Monday, October 29, 2018

The Hate U Give

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

To all those, mainly white people, who refuse to accept it: police brutality is a huge issue in this country. Due to outdated teachings & a number of racist white cops, countless unarmed African-American people, too many to name here, have been killed. And barely any of those cops have been punished for their crimes. I am, in no way, shape, or form, generalizing all police officers. But there are enough bad police officers that the whole organization needs to be reformed.

The Hate U Give is one of the few films geared towards teen audiences that has dealt with issues like police brutality, & it breaks new ground for young adult adaptations, as it is an important & well-made drama. Based on the 2017 novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, the film follows Starr Carter (played by Amandla Stenberg), a 16-year-old African-American girl living in the poor African-American neighborhood of Garden Heights. She lives with her parents, Lisa (played by Regina Hall) & Maverick (played by Russell Hornsby), her older half-brother, Seven (played by Lamar Johnson), & her younger brother, Sekani (played by TJ Wright). Her uncle, Carlos (played by Common), who was a father figure to Starr while Maverick was in prison for 3 years, lives in the suburbs while working as a detective. Although their neighborhood lives in fear of gang leader King (played by Anthony Mackie), the Carters remain committed to their neighborhood.

At school, Starr is very different. Starr attends Williamson Prep, a rich, majority white private school. Williamson is where Starr has her 2 best friends, Hailey Grant (played by Sabrina Carpenter) & Maya Yang (played by Megan Lawless), as well as her boyfriend, Chris (played by KJ Apa). Here, Starr tries to not act black at all, much to her own chagrin.

One weekend night, Starr goes to a party in Garden Heights, where she runs into her childhood friend, Khalil Harris (played by Algee Smith), who has turned to a life of crime in order to support his family. While they are at the party, a fight ensues, ending in gunshots. Starr & Khalil run out of the party & into Khalil's car, where he will give her a ride home. However, they don't make it all the way home before a police officer stops Khalil for failing to signal a lane change. While the officer is running the license, Khalil reaches into the car for his hairbrush, but as he does, he is shot multiple times by the officer, & dies within seconds.

After Khalil's murder, Starr is irrevocably changed. Her identity is permanently altered as she begins to identify more with the Garden Heights community. However, she does not know what to do as she is called as the main witness to Khalil's murder. But activist April Ofrah (played by Issa Rae) helps Starr find her voice, giving her the strength to fight against injustice.

The cast is fantastic. Amandla Stenberg finally delivers on the promise she showed back when she was in The Hunger Games. Her presence is enough to empower the audience. Regina Hall shows that she can do drama as well as she can do comedy. And Russell Hornsby steals the show. He gets a great monologue midway through the film, & he just completely shatters it. He should get an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

George Tillman Jr.'s direction is excellent. Tillman Jr. is able to powerfully deliver the message of the film without coming off as preachy, & he is also able to get some great performances out of his cast.

And Audrey Wells' screenplay is amazing. Wells does a terrific job of adapting the film from its source material. And since this was sadly Wells' last screenplay, as she died from cancer the day before the film's release, then this was a great screenplay for her to go out on.

This is one of the best films of the year. It's a very powerful & very timely film, showing that there is more to the young adult genre than romance & dystopias.

The Hate U Give was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Saturday, October 20, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 133 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, some violent content, drug material & language.

Thursday, October 25, 2018


★★★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

The original 1978 version of Halloween is nothing short of a horror masterpiece. It was a complete game-changer for the genre, instituting many of the common aspects that we see today, & executing them better than modern horror films, relying more on pure terror than just plain jump scares. However, after that, the franchise had become bogged down by many poor sequels, reboots & remakes.

Halloween, while not quite reaching the level of the original, is a more-than-serviceable sequel. The film follows Laurie Strode (played by Jamie Lee Curtis), the sole survivor of the attacks committed on Halloween 1978 in Haddonfield, Illinois by Michael Myers (played by Nick Castle & James Jude Courtney). Laurie has suffered from PTSD since that night, & lives in a heavily guarded home, estranged from her daughter Karen (played by Judy Greer) & her granddaughter Allyson (played by Andi Matachak).

