Movie Review: “Allegiant”

Starring
Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Zoe Kravitz, Naomi Watts, Maggie Q, Jeff Daniels
Director
Robert Schwentke

As the “Divergent” series unfolds, it feels more and more like a giant bluff. Now in the homestretch, Veronica Roth’s not-too-distant dystopian nightmare is slowly devolving into a needlessly complicated metaphor for high school. There are factions, they keep to themselves, and once you switch factions, you cannot visit anyone from your previous faction. There is melodrama by the truckload. One boy does not like the special attention his girl is getting from the grown-ups, who are grooming her for Bigger, More Important Things. He is jealous. High school, high school, high school.

Society has collapsed inside the walled city of Chicago, where Evelyn (Naomi Watts), leader of the Factionless army and mother of Dauntless badass Four (Theo James), has wrested control and is holding public trials of those who did the bidding of now-dead Erudite leader Jeanine. This includes Caleb (Ansel Elgort), brother of Dauntless heroine Tris (Shailene Woodley). Tris and Four use back channels to spring Caleb from custody, and the three, along with fellow Dauntless Christina (Zoe Kravitz) and Peter (Miles Teller), climb the wall to discover a godforsaken wasteland. This wasteland turns out to be partly artificial, and the group is rescued by a group working for the Bureau, situated where O’Hare Airport used to be. O’Hare, of course, doesn’t mean anything to anyone in the film. That information is solely for the audience’s benefit. As Caleb himself says, “What’s an airport?”

The Bureau is run by David (Jeff Daniels), who has been watching Tris’ entire life from afar like she’s on a really warped version of “The Truman Show.” David declares that Tris is the only “pure” divergent in the entire city, while everyone else, factionless or not, is “damaged.” David wants to take Tris to meet his superiors, in order to prove that his Chicago “experiment” is working, and that they are on the verge of a breakthrough. Meanwhile, war is erupting in Chicago between the Factionless army and the once-peaceful Amity faction, renamed Allegiant. That should matter to David, right?

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Movie Review: “10 Cloverfield Lane”

Starring
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.
Director
Dan Trachtenberg

The 2008 found footage movie, “Cloverfield,” showcased producer J.J. Abrams at his secretive best, flying completely under the radar until the mysterious release of its buzzworthy teaser. No one imagined that Abrams could pull off the same trick again, yet that’s exactly what he’s done with the intriguingly titled “10 Cloverfield Lane,” this time with the whole world watching. It was an ingenious but risky marketing stunt for a movie scheduled to hit theaters only eight weeks after the surprise announcement, and it worked like a charm. While the film will undoubtedly frustrate those expecting any sort of substantial connection to its namesake, “10 Cloverfield Lane” is a well-crafted thriller that deserves the added exposure its title brings, even if that affiliation threatens to overshadow the story itself.

The movie opens on a young woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) as she frantically packs a suitcase with some clothes and personal belongings before leaving town to escape a toxic relationship. While driving through the night, Michelle is blind-sided by a truck and knocked unconscious, eventually waking to find herself chained to a wall and treated for her injuries. Michelle immediately fears the worst, but her captor Howard (John Goodman) insists that he saved her life by pulling her from the wreckage and then bringing her back to his fallout shelter following some kind of massive chemical attack that has rendered the outside world uninhabitable. Though Michelle is understandably skeptical of the slightly deranged Howard, she’s able to corroborate his story with Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), a good-natured construction worker who broke his arm while fighting his way into the bunker. Forced to accept the possibility that Howard’s nutty conspiracy theory might actually be true, Michelle can’t shake the feeling that he’s still hiding something.

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Movie Review: “Eye in the Sky”

Starring
Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi, Iain Glen
Director
Gavin Hood

Director Gavin Hood treats war and violence very seriously in his work. Even in his adaptation of the young adult novel, “Ender’s Game,” the director stayed true to the source material’s sense of pain and loss. “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” will forever remain an oddity in Hood’s work, because that film’s violence is beyond cartoonish, while the rest of his films, including “Eye in the Sky,” take their stakes seriously.

The movie opens with Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) shopping for a doll for his daughter. He becomes increasingly annoyed, unable to find the right one. After requesting an assistant to take care of it for him, the Lieutenant General couldn’t be more confident and in control when pushing for a drone strike that could possibly kill a child as part of collateral damage. It’s not an entirely subtle transition, but it is very effective, which is a good way of describing “Eye in the Sky.”

