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‘Power Rangers’ is Pretty Stupid but also Pretty Fun

Power_Rangers_(2017_Official_Theatrical_Poster)The same weekend that “CHIPS” shows us exactly how not to remake an old TV show into a modern movie, this one gets it pretty right.


“Power Rangers” is a reboot of the famed 90s series of the same name, and features the colorful superhero team discovering their powers and teaming up to take on the evil witch, Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks). Bryan Cranston stars as the team’s alien leader as Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G and Ludi Lin star as the Rangers. Dean Israelite directs.


Growing up I wasn’t big into the Power Rangers but my cousins were obsessed with them so I caught some episodes here and there. There’s been talk of a series reboot for years, with this rendition finally getting the greenlight in 2014. When the trailer came out I was a little skeptical, as it featured a seemingly out-of-place Kanye West song, conflicting tones and looked like “Chronicle,” “Fantastic Four” and “Transformers” had a love child. The finished product is a little bit like the trailers, because its tone is all over the place and the film never really separates itself from other blockbuster films, but it’s a pretty fun ride that does a decent job paying homage to the source material.


All five “kids” who portray the Power Rangers (they’re all 20-somethings playing high schoolers) do a great job and have solid chemistry together. The standouts are Naomi Scott and RJ Cyler, who portray the Pink and Blue Rangers, respectively.  Scott is the pretty and misunderstood girl with a secret she wants to keep buried and just like the original Pink Ranger Amy Jo Johnson, I’m sure Scott is destined to become every boy’s crush from the series. Cyler’s Billy Cranston is autistic, marking the first superhero on the spectrum (if you don’t count Ben Affleck from “The Accountant”). Cyler has some great moments of awkward humor and provides the film with its greatest emotional scenes, too. The rest of the Rangers do a good job for what they have to, although Becky G and Ludi Lin (Yellow and Black) both feel like underdeveloped afterthoughts compared to the other three.


The film takes a lot of time training the Rangers and not having them actually in their colored spandex, and while this was a flaw in the painfully boring “Fantastic Four,” here it (usually) isn’t that bad. The group has some witty and organic banter and the training montages are entertaining enough, thanks in large part to the Bill Hader-voiced robot, Alpha-5. Bryan Cranston also adds gravitas as the leader of the Rangers, although he is a motion-captured face on the wall and surely did this for a relatively easy paycheck.


Which brings us to Elizabeth Banks as the film’s villain, Rita Repulsa (the name alone can’t be taken seriously). Banks is hamming it up so much, and giving such a scene-chewing, campy performance that every scene she is in comes across as awkward. Some may be willing and able to enjoy her intentionally bad performance, but when the rest of the film is going for a relatively grounded and somewhat dark and moody take on the Rangers, having her be a cartoon just doesn’t work. It’s also worth noting that every scene Rita is in is played out like a horror film (also tonally conflicting) and there were kids in my theater who were vocally telling their parents they were scared, so keep that in mind if you’re trying to entertain your children with this one.


The film also drags in some points and where they chose to implement the trademark “go go, Power Rangers!” song is very out-of-place (catching onto the trend?).


“Power Rangers” could’ve been a trainwreck but it manages to be better than a lot of TV-to-movie adaptions, even if it doesn’t break any new ground. Fans of the original series and average moviegoers alike should be entertained, and I’d say there’s enough fun here to be worth you to go go to a theater and check it out.


Critics Rating: 6/10



‘Why Him?’ Wastes Talented on Both Sides of Camera

Why_HimWalter White meets Harry Osborn. Hilarious, right?!


“Why Him?” stars Bryan Cranston as a father who meets the man his daughter is dating (James Franco) and starts a feud with him during Christmas. Zoey Deutch, Megan Mullally and Keegan-Michael Key also star as John Hamburg directs.


Both James Franco and Bryan Cranston have been very funny men in very funny projects. Zoey Deutch was the bright spot of “Dirty Grandpa” and Keegan-Michael Key has had some great supporting roles in his career. Plus John Hamburg directed “I Love You, Man” and wrote “Meet the Parents.” So all these people together should have been able to create a very funny movie; or at least one that wasn’t this lazy.


