Sunday, September 30, 2018

Life Itself

½★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

I just don't know what to say. Some films can do that to you. Some because of how good they are, & other times because of how bad they are. This is one of the latter times.

Life Itself is a putrid, manipulative, & unintentionally funny mess. Set between New York & Spain in the past, present, & future, the film follows Will Dempsey (played by Oscar Isaac), a hopeless romantic. At college, he meets Abby (played by Olivia Wilde), who he instantly falls in love with. After introducing her to his parents, Irwin (played by Mandy Patinkin) & Linda (played by Jean Smart), Will & Abby get married, & have a daughter, Dylan (played by Olivia Cooke). Also involved in this is Will's therapist, Dr. Cait Morris (played by Annette Bening). But Will & Abby might not be as happy in their marriage as they seem.

Another storyline involves Javier González (played by Sergio Peris-Mancheta), who is hired as a manager by Vincent Saccione (played by Antonio Banderas), a wealthy olive farmer in Spain. They strike up a friendship, & Javier ends up marrying Isabel (played by Laia Costa), & have a son, Rodrigo (played by Alex Monner). But Javier & Vincent come to an impasse as Vincent becomes interested in Isabel.

Eventually, these storylines will all coalesce together in some roundabout way, showing us how life can surprise us at any moment.

The cast is mediocre. Oscar Isaac isn't given much to do besides cry & be mopey, & as much as he tries to do a good job, he ultimately fails & gives a bad performance. Olivia Wilde isn't given much to do either, & she also gives a bad performance. And the rest of the cast gives bad performances. But this isn't all their fault.

Dan Fogelman's direction is awful. Fogelman puts way too much material into this film, basically putting 2 seasons of This is Us into a 2-hour film. And he fails miserably at this. He can't focus on anything, as he bounces between storylines with so much confusion.

And Dan Fogelman's screenplay is a catastrophe. The plot is a mess, killing off more characters than the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones. The characters are nothing but inhuman clichés. And the dialogue is over-sentimental & unintentionally hilarious.

This is the worst film of the year, & one of the worst films ever made. It has nothing of value to it, & we would all be better off if this film never existed.

Life Itself was seen by me at the MJR Partridge Creek Digital Cinema 14 in Clinton Township, MI on Saturday, September 22, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 118 minutes, & it is rated R for language including sexual references, some violent images & brief drug use.

Fahrenheit 11/9

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

It should've never come to this. Our country should not be in the state it is today. Donald Trump shouldn't be our leader. He shouldn't be making a mockery of this country & spouting more & more stupid statements. Our members of Congress shouldn't be supporting the steps he takes & compromising with him. And his followers shouldn't be blindly following him as he leads us to a dark place ahead.

But, unsurprisingly, that's where we are today. Donald Trump is our leader. He lies, makes racist comments, commits treason, & does absolutely deplorable things, making us the laughing stock of the world. It shouldn't have come to this for us to wake up, but I'm not surprised that it did.

Fahrenheit 11/9 is a biting, horrifying, & altogether masterful documentary for our times. The film follows our favorite liberal muckraker Michael Moore as he explores how we got here & how we get out. He starts off with a conspiracy theory that may sound bizarre, but at this time, truth is stranger than fiction. In 2015, Donald Trump is riding high as host of The Apprentice. But something is making Trump mad: Gwen Stefani is making more money as a judge on The Voice than he is as the host of The Apprentice. So he decides to make a fake run for President to get NBC to pay up. However, as Trump makes some asinine statements, he is fired from NBC. But he has a "genius" idea: to continue on in his campaign. You all know what happened next: he denigrated his fellow Republican candidates, then the media, & finally his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. And not even Clinton could stop him as he won the 2016 presidential election (albeit losing the popular vote), where he only had a 15% chance of winning. 

From here, Moore continues on going after Trump for his creepy demeanor towards his daughter Ivanka, & his commonalities with Matt Lauer, Bill O'Reilly, Charlie Rose, Mike Halperin, & Roger Ailes. But after that, Moore looks more at the system that got us here, starting with Rick Snyder, the Governor of Michigan. In 2014, he decided to build a pipeline from Lake Huron to Flint, & in the meantime, Flint would have to switch over to the water from the Flint River. And here started an event in the poorest city in America that also has a majority African-American population that can only be described as an ethnic cleansing. People died from Legionnaire's disease, & children were permanently maimed from lead consumption. And this still goes on today, as Snyder did nothing to stop it, & even Barack Obama did nothing to stop it, as they all said it was safe to drink, & as the state government falsified the data involving those sick in Flint.

Next, Moore goes on to talk about the egregious sabotage of the 2016 Democratic primaries, where the primaries were rigged in favor of Hillary Clinton & against Bernie Sanders, who was much more admired by the people. Even West Virignia, where Sanders won all 55 counties in the primary, went for Clinton at the Democratic National Convention. Afterwards, 100 million people did not vote in the election, many of them disillusioned by not only Trump, but Clinton as well.

