screenslaver is not as it may appear.

The cast is superb. Nelson & Hunter are so energetic, & bring a lot of liveliness to their roles. Samuel L. Jackson is terrific as always. And Brad Bird steals the show again as Edna.

Brad Bird's direction is excellent. Bird still has that sense of child-like wonder in him that he has brought to the silver screen once again, along with his trademark throwback style.

Brad Bird's screenplay is amazing. The characters are well-developed, & the script is filled with a lot of sharp wit & clever humor.

The sound design is fantastic. From the sounds of explosions & destruction to the sounds of motorcycles & trains zipping by, the sounds are always loud & in-your-face.

Michael Giacchino's score is phenomenal. Giacchino's classic bombastic orchestral style is at full power here, & the music powered by vivacious trumpets is always a perfect underscore to the action.

And the animation, as always for a Pixar film, is wondrous. The attention to detail is jaw-dropping, & the world-building through the animation is terrific.

This is one of Pixar's best films in recent memory. It's one of the rare sequels that manages to top the first, & is always incredible. Yes, that pun was intended.

Incredibles 2 was seen by me at the MJR Partridge Creek Digital Cinema 14 in Clinton Township, MI on Thursday, June 14, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 118 minutes, & it is rated PG for action sequences & some brief mild language.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

In all of us, there's something yearning to be unleashed.

Beast shows us what can be unleashed & the consequences of that, becoming one of the best psychological thrillers in years. The film follows Moll Huntford (played by Jessie Buckley), a 27-year-old woman on the British island of Jersey. Terribly mistreated by her mother, Hilary (played by Geraldine James), & dubbed an outcast by the community, Moll finds herself stuck in her job as a tour guide.

On her 27th birthday, Moll is upstaged by her sister, Polly (played by Shannon Tarbet), who announces that she is having twins. Angered by this, Moll goes to a nightclub. The next morning, she meets Pascal Renouf (played by Johnny Flynn), a poacher. They are almost immediately smitten with each other. However, the community warns Moll about Pascal, as he is very mysterious.

While they start their romance, a killer is loose on Jersey. Multiple girls have gone missing & then found murdered. The people of Jersey turn their heads toward Pascal as a possible suspect, & also towards Moll because of her association with him. Moll must ponder on whether or not Pascal is the killer, & if so, whether or not she should still stay with him.

The cast is fantastic. Jessie Buckley gives the best female performance of the year so far. She plays her character with so much range, always feeling so alive & so vivid. Johnny Flynn also gives a great performance, also carrying a lot of range, but also a lot of repression in his performance. And Geraldine James is terrifically evil. She is "The Mother from Hell." She is so diabolical & so manipulative & so entertaining to see.

Michael Pearce's direction is excellent. This is one of the best directorial debuts in a while. Pearce keeps the tension high with something so small as a change in facial expression.

Michael Pearce's screenplay is amazing. The plot, story, characters & dialogue are all so intriguing, filled with so many chills, thrills & twists.

Benjamin Kracun's cinematography is gorgeous. The entire film is a visual spectacle, & it's helped a lot by Kracun's many wide-open shots of the beaches of Jersey & the open waters of the English Channel.

And Maya Maffioli's editing is superb. The film is very slow-paced, allowing the events & twists to slowly unfold, & also allowing the film to unnerve the audience.

This is one of the best films of the year. It's a spectacular psychological thriller, led by a terrific breakout performance from Jessie Buckley.

Beast was seen by me at the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI on Saturday, June 9, 2018. It is currently in 1 theater in the Detroit area: the State Theatre in Ann Arbor, MI. Its runtime is 107 minutes, & it is rated R for disturbing violent content, language & some sexuality.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Ocean's 8

★★★★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

The Ocean's Trilogy, altogether, was a breath of fresh air to the heist genre. Although the trilogy had some flaws, its wit, style, & performances were enough to make it a great trilogy.

Ocean's 8, the newest addition to the Ocean's franchise, while suffering from a couple minor flaws, is one of the best of the franchise. The film follows Debbie Ocean (played by Sandra Bullock), the sister of Danny Ocean. After being in prison for nearly 6 years, she is finally on parole.

