Power Rangers (2017)

Released: March 24, 2017. Directed by: Dean Israelite. Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Ludi Lin, Becky G. Runtime: 2h 4 min. 

Nostalgia is a big appeal of this Power Rangers reboot, and as a 90s kid, the Rangers were definitely a part of my childhood. A problem of the original TV series, or at least the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie, is that it feels like it runs out of budget before the big finale.

This fixes it because the final battle with the Rangers’ Zords against Goldar is great, visual eye candy. The cinematography also captures the settings well and the film looks great.

It’s fun mecha action and it’s great that there’s enough budget for a solid finale, even if it feels derivative of The Avengers and Transformers, but it’s still fun. And that’s one thing about this reboot: It’s fun.

The new Rangers crew meet in detention and their introduction feels like The Breakfast Club. At least Saban’s Rangers have super powers – and John Hughes’ crew only power was teenage angst.

Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) is the team leader looking for redemption after losing a football scholarship, and now has a chance to lead the Rangers. Montgomery (in his first blockbuster) has enough presence to be a believable leader, even as a bland character.

Billy Cranston, the Blue Ranger (RJ Cyler), is a lovable tech wiz of the group and he works as comic relief and being one of the most interesting characters. Zack Taylor (Ludi Lin in his English-language debut) is the Black Ranger and he’s the most forgettable Ranger.

Naomi Scott as Kimberly Hart (the Pink Ranger) is impressive, convincingly playing a bitchy side while trying to be a better person. We catch her in a transition from Queen Bee to social pariah with the popular kids.

Trini Kwan (Becky G) is the Pink Ranger and is one of those characters who has trouble fitting in – which makes her relatable. Bryan Cranston is a compelling Zordon who unites the crew and offers guidance.

The Angel Grove crew gain super strength after finding the Power Coins entrapped in crystal. The Coins are there after a prehistoric fight between Zordon and the treacherous Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks). To protect the Zeo Crystal (which can destroy planets) against Rita, Zordon had to order a meteor strike which sent Rita to the bottom of the sea.

Rangers (1)

Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Dacre Montgomery, Ludi Lin and Becky G. in Power Rangers. (Source)

This is basically The Breakfast Club with mecha action. The crew even have a heart-to-heart around a campfire. Their comradery’s realistic, and it’s nice watching their bond grow after being strangers. The casting of little known stars is smart. I only recognized RJ Cyler for Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Becky G for that annoying song “Shower” about singing in the shower.

Tonally, the film’s wobbly. The movie writes a love letter to the campiness of the original TV series, but it’s hard to see what mood the writers and director Dean Israelite are going for.

It tries to be a dark and mature origins story (like Chronicle, and there’s also a bit of that film’s visual style). It also has enough angst to make John Hughes blush. The film also takes itself too seriously and Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) feels so out-of-place because of it. She has the most personality but she’s so campy that it doesn’t work when she tries to make threats and be serious. There are times when her character is so silly that I couldn’t contain my giggles.

Banks finds a finesse of chewing the scenery so much that there’s a sense that she’s in on the joke of being campy and she embraces it. It’s great in that sense and Banks seems to be having the most fun out of anyone.

The film’s a good origins story, but it’s easy to get antsy on the road to the film’s finale because the crew don’t put on their Ranger suits until the last 30 minutes. It’s part of their development because the armour is this weird alien thing that needs to decide that they’re worthy to wear them. It’s super different from their usual spandex armour. It forces them to unite but it makes their training less compelling since they’re in civilian clothes.

The 22-year-old critical me has a few criticisms with this reboot but the 10-year-old me loves it. It’s fun and it writes a love letter to the original series’ campiness, while creating believable characters that are a good new team.

Score: 75/100

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Inside Out (2015)

Released: June 19, 2015. Directed by: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen. Starring: Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black. Runtime: 1 hr., 34 min.

The human mind is a complex thing to dissect. Trying to figure it out and portray it as a comprehensive subject to children, while also making it entertaining for adults seemed to pose to a challenge for Pixar with their latest film “Inside Out.”

And boy, do they do it well. It starts with a question of if we ever wonder what goes on in people’s heads. That’s a question that seems to spark the film’s premise – branching into an original and charming animated feature, where we follow 11-year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) and the five primary emotions in her head.

The concept honestly portrays the ups and downs of what an 11-year-old girl’s emotions might be like at a sensitive time in her life – uprooted from her home in Minnesota to a different San Francisco.

