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.


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.

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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—

Review of “Tomorrowland”

Frank Walker (played as a child by Thomas Robinson and as an adult by George Clooney) was a dreamer that, as a child, made a jet pack out of an old vacuum cleaner and other spare parts and entered it into an invention competition at the 1964 World’s Fair. The judge, David Nix (Hugh Laurie), was unimpressed since it didn’t work; but Athena (Raffey Cassidy) was taken with Frank’s enthusiasm. She secretly gave Frank a pin and told her to follow Nix and a group of other inventors as they took the Small World ride through the fair. Doing so transports Frank to an amazing world called Tomorrowland. A real place filled with dreamers like him who are allowed to turn those dreams into reality. In the present, Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) is also a dreamer who lives with her dad Eddie (Tim McGraw), a NASA engineer who will be laid off soon since the space agency doesn’t launch rockets for the foreseeable future. Casey tries to put off that future by sabotaging the cranes used to dismantle the launch pads at Cape Canaveral. Casey is arrested for her actions and when she gets bailed out finds in her belongings a pin like the one Athena gave Frank. When she touches it, she sees Tomorrowland; but it is an interactive virtual reality recording. Desperate to get there, Casey begins a search that takes her across the country, to a sci-fi/fantasy memorabilia shop run by murderous androids, meeting Athena and a decidedly grumpy grown up Frank. Casey is determined to get to Tomorrowland even if nearly everyone she encounters is equally determined to stop her.

“Tomorrowland” is a political statement delivered in the mildest of terms. It encourages public action wrapped up in a package of light entertainment. It is radical manifesto from the people who brought you “Snow White” and “Dumbo.” It’s a call to action that is delivered far too subtly to actually lead to any change. Perhaps the mild delivery was a compromise in an effort to not anger certain segments of the political spectrum but it may have been a waste of Disney’s $190-million investment. Sometimes you have to kick the bee’s nest to stir up the queen. Otherwise, “Tomorrowland” is pretty good.

What will strike audiences most is the visuals of the film. Director Brad Bird has dipped into his Pixar history to make “Tomorrowland” look absolutely amazing. From jet packs to rocket ships, everything in the city of the future looks retro cool. Based in part on the look of the attraction in Disney’s theme parks, “Tomorrowland” is glistening spires, levitating swimming pools and hover scooters all in a land surrounded by golden wheat fields, glowing trees and clear blue skies. It is the kind of utopia that writers have been dreaming of for over a century. Bird’s visual effects team is likely to receive an Oscar nod for their work and it would be much deserved.

Just behind the look of the film is the tone: Hope gushes forth from “Tomorrowland” like a geyser. There’s innocence and wide-eyed wonder infusing most of the movie that I must admit was infectious. Leaving the film, I felt good and like anything was possible. That lasted about half an hour as reality crushed my buzz. That may be the film’s biggest weakness: It doesn’t have much staying power. While it offers hope, it’s in the form of those old musicals starring Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney where the clichéd line, “Hey kids! Let’s put on a show!” comes from. In this case, “Tomorrowland” wants us to come together and save the world. The movie implies we can do that with technology and cooperation. I don’t argue that point but I do question the film suggests to get the ball rolling. In the movie, dreamers are introduced to Tomorrowland and are invited to take part. Here in the real world, the only way things happen is with political action. Political action appears to only happen when it appeals to the base supporters of a politician. Politicians appear to only involve themselves in real change when the lobbyists support it. Lobbyists support it only if it makes their client’s money. Sadly, nobody makes any profit from the “Tomorrowland” idea hence it will never happen. Sorry if I just crushed your buzz but at my age I’ve seen too many good ideas buried under political rhetoric and inaction. It appears our leaders lack the ability to dream, to ask “what if.” Had I the power, I’d force every member of Congress, the Supreme Court and the President to watch “Tomorrowland.” I’m sure it would be fodder for the talking heads on cable news channels to rail against the filmmaker’s agenda and draw unflattering comparisons to communism, socialism, environmentalism and any other –ism they can think of. I didn’t used to be so cynical but time and experience has beaten much of my own dreamer out of me. I guess I’m far more like Clooney’s character than I am Robertson’s. That’s sad.

Sorry this hasn’t been much of a movie review and more of a diatribe. Please forgive me and I’ll try to do better next time.

“Tomorrowland” is rated PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and peril, thematic elements, and language. As violence and action go, the film is very mild on both counts. Younger children might be troubled by the various bits of danger young Frank gets into when he enters Tomorrowland the first time. There is a fight between two characters at the end of the film. One character is crushed to death by falling debris. Another character is shot by a ray gun of some sort and knocked across a room. Various androids are dispatched in various violent ways including being beaten by a baseball bat repeatedly. There is some foul language that is widely scattered and gets no fouler than the “S” word. There is also a British slang term for testicles used once near the end of the film.

While it tends to drag at times and could have been shorter, “Tomorrowland” is visually stunning and chocked full of hope. It is also simplistic and offers no real answers as to how to solve the world’s problems. Maybe that’s asking too much of a Disney movie but it seems like we have to start somewhere so why not in a darkened theatre.

“Tomorrowland” gets four hopeful stars out of five.

Three new films open this week ranging from classic literature to disaster porn and I’ll see at least one of them.


Far From the Maddening Crowd—

San Andreas—

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