From here, Moore looks at the hopeful future of America, where the young people are rising up to reform our system. Many younger people are running for Congress on a progressive agenda, namely Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York. Also, Moore takes a look at the ultimately successful teacher strike in West Virginia, & at the students in Parkland, Florida, where after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, have formed a major organization aimed at stronger gun control in America.

But ultimately, no one is spared in this film: not Trump, nor Snyder, nor Putin, nor Clinton, nor Obama, nor the Democrats, nor the Republicans, nor even Moore himself.

Michael Moore's direction is phenomenal. Moore is firing on all cylinders, both being bitingly funny at some parts, & heartbreakingly sincere at others. He gives us more of what we know he can give, & it's some of his best work.

This is the best documentary of the year. It is an impassioned call to arms, inspiring us all to rise up & do something to improve this country.

Fahrenheit 11/9 was seen by me at the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 in Troy, MI on Friday, September 21, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 128 minutes, & it is rated R for language & some disturbing material/images.

Assassination Nation

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

We live in a society.

The world is nothing short of extremely screwed up these days. Our President is a despot, racists are coming back out of the woodwork, mass shootings plague our country, & many other forms of bigotry still exist.

Assassination Nation is a huge middle finger to all the things that plague modern society, & what a thrilling middle finger it is. The film follows Lily Colson (played by Odessa Young), a normal high school student in Salem, Massachusetts. Lily is usually with her 3 best friends: Sarah (played by Suki Waterhouse); Bex (played by Hari Nef), a trans woman; & Em (played by Abra), who lives with her single mother, Nance (played by Anika Noni Rose), who doesn't have the best reputation in town. Lily is also dating Mark (played by Bill Skarsgård). Besides babysitting the kids of her neighbor, Nick (played by Joel McHale), & secretly texting someone she refers to as "Daddy," Lily is just a regular teenage girl.

One day, things start to turn weird in Salem. Pictures involving Mayor Bartlett (played by Cullen Moss) are leaked to the town. Soon after, pictures involving Principal Turrell (played by Colman Domingo) are also leaked to the town. As the investigation into these major hackings occur, half of the people in Salem get hacked, including Lily, whose friend Grace (played by Maude Apatow) tells her that Reagan (played by Bella Thorne), the head cheerleader, sent some photos of Lily to someone & those photos were hacked.

Eventually, the whole town starts to descend into mass mayhem, including murder, assault, hanging, shooting, torture, & other nefarious acts. Now it is time for Lily, Sarah, Bex, & Em to rise up, defend themselves, & survive the night.

The cast is fantastic. Young, Waterhouse, Abra, Skarsgard & McHale all give great performances. But the standout performance comes from Hari Nef. Her performance is filled with tenacity, attitude & flashiness, & she completely sells it.

Sam Levinson's direction is excellent. Levinson shows all the craziness & carnage with a surfeit of style, & just enough substance to keep it from going off the rails.

Sam Levinson's screenplay is brilliant. The plot is intriguing, the characters are idiosyncratic & interesting, & the dialogue is terrifically biting.

And Marcell Rév's cinematography is spectacular. Rév captures all of the craziness with a keen eye, & there's also a 3-minute long take which is just phenomenal.

This is one of the best films of the year. It's a polarizing film, for sure, but it's one that is a conversation starter, & has some great acting, directing & writing to boot.

Assassination Nation was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Friday, September 21, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 108 minutes, & it is rated R for disturbing bloody violence, strong sexual material including menace, pervasive language, & for drug & alcohol use - all involving teens.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

White Boy Rick

★★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

If you're from Michigan, especially the Detroit area, then you already know the story of Rick Wershe Jr., AKA White Boy Rick. FBI informant at 14, cocaine kingpin by 16, & imprisoned at 17, receiving a longer sentence than many violent criminals. This is just about the perfect true story to inspire a film.

But White Boy Rick is ultimately nowhere near the level it should be. It should be wildly captivating, much like Goodfellas or Casino. But although it does have flashes of it, it's ultimately just below average. Set in 1980s Detroit, the film follows Rick Wershe Jr., (played by Richie Merritt), a 14-year-old kid living in a rundown neighborhood in Detroit. He lives with his gun-running father, Rick Sr., (played by Matthew McConaughey), & his drug-addicted sister, Dawn (played by Bel Powley). His grandparents, Roman (played by Bruce Dern) & Verna (played by Piper Laurie), don't live too far either, & always look down at their son & grandchildren's lives.

Rick Jr. goes to sell some guns one day, & the person purchasing them is local gangster Johnny Curry (played by Jonathan Majors). He eventually has Rick Sr. join his crew, & partners up with Johnny's brother, Rudell "Boo" Curry (played by RJ Cyler). While in the crew, he is coined with the nickname "White Boy Rick."

Some time later, the FBI comes to the Wershe household, asking about a gun purchase. While Rick Sr. refuses to tell them anything, Rick Jr. ends up becoming an FBI informant. His handlers, agents Alex Snyder (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) & Frank Byrd (played by Rory Cochrane), & Detroit Police Department Narcotics Division Det. Mel Jackson (played by Brian Tyree Henry), supply him with crack to sell. This sends Rick Jr. into a way of life he never imagined.

