Monday, January 28, 2019


★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Many crime dramas have tried to be more subversive lately, with mixed results. While films such as Drive & Good Time have reinvented the crime genre, other films such as Gotti & White Boy Rick have failed in their attempts.

Destroyer, while showing some promise, ultimately fails to do anything fresh or intriguing. The film follows Erin Bell (played by Nicole Kidman), a detective for the Los Angeles Police Department. The years have taken a toll on Erin, as she is an alcoholic that is also overworked, which has led to a rift in the relationships between her, her ex-husband Ethan (played by Scoot & her daughter Shelby (played by Jade Pettyjohn).

One day, Erin comes across a John Doe murder, & tells the responding officers that she knows who the victim is, but doesn't tell them. When she returns to the police station, Erin finds an envelope with a $100 bill stained from a dye pack. After tracing it back, she realizes that the $100 bill is from a bank robbery committed when she was undercover infiltrating a gang. Erin believes that this is proof that the leader of the gang, Silas (played by Toby Kebbell) has returned.

Flashbacks reveal that Erin & her former partner Chris (played by Sebastian Stan) were both infiltrating the gang, eventually starting a romantic relationship & planning to take some of the robbery money for themselves.

In the present, Erin is led to DiFranco (played by Bradley Whitford), a lawyer laundering money from the original robbery. After dealing with him, she finds Silas' girlfriend, Petra (played by Tatiana Maslany). Nothing will stop Erin in her mission to find Silas.

The cast is amazing. Nicole Kidman is unrecognizable, & has so much intense command in her performance. Sebastian Stan & Tatiana Maslany are the most notable of the supporting performances, but this is definitely Kidman's film.

Karyn Kusama's direction is mediocre. Kusama knows how to build tension, but she rarely delivers on actually reaching a powerful climactic moment.

And the screenplay by Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi is a mess. The plot is way too confusing, the characters aren't fully realized, & some of the dialogue is badly written.

This is a major disappointment. Although the cast is excellent, especially Kidman, that's just about the only positive thing in this film.

Destroyer was seen by me at the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 in Troy, MI on Friday, January 18, 2019. It is currently in 2 theaters in the Detroit area: the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 in Troy, MI; & the Emagine Royal Oak in Royal Oak, MI. Its runtime is 121 minutes, & it is rated R for language throughout, violence, some sexual content & brief drug use.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Ben Is Back

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

The opioid crisis has only continued to get worse in America. From the inner-city to the suburbs to the rural farmlands, it has impacted us all.

Ben Is Back is one of the most gripping & emotional films in recent memory to tackle the opioid crisis. The film follows Holly Burns (played by Julia Roberts), a well-to-do mother in New York. She is lovingly married to her second husband Neal Beeby (played by Courtney B. Vance), & they have two young kids together: Lacey (played by Mia Fowler) & Liam (played by Jakari Fraser), along with two kids from Holly's first marriage: Ivy (played by Kathryn Newton) & Ben (played by Lucas Hedges).

On Christmas Eve, Holly & the kids drive home to discover Ben in the driveway. Ben has been in rehab for a few months for his drug addiction, & he is not supposed to be home yet. However, Ben's sponsor suggested that he go home for Christmas. Due to his rehab stint, Ben has been clean for 77 days. Although Holly, Liam & Lacey are happy to see him home, Ivy & Neal are more wary about his reappearance. Holly tells him that he can stay for 24 hours while not leaving her sight, then he must go back to rehab, to which Ben agrees.

While shopping for clothes for the Christmas Eve church service, Ben sees someone from his past who looks at him in a manner that shows that he is coming for Ben. This sets the stage for a 24 hours the family will never forget.

The cast is phenomenal. Julia Roberts gives one of her best performances in recent memory. She has so much maternal instinct & tenacity in her performance that it's unlike any other performance of a mother in recent memory. Lucas Hedges gives the best performance of his career, portraying a young drug addict so realistically. And the rest of the cast, especially Newton & Vance, provide great supporting performances.

Peter Hedges' direction is excellent. Hedges directs the film with a quiet, subdued touch for the first half, then slowly builds the tension in the second half, all while never making the material feel preachy or didactic.

Peter Hedges' screenplay is amazing. The plot feels incredibly fresh, the characters feel like regular people, & the dialogue is astoundingly human.

Stuart Dryburgh's cinematography is terrific. The camerawork is very subdued, letting the events unfold before our eyes, & the color palette is dominated by blues & grays, adding to the bleak tone of the film.

And Dickon Hinchcliffe's score is impeccable. The score is driven by mournful violins, adding to the somber tone of the film.

This is one of the best films of 2018. It's a hard watch, but its talented cast, subdued direction & realistic writing is well worth the emotional rollercoaster.

Ben Is Back was seen by me at the Emagine Novi in Novi, MI on Saturday, January 12, 2019. It is currently in 10 theaters in the Detroit area, including the AMC Forum 30 in Sterling Heights, MI; the AMC Fairlane 21 in Dearborn, MI; the MJR Brighton Towne Square Cinema 20 in Brighton, MI; & the AMC Star Great Lakes 25 in Auburn Hills, MI. Its runtime is 103 minutes, & it is rated R for language throughout & some drug use.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

On the Basis of Sex

★★★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an American icon. She has always stood up for those who have been marginalized, being a champion for women's rights for many decades. And at 85, she continues to inspire.