Winter comedies usually aren’t the strongest. “Daddy’s Home,” “The Interview” and “Grudge Match” are all average-at-best films that ended their respective calendar year with thuds. “Why Him?” continues this tradition as it wastes two proven leads with a script that is determined to put the f-bomb in every other sentence, all while having no idea what it truly wants to accomplish.


The highlight of the film (which in this case is a flashlight in a black hole) is Franco, who is having a blast playing a man-child, running around shirtless with random tattoos and swearing in all the wrong settings. We’ve seen Franco do every kind of role imaginable but this is one where he just looks like he’s having fun and isn’t as pretentious as he has occasionally been accused of being.


Bryan Cranston gives an inexplicably dedicated performance, but he isn’t given many actual jokes. He’s almost the film’s villain, because he doesn’t want his daughter marrying Franco just because the old trope “you’re not worth her.” The two have an underdeveloped feud but Franco is consistently trying to patch things up, so we just see him as the innocent nice guy; having him try to outsmart Cranston to win the daughter’s approval would have made for more compelling cinema.


The rest of the cast turns in awkward performances, including a horrible turn from Griffin Gluck as the young son. His delivery is off, his tone is often wrong and he overacts every line; each time he talked I cringed. I hope Megan Mullally got a nice vacation home from her paycheck, because her twerking and trying to strip Bryan Cranston while high was embarrassing to watch.


Now the film is not without its share of laughs, and while they’re pretty spread out the ones that do hit hit hard. Most of the time it is because the circumstance is so ludicrous and unexpected (or unrealistic) that it is impossible to not be amused. There are also a few cameos that steal their respective scenes, and when they showed up the audience seemed happily surprised.


“Why Him?” isn’t that funny and it wastes its cast, but neither of those things should be that big a surprise given the patterns established by mainstream cinema 2016. “Office Christmas Party” is funnier and more festive (never thought I’d be endorsing that film) so if you want laughs at the theater this winter, that’s your best bet.


Critics Rating: 4/10

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

Cranston Is Solid, ‘Trumbo’ Is Not

Trumbo_(2015_film)_posterAt least once a year there is a film that has a very solid central performance, however it is the quality of that performance that exposes the mediocrity of the film they’re in.

“Trumbo” stars Bryan Cranston as the titular screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who along with others was branded a Communist in 1950’s America and blacklisted. Trumbo then begins to write uncredited scripts, all while trying to stay true to his beliefs. Diane Lane, Helen Mirren and Louis C.K. co-star and Jay Roach directs.

“Trumbo” should be right up my alley because I love me a good script, Bryan Cranston is good in anything he does, and 1950’s Los Angeles is my favorite period in time. So it is all the more disappointing that “Trumbo” is an average film with an above-average performance, and a few fun and interesting points can’t save a dragging narrative and workmanship execution.

Dalton Trumbo’s real-life story is a fascinating if not frustrating one as he was jailed, shunned and all but exiled simply for his political beliefs. And the film does do a decent enough job illustrating Trumbo’s struggles, however it never really delivers the message home to the audience as much as it thinks it does. The film wants to make the viewer angry that the screenwriters were fired and blacklisted simply for belonging to the Communist party and that their first amendment rights were infringed upon, but you never truly feel like they were cheated beyond the fact the characters continue to spoon-feed you lines about equality and freedoms.

Cranston does a very good job in his portrayal of Trumbo. Trumbo was an eccentric character, writing scripts in his bathtubs and walking around with a parrot on his shoulder, and Cranston does a good job to make this unique man relatable. He seems to want to give every person the benefit of the doubt and hates to disappoint people, even those who testified against him in court. Meanwhile Louie C.K. does some nice nuanced work as a fellow blacklisted writer, who constantly questions Trumbo’s intentions and points out that he “talks like a radical, but lives like a rich guy.”

The biggest problem with “Trumbo,” ironically, is its screenplay. A lot of the dialogue comes off as exposition or made-for-TV schmaltz, and the plot is all over the place, and really none of it is paced well. It is almost like the filmmakers wanted to get all the cliffnotes of Trumbo’s career into the film (his arrest, ghostwriting for B-movie studios, writing “Spartacus” for Kirk Douglas) but weren’t sure how to make that 20 year period mesh well together, so they just filmed them and hoped it would all work out well in the end; it didn’t.

