Power Rangers (2017) – Full Review

If you were born before 1993, as I was, then you understand that Power Rangers isn’t just a popular children’s TV franchise that is still cranking out iterations after 24 years. For us, Power Rangers was a phenomenon when it first launched in the early 90’s. It was what kids watched when they came home from school, and what they talked about when they went back to school. Picturing you and your friends fighting monsters in giant robots, what’s not to like? By rebooting Power Rangers and reimagining it for a new generation, Lionsgate and Director Dean Israelite hope to play on that wonderful 90’s nostalgia and replace its after school special vibe with a more realistic take.

Power_Rangers_(2017_Official_Theatrical_Poster)Based on the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, this new film takes the general concept: five “teenagers with attitude” are recruited by interdimensional floating head Zordan and his robot sidekick Alpha 5 to fight against evil sorceress Rita Repulsa and her army of monsters… and adds a few tweaks. This time around, Rita (Elizabeth Banks) is a former ranger who betrayed and killed her team but was defeated by Zordon (Bryan Cranston) who sacrificed his body to protect the power coins and planet Earth. When Rita is resurrected, fate claims former jock Jason (Dacre Montgomery), troubled cheer leader Kimberly (Naomi Scott), bullied nerd Billy (R.J. Cyler), class cutting goofball Zack (Ludi Lin), and loner Trini (Becky G) as the new team of Power Rangers. To defeat Rita, they must learn to come together as a team and more importantly as friends.

First, let’s get the most gigantic flaw out of the way. There is very little Power Rangers in Power Rangers. The team doesn’t morph and fight until the film’s final act. If you’re more excited about seeing the updated, and at times flimsy, CGI effects and the colossal Mega Zord, then prepare to be utterly disappointed. Sure, the action is enjoyable when it finally does hit, but that doesn’t change the fact that the movie is more of a character study than it is a science fiction action movie.

But that isn’t to say that Power Rangers is a bad movie, because it’s actually better than it even needs to be. And as a character study it surprisingly works. This is due in large part to a well rounded cast of young actors. Using the phrase “teenagers with attitude” for the original characters is a bit of a joke because they were all a bunch of goody two shoes. But here, the characters all have real problems that give them an edge. Jason is a star quarterback kicked off of the team after getting arrested. Zack lives in poverty with his deathly ill single mother. Trini has a tumultuous relationship with her parents and is struggling with her sexuality. Billy, who easily steals the show, is an autistic genius whose desire for real companionship is the endearing glue that holds the team together.

Even Zordon isn’t quite the wise, nurturing mentor we remember him as. He struggles with entrusting such immense powers to a bunch of emo teens and wonders if he should use them to return to physical form. Meanwhile Bill Hader’s Alpha 5 has gone from being meek and annoying in the T.V. show to being the Rangers’ snarky trainer. The only character back story that falls flat is Kimberly’s, but that isn’t for lack of trying by actress Naomi Scott who makes the character likable but not particularly interesting.

And just because the characters are a bit grittier doesn’t mean the movie is too dreary or boring. The actors all have fantastic chemistry and when jokes come they feel genuinely funny and have timing that never feels forced. As a result, these Power Rangers actually manage to tug at your heart strings so that when tragedy does strike, you genuinely feel a sense of camaraderie and family from the team.

There are still some cheesy moments and Elizabeth Banks’ portrayal of Rita Repulsa is a bit hokey, but would it really be Power Rangers without a few bad puns and the basic sniveling villain? The movie also deserves credit for polishing the Power Rangers mythos into something far more coherent and effectively setting up sequels. When Lionsgate first announced this movie, I wrote a post about my do’s and dont’s for the movie. After seeing it, this more emotionally grounded adaptation almost checks out perfectly. So even without a ton of action (that’s what sequels are for anyway), Power Rangers ends up being a fun and enjoyable homage to one of pop culture’s most iconic entries.

FINAL GRADE: B

Kong: Skull Island (Full Review)

The last time King Kong was on the big screen it was in a three hour long Peter Jackson film with a few goofy characters and some glaring plot holes (Still trying to figure out how they got that giant gorilla back to New York City). The best parts of that film were easily the action sequences that saw Kong battling monsters and destroying planes. So this time around, in this rebooted origin story, they’re giving the people more of what they want.

Kong_Skull_Island_posterKong: Skull Island takes place in 1974. Two scientists (John Goodman, Corey Hawkins) looking to prove the existence of giant monsters, journey with a survivalist (Tom Hiddleston), a photographer (Brie Larson) and a few soldiers fresh from the Vietnam War (Toby Kebbell, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham) to an uncharted island where they come in contact with the mighty Kong. After their helicopters are quickly demolished, the military colonel (Samuel L. Jackson) vows to kill the beast while a long lost soldier stranded on the island for 30 years (John C. Reilly) seeks to warn them that Kong is actually protecting the island from creatures much more deadly.

As I mentioned before, this movie is all about the action. There are several battles between Kong and a heap of slivering monsters that are just as exhilarating as the Kong vs. T-Rex fight in Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong. The early sequence that sees Kong destroying helicopters is also a fun experience. So if you’re here for that then you won’t be disappointed.

