Monday, April 23, 2018

You Were Never Really Here


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Lynne Ramsay is one of the most uncompromising voices in cinema today. With her filmography, especially her 2011 psychological horror-thriller We Need to Talk about Kevin, Ramsay has proven her status as a director with the ability to disturb & engage narratively, visually, & through sound design, while telling a story so well with minimal dialogue & exposition.

You Were Never Really Here further shows her power as a director, & ends up making me more tense than any other film I've ever seen. Based on the 2013 novella of the same name by Jonathan Ames, the film follows Joe (played by Joaquin Phoenix), a veteran & ex-FBI agent. Haunted by memories of his past in the military & as an FBI agent, along with his abusive childhood, & becoming suicidal as a result of PTSD, Joe spends his days caring for his mother (played by Judith Roberts), rescuing girls from sex trafficking, or waiting for a new rescue operation from his handler, John McCleary (played by John McCleary) or their middleman, Angel (played by Frank Pando).

One day, Joe receives a new job from McCleary. New York State Senator Albert Votto (played by Alex Manette), a friend of & campaigner for Governor Williams (played by Alessandro Nivola), has offered a large amount of money to rescue his daughter, Nina (played by Ekaterina Samsonov), who has been abducted. He received a tip through a text with an address: 235 East 81st Street. Votto has asked Joe to rescue Nina because of his reputation for brutality, using a hammer for his jobs. Joe takes the job. But Joe eventually finds himself in a web of lies & corruption as he goes further into the rescue operation.

The cast is superb. Joaquin Phoenix easily gives the best performance of a career, in one of the best performances of the century, cementing himself as one of the finest actors in the history of cinema. Phoenix brings so much raw emotion, both external & internal, to the performance, & I truly believe that there won't be a better performance this year. He won the Best Actor Award at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival for his performance, & he definitely deserves to win the Oscar for Best Actor, if he gets nominated.

Ekaterina Samsonov is a complete revelation. Samsonov, whose only other role of note was a minor role in 2017's Wonderstruck, also does a tremendous job here. Like Phoenix's character, Samsonov's character is forced to grow up quickly because of her emotional & psychological trauma. And even without much dialogue, Samsonov portrays it so excellently.

Lynne Ramsay's direction is phenomenal. Ramsay is at her best here, shocking us & disturbing us with such sheer brutality at every second, never allowing us to breathe until the credits roll. Furthermore, she's more interested in the psyche of Phoenix's character rather than the acts he commits, unlike most thriller directors, showing his acts from a distance (although when violence is shown in the film, it is shocking). If this doesn't cement Ramsay as one of the best directors in film today in the eyes of cinephiles, then I don't know what will. But it has for me.

Lynne Ramsay's screenplay is brilliant. Like her other adaptations of novels, Ramsay doesn't go for sticking to the script, instead focusing more on telling the story through visuals & sound. But her storytelling is phenomenal, as she is able to tell so much with so little. It's no surprise she won Best Screenplay at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival for this.

Thomas Townend's cinematography is stellar. Townend's camerawork is buoyed by tracking shots, a dark color palette, & some truly excellent lighting.

Joe Bini's editing is some of the best in years. Bini uses so many quick cuts that feel so visceral, like massive gut-punches. Also, the pacing is so amazing, making the film's 89-minute runtime go by so fast, & heightening the tension every second. It would be a crime if he doesn't at least get an Oscar nomination for Best Film Editing.

The sound design is incredible. The loud sounds of Joe's day-to-day life, like the trains rustling by on the tracks, & the hustle & bustle of the New York traffic, mirror Joe's internal struggles. And this is one of the biggest standouts in a film full of standout pieces.

And Jonny Greenwood's score is the best of his career. Greenwood, known for his role as the lead guitarist for Radiohead, & a recent Oscar nominee for his beautiful work on Phantom Thread, has managed to top himself with every score he's ever done. Powered by a mix of ambient synths, powerful violins, & a cacophonous guitar, Greenwood not only adds to the tense atmosphere of the film, but also mirrors Joe's internal struggles, going hand-in-hand with the sound design.