When the FBI is done with him, Rick Jr. becomes a huge drug kingpin, getting himself involved with fellow drug kingpin Art Derrick (played by Eddie Marsan), & gets tied in with family of Detroit mayor Coleman Young & members of the Detroit Police Department. But Rick may have found himself in too deep of a hole to get out of.

The cast is excellent. Richie Merritt gives a great debut performance. He greatly portrays the insecurities of a young man in his situation. Matthew McConaughey gives a great performance as a conflicted & troubled father. And the rest of the cast, especially Powley, Leigh & Henry, do great jobs in supporting roles.

Yann Demange's direction is great. Although Demange does have some trouble handling all the many subplots occurring, he is able to demonstrate a lot of style & pull some great performances out of his cast.

The screenplay by Andy Weiss, Logan Miller & Noah Miller is very bad, & stops the film from being good. The plot has way too much going on & is not captivating enough, the characterization besides Rick Sr. & Rick Jr. is almost non-existent, & the dialogue is badly written.

And Tat Radcliffe's cinematography is amazing. Radcliffe's camerawork fits perfectly in the timeline of the film: it has that amazing 1980's neon look.

This is just a mediocre film. It does have some good performances, direction & visuals, but is sadly balanced out by a bad screenplay. As a film fan & as a Detroiter, I was very disappointed.

White Boy Rick was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Saturday, September 15, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 111 minutes, & it is rated R for language throughout, drug content, violence, some sexual references, & brief nudity.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

A Simple Favor

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Lately, many comedic actors & directors have gone more to the darker side of horrors & thrillers, namely Jordan Peele with Get Out & John Krasinski with A Quiet Place. Both of these instances have received critical & commercial success.

A Simple Favor is the newest of these crossovers, & is the most twisted & fun of them all. Based on the 2017 novel A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell, the film follows Stephanie Smothers (played by Anna Kendrick), a widowed mommy vlogger. She lives a very comfortable life with her son, Miles (played by Joshua Satine). She is an overachieving mother, always signing up to volunteer for PTA-led events at Miles' elementary school, much to the chagrin of the other parents, especially Darren (played by Andrew Rannells).

One day, Emily Nelson (played by Blake Lively), a PR director, is asked by her son, Nicky (played by Ian Ho), if he can have a playdate with Miles. After some begging, Emily finally relents, & also invites Stephanie over to have drinks with her. When Stephanie arrives, she is immediately stunned by Emily's very extravagant house. Over drinks, Stephanie & Emily begin to bond. Soon after, Stephanie meets Emily's husband, Sean Townsend (played by Henry Golding), a novelist & English professor.

A few days later, Emily calls Stephanie, asking her to do a simple favor: pick up Nicky from school for her, as she is doing something big at work. Stephanie obliges, expecting Emily to not be long. However, Emily doesn't arrive. Stephanie gets very worried, & after a while, calls the police & reports her disappearance. But as the days go by, Stephanie begins to wonder if she really knew Emily at all.

The cast is amazing. Anna Kendrick shows more of her perky self, & it's the best she's ever been at it. (The scene where she sings along to Ante Up by M.O.P. is awesome). Blake Lively is phenomenal, & this is easily her best performance. And their chemistry is powerful. They play off each other so well.

Paul Feig's direction is excellent. In his first non-full-fledged comedy in 15 years, Feig shows a lot of style here, & is able to handle the many tonal shifts that occur.

And Jessica Sharzer's screenplay is brilliant. The plot is so crazy, twisty, off-the-rails, but in such a good way. The characters are so well-written. And the dialogue is so perfect &, at many times, absolutely darkly hilarious.

This is one of the best dark comedies in recent memory. It has some great performances, stylish direction, & a truly amazing screenplay. It's a whole big bucket of fun.

A Simple Favor was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Friday, September 14, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 117 minutes, & it is rated R for sexual content & language throughout, some graphic nude images, drug use & violence.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Predator

★★★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

A lot of people are tired with all of these franchise prequels & sequels & reboot & revivals. And honestly, I get it. There's too many of these films flooding the market today. Some of them are good or even great, but a lot of them aren't. They're just driven by money. It would be nice to see more original films getting the top spots in the box office, or films that aren't adapted from some major book series or TV series or other forms of media.

The Predator is definitely nowhere near a masterpiece, but it's a schlocky, fun, & thrilling blockbuster. The fourth film in the Predator franchise, the film follows Quinn McKenna (played by Boyd Holbrook), an Army Ranger sniper. While on a hostage retrieval mission, a spaceship crashes nearby, the ship containing a Predator. Quinn is able to stop the Prdeator & sends its armor off.

However, soon after, Quinn is captured by government agent Will Traeger (played by Sterling K. Brown). Traeger also takes the Predator in as well to a lab in order to perform observation & experimentation, & calls in biologist Dr. Casey Bracket (played by Olivia Munn) to study it. After some observation, the Predator wakes up, breaks out of its bonds, kills several lab workers, & escapes, but not before sparing Bracket.

