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Movie Reviews Archives for 2017-03

Regional Media Movie Review Power Rangers

The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was a goofy live action cartoon that was never intended to be taken seriously. Even as the franchise became a marketing powerhouse and made the leap to the big screen in the late 90's, it was still just a doofy kids show with silly costumes and plushy, over-sized villains. The new-fangled Power Rangers on the other hand are still silly but with an ever so slight edge. 

The Power Rangers have been the protectors of Earth for thousands of years, having sacrificed themselves to stop the Earth from being destroyed. The part of the Power Rangers that lived on are in the form of colored power coins which, when discovered by a disparate band of teens, kick off a new age of the Power Rangers and set the stage for an all new battle to save the Earth. 

Jason (Dacre Montgomery) is the leader of the group, a former Big Man on Campus turned teen criminal. Jason meets Billy (R.J Cyler) and Kimberly (Naomi Scott) during detention at Angel Grove High School and the three wind up together at a local quarry where Billy is sure he going to discover an ancient artifact. Indeed, Billy does discover something quite remarkable when he accidentally blows up part of the mine, something that draws the immediate attention of Trini ( Becky G) and Zack (Ludi Lin) who happen to be nearby. 

What the five discover are the legendary Power Coins and the coins give them superpowers, strength, speed, and intelligence. This also leads to the discovery of an underground spaceship, home to the last of the original Power Rangers, Zordon (Bryan Cranston) who is trapped between the world of the living and the world of the dead, and his assistant, a robot named Alpha (Bill Hader). 

With the guidance of Zordon the Power Rangers are fitted for battle against Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), a former Power Ranger turned villain who has returned to life and seeks to raise a dire monster called Goldar by stealing gold anywhere she can find it. With the aid of Goldar, Rita will battle the Power Rangers with designs on destroying the world on her way to conquest of the Universe. 

Yes, it's all very silly, especially Elizabeth Banks' wonderfully silly performance as Rita. The strength of this iteration of Power Rangers is that it has zero pretensions. The film owns it's goofball past and simply improves on it with a more modern style of both action and storytelling. The film retains the doofy spirit of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, especially it's goony villains but isn't imprisoned by the past. 

Each of the young actors cast as Power Rangers is able to make a good enough impression here that we care about them in the big fight. My favorite is Billy, who's last name "Cranston" is an homage to his co-star Bryan Cranston who has a past connection to the Power Rangers having voiced characters on the original show. R.J Cyler plays Billy as Autistic and while there is danger of slipping over into uncomfortable stereotypes, the young actor softplays the character tics and delivers a lovable performance. 

This movie was not made with critics in mind, in the end this is a film for very young children. What I admire about Power Rangers is that it never feels limited by being 'just a kids film.' The story has brave and bold elements to it, a very, very very slight edge to it. The film is silly and playful but has just enough weight to it that I kind of cheered at the end and I wasn't ashamed of it. 

It seems impossible to believe it myself, but I actually recommend Power Rangers. It has a positive message, solid thrills and a story that is safe enough for kids without having to pander, a rather remarkable feat for a film based on a series that was almost entirely pandering in its heyday, as much marketing machine as it was a TV series. 

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Regional Media Movie Review Life

Life stars Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal as astronauts aboard the International Space Station who are tasked with retrieving a probe from Mars that may contain proof of alien life. The probe indeed, does have an alien species and when it is unleashed, all hell breaks loose aboard the station as our heroes try to keep this new life away from Earth. Here's my review of Life. 

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Regional Media Movie Review The Last Word

Shirley MacLaine is a national treasure. Sure, I don’t like several her films but when she’s good, there are few better. Don’t believe me? Watch “The Apartment” and then try to tell me I am wrong. MacLaine is in the twilight of her career and with her new movie “The Last Word” she has determined to write the last chapter of her career in glorious fashion.


“The Last Word” stars Shirley MacLaine as Harriet Lauson, a lonely, bitter woman whose control freak tendencies have driven away most everyone in her life. After a failed suicide attempt, Harriet stumbles across the obituaries page of her local paper and wanting the chance to control even her death, she decides to go to the paper to start the process of writing her obituary, so she can make sure she gets the last word on what is said about her.


Ann (Amanda Seyfried) is the paper’s obituary writer, a lonely but quite talented writer who lacks the courage to strike out on her own. When Ann meets Harriet, they don’t exactly hit it off but it’s only a matter of time before Harriet’s unique life and domineering personality begin to inspire Ann. After hearing that most of the people in her life despise her, Harriet decides to change her life completely to change her story and what a story it turns out to be.


