Sunday, March 26, 2017

Movie Review: Power Rangers

Updated and rebooted, the Power Rangers return to the big screen with some solid actors and a new set of teens to play the colorful superheroes. Following the general premise of the original show yet slightly askew, Jason (Dacre Montgomery) was a star football player who is injured in a car accident after pulling a prank and running from the police. Sent to detention, he meets Billy (RJ Cyler), an intelligent savant who pursues the mining hobby of his deceased father and Kimberly (Naomi Scott), a trouble popular girl. Convincing Jason to help him, Billy heads to a nearby mine to blow up an area he believes hides something special. Jason tries to ditch him but runs into Kimberly and they run back after hearing Billy's explosion. 

Also watching from a distance is Zack (Ludi Lin) who takes care of his young mother in a nearby trailer park and Trini (Becky G.), a loner who practices yoga amidst the rocks. The five teenagers discover colorful rocks and flee the mine security only to all crash in Billy's minivan with a train. They wake up not knowing what happened with incredible strength. Meanwhile, a fishing vessel picks up a corpse that comes alive to reveal the nefarious Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks). She is on a quest to gather as much gold to build her super soldier Goldar. 

The teenagers return to the mine and discover an underwater lair where Alpha 5 (Bill Hader) has been waiting for millions of years with his master Zordon (Bryan Cranston), an ex-Ranger who was defeated by Repulsa long ago. The group is put through training as they work to morph into their armor and learn martial arts to prepare for Rita's putty army. The film moves at a brisk enough pace not to fall too deeply into the repeat of an origin story and the chemistry of the cast members and their own stories fills up the slower parts a little better before the third act of special effects.

The acting is nothing special from the main group though RJ Cyler sticks out as the comic relief. Cranston and Banks bring some class to the mentor and villain roles, making this film dodge what could have been a total disaster. The one-liners are a bit silly once the action starts but this is classic Power Rangers action so it fits in with the goofy names and colorful heroes. The story briefly touches on issues that concern teenagers but never treats these with much importance just using them to move the plot along towards the climactic battle. The special effects were an upgrade from the old days but dim in comparison to other blockbuster films.

Power Rangers looks like it has kicked off another successful franchise that might stick around for a sequel or two if it can continue to capitalize on the nostalgia and positive buzz. The reviews aren't overwhelmingly positive but a nice over $40 million weekend should start talks of a follow-up film and already sparked a debate about casting the Green Ranger. I'm fine seeing an old childhood favorite rebooted and spotted members of the old cast in the crowd near the end so it covered that area for me while providing something new for a new generation. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Movie Review: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers

With cheesy costumes, cheap special effects, corny dialogue, amateur acting, and a simple plot, the Power Rangers took to the big screen with a mix of new cast members and some from the show. I don't recall much of the Power Ranger lore but I do remember highly enjoying this edition of the morphing teenagers and their strange villains. This story begins with the colorful gang jumping out of a plane leaving behind their bullies. The new leader Tommy (Jason David Frank) the White Ranger has a complicated history. From what I remember he was the Green Ranger for a bit and a bad guy, then he was good, and then he became the White Ranger. I recall this story arc capturing my imagination as a kid.

Kimberly (Amy Jo Johnson) was the Pink Ranger and had some romantic relations with whoever the leader was, at this point it is the White Ranger but I think there was something going on with the Red Ranger at some point but that might have been different than Rocky (Steve Cardenas). Billy (David Yost) is a returning member as the dorky Blue Ranger. Rounding out the team are the Aisha (Karan Ashley) the Yellow Ranger and Adam (Johnny Yong Bosch). They each have an animal power: the Red Tyrannosaurus Rex, Yellow Sabertooth Tiger, Black Mastodon, Pink Pterodactyl, Blue Triceratops, and the White Tiger. These are especially confusing as they get new animals when they travel to a far off land like Black Frogs, Yellow Bear, White Falcon, Pink Crane, the Blue Wolf, and Red Ape. 