Quinn is sent on to a bus with several government captives: Gaylord "Nebraska" Williams (played by Trevanté Rhodes), an ex-Marine; Coyle (played by Keegan-Michael Key), a veteran; Baxley (played by Thomas Jane), a veteran with Tourette syndrome; Nettles (played by Augusto Aguilera), an ex-helicopter pilot; & Lynch (played by Alfie Allen), another ex-Marine. After some banter on the bus, they see the Predator escape from the lab, & take over the bus, eventually bringing Bracket with them.

They return to the home of Quinn's ex-wife, Emily (played by Yvonne Strahovski), & their son, Rory (played by Jacob Tremblay), who has autism. Now, the group of soldiers, along with Rory & Bracket, must stop the Predator once & for all.

The cast is excellent. Boyd Holbrook shows that he can hold his own & demonstrates command in the lead role. Jacob Tremblay continues to show that he is the best young actor in the film industry. And Key, Rhodes, & Allen provide great comic relief.

Shane Black's direction is great. Black does come into trouble when it comes to rushing the action, but he does show a lot of control in the very good (& very bloody) action sequences.

And the screenplay by Shane Black & Fred Dekker is good. The plot is definitely messy (& rushed in the third act), & the characterization is also flawed (especially the portrayal of autism), but the dialogue is fantastic. Black can do no wrong when it comes to dialogue, as it's always hilarious & delightfully schlocky.

This is a good blockbuster. It's definitely flawed, but the great cast & the excellent dialogue save the film from being a total mess.

The Predator was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Friday, September 14, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 107 minutes, & it is rated R for strong bloody violence, language throughout, & crude sexual references.

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Nun

★★★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Horror films involving demonic possession have been around for years. The Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby, & Paranormal Activity have all been seminal additions to this part of the horror genre.

The Nun is definitely not on the level of the films mentioned above, but it's a good horror film that has a lot of well-timed scares in it. Set in 1952 Romania, the film follows Sister Irene (played by Taissa Farmiga), a nun in a novitiate. She is called by the Vatican to go to the Cârta Monastery in Romania after 2 nuns were attacked by a demon, Valak (played by Bonnie Aarons), & one of the nuns killed herself as a result. Irene is sent along with Father Burke (played by Demián Bichir) to the monastery. When they arrive, they are met by Frenchie (played by Jonas Bloquet), a villager who delivers supplies to the abbey. Frenchie was the one who first discovered the body of the nun who killed herself.

While they try to investigate, Irene & Burke stay at the convent, while Frenchie returns to the village. There, they each reveal deep thoughts: Irene saw visions as a young girl, & Burke is haunted by the death of a child on which he performed an exorcism.

Eventually, during their time there, many mysterious things occur & become more & more ominous & more & more frequent. This is all caused by Valak. Irene, Burke & Frenchie must stop Valak before Valak possesses someone else in the abbey.

The cast is excellent. Taissa Farmiga gives an amazing scared-as-hell performance. If she continues on after this, she'll be right behind her sister, Vera Farmiga, as a scream queen in Hollywood. Demián Bichir also gives a great performance, continuing to fly under the radar.

Corin Hardy's direction is great. Although Hardy focuses too much on jump scares, he is able to overcome that with a very ominous atmosphere, & when the jump scares hit, they hit hard.

Gary Dauberman's screenplay is very good. The narrative is formulaic, but the plot is intriguing, & the dialogue is also formidable.

And Maxime Alexandre's cinematography is amazing. Alexandre's color palette is dark & brooding, matching the atmosphere of the film, & his camerawork also adds to the atmosphere.

This is a good horror film. While it does rely too much on jump scares & is a bit too formulaic, it is saved by great performances & excellent cinematography.

The Nun was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Friday, September 7, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 96 minutes, & it is rated R for terror, violence, & disturbing/bloody images.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

We the Animals

★★★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

I've been drawn to many films lately that have a very aimless, wandering structure that tells more of a story. A lot of these films have come out of the mumblecore subgenre, including LOL, Nights & Weekends, & Hannah Takes the Stairs. However, the most seminal film in recent memory with this aimless structure was The Florida Project, which was one of the best films of last year.

We the Animals, while not perfect, is another good film with a wandering structure. Based on the 2011 novel We the Animals by Justin Torres, & set in 1980s upstate New York, the film follows Jonah (played by Evan Rosado), a 10-year-old who is the youngest of 3 brothers. His older brothers are Manny (played by Isaiah Kristian), who is probably around 13, & Joel (played by Josiah Gabriel), who is probably around 12. They live with their mom, Ma (played by Sheila Vand), & their dad, Paps (played by Raúl Castillo) in a small house in a very rural area.

They get by from the small jobs the parents have: Ma works at a factory where she bottles beverages, & Paps works as a security guard. At home, it's more complicated: Ma & Paps are constantly fighting, & Manny & Joel are belittling Jonah.

As Jonah gets older, his environment is continuously being shifted through the belittling he receives from his brothers, & the fighting between his parents, with Ma refusing to get up & Paps leaving the house. Eventually, Jonah tries to figure out his future by himself.

The cast is excellent. The cast is filled with actors who are either completely or almost completely unknown, & they all make their indelible marks on the film. Evan Rosado is a revelation. Through his narration, Rosado shows a burgeoning wiseness beyond his years. The rest of the cast also do great jobs, but Rosado stands out.

