Tag Archives: Bill Hader

Power Rangers (2017)

At last, it is here. Power Rangers has been a roller coaster ride of emotions for me. When it was first announced they were making a new one I decided it would surely suck like all the others. But when I saw the first trailer and it looked like a mix between The Breakfast Club and Chronicle, I started to get a little excited for it. And when the reviews began rolling in and the buzz was “it was pretty good”, I got really pumped for it. And finally, I saw it, and now I’m like: Meh. It was OK.

I actually watched the Japanese Super Sentai version more when I was a kid and never really watched Mighty Morphin Power Rangers on TV growing up, so I didn’t know the film version followed the series so closely in terms of characters. The movie is also set in a small town called Angel Grove and features characters of the same name — Jason Lee Scott (not to be confused with Jason Scott Lee; played by Aussie Dacre Montgomery), Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott), Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler), Trini Kwan (Becky G), and Zach Taylor (Ludi Lin). They are all unusually attractive teenagers who happen upon these coloured rocks in a gold mine that turn them into superheroes!

Anyone who has seen the trailers will have a fairly good idea of exactly what happens throughout the movie. The kids are misfits for whatever reason and they suddenly have great powers they need to learn to control and harness, but they can’t truly become Power Rangers until they complete their training and learn how to work as a team. A pervy alien robot voiced by Bill Hader and the legendary leader Zordon, voiced by Bryan Cranston (no relation to Billy), offer them guidance along the way. Meanwhile, an alien villain named Rita Repulsa (played by Elizabeth Banks) awakens from her slumber and is set to take over/destroy the world. Guess who are the only people who can stop her?

It’s morphin time!

I really enjoyed how the film started and the first half or so. I’m a sucker for The Breakfast Club and thought the characters were given nice introductions. They’re likable kids, and it was good to see the filmmakers add an extra dimension to them by making one on the autistic spectrum and another LGBTQ. The way they discovered the rocks and how they were introduced to their powers is also indeed reminiscent of Chronicle, probably one of the only found footage films I can stand.

I also really loved Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa, which came as a total surprise. She was genuinely creepy and scary, but also funny when she wanted to be. She knew exactly what kind of role she was playing and she executed it to perfection. Bryan Cranston is always a welcome addition to any movie, even when it’s mostly just his face, though Bill Hader doesn’t leave much of an impression as the pervy robot — I have a feeling a lot of his scenes were probably left on the cutting room floor.

The action is, for the most part, pretty well-choreographed and exciting, but it suffered from two major problems. The first is that it took just too damn long for them to finally become Power Rangers! I know this is supposed to be the first film of a new franchise of many, though for a 2-hour movie, I think we only got about 15 minutes of genuine Ranger action. Every time I thought they were finally about to get there — nope. Just more moping and complaining about how they weren’t good enough yet. Secondly, so much of the action was already played out in the trailers. There just wasn’t anything fresh or unexpected, which was a huge shame.

I understand director Dan Israelite (Project Almanac) was likely going for more character development and all, and while the characters are generally affable, the balance was tipped too heavily away from the action sequences. And it’s not like we’re talking Oscar-quality drama anyway, as a lot of dialogue was clunky and frankly a little cringeworthy, especially when it was trying to be dramatic and heartfelt. The jokes weren’t bad, but they weren’t particularly funny either. I thought the film was kind of stuck in a weird place, as it had genuinely scary scenes that might frighten younger kids and some crude jokes that parents would not approve of, and yet a lot of the other elements were clearly directed at a super young audience.

Lastly, the editing was somewhat choppy in places too, and if you really think about it, many parts of the movie made no sense whatsoever and didn’t even try to give explanations. This is why I think the film actually suffers from a lot of the same problems that plagued the widely panned Fantastic Four reboot from 2015, which I didn’t think was quite as terrible as people made it out to be. To me, Power Rangers is on roughly the same level — not as bad as it could have been, but nowhere near as good as I thought it could be.

2.75 stars out of 5

Inside Out (2015)

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As I’ve said many times before, I’m not the biggest fan of animated films. That said, if there is an exception it’ll have to be films produced by Pixar.

The studio’s latest effort, Inside Out, is an ambitious project that is taking the world by storm — notwithstanding its seemingly less attractive premise — largely thanks to rave reviews and word of mouth. And so I decided to check it out for myself.

There’s a Tumblr post being passed around lately outlining the premise behind each of Pixar’s films, with the joke being that every movie is “what if X had feelings?” So Toy Story is “what if toys had feelings?”, Wall-E is “what if robots had feelings?”, and Finding Nemo is “what if fish had feelings?”, and so forth. The one for Inside Out, fittingly, is “what if feelings had feelings?”. And that pretty much sums up the movie perfectly.

