Eye In The Sky Movie Review

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A suicide bombing is going to happen. It will kill at least eighty people and seriously injure dozens more. You know who is going to do the attack. You know where they are right now. And you have the opportunity to destroy the house they are residing in. You can stop the next headline before it happens. The only catch is that you can only do it using a missile and that missile will kill not only everyone in the building. It will kill an innocent child. What do you do?

This is the situation depicted in Eye In The Sky, a movie starring Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, and Aaron Paul. Eye In The Sky is a fascinating movie in that it’s basically one long scene happening all over the planet at the same time. British intelligence have a plan to capture some terrorists using surveillance provided by a local spy on the ground in Kenya, a drone operated by the Americans from Nevada, and facial recognition provided by a base in Hawaii. As we bounce between these places we watch as various parties determine the best course of action.

I imagine that they chose British intelligence for the driving force behind this because anyone who knows anything about drone warfare done entirely by Americans would know that there would be no debate about what should be done. We would simply kill the bad guys and to hell with the collateral damage. (Anyone who thinks I’m mistaken about this should check out what we did in 2009 in al Majalah.)

I didn’t go into this movie expecting much. It’s directed by Gavin Hood who did Wolverine: Origins. Though he also did Rendition. Eye In The Sky is much like Rendition in that it takes a page out of our questionable foreign policy actions and explores it a bit. Unfortunately, much like Rendition, it’s fairly forgettable. Part of this is because it never bothers to humanize the terrorists. We barely hear a word out of their mouths. They are just bad guys putting together suicide vests. It never gets into who they are or why they’re doing what they’re doing. Eye In The Sky asks the important question, ‘Should we be willing to kill innocents in order to save more innocents?’, but it doesn’t ask or answer, ‘Who are these people who are so willing to kill themselves in the name of radical Islam?’

It may be that I’m asking too much of a mainstream Hollywood film. But if you’re going to get into the morality of the war on terror, I think it’s worthwhile to look at how our actions often help create the very things we’re supposedly trying to stop. It’s fairly simple to say that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few and so we should just accept that innocent children are sometimes killed in order to stop worse things from happening, but such a viewpoint ignores the consequences of those actions. It ignores the part where killing a child leaves a father and a mother who will not blame radical Islam for the death of their child. They will blame the West. Imagine some attack from a foreign government killed your government and then you meet a group that wants to conduct terrorist attacks on that same government. How easy is it for you to agree to help? This movie asks important questions but it ignores questions that are just as important.

Eye In The Sky is a worthwhile movie and I was glad to see it if only to watch Alan Rickman on the big screen one last time. It was also nice to see Aaron Paul in a non-Breaking Bad role. And Helen Mirren is always a joy to watch. I just wish they would have done more with the subject matter.

– Jack Cameron

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The Rock 20 Years Later

therockAs anyone who knows me will attest I am a huge Aaron Sorkin fan. I own most of his movies and television shows. This includes movies where he just did some script-doctoring and is not listed as a writer. One of those movies is The Rock. I had not watched this movie in a few years and it was interesting to see what stuck out at me this time around.

For those who haven’t seen it The Rock is a 1996 movie in which Ed Harris and a bunch of rogue Marines steal a bunch of missiles with poison gas, take over Alcatraz Island and threaten to kill everyone in San Francisco if their demands for one hundred million dollars aren’t met. The good guys send in a SEAL Team and Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery to save the day.

Watching this as an Aaron Sorkin movie is a bit of a stretch but there are familiar bits. West Wing fans will notice that John Spencer is in this one. The scenes involving White House staff sound very West Wing-like. But since he only did the polish on it, it’s hard to accurately say that all the best lines in the movie are his fault. Still, sometimes it’s clearer than others.

The Rock is directed by Michael Bay. He is not one of my favorites. He likes explosions way too much. (On the commentary for Armageddon he mentions how BMW gave them money to use their car which allowed for more explosions.) However, I feel this movie is his best one.

The main reason for this is that it’s not just an action movie. The main characters grow and change. (To avoid spoilers, skip this paragraph.) Ed Harris’s General Hummel realizes he doesn’t want to kill innocent people. Nicolas Cage’s Stanley Goodspeed realizes he has what it takes to work in the field. Sean Connery’s John Mason learns to trust someone again.

Twenty years after I first saw this movie in theaters it’s still highly enjoyable. That said, in 2016 I see some significant flaws as well. There are effectively no women in this movie. Stanley has a girlfriend who we see basically complain in every single scene she is in. Mason has a daughter who is in exactly one scene and she effectively does nothing (which is too bad given that she’s played by Claire Forlani who is awesome). There’s also the problem that anyone who isn’t white is either playing a stereotype, a bad guy, or essentially an extra. None of this was strange twenty years ago, but these days it sort of sticks out as a severe diversity problem.

