Thursday, September 5, 2019

An Announcement


Hello everyone. You may have noticed that I haven't posted any reviews for over a month now. That is because: 1. Nothing really worth seeing comes out in August; & 2. I haven't had the desire or energy to do film criticism anymore. Which is why I'm announcing that I am indefinitely going to stop writing film reviews on this blog. I am going to focus more on doing film things outside of criticism, such as screenwriting & short filmmaking. I am attending Oakland University for cinema studies (filmmaking), & I know that will further help me reach my goal of becoming a writer & director. I may come back to film criticism, but I don't foresee that happening. So, this is Cameron Kanachki, The Michigan Movie Guy, signing off & telling you to watch Booksmart & avoid Bohemian Rhapsody.

P.S. I will give a mini-review of the films I've seen recently as my last review.

Good Boys - ★★★½ - This coming of age comedy is a bit too underdeveloped & reliant on profanity by kids, but it's mostly hilarious & honestly sweet.

Blinded by the Light - ★★★½ - While this biographical comedy-drama is too formulaic at times, it's a mostly sweet & charming look at one man's love for Bruce Springsteen.

Apocalypse Now - ★★★★★ - This is the best war film ever made. Absolutely groundbreaking.

Ready or Not - ★★★★★ - It's absolute insanity, & I loved it.

The Peanut Butter Falcon - ★★★★★ - The most heartfelt film of the year.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Love him, hate him, or have mixed feelings about him, you can't deny that Quentin Tarantino has made an indelible impact on modern American cinema. From his blistering debut, 1992's Reservoir Dogs; his breakout hit, 1994's Pulp Fiction; & my personal favorite work of his, 1997's Jackie Brown, to his revenge double feature, 2003's Kill Bill: Vol. 1 & 2004's Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (yes, they are two films, & if they are truly one film, then Quentin Tarantino owes me $8. But I digress...); his half of a grindhouse double feature, 2007's Death Proof; his WW2 revisionist thriller, 2009's Inglourious Basterds; his slavery Spaghetti Western (or "Southern"), 2012's Django Unchained; & his 70mm roadshow, 2015's The Hateful Eight, Tarantino has enraptured many with his colorful dialogue, nonlinear storylines, & wondrous originality, but he also alienated many with his cartoonish violence, extensive use of the N-word, & his unapologetic foot fetish. Nevertheless, I consider Tarantino to be one of my favorite filmmakers. However, as a person, he just really irritates me.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is, by far, Tarantino's best film this decade. Set in 1969 Los Angeles, the film follows Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), an aging actor in Hollywood. Once the star of the Western TV series Bounty Law, Dalton's career has faltered due to a floundering film career, & has now been reserved for playing the bad guy of the week on TV shows. As a result, he mostly spends his time with his best friend & stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), a war veteran who drives Dalton around Los Angeles, & has also suffered from lack of work, due to rumors about him & his wife.

After a meeting with agent Marvin Schwarzs (Al Pacino), Dalton comes to the conclusion that he is a has-been, as his roles as the bad guy of the week are dragging his star power down, & the only work he can find as a lead is in Spaghetti Westerns in Italy, which Dalton detests due to their low quality. However, Rick finds some hope in the fact that actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) & her husband, director Roman Polanski (Rafał Zawierucha), have moved in next door to his house on Cielo Drive, as befriending them could be the rebound he needs for his career. That night, Tate & Polanski attend a party at the Playboy Mansion, where Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis) tells a story about how Tate left hairdresser Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch) for Polanski, but Sebring is, more or less, a third wheel that Tate will go to if the relationship between her & Polanski sours.

The next day, Dalton goes to work on the set of Lancer, the new Western TV series starring James Stacy (Timothy Olyphant) & Wayne Maunder (Luke Perry). The pilot episode Dalton is appearing in is being directed by American expatriate Sam Wanamaker (Nicholas Hammond). Booth tries to see if he can work on set, but Dalton tells him he can't, since Randy (Kurt Russell), a stuntman, is on the set as well, & he deeply despises Booth, not only for the rumors which his wife Janet (Zoë Bell) believes, but also due to Booth's destructive fight with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) on the set of The Green Hornet. On set, Dalton strikes up a conversation with Trudi Fraser (Julia Butters), a young method actress.

After fixing Dalton's TV antenna, Booth drives around. He eventually picks up a hitchhiker named Pussycat (Margaret Qualley), & drives her to Spahn's Movie Ranch, a ranch used for filming Westerns some years prior. He does this since he knew the owner, George Spahn (Bruce Dern), who has let Pussycat & some other people live on his ranch, including Charles Manson (Damon Herriman), Charles "Tex" Watson (Austin Butler), Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme (Dakota Fanning), & Gypsy (Lena Dunham).

Meanwhile, as Dalton works on Lancer, & Booth runs into the Manson Family, Tate goes to see herself in the film The Wrecking Crew. All of these storylines will eventually coalesce on one night in August.

The cast is terrific. Leonardo DiCaprio gives one of his three best performances. He is commanding, sincere, & hilarious all at once. Brad Pitt is at his most humorous in years, further showing that he is as terrific in comedic roles as he is on dramatic roles. Margot Robbie is absolutely phenomenal as Sharon Tate, bringing her back to life & embodying everything we loved about her.

From the supporting cast, Margaret Qualley, Mike Moh & Julia Butters are the standouts. Qualley gives a very mystical touch to her performance, covering her character in mystery. Mike Moh brings Bruce Lee back to life. And Julia Butters is wonderful as a precocious child actress, & I hope she gets more roles after her performance here. The rest of the supporting cast, especially Austin Butler, Luke Perry, & Al Pacino, give great performances.

Quentin Tarantino's direction is phenomenal. Tarantino's sense of world-building is turned up to 100, as he makes us feel like we're back in 1969, when the streets of Los Angeles were draped in neon & the counterculture ruled society. He also brings back his trademark visual style, where the visuals are visceral & bursting with energy. And, surprisingly for him, the atmosphere has no sense of nihilism or bleakness, but is instead filled with nothing but pure warmth & sincerity for the people, the time, & the place.

Quentin Tarantino's screenplay is brilliant. The plot is always ready to keep us on the edge of our seats & subvert our expectations. The characters are wonderfully realized, & also lovingly idiosyncratic. And the dialogue is, as always for a Tarantino film, perfect.

Robert Richardson's cinematography is gorgeous. Richardson colorfully paints 1969 Los Angeles in neon colors & bright sunshine, always giving us a huge burst of nostalgia for the time period. And when it couldn't get better, it does; its projection on film gives it more of a timeless quality, perfectly fitting that wondrous era. If you get the chance, please see it on 35mm film (or, if you're lucky, 70mm film).

