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Eye in the Sky Review

Watching Eye in the Sky will infuriate you to no end, no matter what political stance you hold going in. That comes largely from the fact it’s chiefly a political film, and, as shown by our good friend Mr. Trump, politics tend to upset people. It’s a complex, fascinating movie that’s hard to pin down. There are laugh out loud moments followed by ones of quiet suspense. Scenes that elicit empathy are followed by ones of righteous anger. Political Satire probably best describes the movie, but then again it doesn’t truly do the film’s themes or content justice. Eye in the Sky is a war movie with little action. It’s a horror movie with little bloodshed. It’s a comedy with little joy. At its core, Eye in the Sky is just a lot of people talking, all trying not to have to make a hard decision; it’s also incredibly compelling.

Eye in the Sky follows an inter-governmental terrorist capture operation in Kenya, and the many ways in which it goes awry.The outfit is led by the British Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) and about 8 other officers working with her in the war room. She though, of course, is not solely in charge of the operation. Powell answers directly to British Lieutenant General Frank Benson (played by the late great Alan Rickman). Benson throughout the film is surrounded by British officials and politicians, all of which have their own agendas and moral stances. Powel directly commands 2 main things: American Air Force pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul), who controls a drone from a shed in Las Vegas and Sergeant Mushtaq Saddiq (Babou Ceesay), commander of the actual capture unit in Kenya. There is also an American facial recognition specialist operating out of Hawaii, two key soldiers in Kenya, and a little girl selling bread in Kenya (but more on that in a moment).

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The situation complicates further when the terrorists move to a new location for their meeting, and further when they start equipping themselves with suicide vests, and even further when a little girl sells bread right next to the building, complicating the drone strike option. Through it all the characters argue about what the right thing to do is, and no one wanting to take responsibility for a drone strike.

The film is paced excellently and with precision. Every scene is masterfully executed, in no hurry to shock the audience or reveal what will happen. The film rather lets us, the audience, suffer through the indecision and ambiguity, squirming in our seats with anticipation. The suspense caliber is almost something out of a Hitchcock movie: in the execution, the patience, the payoff. It’s nice to see this sort of filmmaking nowadays, the type that requires an engaged and intelligent audience.

Helen Mirren is a commanding central lead, delivering each line with enough conviction, passion, and ethos to thoroughly ground the film. Without Mirren, the film could have perhaps strayed into the realm of unbelievable parody. She is a large reason the movie works and fits together so well. Aaron Paul delivers a lot of pathos, performing in one of the most human and emotional roles of his career. Alan Rickman reminds us just why we’ll miss him, playing a cold, logical, and dryly funny character, similar to others he has played. The rest of the cast was great too, even the little girl, but these three actors really stood out.

Eye in the Sky was a great movie, but it did have a few flaws. An obvious one is that some of the smaller characters acted a bit like caricatures, specifically the American characters. I’m not sure if this is a flaw of screenwriting or an intentional point the filmmakers were trying to make. Either way it is a noticeable blemish in the movie. Also, some of the point of view shots from the drones and other equipment were unbelievable to put it lightly. A robotic beetle flying shouldn’t have such stable footage streaming from it when going through wind. Of course, the filmmakers had to take a few liberties to deliver the movie they wanted to, and I don’t necessarily fault them for it, but this detail nagged at me throughout the whole film.

In the end, it’s their indecision that will frustrate you. You will probably side with one party at the beginning, as I did, and become increasingly angry at the characters with contradictory views, the ones that prevent progress. What Eye in the Sky does so well though, is not vilify or commend any characters. The situation is complicated and messed up; there seems not to be a single right answer about how to respond. In the end, every character tries to do the best thing that they can, but it’s not enough. This intercharacter struggle suggests many deep thematic topics. It suggests that war is terrible, evil, there is nothing right or good about it, but also it’s a necessary evil that cannot, unfortunately, be avoided. It’s a compelling piece of cinema, one that kept me on the edge of my seat, and overall I would rate it 9/10.