After getting back to New York, she reunites with her partner-in-crime, Lou Miller (played by Cate Blanchett). Debbie tells Lou about what she had been planning in prison: a heist at the Met Gala. The heist: stealing a necklace called "The Toussaint," valued at $150 million. The necklace is going to be worn by actress Daphne Kluger (played by Anne Hathaway). Lou is skeptical of this, saying they would need 20 people; Debbie says they would only need 7. Lou eventually agrees to this.

They hire 5 people to participate in the heist: washed-up fashion designer Rose Weil (played by Helena Bonham Carter), who will be their key to get the necklace, as she will be Daphne's fashion designer for the Met Gala; jeweler Amita (played by Mindy Kaling); street hustler/pickpocketer Constance Wong (played by Awkwafina); hacker Nine-Ball (played by Rihanna); & profiteer Tammy (played by Sarah Paulson).

Eventually, the heist is set. And what they're in for could either make them as rich as can be, or imprisoned for a long time.

The cast is fantastic. Bullock, Blanchett & Hathaway are the highlights of the cast, all exuding command & dominance in their performances. The rest of the cast also provides great supporting work.

Gary Ross's direction is great. Although there are a couple rough spots when it comes to keeping everything interesting, Ross has enough style to make up for the flaws.

The screenplay by Gary Ross & Olivia Milch is amazing. The plot is intriguing, the characters are fantastic, & the dialogue is very clever.

And the editing by Juliette Welfling is excellent. The film is edited like much its predecessors: a lot of flashy quick cuts done to perfection.

This is a great addition to the Ocean's franchise. Although it isn't perfect, it has enough great details to make into a thoroughly engaging heist comedy.

Ocean's 8 was seen by me at the MJR Partridge Creek Digital Cinema 14 in Clinton Township, MI on Saturday, June 9, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 110 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for language, drug use, & some suggestive content.


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

I've said it before & I'll say it again: the horror genre has become way too washed out lately. An over-reliance on poorly-timed jump scares, along with a lack of characterization, has plagued the genre. Sure, there are a few films in recent memory that have gone against the clichés, but these are only a minute amount of exceptions, & not the rule.

Hereditary is a game-changer. It has brought back ideals of classic horror, using old-fashioned dread & a few perfectly-timed jump scares to become one of the greatest horror movies of all time. The film follows Annie Graham (played by Toni Collette), a miniature artist married to Steve (played by Gabriel Byrne). They have 2 children: Peter (played by Alex Wolff), a high-school burnout; & Charlie (played by Milly Shapiro), a 13-year-old outcast.

Annie's mother, Ellen, has recently died after a long illness. In an eulogy, Annie described her as a very secretive woman. Annie eventually finds herself at a support group, where she explains more about her family history of mental illness: her mother had dissociative identity disorder, her father was severely depressed & starved himself to death shortly before Annie was born, & her brother was schizophrenic, accused his mother of putting people in his body, & then committed suicide. At these meetings, Annie meets Joan (played by Ann Dowd), who lost both her son & grandson in an unfortunate accident.

Eventually, the family starts to encounter various horrific things in their lives & in their house. But as these events continue, their lives will inevitably fall apart, & they must wonder what Ellen was really involved with.

The cast is superb. Toni Collette has given the best female performance of the year so far. Her performance is a mix of several emotions: grief, terror, anger, etc. And she pulls them off so spectacularly. She has become the new scream queen, & she better get an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.

Alex Wolff is extroardinary. He is perfect as the aloof, slackerish teenager for the first third of the film, but by the end, he becomes a vicious force of terror & anger.

Milly Shapiro is astonishing, giving what is possibly one of the best child performances of the century. She has an insane power to unnerve the audience, & I know she's definitely going to go far after this.

Gabriel Byrne is remarkable. Byrne, who has been almost completely missing from the big screen in recent memory, gives a performance that is sure to rank at or near the top of all his performances, as he is also a powerful force of terror & anger here.

Ann Dowd is terrific. Dowd, known for her role on The Handmaid's Tale, starts her performance off as sympathetic, but becomes more terrifying by the minute.

Ari Aster's direction is excellent. Aster, fairly well-known for his shocking short films, has delivered a fantastic directorial debut. Aster builds up the dread every second, leading to a complete outburst of pure, unadulterated horror in the third act.