On the flip side, there are things in this 1996 movie that surprised me such as the President saying that we are ‘at war with terror’ and one of the terrorists having a man bun.

All in all, it was an enjoyable movie watching experience and The Rock remains a solid action movie with good three dimensional characters.

– Jack Cameron

18 Days of Movie Reviews #3: John Wick

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I have a confession. I liked Revenge of the Sith. I liked it because it had been a while since I saw an ‘adventures in space movie’. I liked it for three whole days. And then I went to a sneak preview of Serenity. When I was done watching Serenity I thought, “Now THIS is what I wanted.”  I tell this story because two days ago I saw Denzel Washington in The Equalizer and enjoyed the movie. But today I’ve seen Keanu Reeves in John Wick, and I can’t help but say, “Now THIS is what I wanted.”

Make no mistake. Denzel will always be a better actor than Keanu. That’s a given. The Equalizer does indeed try harder to be character-driven. But both John Wick and The Equalizer are action movies and when it comes to action, John Wick is one of the best movies I’ve seen in years.

To be fair, John Wick has an advantage that The Equalizer doesn’t. It’s directed by two stunt guys, Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. These are two of the guys that helped make Keanu Reeves into a bad ass in The Matrix. So while this may be the first movie they’ve directed, this is far from the first time these people have worked together.

The violence in John Wick is stylized and the body count is the sort you usually see in video games, but it works because of the world in which John Wick inhabits. As the movie progresses, we learn both the rules for this world and the penalties for not following the rules.

The plot is simple: Retired hit-man loses his wife, then some punks pick the wrong damn time to attack him and then everybody’s gotta pay. We’ve seen this plot plenty of times. What makes this different is the professional style in which it all happens.

There’s a scene fairly early in the movie where after dispatching multiple bad guys at his home, John Wick calls a number, identifies himself and says, “I’d like to make a dinner reservation for 12.” Soon a group of people show up to clean up the bodies. When he goes into town, he stays at a hotel for assassins. That’s right. There’s a hotel full of assassins. The absurdity and coolness of John Wick can’t be overstated. It’s like one part Equalizer one part Underworld and I mean that in the best possible way.

Don’t get me wrong, The Equalizer was a good ride, but John Wick is what you want when you want to watch an action movie.

You can purchase John Wick at this link.

Tomorrow’s Review: Extract

18 Days of Movie Reviews #2: Chef

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Jon Favreau is probably most famous for his Iron Man movies, but at heart he’s always been an independent filmmaker. He’s a guy who loves to celebrate the little guy and give credit where credit is due. His show Dinner For Five on the Independent Film Channel, showcased both his love for the film industry and his ability to humanize celebrities. So when I found out his latest film wasn’t going to be a blockbuster but instead a movie about a guy with a food truck, I smiled.

Last night my girlfriend asked that we watch a ‘feel good movie’ and while I hadn’t seen Chef, I was pretty sure it would cover that. Jon Favreau writes, directs, and stars in Chef, a movie about a down on his luck Chef who stops working in a restaurant in LA and instead gets a food truck in Miami. Everything about the plot screams independent film fun. But Favreau has made some friends along the way so bit parts are played by people such as Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr., and Dustin Hoffman. It’s an indie movie with A List talent.

For the most part, Chef is exactly what you expect. There’s enough great shots of food that you’d better be full when you start watching it. There’s a fair amount of comedy. Things never really get dark. It’s one of those movies that just makes you feel warm.

The soundtrack is probably the biggest surprise of the movie. The music reflects the different locales of the scenes and it’s almost infectious. This is music that makes you want to dance and it invigorates the movie though some may find the music/food prep montage a bit over used in this particular film, it helps that both the music and the food are good.

Chef uses social media as an effective plot device throughout the film and their use of Twitter is so expansive that I genuinely hope Twitter gave them some money. If this was product placement, it’s exactly how product placement should be done.

Jon Favraeu’s costars include John Leguizamo as his loyal sous chef and Emjay Anthony as his young son, Percy. The relationship between father and son is one of the more endearing parts of the movie. They’re relationship is far from perfect, but it evolves throughout the film and feels authentic.

If there’s any significant criticism I might have for Chef it’s the lack of a second act conflict. Things sometimes go a bit too easily for our heroes, but that’s an easy thing to forgive.

True to his independent roots, Chef effectively evokes that individual spirit. While I’m sure any foodie will get twice as much out of this movie, I’d argue that anyone wanting to strike out on their own will find inspiration in Chef.

– Jack Cameron

Chef is available to stream on Netflix this month. You can rent or purchase Chef at this link. 

