Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Power Rangers (2017) film review

Year: 2017
Running Time: 124 minutes
Director: Dean Israelite
Writers: Haim Saban (based on "Power Rangers" created by), Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless, Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney (story by), John Gatins (screenplay)
Cast: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Ludi Lin, Becky G., Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Banks, Bill Hader (voice)

Power Rangers is now showing in the United States and Australia. Distributed by Roadshow Films in Australia.

In yet another 2017 action reboot,  the goofy and self-important Power Rangers attempts to target the teenagers of today, while at the same time unintentionally neglecting their first and loyal generation of fans.

Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) was always the cool kid at school, until a mindless prank ruins his future chances of doing anything incredible while he is still a senior. During his time in detention, he meets the recently outcast Kimberly (Naomi Scott) and eccentric Billy (RJ Cyler). His unlikely new friendships with these two lead the three of them to uncover the site of an ancient alien spacecraft, along with other fellow students Zack (Ludi Lin) and Trini (Becky G.). The five discover that they have been chosen to be the five Power Rangers who are to help Zordon (Bryan Cranston) protect the world from the evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks). First, they must learn to work together to become who they are meant to be.

Power Rangers, which is based on the 1990's television show "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers", is stuck in a time-warp believing that it is still primarily targeting the same young audience that it once was. However, with taking on a project like this, director Dean Israelite and screenwriter John Gatins have an inbuilt responsibility to also cater for the faithful who were fans of "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" in their childhood. As a result, Power Rangers works rather well as a film for teenagers with it's simplicity, basic dialogue and themes, characters and stereotypes that are relatable for the high school demographic.

However, this clear vision of the filmmakers to make a superhero film about teenagers for teenagers neglects the majority of Power Rangers audience members....those who watched, loved and were faithful to the television show a good 20 years ago. These long time fans will find the film and it's screenplay a little too basic and silly to completely enjoy. While the action sequences are impressive, there are definitely not enough of them to make the film particularly fun or entertaining to adults who are used to watching more challenging action films brought to us by Marvel and DC. However, there are still reasons to believe that this fragment of the audience has not been completely forgotten as there are a number of shout-outs to the original television series, including the famous "It's Morphin time".

What has most noticeably changed from the 1990's Power Rangers is that the 2017 Rangers are more diverse than they have ever been....and this isn't in regards to race. The filmmakers have made sure that all teenagers who feel as though they are out of place in the world feel inspired by watching Jason, Kimberly, Billy, Zack and Trini. The five rangers are all considered misfits as they do not fit in at their school and in a very The Breakfast Club-esque turn of events, are all part of their school's Saturday detention. However, despite their inability to fit in, they all do incredible things. Most notable of these new special qualities are that of Billy having ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and Trini being acknowledged as queer.

While it is absolutely a step in the right direction having a teenage queer superhero, there is too little done with this to make a real impact and truly feel ground breaking. Director Isrealite told The Hollywood Reporter that he wanted the moment that Yellow Ranger Trini subtly reveals to her new friends that she is not straight to encourage teenagers to believe that "That's OK". However, there is so much more that could have been done with this scene and it's aftermath that would have made it much more of a triumph for the LGBTIQ community, especially for it's younger members. In the scene where Trini "almost" makes her confession, it is still unclear whether she has just revealed her true sexual orientation or not. Israelite says in The Hollywood Reporter article that she is still confused and questioning (as many teenagers are at that point of their life), but this part of the scene seems too vague to be considered powerful. Again, it is no doubt that Trini being acknowledged as queer is a very positive step for both the action film genre and high school sub-genre, but it was an opportunity that deserved to be made more of.

Unfortunately for Becky G.'s Trini, her character development is exceptionally weak which is a travesty considering how pivotal her role is to the film and to cinema. The same can be said for Ludi Lin's Zack, as it is Dacre Montgomery's Jason, Naomi Scott's Kimberly and RJ Cyler's Billy who certainly have more screen time and as a result, their characters are dissected a great deal more. Montgomery, Scott and Cyler all do rather well in their roles and know their characters well enough to give convincing and well-rounded performances.

Elizabeth Banks' villainous Rita Repulsa is a great disappointment. When she first arrives into the modern day, she is truly terrifying. If she had kept the same twisted, ancient features she has in her first few scenes throughout the whole film, Power Rangers would have been a great deal more thrilling. However, the longer the film goes on, the more unintentionally comical and weak her character gets with some atrocious lines of dialogue. In her final scenes, she really is nothing more than a 90's young adult television show villain and this does nothing for the film.