In Inside Out, we follow a human character called Riley from birth, though most of the action takes place inside her head, which is inhabited by different emotions who are personified into various characters. The lead character is Joy (Amy Poehler), and there’s also Sadness (Phyllis Smith) and so forth.

I won’t give away much more than that, but I will say it’s an extremely clever depiction of what goes on inside a person’s head, the conflict between different emotions, how memories are stored, remembered, recalled and discarded, and how all of this shapes a person’s personality.

There’s a lot more to how it works and the film will get to that as it progresses, and it’s all done with Pixar’s trademark simplicity, humour, emotions and of course colourful, stunning visuals. The most amazing thing about it all is that this heavily simplified and yet complex psychological system of feelings, memories, personality, depression and the subconscious — as told through a cartoon, no less — all somehow rings true. I’d be very interested to see if there are any educational studies into this film to see just how closely it matches up to what experts understand about the workings of the human mind at this point in time.

When you think about all the intricacies, the mutiple layers and the depth, Inside Out really is quite a remarkable piece of work. Many have gone as far as calling it “genius” and “a masterpiece.”

I’m not sure I would go that far, or even as far as what some critics like Mark Kermode have said, which is that Inside Out could become the first animated film to win Best Picture at the Oscars. It certainly is a very intelligent premise filled with many clever ideas throughout, though as a piece of entertainment I feel like it still lacks a certain “wow” factor that the most compelling films have. There were times when I asked myself whether the confined limits of the premise would allow the film to truly take off. Maybe it’s just unrealistic expectations after hearing so much hype.

And while it easily passes the six-laugh test for a good comedy and has another handful of hearty chuckles sprinkled throughout, I also think the movie could have been even funnier given the ridiculously talented comedic cast (that also includes Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling and the easily recognisable voice of Richard Kind). Phyllis Smith is absolutely hilarious though.

It might be because cartoons just don’t have that effect on me, but I’m sure I’m not the only one as my wife is among several people who have told me that they think the film is just “OK”. However, I think the film is a lot more than just OK because it had an emotional impact on me that only a handful of animations have had before. I rarely get teary-eyed in movies these days and this film got me a few times. Perhaps it’s because I had gone through some similar life experiences to Riley and share some of the same memories. That’s why I think it’s actually a film targeted more at adults than children because it dredges up all these memories and emotions and nostalgia from when we were growing up.

With its imagination, intelligence, depth and ability to tug the heart strings, Inside Out is a film I can definitely see myself rewatching a few times and share with my kids as they grow older. Based on how much I enjoyed this first viewing already, I rate it…

4.25 stars out of 5

PS: The short film before the main feature, Lava, is also very sweet and touching, with a catchy tune that could get stuck in your head for days.

Movie Review: Trainwreck (2015)

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Trainwreck is a dangerous title for a movie because there’s always the risk that it’ll turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Fortunately for Judd Apatow and star comedian Amy Schumer, the film has turned out to be the opposite of its name, cruising past expectations for an 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

And I can definitely understand the appeal. The film is a star vehicle for Schumer, who is following in the footsteps of comedianness like Kristen Wiig, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey in getting an opportunity to break into the mainstream. Schumer is self-deprecating, edgy, raunchy, overtly sexual and an expert at making people uncomfortable, and if you like her style of humour you’ll likely enjoy this film.

The other section of the market the film targets is Judd Apatow fans. He’s been associated with just about every “dramedy” over the last decade, but he’s only really directed a handful of movies — The 40-year-old Virgin, Knocked Up, Funny People, This is 40 and now Trainwreck. A lot of people love how he blends edgy comedy with serious dramatic themes, and now looking through this list I have to admit I am a bigger fan than I thought I was (it’s all those other crap movies which he produced that dragged him down in my mind).

For me, Trainwreck lies somewhere in the middle of Apatow’s movies, which is a little strange considering there are a lot of things I like about it. I like that Amy Schumer makes for a very unconventional protagonist — she’s crass, she’s promiscuous, she likes to drink, and she’s not as skinny or attractive as typical Hollywood female leads (even among the comedians) — which makes for a experience not a lot of us are used to. I’m a big fan of Bill Hader (especially after seeing him in The Skeleton Twins just a couple of months ago) and it’s also interesting to see him — also atypical in many ways — play the romantic lead in a film. On top of that, LeBron James makes his film debut as himself, and shocks because he has a sizable supporting role as opposed to just a cameo — and he’s actually a pretty good actor and quite funny.