Ari Aster's screenplay is brilliant. The plot is so engulfing, the characters are well-developed, & the dialogue is tremendous. Never does the screenplay encounter any of those recent horror clichés, & that is something to be recognized, especially in this genre.

Pawel Pogorzelski's cinematography is astounding. Pogorzelski's camerawork is very similar to John Alcott's cinematography for The Shining, with an abundance of unnatural camera movements. Also, Pogorzelski's dark color palette heightens the dread even more.

The editing by Jennifer Lame & Lucian Johnston is amazing. The film is paced very slowly, allowing the pure terror to slowly envelop & trap the audience in a nightmarish hell.

Grace Yun's production design is phenomenal. The set design, especially the set design of the house, is very creepy & dilapidated, making the set into an immersive house of horrors.

The sound design is impeccable. The sounds of the house are so creepy & terrifying, but there is one noise that is guaranteed to haunt you in your nightmares.

And Colin Stetson's score is incredible. Stetson's score is powered by ominous baritones & synths, only heightening the dread further.

This is by far the scariest film I've ever seen in my entire life. It's a throwback to the classic horror films, &, in the process, has become a new horror classic.

Hereditary was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Friday, June 8, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 127 minutes, & it is rated R for horror violence, disturbing images, language, drug use & brief graphic nudity.

Monday, June 11, 2018


★★★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

B-movies, once very popular in the 1970s, have become all but extinct in our blockbuster-heavy society. Once guilty pleasures of audiences, they are now only shown at select midnight showings.

Upgrade is a somewhat flawed, but altogether fun sci-fi thriller throwback to the classic B-movies of the 1970s. Set in the near-future, the film follows Grey Trace (played by Logan-Marshall Green), a technologically skeptic mechanic married to Asha (played by Melanie Vallejo), who works for tech giant Cobolt. One night, they are invited to the house of Eron Keen (played by Harrison Gilbertson), a tech innovator for rival company Vessel. He introduces them to a new invention called STEM, which can connect to & improve anything.

On their way home, Grey & Asha get into an accident in their AI car, & are attacked by 4 men. They kill Asha & shoot Grey in his spinal cord, making him a quadriplegic. Depressed by the murder of his wife & the loss of his limbs, Grey becomes suicidal. However, Eron visits him in the hospital, in the hopes to convince Grey to have STEM implanted in him, thereby allowing him to walk again. Reluctant at first, Grey agrees.

The procedure is successful, but Grey must keep this secret. While looking through the case files of Asha's murder, he hears STEM (voiced by Simon Maiden) speaking to him, with only Grey being able to hear STEM. STEM identifies one of the people involved in Asha's murder as Serk (played by Richard Cawthorne), & Grey goes to his house to gather info. However, when Serk gets home, him & Grey get into a fight, which Serk is winning until Grey gives STEM permission to control his body for that moment. Grey then proceeds to manhandle him, & finishes it by viciously cutting into his jaw.

Det. Cortez (played by Betty Gabriel), who is investigating Asha's murder, notices footage of Grey near the crime scene & become suspicious. But as Grey gets deeper & deeper into finding the man who killed Asha, STEM begins to take more & more control.

The cast is superb. Logan Marshall-Green is great in the lead role, exuding so much power & intensity. Betty Gabriel & Harrison Gilbertson provide some great supporting work as well.

Leigh Whannell's direction is great. Although he fumbles a few times at juggling some tonal shifts, he manages to right most of the wrongs in the end. And he sure can direct some pretty gory action sequences very well.

Leigh Whannell's screenplay is good. Although the dialogue is cheesy & the story doesn't go where we'd like it to go at times, the plot is very intriguing.

And Felicity Abbott's production design is fantastic. The futuristic sets are so immersive & look so awesome, adding to the stylish atmosphere of the visuals.

This is a good B-movie. Although it's nowhere near perfect, it provides enough fun to make it worth the price of admission.

Upgrade was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Saturday, June 2, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 100 minutes, & it is rated R for strong violence, grisly images, & language.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

On Chesil Beach

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Young love can be such a great thing. To find someone you love without a long wait is a crowning achievement & is something to be adored. However, some people rush into it too quickly, without fully pondering their future.