Fred Raskin's editing is excellent. For a film that runs over 2.5 hours, the film races by so quick. Also, it is so perfectly cut, using fast cutting the way it should be used.

Arianne Phillips' costume design is beautiful. The costumes are so colorful, period-accurate, & just so lovely to look at.

Barbara Ling's production design is spectacular. The set completely immerses us in 1969, with all the colorful architectural styles & studio backlots perfectly matching the era.

The makeup & hairstyling is superb. The makeup is colorful, & the hairstyling is completely period-accurate & lovingly realized.

The sound design is impeccable. The sounds are perfectly edited & mixed, especially when it comes to the sounds of Tarantino's trademark violence.

And the soundtrack is incredible. The music of the era becomes a character in & of itself. With songs such as Deep Purple's Hush, Neil Diamond's Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show, The Buchanan Brothers' Son of a Lovin' Man, Los Bravos' Bring a Little Lovin', The Mamas & the Papas' Twelve Thirty (Young Girls are Coming to the Canyon), Vanilla Fudge's You Keep Me Hangin' On, & The Rolling Stones' Out of Time, the soundtrack is a mix of major hits, one-hit wonders, & lesser-known singles that perfectly serves as a backdrop to the characters & the setting.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is one of Tarantino's three best works, along with Jackie Brown & Inglourious Basterds. It is Tarantino at his most laid-back, sincere, & hilarious, but above all, it is a gorgeous love letter to the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Thursday, July 25, 2019. It is in theaters everywhere, & it is showing on 35mm film at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, MI. Its runtime is 161 minutes, & it is rated R for language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use, & sexual references.

Monday, July 22, 2019

The Art of Self-Defense


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Dark comedy is my absolute favorite type of comedy. I love laughing at things that would usually be considered taboo. However, naturally, there are things that shouldn't be joked about. But for the most part, if you find the right thing to poke fun at, it will work out incredibly well, & will make me burst out in laughter.

The Art of Self-Defense does just that, & is one of the funniest films of this decade. The film follows Casey Davies (Jesse Eisenberg), a 35-year-old mild-mannered accountant. Casey lives alone with his dog, & feels incredibly out of place at work. Ultimately, Casey mostly stays inside his own little shell.

One night, Casey goes to purchase dog food. On the way back, Casey is approached by 3 people on motorcycles, & after being asked if he has a gun, is robbed & savagely beaten. While given time off work, Casey becomes insecure in his masculinity, & considers purchasing a gun for protection. However, Casey does find an outlet for his issues in a karate dojo, led by Sensei (Alessandro Nivola). Casey tries a free class & likes it, eventually starting to take day classes, earning his white belt, the first belt in line.

While in karate, Casey meets Anna (Imogen Poots), a brown belt student who also teaches the children's classes, & Henry (David Zellner), a blue belt student who befriends Casey. Eventually, Casey catches the eye of Sensei & the other students, eventually being promoted to a yellow belt, while Anna & Henry are snubbed for promotions, Anna's snubbing being for her womanhood, according to Sensei.

Eventually, Casey gets himself invited to the prestigious night classes, as Sensei sees himself in Casey. But the more involved Casey gets in karate, the more he wonders about what is actually going on at the dojo.

The cast is terrific. Jesse Eisenberg is perfect in the role he was born to play: a seemingly meek person struggling with masculinity issues. Alessandro Nivola is devilishly mysterious & bitingly funny. And Imogen Poots is superb.

Riley Stearns' direction is excellent. Stearns always keeps on the edge of our seat by always staying one step ahead of the audience when it comes to where we think the film is headed.

And Riley Stearns' screenplay is brilliant. The plot deals with many relevant themes, such as toxic masculinity & gun culture, all to incredible effect. The characters are wonderfully offbeat. And the dialogue is gut-bustingly hilarious.

This is one of the best dark comedies I've ever seen. It deals with so many timely themes in such a hilarious manner, & establishes Riley Stearns as a great up-&-coming director in American independent cinema.

The Art of Self-Defense was seen by me at the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI on Friday, July 19, 2019. It is currently showing in 10 theaters in the Detroit area, including the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI; the AMC Forum 30 in Sterling Heights, MI; the AMC Star Great Lakes 25 in Auburn Hills, MI; & the Emagine Canton in Canton, MI. Its runtime is 104 minutes, & it is rated R for violence, sexual content, graphic nudity & language.

The Lion King


★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

The Lion King (1994) is, by far, the greatest animated film ever made. The opening sequence is still emotionally powerful after 25 years, & the animation is timeless. And as someone who has only watched it for the first time recently, I can say that I feel connected to it as much as someone who has seen it many times since they were a toddler.

However, The Lion King (2019) is nowhere near the original in terms of quality, & is ultimately a soulless live-action remake. The film follows Simba (Donald Glover as an adult, JD McCrary as a child), a lion in the Pride Lands of Africa. His father Mufasa (James Earl Jones) is the king of the Pride Lands, assisted by the hornbill Zazu (John Oliver) & the mandrill Rafiki (John Kani), & with his queen Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) by his side. However, Simba's uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is secretly planning to usurp the throne from Mufasa with the help of Shenzi (Florence Kasumba), Kamari (Keegan-Michael Key), & Azizi (Eric Andre), three hyenas. Nevertheless, Simba yearns to be king one day, & he is betrothed to Nala (Beyoncé as an adult, Shahadi Wright Joseph as a child), his best friend.

One day, Scar sets a trap for Simba & Mufasa as a large herd of wildebeest stampede by Pride Rock. Simba is lured into the stampede, leading Mufasa to come & save him; however, although he saves Simba, Mufasa is unable to get back up off the ledge. Mufasa asks Scar for help, but Scar lets him fall off the ledge, & is killed in the stampede. Scar blames Simba for his father's death, & tells him to run away & never return. Scar sends the hyenas after Simba in a plan to kill him, but they fail in their quest.

Simba runs all the way to a desert, where he collapses. He is rescued by Timon (Billy Eichner) & Pumbaa (Seth Rogen), a meerkat & a warthog, respectively, who are best friends. They take Simba in & introduce him to their philosophy of "hakuna matata," which means "no worries." Simba grows up under this philosophy, & finds himself to be content with his carefree life. But a chance encounter with Nala will lead Simba to reconsider his future & possibly return to the Pride Lands to take back his kingship.

The cast is great. Donald Glover, Beyoncé, James Earl Jones, & Alfre Woodard are all great. Billy Eichner & Seth Rogen steal the show. However, Chiwetel Ejiofor is not a great fit, never fully capturing the essence that made Jeremy Irons so imposing in the original film.