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Keanu

When Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele announced that they were ending their critically acclaimed Comedy Central show, Key & Peele, fans everywhere were understandably heartbroken. For those who watched it, Key & Peele was one of the funniest shows on television, continually delivering hilarious sketches every week: their chemistry undeniable and their comedic brilliance evident. Luckily for all us fans, as well as fans of comedy in general, Key and Peele star in Keanu, a hilarious fun film about two suburban cousins and the cutest cat anyone has ever seen.

Jordan Peele plays Rell, a regular suburban man whose girlfriend just broke up with him. Still reeling from the loss, his cousin Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) comes over to help him through his tough time. When Clarence arrives though, it seems like he won’t need to help Rell much; Rell has replaced his ex with a kitten who showed up at his door. He named the cat Keanu, and it is possibly the most adorable kitten that has ever existed. So when Keanu gets stolen by a gang, it’s up to Rell and Clarence to descend into the criminal underworld in order to retrieve Keanu.

Jokes are the most important part of any comedy, and Keanu delivers on this front. Not to say that every joke landed, there were a solid amount of chuckle-worthy lines and a few more jokes that just missed completely, but I laughed heartily many times during the movie. The plot provides a lot of room for jokes surrounding the “thuggery” Rell and Clarence try to feign around real gangsters, as both are as un-thug as possible. These jokes land most often out of them all, and this dynamic is one of the core elements in Keanu.

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Speaking of core elements, Key and Peele have some undeniably great chemistry. And how could they not, having worked on together for many years, all the way back to MADTV. Key is the more extroverted of the two and Peele is quieter and more understated in his role. For many duos, the louder character has a tendency to eclipse their quiet counterpart. Key did this a few times throughout Keanu, but a testament to their ability to work together, Peele stands out in several scenes on his own accord.

The film is written well, with the ratio of jokes to serious moments perfect. What’s great about this film is that it isn’t just a stupid movie to hunt down a kitten. It is that, but not just that. The character Rell has no companion, doesn’t have a job he’s emotionally invested in, doesn’t have a present family. To Rell, Keanu is his whole world, and about the only thing he finds meaning in. This deeper, emotional theme is really what roots the film in reality among all the George Michael jokes. Rell’s feeling of dependency on Keanu allows the film to go to some crazy ridiculous places, and it sure does go there, while delivering an emotional basis for the audience to connect with. I truly believe that this dynamic is one of the two secrets that elevate this film from all the other R rated comedies.

The other thing that propels Keanu past it’s competition is the kitten itself. Jordan Peele once said in an interview they at times had seven different cats all used for the role of Keanu. Regardless, the kitten (or cumulation of kittens) Keanu is, as I have mentioned, probably the cutest cat I have ever seen. This cuteness helps people forget the few jokes that don’t land and some of the few subpar elements of the script, like poor pacing. Instead of leaving the theater saying, “that was pretty funny,” people will probably leave saying “THIS part was hilarious, THIS part too, and that kitten was ADORABLE”.

A little bit of cuteness goes a long way, as the saying I just made up goes, and Keanu is a testament to this. With some hilarious moments, a grounded emotional story, and a kitten straight from heaven, you should enjoy Keanu a lot! I’d rate it 8/10

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10 Cloverfield Lane Review

I stand by the thought that JJ Abrams is a better producer than director, and here to support this thought has come 10 Cloverfield Lane, a wonderful little thriller produced by the man himself. Abrams’ skill comes from the marketing of films, as well as who he gets to work on them. The original Cloverfield was brilliant, the original trailer revealed nothing about the movie, not even it’s name. This intrigued audiences, and led to an 80 million dollar lifetime gross. This new Cloverfield movie (although it hardly deserves to be called that, for 10 Cloverfield Lane has little to nothing to do with the original movie) has had marketing just as ingenious. The first trailer came out mere months ago and the existence of the movie was kept secret until that moment, a feat that’s practically unheard of. JJ Abrams did a good job with the release of the movie, and an even better job with the movie itself.