On Chesil Beach is a moving & beautiful film that deals with that dilemma. Based on Ian McEwan's 2007 novella of the same name, & set in 1960s England, the film follows Florence Ponting (played by Saoirse Ronan) & Edward Mayhew (played by Billy Howle), a young newlywed couple. They come from different backgrounds: Florence is an upper-class string quartet member, with her mother, Violet (played by Emily Watson), being a philosophy professor, & her father, Geoffrey (played by Samuel West), being a factory owner. Edward, on the other hand, is a middle-class man with a rash personality, with his mother, Marjorie (played by Anne-Marie Duff), suffering brain damage from an unfortunate train accident, & his father, Lionel (played by Adrian Scarborough), being an overworked headmaster.

They have just been married earlier in the day, & are honeymooning at a small hotel on Chesil Beach, in Dorset. Edward is eager to consummate the marriage, but Florence is nowhere near ready for it, although she is slowly trying to work herself up to the idea of it.

While they try to ease their way into it, they talk for a while about their lives, & flashback to how they met: they met at a meeting for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, & eventually worked their relationship to where they are currently. But when they try to do it, the choices they make could leave their relationship on rocky waters.

The cast is superb. Saoirse Ronan gives another perfect performance. Ronan truly is the greatest actress of her generation. She can express so much with so little, & her gorgeous face can show so many emotions with only a slight change in her facial expressions. It's truly a shame how she doesn't have 3 Oscars by now.

Billy Howle also gives a fantastic performance. Howle has the bravado & acting power of a young Colin Firth. Every emotion he shows is infinitely strong, & has impeccable chemistry with Ronan.

Dominic Cooke's direction is excellent. Cooke, a noted theater director, has jumped over to the silver screen & has done a great job in his debut. Cooke gets everything right about McEwan's novel & the time period it encompasses.

Ian McEwan's screenplay is amazing. McEwan does a terrific job of adapting his novel, & the changes he makes in the adaptation don't damage the film at all.

And Sean Bobbitt's cinematography is breathtaking. Bobbitt captures the beauty of the beach, the English Channel, & the locales overlooking them so wondrously.

This is one of the best films of the year. It's a fantastic adaptation of a wonderful novella, led by two pitch-perfect performances.

On Chesil Beach was seen by me at The Maple Theater in Bloomfield Township, MI on Saturday, June 2, 2018. It is currently in 3 theaters in the Detroit area: the AMC Livonia 20 in Livonia, MI; the Emagine Novi in Novi, MI; & the Quality 16 in Ann Arbor, MI. Its runtime is 110 minutes, & it is rated R for some sexual content & nudity.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

First Reformed

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

I was baptized & raised Catholic. During the early years of my childhood, I went to church every Sunday. I also went to Catechism every Tuesday. However, around the age of 10, I became less inclined with the Church & had less of a desire to go to Church. By the age of 14, I had almost completely stopped going to church. Lately, I have become more interested in theology, & have begun to admire the church again. However, I am still somewhat going through a crisis of faith.

First Reformed is a film that I didn't think Paul Schrader had left in him. It's a film that I didn't think would've shook me to my very core. And it's a film that I didn't think would end up being the best film of the year so far. But all 3 of those thoughts were false. It has become the best film of 2018 so far. The film follows Rev. Ernst Toller (played by Ethan Hawke), the pastor at First Reformed Church in Upstate New York. Once a stop on the Underground Railroad, & now quickly approaching its 250th anniversary reconsecration, the church has become almost completely desolate. The organ is broken, & barely 10 people attend every Sunday, as almost the entire flock has gone over to Abundant Life, the nearby megachurch led by Rev. Joel Jeffers (played by Cedric Kyles, AKA Cedric The Entertainer), with the 5,000 people in its flock being attracted by its vast acreage & state-of-the-art bells & whistles. Jeffers has taken the liberty of organizing the reconsecration ceremony, while industrial head Edward Balq (played by Michael Gaston) funnels the money for the ceremony.

Toller, a former military chaplain, has suffered a lot in recent times. His son, who he encouraged to follow in the family tradition of joining the military, was killed in Iraq 6 months after he enlisted. Soon after, his wife, unable to love him after that, divorced him. Also, he has just ended an affair with Esther (played by Victoria Hill), who works at Abundant Life. And now, Toller has become increasingly ill, drowning his pain in alcohol every night. Toller decides to write a journal, detailing all of his thoughts during every single day of his life for the following 12 months, & at that time, it will be destroyed.