Jon Favreau's direction is underwhelming. While he does show a keen visual eye, Favreau is never able to get near as much natural emotion from the audience as Rob Minkoff did with the original film.

Jeff Nathanson's screenplay is mediocre. The plot is exactly the same as the original, & while that's not inherently bad, there is nothing new given to the characters, ultimately making the film feel soulless.

The visual effects are polarizing. For the most part, the animals are incredibly well-realized. However, the lions have no emotion whatsoever, making them feel very unrealistic.

And the music is terrific. The score by Hans Zimmer still has a timeless quality, & the songs feel as fresh as ever.

This is a huge disappointment. Although there are things to like about it, it's basically a glorified Disney Nature documentary, & that's definitely not a compliment.

The Lion King was seen by me at the AMC Forum 30 in Sterling Heights, MI on Thursday, July 18, 2019. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 118 minutes, & it is rated PG for sequences of violence & peril, & some thematic elements.

Stuber


★★★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Cop comedies have been around in cinema for ages: some good (21 Jump Street & 22 Jump Street), some bad (Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot). Although they aren't as successful as they once were, they're still enjoyable from time to time.

Stuber isn't anywhere near perfect, but it's definitely hilarious & enjoyable. The film follows Stu (Kumail Nanjiani), a mild-mannered Uber driver in Los Angeles. Stu also works at a sporting goods facility, where he has to deal with co-workers like Richie Sandusky (Jimmy Tatro). However, he is planning on leaving his job at the sporting goods facility to start up a women's spin biking gym with his best friend/crush Becca (Betty Gilpin).

One day, Stu picks up Det. Vic Manning (Dave Bautista), a detective for the Los Angeles Police Department. Vic is after Oka Teijo (Iko Uwais), a notorious drug lord who killed Vic's partner Det. Sara Morris (Karen Gillan) six months earlier. As a result of her death, Vic has been adamant in finding him, although Capt. Angie McHenry (Mira Sorvino) has told him to take a break from the case. Vic would do the task himself, but as a result of LASIK surgery earlier that day, he cannot drive, so he forces Stu to drive him around looking for Teijo in the Uber that his daughter Nicole (Natalie Morales) called for him for her art gallery that night.

While driving through Los Angeles, Stu & Vic constantly bicker: Stu berates Vic for his toxic masculinity & neglect towards his daughter, while Vic berates Stu for not being a real man. But they must put aside their differences if they have any chance at finding Teijo.

The cast is amazing. Kumail Nanjiani continues to show that he is one of the funniest actors in Hollywood right now. Dave Bautista also shows off the great comedic timing that made him such a standout in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The rest of the cast is also hilarious, but it's Nanjiani, Bautista, & their chemistry that truly shine.

Michael Dowse's direction is great. Although his handling of the action sequences isn't the best, he definitely continues to show a great eye for comedy.

And Tripper Clancy's screenplay is very good. The plot is definitely formulaic, & some characters aren't fully realized, but the dialogue is often very humorous.

This is a solid action-comedy. Although it is nowhere near a 5-star ride, it has just enough for me to give a positive rating.

Stuber was seen by me at an advance screening at the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 in Troy, MI on Wednesday, July 10, 2019. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 93 minutes, & it is rated R for violence & language throughout, some sexual references & brief graphic nudity.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Wild Rose


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

I've said it before, & I'll say it again: I HATE COUNTRY MUSIC. All of them sound the exact same: men drinking a cold beer in their pickup trucks singing about their woman & how much they love rural America. The only country singers I've ever liked are Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, & Kacey Musgraves. Other than that, I don't like it.

But Wild Rose has done something rare: it made me not only like country music, but love it. And other than that, it's an absolute wonder of a film. The film follows Rose-Lynn Harlan (Jessie Buckley), a young woman in Glasgow. Rose-Lynn has just been released from prison for a drug charge, & returns to her home, where her mother Marion (Julie Walters) has taken care of Rose-Lynn's 2 children, Wynonna (Daisy Littlefield) & Lyle (Adam Mitchell). When not in prison, Rose-Lynn is an avid country fan, & yearns to be a famous country singer in Nashville. However, her tendency for debauchery gets in her way.

Rose-Lynn gets a job as a housekeeper for the family of Susannah (Sophie Okonedo). While housekeeping, Rose-Lynn sings multiple country songs, & her voice surprises Susannah, who believes that Rose-Lynn has a great future in country music. Susannah decides to help Rose-Lynn get out there & follow her dreams. After this, Rose-Lynn is steadfastly working towards her goal. But the fear that she might do this while risking whatever semblance of a relationship with her children lulls over her.

The cast is phenomenal. Jessie Buckley is electrifying. She puts 200% into her performance, & also has the voice of an angel. Julie Walters gives one of her best performances. And Sophie Okonedo is at her best in years.

Tom Harper's direction is excellent. Harper gives a more realistic look into the familar rise-to-stardom story, & also keeps the atmosphere warm throughout.

Nicole Taylor's screenplay is amazing. For such a familiar premise, the plot feels incredibly fresh. The characters are well-realized, & the dialogue is incredibly realistic.

And the music is phenomenal. The songs are all incredibly well-written, & they are used to their full extent through Jessie Buckley's soul-shattering voice.

This is one of the best films of the year so far. It's an incredibly fresh look at a rags-to-riches story, led by a star-making performance by Jessie Buckley.

Wild Rose was seen by me at The Maple Theater in Bloomfield Township, MI on Sunday, July 7, 2019. It is currently in 2 theaters in the Detroit area: the AMC Livonia 20 in Livonia, MI; & the State Theatre in Ann Arbor, MI. Its runtime is 101 minutes, & it is rated R for language throughout, some sexuality & brief drug material.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Midsommar


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

There are two distinct types of horror films today. The first is your more traditional style of horror, which mostly relies on jump scares & has a varying degree of atmospheric horror. This style can range from great (It) to awful (The Curse of La Llorona). The second is more classic, but has been demonstrated less & less recently in favor of the first style. This style has always been done very well, at the least, to masterful at the best.

Midsommar is the best use of that classic horror style I've ever seen. The film follows Dani Ardor (Florence Pugh), a college student. Although she has been in a relationship with fellow college student Christian Hughes (Jack Reynor) for 4 years, their relationship has become more emotionally distant, with Christian's friends Josh (William Jackson Harper) & Mark (Will Poulter) wanting him to break up with her due to her supposed neediness.