10 Cloverfield Lane stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle. After leaving her fiance and getting in a car accident, Michelle wakes up in a concrete underground bunker. She’s not alone, for also in the bunker are Howard (creepily played by John Goodman) and Emmet (John Gallagher Jr.). Howard informs her that there has been an attack on the city and the air is poisonous. He saw her in her car, flipped over on the side of the road, and rescued her. As the film progresses, Michelle starts to doubt the story she was told, as well as Howard’s sanity, and how safe she truly is around him.

The film really shines when it comes to the acting. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Michelle wonderfully, who is a tough yet fragile character. She is compelling and intelligent, commanding the focus of the audience. Emmet is also played wonderfully by John Gallagher Jr. He is a sweet, charming southern guy who you can tell likes Michelle but wouldn’t dare try anything. The best performance of the film though has to go to John Goodman as Howard. I have never seen him act so creepy or so unsettling. The whole movie, you can tell that there is just something wrong with him, something wrong with his behaviour. Goodman is equal parts frightening and mysterious. With this allure, he steals every scene and is most definitely the standout of the film.

The director, Dan Trachtenberg, did an excellent job with the film. Every moment cranks up the tension, invoking feelings of anxiety and fear from the audience. This is his feature film debut and certainly delivers on all of his promise. Interestingly, he was chosen for the film mainly due to a Portal fan film he made and posted on youtube. Whatever the reason they hired, I’m glad they did because he just does such a great job. There are certainly worst first movies (David Fincher, after all, debuted with Alien 3).

The writing of the film was also very nice. The development of the film is interesting, for it originated as a spec script (meaning that it was independently made and sold, rather than a studio requesting for a specific script from a specific person) titled The Cellar. It was bought by Bad Robot (JJ Abrams Production company) and then given a few rewrites to conform a little better to the world of Cloverfield. One may think, among all those changes, that somewhere along the way the filmmakers would have lost the magic and essence of the script. Luckily it did the opposite. Most of what I read about the original script is less good than the final project.

10 Cloverfield Lane is a great movie. Not just fine or good, but great. I have a few complaints about the ending, which does not live up to the rest of the film, but for the most part 10 Cloverfield Lane delivers exactly what it needed to. I highly recommend seeing it even if you just go for John Goodman (understandable, he’s that good). 9/10

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Deadpool Review

I really, really want to love Deadpool. The shift in popular culture that it represents is unprecedented and exciting; it may usher in a new era of superhero movies. The general moviegoing public has been saddled with PG-13 superhero films for some time. We have been mainly content with this, evident by the amount of money each new Marvel or DC installment generates, but I at least have been a bit disappointed each time. It’s annoying to see Wolverine slice through everything in his movies except people. Superheros have been confined. Excitingly, because of Deadpool, this may all change.

The studios up until this point have been afraid to give up that prized teenage demographic in exchange for the freedom an R rating provides filmmakers. They have been restricting themselves, delivering potentially less quality films in favor of a larger market base. For the studio executives, this is an easy exchange. The movie industry is after all an industry, created to make money. But for someone like me, who is above all worried about the quality of the film, a filmmaker fully realizing their vision, the pieces of a movie all coming together to create a viewing experience that reaches people, well, it ticks me off, and has been for some time. Film is above all art, and should be made accordingly.

Deadpool is part of the Marvel Universe (although not Disney’s Marvel) and Deadpool is rated R. I have been long awaiting this day, the day when studios may start to take risks on exciting new ideas. And now it has. Finally, a major studio superhero film has been released, not restricted by the industry. The paradigm shift Deadpool represents is wonderful; if only the movie was a bit better.

Deadpool is an origin story. It recounts the tale of Wade Wilson, a mercenary who falls in love and gets cancer. Falling prey to rogue experimentation, Wade gains accelerated healing powers that cure his cancer, but cause his skin to become warped and gross. Donning the alter ego Deadpool, he goes after the man who made him that way, Francis, to fix him so he can again approach his fiancee Vanessa. Along the way, he gets help from his friend Weasel and gets visited by two X-Men: Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Colossus.