The reasoning for the emotions, or lack thereof, is when Sadness (Phyllis Smith) and Joy (Amy Poehler) get sucked into a tube while trying to save core memories.

The tube’s purpose is to ship the day’s memories to long-term memory. Joy and Sadness have to adventure back to headquarters to make Riley happy again.

An interesting concept is that Riley’s core memories power parts of Riley’s personality – called personality islands. They include Hockey, Friendship, Family, Honesty and Goofball. With these hanging in the balance, the stakes complement the narrative with a compelling quality.

The controlling emotions left in headquarters are the hot-head Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). Disgust is so nasty, by the way, she is shaped like a piece of broccoli. Their conflicting attitudes make for some funny scenes and their not-so-delightful attitudes make Riley snippy.

I think the film adds insight to how certain emotional problems start. Since Riley is so snippy, it makes me think that’s how mood swings are triggered. And when Joy and Sadness leave, that’s how you become unlikable – or if the personality islands start to crumble and you become emotionless, that’s how you become a psychopath like Dexter.

My favourite thing created in this world was probably Dream Productions, which puts on little television shows as Riley’s dreams. It’s like her slumber Hollywood. It’s cool. Pixar’s creative new world is something you’d probably envision as a kid, because imagination is so much fun. I think that’s why this is attractive to kids, but also entertaining for adults. The beautiful poignancy at play and the film’s heartfelt narrative could sporadically offers chills, as well as tears, throughout.

The characterization in the film is also great. Riley’s natural reactions and the way she is portrayed is so realistic, she feels like someone you would know. I thought the casting for the emotions was pitch perfect, and their conflicting opinions made for awesome good-spirited humour. The film’s message of not always having to be happy to live a joyful life is also lovely.

Lewis Black’s comedic delivery is anger, and his character is like an everyday dad who reads the newspaper every morning, which has a lot of clever headlines of what’s going on in Riley’s life. Bill Hader has a delivery that suits fear; he’s that one guy who is afraid on his own shadow.

Mindy Kaling’s sarcastic delivery matches her emotion of disgust very well. Amy Poehler’s likable personality and happy-go-lucky delivery is also very entertaining. I thought Phyllis Smith was born to play Sadness, being the most convincing out of the five. The character is like a gentle aunt who wears turtlenecks. Richard Kind offers a delightful performance as Riley’s imaginary friend called Bing Bong. If a man would have played Joy, Richard’s surname certainly could have helped win him the job.

Score: 95/100

The To Do List (2013)

The To Do ListReleased: July 26, 2013. Directed by: Maggie Carey. Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Bill Hader. Runtime: 104 min.

“The To Do List” is an occasionally funny film but, when it’s not that funny, it’s intensely boring. And that’s too often for it to tell a compelling story. The premise is reminiscent of “American Pie” with one central female, and taken to more extreme lengths. No one screws a pie, but a character does something much more disgusting – she takes a bite out of what looks like a Snickers bar floating in the local pool, taking it as a new employee hazing… Well, you can figure out how that ends… That’s also another way to show that the girls can get just as raunchy as guys in comedies.

The story follows Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) who, in the opening scenes, gets ridiculed during her valedictorian speech for being a virgin. She is too embarrassed to even make much of a speech, or impression. Her friends Fiona (Alia Shawkat) and Wendy (Sarah Steele), who are nicknamed the slutty Oompa Loompa’s by Brandy’s father (Clark Gregg), take the virgin to a kegger celebrating their graduation. When the local dream boat Rusty Waters (Scott Potter) mistakenly sticks his tongue down her throat in a very awkward encounter, she doesn’t know what to do. Taking this as a sign that she is sexually inexperienced to say the least, she puts together a to-do list of all the sex acts her sister (Rachel Bilson) can tell her about, all of which she will do before going to college, finishing with the endgame of going all the way with the guy who started it all: Rusty Waters.

We should be thankful for little favours. If the setting were actually 2013 instead of 1993, this would be a four-hour movie if she were to list all the sexual acts from UrbanDictionary.com. Her raunchy to-do list has everything from giving oral, cunnilingus, going all the way, motor-boating… The only thing not on the list is anal sex, because god forbid anyone takes the backdoor – said by Gregg in the amusing trailer. It seems he has a lot of the best lines – as well as Brandy’s slacker boss, portrayed by Bill Hader. As far as films where the main protagonist works at a public pool for the summer, who else would take “The Way, Way Back” any day over this?

