Reviews of “A Beautiful Planet” and “Keanu”

A Beautiful Planet

Images of Earth taken from the International Space Station are the stars of “A Beautiful Planet,” a 3D film shot with IMAX cameras. Narrated by Jennifer Lawrence, “A Beautiful Planet” highlights the sights of majestic beauty and natural awe visible from 250 miles in orbit including the dancing lights of the auroras, the shining of manmade lights from major cities at night and the wonders of seeing mountain ranges like the Himalayas and the twisting course of rivers such as the Nile while zooming overhead at 17,000 miles per hour. Adding to the beauty of nature is the wonder of seeing it in IMAX 3D. The viewer can see how the clouds are floating above the landscapes and the snowcapped mountains tower over the valleys below. Films such as this one really show off the capabilities of the IMAX 3D format.

We also get a look inside the space station as the film was shot by the astronauts themselves. Life in the zero gravity environment of the ISS is obviously quite different than here on the surface; however, there are enough similarities to make it recognizable to the average earthling. The astronauts have various jobs to do including keeping track of where every piece of equipment is lest it float off and get lost. They work out on specialized exercise gear to reduce the muscle and bone loss inherent during long periods of weightlessness. They need to keep clean and we watch an astronaut washing his hair while spherical droplets of water cruise past the camera seemingly close enough to reach out and grab. While a bizarre way of life, the international crew members, from the US, Russia, Japan, Italy and numerous other countries around the world, are shown adapting to it and seeming to enjoy it. While incredibly dangerous and requiring getting used to the stomach-churning sensation of being in constant freefall, “A Beautiful Planet” makes living on the International Space Station seem almost fun.

What isn’t fun is Jennifer Lawrence’s narration. I’m sure she was told to deliver the script in this way; however, it sounds like she’s trying to explain calculus to third graders. Her slow and plodding style became distracting after a time. Considering the beauty of the images, that’s saying something. It required a certain amount of effort to ignore her and just focus on the screen as the islands of the Caribbean floated by or Paris lit up at night zoomed past.

“A Beautiful Planet” is rated G.

As someone deeply interested in science and the space program “A Beautiful Planet” is exactly the kind of movie I want to see. It shows what happens when countries put aside their political differences and work together to increase knowledge and the betterment of humanity. It also doesn’t hurt that NASA and the other space programs of the world give us incredible images of our planet…the only one known to possess intelligent life. I believe you should show your intelligence and see this film.

“A Beautiful Planet” gets five stars.

Keanu

Cousins Clarence and Rell (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) are extremely close. When Rell experiences are painful breakup with his girlfriend, Clarence heads over to comfort and support him. Before Clarence arrives, Rell hears scratching at his door. He opens it to find an adorable kitten he takes in and names Keanu. Having Keanu gives Rell a reason to live and focus his energy on other things besides his heartbreak. Clarence and Rell go out one night to see a movie. When they return, Rell’s home is in a shambles as someone has broken in, stolen some items and taken Keanu. Walking across the driveway to his weed dealers’ house, Rell asks Hulka (Will Forte) if he knows anything about the break in. Reluctantly, Hulka suggests it may have been a drug gang he’d started working with called the 17th Street Blips. Hulka tells Rell and Clarence the gang’s headquarters is at a strip club. Clarence and Rell head to the club to see if Keanu is there. Adopting thug personas, Clarence and Rell are introduced to the head of the 17th Street Blips, Cheddar (Method Man). He has Keanu but calls him New Jack. Bragging about how many people they’ve killed, Clarence are Rell are mistaken for a hitman duo called the Allentown Boys by Cheddar. Cheddar, impressed with the reputation of the faux-killers, asks if they can go with his crew, including Hi-C (Tiffany Haddish), Trunk (Darrell Britt-Gibson), Bud (Jason Mitchell) and Stitches (Jamar Malachi Neighbors), on a drug run and show them how professionals work. In exchange for their help, Cheddar will give them Keanu, a.k.a. New Jack. Clarence does not want to be involved in drugs but Rell talks him in to it. What none of them know is Keanu has been through several different owners’ hands, none of them good people. The kitten’s past is going to catch up with all of them.