Unfortunately, that’s essentially all this Kong film has to offer. The characters, from their dialogue to their personalities all seem too much like clichés to be memorable. The lone exception is John C. Reilly’s Hank Marlow, a comically noble yet relatively senile character with an endearing personality and back story the audience can actually get behind. There are other attempts at endearment, but his is the only one that doesn’t fall flat.

The film does well to keep things moving, spacing out the sluggish dialogue and weak characters with suspense and eye popping action. It goes without saying, in a movie about a giant gorilla, that some parts require you to turn your brain off and just watch. Sometimes summer popcorn movies are released in March, and Kong: Skull Island is a perfect example of a moderately fun film that’s worthy of at least one viewing.

FINAL GRADE: B

MOORE REVIEWS Grading Scale:

A = Must See/Top 10 Nominee

B = Good film. Flawed, but still very entertaining

C = Not Bad, but highly flawed/Probably better off waiting for Redbox

D = Terrible Movie with a few redeeming qualities

F = I wanted to walk out/Don’t waste time or money

Beauty and the Beast (Full Review)

Disney’s 1991 animated Beauty and the Beast is in the pantheon of classic animated films along with the likes of Aladdin and Lion King. As such, it isn’t really a story that begs retelling. But Disney has already proven that it can turn its animated properties into worthwhile live action films with 2014’s Cinderella and last year’s Jungle Book. With a star studded cast and a bit of CGI magic, director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) looks to make Beauty and the Beast into a refreshing take for a new generation.

Beauty_and_the_Beast_2017_posterIn case you’ve lived under a rock and don’t know the story: Beauty and the Beast is the tale of a shallow prince (Dan Stevens) who is turned into a beast by a sorceress and his servants all turned into objects. Only the affection of someone who recognizes his inner beauty can end their curse. Emma Watson stars as Belle, the humble daughter of a widowed craftsman (Kevin Kline) who defies the norms of 18th century French girls by reading in her spare time and has the unwanted affection of a pompous soldier named Gaston (Luke Evans). When her father is kidnapped by the beast, Belle takes his place as the Beast’s prisoner.

Jokes of Stockholm syndrome aside, Beauty and the Beast, while dated, is an enchanting story with a valuable lesson that life is happier when you aren’t an a-hole. The animated version was full of charm and the impressive cast does a solid job carrying the torch. Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen have fun, effective chemistry as Lumiere the talking candle and Cogsworth the talking clock. And while she isn’t quite Angela Lansbury, Emma Thompson manages to bring a similar wholesome vibe to the role of Mrs. Potts the talking teapot. Several of the characters even have a bit more weight than they did in the animated version. Josh Gad, bringing a solid dose of bumbling comic relief as Gaston’s flamboyant sidekick Lefou, is a perfect example of this.

Because no one in the cast drops the ball in their roles, the film succeeds in bringing a bright burst of nostalgia to anyone who is a fan of the 1991 version. If only they could sing as well, because the music is essentially the same and all of the songs are back but noticeably underperformed. A few new songs are also added, some welcomed, and some that feel completely unnecessary which becomes a trend for the entire narrative. While some of the changes from the animated version add depth to the story and characters, many of the additions and changed scenes serve little to no purpose and make the movie drag a bit.

Visually the movie is also a bit inconsistent. Look no further than the Beast and the enchanted objects, who at times look strikingly real and at other times look clunky and underdeveloped. The gorgeous scenery, costumes and set pieces, however, don’t disappoint and bring an added dose of French culture that pay homage to the era better than any animated film ever could.

As a musical, the vocals all being a noticeable step downward is a bit of a crutch that is hard to overcome when you’re attempting to remake a beloved classic. With an updated narrative that is more in depth but also more cluttered, it’s difficult to consider this version better, as good, or even inherently necessary aside from a pleasant dose of diversity to its cast. Beauty and the Beast ends up being a fun trip down memory lane that is at times visually captivating, but if you’re looking for the definitive version of this classic fairy tale, look up the 1991 version.

FINAL GRADE: B

Logan (Full Review)

I remember watching the very first X-Men film on opening day back in July of 2000. Even though several changes had been made to the source material, I came out of the theater thoroughly pleased. One of the biggest reasons for the success of that film, and why the franchise is still chugging along 17 years later, is because of Hugh Jackman. Sure, he isn’t 5’3″ like his comic book counterpart, but Jackman has embodied the scraggly persona of The Wolverine so much so that it’s hard to imagine anyone else ever playing the role. But all good things must come to an end, and after 9 films, it’s time for Jackman to wear the claws and muttonchops for the last time.

cuaiczwueaaid_w-jpg-largeLogan takes place in 2029. Most mutants have died off and the hero once known as the Wolverine is now a sickly old man who has been reduced to being a limo driver. Along with an albino mutant named Caliban (Stephen Merchant), Logan spends his days tending to former X-Men leader, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) who is now a senile 90-year old man prone to dangerous seizures. Logan’s depressing life is thrown back into chaos when he becomes caught in the crossfire of a bounty hunting cyborg (Boyd Holbrook) searching for a young mutant girl (Dafne Keen) with similar powers to Logan’s.