Initially planned as a “capture” mission between the U.K. and U.S., the operation is amended when an on-the-ground agent (Barkhad Abdi) sees one of the targets, Aisha Al Hady (Lex King), preparing for a suicide bombing. Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) immediately calls for a strike, but when two drone pilots in Las Vegas, Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) and Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox), spot a child in the vicinity of the target, it changes everything.

While we’ve seen drone warfare covered plenty of times lately (like Andrew Niccol’s “Good Kill”), screenwriter Guy Hibbert and Hood present it in a new light. For a movie that’s fairly small in scale, and one that takes place over the course of only a few hours, it’s often sprawling in nature. Hood and Hibbert show the nuts and bolts involved in calling for a drone strike, and it’s suspenseful, inherently dramatic and sometimes terrifying to watch unfold. Every little thing matters in this story, both for the characters and audience.

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Movie Review: “London Has Fallen”

Starring
Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Charlotte Riley, Colin Salmon, Robert Forster
Director
Babak Najafi

“Olympus Has Fallen” was a pretty blatant rip-off of John McTiernan’s “Die Hard,” so it should come as no surprise that “London Has Fallen” – which is more of a spiritual successor than a literal sequel to the 2013 film – takes a page from another installment in the John McClane series, “Die Hard with a Vengeance,” by staging it as a buddy movie between Gerard Butler‘s gruff, no-nonsense Secret Service agent and Aaron Eckhart‘s hostage-prone president. The premise itself isn’t all that different from its somewhat enjoyable predecessor, but while “London Has Fallen” has its charms, this lean, mean POTUS-in-peril action thriller is ultimately hindered by its reluctance to fully embrace its own stupidity.

When the British Prime Minister unexpectedly dies after a routine surgery, U.S. President Benjamin Asher (Eckhart) insists on traveling to London for the funeral to pay his respects, despite the logistical nightmare that it creates for Secret Service director Lynne Jacobs (Angela Bassett) and head of security Mike Banning (Butler). Many of the world’s most powerful leaders are scheduled to attend, which provides the perfect opportunity for Yemenian arms dealer Aamir Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul) to launch a synchronized terrorist attack that kills several heads of state and reduces London’s most famous landmarks to rubble. President Asher manages to survive the initial attack, but when his rescue chopper is shot down, he’s forced to go on the run from his pursuers, relying once again on the highly skilled Banning to keep him safe and neutralize the threat.

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Movie Review: “Zootopia”

Starring
Jason Bateman, Ginnifer Goodwin, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Bonnie Hunt, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer
Director
Byron Howard & Rich Moore

“Zootopia” might be the cleverest bait-and-switch Disney has ever pulled. All of the teaser ads and promotional materials are pushing the adorable Judy Hopps and her very funny encounter with the sloths running the DMV. What they conveniently leave out is that the movie is an on-point commentary about prejudice and racism, their origins, how they’re used as a weapon for political gain, and how we’re all guilty of them in one form or another. In fact, it’s tempting to resent the film a little, because it explains these subjects to children better than most parents ever could.

The film opens with an expository children’s play that explains how predator and prey in the animal kingdom have found a way to co-exist without, you know, one eating the other (though what the predators eat instead is never mentioned, outside of doughnuts). One of the stars of that play is the idealistic bunny Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), who announces on stage that she intends to be the world’s first bunny police officer, and many years later, against all odds and her parents’ wishes, she succeeds. She is transferred to the big city of Zootopia, where Sergeant Bogo (Idris Elba) assigns her to…parking duty. Ouch.

The urge to fight crime is strong, though, and Judy zones in on a seemingly untrustworthy fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman, whose character bears an uncanny resemblance), only to become a victim to one of his many cons. Judy is desperate to prove herself to Bogo, and agrees to take on the missing case of an otter against Bogo’s wishes. Bogo initially fires her for insubordination, but instead gives her 48 hours to find the otter, after which Judy must resign if she fails. Judy leans on Nick – whom she has under her thumb because she has enough evidence to have him locked up – to guide her through the big city, even though Nick tends to cause more problems than he solves.

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