“Keanu” is a very funny movie. It hits a few lulls over its 98 minute run time but they are brief and the funny parts of the movie more than make up for the slower parts. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are two very funny comedian/actors that have proven their talents in everything from “Mad TV” to their own show on Comedy Central “Key and Peele” to a guest starring role on the first season of “Fargo.” Now that their show has wrapped up the talented duo can work on other projects and their first is “Keanu.” It is encouraging to see they are able to maintain a fairly thin premise for the duration of a whole movie. I’d love to see what they could do with something more complicated.

Key and Peele are chameleons, able to slip on various personas at the drop of a hat. They do that several times during “Keanu.” This may sound kind of mean but Key’s character in the film is about the whitest black man ever to appear on screen. Clarence loves George Michael music. That’s about all he listens to in his minivan. Yes, I said minivan. His hitman character actually turns that into a plus as he’s driving around with the gang members. Peele also modifies his character to fit whatever mood is required. Rell really wants Keanu back and uses all his hood/banger machismo to try and intimidate Cheddar. It kind of works but all backfires on him as well.

The story, while ridiculous, follows a fairly predictable arc. I was afraid it would fall into the trap of creating a love story where none needed to or could exist; but, Key and Peele are far too smart to be so mundane and they turn what looks like a possible romantic moment between Rell and Hi-C into a funny bit of business.

All of the gang characters are stereotypes of young people with bad family histories and not a great deal of education. While they are shown doing bad things from time to time, none of the secondary characters are so awful they can’t be likable. The exception to that is Cheddar who is just an all-around bad dude and he won’t give Keanu back to Rell. Method Man, while not a great actor, is very good as Cheddar. He has a believable hard edge that makes him an intimidating character.

Some might argue that, aside from Clarence and Rell, no person of color in the film is anything but a criminal. That occurred to me as I was watching the film and it troubled me a little bit. While the driving creative force of “Keanu” is a talent pair of African-Americans, most of the minorities in the film are shown as criminals. Does the fact that Key and Peele made the movie exempt them from criticism of stereotyping young black and Hispanic people as predisposed to becoming violent felons? I think it’s a question that deserves to be looked at.

Another problem I had with the film is it tends to lean too heavily and too long on a joke before moving on. One scene in particular involves Clarence and some of the gang members sitting in a van while Rell and Hi-C do a drug deal. The film cuts back and forth between Rell in the house and Clarence in the van trying to spin George Michael music on his phone into something the gang members would respect. Clarence creates a story about what a tough guy George Michael is and how he didn’t have a father growing up and suggest he killed former Wham bandmate Andrew Ridgeley. It takes some time, too long in my opinion, before he has the guys in the van singing along with Michael. It eventually works out to be a somewhat funny scene but could have been better if it had been a little shorter.

“Keanu” is rated R for violence, language throughout, drug use and sexuality/nudity. There are a couple of shootouts along with individual shootings and threats of shootings and stabbings. Gore is minimal and is largely limited to a couple of pools of blood and a hole shot through a character’s hand. Drugs are shown being used in various forms. Topless stripers are visible briefly for a couple of scenes both on a stage and in a dressing room. Foul language is common throughout the film.

While the film is silly and unbelievable in all aspects, “Keanu” is still a fun way to kill 98 minutes (stay to the end of the credits for a brief bonus scene suggesting a possible sequel). Key and Peele will probably have a very long career in movies, TV or whatever medium they choose to display their talents. It also doesn’t hurt they used several very cute kittens in the role of their title character. The showbiz saying of avoiding working with babies and animals apparently doesn’t apply when working with a baby animal as both lead actors come out looking great when paired with their furry costar, even though Peele is very allergic to cats. He used allergy medicine to get through his scenes involving the seven kittens used in the film. Sometimes art demands sacrifice.

“Keanu” gets four stars out of five.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

This week is the outbreak of war, Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War.” I’ll be seeing and reviewing it next.

Captain America: Civil War—

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKrVegVI0Us

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