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Power Rangers – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

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Five teenagers with attitude discover five alien artifacts that have been lost on Earth for millennia.  Together, with these power coins and their potential unlocked, they become the Power Rangers, defending the Earth against all levels of threat! 


Well, okay, it wasn’t that straightforward.  Three of the five teenagers meet at weekend detention like in The Breakfast Club, Jason (Dacre Montgomery), Kimberly (Naomi Scott) and Billy (RJ Cyler) attend Angel Grove High together.  Jason was a star athlete who rolled his car and injured his knee during a police chase after a prank gone wrong.  Kimberly leaked photos of a rival in a compromising position to the entire school.  Billy is autistic and the target of bullies…I don’t remember why he was in detention, but he was.  In detention Jason protects Billy from a bully, making them friends.  Billy overrides Jason’s house arrest ankle bracelet and the two are off on an adventure where they find Kimberly and meet Zack (Ludi Lin) and Trini (Becky G) in a local quarry, a quarry where Billy and his dad used to hunt for scrap metals and treasures before he died.  Blasting apart a quarry wall, they find five glowing coins: red, pink, blue, black and yellow.  These coins give the youths strength they couldn’t imagine, but they are not Power Rangers yet.  Meeting Alpha Five (Bill Hader) who takes them to Zordon (Bryan Cranston) they train and eventually bond, forming a team who can finally morph into the Power Rangers, set to defend the Earth from Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks).


You know what, I actually really enjoyed this.  Sure it was 90% cheese, but it was nostalgia, and it was fun.  Yes, it was an origin story so getting to the action was a little slow, but the story developed the characters fairly well, and had a lot of heart behind it.  I liked how they managed to make a fairly intelligent story out of what was effectively an after-school show for kids.  Zordon was a former Red Ranger, Rita was part of his team as the Green Ranger.  Her monster Goldar was created when she managed to steal enough gold to make him.  Sure there were some plot holes and head scratching moments (the Pink Ranger was in detention for spreading revenge porn?  SPOILER: Rita drowns the Blue Ranger and instead of anyone giving him mouth to mouth or CPR they take him miles away to Zordon’s hidden Power Ranger base?), but I enjoyed it.


I liked the effects, and I liked the costumes.  Whenever there is a movie of this type, you have to get the costumes right, and the new “armoured” look was a lot more practical for fighting space aliens than spandex ever was.  All the actors really did a great job, from the seasoned veterans like Cranston (who voiced several monsters on the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV 1993-1995) and Banks to the newcomers.  They each really seemed to have fun in the roles, and they all fit their updated characters.  The characters also seemed quite realistic.  Black Ranger Zack seems moody and aloof, but is really concerned about his mother’s ailing health.  Yellow Ranger Trini has problems with her parents (it’s hinted that she’s either bi-sexual or a lesbian).  Red Ranger Jason and Pink Ranger Kimberly both are dealing with the consequences of their past decisions, and Blue Ranger Billy is still dealing with the loss of his father, but really is the heart of the group, and the most enthusiastic about becoming a “super hero”.

I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel, but apparently that is in doubt.  I’ve heard that the film did not perform as well as the studio had hoped, and that the director thinks the PG-13 rating may have had some affect on it.  The reasoning is that with the slightly higher rating, families may not have been as likely to watch the film.  From what I could tell, the primary reason the film got the PG-13 instead of a PG rating was swearing.   A few times the language was a little more “colourful” than you would expect for a property mainly directed at children.  I think that something the director could have controlled and taken out of if the potential rating worried him.  They could have even fixed it in post production.  Power Rangers was a solidly entertaining popcorn flick, plain and simple.  You would be disappointed if you were looking to take more than that from it.


Bottom Line: Nice that it wasn’t just a simple rehash of the television series.  I liked the cameos (Jason David Frank and Amy Jo Johnson) but would have liked more.  Where were Bulk and Skull?  Even if they didn’t have the actual actors (Paul Schrier and Jason Narvy) from the original series, it would have been a nice nod to have the characters show up.

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Trumbo – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

Trumbo4.0 Stars


Even though Trumbo is not my usual cup of tea, I felt that I had to watch it because of its Oscar nomination.  Bryan Cranston was a deserving Best Actor nominee for his excellent performance as Dalton Trumbo, a top Hollywood screenwriter who was blacklisted by the industry for his communist leaning political beliefs in the mid 1940s.  Trumbo takes us through the peaks and valleys of the writer’s career; from the beginning when he was writing hit movie after hit movie, to his time in prison, to his underground writing days and then shows us his rise back to the top as one of Hollywood’s elite writers.