The masses who will be flocking to see Power Rangers for a piece of nostalgia from their childhood will be disappointed with what they see. The film and it's story have not grown up with their audience and while there is a slight element of fun in the film somewhere, it is one of the more forgettable reboots and remakes.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Beauty and The Beast (2017) film review

Year: 2017
Running Time: 129 minutes
Director: Bill Condon
Writers: Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos
Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Stanley Tucci, Hattie Morahan

Beauty and The Beast is now showing everywhere and is distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.

Disney's second time round with Beauty and The Beast breathes spectacular new life into the much adored classic while always remaining lovingly respectful to the original fairy tale and animated original.

For a film that is so enchanting, whimsical and charming, it is incredible how much criticism and backlash Beauty and The Beast has received right through from it's initial announcement in June 2014 to it's recording breaking release in the United States last week and in Australia this week. While a film that has so far made over $460 million worldwide is clearly not being hurt by any criticism it has received, Bill Condon's Beauty and The Best certainly deserves to be defended from the unwarranted, meaningless and clueless backlash it has received.

While it is based on the original story written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and revised by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, the film is more so a live-action love letter to it's animated older sibling released by Disney in 1991. In the quaint French village of Villeneuve, Belle (portrayed by Emma Watson) is an outsider as even though she is beautiful, she is considered peculiar as she seems happier with her nose in a book than responding to Gaston's (Luke Evans) romantic advances. Her wishes for adventure are answered when her father (Kevin Kline) is captured by the terrifying Beast (Dan Stevens) in his castle and when Belle ventures to rescue him, she offers herself as prisoner in order for her father to be set free. During her period of stay, Belle finds herself strangely and increasingly drawn towards the Beast and she may be the one to set he and the enchanted members of his household free from their damning spell.

When Disney officially announced that it would be remaking one of it's own into a live action film, it was met with a great deal of scepticism. Since then, it has been met with the predictable backlash that occurs when a beloved family classic is remade. Much of the criticism has proved to have been unwarranted since the release of this film, but Beauty and The Beast has also attracted controversy for it's romanticising of Stockholm Syndrome (which is also completely predictable) and it's very brief "gay scene" (if you can even call it a scene). However, Disney deserves praise once again for overcoming the obstacles of the remake and also deserves defence against the controversy.

The inevitable question that had to be asked in June 2014 was "Why would Disney want to remake a near-perfect film?"

It's a valid question. When Beauty and The Beast was released in 1991, it became the first animated feature film to be nominated in the Best Picture category at the Academy Awards. It became an instant Disney classic and still remains a favourite Disney film for many, many people. Remakes are absolutely in fashion at the moment and it's not completely crazy to believe that Disney could have just fallen in step with this fad.

However, this is Disney we are talking about. The empire has had tremendous success turning their animations into live action (eg. Cinderella and The Jungle Book) and expanding the universe of their classics (eg. Maleficent and no doubt the upcoming Mary Poppins Returns). If there is one studio that could pull off this mammoth task of bringing Beauty and The Beast to the world of live action and coming away with a success, it is Disney...and they have delivered. That's not just in regards to the incredible box office earnings thus far either.

Beauty and The Beast is truly an exquisite piece of cinema that is absolutely beautiful to behold. Although it is not as grandly emotional, it is certainly touching and very family friendly. Did it need to be remade? Of course it didn't need to. However, Disney saw that the opportunity was there for it's 1991 film to be remade and use live action thanks to the advances in CGI to create something different and special. The CGI does incredible things for the film and helps to make memorable scenes from the original even more memorable and spectacular (including the pivotal dancing "Beauty and The Beast" scene and "Something There" in the snow). The CGI also brings such characters of Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) and Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) to life and gives them more refined and intriguing features than what we saw in the animation.
Whilst many will argue that this 2017 film is too much like the original, this is simply not true. One only needs to revisit the original to realise that there are many differences. There are many similarities there too, but with live action comes a whole set of new rules which need to be abided by which don't apply as much to animation. For example, character development is far more important in live action than it is in it's animated counterpart. This is a real treat for those who are fans of the 1991 original, as the characters of Belle, Beast and Gaston (to a lesser extent) are opened up. Although her singing voice may not be as powerful as one would hope for this role, Emma Watson does Belle great justice. She personifies what Belle is about and shows how her character truly is a modern girl in a time where she didn't belong. This does admittedly fit Watson's real life persona, but this character trait and her soft, but strong performance as Belle makes her a perfect Disney princess for these times.