Jeremiah Zagar's direction is great. Although Zagar does have some trouble keeping the film on course, he captures the events with an engrossing, gritty, & almost-documentary-like eye.

The screenplay by Jeremiah Zagar & Dan Kitrosser is very good. The plot is a bit too aimless & wandering at times, but the realistic characters & the humanistic dialogue save the film.

And Zak Mulligan's cinematography is amazing. Shot on film, Mulligan's camerawork gives the film a gritty cinema verité feel.

This is a good piece of cinema. Although it does come off the tracks & is it a bit too aimless, it is saved by great performances & some amazing cinematography.

We the Animals was seen by me at the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI on Friday, September 7, 2018. It is currently in 1 theater in the Detroit area: the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI. Its runtime is 94 minutes, & it is rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, language & some underage drug & alcohol abuse.

Monday, September 3, 2018

The Little Stranger

★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Gothic horror is a subgenre that has never really caught on with audiences, even though they may be extremely well-received by critics. For the mainstream crowd, however, it's not scary enough for the majority of them. However, it has intrigued me a bit, even though I've never seen one. I've heard 1977's Suspiria is fantastic, & 2015's Crimson Peak is very good.

The Little Stranger is a film that I was very intrigued by, considering that the cast is very talented, & director Lenny Abrahamson's previous film, 2015's Room, was one of the best films of that year. And I was excited to see him go in a different direction. However, this attempt at gothic horror, aside from a few things, is a major disappointment. Based on the 2009 novel The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, & set in 1948 Warwickshire, England, the film follows Dr. Faraday (played by Domhnall Gleeson), a doctor of rural & humble beginnings. He has worked very hard to get to his current status.

One day, he is called to Hundreds Hall to look at Betty (played by Liv Hill), the young house maid. This is not the first time Faraday has been there, as he had previously been there in July 1919, where Faraday, jealous of the family's social status, broke off an acorn from a display. The Hall is now owned by Roderick Ayres (played by Will Poulter), a war hero who is now badly disfigured after serving with the Royal Air Force. Also living there are Roderick's sister, Caroline (played by Ruth Wilson), & their mother, Angela (played by Charlotte Rampling). The Hall is now in major decay & the Ayres are in dire financial need.

Faraday continues to return to the Hall periodically, & eventually tries to start a romance with Caroline. But something starts to happen in the household. Many unexplained incidences start to occur, with the Ayres believing it is of a supernatural nature. But Faraday is skeptical, as the situations begin to get worse.

The cast is great. Gleeson does a great job. Wilson gives the best performance of the cast. Poulter is turning out to be a good dramatic actor. And Rampling adds another good performance to her long & storied career.

Lenny Abrahamson's direction is underwhelming. Although Abrahamson does a great job of building tension, he can never deliver on it, allowing for no catharsis whatsoever.

Lucinda Coxon's screenplay is very muddled. The plot is intriguing at first glance, but the narrative leaves too many important questions unanswered, making the audience extremely confused in the process. And the characterization is not good, as the characters feel terribly bland.

And Simon Elliott's production design is excellent. The sets are very elegant & period-accurate, yet has a very eerie quality to it.

This is a very disappointing film. Although it does have some good performances & visuals, the direction can't deliver on the tension, & the screenplay is too confusing & uninteresting to make a mark.

The Little Stranger was seen by me at the AMC Forum 30 in Sterling Heights, MI on Sunday, September 2, 2018. It is currently in 4 theaters in the Detroit area: the AMC Forum 30 in Sterling Heights, MI; the AMC Livonia 20 in Livonia, MI; the Emagine Novi in Novi, MI; & the MJR Southgate Digital Cinema 20 in Southgate, MI. Its runtime is 111 minutes, & it is rated R for some disturbing bloody images.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Juliet, Naked

★★★★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

All of us, no matter who or what we are, love & adore music, in some way, shape, form, or genre. There's always a song we can sing to, or an artist we can love, or an album we can listen to over & over again.

Juliet, Naked, aside from a couple flaws, is a great comedy about music & the way it affects our lives. Based on the 2009 novel Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby, the film follows Annie (played by Rose Byrne), a woman living in Sandcliff, a small coastal town in England. Her long-time boyfriend, Duncan (played by Chris O'Dowd), is a fan of alternative rock singer Tucker Crowe (played by Ethan Hawke). Tucker, once a promising artist after the release of his 1992 album Juliet, disappeared off the face of the earth after leaving a concert early by escaping through the bathroom in Minneapolis in 1993.

Duncan obsesses over Tucker, having listened to his album probably hundreds of times, has created a fan site, & frequently Skypes with other fans of Tucker. However, Annie is not a fan of Tucker, & is irritated by Duncan's obsession.

One day, Duncan receives a CD called Juliet, Naked. It is a CD of Tucker's original demo recordings from Juliet. Annie listens to part of it first, as she opened up the package it came in. Duncan then listens to it, &, to no surprise, hails it as a masterpiece. Annie, on the other hand, does not like it one bit. The next day, she comments on the message board on Duncan's fan site, calling the compilation "a naked attempt to squeeze a few quid out of a dead career."