On Halloween Eve, British true-crime podcasters Aaron Korey (played by Jefferson Hall) & Dana Haines (played by Rhian Rees) arrive in Haddonfield & travel to Smith's Grove Sanitarium, trying to speak with Michael before he is transferred to a maximum-security facility. Dr. Ranbir Sartain (played by Haluk Bilginer), who has treated Michael for some time, informs them that Michael refuses to speak. Even though Aaron & Dana have his mask, Michael refuses to speak with them.

That night, Michael, along with other inmates, are transported by bus to the maximum-security facility. However, the bus crashes, then the security guards are killed, then the other inmates litter the road. Michael travels back to Haddonfield to continue his horrific crimes.

This is the moment Laurie has been waiting for. She has been waiting for Michael to escape so she can kill him, ending his reign of terror. Also on his trail is Sheriff Frank Hawkins (played by Will Patton), who arrested Michael in 1978. But with a major high school Halloween party that night, along with other teenagers, including Allyson's best friend, Vicky (played by Virginia Gardner), babysitting & being promiscuous, the manhunt for him may be much more arduous than they think.

The cast is amazing. Jamie Lee Curtis is phenomenal, cementing her status as the original scream queen. Judy Greer does some good supporting work. And Andi Matachak shows some promise that she could become a scream queen one day. But this belongs to Curtis & her stellar performance.

David Gordon Green's direction is great. There are some issues with some jump scares, but Green makes sure to really emphasize on a sense of dread & terror instead of having a jump scare every minute.

The screenplay by Jeff Faraday, Danny McBride & David Gordon Green is very good. The plot is a bit derivative, & the characterization is a bit thin outside of the main characters, but the narrative is thoroughly intriguing.

Michael Simmonds' cinematography is astonishing. The camerawork is fantastic, especially one tracking shot that is not only technically impressive, but strengthens the sense of dread.

And the score by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter & Daniel Davies is superb. There are many callbacks to the amazing score of the original Halloween, but it's very fresh, & it makes the mood even more tense.

This is a very good horror film. Although there are some definite flaws, it's still a solid horror film that is better than the majority of modern-day horror films.

Halloween was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Friday, October 19, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 106 minutes, & it is rated R for horror violence & bloody images, language, brief drug use & nudity.

The Sisters Brothers

★★★★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Unfortunately, Westerns are no longer as financially viable as they once were. Once a staple of American cinema, they have now become synonymous with "box office bomb." And with some good recent films that could be considered Westerns, that's a real shame.

The Sisters Brothers, despite a couple flaws, is one of the quirkiest Westerns in years. Based on the 2011 novel The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt, & set in 1851, the film follows Eli (played by John C. Reilly) & Charlie (played by Joaquin Phoenix), two hitmen brothers in Oregon City, Oregon. They are called by their boss, The Commodore (played by Rutger Hauer), to kill Hermann Kermit Warm (played by Riz Ahmed), a chemist who has allegedly stolen something of immense value from him.

Also on the tail of Warm is John Morris (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), who is also on The Commodore's payroll. Morris is supposed to meet up with the brothers somewhere down the road. Morris eventually catches up to Warm in Jacksonville, Oregon, & eventually confronts him. However, Morris finds out that Warm is innocent, & joins with him on his plan to find gold using a substance that causes gold to glow.

Once the brothers find out about this, they are incensed, & make haste to their location. But the struggles, including bears, spiders, & drinking, may be too much to overcome.

The cast is exceptional. John C. Reilly further proves himself as one of our most underrated actors. Joaquin Phoenix shows once again that he is the best actor of his generation. Jake Gyllenhaal shows once again that he is one of our best actors. And Riz Ahmed shows even more talent.

Jacques Audiard's direction is great. Although there are a couple bumps in the road when it comes to tonal shifts, he is able to make up for it with a lot of style & his ability to get great performances out of his cast.