Going into the film, I had no idea who Dalton Trumbo was, but of course I had heard of the infamous Hollywood “blacklist” and knew a little bit about it, the “Hollywood Ten” and the McCarthy Hearings.  I had seen the trailer and was intrigued enough to want to watch it, even before knowing Cranston was nominated for an award.  The film was very interesting, and quite informative and even a little bit educational.  Though since the special features revealed that the writer character played by Louis C.K. was an amalgamation of several real people, I’m sure other things were brushed up for the film too.


As I said it was interesting and entertaining, but it was a little dry which was kind of to be expected as this is really just a bio-pic.  While Trumbo was involved in Hollywood at an interesting time in history, he didn’t really live the life of a celebrity.  He didn’t go to Congress and punch out people who disagreed with his political views, he went to Congress to testify and defend his constitutional freedoms.  Not exactly the makings of an action film.  He didn’t face assassination attempts around every corner, he helped get his fellow blacklisted writers work by organizing a system where they could write under pseudonyms and still get paid for it.  Not exactly a suspense thriller.


Trumbo was really carried by the stellar performance of Cranston and that’s what most people will take away from their viewing experience.  The supporting cast was also impeccable, and I particularly enjoyed John Goodman, Helen Mirren performances as well as Dean O’Gorman playing Kirk Douglas.  That being said, it was a nice little history lesson disguised by great performances wrapped up in a movie so that the audiences of today would want to learn it.


Bottom Line: I’m slowly getting caught up.  I think I’m only 12 films behind in my reviews now….

Godzilla 2014 – DVD Review 4/5 stars

Product Details4 Stars


Fun.  This movie was a lot of fun for me.  I have always enjoyed Godzilla movies, well except for the 1998 fiasco, because for the most part they are a mindless escape, and fun.  They are some sort of male fantasy where two giant monsters just beat the crap out of each other.  But there are other things I love about the good Godzilla movies too.  There are great metaphors which come through with the human side of the story.  In 1954 Japan could hardly come out and make a movie about nuclear war and the bombing of Hiroshima, but they did by hiding it behind a science fiction monster movie.  Virtually all good science fiction has a strong social message.  Now, Godzilla 2014 had a lot more human story than it did monster fights, but that was okay, because the story was pretty well told and had a lot of ties back to the original Gojira film.  I especially enjoyed the nods in in the opening credits of the movie. 

The film begins with a nice build up of suspense and we are treated to a radioactive monster wiping out parts of Japan and Hawaii that soon heads towards San Francisco that the military are mostly powerless to combat.  As the human story and family stories continue, we get another monster wreaking havoc on the United States.  As the slow burn continues, we finally get to see our heroic titular monster as he homes in on his foes.  The visual effects were excellent throughout the film, as was the sound.  The “Godzilla roar” sounded great on my surround sound, even if the roar itself was altered a bit from it’s classic form.  The final act of the movie of course is the big fight that you know is coming.  The Godzilla final fight is what you are really looking forward to whenever you watch a Godzilla movie.  This one did not disappoint, as it took full advantage of today’s CGI effects and gave probably the truest sense of the level of destruction a fight like this would actually produce.


Of course I’ve heard a lot of people complain about Godzilla 2014, that the heavily billed stars, such as Bryan Cranston, were not in it enough;  that the characters weren’t developed very well; and that there was not enough Godzilla.  Well, I have to agree with some of that, but remember folks, this is a Godzilla movie, not Shakespeare.  I suppose my three biggest complaints were that:

  1. We didn’t get enough good looks at Godzilla himself.  A lot of the times the title character was obscured by smoke, under water, in darkness, or behind a building, or shot from really far away and shown on the news in the foreground of another shot.  I think I saw that someone clocked the amount of time that Godzilla was on screen at just over 11 minutes.  It felt longer to me, but they could have timed just the total, un-obscured time on screen.
  2. There wasn’t enough monster fighting.  Sure we got to see the MUTO destroying cities and bridges and buildings and everything in between, but not nearly enough time of them getting beaten up by Godzilla…though (minor SPOILER ALERT) when Godzilla kills that one….holy cow!  That was pretty cool.  All I can say is “suck atomic fire breath”.
  3. When we did get to see Godzilla, I didn’t really like the look they went with.  I don’t know.  I kind of prefer my Godzilla to have a neck and a forehead.  How else do you fit a guy into the rubber suit?

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Bottom Line: Once again we’re faced with the dangers of nuclear power and giant monsters, fortunately nature has a way to balance things back, in the form of Godzilla.