This is not only the best film of the year so far, but one of the best films of the past 20 years. Powered by phenomenal performances from Joaquin Phoenix & Ekaterina Samsonov, stellar direction from Lynne Ramsay, brilliant editing, impeccable sound design & one of the best scores ever from Jonny Greenwood, this is a true masterpiece in every sense of the word, ranking with some of the best neo-noir psychological thrillers ever, such as Taxi DriverDrive Zodiac. May this film win all the awards it is sure to receive.

You Were Never Really Here was seen by me at the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI on Friday, April 20, 2018. It is currently showing in 1 theater in the Detroit area: the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI; it will expand to more theaters starting Friday, April 27, 2018. Its runtime is 89 minutes, & it is rated R for strong violence, disturbing & grisly images, language, & brief nudity.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Blockers


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Many comedies focus way too much on dumb, scatological humor, with no room for any heart or smart comedy at all.

Thankfully, Blockers is a godsend for the genre; along with an onslaught of hilarity, it has so much heart in it. The film follows Lisa (played by Leslie Mann), the single mother of high-school senior Julie (played by Kathryn Newton). Since Julie started kindergarten, she has been friends with Kayla (played by Geraldine Viswanathan) & Sam (played by Gideon Adlon). As a result of this, Lisa has befriended Kayla's emotional father, Mitchell (played by John Cena) & Sam's absent father, Hunter (played by Ike Barinholtz).

On the day of prom, Julie & Kayla plan to lose their virginity on prom night. Sam, a closeted lesbian, is reluctant at first, but then joins in on the pact. After Julie, Kayla & Sam leave for prom, Lisa notices that Julie left her laptop on the iMessage page. Through that, Lisa sees Julie, Kayla & Sam's groupchat. Mitchell & Hunter also snoop in on the groupchat. They see a barrage of emojis alluding to the sex pact, but the parents, dumbfounded by the emojis, don't understand them. Eventually, after piecing some stuff together, they realize their daughters have created a sex pact. Lisa, Mitchell & Hunter decide to stop their daughters from losing their virginity, & along the way, they must eventually realize some stuff about their daughters & their coming-of-age, & to let them leave the nest.

The cast is amazing. Leslie Mann further proves she is one of the funniest actresses in film today. John Cena shows he's as great at comedy as he is at wrestling. And Ike Barinholtz is quietly cementing himself as a great comedic actor after his time on MADtv.

Kay Cannon's direction is excellent. Cannon, in her directorial debut, brings a lot of heart to the film, which is a rare feat in comedy. She does this without being oversentimental, like some comedies that tried to add heart but failed have done.

And the screenplay by Brian Kehoe, Jim Kehoe, Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossenberg & Eben Russell is stellar. Along with an interesting story, the dialogue is so gut-bustingly hilarious.

This is one of the best comedies in recent memory. Along with some great comedic performances, this film has a lot of heart & a lot of humor.

Blockers was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Friday, April 6, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 102 minutes, & it is rated R for crude & sexual content, & language throughout, drug content, teen partying, & some graphic nudity.

Chappaquiddick


★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Anyone born in or before 1964 remembers the Chappaquiddick incident. For those who don't know, it was a car accident on July 18, 1969 involving U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy & former campaign advisor Mary Jo Kopechne, where Ted Kennedy accidentally drove his car off of Dike Bridge on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts. Kennedy escaped, leaving Kopechne to drown.

Chappaquiddick, although it does have some script problems, & doesn't answer all of our questions about the incident, is a well-crafted drama. Set in July 1969, the film follows Ted Kennedy (played by Jason Clarke), the young, idealistic U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. Everyone, from his father, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. (played by Bruce Dern) & his cousin, Joe Gargan (played by Ed Helms), to his friend, U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Paul Markham (played by Jim Gaffigan), are grooming him for a presidential run in 1972, following in the footsteps of his brothers, John & Robert.

On July 18, 1969, a party is held on Chappaquiddick Island, celebrating the reunion of the Boiler Room Girls, who helped with Robert Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign, which he most likely would've won if it weren't for his assassination on June 5, 1968. The group includes Rachel Schiff (played by Olivia Thirlby) & Mary Jo Kopechne (played by Kate Mara). Gargan & Markham are also at the party. Kopechne leaves the party with Ted in his 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont 88.