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Deadpool’s brand of comedy is furthered by the terrific work of the cast. Ryan Reynolds shines in the lead role, delivering one of the best performances of his career. He’s funny, charming, sarcastic, and everything you could ever want from a funny, charming, and sarcastic superhero. All of the supporting characters are great, especially T.J. Miller’s Weasel, who made me laugh about as much as Reynolds did. The X-Men are also great, providing a larger universe sort of feel to their scenes and serve to symbolize the conventional, family friendly superhero film Deadpool has decidedly distanced itself from.

The structure was interesting as it had to deal with a large problem, i.e. Deadpool himself. I liken Deadpool to John Belushi’s character in Animal House or the Minions from Despicable Me. Extremely funny in small doses, but spending the whole movie with them would be insufferable (and was insufferable for those that saw the Minions Movie).The writers understood this, and were confronted with a problem. How do you make a movie about a character without having to spend that much time with him? Their solution was the usage of flashbacks. The film begins with Deadpool sitting on a bridge, messing people up, but the majority of the movie is about Wade Wilson before he put on the red suit. This limits Deadpool’s involvement in the movie while still feeling like a movie all about him. It serves it’s purpose to not overexpose the character, but creates some clunky transitions, action, and just makes an awkward structure.

Deadpool aims to be funny, outrageously so, and undoubtedly succeeds. I consistently laughed throughout the entire runtime, and enjoyed the movie. It was when I thought about the movie later that I started to dislike it more and more with every passing thought. Every film, no matter how ridiculous, should conform to it’s own internal logic. The Jump Street movies, as an example, are consistently hilarious and ridiculous, but it works because all the action still conforms to the world of the movie. The problem with Deadpool is that it breaks it’s own rules often, just to make a joke. These logical inconsistencies in Deadpool have come back and really bothered me. Things like the inconsistency of his accelerated healing, the lack of logic in the villain’s plan, and a specific joke about an IKEA dresser infuriate me to no end.

In the end, Deadpool is funny with good action. If you can ignore logic in a film and just enjoy the jokes, you’re going to have a blast. However, if you are like me, and inconsistencies like this make you want to beat your head against a wall, you will like it less. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the viewing experience in the moment, it’s just afterward you’ll slowly descend into frustration.

I’m glad that Deadpool is making money however, despite my feelings towards it. The movie is on it’s way to becoming the highest grossing R rated movie of all time. This will make studios start to realize that money can be made with R ratings, and perhaps nudge them to make more of them. Right now, the next Wolverine movie is thought to be going that direction, which, as hinted at before, I have been wanting.

You may like Deadpool. You may love Deadpool. But in the end,  I would rate it 7/10.

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The Witch Review

Most horror movies are bad. It’s not necessarily a judgement on them, for at the very least I understand why they are this way, but it’s still a consistent problem. They are riddled with issues, and very few contemporary horror films succeed at even the most basic standards for quality cinema. Character development, engaging characters, a coherent plot, good acting, all these are thrown out the window in favor of a few cheap thrills. This ideology of thrilling the audience with jump scares and frightening visuals (which, let’s face it, most horror movies don’t even get that right) is ludicrous, as the singular focus cripples the entire film. Because of that thought process, the genre is riddled with terrible films, which really give a bad name to the grouping as a whole. The rare, quality horror films struggle to escape the ever looming presence of their genre.

Even with this background and struggle, every year it seems a new, exciting, and unique horror movie gets released, restoring faith in the genre. These annual delightful frights break the general horror movie trend of awfulness by being surprisingly good. 2013 brought us The Conjuring, 2014 gave us The Babadook, 2015 It Follows, and nice and early in the year 2016 gives us The Witch.

The Witch follows a deeply religious protestant family living in America sometime during the 17th century, specifically the teenage girl Thomason. They leave their community due to religious differences and move to create a brand new isolated farm at the edge of the woods. Unfortunately for the family, an evil Witch lives in the woods that decides to curse them, stealing their youngest child as the first part of the torment.