One Sunday, after church, Mary (played by Amanda Seyfried), one of the few parishioners at First Reformed, asks Toller to counsel her radical environmentalist husband, Michael (played by Philip Ettinger), who has just been released from prison in Canada. Michael has asked Mary, who is pregnant, to have an abortion, as he feels it would be horrible to bring a child into a world that is on the brink of destruction. However, Mary wants to have the child. Michael explains to Toller how the world is becoming grossly overtaken by irreversible climate change that he says, along with opportunistic disease, famine, anarchy & martial law, will occur not only in their child's lifetime, but in Toller's lifetime.

Toller is shaken by this conversation with Michael. This sends him into a crisis of faith, leading him to begin to take decisive action, much to the horror of Jeffers & Balq. But as the 250th anniversary consecration gets closer, Toller finds himself falling deeper & deeper into a pit of despair.

The cast is spectacular. Ethan Hawke gives what is easily the greatest performance of his career & of this year. Hawke's performance is very nuanced & raw, excellently depicting the crisis of faith that so many go through. Amanda Seyfried also gives an excellent performance, finally showing that she can actually act. And Cedric Kyles also does a great job, showing a knack for the dramatic after doing so many comedic roles.

Paul Schrader's direction is phenomenal. After having directed some absolute duds over the past several years (The Canyons, The Dying of the Light & Dog Eat Dog), Schrader has finally made a return to form that hasn't been seen since his 1997 film Affliction. Schrader takes many cues from both some of his favorite directors (Robert Bresson, Yasujiro Ozu, Ingmar Bergman & Carl Theodor Dreyer) & his strict Calvinist upbringing to make the film into a brutal, & at times, horrifying, look at what we're doing to our world & what some people have made their belief in God to be.

Paul Schrader's screenplay is amazing. The plot is one of the most intriguing plots in recent history, the characters are fully fleshed out, & the dialogue is nothing short of fantastic. Also, the screenplay has many similarities to Schrader's script for Taxi Driver (which I have finally watched this past weekend & completely loved it), with the themes & style being the most prevalent similarities. I find this film's script to be just as excellent as Taxi Driver's script.

Alexander Dynan's cinematography is astounding. Shot in the classic Academy ratio (another homage to some of Schrader's favorite directors), the shots feel more intimate & compact. Also, the camerawork is extremely dominated by one color: white, obviously representing the purity & cleanliness of God.

Benjamin Rodriguez Jr.'s editing is excellent. Rodriguez Jr. keeps the film at a slow pace, letting the film slowly unfold before us.

And Lustmord's score is haunting. The score is powered by ominous bass sounds, adding to the dark feeling of the film.

This is one of the best films of the century so far. Along with a career-best performance from Ethan Hawke, it is a return to form for Paul Schrader, & a terrifying portrayal of faith & the terrors our world faces today & will continue to face.

First Reformed was seen by me at the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI on Friday, June 1, 2018. It is currently in 1 theater in the Detroit area: the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI; it will expand to more theaters starting Friday, June 8, 2018. Its runtime is 113 minutes, & it is rated R for some disturbing violent images.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Although I am not a huge Star Wars fan, I do love the majority of the films. I love all the original films, one of the prequels (Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith), & the new sequels. However, I find the other two prequels & the new anthology film, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, to be mediocre. The anthology films (yes, there are going to be more) seem to be nothing more than fan service, pandering to the fans with nostalgia, instead of moving forward & taking risks.

Solo: A Star Wars Story could've been great. In fact, it probably would've been great, had Phil Lord & Christopher Miller not been fired with only a short time before they finished filming because of creative differences with Lucasfilm. And from what I've heard, I would've liked their take on this. However, Ron Howard came on board, finished the film, & what came of the extensive reshoots was nothing short of a disappointment. It had flashes of greatness, but those were all dashed before long. The film follows a younger Han (played by Alden Ehrenreich), a criminal on Corellia. Him & his girlfriend, Qi'Ra (played by Emilia Clarke), steal in order to survive. They try to get off of Corellia by bribing an Imperial officer; however, only Han makes it, as Qi'Ra is captured by the gang that's after them. Determined to return for Qi'Ra, Han joins the Imperial Navy as a flight cadet. When asked for his family name, Han says he is alone, & the recruiter gives him the surname of Solo.