I am going to be honest: this is one the worst paced films I have seen in years. When Trumbo gets released from prison I thought to myself, “well geez, there’s probably only 30 minutes left in the movie, they really are going to have to cram a lot in.” Except there wasn’t a half hour left in the film; there was probably an hour 15. Then the film takes forever to wrap up before finally concluding with Trumbo delivering a speech, which essentially acts as a summarization of everything we have just seen for the previous two hours.

Several points throughout “Trumbo” a character tosses a script on the table and says, “this isn’t great, but there’s a good story in here,” and that’s exactly how I feel about this movie. Cranston is great and some of the behind-the-scenes of old-time Hollywood are interesting, but all too often the dragging plot and cheesy dialogue are too much to overcome, and that’s a shame, because Trumbo’s story and struggles deserve to be shared and honored. The movie is admirable in its efforts, but unfortunately underwhelming in its execution.

Critics Rating: 5/10



‘Godzilla’ Roaring Good Fun

Godzilla_(2014)_posterRemember how excited (and relieved) you were when “Batman Begins” was released in 2005 because it helped to give you closure after the atrocity that was “Batman and Robin”? Well we now have “Godzilla”, which should put to rest the pain that the 1998 film of the same name left more than a decade ago.

Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Olsen, this reboot is yet another American take on the classic Japanese monster. Gareth Edwards, who directed the 2010 indie film “Monsters”, directs his first Hollywood picture here.

The 1998 Godzilla film wasn’t just bad; it has become a pop culture punchline. Directed by Roland Emmerich, the man known for disaster films, the film itself was a disaster.  It was stupid, loud and dumb, but above all else it did not do the title character justice. Luckily almost all is forgiven because the 2014 adaption had nowhere to go but up.

The 2014 Godzilla design itself is a return to form, and a very cool one at that. It looks more like a reptilian dinosaur, not whatever the heck the other thing was back in 1998. I don’t want to go into too much detail (I personally avoided trailers before seeing the film), but I think fans of the series and the creature will not be disappointed. They brought back the iconic Godzilla roar, and when he emerges from the ocean or through a cloud of smoke you can’t help but have shiver shoot down your spine.

Strangely enough, however, for a movie entitled “Godzilla”, the film focuses more on the human characters than Godzilla himself. Its a lot like how in “The Walking Dead” it isn’t about the zombies–sorry, walkers, its about the humans living in a world that happens to have walkers in it. If a monster movie is going to take that route then you have to be sure that you make the audience care about your characters and they are multi-dimensional. And does “Godzilla” do a good job with this? Well, yes and no.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson, known for kicking ass in “Kick-Ass” (see what I did there? Yah, you get me), plays a soldier who is trying to get back to his family in San Francisco, but gets caught up in the military’s plan to destroy Godzilla. You care about Johnson as a person but you only see him with his family for one 10 minute scene, so it is hard to get an emotional attachment to them. It’s a lot like Brad Pitt in “World War Z”; you are told that he’s a family man and if he fails his mission it will be the end of the world, but in the end you only want him to succeed because he’s the main character.

The direction and cinematography of the film are both really solid, particularly when buildings are getting destroyed by Godzilla, and some of the shots that show one of the main characters locking eyes with the creature are very effective. The film’s biggest problem is pacing, which derives from an excess of subplots. The Army seems to have a few different plans to save the world but never feel obligated to share them with the audience, and then you have Bryan Cranston being a conspiracy nut and Taylor’s wife running around in the rain (seriously, about 80 percent of her screen time is running). If they had shrunk everything down and compacted it, I feel this would have been a much tighter and more enjoyable film.

“Godzilla” isn’t perfect, but it is better in every single aspect than the 1998 film, and is in fact everything I wanted “Pacific Rim” to be. The direction is creative, the acting is solid and the effects and designs are top notch. It may not be the king of the summer movie season, but “Godzilla” does get it off to a roaring good start.

Critics Rating: 7/10