Noticed by a cop, Ted speeds down a road, & turns on to the one-way Dike Bridge. Seconds after he gets on the bridge, Ted drives his car into the water. Ted somehow escapes, & leaves Mary Jo to drown. Ted doesn't report the incident until the next morning; however, the car had been recovered just minutes before hand.

After the incident, Ted is surrounded by the press & the possibility of jail time. With a large group of close confidants, including Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (played by Clancy Brown) coaching him on what to do in the aftermath of the incident, Ted wonders if he should resign from the Senate, & realizes what damage has been done to his legacy.

The cast is excellent. Helms, Mara, Dern & Gaffigan provide some great supporting roles. But this film belongs to Jason Clarke & his perfectly subdued portrayal of Ted Kennedy.

John Curran's direction is stellar. Curran directs with a great amount of flourish reminiscent of many classic political thrillers.

And the screenplay by Taylor Allen & Andrew Logan is good. The story is told very well, & the dialogue is very good, but some characters aren't fleshed out very well.

This is an imperfect but very good film. Although the screenplay isn't the best, the film is enlivened by a terrific performance from Jason Clarke.

Chappaquiddick was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Friday, April 6, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 106 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for thematic material, disturbing images, some strong language, & historical smoking.

A Quiet Place


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Most horror films in recent memory (well, mainly over the past 20 years) are the antithesis of what they should be: scary. With the overuse of jump scares for the sake of jump scares, along with terrible plotting & horrendous acting, horror films try to please their target audience, at the expense of what makes horror films truly great.

Last year, we had 3 great horror films that used jump scares & other types of scares really well, along with some excellent plotting & great acting (along with some other great technical achievements): Get Out, It Comes at Night, & It. Each of these films are some of the best horror films of the century so far.

We can now add A Quiet Place to this list. Along with terrifying the hell out of me, it is a well-crafted & excellently acted film. Set in 2020, the film follows Evelyn (played by Emily Blunt) & Lee (played by John Krasinski) Abbott, parents of Regan (played by Millicent Simmonds), who is deaf; Marcus (played by Noah Jupe); & Beau (played by Cade Woodward). Over the past few months, most of the human population had been wiped out by blind creatures with supersensitive hearing. The only way to survive is to stay absolutely silent. In order to communicate, the Abbotts use ASL.

Evelyn is very far along in her pregnancy. Lee spends a lot of time trying to fix Regan's cochlear implant, but to no avail. One night, Evelyn finds herself alone in the house... just as she goes into labor. As a creature gets closer, Evelyn tries to alert everyone to come back & help fend off the creature. But this will be the fight of their lives.

The cast is fantastic. Emily Blunt & John Krasinski (a married couple in real life) have such a terrific amount of chemistry. Blunt is perfect, with every ounce of her performance having an increased amount of realistic maternal instinct. Krasinski is perfect, always determined to fight for his family no matter the cost. But Millicent Simmonds, just like in 2017's Wonderstruck, steals the show. Just like her character, Simmonds is deaf. Simmonds is able to give such a beautiful performance without a single word of spoken dialogue.

John Krasinski's direction is spectacular. Like Jordan Peele last year with Get Out, Krasinski makes the jump from comedy to horror with a directorial debut that, like Peele, is an absolute revelation. Krasinski allows for an overwhelming sense of dread & terror (unlike many horror films, which rely on nothing but half-baked jump scares), & when he does use jump scares, he uses them very well.

The screenplay by Bryan Woods, Scott Beck & John Krasinski is brilliant. There are only about 10-15 minutes worth of spoken dialogue in the film, with the rest being either silent or told through ASL. The story is so intriguing, unlike many horror films, & the film tells the story so excellently without much spoken dialogue, a rare feat in modern cinema.

Christopher Tellefsen's editing is excellent. The film is tightly paced (at a brisk 90-minute runtime), & there isn't an overuse of half-baked flashy editing, unlike many horror films.

And the sound design is phenomenal. The sounds of the creatures are so terrifying, reminiscent of many classic horror creatures. The silence in the film is also very essential, adding to the overwhelming terror.

This is one of the best films of the year, & one of the most terrifying I've ever seen. This is unlike many horror films out there. Along with being excellently acted & well-crafted, the dread is so powerful.