However, during the winter, a traumatic event in Dani's family occurs, & this brings Dani & Christian closer together as the year starts. That summer, Christian, Josh & Mark are invited by their friend & classmate Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) to come with him to the Swedish province of Hälsingland, specifically his commune of the Hårga, for the midsummer festival, which only occurs every 90 years. Dani is upset that Christian didn't tell her he was going, so as an apology, Christian invites her along, much to the chagrin of Mark.

When they arrive at the Hårga, they meet Simon (Archie Madekwe) & Connie (Ellora Torchia), a British couple who was brought there by Pelle's brother Ingemar (Hampus Hallberg). They all take psychedelic drugs, which give them varying trips. However, they find the festival to be a pleasant experience at first. But the festival is not as it seems, & that, along with tensions inside the group, threaten to make this a festival from hell.

The cast is terrific. Florence Pugh gives one of the best horror performances I've ever seen. She is a lethal mix of grief & terror. Jack Reynor is superb. William Jackson Harper is wonderful. Vilhelm Blomgren is delightfully mysterious. And Will Poulter is devilishly funny.

Ari Aster's direction is excellent. With Hereditary & now Midsommar, Aster has proven himself to be one of the best horror directors of this era. Aster is at his most visually striking, psychologically disturbing, &, surprisingly, his most hilarious.

Ari Aster's screenplay is brilliant. Aster never shows his hand with this script, only letting us slowly realize what's going on here. Also, the characters are terrifically well-written, & the dialogue is perfect & often very humorous.

Pawel Pogorzelski's cinematography is wondrous. The sun-draped Swedish landscape is beautifully captured, luring us into a false sense of security.

Lucian Johnston's editing is wonderful. Johnston drenches us with a slow pace that perfectly fits the film, making you feel as if you're in a nightmare from which you can't escape.

The sound design is impeccable. The sounds that are uttered in the film are horrifying to hear, & they are amplified to their biggest extent.

And Bobby Krlic's score is phenomenal. Krlic mixes between low-tone ambient sounds & striking violins, always giving us a sense of uneasiness.

This is the best horror film I've ever seen. It is incredibly well-acted, visually disturbing, & horrifying long after those credits roll.

Midsommar was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Thursday, July 4, 2019. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 147 minutes, & it is rated R for disturbing ritualistic violence & grisly images, strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use & language.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Spider-Man: Far From Home


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Since I was a kid, Spider-Man has always been my favorite superhero, mostly because he was younger, which made him more easy to relate to me. (I wasn't much of a comic person, however). As for the films, Tobey Maguire was a good Peter Parker, but a not-so-good Spider-Man; Andrew Garfield was a not-so-good Peter Parker, but a good Spider-Man; & Tom Holland is great at both. Also, the Miles Morales version Spider-Man was portrayed terrifically by Shameik Moore in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is a terrific epilogue for the Infinity Saga of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film follows Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland), who is trying to adjust not only to the world after The Blip, the resurrection of everyone lost in The Snap, but also the death of his mentor, Tony Stark/Iron Man. In order to accommodate the students who returned in The Blip, the Midtown School of Science & Technology has restarted the entire school year. The school is also organizing a 2-week trip to Europe, supervised by teachers Roger Harrington (Martin Starr) & Julius Dell (J.B. Smoove), where Peter plans to take a vacation from heroism & finally express his romantic feelings to Michelle "MJ" Jones (Zendaya). Romantic feelings are also being expressed by others in Peter's life, including by his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) towards Betsy Brant (Angourie Rice), & also by Harold "Happy" Hogan (Jon Favreau) towards Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), much to Peter's chagrin.

The group arrives in Venice as a water creature wreaks havoc on the city. However, it is stopped by Quentin Beck/Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), a man from another Earth. The water creature was the Water Elemental, one of the four Elementals. The Air, Water, & Earth Elementals have all been destroyed, but the Fire Elemental is still out there. They already destroyed Beck's Earth & killed his family. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) & Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) have taken Beck on as a member of the team, & decide to have Peter join him in the fight. However, Peter still wants to relax & enjoy Europe. As a result, Fury pulls some strings that have the group go to Prague, where the Fire Elemental will show. Over time, Peter & Beck bond. But there is a mystery (pun intended) to Beck, one that will throw Peter's Europe trip even more out of the loop.

The cast is terrific. Tom Holland further proves that he is the best Spider-Man. Samuel L. Jackson is still Samuel L. Jacksoning perfectly. Zendaya further shows that she has a lot of acting talent. And Jake Gyllenhaal is spectacular.

Jon Watts' direction is excellent. Watts continues to show a great eye for the quieter scenes that are more coming-of-age in style, & improves on his handling of action sequences.

The screenplay by Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers is amazing. The plot is thrillingly intriguing, the characters are well-written, & the dialogue is superb & humorous.

And the visual effects are incredible. The CGI has no flaws whatsoever with the explosions & the creatures, & the practical effects are terrific as well.

This is the best Spider-Man film yet. It has a Spider-Man that is the best ever portrayed on-screen, a great villain, & it sets up a third Spider-Man film that I can't wait to see.

Spider-Man: Far From Home was seen by me at the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 in Troy, MI on Wednesday, July 3, 2019. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 129 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language & brief suggestive comments.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Annabelle Comes Home


★★★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

The Conjuring Universe has been a mixed bag: The Conjuring & The Conjuring 2 were both great, while The Nun was mediocre, & The Curse of La Llorona was a disaster. I have not yet seen Annabelle or Annabelle: Creation.

Annabelle Comes Home, while not the best in the franchise, is a vast improvement over the previous 2 films. Set in 1972, the film follows Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman), a teenager in high school. Mary Ellen has been hired by famed demonologists Ed (Patrick Wilson) & Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren to babysit their tween daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) while they investigate a case. Judy's birthday is coming up soon, but many people are not going to her party due to the revelation in the local newspaper about what Ed & Lorraine do for a living.

One Friday, after school, Mary Ellen & Judy are surprised by Daniela Rios (Katie Sarife), a friend of Mary Ellen's who has come uninvited. Daniela's father passed away, & she is curious about speaking to the dead. As a present for Judy, Daniela gives her a pair of roller-skates. While Mary Ellen & Judy go out to try them out, Daniela sneaks around looking for keys to the forbidden room where the Warrens keep the possessed items. She finds them, & despite being told not to enter the room, she does so anyway. She touches several possessed items, & opens the case containing Annabelle, a possessed doll which is the most harmful of all of the items in the room. Daniela accidentally leaves it unlocked.

Not long after, Annabelle is unleashed, bringing in several other spirits with her. Mary Ellen, Judy & Daniela must defeat the spirits & put Annabelle back in the case & lock her up before even more bad things occur.

