Tag Archives: Elizabeth Banks

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

Movie Review: Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)

PP2

I wasn’t as fanatical as most others, but I admit I quite liked the first Pitch Perfect. It was easy to like, with a soundtrack full of catchy, classic tunes, witty, irreverent humour and a brilliant cast led by the lovely Anna Kendrick and fan-favourite Aussie Rebel Wilson.

The film’s smashing success meant an inevitable sequel was forthcoming, and I remember thinking upon hearing it had been green-lit that the chances of Pitch Perfect 2 being as good as the original were zero.

And of course I was right. Notwithstanding that I really wanted to like it and despite it being perfectly acceptable fun, Pitch Perfect 2 was just a notch or two below its predecessor in every department. The “wow factor” of the A capella is mostly gone, the jokes are less funny, and the cast doesn’t have the same life to it, even with the addition of the talented Hailee Steinfeld.

Was it bad? No. Was it good? I suppose so. Ultimately, the reaction that best sums up my feelings about the movie is a shrug and  an “OK.” It was a sequel that didn’t have to be made but got made because of money, and everything about it reflected that. It has its moments, but by and large it’s exactly how you would expect a sequel like this to play out: bigger stage, higher stakes, new conflicts, and a dash of fresh blood.

Since winning the national title three years ago, the Bellas are now three-peat champs. The predictable fall from grace happens very early on, and from there the Bellas need to start over and aim higher at the same time by entering into an international competition where they are pitted against the best of the best, including a campy and nasty German juggernaut. The Bellas argue, they bond, they have relationship troubles and setbacks along the way, before eventually coming together for the finale.

This time the film is directed by Elizabeth Banks, who also reprises her role as commentator Gail alongside the legendary John Michael Higgins’ John Smith. Banks has a good eye and ear for comedy, and she infuses the film with a light mood and a sweet tone (pun intended), though there’s nothing particularly flashy about her execution.

Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson are still really good, but both are less funny than last time. In fact, everyone is just a little less funny than last time. There were lots of politically incorrect jokes — be it about race or nationality or fat people — which I ordinarily love, by the way, though for some reason it’s not as punchy and laugh-generating as it should have been. Maybe you just need to be in the right mood for the comedy to hit the same high notes.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed Pitch Perfect 2 as a whole relative to most other musicals or comedies. I guess it’s slightly better than I had expected but not as good as I desperately wanted it to be, even though I knew that would be the case.  Still, that means this formulaic, by-the-book sequel is probably good enough for its target market: fans of the original and audiences satisfied with some stylish singing and dancing, a bit of light humour, and familiar characters doing familiar things.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Walk of Shame (2014)

walk of shame

The nicest thing I can say about Walk of Shame, the new Steven Brill comedy starring Elizabeth Banks, is that there’s nothing about it that makes me loath the film with a vengeance. The same can’t be said about Brill’s last directorial effort, which is the appallingly toxic iBabe segment in the venom-inducing Movie 43 from last year. The worst crime Walk of Shame is guilty of is being criminally unfunny, and I suppose that’s an improvement.

Elizabeth Banks, who got into great shape to fit into the snug yellow outfit she dons for the majority of the film, is Meghan Miles, a news anchor and a “good girl”, the safe option in a safe relationship. A series of unfortunate events befall her, and a dispirited Meghan goes out on a wild night with her girlfriends, only to wake up in the bed of sexy stranger Gordon (James Marsden). The rest of the film is all about Meghan running into one outrageous situation after another as she tries to make her way to the news station so she can cash in on a new job opportunity. 

It’s a fairly typical comedy premise where nothing seems to go right for the protagonist, and all efforts to resolve the situation only lead to more misunderstanding and mayhem.

In this case, the central gag is that Meghan is repeatedly mistaken for a prostitute, which gets her involved with both the police and gangster drug dealers. It doesn’t sound like a hopeless idea, but I kid you not when I say there was not a single laugh to be found in the entire 95-minute film. Not a tee-hee, not a chuckle, and nary a smile. (OK, so the introductory sequence with real-life news blooper footage WAS funny, but that’s just collected from YouTube, so you can’t give the movie credit for that.)

The jokes are either obvious, typical or stereotypical. I don’t want to say misogynistic because that is a term that gets thrown around too liberally these days, but much of the humour in Walk of Shame is definitely sexist and racist. That’s something I don’t usually mind if the film is actually funny. When it’s not witty or funny, however, it’s just pathetic, and that’s what this movie ultimately is.

And I haven’t even mentioned how incoherent the plot is and how little sense any of it makes. It’s really hard to get into a film — any film — when its central premise is that flimsy. There were about a million ways Meghan could have resolved the situation, but of course she keeps choosing the most moronic, implausible option just so she could extend her misery, and ostensibly, ours.

Elizabeth Banks tries her hardest but can’t even come close to salvaging this disaster. I doubt even Meryl Streep could have. Is Banks a likable protagonist? I dunno. She certainly is a stupid one and not really worthy of our sympathy. 

As for James Marsden, the poor guy still can’t catch a break. I don’t get it. He’s a good-looking guy and not without charisma or acting ability, and yet he seems to always get the worst roles. He was the guy Rachel McAdams ditched without reservation in The Notebook. He was the guy who turned Cyclops, the leader of the X-Men, into an afterthought. Even when he gets a leading role, such as in the remake of Straw Dogs, the film never gets any traction. And the romantic comedy roles he gets appear to be those Paul Rudd would not touch with a 10-foot pole. I last saw him in The Butler as JFK, and we all know what happened to him. Poor bastard.

As bad as it is, Walk of Shame is at least not one of those films that left me spewing vitriolic profanities by the end if it. It’s just one of those really unfunny romantic comedies you wonder what possessed the studio to make and will forget a couple of days after watching it. In this case, that’s a good thing.

