Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2017: Power Rangers (dir by Dean Israelite)


So far, on this Christmas Day, I have posted three reviews for films that featured plots that made little to no sense to me.  Well, here’s a fourth one.

Power Rangers is a cinematic reboot of the old Mighty Morphin Power Rangers television show from the 90s.  It deals with five teenagers who meet in detention and, though a series of events that I really don’t feel like wasting my time recounting, end up in an old gold mine where they find five coins, which allow them to turn into … well, I guess they’re Power Rangers.

There’s Jason (Dacre Montgomery), who was a star football player until he stole a car as part of a prank and ended up crashing it.  (The initial car crash is entirely filmed inside the automobile, which adds some deceptive excitement to the film.)  And then there’s Kimberly (Naomi Scott), who is the mean girl who actually has a good heart.  She’s in detention because she’s a cyber bully.  Billy (RJ Cyler) is the genius, which means that he’s the type of socially awkward student who accidentally blows up his locker.  And then there’s Trini (Becky G) and Zack (Ludi Lin), who are both just kind of there.  Every good group of three has to have two extra people to get in the way and that’s pretty much the function of Trini and Zack.

Anyway, after they discover the Power Coins and share a few moments that feel as if they were lifted from Chronicle, the new Power Rangers are trained by a robot named Alpha 5 (Bill Hader) and a former Power Ranger named Zordon (Bryan Cranston) who died at around the same time as the dinosaurs.  Apparently, finding the power coins has allowed the ancient evil of Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) to be reborn and now she’s threatening to destroy either Earth or the universe.  Actually, I was never quite sure what Rita was trying to do.  But the Power Rangers have to set aside their differences, learn to work as a team, and come together to defeat her.

Or something like that.  Honestly, this film featured a lot of exposition about people with names like Zordon and Rita Repulsa and Goldar and my eyes pretty much glazed over while I was trying to listen to it all.  Listen, I am a fidget spinner-carrying member of the Severe ADHD Club.  The minute they started explaining the lengthy history of the Power Rangers, my mind pretty much started looking for anything else to focus on.  It would have been different if the film has some sort of epic scope or if it made it look like it would actually be fun to be a Power Ranger.  Instead, it just turned into another franchise-opening action film.  Basically, it felt like The Fantastic Four movie, with one extra member of the team.

I should admit that I’ve never seen an episode of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.  Perhaps if I had, I would have gotten more out of this movie.  The five actors playing the Power Rangers are all talented and charismatic and I look forward to seeing what they do in the future.  But this confusing mess of a movie just left me with a headache.

Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #17: 13 Hours (dir by Michael Bay)


(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by Wednesday, November 30th!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)

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I recorded 13 Hours off of Epix on October 14th.

Before I say anything else about 13 Hours, I would like to be point out something that I haven’t seen mentioned in any of the other reviews of this film.  13 Hours is not just a recreation of the September 11th, 2012 attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.  (This attack led to death of Ambassador Chris Stevens, Tyone Woods, Sean Smith, and Glenn Doherty, all of whom are portrayed in the film.)  13 Hours is also a very unexpected The Office reunion.  On The Office, John Krasinski played Jim Halpert while David Denman played Roy Anderson, the ex-fiance of Jim’s wife, Pam.  In 13 Hours, they both play members of the American security detail who spend 13 terrifying hours trying to protect the compound from a violent and heavily armed mob.

They’re both surprisingly well-cast.  As someone who absolutely loved The Office, I had my doubts as to whether or not I’d be able to believe John Krasinski — he of the iconic smirk and the adorable eye roll — as a battle-hardened, former Navy SEAL.  Jim Halpert with a gun!?  I wondered.  But Krasinski brings an unexpected gravity to his role, as does David Denman.  For that matter, the entire cast — and this is truly an ensemble film, even if it is dominated by Krasinski and James Badge Dale (in the role of Tyrone Woods) — does surprisingly well.  If I sound surprised, that’s because 13 Hours was directed by Michael Bay, a director who is not exactly known for his skill with actors.

It says something about how messed up 2016 has been that, for a few weeks in January, 13 Hours was the most controversial film in America.  When the film was first released, many commentators and critics were convinced that it was all part of a grand conspiracy to keep Hillary Clinton from being elected President.  Now, 11 months later, we can look back and — well, hmmm.  Hillary Clinton wasn’t elected President but that probably has nothing to do with 13 Hours.  If I remember correctly, 13 Hours didn’t exactly set the box office on fire.  It was pretty much forgotten by February.  Unless 13 Hours somehow convinced Hillary Clinton to not campaign in Wisconsin or Michigan, I imagine that it had little influence on the actual election.

Neither Hillary Clinton nor, for that matter, Barack Obama are ever mentioned in 13 Hours.  (Then again, the film also never tries to convince us that the attack was solely the result of a YouTube video, either.)  That’s not to say that there isn’t a political subtext to 13 Hours.  (It’s impossible to make a movie about Americans with guns in the Middle East without there being some sort of political subtext.)  However, that subtext has less to do with what happened during the attack and more about whether or not the U.S. should have even gotten involved in the Libyan Civil War in the first place.  If anything, 13 Hours seems to be suggesting that any sort of American military intervention in the Middle East is doomed to failure.

Make no mistake about it.  Thematically, 13 Hours is Michael Bay’s darkest film.  It starts with disturbing footage of the Libyan revolution and it ends with shots that linger over the ruins of the compound that several men were either killed or wounded attempting to defend.  Even those who manage to survive the 13-hour battle are left scarred, both physically and emotionally.  For perhaps the first time in a Bay film, no attempt is made to make war look heroic or inviting.  There’s none of the over the top sentimentality that typifies so many of Bay’s other films.  Instead, there’s just John Krasinski sobbing as he realizes that his friends are dead.