The cast is terrific. Madison Iseman shows a lot of talent here, & I think she will have a solid career. Mckenna Grace shows once again that she is one of our best child actresses. Katie Sarife is great. And although Vera Farmiga & Patrick Wilson aren't in the film for long, their chemistry definitely shines through.

Gary Dauberman's direction is great. There are some flaws that show that this is his directorial debut when it comes to atmosphere, & he does overuse jump scares, but he ultimately does bring a lot of terror & fun to the table.

And the screenplay by Gary Dauberman & James Wan is very good. Although the plot is definitely formulaic, & the characters aren't very well-developed, the dialogue is very well-written.

This is a solid horror film. Although it isn't as scary as it should be, it has just enough frights & fun to make it worthwhile.

Annabelle Comes Home was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Friday, June 28, 2019. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 106 minutes, & it is rated R for horror violence & terror.

Yesterday


★★★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

The Beatles are the most influential rock band of all time. Although they aren't my favorite or the best (those titles both belong to Led Zeppelin), they are definitely one of the best, & their sounds are incredibly lovely to this day.

Yesterday doesn't always hit the high notes, but it's a solid tribute to The Fab Four. The film follows Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), a struggling singer-songwriter in the British seaside city of Lowestoft. Despite encouragement from his manager & childhood friend Ellie Appleton (Lily James) to continue on with his career, Jack finds himself disillusioned with the lack of support, & strongly considers leaving his music career behind.

One night, Jack goes on a bike ride. While on his bike ride, the electricity goes out. A few seconds later, Jack is hit by a bus. A few seconds after that, the electricity goes back on. When Jack wakes up & is released from the hospital, he notices that something is different, as many of his Beatles references are lost by everyone. It eventually dawns on Jack that no one else on Earth remembers The Beatles. After the momentary shock, Jack comes up with an idea: perform the entire discography of The Beatles & claim it as his own work.

When Jack performs one of The Beatles' songs on local television, he meteorically rises to superstardom, eventually becoming the opening act of Ed Sheeran (Ed Sheeran), further thrusting him into the spotlight. He is eventually signed by Sheeran's agent, Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon). But the more popular Jack becomes, the more he must think about his relationship with Ellie, who has been right by his side the whole time.

The cast is amazing. Himesh Patel gives a superb breakout performance. Lily James continues to show that she is one of the best young British actresses today. Ed Sheeran shows that he can be likable for once. And Kate McKinnon is very funny.

Danny Boyle's direction is great. Although Boyle never fully explores the intriguing premise that drives the film, Boyle overcomes that with a warm tone throughout & a steady hand during the musical sequences.

And the screenplay by Richard Curtis & Jack Barth is very good. Although the characters need more development & the dialogue is a bit too on-the-nose at some points, the plot is immensely intriguing.

This is a solid fantasy rom-com. Although it doesn't get anywhere near where it could've been, it gets by with a little help from some friends.

Yesterday was seen by me at an advance screening at the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 in Troy, MI on Tuesday, June 25, 2019. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 116 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for suggestive content & language.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Toy Story 4


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

The Toy Story films are not only some of the best Pixar films ever made, but they are some of the greatest animated films of all time. Each of the films were incredibly groundbreaking in animation, spectacular scope, & packed with emotion.

When I heard that Toy Story 4 was coming out, I had mixed feelings: on one hand, I knew that it would be good, as Pixar has only made one bad film (Cars 2). But on the other hand, it felt unnecessary; Toy Story 3 was the perfect conclusion to the franchise, as everything was tied together, & it went out with an emotion-filled bang.

But my doubts were all for nothing, as Toy Story 4 is a terrific extension (& possible ending) to the franchise. The film continues the story of Woody (Tom Hanks), the leader of a group of toys once owned by Andy (John Morris & Jack McGraw), & now owned by Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw). Woody, along with Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), Slinky Dog (Blake Clark), Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), & Mrs. Potato Head (Estelle Harris), along with Dolly (Bonnie Hunt), Trixie (Kristen Schaal), Buttercup (Jeff Garlin), & Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton), are happy with their lives as Bonnie's toys. Bonnie is scared about entering kindergarten, so Woody sneaks into her backpack for orientation to keep an eye on her. When Bonnie gets upset, Woody sneakily brings art supplies that were thrown into the trash, along with a spork, to Bonnie. Bonnie uses the spork & the supplies to create a new toy she calls Forky (Tony Hale).

When Bonnie returns home, Woody finds that Forky has come to life in Bonnie's backpack. Woody introduces Forky to the toys, but Forky is convinced that he is trash & not a toy, & proceeds to continually throw himself into the trash. As Forky becomes Bonnie's favorite toy, Woody takes it upon himself to stop Forky from throwing himself into the trash.

Before the school year starts, Bonnie's mom (Lori Alan) & dad (Jay Hernandez) take Bonnie on a road trip. During the trip, Forky throws himself out the window & Woody jumps out to find him & bring him back. On their journey to the RV park where Bonnie & her parents are at, Woody helps Forky finally realize that he is a toy & not trash.

Before they arrive at the park, however, Woody is distracted by a lamp in a store: the lamp of Bo Peep (Annie Potts), a former toy friend of Woody's who was sold 9 years earlier, along with her sheep, Billy, Goat, & Gruff (Emily Davis). They enter the store, but are seen by Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks). Gabby Gabby offers to take them to Bo, but she has ulterior motives for it, & in the process, Forky is captured by Gabby Gabby while Woody escapes. Meanwhile, Buzz looks for Woody & Forky, & meets Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) & Bunny (Jordan Peele), 2 carnival toys.

Woody finally finds Bo, who is now a lost toy. After some persuading, Bo agrees to help Woody find Forky & return to Bonnie, along with the help of pocket toy cop Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki), & Canadian toy stuntman Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves). But the journey will trigger a yearning for a fresh start in Woody.

The cast is superb. Tom Hanks, Tim Allen & Annie Potts bring so much to their voice roles, & although we can't physically see them, we still empathize with their performances & their emotions. Keegan-Michael Key & Jordan Peele provide some of the funniest lines. And Keanu Reeves is awesome, as always.

Josh Cooley's direction is excellent. Cooley provides a warm-hearted atmosphere throughout, along with a great visual animated style.

The screenplay by Stephany Folsom, Andrew Stanton, John Lasseter, Rashida Jones, Will McCormack, Josh Cooley, Valerie LaPointe & Martin Hynes is amazing. The plot is intriguing, the characters are incredibly well-developed, & the dialogue is very humorous.

And the animation is wondrous. The animation here is some of the most realistic ever, & that's especially remarkable, as Pixar has always had an incredibly realistic style of animation. It's so incredibly detailed & colorfully illustrated, especially in one scene where the animation feels like life itself.