The live action also obviously calls for a different mode of direction and bringing several of the musical numbers to life would have been no simple task. Bill Condon's direction of these Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice musical numbers (several of which were also adapted for this film) is superb and although animation can do a great deal with these songs, what live action gives the viewer is definitely more impressive, especially during "Belle" and "Gaston".

One issue that is always brought to light when Beauty and The Beast is spoken of is the presence of Stockholm Syndrome, which is the concept of the captured coming to feel empathy or developing strong feelings for their capturer through manipulation. It was only inevitable that this was going to arise with the release of this film. Also there is it predictable wrath of those who believe that Beauty and The Beast is dangerously sexist as it depicts a woman being captured and abused by a tyrannical beast. Both of these arguments are redundant here. Belle was never actually captured in this film nor in the original, as her father was captured and she demanded a switch. If there are similarities to Stockholm Syndrome (which there are very little when you look at the actual definition), that is the fault of the original story and not of the filmmakers. However, the condition wasn't even acknowledged until the 1970's so it is highly unlikely this was a theme on the intent in the original story. Beauty and The Beast has always been a romantic fairy tale about not judging a book by it's cover and this is the way it should be read.

Finally, the biggest and most controversial talking point in the past week has been the very brief acknowledgement of Gaston's sidekick, LeFou (played by Josh Gad) as homosexual. Several cinemas around the world have banned the film from being shown because of this inclusion. One can only imagine that the large majority of the outraged haven't actually seen the film, as what they are so up in arms about takes up only a matter of seconds in over two hours. There is absolutely nothing in these few seconds of screen time which is damaging, graphic or crude and all you would have to do is blink to miss it. This controversy is a massive overreaction and there are far more important things to be outraged about in this world rather than whether a Disney film has maybe 20 seconds where a man looks lovingly at another man.

Beauty and The Beast has overcome a great deal of scepticism to become a beautiful film that is an enjoyable and stunning companion piece to it's animated original. It's controversy is completely unfounded and should be enjoyed and praised for exactly what it is.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Loving (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 123 minutes
Director/ Writer: Jeff Nichols
Cast: Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton, Will Dalton, Sharon Blackwood, Marton Csokas, Bill Camp, Nick Kroll, Jon Bass

Loving will open in Australian cinemas on March 16 and is distributed by Entertainment One.

In another winning turn from writer/director Jeff Nichols, Loving is raw, subtle and endearingly human with absolutely sublime performances by Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton.

The marriage of Mildred (Ruth Negga) and Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) is legendary for it's role in the legalisation of interracial marriage in Virginia and 15 other states in 1967. In 1958, Mildred (who was of colour) and Richard (who was Caucasian) were married outside their home state of Virginia as interracial marriage was not recognised there. The two were arrested weeks later for anti-miscegenation and Mildred was thrown into jail when she was five months pregnant. Upon being released, the court rules that they must leave the state and not be in Virginia at the same time together again. The two continued to fight to have their marriage recognised in their home state and took their case to the Supreme Court.

While Loving is certainly being marketed as a romantic story of love overcoming all boundaries, it is a tremendous relief that it is not atypical of a Hollywood romance film, as the memory of Mildred and Richard Loving does not deserve that treatment. They deserve more than the candy-coating of their story to suit the wider audience. There will be many cinema goers who will disagree with me because adorable and all-encompassing romance is expected in mainstream cinema when the film is about marriage. It would have been far too tempting for the story of the Lovings to be told in such a way as a result.

However, with a writer/director at the helm like Jeff Nichols, this film was never going to be told like this. Nichols (who's past films have included Mud and Midnight Special) is known for his natural and raw method of storytelling and he was the perfect filmmaker to do the Lovings' story justice. The rural Virginian setting of Loving is extremely atmospheric and exquisite thanks to the film's glorious cinematography, but it also perfectly captures the socio-political climate of the southern state in the 1950's which is so very important to the story.

The best thing about Loving is that it does not try to push any of the issues or exaggerate any aspect of the film. The issue of race is not brought up in the film straight away as a way of showing that the Lovings never saw their race as being an issue in their relationship. They knew there wouldn't be a way to marry in Virginia because of the interracial marriage laws, so they travelled to Washington, DC. However, this is the only mention of race being an issue before they are taken into custody in their hometown. Race is a glaringly obvious theme of Loving, but its importance does not need to be emphasised as the issue and story are powerful enough without any help.