It’s just that the cast isn’t utilized very well in a film purely concerned with sex, but at least you know what you’re going into before you see this. When films have such sexual subject matter, they should at least be funny. Right? I think they should at least have some nudity, too (for a film rated 18A that expectation is not unreasonable) but apparently Maggie Carey doesn’t think so. The reason the cast gets under utilized is because the material really isn’t that funny, and these cast members are funny people delivering crappy dialogue. Bill Hader is probably the funniest character, and Clark Gregg is funny, too, when he shows up. Donald Glover gets a few laughs, too. There aren’t many good characters to root for, however. Aubrey Plaza’s talent derives mostly on sarcastic witticism; but the character just comes off as bitchy and unlikeable. Admittedly, Plaza gets a few laughs in the beginning, but not much else. She is miscast because there’s hardly anything witty about the character she’s playing. She’s just throwing around her kitty to anything that moves.

When things go wrong for our “hero,” she sports a Why does everyone hate me? attitude. She’s inadvertently hurting people for the sole reason of gaining sexual experience, and it’s just not that entertaining. The only decent chemistry there is shared between Plaza and her two besties. The only time they don’t talk about sex is when they’re talking about watching “Beaches” before the summer expires (so it just passes the Bechdel test). I think this film is supposed to show that women like casual sex, too; and that sex isn’t everything. Plaza doesn’t have good chemistry with anyone else because her character is just so bossy and unlikable, really. If she has to go out for another leading role, she should pick her characters better. The plot is utterly predictable, and it is partly inspired by events from Carey’s life – so it expresses that life can be pretty predictable, too; as well as mostly unfunny romantic comedies like this one.

Score30/100

 

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)

Cloudy with a Chance of MeatballsReleased: September 18, 2009. Directed by: Phil Lord, Chris Miller. Starring: Anna Faris, Bill Hader, Bruce Campbell. Runtime: 90 min.

“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” is, I’ll admit, much better than I thought it would be. I had no interest in seeing it when it was initially released, because it sounded a bit too silly for my tastes. But then I realized the guys who are behind this movie, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, directed one of my favourite action comedies of the last few years, “21 Jump Street.”

So, I thought I’d give it a shot since it was playing on television. And, if I get the chance to see the sequel, I can – because now I’ve seen the original. The premise is simple, adapted from an apparently beloved children’s story written by Judi Barrett. I’m not sure if it’s a good adaptation or not, but the basic ‘I wanna be something!’ character arc is present.

The main character, Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader), has been inventing unsucessful, but sorta awesome, things all of his life – and that’s his dream, to be a revered inventor. His father (James Caan) disapproves of the choice, as he doesn’t understand his son as well as his late wife did.

He finally gets his shot with a machine that turns water into any kind-of food that you desire. He manages to inadvertantly launch his machine into rain clouds, after a run-in with the law, and it rains cheeseburgers. This puts the island below the ‘A’ of Atlantic Ocean on the map; even though the town was previously known for its sardines, until everyone realized they are gross. The mayor of the  town (voiced by Bruce Campbell) sees this as an opportunity to make Swallow Falls a real tourist hot spot; so he aggressively urges Flint to make it rain three meals a day. The news reporter, Sam Sparks (Anna Farris) who is in town, becomes a weather girl and takes advantage of this weather phenomenon.

While the delicious food makes the townspeople happy, the excessive use of the machine can dangerously mutate the food, but the shady mayor ignores Flint’s pleas to make it stop; by telling him the whole town loves him. As expected, chaos ensues – on the day when spaghetti and meatballs are the main course.

The premise is effectively simple, and allows really colourful scenery to happen. I like the animation a lot, even though the character design for Flint makes him look like an odd type of bird. The character design for the acrobatic police officer Earl Devereaux is truly clever. He is voiced by Mr. T, and he has a T-shaped bald spot. Bill Hader, Anna Faris and even James Caan aren’t particularly memorable. It’s a good thing that Mr. T, Bruce Campbell, Neil Patrick Harris and the purposefully irrtating Andy Samberg are there, because they balance out the voicework and make it better. Neil Patrick Harris plays the role of a scene-stealing monkey named Steve, who can speak through the invention of Flint’s. This film is silly and fun for the kids, and there’s enough clever humour to keep older folk mildly entertained.

Score70/100