This is an incredible animated film, & definitely one of the best animated films of the decade. It may have seemed unnecessary, but unnecessary it is not. It is the logical conclusion for the franchise, & it is an emotional one for sure.

Toy Story 4 was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Friday, June 21, 2019. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 100 minutes, & it is rated G.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Last Black Man in San Francisco


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Detroit. Boston. San Francisco. Atlanta. Philadelphia. New York. Washington D.C. All of these cities, along with hundreds more in the United States, have been plagued by gentrification. Sure, gentrification may sound nice, with the promise of updating the decaying neighborhoods, but what else do you really get out of it besides that & middle-class white people moving in? You not only lose the predominantly marginalized communities that made it so great, but you lose the culture that made it home while it wasn't at its best.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco is an incredibly powerful look at gentrification, but it is mainly a powerful look at a friendship & how it endures outside change. The film follows Jimmie Fails (Jimmie Fails), a young African-American man in San Francisco. Jimmie works as a nurse at a nursing home, & currently lives with his best friend Montgomery "Mont" Allen (Jonathan Majors), an aspiring playwright, & Mont's grandfather (Danny Glover), who is blind & relies on Mont to explain to him the visuals of films & TV shows. Together, Jimmie & Mont encounter various people throughout the day, including Wanda (Tichina Arnold), Jimmie's aunt; Bobby (Mike Epps), an old friend of theirs; Clayton (Finn Wittrock), a sly real estate agent; & Becca (Thora Birch), a woman who has grown to hate the city. But what they truly cherish is the old Victorian house in the Fillmore District that Jimmie & his father James Sr. (Rob Morgan) once lived in before they were forced out of it in the 1990s, the house that Jimmie's grandfather built in 1946 as "the first black man in San Francisco." Jimmie helps take care of the outside while Mont keeps an eye out for the tenants, who are more or less apprehensive of Jimmie's care.

One day, Jimmie & Mont discover that the tenants are forced to move out due to the death of the owner, which has caused infighting between the tenants & one of their sisters. Jimmie sees this as an opportunity to finally get back his house, which has been priced at $4 million. Jimmie & Mont move in to squat in it, finally getting a sanctuary for themselves in a rapidly gentrifying San Francisco. But this is more than just a house or a sanctuary for Jimmie: it's the last tie he has to San Francisco. It's the last tie he has to his home & his land, as he considers himself to be "the last black man in San Francisco."

The cast is exemplary. Jimmie Fails not only gives the best debut performance of this year, but easily the best debut performance of this decade. The fact that this is a debut performance & that he is an unknown talent heightens the film's realism, allowing us to further relate to the performances, & his remorseful yet optimistic attitude is so perfectly portrayed.

Jonathan Majors gives the best supporting male performance of the year so far. Like Fails' performance, Majors' performance is also remorseful yet optimistic, but he is more theatrical in his persona, & it shows in one of the most powerful scenes of the film. His chemistry with Fails is also impeccable, as they truly feel like life-long friends, almost like brothers they never had.

Tichina Arnold has a small amount of screen time, but what she does with that screen time is wondrous. As Jimmie's aunt who has left San Francisco behind, she understands what Jimmie is going through, trying to keep his connection with the city he loves so dearly, but knows that San Francisco is tough, & it's not his fault if he leaves. Arnold portrays that mindset so perfectly, & she is so warm & engaging in her performance.

The rest of the cast, especially Danny Glover & Rob Morgan, give terrific supporting performances, filling in the rest of the colorful characters that populate the setting.

Joe Talbot's direction is stellar. Talbot, in his directorial debut, shows the empathy of John Cassavetes, the visual poetry of Barry Jenkins, & the sociopolitical eye of Spike Lee, which all come together to create a style that makes you surprised that it did not come from a seasoned veteran director. I definitely cannot wait for what Talbot does after this film.

The screenplay by Joe Talbot, Rob Richert & Jimmie Fails is wonderful. The plot is entirely fresh & original, never once feeling stale. The characters are incredibly well-written, feeling like random people you would encounter on the street. And the dialogue is so richly human, powerfully written, & incredibly poetic.

Adam Newport-Berra's cinematography is gorgeous. Newport-Berra's camerawork is so vibrant, glorious, & nothing short of visual poetry, as he lingers on the beauty of the faces of the characters & the places that populate the setting, & glides along through the town like a San Franciscan on a cable car.

David Marks' editing is terrific. Marks cuts the film with such immense style, but lets us linger in the moment, keeping us calm as we slowly engage ourselves with the characters. And that is what editing should do.

And Emile Mosseri's score is beautiful. The score is populated by trombones, trumpets, clarinets, flutes, saxophones, violins, & percussion, & all those combine for music that is lamentful for the past, yet hopeful for the future.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco is something that wholeheartedly deserves to be acclaimed, & it certainly has been acclaimed. It is something so wholly original, so powerfully emotional, & so visually poetic, that it is nothing short of a true masterpiece. It is something that everyone should go & see if it is showing by you.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco was seen by me at the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI on Thursday, June 20, 2019. It is currently in 4 theaters in the Detroit area: the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI; the Birmingham 8 in Birmingham, MI; the Cinema Detroit in Detroit, MI; & the State Theatre in Ann Arbor, MI. Its runtime is 121 minutes, & it is rated R for language, brief nudity & drug use.

Friday, June 28, 2019

The Dead Don't Die


★★★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

I'm not interested in zombies. I've just found them to be boring. When I have liked zombies, it's been in a more comedic fashion. The only zombie films I've liked were 28 Days Later, which is one of the best horror films ever made, 28 Weeks Later, Dead Alive, Zombieland, & Shaun of the Dead. Other than that, I'm not a fan.

The Dead Don't Die is a bit aimless & didactic at times, but it's a solid zom-com. The film follows Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray), the police chief of Centerville, Pennsylvania. Cliff & Officer Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) have just investigated a complaint by cartoonishly racist farmer Frank Miller (Steve Buscemi) that Hermit Bob (Tom Waits) stole a chicken from him. On their way back, they notice that it is still light out at 8pm, & Ronnie's watch & cellphone die. They go to a diner where they meet with Hank Thompson (Danny Glover), the owner of the local hardware store, who hears of a radio report about polar fracking. Waitress Fern (Eszter Balint) also remarks about it still being light out. After this, Cliff & Ronnie return to the police station, where Officer Mindy Morrison (Chlöe Sevigny) is at. Cliff stays at the station with the corpse of town drunk Mallory O'Brien (Carol Kane).