The plot is as follows. Amy (Amy Schumer), works at a men’s magazine and gets forced to do a profile on sports doctor Aaron Conners (Bill Hader) by her boss (Tilda Swinton). Having been raised by a father (Colin Quinn) who doesn’t believe in monogamy, she finds it difficult to have a relationship with a man that’s not purely sexual. Though she had just been dating a beefcake who is obviously homosexual (wrestler John Cena), she soon finds herself falling for Conners and becoming just like her more stable sister (Brie Larson), a cliche she has always avoided. But is she willing to change her ways and take a risk to find happiness?

The premise is nothing groundbreaking and feels quite familiar, though usually it’s from the male perspective. Still, I’m surprised by how many people there are calling Trainwreck an “anti-romcom”. Yes, the jokes are sharper, smarter and often very funny, but at the end of the day the film uncontrollably steers toward romcom tropes and typical Apatow character development arcs — you know, the break-up lull just before the grand realisation spurring the character growth needed for the lovers to live happily ever after.

In this sense, Trainwreck is somewhat overrated. It’s not the revolutionary romcom or Apatow dramedy some have made it out to be. And if you know Schumer’s comedy you’ll know she can come across as a little racist (I don’t think she crosses the line though), which can be fine in a standup routine but offend people in a movie scenario. Having said that, I easily cracked the six-laugh quota for a good comedy while watching the film and there were even a couple of times when I laughed as hard as I have for any Apatow movie, no mean feat considering the majority of laughs came from improvised lines and off-the-cuff remarks as opposed to elaborately planned jokes.

Then there’s the LeBron factor. He definitely didn’t choke this time and held his own against some of the most popular comedians in the world. I don’t want to raise expectations too high because it’s still an athlete playing a caricature of himself, though it’s safe to say he blows Shaq’s Kazaam out of the water. Clutch performance. He might not be “da real MVP”, but LeBron certainly deserves to be on the All-Rookie Team.

It was also good to see Amare Stoudemire play himself as one of Dr Conner’s parents, especially considering that he was willing to be in a storyline in which he needs, um, career-saving knee surgery (again). There are plenty of other eye-catching cameos, from Daniel Radcliffe and Marisa Tomei to Marv Albert, Chris Evert, Tony Romo and Matthew Broderick. The good thing is that none of these felt like they were forced into the film for the sake of there being a lot of celebrity cameos.

As with all Apatow movies, Trainwreck is about 15-20 minutes too long, and there are dramatic scenes that drag on. While it may not be the most well-rounded of films, when it comes to delivering laughs and comedy from a woman’s perspective, Trainwreck is anything but. It may not have been as good as it could have been, but it’s still better than the majority of comedies and romcoms that get released these days.

3.5 stars out of 5

2014 Movie Blitz: Part VIII

Cut Bank (2014)

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This was a strange attempt to emulate the magic of Fargo, one of my favourite movies of all time.

The story begins when the central character, played by Liam Hemsworth, accidentally films a supposed murder in the corn fields of the titular small town while training his girlfriend (fellow Aussie Teresa Palmer) for a beauty pageant. But nothing is as it first seems, and soon  Billy Bob Thornton and John Malkovich are on the case. Bruce Dern plays an old nutjob and mailman, while Michael Stuhlbarg plays a psychotic killer. Oliver Platt rounds out the star-studded cast.

Just like Fargo, Cut Bank is brutally violent and has plenty of unexpected events where the shit keeps hitting the fan and the mess keeps getting murkier and out of control. It even has a big Native American dude playing a tough guy. But it’s nowhere near as darkly comedic, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some viewers fail to  get the humour amid all the carnage and mayhem. It’s also not as intelligent or original. Watchable? Yes. Good? Not quite.

One of the biggest problems with the movie is Liam Hemsworth, who hasn’t really done anything that deserves praise thus far in his career. Yeah sure, he’s in The Hunger Games, but in that he’s a distant third fiddle who is more of a minor character than a major one. The charisma of his elder brother just isn’t there.

There are some decent moments, most involving Bruce Dern, and also when Teresa Palmer performs for the pageant, but for those most part Cut Bank doesn’t deserve anything more than a straight-to-DVD fate.

2.5 stars out of 5

Time Lapse (2014)

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This low-budget time travel thriller went completely under my radar. It’s better than the most recent time travel film I watched before it, Project Almanac, and the superb storytelling is good enough to make up for most of its flaws.

The premise of Time Lapse is simple. A guy, his girlfriend and best friend, all living under the same roof, discover a camera machine in a neighbour’s house that takes periodic photos through their apartment window. The photos reveal the scene in the apartment exactly 24 hours into the future.