Not long after, Annie receives an email from Tucker Crowe himself, saying "Bingo. You nailed it. Couldn't have said it better myself." After this email, Annie & Tucker continue to correspond through email, where Annie finds more & more about Tucker: he lives in the garage of his latest ex-wife; he has multiple children with different women; & he lives in New York.

Eventually, Annie gets the courage to dump Duncan after his incessant criticizing of her opinion about Juliet, Naked. Not soon after. Tucker decides to go to London for the birth of his grandson, & decides to meet her there. After a few days there, they go back to Sandcliff, where they continue developing their friendship into something more. But when Duncan notices Tucker is in town, everything gets thrown for a whim.

The cast is excellent. Rose Byrne is so charming & full of warmth. Chris O'Dowd is absolutely hilarious. And Ethan Hawke just keeps on proving himself as one of the best actors of his generation.

Jesse Peretz's direction is great. Although he hits a few speed bumps when it comes to tonal shifts, he is able to overcome them with a surfeit of warmth throughout.

And the screenplay by Evgenia Peretz, Jim Taylor & Tamara Jenkins is amazing. They do a fantastic job at adapting the novel, keeping the amazing characters & Hornby's trademark wit & making it feel fresh.

This is a great romantic comedy-drama. Although there are a couple minor flaws, they're overcome by some charming performances & a witty screenplay.

Juliet, Naked was seen by me at the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI on Saturday, September 1, 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 State Theatre in Ann Arbor, MI. Its runtime is 105 minutes, & it is rated R for language.

The Wife

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Behind the many great male artists in history is a better wife. Almost never in the spotlight, the wife supports their husband while sadly never receiving credit. But what if the wife has had enough of her husband's overblown ways?

The Wife shows what can happen in that instance, & it is one of the best-acted films of the year. Based on the 2003 novel The Wife by Meg Wolitzer, & set in 1992, the film follows Joan Castleman (played by Glenn Close), the long-suffering wife of former literature professor & award-winning writer Joseph Castleman (played by Jonathan Pryce). Their daughter, Susannah (played by Alix Wilton Regan) is about to have a son, & their son, David (played by Max Irons), is a struggling writer. Once a writer with great talent, Joan has pushed that aside long ago in favor of supporting Joseph's long career.

One morning, Joan & Joseph are woken up by amazing news: Joseph is going to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in Stockholm. They are absolutely elated. While they are at a party celebrating Joseph's achievement, David tries to get Joseph's opinion on his short story, but David keeps dodging the question.

On the plane to Stockholm, Joan & Joseph are confronted by Nathaniel Bone (played by Christian Slater), an author who keeps pestering Joseph about writing his biography. When they arrive in Stockholm, Joseph is being kept up in all the hectic events preluding the ceremony, while Joan mainly stays in her hotel room.

One day, while Joseph is out, Joan sits in the hotel café with Nathaniel, who tells her he knows about Joseph's numerous infidelities. However, Joan brushes this off in front of him. Eventually, this sends Joan into flashbacks of when she first met Joseph in 1959, when a young Joan (played by Annie Starke) had a young Joseph (played by Harry Lloyd) as her literature professor, while he was married with a daughter. Their affair started around the time they met author Elaine Mozell (played by Elizabeth McGovern). This forces Joan to rethink her life choices, as Nathaniel says he knows an interesting fact about Joseph that will really change things.

The cast is fantastic. Glenn Close not only gives one of the best performances of the year, but easily the best of her long, storied career. Jonathan Pryce also gives another great performance that is also the best of his career. And Christian Slater gives one of the better performances in a film in a long time.

Björn Runge's direction is excellent. Runge keeps the film startlingly quiet, with tension slowly building underneath the surface.

And Jane Anderson's screenplay is amazing. Anderson does a terrific job of adapting the novel, keeping the great plot, the intriguing characters, & the sharp dialogue that made the novel so great.

This is one of the best films of the year. It has some great directing & writing, but above all, it has 2 great performances from 2 of the best actors of their generation.

The Wife was seen by me at The Maple Theater in Bloomfield Township, MI on Friday, August 31, 2018. It is currently playing in 1 theater in the Detroit area: The Maple Theater in Bloomfield Township, MI. Its runtime is 100 minutes, & it is rated R for language & some sexual content.

Operation Finale

★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

In the years after World War II, many Nazis, not wanting to take responsibility for their heinous crimes, fled Germany to other countries in order to escape prosecution. The vast majority of them, some very notorious, went to South America, particularly Argentina.

Operation Finale, while not perfect, is a very good & very tense thriller about the real-life hunt for one of the most notorious Nazis ever. Set in 1960, the film follows Peter Malkin (played by Oscar Isaac), an agent for the Mossad in Tel Aviv. Although he left Germany before the Holocaust, his older sister & her three children did not leave, & were eventually murdered.