3 years later, Han is kicked out of the Imperial Flight Academy for insubordination, but encounters a group of criminals disguised as Imperial soldiers during a battle on Mimban. The criminal group is led by Tobias Beckett (played by Woody Harrelson). Han tries to coerce Beckett into letting him join, but Beckett has him arrested & sentenced to being eaten by a Wookie named Chewbacca (played by Joonas Suotamo). However, Han convinces Chewbacca to befriend him, & they both eventually join Beckett's gang. Also in the gang are Beckett's wife, Val (played by Thandie Newton) & Rio Durant (played by Jon Favreau), an alien.

Han & Chewbacca's first job with Beckett's gang is to steal a shipment of coaxium on Vandor. The plan fails, as Cloud Riders get on their tail, & the coaxium ends up being destroyed. Beckett tells Han that the shipment was supposed to be stolen for Crimson Dawn boss Dryden Vos (played by Paul Bettany). Han offers to repay this by stealing unrefined coaxium from Kessel, to which Dryden Vos allows to happen, but only if Qi'Ra, who is now his lieutenant, accompanies them.

So they go on their way to Kessel, where they make their way to Lando Calrissian (played by Donald Glover), a pilot & smuggler, in the hope that he will lend him his ship, the Millenium Falcon, for the heist. He wagers it in a game of sabacc, but he defeats Han in that game; however, him & his droid friend, L3-37 (played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge), decide to join. But this job could turn out bad for everyone involved.

The cast is good. Ehrenreich, although he wouldn't have been my first choice to play Han Solo (that would've been Ansel Elgort), does a good enough job of emulating the cockiness & gung-ho personality once emulated by the great Harrison Ford. Clarke & Bettany are alright, but are easily the least good of the cast. Newton feels wasted here. But the two best members of the cast are Donald Glover (who is easily the best part of the film) & Woody Harrelson (who seems to be awesome at playing his neurotic self).

Ron Howard's direction is mediocre. Howard plays the material darker than it needs to be, & when he isn't doing that, his handling of the material feels so bland & generic.

The screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan & Jonathan Kasdan is underwhelming. The plot isn't interesting enough, many of the characters are one-note, & the dialogue isn't that good. Also, the screenplay panders too much to the nostalgia of past films, instead of doing what Star Wars: The Last Jedi did so well: taking risks & moving forward.

Bradford Young's cinematography is good. Although the color palette is too washed-out at times, the shot composition is great.

Pietro Scalia's editing is awful. For an action film, the film is paced horribly. The 2.25 hour runtime feels more like 3.5 hours. Also, the film seems over-edited at times.

And the visual effects are great. The CGI, like all of the films in the Star Wars franchise, is done very well, & is one of the few bright spots of the film.

This is a real disappointment. Although the cast & visuals are good, everything else is mediocre, making the film a completely bloated mess.

Solo: A Star Wars Story was seen by me at the MJR Partridge Creek Digital Cinema 14 in Clinton Township, MI on Friday, May 25, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 135 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence.

The Rider

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Performances by non-professional actors have been at the forefront of cinema since it was invented. From Harold Russell in The Best Years of Our Lives & Haing S. Ngor in The Killing Fields, to Anna Paquin in The Piano & Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild, non-professional actors have been behind some of the most memorable performances in film history.

The cast of The Rider is entirely filled with non-professional actors. But that, in the end, is what makes the film so much more human & emotional. The film follows Brady Blackburn (played by Brady Jandreau), a young cowboy on the Pine Ridge Oglala Lakota Reservation in South Dakota. He lives in a trailer with his father, Wayne (played by Tim Jandreau), who is a gambler & an alcoholic that has always preached the mantra of manning up & being a cowboy, & his younger sister, Lilly (played by Lilly Jandreau), who is autistic. Brady & Lilly's mother had died not too long beforehand.

Once a rising star in the rodeo circuit, Brady suffered an accident during a rodeo, one that would've been relatively minor, had it not been for a horse stepping on his skull. Now suffering from seizures, he is warned that if he gets back on a horse, he could make his ailments worse, possibly paralyzing or killing him.