1.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Lego Movie (2014)

the-lego-movie-poster-full-photo

I was really excited when I heard they were making a Lego movie. But then I saw the trailer and thought it looked lame. And then I heard people say really good things about it. So I watched it. And the verdict?

Everything is awesome!

I don’t usually care much for animated films and judge them by harsher standards by most people, but The Lego Movie is pure fun and a lot of joy. The jokes and wisecracks come fast and furious, and it didn’t take long before I found myself having an absolute blast, letting go of my prejudices and simply going along on the wild, adventurous ride.

It’s the funniest movie I’ve seen this year and probably still will be by the end of it. Not everything works, of course, but a surprising amount of it hit the mark with razor-sharp precision. And it’s a gags free-for-all, from slapstick to satirical and from lighthearted to black, with a touch of Will Ferrell randomness. I thought it would just keep using the same gags many of us have already seen from those Lego video games, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The best compliment I can perhaps give it is that the feel was Simpson-esque at times, with a healthy dose of the more tasteful South Park humour.

The most clever thing about the film is that it is multi-layered, from the jokes to the surprising message that rears its head towards the end. What it means is that it can be enjoyed by people of all ages and that everyone will probably take something different out of it. You might laugh at different things depending on your age, but there’s no avoiding the uncontrollable urge to laugh.

Is there a story? Yes, and it’s a tongue-in-cheek one too. Chris Pratt voices Emmett, an ordinary construction worker who is suspected of being the prophecised one known as “the Special.” Together with the help of a sassy lady by the name of Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and a Gandalf-ish wizard by the name of Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), Emmett must try and fulfill his destiny and stop the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell) from destroying their world with dangerous superweapon.

The all-star cast is filled up by other big names such as Liam Neeson, who plays the hilarious Bad Cop/Good Cop, Will Arnett as Batman, Channing Tatum as Superman, Jonah Hill as the Green Lantern and Colbie Smulders as Wonder Woman. Additional cast members include Charlie Day, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie and Dave Franco.

What impressed me about the voice cast was how they were utilised. Normally when you get A-listers doing voices in an animated film there is the risk of them being too recognisable to make the character effective. In The Lego Movie they used the most recognisable voices to its advantage, with Liam Neeson doing his best Bryan Mills impersonation (from Taken) while Morgan Freeman fired out his lines as he would had he been playing God. The results are but-gustingly funny.

The great thing about Lego is that it has so many licensing arrangements with different franchises that it has the ability to throw in a lot of well-known characters. If you were excited at some of the video game character cameos in Wreck It Ralph then you’ll spray your pants when you see some of the cameos in The Lego Movie. I don’t want to ruin the surprises, but if you the character has a Lego version then you’ll probably see him or her in the film.

And I haven’t even gotten to the visuals, which are spectacular. All the colours and all the bits and pieces of Lego you can imagine, being put together and taken apart rapidly on a regular basis. I expected The Lego Movie to be pretty, but not the visual feast it turned out to be.

At 100 minutes the length is about right, but it does slow down considerably as it tries to wrap up. Others might feel like the film was a bit out of control and too all over the place, and it probably was, but I think that was exactly how the filmmakers intended it to be — a crazy, energetic piece of imaginative entertainment that has something for everyone. Let’s hope the sequel (due May 2017) can produce an experience just as special.

4.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Next Three Days (2010)

When I first saw the preview for The Next Three Days, the new thriller written and directed by Paul Haggis (the phenomenal award-winning screenwriter of Million Dollar Baby, Crash, Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima), I thought it was going to be a cross between Prison Break and three seasons of 24 condensed into a 122-minute film (three days = 72 hours, get it?).

Well, it wasn’t exactly like that, but The Next Three Days was still very very good.  Besides, Russell Crowe is no Jack Bauer or Michael Scofield.

Anyway, Crowe plays John Brennan, a community college professor and husband of Lara Brennan, played by Elizabeth Banks.  Without giving away too much, Lara is accused of a heinous crime, and John, the loving husband and father, is faced with a life-changing decision.  Will he risk everything to save her?  Will he even stand a chance?

Needless to say, Crowe is brilliant, as he always is.  He is in just about every scene, and he brings Brennan to life with a versatile performance that traverses a full range of emotions.  Brennan is neither a genius nor a soldier, but his determination and courage make what happens in this film less implausible than it would otherwise seem.  More than half the film follows Brennan around as he contemplates what he must do and how he will go about doing it.  There’s a lot of surveillance, trial and error, and learning from mistakes.  It’s actually quite refreshing to see how a seemingly ordinary man goes about planning an elaborate scheme and the practical obstacles he must overcome to succeed.

Elizabeth Banks is an underrated actress, and she does a good job here, but at a young-looking 36 she seems a little mismatched for the 46 year-old Crowe.  It’s a weird combination because they also have a very young son and are a very affectionate couple — it’s nobody’s fault (maybe except for the casting agent), but something about their relationship that doesn’t feel quite right.  Maybe it’s just me.

The Next Three Days is ultimately a slow-burner about one man’s single-minded determination to save his wife at any cost.  There are lots of ups and downs in the first half as Brennan finds his feet before the action really picks up in the second.  It’s more of an intellectual thriller as opposed to a white-knuckle action blockbuster, but I like it better this way.  I was intrigued the entire way because Haggis made sure there were always unanswered questions, though I think it was probably 20 minutes too long.  And I didn’t think it was necessary in the end to reveal as much as it did so that everything is tied up neatly — some things are better left to the audience’s imagination.  But again, maybe that’s just me.

On the whole, a nice, well-made thriller with solid dramatic elements and top notch performances.  I enjoyed it a lot.

3.75 stars out of 5

PS: Liam Neeson in a very short and rather distracting cameo.