A Quiet Place was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Thursday, April 5, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 90 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for terror & some bloody images.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Isle of Dogs


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Wes Anderson is truly one of the most original voices in the history of cinema. With every film he has made, his trademark quirky storytelling & quintessential visual style have been welcome additions to cinema. He definitely is a modern-day auteur.

So, of course Isle of Dogs would be one of my most anticipated films of 2018. And it definitely surpassed those high expectations for it. It's definitely one of Wes Anderson's best films. Set in Japan 20 years from now, the film follows 5 dogs: Chief (voiced by Bryan Cranston); Rex (voiced by Edward Norton); Duke (voiced by Jeff Goldblum); King (voiced by Bob Balaban); & Boss (voiced by Bill Murray). (Note: all of the dogs speak in English. The Japanese characters speak in unsubtitled Japanese, which is translated through either Interpreter Nelson (voiced by Frances McDormand) or a Simul-Translate Machine (voiced by Frank Wood). There is also a semi-frequent Narrator (voiced by Courtney B. Vance).). They, along with all the other dogs from (fictional) Megasaki City, have been forcefully relocated to Trash Island through a decree issued by Mayor Kobayashi (voiced by Kunichi Nomura) in order to prevent the transfer of dog flu & snout fever to the populace, despite news from Professor Watanabe (voiced by Akira Ito) & Assistant Scientist Yoko Ono (voiced by Yoko Ono) that both a cure for dog flu & a treatment for snout fever are almost ready.

Six months after the decree, Atari Kobayashi (voiced by Koyu Rankin), the 12-year-old orphaned nephew & ward of Mayor Kobayashi, lands on Trash Island in search of his former dog, Spots (voiced by Liev Schreiber), who was the first dog sent to Trash Island. Rex, King, Duke & Boss decide to help Atari find Spots; however, Chief refuses, as he does not like to come in contact with humans, as he was a former stray. However, with some persuading from former show dog Nutmeg (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), Chief agrees to help find Spots. Together, they set off on a journey through Trash Island to find Spots, leading them to sage dogs Jupiter (voiced by F. Murray Abraham) & Oracle (voiced by Tilda Swinton), who tell them of a possible "cannibal" tribe of dogs on the other end of the island led by Gondo (voiced by Harvey Keitel) & Scrap (voiced by Fisher Stevens). And this all attracts the attention of American foreign exchange student Tracy Walker (voiced by Greta Gerwig), who believes something more sinister may be occuring.

The cast is amazing. Bryan Cranston easily gives his best film performance, with such heart & humor. Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban & Bill Murray provide some great support voices to Cranston. Koyu Rankin also does some stellar voice work. And it's always a delight to see (or hear) Greta Gerwig in a film.

Wes Anderson's direction is spectacular. All of his trademarks are on full display: whip pans, symmetrical designs, the use of the Futura font, etc. And they are all used excellently. But if you're a Wes Anderson fan, you would already guess that they would.

The screenplay by Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman & Kunichi Nomura is brilliant. The story is hilarious & heartwarming, & the terrific deadpan humor never misses a beat.

Alexandre Desplat's score is fantastic. The score is powered by an array of drums, chimes, & a baritone chorus, making for a quirky & haunting listening experience.

And the animation is absolutely wondrous. Stop-motion animation has never been used better than it has here, & it adds to the quirky atmosphere of the film.

This is one of the best animated films I've ever seen. It has some of the best voice work ever, & it's Wes Anderson at his quirkiest. What more could you ask from him?

Isle of Dogs was seen by me at the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 in Troy, MI on Thursday, April 5, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 101 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for thematic elements & some violent images.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Flower


★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

The rebellious teenager character has been a tired trope for many years in film. Although some recent films have added a fresh feel to the character (like Lady Bird), most have failed.

Flower could've been a fresh addition, but it definitely wasn't. The film follows Erica Vandross (played by Zoey Deutch), a rebellious 17-year-old in the Los Angeles suburbs. In order to bail her father out of jail, Erica has resorted to prostitution in order to gain $15,000. Along with prostituting the men, her friends, Kala (played by Dylan Gelula) & Claudine (played by Maya Gashet), film these encounters, & use them to blackmail the men that Erica is prostituting herself towards.