The screenplay by Jacques Audiard & Thomas Bidegain is amazing. Audiard & Bidegain are able to capture the humor & quirkiness of deWitt's novel, & it truly stands out.

Benoît Debie's cinematography is gorgeous. Debie's camerawork captures so much, as there are many wide shots, beautifully capturing the American frontier.

Milena Canonero's costume design is excellent. The costumes are very accurate to the time period & superbly detailed.

And Michel Barthélémy's production design is spectacular. The sets are very accurate to the time period, fully immersing you in the Old West.

This is a great dark comedy. It does hit a few bumps in the road, but it's a very enjoyable & quirky Western, one unlike any other Western in recent memory.

The Sisters Brothers was seen by me at the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 in Troy, MI on Friday, October 19, 2018. It is currently in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 121 minutes, & it is rated R for violence including disturbing images, language, & some sexual content.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Old Man & the Gun

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Swan songs for actors & actresses are always a bittersweet thing: bitter because it's their last appearance, & sweet because they always go out with a bang.

The Old Man & the Gun is a light-hearted & lovely film that is a great swan song for Robert Redford. Based on the 2003 article The Old Man & the Gun by David Grann, & set in 1981, the film follows Forrest Tucker (played by Robert Redford), a career bank robber. Now in his 60s, Tucker shows no signs of slowing down his bank robbing (nor his prison escaping, as he has escaped 18 times, including escapes from Alcatraz & San Quentin), which is marked by one noticeable aspect: Tucker is, surprisingly, very nice about bank robbing, as he is always very polite & calm in his bank robbing. His crew, dubbed the "Over the Hill Gang," includes Teddy (played by Danny Glover) & Waller (played by Tom Waits), who are as old as Tucker.

One day, while driving away after robbing a bank, Tucker stops & notices someone struggling to get their truck started back up. That person is Jewel (played by Sissy Spacek). As he tries (unsuccessfully) to get her truck started, they strike up a camaraderie. They go out to a diner, where Tucker explains to Jewel what he does for a living. She is somewhat bemused by this.

As the Over the Hill Gang continues their non-violent, low-key robberies, they are being pursued by one man: Det. John Hunt (played by Casey Affleck). While determined to catch Tucker & his crew (as his wife Maureen (played by Tika Sumpter) is as well), Hunt is also very bemused by Tucker's way of going about.

The Over the Hill Gang keeps on robbing banks in Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, & other places. But as the cat-&-mouse chase gets closer, the more saddened both Tucker & Hunt feel that the chase will end.

The cast is phenomenal. Robert Redford, even at the ripe old age of 82, still has that charm & charisma that has been with him since he first came upon the silver screen. Casey Affleck also does a terrific job. Sissy Spacek gives her best performance since In the Bedroom. And the rest of the cast also gives great performances.

David Lowery's direction is excellent. Lowery's direction is very quiet & subdued, emphasizing substance over style. And for a film like this, it works.

David Lowery's screenplay is amazing. The plot is quietly ravishing, the characters are very interesting, & the narrative is genuine & warm-hearted.

And Daniel Hart's score is fantastic. The score is light & bouncy, led by a piano & drums, & adds to the light & calm feeling that the film exudes.

This is one of the best films of the year. It's light-hearted, fun, & ultimately, a great curtain call for one of the biggest film legends.

The Old Man & the Gun was seen by me at The Maple Theater in Bloomfield Township, MI on Saturday, October 13, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 93 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for brief strong language.

First Man

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

"We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon in this decade & do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize & measure the best of our energies & skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, & one we intend to win, & the others, too."