Now, without the one thing he loves, Brady finds himself stuck in a job at the grocery store. When he's not working, he's either helping out his family, hanging out with friends, seeking comfort in his best friend, Lane Scott (played by Lane Scott), who was once a rodeo star before he became paralyzed & unable to speak, or helping out another rodeo rider, Cat Clifford (played by Cat Clifford).

One day, Brady finds a horse named Apollo. Eventually, he decides to get back into rodeo, knowing that another fall may kill him. But that's the struggle for Brady: rodeo is the only thing he's ever known. And taking that from him is like taking away his ability to breathe.

The cast is fantastic. Brady Jandreau gives one of the best performances ever by a non-professional actor. He has such an enigmatic screen presence reminiscent of John Wayne & Gary Cooper. And if this is where the road takes him, then I can't wait to see what Jandreau will do next on the silver screen.

The rest of the cast, especially Tim & Lilly Jandreau, provide such amazing support to Brady Jandreau. Tim Jandreau's performance is as heartbreaking as his son's performance; tough, but still caring. And Lilly Jandreau provides some light-hearted moments to the film, making a performance that would've felt problematic with a trained actor feel so real & humorous.

Chloé Zhao's direction is phenomenal. Zhao met the cast while making her debut film Songs My Brother Taught Me in 2015. The film came to light for her once Brady Jandreau suffered a rodeo accident in 2016, exactly as he did in the film (real footage is shown in the film). Zhao then framed the film around his recovery. Other things in the film are real as well. Lilly Jandreau has autism in real life, & Lane Scott was a rodeo star before suffered brain damage in real life, albeit from different reasons in the film. But the film isn't a documentary, but rather life & art mixing together. And Zhao mixes those so spectacularly, making the emotional moments hit a lot harder.

Chloé Zhao's screenplay is masterful. The plot deals with some heavy themes very well. The characters are fleshed-out very well, even the small characters. And the dialogue is so real & raw.

And Joshua James Richards' cinematography is breathtaking. His camerawork is very reminiscent of the camerawork of the films of Terrence Malick, with the wide, majestic shots of the open frontier of the West. And Richards sure can shoot a film as good as those guys.

This is one of the best films of the year. It's a heartbreakingly beautiful story of the human condition & how we feel when something we love to do so much is taken away so suddenly.

The Rider was seen by me at the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI on Saturday, May 19, 2018. It is currently in 3 theaters in the Detroit area: the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI; the Phoenix Theaters - Laurel Park Place in Livonia, MI; & the Emagine Novi in Novi, MI. Its runtime is 104 minutes, & it is rated R for language & drug use.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Pope Francis: A Man of His Word

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has become a welcoming figurehead of the Roman Catholic Church. He has accepted & embraced the modern viewpoints of society, & ingratiated them into the beliefs of the Catholic Church, including views on climate change, consumerism, & interfaith relations. While I don't necessarily agree with Pope Francis on everything, as he still maintains the Catholic Church's views on marriage & abortion, I still admire him for his humility & his embracing of all life on Earth.

Pope Francis: A Man of His Word is a warm, embracing, & hopeful documentary about Pope Francis. The film follows Pope Francis, who engages in a conversation with the director of the documentary, Wim Wenders. Before then, the documentary talks about his life before becoming Pope. Pope Francis was born Jorge Bergoglio in Argentina. He became a Jesuit priest, & eventually became a Cardinal in 2001.

In 2013, after Pope Benedict XVI resigned from the papacy, Bergoglio was elected Pope on the second day of the papal conclave, taking the name Francis after St. Francis of Assisi. Since then, Pope Francis has been embracing of all people, & preaching mercy.

Through the conversations with Wenders, Pope Francis talks about poverty, climate change, social issues, interfaith dialogue, & other important topics, all in a way that preaches love & tolerance of all human beings.

Wim Wenders' direction is stellar. Wenders, a noted director of feature & documentary films, has done some excellent work here. With his decision to form the film as a conversation with Pope Francis, the film feels much more intimate & raw.

This is one of the best documentaries in a while. It's an excellent documentary about one excellent man, who is a symbol of hope in troubled times.

Pope Francis: A Man of His Word was seen by me at the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 in Troy, MI on Saturday, May 19, 2018. It is currently in 2 theaters in the Detroit area: the AMC Forum 30 in Sterling Heights, MI, & the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, MI. Its runtime is 96 minutes, & it is rated PG for thematic material including images of suffering.