The Lovings were obviously quite reserved people who kept to themselves and even though their case was taken to the Supreme Court, they did not choose to appear in person. Despite the stigma that was attached to it, their marriage was not one that was out of the ordinary and this is perfectly depicted in Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton's performances. The two give extremely subtle, but effective performances as the everyday couple who do extraordinary things to make sure they can provide a normal life for their family. Both Negga and Edgerton give beautiful performances and their chemistry is not overly physical, but never lacks power and strength.

Loving is an extraordinary and powerful story about ordinary people wanting their marriage recognised. It is a story that is most effective when approached with subtlety and as naturally as possible. Thankfully, Jeff Nichols has taken the story of Mildred and Richard Loving and done them absolute justice with this beautiful film.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Kong: Skull Island (2017) film review

Year: 2017
Running Time: 118 minutes
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Writers: John Gatins (story), Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly (screenplay)
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, John Ortiz

Kong: Skull Island is now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed in Australia by Roadshow Films.

King Kong gets yet another turn on the remake wheel with Kong: Skull Island- an alternate story with astounding special effects and impressive cast who are let down by the mediocracy of it's unintentionally comedic screenplay.

Set in 1971 with a striking visual resemblance and hero-worship of Apocalypse Now, Kong: Skull Island  sees a group of scientists and soldiers make their way into uncharted territory in the South Pacific where several planes have gone missing. It does not take long for the group to realise that they have been fooled and instead sent on a deadly mission to a place where prehistoric terrors rule the roost and the giant Kong is the king.  

It is impossible to make a King Kong film in this day and age on a minimal scale. With the advances that are continuously being made in CGI in cinema, we must accept the inevitable, which is that we are going to see more and more remade action films, particularly ones involving giant monsters such as Kong and Godzilla. So it really isn't a surprise that another reimagining of King Kong has been produced whether it was actually needed or not.

Therefore, with the days of making B grade action films or monster story sequels on a shoe string budget gone, Kong: Skull Island has not surprisingly been blessed with a $185 million budget and done wonders with it. The film is a spectacular visual extravaganza which features a larger Kong than we have ever seen before and he is an extremely impressive creation. Kong's island is inhabited by a number of primeval creatures who are all lifelike and terrifying thanks to the fantastic CGI employed in this film. The action sequences which feature these monsters are especially awe-inspiring visually, yet a little lack-lustre when slotted into the story.

Visually, Kong: Skull Island is everything a blockbuster should be. It's an incredible shame that it's screenplay cannot support it's weight. Unlike it's exterior, the script is of B-grade quality. The dialogue is clunky, predictable and, for the most part, unintentionally funny, as is the case with many of the events in the film. When you are not belly laughing at the lunacy of some of the scenes in the film (such as the Skull Crawlers and the camera flash), complete boredom sets in. Unfortunately this plagues Kong: Skull Island right from the very beginning when you are hoping that things will become more exciting once they actually reach the island. But no.

The screenplay does however, pay homage to the original King Kong story with such inclusions as Kong being restrained by chains and Brie Larson's Mason Weaver being the beauty who tames the beast. Yet, this is the only similarity the female heroine shares with Fay Wray's Ann Darrow in 1933 and again when Naomi Watts played her in the Peter Jackson remake in 2005. Mason is a stronger female character than her predecessors and Larson brings to her a raw, but spellbinding quality with her natural wit and charisma. However, the film as a whole is a waste of her talents, as it is for Tom Hiddleston also. Considering Hiddleston is given top-billing, he is actually given very little to do and a terrible lack of character and character development.

And it's an action movie....needs a bit more sass, wit and entertainment...of course Samuel L. Jackson MUST be part of the cast! In recent times, Jackson has just became a caricature of himself and his mutters of "mother f**ker" and "bitch please" are so sub-standard for any film that he is in that it does not have the desired impact in Kong: Skull Island nor makes him seem as bad-ass as he once did. His performance is just so over the top Jackson-esque that it just encourages one massive eye-roll.

Despite the overwhelming temptation the filmmakers must have felt to use the CGI now available to us, Kong: Skull Island really did not need to be made and it's mediocrity says this loud and clear.