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Roger Eggers, the writer/director, spent years researching 17th century colonial America. The tagline, A New England Folktale, is really revealing about the story. He scoured over folktales of that era and, under their influence, created his own unique one, one that could easily have been told back in the day. It is less of an in your face horror movie and more of a dark, looming, and horrific story of a family.

The director does an excellent job in every aspect of the film. The cinematography and pacing create a brilliant sense of tension and creepiness. The dialogue, some taken directly from documents written during the time period of the film, is excellently written and revealing of characters. Eggers did his job splendidly, and we can expect a lot more from him in the future.

The acting is top notch, specifically the children actors. You never know how it’s going to pan out, hiring children so young, but they were really quite excellent. Haley Joel Osment from The Sixth Sense good. The whole cast spoke in an olden tongue, with thy and thou and hithers throughout the film. I believed that the actors actually spoke like that too, with all the ease and naturalness they brought to the dialogue. They really held nothing back.

As far as the film itself goes, as a horror movie, I’d say is excellent. With a tone that sort of combines The Shining with The Crucible, The Witch is consistently horrifying. It’s a slow burn horror, requiring attention to the characters and emotional investment in order for each scene to crank up the tension. A few incredibly disturbing visuals and a stunning finale seal the deal, so to speak, in the end.

When the movie finished, and I sat reflecting on the incredibly enjoyable film I just saw, I heard some of the other audience members behind me.

“Well that movie was terrible, what a waste of money.”

Another person farther back was yelling. “Refund.”

I was confused to say the least. Here I had watched one of the best horror films I’ve ever seen, and these other people hated it. Did we even watch the same movie? So that left me with this advice. Know that the Witch is a slow burn horror in which the characters talk a lot like a Shakespeare play. If you can’t handle the sort of mental capacity it takes to comprehend what they are saying, you will not like the movie. If you like your horror movies SAW-like, more like thrillers, and are expecting that from The Witch, you too will be disappointed. But if you go into the Witch expecting a creepy, often horrific film with great characters, a great plot, great cinematography, and patience, well you’re bound to enjoy it immensely. That’s why I give it 9/10.

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Anomalisa Review

Anomalisa began not as a film, but as a stage play. Written by the brilliant Charlie Kaufman, the play featured 3 actors, standing off to one side of the stage, acting mainly with their voices and with no movement.The staging was designed by Kaufman to spark the imagination of the crowd. Instead of showing the characters doing things, the setup made the audience visualize the wild and crazy story. Anomalisa was intended to be a fleeting thing, a special experience reserved only for those that attended the limited release.

Luckily, for the rest of us who didn’t have a chance to get out to the theatre, Kickstarter funded the film adaptation of Charlie Kaufman’s play, turning it into the stop motion Academy Award nominated beast it has become. The resulting product is amazing, unbelieveable, crazy, touching, and absolutely lovely. It’s world is perfectly realized, with believable characters and a relatable protagonist.

I would like to tell you the story of Anomalisa, what the inciting incident is and the setup and all of that, but I don’t think it’s wise. The trailer does a great job of hinting at the story without spoiling anything, and the official IMDB description reads “A man crippled by the mundanity of his life experiences something out of the ordinary.” As much as I am generally opposed to vague marketing and J.J. Abrams’ “Mystery Box”(the marketing was a big problem I had with Star Wars), I respect Anomalisa’s use of this strategy, and actually think an audience member will get the most out of the experience knowing the least amount possible about the story. You can find any number of synopsis’ on the internet, explaining what the setup of the film is, and if you’re so inclined, you can find one and read it. And even though you now spoiled the premise for yourself, viewing it is going to be a great experience despite the knowledge you possess. But unfortunately you lose the investigative aspect of the film. You can never gain back the adventure of finding out more and more about the story and world, and it is for that reason you will find no such description here.