Her mother, Laurie (played by Kathryn Hahn), is about to get married to her recent boyfriend, Bob (played by Tim Heidecker). Erica, Laurie & Bob eventually pick up Bob's son, Luke (played by Joey Morgan) from rehab, which he was in due to his pill addiction. After some awkward moments at first, Erica & Joey form a serviceable stepsibling relationship.

At the bowling alley, Erica, Kala & Claudine notice an older guy bowling with his buddies. The man is Will (played by Adam Scott). When Erica goes with Luke, Luke notices Will, & tells her that Will was a former teacher of his who molested him. Shocked by this, Erica, Luke & her friends decide to stalk him & take justice for his molestation. But they end up getting deeper into this than they could've ever imagined.

The cast is decent. Zoey Deutch shows that she is one of the best young actresses at the moment. Joey Morgan also gives a great performance. However, Kathryn Hahn is absolutely annoying, & Adam Scott feels wasted here.

Max Winkler's direction is underwhelming. Winkler decides to play the film's content straight, instead of capitalizing on some of the comedic undertones of the film.

The screenplay by Max Winkler, Alex McAulay & Matt Spicer is a disaster. The dialogue is terrible, & the plot becomes somewhat disgusting towards the end, which may have worked if said content had been played as more darkly comedic than it ended up being portrayed.

And Joseph Stephens' score is excellent. The score is very ambient in tone, powered by synth music, & is absolutely gorgeous & a joy to listen to.

This is one of the more disappointing films of the year. Although Deutch & Morgan are great, & the score is fantastic, everything else is a mess.

Flower was seen by me at the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI on Saturday, March 31, 2018. It is no longer in theaters in the Detroit area. Its runtime is 90 minutes, & it is rated R for crude sexual content & language throughout, graphic nude drawings, some drug content, & a brief violent image.

The Leisure Seeker


★½ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Great acting can only go so far in a film. Even if you had some of the greatest actors all in one film, even they might not be able to save the film without some serviceable direction & at least decent screenwriting, 

And that hasn't been more evident in a long time than it is in The Leisure Seeker, a well-acted, but very disappointing comedy-drama. Based on the 2009 novel of the same name by Michael Zadoorian, & set in August 2016, the film follows Ella (played by Helen Mirren) & John (played by Donald Sutherland) Spencer, a Massachusetts couple in their 70s. Both suffer from different illnesses; Ella suffers from an unspecified type of cancer, while John, a former literary scholar & professor, suffers from Alzheimer's disease.

Looking for one last time together before their illnesses ravage them even more, Ella & John take a trip from the suburb of Beverly, Massachusetts to Ernest Hemingway's house in the Florida Keys in their 1978 Winnebago they call The Leisure Seeker. They do this without alerting their adult children, Jane (played by Janel Moloney) & Will (played by Christian McKay), or their neighbor, Lillian (played by Dana Ivey).

On the way, they encounter Clinton rallies, Trump rallies, big families, & some great burgers. But as their road trip gets closer to its destination, & as their illnesses get even worse, secrets start to arise to the surface, along with some delusions about an old friend, Dan Coleman (played by Dick Gregory).

The cast is great. Mirren & Sutherland, some of film's finest actors, are both excellent here. However, the supporting cast, aren't as great, but their characters weren't that well-developed.

Paolo Virzì's direction is mediocre. Virzi tries to juggle some jarring tonal shifts & balance comedy & drama, but fails miserably. He tries his hardest, but it was nowhere near where it should've been.

And the screenplay by Paolo Virzì, Francesca Archibugi, Francesco Piccolo & Stephen Amidon is terrible. The story is very saccharine & very predictable, & doesn't do a good job of adapting from the novel. Also, the film tries to add some political context, which doesn't affect the plot at all.

This is a very disappointing film. Although Mirren & Sutherland are excellent, nothing else about this film is excellent. This film should've been so much better.

The Leisure Seeker was seen by me at The Maple Theater in Bloomfield Hills, MI on Friday, March 30, 2018. It is currently in 6 theaters in the Detroit area, including the AMC Forum 30 in Sterling Heights, MI, the AMC Star Great Lakes 25 in Auburn Hills, MI, the Emagine Novi in Novi, MI, & the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, MI. Its runtime is 113 minutes, & it is rated R for some sexual material.