I will leave the rest of the plot for you to enjoy. Shirley MacLaine is a joy to behold as Harriet makes one oddball choice after another to give herself the obituary and indeed the life she truly wants. As I write this, the story does sound clichéd but trust me when I tell you that MacLaine is so delightful that it doesn’t matter if the story seems overly familiar.


Amanda Seyfried’s job in “The Last Word” is mostly reacting to the bizarre twists and turns of MacLaine’s Harriet but she does put a nice spin on that role. Seyfried seems at times in awe of MacLaine and it feeds well into the character who, though she may not be in awe of Harriet, she’s at least consistently surprised by her new friend’s sudden evolution from crotchety old hag to fun loving yet still domineering, hipster.

 

Director Mark Pellington makes the smart choice to just let MacLaine drive the train. There is nothing special about the direction of “The Last Word,” but just allowing MacLaine to take the lead fits the character and the movie quite well. MacLaine’s Harriet is the dominant force for everyone around her so it makes sense that MacLaine’s performance dominates the film.


“The Last Word” is funny and sweet, sad at times, yes but with a genuine heart and wit behind the sadness. It’s a film about age and the cruelty of time and about a woman who refused to be defined by that time. In many ways that reflects MacLaine who has approached aging in Hollywood with wit and aplomb. MacLaine’s wit is as strong as ever in “The Last Word” and I recommend you enjoy it while you can. “The Last Word” is opening in the Quad Cities on Friday at Rave 53rd and IMAX.

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Regional Media Movie Review The Belko Experiment

If you like mindless splatter and especially if you like exploding heads, “The Belko Experiment” is the movie for you, if not the movie for me. Though pretending toward a satire of life in mundane office turned upside down the most violent of downsizing, “The Belko Experiment” is far too shallow for  satire and far too pointless for me to care.


John Gallagher Jr, last seen opposite crazy John Goodman in “10 Cloverfield Lane” is Mike, the office nice guy at a seemingly typical American office. Except, this office isn’t in America. Despite being populated by an assortment of run of the mill office types, this office is in Bogota, Columbia, of all places and though non-descript, the setting creates unease right off the bat.


Why are a bunch of workaday office drones working in one of the most dangerous cities in the world, is a question that lends some early suspense to “The Belko Experiment.” It’s a clever bit of shorthand that, if you had not seen the trailer and weren’t aware of the premise of the film, you would make you take note of the setting.


Mike’s day is mostly ordinary; he flirts with his secret office romance, Leandra (Emerald City’s Adria Arjona), he confronts the office creep, Wendell (John C. McGinley) and shares an awkward moment with the bigwig COO Barry (Tony Goldwyn) who catches him in a moment with Leandra. Everything is mundane until a heretofore unheard of public address speaker screeches to life and informs everyone that this will not be just another day at the office.


The voice on the PA instructs that the office workers must kill their co-workers or the voice will do it for them in the form of a bomb in everyone’s neck. An indication that The Belko Corporation had this bloody endgame in mind all along is that they convinced their employees to get trackers in their necks to aid them in case they get kidnapped in Bogota. The implants are now revealed to be bombs and a gruesome end is ensured for just about everyone.


“The Belko Experiment” is a spiritual cousin to the “Saw” franchise. Both films center on God-like figures setting other people up to kill or be killed in a bizarre social experiment murder spree. The difference between the “Belko” and “Saw” however is the point and purpose, “Saw” has a point and purpose and “Belko” doesn’t.


As gruesome as “Saw” unquestionably is, Jigsaw is a strangely benevolent figure. Each of Jigsaw’s victims has the chance to survive if they put aside their self-centeredness and worked as a team with their fellow captives. The only reason Jigsaw victims die is because they are out for themselves and make selfish choices. There is no such equivalent in “The Belko Experiment.” The film is only an exploitation splatter flick with modest, mostly unrealized pretensions toward social satire.


Is “The Belko Experiment” a good exploitation-splatter flick? Yeah, if you like that sort of thing it’s fair to say this is on the higher end of that low-end genre. The film is clever at building and sustaining tension throughout and the gore is believably visceral but it’s far too pointless for my taste. None of the blood and guts matter. The characters are far too shallow for them to matter beyond how well their heads explode.


If well rendered exploding heads is enough for you, then by all means, enjoy “The Belko Experiment.”