Writer and debut director Bradley D King does a solid job of getting the most out of this interesting idea, taking advantage of the notion that the protagonists can use the device to send messages to their past selves but also requiring them to act out what they see in the photo 24 hours later to avoid a time travel paradox. It raises questions of free will, fate and whether we can really change the future.

I liked how the movie utilises a limited form of time travel that doesn’t require special effects, and how it focuses on the relationship dynamics of the three central characters. The ending is also quite clever and requires a bit of thought for everything to fall into place.

The performances of the central trio — Danielle Panabaker, Matt O’Leary and George Finn — are also strong, taking attention away from the aspects that don’t necessarily make a whole lot of sense, or reactions that stretch credulity. I thought it was pretty silly, for instance, for them to try to get rich through betting with dodgy bookies. A lotto ticket would have been so much easier and less dangerous.

Flaws aside, it’s still a solid piece of sci-fi entertainment, with enough intrigue and character development to deliver a thought-provoking experience.

3.5 stars out of 5

The Skeleton Twins (2014)

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Don’t think you’re in for a comedy just because you see Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader on the cover. The Skeleton Twins is one of the saddest and most depressing films I’ve seen in a while.

The comedic duo play fraternal twins Maggie and Milo. I don’t want to spoil too much, so let’s just say both are going through a lot in their lives and are likely suffering from depression. Milo’s problems are a lot more overt because he’s gay (and obviously so) and has a dark past, while Maggie’s are more hidden under the surface because she appears to have a wonderful marriage to a lovely, gregarious husband (played by Luke Wilson).

Deep down, however, both are broken, and the film is about how they deal with life’s disappointments and messy situations. There are scenes of genuine heartbreak that really resonated with me, in particular some of the one-on-one conversations involving Milo, and much of the credit has to go to both Wiig and Hader for turning in such fantastic dramatic performances. Hader, in particular, is so convincing as a gay man that I had to check his Wikipedia page just to make sure he’s not gay in real life.

The pair are funny when they want to be, though it’s usually a one-liner here or a mildly humorous situation there; the overall melancholic tone never goes away in this film, a brutally honest look at life without rose-tinted lenses, full of difficult stretches and little moments of joy and laughter.

It’s undoubtedly well-made and driven by superb performances, which also include Modern Family‘s Ty Burrell and Boyd Holbrook, whose Aussie accent barely gets over the line for me (it’s just a hard accent for Americans to do, I guess). That said, I don’t usually like such dark, depressing films because they put such a downer on my mood. I suppose I’ll have to make an exception for The Skeleton Twins, as it has enough sweetness and poignancy to justify a hearty recommendation.

3.5 stars out of 5

Annie (2014)

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Am I crazy, or is the universally panned remake of Annie actually not that bad? I had basically put off watching the film (I’m not that interested in musicals anyway) because of all the bad reviews, so I entered this without any expectations. I came out of it pleasantly surprised. Yes it’s cliched and saccharine and Cameron Diaz overacts even more that usual, but I still thought Annie got the job done with some nice homages to the original 1982 film, a modern makeover, some clever jokes, and a couple of catchy — albeit super autotuned — tunes.

Quvenzhané Wallis (who rose to stardom after earning an Oscar nomination for Beasts of the Southern Wild) plays the titular character, Annie Bennett, an orphan who longs to one day meet her real parents. She’s stuck with the nasty and single Miss Hannigan (Diaz) in foster care, I suppose for the government funding, until one day a stroke of luck makes her cross paths with mobile phone mogul and germaphobe William Stacks (Foxx). Sensing an opportunity, Stacks’ mayoral race campaign manager (Bobby Cannavale) gets Stacks to temporarily take Annie into his care to boost his popularity. And you know the rest.

The singing is OK — it’s at least better than Mamma Mia (Pierce Brosnan still gives me nightmares). Cameron Diaz isn’t great, and Rose Byrne is decent, but Jamie Foxx has a nice set of chords. I’m sure there’s a lot of autotune, but that’s what you’re expected to get these days when you cast a musical for star power as opposed to singing. The songs are relatively catchy, better than a lot of other musicals in recent years, and songs only pop up when they need to, unlike say Les Miserables where just about every line comes with a melody.

Look, it’s not great, but the tone is light and lively, and Jamie Foxx and Rose Byrne are funny enough to carry this well-intentioned remake through to the end, hitting a fair share of right notes along the way. I don’t get why people had such an acidic reaction to it.

3 stars out of 5