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All that you need to know about Anomalisa at this moment is that it is a story from the mind of Charlie Kaufman, who created such unique and amazing works as Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Well known for his unique and hilarious writing style, he does not disappoint with his most recent endeavour.

The stop-motion animation is very fluid and beautiful, showcasing the ideas and messages pursued throughout the film perfectly. Duke Johnson was chosen to co-direct alongside Kaufman, and he was the perfect choice. Johnson is a true veteran of the stop motion world, having worked on many different projects in the field. I cannot emphasize how important and influential he was for Anomalisa to become a success. He and Kaufman made an affecting stylistic film that stays true to the story’s original vision.

The style really elevates the film creating a consistently wonderful tone throughout. Kaufman was worried that in its transfer to screen, Anomalisa would lose the magical, imaginative aspect it had developed in its theatrical run, but the magic is still very much alive through the puppets, and sets.

Anomalisa is an amazing film. I cannot express enough the emotions that are elicited through this movie. It’s touching, amazing, beautiful, funny, sad, and melancholy. It deserved it’s Best Animation Nomination, and I believe it deserves to win Best Animated Picture (even though Inside Out is totally going to win. Inside Out wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t nearly as good as this was). You are doing a disservice to yourself if you miss out on this one. 9/10

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13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi Review

There is not a more hated yet more profitable director than Michael Bay. Year after year, one hears endless bashing on his style, the numerous weaknesses of his plots, his possibly misogynistic viewpoints, and, of course, his endless explosions that litter every one of his films among other problems with his films. And all of the disdain for Baydem (Bay, Mayhem, combined) is undoubtable well founded. Yet, through all that hate, Bay’s films continue, every year, to make profit after profit. That’s why he is continually hired. Most people don’t want high concept things in the cinema, they don’t really want to think, or really to feel. Most people want to sit back, stop thinking for a while, and enjoy a cool looking movie (that’s my theory anyway). Well, if you want a cool movie, Bay is the best around, and delivers more of what we’ve come to expect in 13 Hours.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is the most recent film by this master of the mindless Michael Bay, and the title is rather self-explanatory. It follows the real life soldiers, 6 men stationed at a secret base in Benghazi, fending off a terrorist attack provoked by a traveling senator.

Despite Bay (or actually perhaps aided by Bay but I’ll get to that in a bit), the story is interesting. It’s the perfect subject for a biographical movie to be made of, because most people have heard about the Benghazi affair if not entirely aware of what happened. The events are utterly fascinating and it really retains the audience in the story.

The acting is serviceable. There is nothing particularly special, but the actors do the best with what they have. Most characters are incredibly one dimensional, even John Krazinski’s Jack as the main character doesn’t have much depth. But, there are no noticeably bad performances, so I really can’t complain.

The action scenes are consistently and intensely annoying. Last year, the Revenant and Mad Max Fury Road both proved that it is indeed possible to make a good fight sequence and action sequence without a shaky camera, which makes the level of camera shake in this movie almost unbearable, particularly a car chase near the beginning (the whole movie of Mad Max was a car chase but it didn’t need to be unnecessarily confusing).

The writing is clunky at the best of times. The characters are more caricatures than characters, which did not give the actors any favors. It tells the story, but it could have been way more engaging, way more heartfelt, and just better all around.

The most fascinating thing about 13 Hours though is Bay himself, who seems like he is trying his hardest to make a good movie. It’s as if all of the bad word of mouth has finally got to him, and the film is his way of proving he is a good director. It is a noticeable effort, albeit on in vain. In the end, he can’t resist himself, numerous fireworks-like-explosions litter the screen, awkward humor that he is known so well for pokes through in a couple of scenes, and his love of America, specifically the American Flag, is well documented. But at least he’s trying.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is a surprisingly passable film, featuring a Michael Bay who is trying. The worst thing I can say about it is that it is entirely forgettable, for after seeing it last week I am already having trouble remembering some things. I wouldn’t recommend paying money to see it, but I can’t blame you if you do. 6/10

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