Tomorrow’s Review: John Wick

18 Days of Movie Reviews #1: The Equalizer

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I had heard that The Equalizer was ‘The Punisher movie you want to see’. I never watched the original TV show but I was aware of the concept. The lone angry man with deadly skills genre has been alive and well for decades. This one has a lot going for it. Antoine Fuqua’s last movie before this was Olympus Has Fallen which felt like the best Die Hard sequel since the original. And having Fuqua team with Denzel again after their previous successes like Training Day is a great idea.

The first thing I noticed about The Equalizer was that it’s beautiful. I don’t know what cameras were used, but the textures and scenery in The Equalizer is occasionally jaw dropping. Cinematographer Mauro Fiore did some really amazing work here on the sort of movie that doesn’t usually get this kind of attention.

As the movie starts out, Denzel is playing a quiet man named McCall. McCall is in his 50s who works at a hardware store, keeps to himself, and more than anything stays in a set pattern. His OCD seems to make his life work like clockwork. He lives the life of a simple man, but it’s clear that things weren’t always simple for him.

He has trouble sleeping so he regularly goes to an all-night diner and reads. When something bad happens to a young hooker who is a regular at the diner, McCall chooses not to ignore it.

The first time we experience McCall’s violence, it’s reminiscent of a super hero movie. He has a keen situational awareness that borders on the supernatural. The key difference here is that Fuqua never even tries to get a PG-13 rating. The violence is bloody, quick, and brutal and Denzel does it better than most.

There’s a scene later in the movie where someone says, “He wasn’t asking for help. He was asking permission.” This is what makes the movie not so much a revenge film as it is a vigilante film. McCall isn’t looking for payback. He’s simply found an excuse to use his deadly skills on bad people. The hooker he’s avenging is practically an afterthought.

One interesting quirk of The Equalizer is that McCall never uses a gun. It’s never explicitly stated why he doesn’t use one and it makes for more visceral violent scenes when he chooses to be deadly, but it’s also almost distracting. Why go to all the trouble of killing people in the many and various ways he does when he could just shoot them and be done with it?

As angry-man-with-deadly-skills movies go, The Equalizer is entirely enjoyable and fun to watch. It’s a solid action movie and it never strives to be anything more than that.

While the rest of the movie is populated with both big name and unknown actors who do good work, none of it really stands out. This is a one man show and Denzel Washington is that man. He is The Equalizer.

– Jack Cameron

You can rent or purchase The Equalizer at this link.

Tomorrow’s Review: Chef

Just Like Heaven (2005) Movie Review

I discovered early on that Netflix has a 500 title limit for your rental queue. This is because there are a lot of movies and TV shows I don’t own that I want to watch. Somehow one of those was the movie ‘Just Like Heaven’. My wife doesn’t remember putting it in the queue. I don’t remember putting it in the queue. It just randomly appeared there and arrived in my mailbox.

I thought that maybe it was the writer or the director, but it wasn’t. I thought maybe it was Mark Ruffalo. He’s one of the best character actors working today. He’s so versatile that he’s been in movies that I didn’t realize it was him until after the movie was over. (Watch him in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and then watch him in Collateral if you doubt me.) And I knew it wasn’t Reese Witherspoon because, sure, she’s cute but she’s not someone I’m all about.

So after a few days of the disc sitting on my coffee table, my wife and I decided to throw it in. It turned out to be a very cute, but average movie. Reese Witherspoon plays a workaholic doctor. Her hospital scenes feel like they came from any given episode of E.R. or Grey’s Anatomy. After a particularly long shift, she heads home and straight into a large truck.

Cut to Mark Ruffalo moving into a new apartment under mysterious circumstances. During his first night at the new place, Reese Witherspoon appears and is none too happy to see this guy in her apartment. She then just as quickly disappears. Ruffalo’s character does what any of us would do and runs down to the bar to tell his friend, Jack played by Donal Logue who instantly took me out of the movie because my instant thought was, “THE FX GUY WHO CANCELLED TERRIERS SHOULD BE SHOT OUT OF A CANNON INTO THE SUN OR AT LEAST FIRED!”

Okay, back to the review. What follows is your basic romantic comedy with a ghost. They even manage to put together a cute happy ending. The acting in this movie is actually really good. And the dialogue works. Just Like Heaven is a good movie, but it suffers from what I like to call ‘Ocean’s 11 Syndrome’. This is when a movie is so full of talent that you simply expect it to be better than it is. Everyone involved is simply capable of better work and so ‘good’ just isn’t good enough.

I still don’t know why Just Like Heaven was in my Netflix rental queue and I don’t think it’s a bad thing that it ended up there, but it won’t be on my DVD shelf.

-Jack Cameron

 

Aliens, Predator, and Me

Recently I purchased a box set of DVDs. It contained the following:

Alien

Aliens

Alien 3

Alien: Resurrection

Predator

Predator 2

Alien vs. Predator

Alien vs. Predator: Requiem

And just so I had everything, I bought a copy of Predators.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve subjected myself to these movies. I chose to watch them in the order in which they were released. And now, dear readers, I subject you to my thoughts on these movies.