One day, word reaches the Mossad offices that Adolf Eichmann (played by Ben Kingsley), a Nazi SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer & one of the major organizers of the Holocaust, has been found in Argentina, just outside Buenos Aires. They have heard of this from Lotar Hermann (played by Peter Strauss), a blind Jewish refugee, whose daughter, Sylvia (played by Haley Lu Richardson), had been briefly dating Adolf's son, Klaus (played by Joe Alwyn). At the request of Mossad head Isser Harel (played by Lior Raz) & then-Israel Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion (played by Simon Russell Beale), Malkin will lead a team of Mossad agents to go to Argentina to capture Eichmann & bring him back to Israel for trial.

Malkin gets his team: Rafi Eitan (played by Nick Kroll); Zvi Aharoni (played by Michael Aronov); Ephraim Ilanij (played by Ohad Knoller); Moshe Tabor (played by Greg Hill); Yaakov Gat (played by Torben Liebricht); Dani Sharlon (played by Mike Hernandez); & Hanna (played by Mélanie Laurent), Malkin's ex-girlfriend. Under the guise of celebrating Argentina's sesquicentennial, they fly to Buenos Aires, & after gathering intel, they capture Eichmann.

They lock him up in the safe house, with someone watching Eichmann at every second for every day until they return to Israel. But this will prove to be the most trying part of their caper.

The cast is amazing. Oscar Isaac shows more & more of his immense acting power. Ben Kingsley gives his best performance in years. Haley Lu Richardson shows more & more promise as a young actress. And Nick Kroll does another good job in a dramatic role.

Chris Weitz's direction is excellent. Weitz is able to let the events slowly unfold before us & keep the tension building & at a high level.

Matthew Orton's screenplay is great. Although the characterization is a bit weak for the supporting characters, the plot is thoroughly intriguing, & the dialogue is very well-written.

And Alexandre Desplat's score is phenomenal. Desplat, one of the best film composers of his era, delivers another great score, driven by an immense orchestra.

This is a very good thriller. Although it does have its weak moments, it definitely overcomes those flaws with great acting, very good direction, & a fantastic score.

Operation Finale was seen by me at the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 in Troy, MI on Wednesday, August 29, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 122 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content & related violent images, & for some language.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

The Happytime Murders

★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Too many comedies these days rely on a huge amount of shock humor, mainly of the sexual variety. Some can do this humor right, like Judd Apatow, but many of these attempts fall very flat.

The Happytime Murders should've done this right. However, aside from a few truly funny moments, it fails. The film follows Det. Connie Edwards (played by Melissa McCarthy), a detective for the LAPD. Edwards works in a world where humans & puppets co-exist, but puppets are harshly discriminated against. Her puppet ex-partner, Phil Phillips (voiced by Bill Barretta), now works as a private eye with his human secretary, Bubbles (played by Maya Rudolph). Edwards & Phil had a falling out twelve years earlier after Phil accidentally killed an innocent puppet bystander while trying to shoot an assailant.

While working on a case, Phil goes into a puppet porn shop for evidence. While he is in there, someone kills the rest of the people in the shop. One of the deceased is Mr. Bumblypants (voiced by Kevin Clash), an actor who was on the 1990s show The Happytime Gang, about a group of puppets living with a human. The show featured Lyle (voiced by Kevin Clash); Goofer (voiced by Drew Massey); Ezra (voiced by Ted Michaels); Cara (voiced by Colleen Smith); Larry Shenanigans Phillips (voiced by Victor Yerrid), who is also Phil's older brother; & Jenny Peterson (played by Elizabeth Banks), the only human member of the cast & Phil's ex-girlfriend. The show is about to head into syndication.

That night, after meeting with Phil earlier, Larry Shenanigans is killed by a pack of dogs. After this, at the request of Lt. Banning (played by Leslie David Baker), Phil & Edwards team up once again. Although they are still angry at each other, they try to put their personal issues aside in order to solve the case. But when more of the cast is killed, & when FBI Agent Campbell (played by Joel McHale) gets involved, Edwards & Phil must pull out all the stops to find the killer before the whole cast is murdered.

The cast is the only bright spot of the film. Melissa McCarthy does a fine job, & she elicits a few laughs. The rest of the human cast, especially McHale & Baker, does a fine job as well. And the voice cast does a good job.

Brian Henson's direction is poor. There is no style at all in Henson's direction, & the film feels way too mean-spirited & devolves into an endless cycle of shock humor.

And the screenplay by Todd Berger & Dee Austin Robertson is awful. The film was supposed to be a dark comedy that satirized the classic neo-noir films of the 1970s & 1980s. However, the film in its current form is just a needlessly raunchy comedy with some crime elements thrown in. As a result, the plot is very uninteresting. The characters are also walking cliches; the dialogue, aside from a few moments, is basically humorless; & the racism allegory is very tone-deaf.

This is a major disappointment. Although there are a few funny moments, everything else about this film is a mess, only showing glimpses of what it could've been.

The Happytime Murders was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Saturday, August 25, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 91 minutes, & it is rated R for strong crude & sexual content & language throughout, & some drug material.


★★★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Many of us are still stuck in an old way of life, waiting & yearning to break free of their long-held restraints. But many of us won't know when that day will come or how it will come.