On the Basis of Sex, while not fully living up to its subject, is a good biopic. Set between the 1950s & 1970s, the film follows Ruth Bader Ginsburg (played by Felicity Jones), a first-year student at Harvard Law School. Ruth is married to Martin Ginsburg (played by Armie Hammer), a second-year student at Harvard Law School. When Martin is diagnosed with testicular cancer, Ruth not only continues her classes, but goes to Martin's classes as well, while taking care of their daughter Jane (played by Cailee Spaeny).

When Martin gets a job at a law firm in New York, Ruth requests to finish her Harvard law degree at Columbia University; however, Dean Erwin Griswold (played by Sam Waterston) declines her request. She eventually transfers to Columbia & receives her law degree, finishing at the top of her class, but no law firm will hire her since she is a woman. As a result, she finds herself teaching The Law & Sex Discrimination at Rutgers University.

In 1970, Martin tells Ruth of a tax case in Denver: Charles Moritz (played by Chris Mulkey), a single man, was denied a tax deduction for his hiring of a nurse to take care of his invalid mother. The law says that only women, widowers, & men whose wives are institutionalized or incapacitated qualify for the tax deduction. Ruth sees this as a challenge to the age-old stereotype that men work while women are the caregivers. If Ruth sets a precedent with the case, it can be used in cases of discrimination against women. With the help of Martin, Jane, ACLU advisor Mel Wulf (played by Justin Theroux) & activist Dorothy Kenyon (played by Kathy Bates), Ruth might just be able to win this case.

The cast is amazing. Felicity Jones is magnificent as Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Armie Hammer is terrific. And Cailee Spaeny is the standout of the talented supporting cast.

Mimi Leder's direction is great. Although there are some moments that executed in a fashion that is too sentimental, Leder is able to get the message across in a palatable, crowd-pleasing manner.

And Daniel Steipleman's screenplay is very good. Although the plot is predictable & the characters outside of Ruth, Martin & Jane are a bit flat, the dialogue is the saving grace.

This is a solid film. Although it doesn't quite end up being as extraordinary as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it hits much more than it misses.

On the Basis of Sex was seen by me at The Maple Theater in Bloomfield Township, MI on Saturday, January 5, 2019. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 120 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for some language & suggestive content.

Die Hard

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Until a short while ago, I had never seen Die Hard. Yes, I know: shocking. I'm a film person, yet I haven't seen what is widely considered to be the best action film of all time, & also the best Christmas film of all time.

Well, I'm happy to report that both of those things about Die Hard are true. Based on the 1979 novel Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp, the film follows John McClane (played by Bruce Willis), a detective with the New York Police Department. McClane has arrived in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve to win back his wife, Holly (played by Bonnie Bedelia), who has moved to Los Angeles with their children, Lucy (played by Taylor Fry) & John Jr. (played by Noah Land), to work for the Nakatomi Corporation. He plans to get her back at the Nakatomi Christmas party on the 30th floor of Nakatomi Plaza.

However, these plans are quickly thwarted when German terrorist leader Hans Gruber (played by Alan Rickman) & his 12 henchmen: Karl (played by Alexander Godunov); Theo (played by Clarence Gilyard); Tony (played by Andreas Wisniewski); Franco (played by Bruno Doyon); Alexander (played by Joey Plewa); Marco (played by Lorenzo Caccialanza); Kristoff (played by Gerard Bonn); Eddie (played by Dennis Hayden); Uli (played by Al Leong); Heinrich (played by Gary Roberts); Fritz (played by Hans Buhringer); & James (played by Wilhelm von Homburg) come for $640 million in bearer bonds, taking the partygoers hostage. Their terrorist acts are merely a distraction from the heist. The only people in the building who are not held hostage are McClane & his young limo driver Argyle (played by De'voreaux White), who is trapped in the garage, oblivious to what is happening.

With the help of Sgt. Al Powell (played by Reginald VelJohnson), McClane tries to fight off all 13 terrorists. The terrorists & many of the hostages doubt his ability to fight them off. But they've never met anyone like John McClane.

The cast is amazing. Bruce Willis was born to play this role. He has the perfect amount of charisma & coolness for the role. Alan Rickman, in his first role, is devilishly menacing. And Reginald VelJohnson is terrific in his small role.

John McTiernan's direction is excellent. McTiernan delivers on the tension, but never quits making this an absolutely fun ride.

The screenplay by Jeb Stuart & Steven E. de Souza is brilliant. The plot is thoroughly intriguing, the characters are fleshed-out, & the dialogue is perfect.

The editing by Frank J. Urioste & John F. Link is superb. The film is very fast-paced, making the runtime feel like a breeze.

The sound design is impeccable. From the continuous gunshots to the various explosions, the sounds are loud & in-your-face.

And the visual effects are stunning. The effects, especially the explosions, are very well-done, feeling completely timeless.

This is one of my new favorite films. It is wildly fun, gleefully violent, & incredibly iconic. Yippie-ki-yay, indeed.

Die Hard was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Wednesday, January 2, 2019. It is on Ultra HD Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD & Digital HD. Its runtime is 132 minutes, & it is rated R.