Argo

Product Details4 Stars

This year, I’ve only seen a handful of movies that are nominated for the Oscars this year.  Of those (Hobbit, Skyfall and The Sessions) none were nominated for any of the “main” awards; well, except The Sessions I suppose, with Helen Hunt being nominated for Best Supporting Actress; but none were up for Best Picture.  This year, of the nine nominees, the only two I was remotely interested in seeing were Life of Pi and Silver Linings Playbook (and that was only after I saw the trailer, the commercial did absolutely nothing to sway my interest).  I know I missed Life of Pi at theatres, and I think Silver Linings as well, but I did want to see something before the Oscars and with Argo coming to DVD, I decided to watch it tonight.

Argo has been receiving very good reviews, and has won the Best Picture and Best Director awards at the BAFTAs and the Golden Globes.  Without having seen it, I did not think that the picture would have a chance against Spielberg and Lincoln, which seemed to be the early (and critics) favourites to win.  Now having seen the film, Argo could headline my picks for the Oscar pool at work.  I can see why the film has won the awards it has, and I they are well deserved, that being said, you may ask why I didn’t rate it five stars?  It didn’t really do a lot for me personally.  It was enjoyable, but a little dry, and I’m not a huge fan of movies “based on true events”, especially when it is a historical event that I was alive for….granted I was only six years old, but I did know how the events were going to play out.

In 1979, the American embassy in Iran was taken over by Iranian revolutionaries and the American staff and diplomats were taken hostage.  Six of the workers did manage to escape and hid in the official residence of the Canadian Ambassador to Iran.  With limited options, the CIA with the co-operation of the Canadian government devised a daring plan to extract the six “houseguests”.  They created a fake Canadian film project led by CIA agent Tony Mendez alias Kevin Harkins, who were looking to shoot their film in Iran and smuggle the Americans out as its production crew.  With the help of some trusted Hollywood insiders, a backstory is created for the fake film crew and the fake film: “Argo” a Star Wars-esque film with a Middle Eastern flavour.

It was a little ironic at times to have to view the CIA as the heroes, as when you think about it (and it is touched upon in the film’s opening sequences) the CIA helped create this situation in the first place.  It was partially their decades of influence over Iran’s government that led to the  corrupt and oppressive regime, eventually inciting the 1979 revolution.  It was also nice see some real world cloak and dagger work which was a lot less glamorous than that of James Bond.  It’s obvious that dramatic license was taken with some of the situations because looking at it from the outside, an awful lot of coincidences occurred at the climax, and after watching the special features of the DVD we learn that things didn’t play out exactly as Argo shot them, but as we should know, real world climaxes don’t usually equate to Hollywood climaxes.

The story was actually quite interesting and I liked how it all came together. The real world techniques used were what really fuelled the story, and drove the suspense for me.  Again, having a film based on real recorded historical events does kind of kill the suspense, but that’s where a skilled director and good script can return them.  Fortunately Affleck did manage to do this, and Argo did manage to hold my interest for the most part.  I did find that some parts of the movie moved rather slowly, and I didn’t really care for the glimpses of Mendez/Harkins’ personal life,  I just didn’t think they fit in this film.  Ben Affleck, as I said, did a good job directing, but I didn’t find his acting very good at all.  He wore one expression the entire movie, covered up by an ’80s beard and I think when he tried to inject humanity into his character he was forgot what the movie was doing at that time.  Instead of being a taught spy movie or a political thriller, a few times he looked like he was trying to make an “absentee dad” redemption film.

Of the rest of the cast, I can only say good things about Bryan Cranston, John Goodman and Alan Arkin.  Cranston was excellent and believable in his CIA role, showing some of the life and passion that perhaps Affleck could have shown in his. Goodman and Arkin actually injected a lot of humour into the film, despite the overall serious nature of the situation, with their observational quips on Hollywood being both well scripted and well delivered.  Goodman plays John Chambers, a Hollywood effects and makeup artist who has done work for the CIA before; and Arkin plays Lester Siegel, a movie producer who is actually a composite of several Hollywood executives.  I find it unlikely that Arkin will win another Best Supporting Actor Oscar as he has already won that same award for Little Miss Sunshine, but if he did win, it wouldn’t be undeserved.

One nice little touch I personally enjoyed was a line near the end of the movie (I don’t think this will be a spoiler, since it is recorded history) when back in the States; Cranston’s character Jack O’Donnell congratulates Mendez on his work and quips “If we wanted applause, we would have joined the circus” and Affleck’s Mendez replies “I thought we did”.  I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but I thought the line to be a nice nod to John le Carré who wrote Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; thought by some to be the definitive real world spy novel; a story about the British Intelligence agency, that he nicknamed The Circus.  When watching the special features, one of the real “houseguests” told of how they were thankful that Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor had such a large library in Iran to keep them occupied in the months before their escape, and that she had read all of his John le Carré novels at the time.

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