Puzzle, though flawed, is a good portrayal of someone who is breaking free of those restraints. A remake of the 2010 film Rompecabezas, the film follows Agnes (played by Kelly Macdonald), a long-suffering wife living in New Jersey. After helping her father since her mother died, & still living in the same house she grew up in, Agnes is still stuck in a very old-fashioned mindset. She is taken for granted by her husband, Louie (played by David Denman), & her two sons, Ziggy (played by Bubba Weiler) & Gabe (played by Austin Abrams). Also, Gabe's vegan girlfriend, Nicki (played by Liv Hewson), is not much help either.

For her 40th birthday, Agnes receives 2 major presents: an iPhone, which she isn't really that enthused by; & a 1,000-piece puzzle, which she is very happy to have received. She completes in a very short time, unpieces it, & completes it again. Elated by the puzzle, Agnes calls the person that gave her the puzzle & asks where she got it from. After that, Agnes buys a train ticket to New York City to find the puzzle store. After she purchases 2 more puzzles, she notices a sign in the store. The sign is from someone who is desperately seeking a new puzzle partner, asking them to text them if interested.

Agnes texts the person, saying she might be good at this. The person responds back & asks to meet her. The person is Robert (played by Irrfan Khan), an avid puzzler whose wife has just left him. Agnes tells everyone else that she is helping a relative who broke her leg as a guise for puzzling.

Although they clash a bit at first over puzzle strategies, Agnes & Robert eventually build a strong companionship. Robert realizes that Agnes is great at puzzles, & he thinks that they could possibly go far in an upcoming puzzle competition.

Agnes starts to change & break out of her shell, which puzzles (pun intended) those closest to her, especially Louie, who is very confused by this. Agnes is now learning to be more independent, but the ways she does it may start to throw everything out of place.

The cast is amazing. Kelly Macdonald shows that she can handle a lead role very well, & plays her character's quirks so well. Irffan Khan brings a lot of subtlety to his role. And the rest of the cast does an excellent job.

Marc Turtletaub's direction is great. Although he does have a trouble with the tone to start off, he overcomes this by keeping the film light & warm-hearted.

And the screenplay by Oren Moverman & Polly Mann is very good. Although the plot is a bit formulaic & the characterization is a bit underwhelming, the dialogue saves the screenplay with its realism.

This is a good understated film. Although there are definitely some flaws, the cast, especially Kelly Macdonald, saves the film.

Puzzle was seen by me at the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI on Friday, August 24, 2018. It is currently in 5 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; the Emagine Canton in Canton, MI; & the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, MI. Its runtime is 103 minutes, & it is rated R for language.


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

The Internet is a powerful force. Some use it for good, others bad. But many of us don't know what others do behind a computer screen. For many, their real life is vastly different than their Internet life.

Searching finally shows the real consequences & dangers of the Internet, & it is one of the biggest surprises of the year. The film follows David Kim (played by John Cho), a single father in the San Francisco Bay Area. Since his wife Pamela (played by Sara Sohn) died from cancer a few years prior, he & his daughter Margot (played by Michelle La) have drifted further & further apart.

One night, Margot goes to a study group for the night, &, as is normal at the time, doesn't answer David's call. However, while he sleeps, Margot calls him 3 times. In the morning, David notices the calls but brushes off his concerns. Later, he thinks Margot is at one of her piano lessons, but when he calls the instructor, he is told that Margot cancelled piano lessons 6 months prior, & has put the money for them into a now-deleted Venmo account. The next day, David calls the mother of one of Margot's friends. She says they went on a camping trip & will tell her son to call him; however, the friend tells David that she never showed up.

Here, David decides to report Margot as missing, & his case is assigned to Det. Sgt. Rosemary Vick (played by Debra Messing), a decorated member of the Silicon Valley Police Department. While Vick & her team handle the ground investigation, she suggests that David handle part of the investigation at home.

David then notices Margot left her laptop at home. He then successfully logs in to some of her social media accounts, & tries to contact some of her friends. He finds out that Margot wasn't as social as he thought, & was only invited on the trip & to the study group out of pity. As David tries to find Margot, he finds many things about her that he never would've thought possible.

The cast is fantastic. John Cho shows such immense acting power, & after this & his great performance last year in Columbus, proves himself as a very underrated actor. And Debra Messing has done her best work since Will & Grace.

Aneesh Chaganty's direction is phenomenal. Chaganty keeps the suspense so high that it is reminiscent of some of the best thrillers of all time. And the use of the film being completely shown through smart phones & computer screens adds to the suspense, & doesn't feel like a gimmick. The fact that you're seeing the action from very small 5-inch & 13-inch screens adds a claustrophobic feel to the already-tense nature of the film.

And the screenplay by Aneesh Chaganty & Sev Ohanian is brilliant. The plot is so intricate & full of twists, the characters are fully realized, & the themes are well-thought-out, & well-touched upon.

This is one of the best films of the year. It's a really groundbreaking film, & it's a thriller of such immense importance & intensity.

Searching was seen by me at an advance screening at the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 in Troy, MI on Thursday, August 23, 2018. It is now in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 102 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for thematic content, some drug & sexual references, & for language.