That said, Bay has to be Bay.  In some ways, 13 Hours is his most mature film to date but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t showcase a lot of Bay’s flaws as a filmmaker.  At 2 and a half hours, the film is at least 50 minutes too long and the scenes of Krasinski talking to his pregnant wife feel like they were lifted from an unpolished second draft of American Sniper and, as a result, they’re never as powerful as they were obviously meant to be.  As usual, Bay does better with the action sequences than with the human element.

In the end, 13 Hours is a frequently harrowing, if rather uneven, film.  If nothing else, it may be remembered for heralding the unlikely emergence of John Krasinski, action star.

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Film Review: The Gift (dir by Joel Edgerton)


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Because of the nature of The Gift, this post is going to contain minor spoilers.  There’s no way to talk about what makes the film work so brilliantly without giving away a few plot points.  Such is the nature of the beast and all that.  So, if you don’t want to deal with spoilers, allow me just to say this: Go see The Gift.  See it tonight.  See it tomorrow.  See it this weekend.  But, definitely — go see it!

(And if anyone tells you that The Gift is not worth seeing than that person is not really your friend and you need to start hanging out with a better class of people.)

Ryan has already reviewed The Gift and, having watched the film earlier today, I agree with everything that he had to say.  That’s why I am happy to add my voice to his and encourage you to see The Gift.  With this week pretty much dominated by ruminations on the colossal failure of The Fantastic Four and the upcoming weekend guaranteed to be dominated by the release of both Straight Outta Compton and The Man From UNCLE, there’s a definite risk that The Gift is going to get lost in the shuffle.

And that’s unfortunate.  Much like the thematically similar UnfriendedThe Gift comes disguised as a conventional thriller but, once you start to unwrap it, you discover that there are layers and layers of subtext and The Gift is actually one of the best and most thought-provoking films of the year.

Like many great Lifetime films, The Gift opens with a married couple living a deceptively wonderful life.  Simon (Jason Bateman) is friendly and charming and appears to be on the verge of getting a big promotion at work.  He and his wife, Robyn (Rebecca Hall), appears to be happy and in love.  They have also got a friendly dog named Mr. Bojangles and they’ve just moved into a beautiful new house.  After spending the last few years in Chicago, they’ve relocated to Simon’s home state of California.  They’re looking forward to starting a family.  Everything’s perfect.

And then, while out shopping for furniture, they run into Gordo (Joel Edgerton).  Gordo explains that he went to high school with Simon.  (At first, Simon swears to his wife that he doesn’t even remember Gordo but that soon proves to be false.)  The socially awkward Gordo starts to send Simon and Robyn progressively more and more extravagant gifts.  After Simon tells Robyn that Gordon was known as Weirdo in high school, Robyn starts to feel sorry for Gordo and insists that Simon try to be friendly towards him.  Simon, however, remains weary of Gordo and his intentions.  At first, it seems like Simon is just being cautious but, as the film unfolds, we discover that Simon has his own reasons for wanting to avoid his old classmate.

The more Gordo tries to insert himself into Simon and Robyn’s life, the more we start to see the cracks behind their “perfect” marriage.  Robyn, it turns out, had previously suffered a miscarriage and has a history of abusing prescription medicine.  Meanwhile, it’s revealed that, behind Simon’s fast smile, there lies a condescending control freak.  (Gordo mentions that Simon ran for senior class president on a “Simon says” platform.)

There’s more to Simon and Gordo’s relationship than either one of them is initially willing to admit.  In high school, Simon was a bully and Gordo was his number one victim.  That Gordo wants revenge on Simon should not be surprising.  That’s obvious from the trailer.  No, the genius of the film is to be found in the way that it subtly reveals that, as an adult, Simon is still as much of a jerk and a bully as he was in high school.  He’s just gotten a lot better at hiding it. The same traits that made Simon a bully in high school have helped him to find material success in the real world.   When Gordo reeneters his life, Simon can no longer hide who he really is.  Gordo is not just his former victim.  Gordo is proof of what lies underneath Simon’s perfect facade.  When Robyn finally convinces Simon to apologize to Gordo, Simon cannot do so convincingly because he’s not so much sorry as he’s just inconvenienced.  When Gordo refuses to accept the apology, Simon’s mask falls away and he reveals his true nature, setting up the film’s devastating conclusion.

(I’m not going to spoil how the film ends but I will tell you that it left me breathless and stunned.  It’s not a happy ending but it is absolutely the right ending for the story that’s being told.  As both the film’s director and writer, Joel Edgerton deserves a lot of credit for staying true to the movie’s theme.)

Rebecca Hall is well-cast as Robyn but, ultimately, the film is dominated by the performances of Jason Bateman and Joel Edgerton.  (Interestingly enough, both Bateman and Edgerton are made up so that they superficially resemble each other, allowing Gordo to literally become the personification of Simon’s ugly side.)  Edgerton transforms Gordo into a character who is both scary and pathetic at the same time.  Meanwhile, Jason Bateman — oh, where to begin?  For the longest time, it’s been impossible for me to look at Bateman without flashing back to that scene in Juno where he hit on Ellen Page.  Now, however, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at Jason Bateman without hearing him yell, “Accept my apology!”  Jason Bateman has played a lot of less-than-sympathetic characters but Simon … well, Simon may be the worst.  As an actor, Jason Bateman deserves a lot of credit for not shying away from revealing the truth about Simon.  It takes courage to play such an unlikable character and talent to make that character compelling even when the viewer can’t stand him.

The Gift is an excellent and thought-provoking thriller, the type of film that will both make you jump with fright (I screamed during a certain shower scene and that’s all I’ll say about that) and leave you with much to think about after the end credits roll.

It’s a film that you need to see now.