- John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962

With those words spoken by President John F. Kennedy, the race to get to the Moon was on. Although his goal was not fulfilled in his lifetime, it was eventually fulfilled on July 20, 1969, as Apollo 11, led by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, & Michael Collins, landed on the Lunar surface, eventually doing what would be ultimately known as "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

First Man is an enthralling epic about Neil Armstrong's life during the build-up to the Moon landing. Based on the 2005 book First Man by James R. Hansen, & set between 1961 & 1969, the film follows Neil Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling), a NASA astronaut. After landing an X-15 in the Mojave Desert after some atmospheric troubles, Armstrong is grounded due to possible distractions in his life. Ultimately, there is a major distraction in Armstrong's life: his daughter, Karen (played by Lucy Stafford), has been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Despite his best efforts to find treatment & detail her symptoms, Karen dies.

Soon after, Armstrong applies to be part of Project Gemini, co-created by Robert R. Gilruth (played by Ciarán Hinds). Armstrong is accepted & placed into NASA Astronaut Group 2, along with Jim Lovett (played by Pablo Schreiber), Ed White (played by Jason Clarke), & Elliot See (played by Patrick Fugit). Because of this, Armstrong, his wife, Janet (played by Claire Foy), & their son, Rick (played by Gavin Warren & Luke Winters), move to Houston. Janet eventually gives birth to a second son, Mark (played by Connor Blodgett).

After the Soviet Union completes the first EVA, in 1965, Armstrong is selected as commander for Gemini 8 with David Scott (played by Christopher Abbott) piloting. Although the launch is successful, problems within the system force the mission to be aborted.

Finally, in 1968, Armstrong is selected by former Mercury Seven astronaut & then-Astronaut Chief Deke Slayton (played by Kyle Chandler) to command Apollo 11, with Buzz Aldrin (played by Corey Stoll) & Michael Collins (played by Lukas Haas) joining him. This is schedule to be the first lunar landing. As this comes with a lot of risk, Janet is worried about the possibility that Armstrong may not make it back home. Now, Armstrong, along with the rest of the crew, must make sure that this mission goes well.

The cast is fantastic. Ryan Gosling gives one of his best performances yet. It's very introspective & subdued compared to his other performances, but it's still one of his best. Claire Foy is phenomenal, defying many tropes that the "long-suffering wife of a important man" character is plagued with in many biopics. The rest of the cast is great, but it's Gosling & Foy's show.

Damien Chazelle's direction is phenomenal. Chazelle delivers a lot of white-knuckle intensity to the film from start to finish, & also adds more of a personal feel to the film, which works out immensely.

Josh Singer's screenplay is amazing. Singer manages to avoid many of the biopic tropes, instead going for more of a realistic & gritty approach, which definitely makes the film even better.

Linus Sandgren's cinematography is spectacular. Sandgren's camerawork has an amazingly crisp 1960s feel to it, further immersing us in the time period. And the use of shaky cam in the launch sequences adds even more to the film.

Tom Cross' editing is excellent. There aren't any bad edits to be found, & the film is methodically slowly paced to let the events slowly unfold before our eyes.

Mary Zophres' costume design is superb. The costumes are period-accurate, immersive, & have a very common & timeless quality to them.

Nathan Crowley's production design is terrific. The sets are period-accurate & immersive, especially the insides of the space shuttles.

The sound design is impeccable. The sounds made by the space shuttles as they launch into space are so immersive, making you feel as if you're only a few hundred feet away from the launch.

The visual effects are astonishing. There was no green screen used for the film, so they used both old & new techniques for the effects, & it works out perfectly, as you feel like you're right there in space with the astronauts.

And Justin Hurwitz's score is gorgeous. Hurwitz's score has a very cosmic feel to it, effortlessly going between grand & intimate.

This is one of the best films of the year. It's an absolute masterclass in filmmaking, one that is ultimately one of the best films about space exploration ever made.

First Man was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Friday, October 12, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 141 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for some thematic content involving peril, & brief strong language.

Bad Times at the El Royale

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

The neo-noir genre has been deconstructed & reconstructed various times since its inception. Directors such as the Coen Brothers, Quentin Tarantino & Paul Thomas Anderson have been integral in reforming the genre in the past few decades.