Elsewhere in town, at the Centerville Juvenile Detention Center, Geronimo (Jahi Winston) tells fellow inmates Olivia (Taliyah Whitaker) & Stella (Maya Delmont) that the polar fracking has changed the Earth's rotation. Dean (RZA), a deliveryman for WU-PS, delivers rare magazines to Bobby Wiggins (Caleb Landry Jones), the owner of the gas station & memorabilia store. Hank, Fern, & cleaner Lily (Rosal Colon) talk about Mallory. Cleveland hipsters Zoe (Selena Gomez), Jack (Austin Butler) & Zach (Luka Sabbat) travel to Centerville, enter Bobby's gas station, purchase a CD of Sturgill Simpson's The Dead Don't Die, & check in at Danny's Moonlight Motel, owned by Danny Perkins (Larry Fessenden). News reporter Posie Juarez (Rosie Perez) reports about pets behaving strangely. New undertaker Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton) practices her samurai skills.

As night falls on Centerville, two coffee-obsessed zombies (Sara Driver & Iggy Pop) reanimate, go to the diner, & kill Fern & Lily. Hank finds them the next morning, & calls Cliff, Ronnie, & Mindy. Ronnie believes that zombies did it, & also remarks that this won't end well. It is now up to Cliff, Ronnie, Mindy, & Zelda to stop the zombie apocalypse.

The cast is terrific. Bill Murray is super deadpan & hilarious. Adam Driver is also super deadpan & hilarious. Tilda Swinton is glorious as usual. And the rest of the cast is superb.

Jim Jarmusch's direction is great. While the film somewhat loses sight in the third act, it is overcome by his exemplary minimalist shot style & his affinity for deadpan visual comedy.

And Jim Jarmusch's screenplay is very good. While the themes become didactic in the third act, & the plot is a bit too aimless, but his characters are lovingly idiosyncratic, & the deadpan dialogue is often hilarious.

This is a solid deadpan look at the current state of affairs in the world. Although it is a polarizing film for sure, & definitely not a perfect one, it has enough in it to keep it away from becoming a dead end.

The Dead Don't Die was seen by me at the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 in Troy, MI on Saturday, June 15, 2019. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 104 minutes, & it is rated R for zombie violence/gore, & for language.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Late Night


★★★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

At the age of 17, I'm probably the youngest person in America that watches late-night talk shows. Here's how I feel about them: the only ones I like are Stephen Colbert (although he was better on Comedy Central as his alter ego) & Seth Meyers. Jimmy Fallon is ok, but I wish he would actually let his guests talk for more than 30 seconds without being interrupted by one of his annoying forced laughs. Jimmy Kimmel is not that funny, & James Corden is not only unfunny, but also has no likable persona.

Late Night, while rocky at points, is a solid look at the late-night talk show industry. The film follows Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), the host of Tonight with Katherine Newbury, the longest-running late-night talk show hosted by a woman. Katherine is married to Walter (John Lithgow), a former NYU professor with Parkinson's disease. Once a ratings hit, the show has now furiously dropped in ratings, as Katherine has refused to modernize, both in front of & behind the camera; Katherine refuses to engage in the antics that have made other late-night talk show hosts popular, & she has also come to be criticized for the lack of diversity on her writing staff, which is all-male, including Charlie Fain (Hugh Dancy); Tom Campbell (Reid Scott); Burditt (Max Casella); Reynolds (John Early); & Mancuso (Paul Walter Hauser). In order to fix this, Katherine sends her assistant Brad (Denis O'Hare) to find a woman to put on the staff, which he finds in Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling), an efficiency expert at a chemical plant in Pennsylvania who is a fan of the show & a budding comedienne.

One day, Katherine is informed by network head Caroline Morton (Amy Ryan) that this season will be her last, & that she will be replaced by Daniel Tennant (Ike Barinholtz), a younger, cruder comedian. In order to keep her job, Katherine demands that the writing staff makes her funny & relevant again. Molly finds this to be her chance to make her mark on the staff & prove that she isn't just a diversity hire. She does this by having Katherine completely change her persona by becoming more open about her thoughts & feelings. This could either end up going really well or really awful, but this might end up working.

The cast is terrific. Emma Thompson gives one of the best performances of her illustrious career. Mindy Kaling is also superb & charming. The rest of the cast gives great performances, but it's the chemistry between Thompson & Kaling that truly shines.

Nisha Ganatra's direction is great. Ganatra has some trouble with pacing, but she makes sure that the actors give their best performances & that the atmosphere stays warm throughout.

And Mindy Kaling's screenplay is very good. The plot does get too formulaic at times, & the characters outside of Thompson & Kaling's characters could use more development, but the dialogue is sharply written.

This is a solid dramedy. Although there are some moments that could've been better handled with a better writer & a better director, it's a nice little film.

Late Night was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Friday, June 14, 2019. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 102 minutes, & it is rated R for language throughout & some sexual references.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Souvenir


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

How do we look at moments in our past that were not good? Do we look at them for what they truly are? Or do we think of them differently, tell ourselves that they were good moments, in order to spare ourselves from the pain & anguish we've kept hidden away for years? I don't know how exactly I've looked back at mine.

The Souvenir is an incredibly well-made look at one of those moments. Set in 1980s London, the film follows Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne), a young film student. Julie wants to write & direct films about stories that take place outside of her privileged, upper-class life, like in the docks in the north of England. Her mother Rosalind (Tilda Swinton) is concerned about Julie, but Julie brushes off her concerns.

At a party, Julie meets Anthony (Tom Burke), an older man who works for the Foreign Office. Anthony is much like Julie, as he is also very privileged & upper-class, & is the epitome of an Oxbridge man. He introduces her to new ideas, films, artworks, & many other things, eventually becoming a major part of her life, eventually moving in with her, as the romance blooms like a lovely flower.

But there are things that start to show with Anthony, things that are not so attractive. He is definitely cold & brash towards Julie. But then these things get worse & worse, & more undesirable traits arise, making Julie wonder about the state of her life & the state of her relationship with Anthony, which is nothing short of toxic.

The cast is terrific. Honor Swinton Byrne gives the most captivating breakout performance I've seen in years. She embraces Julie's vulnerability, self-doubt, ambition, & devotion at every moment, & it is the best dramatic performance of the year so far. Tom Burke is superb, & gives the most realistic portrayal of a toxic person in a toxic relationship that I've ever seen. And Tilda Swinton shows & says so much with little screen time.

Joanna Hogg's direction is phenomenal. As this is based on her experiences in the early 1980s, this is a very personal work for Hogg. And it shows, as she helms the film with such intimate care & framing.