The villain in this film is a new one dug up from a construction site, Ivan Ooze (Paul Freeman). The other lead villains Rita Repulsa and Lord Zedd are regulated to the snow globe but the sidekicks of Goldar and Mordant are utilized by the Ooze man. Ivan can also make Ooze warriors that fight the Ranger distracting them while he goes back to destroy the headquarters of Zordon (Nicholas Bell) and Alpha-5 (Peta-Marie Rixon). With Zordon injured, the Rangers have to venture to a foreign planet to meet with a scantily clad Dulcea (Gabrielle Fitzpatrick) who gives them their new animal powers.

After a few more fantastical fights, the Rangers return to find that the Ivan Ooze has used his purple ooze to hypnotize all the parents of Angel Grove and uncover his giant bug weapon. The Ranger call on their giant animal Zords to battle Ivan Ooze's giant weapon. Together, the Power Ranger can morph together into a MegaZord that is one giant Zord made up of each of their Zords as they all share a control room. They defeat the villain and celebrate with more corny lines about believing in yourself.

It was a bit of a nostalgia trip to go back to the old days of when I thought this stuff was anything close to decent. It is nice to see an updated version coming out that hasn't received totally terrible reviews and will probably benefit from the special effects. It was a trip back into two decades ago as everything takes on the 90s style and remind me of my foolish youth. I'm looking forward to seeing how it all shapes up in the newest version. 

TV Show Review: Baskets (Season 2)

Zach Galifianakis returns to the down on his luck clown, Chip Baskets from the genius comedic minds of Galifianakis and Louis CK. The second season picks up with Chip on the road as he quit his job at Arby's. He falls in with a rough crowd of heroin users who shack up in empty houses and perform during the day on the street referring to him as Noodles. Baskets uses his clowning skills to win over the group of vagabonds much to the chagrin of a fellow clown Trinity (Mary Wiseman). Chip finds that hopping on trains with addicts isn't so easy when the leader Morpheus (Tobias Jelinek) gets gruesomely hit by a train.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Baskets (Louie Anderson) befriends Martha (Martha Kelly) as she continues to shop at Costco. Chip's twin brother Dale is still dealing with his wife finding out he slept with Martha and tries to start a relationship with Martha in Dale's self-centered style. Chips winds up in prison and has to have his mother come bail him out and meets Ken (Alex Morris). They spark a relationship that goes further when Mrs. Baskets goes out to Denver to see him after Chip and Dale destroy her house fighting each other.

As Ken and Mrs. Baskets's relationship grows, Chip is still dealing with the trauma of seeing someone die. He works to get his clown career of the ground by hiring Martha as a booking agent though she has a tough time juggling helping Chip and managing Costco insurance complaints. Dale works to win back his wife and kids by appealing to his teenage daughter by helping her deal with her pushy boyfriend. Eventually, Chip ditches Martha and finds a new manager that helps him land some legitimate clown gigs.

Galifianakis's physical comedy works well from being run over by bulls to being shot out of a cannon, the comedian does his best and gives his all for a laugh, also doing double duty as twins. Louie Anderson also delivers a wonderful performance as Mrs. Baskets with a scratchy voice and lumbering gait, she deals with her weight issues and her troublesome family as her romance blossoms. When her mother dies and leaves her with money, she has to fend off her greedy brother and decide what to purchase that will be best for the family.

I think this show is so funny and nearly every episode has some silly premise that takes comedy and puts a clownish spin on it. The show takes an artistic approach to this goofball's story that delivers such strange situations all one can do is laugh. Baskets adds another great comedy to the FX schedule and a show that is always a pleasant surprise on Thursdays. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Video Game Review: Gears of War Ultimate Edition

There are a few games I would like to play through again and the sequel to Gears of War would definitely be one of them, but the upgraded original was fun enough. Revisiting the story of Marcus Fenix and Dom Santiago fighting against the Locust menace was a lot of fun and action-packed. The story begins with Marcus locked up in prison until Dom breaks him out. The escape from prison starts the gameplay as Locust warriors burst in and attack. The Lancer is the weapon of choice, a machine gun with a chainsaw attached to the front of it as prominently displayed on the cover. 

Once out of prison, Marcus is given the task by a reluctant General Hoffman to find a resonator, a mapping tool that can be used to bomb the Locust stronghold and eliminate the monsters once and for all. The campaign is split up into five Acts that takes the Gear warriors through various areas of the destroyed Sera planet. The action is nonstop as Locust are constantly attacking as Marcus picks up help including Cole, an ex-thrashball player, and Baird, a mechanical whiz. With a shotgun or sniper as the secondary weapon, players will shoot their way through Locust soldiers, the crawling creature called Wretches, and the big fat grenade launcher toting monsters called Boomers.