The newest film to attempt reforming the genre is Bad Times at the El Royale, a sleek, stylish, & entertaining neo-noir. Set in 1969, the film follows Daniel Flynn (played by Jeff Bridges), an aging Catholic priest who has decided to book a stay at the El Royale, which is most well-known for its location that crosses the California-Nevada border. Once a popular establishment, the El Royale has now fallen on hard times.

Some other people arrive at the same time as Flynn: Darlene Sweet (played by Cynthia Erivo), an aspiring R&B singer who is about to perform in Reno the next day; Laramie Seymour Sullivan (played by Jon Hamm), a salesman from the South; & Emily Summerspring (played by Dakota Johnson), a young woman. They are all checked in by Miles Miller (played by Lewis Pullman), who is the only employee at the hotel.

Afterwards, things start to get very interesting. Flynn & Sweet start to hit it off, as Sullivan gets very concerned with some evidence in the hotel. Meanwhile, Emily has brought someone along with her: her sister Rose (played by Cailee Spaeny), whom Emily seems to have kidnapped. But things only get more interesting when money & a roll of film, culminating in the arrival of charismatic cult leader Billy Lee (played by Chris Hemsworth).

The cast is fantastic. Jeff Bridges gives one of his best performances in a while, possibly his best since his Oscar-winning performance in Crazy Heart. Cynthia Erivo gives a star-making performance. Dakota Johnson shows that she can act, after having all her acting ability squandered by bad scripts in the past. And Chris Hemsworth is absolutely wild.

Drew Goddard's direction is excellent. Goddard demonstrates an immense amount of flair & style, reminiscent of the earlier films of the Coen Brothers & Quentin Tarantino.

Drew Goddard's screenplay is brilliant. The plot is intriguing, the characters are wildly idiosyncratic, & the dialogue is perfect.

Seamus McGarvey's cinematography is gorgeous. The color palette is dominated by reds, oranges & yellows, & there's an amazing 5-minute long take that is just wondrous.

Danny Glicker's costume design is amazing. The costumes are period-accurate, lavish, colorful, & just lovely to look at.

And Martin Whist's production design is wonderful. The sets are period-accurate, lavish, colorful, & completely immerse you in the time period.

This is one of the best films of the year. It's a thrilling deconstruction of the neo-noir, filled with amazing performances, stylish direction, & a terrific screenplay.

Bad Times at the El Royale was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Friday, October 12, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 141 minutes, & it is rated R for strong violence, language, some drug content & brief nudity.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Star Is Born

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Most remakes are usually nothing but mediocre, nostalgic cash grabs. Remakes of remakes are even worse (1980's The Jazz Singer & 2016's Ben-Hur). Remakes of remakes of remakes? Well, we've rarely had any, so we don't know what to expect.

When I first heard that they were doing another remake of A Star Is Born, I met it with some skepticism. When the trailer came out in June, I thought it looked good, although I still felt a bit skeptical about it, since it was the fourth version (fifth if you count the 1932 film What Price Hollywood?). Eventually, after seeing the trailer multiple times, I warmed up to it. And finally, when vastly positive word-of-mouth came from its appearances at both Venice & Toronto, I was almost sure that I would, at the least, think it would be very good.

But I didn't think A Star Is Born was very good. It's not even great. It's an absolute tour de force. Based on the 1937 film A Star Is Born, the film follows Jackson Maine (played by Bradley Cooper), a very successful country singer. Jackson routinely performs to sell-out crowds across the country. His biggest supporter is his much-older brother & manager, Bobby (played by Sam Elliott). Another supporter is his old friend & fellow musician, George "Noodles" Stone (played by Dave Chappelle). However, behind the successful facade is a destructive battle with alcoholism & drug addiction.

One night, after a performance in Los Angeles, Jackson stops in at a gay bar to get some drinks. There, he sees someone sing Edith Piaf's La Vie en Rose. The singer is Ally Campana (played by Lady Gaga), an aspiring singer-songwriter who once worked at the bar, but now works as a cook at a restaurant with her friend, Ramon (played by Anthony Ramos), & still lives with her father, Lorenzo (played by Andrew Dice Clay). Jackson is just completely blown away by Ally's singing. Afterwards, they start talking & spend the night together. Ally confides in Jackson that although people admire her singing ability, some have said she wouldn't make it because she has a "big nose."