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Regional Media Movie Review Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast stars Emma Watson as Belle, a peculiar young lady in a small French village, prone to reading while walking and daydreaming about life outside her quiet little town. When her father, played by Kevin Kline, is captured in a strange forgotten castle in the middle of a forbidding forest, Belle goes to rescue him and winds up taking his place as a captive of the Beast (Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens). The Beast is a prisoner in his own right, cursed to be a Beast until he finds true love. Emma Thompson, Ian McKellen, Josh Gad, Luke Evans, and Ewan McGregor co-star for Director Bill Condon. Here is my review of Beauty and the Beast.... 

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Regional Media Movie Review Mean Dreams

The passing of actor Bill Paxton naturally led to a great deal of praise and reflection as the universally beloved actor was remembered across the media landscape. He may not have looked it but Paxton was 61 years old when he died of complications related to surgery. His youthfulness is something that many of his friends have talked about in tribute and his youthful energy was reflected by his work rate. At the time of his passing Paxton was working on the CBS television series “Training Day” and had one film in post-production, “The Circle,” and another that he was about to hit the promotional trail for and the reason for this writing, “Mean Dreams.”

 

In “Mean Dreams” Bill Paxton portrays a righteous bastard and invests him with the kind of menace that he doesn’t seem capable of from the remembrance of his friends. It’s high estimation of his talent that he was so incredible at making you afraid of him and yet he’s remembered for such incredible kindness and generosity in his everyday life.

 

“Mean Dreams” is the story of Jonas (Josh Wiggins) and Casey (Sophie Nelisse), teenagers who fall in love when Casey becomes Jonas’ neighbor, living just field of weeds away. The two meet in the forest and though Casey’s father Wayne (Paxton) isn’t very welcoming, the two begin spending time together and building the kind of short term romantic intensity only teenagers can create. The romantic montage is beautifully shot by cinematographer Steve Cosens and director Nathan Morlando. The montage does its job of establishing the relationship and moving us along to the thriller plot that is the film’s center.

 

Jonas and Casey’s budding romance is altered forever when Jonas witnesses Casey being beaten by her father and attempts to intervene. Later, Jonas once again tries to help Casey but finds himself trapped amid Wayne pulling off a drug deal and then a multiple murder. When he escapes this situation, Jonas decides to take the ill-gotten drug money from Wayne’s truck, gathers up Casey and her dog and goes on the run to escape from Wayne and his equally corrupt cop partner played by Colm Feore.

 

There is a very Terence Malick like vibe to “Mean Dreams” with “Badlands” unquestionably influential in the film. The very first scene of “Mean Dreams” shows Jonas seemingly wearing the uniform of Martin Sheen’s young bad boy from “Badlands” while crossing the dewy, overgrown Midwestern weeds that Malick made so beautiful. The look is the only similarity however, as the character of Jonas is certainly nothing like Sheen’s thoughtless murderer. Josh Wiggins gives Jonas toughness and vulnerability in equal measure with his determination and caring a bittersweet counterpoint to Bill Paxton's villainous Wayne. 

 

Bill Paxton is terrifyingly real in “Mean Dreams.” Playing a drunken, corrupt, small town cop, Paxton is all seething menace underlined with a depth of sadness that only makes him more frighteningly unpredictable. The specter of Wayne hangs over the whole film, especially in scenes he is not in because his menace permeates the whole film and while he is frighteningly realistic it’s hard not to fear him popping up like a horror film villain. He’s portrayed as clever and resourceful on top of being a desperate bastard and Paxton infuses the character with chilling life.

 

In his second feature, following the 2011 Canadian crime flick “Citizen Gangster,” director Nathan Morlando acquits himself well. The look of the “Mean Dreams” is often quite lovely, with a touch of influence from “Badlands” and a little of the grayish grit of “The Road,” Morlando shows that he has a distinctive eye. If “Mean Dreams” is lacking in any way, it’s in the thin characterization of his female characters as either absent or present victims.

 

“Mean Dreams” is an intense sit with a quick pace and a good look. The film also ranks as one of the best performances in Bill Paxton’s long and varied career. I am not the one to offer Paxton a proper tribute as I have often taken issue with his performances, especially his most well-known turns for friend and director James Cameron. That said, I can say that his talent is well displayed in “Mean Dreams” where even as a supporting villain he carries the film with his menacing presence pushing the plot forward regardless of whether he’s onscreen or not.

