Tag Archives: RJ Cyler

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

Me, Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)

me_and_earl_and_the_dying_girl_poster

In an age when young adult films are dominated supernatural romance garbage and sex comedies, it’s refreshing to see Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Jesse Andrews, who also penned the screenplay. With a superb cast, sweet charm, touching drama and plenty of witty laughs, it’s a bittersweet coming-of-age story that cleverly tricks you into thinking that you’re not being manipulated because of an apparent avoidance of genre cliches.

The protagonist, Greg (Thomas Mann), is a high schooler who prides himself in not being a part of any cliques and can stay on friendly terms with anyone and everyone. His best friend — and only close friend — is Earl (RJ Cyler), and together they have been making short film parodies of famous classics for years using creative low budget techniques. Everything changes, however, when Greg is forced by his eccentric parents (Connie Britton and Nick Offerman) to befriend Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a former childhood friend who had been diagnosed with an illness.

Before you go there, allow me to set things straight. Me, Earl and the Dying Girl is not a tear-jerking love story in the vein of The Fault in Our Stars. In fact, it feels like writer Jesse Andrews intentionally tried to steer away from such a storyline. The film is more in the ball park of John Green’s other film adaptation, Paper Towns (which was somewhat meh) and Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower (one of my fave films of 2012), though it’s lighter on romance and heavier on humour, especially of the dry, self-deprecating kind.

There’s plenty of things I liked about this film: the likable central characters, the amazingly clever short films they created, Greg’s weird-ass father, Rachel’s hilarious mother (Molly Shannon), and the very cool teacher played by Jon Bernthal. I liked how determined it was to veer away from melodrama and the saccharine, without losing any of its charm or wackines. It has just the right amount of adolescence — for once the teens in a movie look like teens and act like teens and have teen issues and problems.

The performances are top notch across the board, and much of the credit must go to the perfect casting. I hated Project X with a passion, though Thomas Mann was one of the things I didn’t loathe about it. Since then he has really done a lot of good work, including in The Stanford Prison Experiment and being the bright spots in mediocre features like Barely Lethal and Beautiful Creatures. He’s going to be seen next year in Kong: Skull Island, the reboot of the King Kong franchise that will culminate in a showdown with Godzilla.

Olivia Cooke is an underrated up-and-coming actress I’ve kept my eye on. She’s mainly known for horror up to this stage of her career (Ouija, The Quiet Ones, The Signal and TV’s Bates Motel) but her screen presence and acting chops suggest to me that she will catch a big break sooner or later. Same goes for RJ Cyler, who has reportedly been cast as the Blue Power Ranger in the upcoming Power Rangers flick.

I didn’t have any real complaints about the film. The pace probably could have been swifter for a 105-minute film and resorts to more conventional genre tactics as it nears its conclusion, though my primary gripe — if it can be called that — is that it’s not quite as emotionally affecting as I had hoped it would be. Perhaps after all that effort to keep the tone light and unsentimental also somehow sapped it of the deeper poignancy that a film like The Perks of Being a Wallflower had hit me with.

On the whole, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl is a sweet little film, well-written and superbly executed by director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (best known for directing episodes of Glee and American Horror Story). I laughed often and enjoyed it a lot, though in my opinion it still falls a few steps short of the memorable classic it was aiming to be.

4 stars out of 5