Jackson then invites Ally to his next show; however, she declines due to work, much to the chagrin of Jackson & Lorenzo. However, soon after, Ally quits her job, & then leaves, along with Ramon, to go to Jackson's show. When they arrive, Jackson sees her backstage, & then asks her to come on stage to sing a song with him that she wrote called Shallow. Ally is taken aback & is nervous, but eventually comes on, blows away the crowd, & becomes an overnight sensation. Eventually, Ally joins Jackson on tour, & they take their relationship to the next level.

As Ally's career keeps rising, as she is pushed from a country sound to a pop sound, Jackson's career starts to crumble due to his alcoholism. As Ally ponders whether or not her new image is right for her, & as Jackson tries to get help for his issues, they must both figure out how to keep their relationship afloat.

The cast is fantastic. Bradley Cooper is at the top of his game here. Not only can he sing so great, he can also bring the house down with his emotionally-driven performance. He brings so much pain & heartache to the performance to the point where it feels almost completely personal, & not just cinematic.

Lady Gaga is a complete revelation. Not since Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls has there been a more commanding acting debut by a singer. Of course, Lady Gaga brings her powerhouse vocals to the role, but she does much more than that. She feels so far away from her real-life persona here that we don't see Gaga, or even Stefani Germanotta (Gaga's real name). We only see Ally, a determined woman who wants the entire world, & she feels so incredibly human in her goals & desires. Just give her the Oscar already.

Sam Elliott also gives a career-best performance. Elliott shows a lot of restraint, & there's one scene where his acting talent is put on full display, where he can break your heart without even saying a word.

The rest of the cast, especially Clay & Chappelle, are terrific, as Clay feels like an admirable person for once, & Chappelle shows that he can do drama just as well as he does comedy.

Bradley Cooper's direction is phenomenal. For a filmmaking debut, Cooper has the visual style & the gritty, emotional feel of a seasoned veteran. He is able to dig deep into his characters, eliciting deep emotions throughout the film. Behind the camera, Cooper is a powerful compound of a Stop Making Sense-era Jonathan Demme, a Million Dollar Baby-era Clint Eastwood, & a Before Trilogy-era Richard Linklater. Altogether, Cooper is just as good behind the camera as he is in front of it.

The screenplay by Bradley Cooper, Eric Roth & Will Fetters is amazing. The plot is very intriguing, & feels completely fresh. The characters feel incredibly real, especially the chemistry between Cooper & Gaga's characters. And the dialogue is just incredible, always tender but never sentimental.

Matthew Libatique's cinematography is astonishing. His framing is just perfect, especially in various close-up shots of the characters' faces, putting their emotions on full display.

Jay Cassidy's editing is excellent. The pacing is especially excellent: a slow build-up in the first half to reflect the rise up for Ally, & then a faster, grittier pacing in the second half to reflect Jackson's downfall.

The sound design is impeccable. It's always a struggle to get the sound levels perfect in musicals, but it's even more of a struggle if they're actually singing the songs live, which was done here. But the sound design team pulled it off, as the vocals & instruments sound absolutely pitch-perfect.

And the music is absolutely wonderful. Every song is filled with powerful vocals & astounding songwriting, &, in my opinion, it's one of the best soundtracks ever made.

This is the best film of the year. It's a powerful, affectionate, soaring, & overall masterful work of art. Give this all the awards that it definitely deserves.

A Star Is Born was seen by me at the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 on Saturday, October 6, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 136 minutes, & it is rated R for language throughout, some sexuality/nudity & substance abuse.