Joanna Hogg's screenplay is incredible. The plot perfectly weaves back & forth like a series of fragmented memories, the characters are so impeccably well-developed, & the dialogue is so wonderfully realistic.

And David Raedeker's cinematography is gorgeous. The camerawork consists of several static long-takes, spectacularly framing the quietly tense matters at hand.

The Souvenir is one of the best films of the year, & quite possibly of this decade. It's a heart-wrenching look at a toxic relationship & how we look back on them, whether it be for what they were or what we think they were, which are almost always 2 completely different things.

The Souvenir was seen by me at the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI on Sunday, June 9, 2019. It is currently in 1 theater in the Detroit area: the State Theatre in Ann Arbor, MI. Its runtime is 120 minutes, & it is rated R for some sexuality, graphic nudity, drug material & language.

Dark Phoenix


½★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

As the Fox X-Men Universe comes to a close as they have been purchased by the Mighty Mouse, we must look back on how it has been. The first two films were very good to great, then a major bump in the road with the next two films, then it regained its footing a bit once the prequels came in, & hit its peak with Deadpool, Logan & Deadpool 2, but has also shown some signs of regression with Apocalypse.

Dark Phoenix is a brutal end to the Fox X-Men Universe. A brutal, drawn-out, meaningless, tedious end to the Fox X-Men Universe. Set in 1992, the film follows the X-Men: Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy); Raven Darkhölme/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence); Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult); Jean Grey (Sophie Turner); Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp); Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan); Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee); & Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters). When Space Shuttle Endeavour is hit by a solar flare, the X-Men go to save the astronauts; however, in the process, Jean is struck by the energy from the flare & absorbs it, enhancing her psychic powers.

At first, Jean feels fine, & there is nothing that would show otherwise. However, it soon shows that the solar flare definitely affected her, as she suddenly starts attacking when pressured, & some more maniacal things arise to the surface. She eventually flies away from the X-Men, & is met by Vuk (Jessica Chastain), a member of the D'Bari, a shape-shifting alien race obsessed with the power she received from the solar flare, which wasn't a solar flare. She also meets up with Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who has gone to a mutant island, to seek help. But her enhanced powers threaten to tear the X-Men apart.

The cast is mediocre. James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender & Jennifer Lawrence all do serviceable jobs, but they completely feel bored throughout the film. Sophie Turner is substandard. Jessica Chastain is incredibly wasted. And Alexandra Shipp is absolutely awful, as her accent is nothing short of horrendous.

Simon Kinberg's direction is terrible. In his directorial debut, Kinberg shows that he as incompetent at directing as he is at writing, with no ability to liven things up at all, no sense of visual style, & no sense of getting good performances out of his actors.

Simon Kinberg's screenplay is horrific. For a film that has been made once before to middling results, it wouldn't seem that hard to do better the second time around. However, this is not the case. The storyline feels incredibly rushed, the characters are not well-written, & the dialogue is some of the worst in recent memory.

And the visual effects are dreadful. For a superhero film with a budget of $200 million, you would expect that the CGI would be well done. You would be wrong. No amount of money nor reshoots would be able to fix the rushed & inconsistent CGI.

There's been many terrible superhero films before Dark Phoenix (most of which I haven't seen yet), & there will probably be more after Dark Phoenix. But I know for sure that as of right now, Dark Phoenix is the worst superhero film I've ever seen. This is the way a franchise ends: not with a bang, but with a sad, monotonous whimper.

Dark Phoenix was seen by me at the MJR Partridge Creek Digital Cinema 14 in Clinton Township, MI on Thursday, June 6, 2019. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 113 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence & action including some gunplay, disturbing images, & brief strong language.

Rocketman


★★★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Elton John is one of the greatest artists of all time. He's had 7 consecutive #1 albums in the US, 58 top 40 singles, 27 top 10 singles, 4 #2 singles & 9 #1 singles, including the best-selling single of all time, Candle in the Wind 1997. He has left an indelible impression on music.

While Rocketman doesn't completely reach the heights of Elton John's career, it's a solid biopic. The film follows Reginald Dwight (Taron Egerton as an adult, Kit Connor & Matthew Illesley as a child), a young boy in Pinner, Middlesex, England. Raised by his mother Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard) & grandmother Ivy (Gemma Jones) while his father Stanley (Steven Mackintosh) is absent due to his service in the Royal Air Force, Reginald shows that he has the musical talent of an absolute wunderkind. He eventually starts studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He then becomes influenced by rock artists, & joins a band called Bluesology.

Bluesology ends up backing up for an American jazz band, where Reginald realizes that he must change his name, form a new persona, & write some songs if he wants to be famous. He then changes his name to Elton John. Elton finds success under Dick James' publishing company & Ray Williams' management, & meets Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), an aspiring songwriter. They quickly form a friendship, with Elton's musical talent & Bernie's songwriting talent quickly merging together. Also, Elton starts to realize that he is gay, which Bernie accepts.

When Elton & Bernie create Your Song, they earn a performance at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, where they are met with absolute acclaim. At an afterparty at Mama Cass' house, Elton meets John Reid (Richard Madden), a music manager who also has romantic feelings toward Elton. But Reid has a toxic influence over Elton, & this will lead to a severe downward spiral for Elton.

The cast is terrific. Taron Egerton doesn't portray Elton John; he IS Elton John. His performance never once feels like an imitation (unlike Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody), & it has all the charm & talent we've all come to expect from Elton John. Jamie Bell is also superb as Bernie Taupin, & the chemistry between him & Egerton feels like a genuine life-long friendship. And the rest of the cast, especially Madden & Howard, provide great supporting performances.

Dexter Fletcher's direction is great. Although there are some moments where some standard biopic cliches come in, Fletcher overcomes this with so much ambition & visual style.

Lee Hall's screenplay is very good. Although the storyline does have too many of the standard biopic cliches, & some of the characters aren't well-developed, the dialogue is extremely well-written, & it isn't afraid to embrace its protagonist's sexual orientation (unlike Bohemian Rhapsody).

Julian Day's costume design is spectacular. The costumes are period-accurate, well-designed, & just like Elton John himself, wonderfully extravagant.

And the soundtrack is wonderful. So many of Elton John's brightest & best songs are on full display here, & they definitely drive the film forward.

Rocketman isn't perfect. It is somewhat afflicted by certain aspects that affect many biopics today, mainly music biopics. But it has ambition & competent filmmaking, something that many of them (like Bohemian Rhapsody) don't have. And that's a welcome surprise.

Rocketman was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Sunday, June 2, 2019. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 121 minutes, & it is rated R for language throughout, some drug use & sexual content.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Ma


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Godzilla: King of the Monsters


★★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aladdin


★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Booksmart


★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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