For starters, this is NOT your children’s X-Men movie. Hell, this isn’t even your teenager’s X-Men movie. Filled with extreme violence, profanity in every other sentence, and even one scene of brief nudity, Logan has more in common with Deadpool than it does with any of Jackman and Stewart’s past films in the franchise. But that should only matter to anyone bold enough to ignore the ‘R’ rating. Like Deadpool, this film isn’t made for wholesome family fun. If the other X-Men films are comic books, this is a full on gritty, western graphic novel.

Logan feels like a story that has matured with audiences who grew up with the franchise and the Wolverine character. We’ve seen Wolverine deal with searching for his past and learning to be part of a team. But we’ve never seen the character experience having to outlive all of his closest friends. In that sense, Logan provides a story that makes the character feel more tangible than ever before and raises the question of what becomes of heroes when they’re down to their last leg?

The action sequences are gory, intense entertainment. But the family dynamic is undoubtedly the best part of Logan. Seeing the character being forced into a parental role brings a wonderful sense of heart to the film and the chemistry between Jackman and Dafne Keen is absolutely beautiful from start to finish. An even better dynamic perhaps, is the one shared between Jackman and Stewart’s Charles Xavier.

Professor X and Wolverine are the two most iconic characters in the franchise, so it’s fitting that they should share this last ride. This older, broken Charles Xavier is something we’ve never seen before. He has a potty mouth and has little to no control over his powers, and yet it never feels like he isn’t the same man that started the X-Men. The constant desire to nurture and teach is still there and more importantly to this film, the need to love, cherish and want the best for a friend, and pupil is what makes the dynamic between Charles and Logan incredibly emotional this time around.

Though darker and a bit more emotional than past X-Men films, there is still a healthy dose of effective humor throughout. Most of it comes from the sheer organic chemistry between the cast.  Even Boyd Holbrook’s antagonist, who is more bark than bite, manages to bring enough slick, Texas southern charm to make him an enjoyable character (He could’ve been great in the role of a certain Cajun mutant… but I digress).

Things do start to drag in the last act so the film could’ve probably shaved off about 15 minutes here and there. And try not to give yourself a headache by thinking about where this film fits in with the timeline of the others. Personally, I’ll take compelling stories and characters over continuity any day so consider these to be minor flaws. In the end, this isn’t just one of the best X-Men films. What Director James Mangold and Hugh Jackman have created is a bold, deeply earnest sendoff to an iconic character that is nothing short of a masterpiece.

FINAL GRADE: A

Get Out (Full Review)

Jordan Peele became a breakout star when he and Keegan-Michael Key launched the sketch comedy show Key & Peele. Getting a mainstream start on MadTV, Peele has always had roots in comedy. Now, the talented comedian/writer who helped make 2016’s action comedy Keanu is playing his hand in the horror genre with a film steeped in racial allegory.

teaser_poster_for_2017_film_get_outGet Out stars Daniel Kaluuya as Chris, a black photographer who after 5 months of dating his white girlfriend (Allison Williams), is nervously traveling to meet her parents (Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener) and her younger brother (Caleb Landry Jones) despite the objections of his best friend (Lil Rel Howery). When the strange activity by the few black members (Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel, Lakeith Stanfield) of the predominantly white community start to raise his suspicions, Chris finds himself knee deep in an uber eerie racist conspiracy.

Within minutes of watching the film, the first thing that came to my mind were the works of famed horror director Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock’s films like Psycho, Vertigo, and Birds were creepy simply because of subject matter, subtle allegory, and some brilliant camera work. Get Out checks off all of those boxes with precision.

Every ounce of dialogue, every shot, every scene holds purpose. The subtle discomforting comments made by Chris’ older white counterparts before things really go haywire are a perfect metaphor for the underlying prejudices that many have without even realizing they’re being condescending. And the horrific hypnotism subplot provides a great mirror to the constant state of racial appropriation that too often goes unnoticed in our society. From racial profiling to cultural assimilation, Peele leaves no stone unturned in his presentation.

The film isn’t without its flaws. At times it feels as though its preaching to its own choir. And there are a few plot holes that I can’t get into without giving spoilers. Many of the performances aren’t exactly memorable with the exception of lead actor Daniel Kaluuya who engulfs the audience’s unease with his performance. Lil Rel Howery also deserves credit for adding a well balanced dose of comic relief. But more importantly, Get Out is a film in which its concept and execution help it transcend from being a run of the mill horror film into an intelligent suspense thriller. For that reason alone, Jordan Peele is to be absolutely applauded for his work and his directorial career is off to a fantastic start.

FINAL GRADE: B

MOORE REVIEWS Grading Scale:

A = Must See/Top 10 Nominee

B = Good film. Flawed, but still very entertaining

C = Not Bad, but highly flawed/Probably better off waiting for Redbox

D = Terrible Movie with a few redeeming qualities

F = I wanted to walk out/Don’t waste time or money