Monday, October 15, 2018


★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Sony & Marvel are usually like water & oil: they don't go together well. Both of The Amazing Spider-Man films, while good, didn't have as much panache as the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Venom, the first entry in Sony's Universe of Marvel Characters, has some good parts, but ultimately fails at being a good superhero film. The film follows Eddie Brock (played by Tom Hardy), an investigative journalist in San Francisco. Eddie is currently engaged to Anne Weying (played by Michelle Williams), an attorney who is working to defend the Life Foundation, headed by Carlton Drake (played by Riz Ahmed).

One day, Eddie is scheduled to interview Drake, but beforehand, Eddie discovers that Drake has been trying to implant symbiotic lifeforms in human hosts, with damaging results. Although Eddie is told to go easy on Drake, he eventually goes back on this order, & finds himself fired from his job, along with Anne ending their relationship.

Six months later, Eddie is completely despondent, & Drake is still continuing symbiosis trials. One day, Dora Skirth (played by Jenny Slate), a scientist at the Life Foundation, comes to Eddie, wanting to expose Drake & asking Eddie to help, to which he reluctantly agrees. While investigating the facility, Eddie is attacked by a test subject, & the symbiote bonds itself to Eddie, who is now being chased after by Drake & his main henchman, Roland Treece (played by Scott Haze).

After some tests done by Anne's new boyfriend, Dr. Dan Lewis (played by Reid Scott), Eddie still has the symbiote in him, & he is the only living specimen with the symbiote. Soon after, the symbiote starts talking to Eddie, revealing itself as Venom (voiced by Tom Hardy). Venom tells Eddie that the symbiotes have come to devour the inhabitants of the planets, but Venom will spare Eddie if he helps the symbiotes do what they came to do. Eventually, Eddie grows to like having Venom inside him. But as another symbiote, Riot, ravages looking for a host, & as Drake continues after him, Eddie & Venom must defeat those who stand in their way.

The cast is great. Tom Hardy has such a fun time doing the banter between Eddie & Venom, & he ultimately makes the film more enjoyable. Michelle Williams does a good job in her limited screen time, & Riz Ahmed is also good.

Ruben Fleischer's direction is inept. Fleischer takes a bland approach to the film, ultimately retreading old ground instead of breaking new ground.

The screenplay by Jeff Pinker, Scott Rosenberg & Kelly Marcel is incompetent. The plot is mostly mediocre, especially the first 30 minutes, & the tone is wildly inconsistent. There are some scenes that do work, mainly scenes where Eddie & Venom play off of each other, but those are in short supply.

And the visual effects are very good. While there are a few moments where the CGI does fail, it does succeed for the most part, especially for a film with a budget that is much less than many other superhero films.

This is an inconsistent & disappointing film. While there are some aspects of the film that are good, they are overshadowed by its faults.

Venom was seen by me at the MJR Partridge Creek Digital Cinema 14 in Clinton Township, MI on Friday, October 5, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 112 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence & action, & for language.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Night School

★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Stupid humor, in most instances, never really struck a chord with me. It just seemed like a lot of gross-out humor that was just gross for the sake of being gross. However, some stupid humor I do like, especially the types of humor that Kevin Smith, Seth Rogen, & Dave Chappelle specialize in.

Night School is absolutely dumb & stupid, but it's pretty funny. The film follows Teddy Walker (played by Kevin Hart), a grill salesman in Atlanta. He is in a steady relationship with his long-time partner, Lisa (played by Megalyn Echikunwoke), & he is going to become manager of the grill store when the manager retires. Although Teddy may seem like he has it all, he is financially unstable.

To celebrate his eventual promotion, Teddy takes Lisa into the shop, pulls out some wine, & proposes to her. She says yes. However, as they celebrate, Teddy pops open a bottle of champagne, & the champagne cork pops open a gas tank. Minutes later, the store explodes, & the owner runs away with the insurance money.

Jobless & unable to tell Lisa about his real financial state, Teddy turns to his best friend, Marvin (played by Ben Schwartz), who works at a major financial investment firm. Marvin tells him that he could get a job, but Teddy needs to get his GED, as Teddy dropped out of high school due to struggling to concentrate during the SAT.