 

This won’t go down as Paxton’s final performance but it is certainly a memorable one and one that is more than worthy of being part of a retrospective of the man’s career. Gone to soon at 61, you can celebrate Paxton’s work when “Mean Dreams” arrives on on-demand and download services on March 17th, 2017. 

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Regional Media Movie Review Kong Skull Island

A seemingly undiscovered island is about to be invaded by soldiers and scientists on a mission of discovery. It's the cold war and America wants what is on Skull Island before the Russians get their first. So, a team of soldiers led by Samuel L. Jackson and a team of scientists, led by John Goodman, are given the chance to discover Skull Island and what they find is something man has never seen before, Kong. Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston and Corey Hawkins co-star. Here is my review of Kong Skull Island. 

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Regional Media Movie Review Logan

Logan stars Hugh Jackman as Daniel Howlett aka Logan aka Wolverine. In this iteration of the story, Logan, along with Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), is among the last mutants alive.A company has wiped out mutant kind for the most part or so we are led to believe. Charles however, has begun telepathically communicating with a young female mutant on the run from the evil Transigen Corporation and their own private army known as Reavers. Can Logan protect the young girl and assure the future of mutant kind or will the Reavers  bring an end to Mutants, including, once and for all? Here is my review of Logan. 

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Regional Media Movie Review Table 19

Undoubtedly someone will relate to the idea of being invited to a wedding where they are not expected to attend. At least, that is what the producers of the new comedy “Table 19” would like to think. The premise here is that several people have been invited to a wedding where they were just expected to pick a gift off the registry and send that in with their regards. Instead, each of these oddballs decides to attend the wedding and wind up at the table of misfit guests.


Anna Kendrick stars in “Table 19” as Eloise, the former Maid of Honor turned pariah after she was dumped by the Best Man who is also the Bride’s brother, Teddy (Wyatt Russell). Eloise has backed out of the wedding several times since the breakup only to show up on the day of the wedding with everyone concerned she might make a scene. To mitigate her potential meltdown, Eloise is placed as far away as possible, at Table 19.


Joining Eloise are a random assemblage of guests including Jerry and Bina Kepp, (Craig Robinson and Lisa Kudrow) business acquaintances of the Bride’s father, Jo (June Squibb), the Bride’s former Nanny, Renzo (Tony Revolori) an awkward teenager, and Walter (Stephen Merchant), a business associate of the Groom’s father. Walter is fresh out of prison and hoping no one knows about his prison stay or how he got there; why he came to the wedding or was invited is anyone’s guess.


“Table 19” has the appearance of a movie but not the story of a movie, at least not a good one. At times the film feels like each actor was given one idea for a character and then told to improvise some comic situation. Unfortunately, despite a very talented and game cast, no one, not even the lovely Anna Kendrick finds much beyond one note to play and that one note is rarely ever funny.


Stephen Merchant is a very funny and talented man but his Walter is an absolute comic dead zone. Walter’s one note is that he is just out of prison and hoping no one notices. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know how to lie properly so he keeps stumbling into awkward and contrived conversations that the makers of “Table 19” apparently believed were hilarious. They are not hilarious, tedious is the more apt description as Merchant plays the same awkward gag over and over until you wish his character would just leave the rest of the movie alone.


Craig Robinson and Lisa Kudrow have a slightly different problem, they are way more interesting than the one note characters they are given to play. As a married couple seemingly headed for a breakup, Robinson and Kudrow at times seem to border on a much better movie, a more European style character comedy where we might explore their marital problems with a wedding in the background. I kept dreaming of that far funnier movie while “Table 19” forced Kudrow to carry one joke through the movie, she has the same color jacket as the catering staff. Ha Ha.


And finally, there is Kendrick who should be the star here but is instead treated as a member of a wacky ensemble. Unfortunately, that ensemble isn’t funny or even all that interesting while Kendrick is her usual appealing self, her charisma and beauty calling for our full attention while the film forces us to endure her one-note table mates to ever more unfunny situations and dialogue.


I had high hopes for “Table 19.” Anna Kendrick, to me, is a genuine movie star and I wanted to see where she might lead this story. Sadly, the wacky, one note ensemble strands her in the role of straight-woman to a group of terribly unfunny side characters. There is a very funny Anna Kendrick wedding comedy trapped inside of “Table 19” trying to get out but is entirely thwarted by the filmmakers. 

 

The Bride's parents were right, these wedding guests should have just stayed home. 

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