 

Alien (1979)

The first Alien movie is a slow burn. It was made at a time when the audience had this thing called patience. So you slowly got to know this tiny crew who stumble upon an Alien nest. The tagline for this movie was ‘In Space No One Can Hear You Scream’. It’s a quiet little sci-fi horror movie that just works. I hadn’t seen the movie in so long that it was like I watched it for the first time and it was really enjoyable.

 

Aliens (1986)

I tend to like James Cameron movies and not just because we share a last name. With Aliens he had a hard job. How do you top something like Alien? The answer is by not trying to. He didn’t try to make a better version of the last movie which is what so many sequels end up being. Instead he took what had come before and used it to launch the lone survivor 57 years into the future. Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley is the only human alive who has faced these things and when her a bunch of Space Marines return to the planet, people start dying off like last time, but unlike last time, we’re talking about heavily armed soldiers. The final battle between Ripley and the alien queen is one of the classic battles in cinema history and solidified Ripley as one of the first and best female action heroes.

 

Predator (1987)

Out of all the movies in the set, I probably watched this one the most. As a comic book reader, this felt a lot like Sgt. Fury & His Howling Commandos vs. a monster. Plus it was made back when Arnold Swarzenegger was making really fun action movies. A special ops team gets dropped into a jungle. They encounter a creature who picks them off one by one. It’s like your standard horror movie except instead of high school girls in a cabin, it’s soldiers in a jungle. With lots of quick one-liners and great action sequences, this movie still works over 20 years later.

 

Predator 2 (1990)

This was an interesting movie. Taking place in 1990 Los Angeles during a heat wave and a major crime war that the police are barely surviving, it seemed almost as if the Predator invaded a movie already in progress. And with Danny Glover as the lead, it could have been Lethal Weapon 3.5 or something. There wasn’t much wrong with Predator 2 and the quick inclusion of an Alien skull was a nice little touch. At the same time, it wasn’t nearly the movie that the first one was and it’s not really a surprise that the it took 20 years for the next Predator movie to come out.

 

Alien 3 (1992)

The last time I saw this movie was when it was in the theater and I have to be honest. I really, really hated it. The idea of crashing Ripley on a prison planet with an Alien made little to no sense to me. And compared to what had gone before, it was just a bad, bad movie. So when I watched it recently I really wasn’t expecting anything. So I was pleasantly surprised that it was actually very watchable. Unfortunately, it didn’t really add anything to the franchise. And the ending still didn’t really work for me.

 

Alien: Resurrection (1997)

If Alien 3 was a mess, Alien: Resurrection was an attempt to clean up the mess. There are good things in the movie. (Winona Rider as a bad ass space pirate? Hell yes.) But there are a lot of bad things. It seemed confused as to what it wanted to be as a movie so while it still manages to be an okay movie, everything about it seems to say that it could have been a hell of a lot better.

 

AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004)

I had avoided this movie for years. I had heard really bad things. But hey, it came with the box set. I did my best to go in with an open mind. Unfortunately AVP took this opportunity to solidify every bad thing I’d heard about this movie. There are almost no redeeming qualities about this movie. It seems to forget every good thing that happened in either franchise. It gets some of the basic rules of the monsters wrong. Almost the entire movie takes place in Antarctica and the Predators are known for only liking warm climates. The concept of the Predators being worshipped in ancient times is laughable. Poking holes in this movie is like poking holes in that plastic wrap over a frozen dinner. Though I now own this movie, I know it will never again be put in the DVD player by me.

 

AVP 2: Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)

Picking up right where the outright horrible AVP left off, this movie manages to be original in either franchise in that it’s actually boring. Say what you will about the other movies, they aren’t dull. This one ends up having more in common with Gremlins than any Alien or Predator movie. The problem being Gremlins was funny and this is anything but. This could easily have been the first movie in history to kill TWO franchises at once.

 

Predators (2010)

It may be because I watched this directly after AVP2, but Predators was a breath of fresh air. Literally. It starts off with a guy free falling into a jungle unconscious. He wakes up and struggles to get his chute open before hitting the ground. Coincidentally, this is exactly how I felt about both franchises after watching all of the movies so far. The quality was plummeting at an incredible rate. Luckily I landed in Predators. A random group of bad asses land in an unknown jungle for unknown purpose. They have the blind luck of all speaking English, but other than that, the rest of the movie holds together remarkably well. As not one but three Predators go after them, the stakes get higher and higher and their hope of survival continues to disintegrate. It really was the perfect way to end this set of movies with just a bit of hope that whatever comes next will match this quality.

– Jack Cameron