Teddy then heads back to his old high school, hoping to charm the principal into giving him the GED. However, the principal is Stewart (played by Taran Killam), Teddy's old classmate who was bullied by Teddy during their high school years. Stewart refuses to let Teddy get his GED, but thankfully, Carrie (played by Tiffany Haddish), the special ed & night school teacher, lets Teddy get in, but Teddy & Carrie are definitely at odds with each other.

Also joining Teddy in night school are Mackenzie (played by Rob Riggle), a bumbling father; Jaylen (played by Romany Malco), a conspiracy theorist; Theresa (played by Mary Lynn Rajskub), a suburban mom with repressed issues; Mila (played by Anne Winters), a hipster; & Luis (played by Al Madrigal), an immigrant restaurant server.

After a few days, the class is intimidated by Carrie's teaching, & feel that they can't pass. So they decide to steal the test results. But this caper will not end well for them.

The cast is great. Kevin Hart shows once again that he's one of the funniest men in film. Tiffany Haddish shows that she's the funniest woman in film. And the rest of the cast pulls out some good humorous performances.

Malcolm D. Lee's direction is very good. Although Lee's direction doesn't have much style to it, he is able to keep the film on an all-humorous level.

And the screenplay by Kevin Hart, Harry Ratchford, Joey Wells, Matt Kellard, Nicholas Stoller & John Hamburg is good. Although the plot is very predictable & the characterization is a bit thin, the humorous dialogue shines through.

This is an ok but funny comedy. Although it is dumb & stupid, it's funny enough to make it into something that's worthwhile.

Night School was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Friday, September 28, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 111 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for crude & sexual content throughout, language, some drug references & violence.


★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

I'll preface this review with one statement: I HATE country. It is the worst genre of music that has ever been created. Every single modern country song sounds like, to quote Bo Burnham, "A dirt road, a cold beer, a blue jeans, a red pickup," & it's just way too bland. The only country I like is more folk-based, along with some more country-blues, rockabilly & bluegrass, like Chris Isaak, Townes Van Zandt, & John Denver.

Blaze, while somewhat flawed, is a very down-to-earth & very well-made biopic about an unsung country legend. Based on the 2008 book Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze by Sybil Rosen, & set over the 1970s & 1980s, the film follows Blaze Foley (played by Ben Dickey), an aspiring country singer. Although Blaze is an alcoholic, he is a very caring person at heart.

Eventually, Blaze meets someone with whom he would fall head over heels in love for: Sybil Rosen (played by Alia Shawkat), an aspiring actress. After their courtship goes on for a while, they get married & move into a treehouse in the Georgia wilderness. Although it is a struggle with their relationship when it comes to finances & Blaze's drinking, Sybil nonetheless supports Blaze with his endeavor.

Also at Blaze's side are fellow musicians Zee (played by Josh Hamilton), who is Blaze's best friend, & Townes Van Zandt (played by Charlie Sexton). But as Blaze tries more & more to be a country legend, the more & more his career may fall apart.

The cast is excellent. Ben Dickey gives a phenomenal debut performance. He perfectly embodies Blaze to the point that we only see Blaze, not Dickey. Alia Shawkat also gives a great performance as someone who tries to support someone as much as they can until they can't. And Josh Hamilton & Charlie Sexton provide great supporting performances.

Ethan Hawke's direction is amazing. Hawke throws out the traditional biopic formula in favor of a more quiet yet gritty formula, which works to the film's advantage.

And the screenplay by Ethan Hawke & Sybil Rosen is great. The plot is a bit too aimless & wandering at times, but the characters are so human & the dialogue is so realistic.

This is a very good & different biopic. Although it does wander a bit too much, the cast & the direction power this film.

Blaze was seen by me at the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI on Friday, September 28, 2018. It is currently playing in 2 theaters in the Detroit area: the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI; & the State Theatre in Ann Arbor, MI. Its runtime is 129 minutes, & it is rated R for language throughout, some sexual content & drug use.