The villains of the horde get even bigger as the levels progress fighting a many-legged Corpser and a giant Brumak with heavy guns strapped on its back and even flying creature that the Locust soldiers ride called Reavers. The remaining humans that eek out a living in this harsh world are called Scavengers and Dom makes a deal with one of their leaders to acquire transportation to a mining facility that they can enter the underground lair of the Locust through. When night falls in Sera, winged-beasts called Kryll swooped down and shred unsuspecting victims and can only be fought off with ultraviolet light.

The Gears making beneath the ground if you're a good enough player. I remember my first time playing this game on a friend's console and I was so blown away by the graphics, I could hardly survive. The update version looks even better though is still plagued by odd controls and character movement. My favorite villain is the Theron guards who tote torque bows that launch explosive projectiles. The final boss is taken on aboard a speeding train that is barreling towards the Locust headquarters with a bomb attached is Raam who is surrounded by Kryll and totes a massive machine gun. He is hard to beat without explosive in your arsenal. I had to get good with the torque bow to beat him. 

It was also interesting to revisit the multiplayer since when I first had this game Xbox Live did not compare to what it is today and I was not a very good player with the bad connectivity. The games are a little kinder giving people chances to come back after a mistake and I managed to rakc up a ton of points for a ranking of 26 as I post this. I think I may revisit it a few more times but I'm ready to move onto the most recent game, the fourth in the series and fifth game, becauese what I really love is Horde mode that doesn't exist on the Ultimate Edition, my biggest complaint. This game is fun and one that I'm glad has been reissued in its new form. 

Movie Review: The Belko Experiment

Sick and disturbing, The Belko Experiment is a gruesome horror with an interesting premise but not much of a payoff. From the crazy mind of writer James Gunn The story begins with a normal day at work at the Belko  Industry in Bogota, Colombia. The first strange part is that there is increased security at the building that confuses the workers but with the threat of narcoterrorism in Colombia, the workers understand there may be times of heightened security. They also understand that they would need to receive an injected tracer so that if they are kidnapped, they'll easily be discovered before the company is forced to pay a ransom. 

Mike Milch (John Gallagher Jr.) has started a new relationship with his coworker Leandra (Adria Arjona) and has had an easy time for over a year working for Belko. Leandra has to fend off the creepy behavior of Wendell Dukes (John C. McGinley). The COO Barry Norris (Tony Goldwyn) is confused along with the rest of the employees when an announcement comes over the intercom that the employees must kill 30 people or 60 of them will die as the walls are sealed by impenetrable metal. Many like Marty (Sean Gunn) discount this order as a prank or a scare until the tracers in four employees' heads explode.

The employees split between those who think they should kill led by Barry Norris and those who should look for help and not kill each other led by Mike. As the two-hour time limit to kill ticks down, the executive employments go for the weapons stashed in the security safe and make a plan to execute employees of their choosing in a sickening scene. Dany Wilkins (Melonie Diaz), a new employee, witnesses several murders and shut down the power. She was one of the intriguing characters that didn't get their due in the film like maintenance workers Bud (Michael Rooker) and Lonny (David Dastmalchian) and human resource manager Vince Agostino (Brent Sexton). 

The heads exploding is one of the more gruesome parts of the film and eliminates tons of employees in a sickening scene. The remaining men and women have to kill the most people to survive. The film could have used more action but appeals more to the horror and gore fan than a viewer looking for an office action movie. There is some mention of a social experiment but the film seems to be more about gruesome murders with office supplies and exploding heads than any social commentary. There are some interesting twists but nothing too clever to take it past the premise.

The Belko Experiment will leave plenty of viewers that are easily impressed by films with a sense of dread and a disturbed feeling and it might be a testament to my viewing violent films at a young age that I wasn't too bother by explosive heads and office workers running in fear from violent coworkers. The film does set up a bigger world but it doesn't look to be a big enough box office success to inspire the bigger sequel it would need to attract audiences by into the theater for more gore. Perhaps after some time, it will achieve a sort of cult status. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Disney's latest live-action adaptation is the musical romance, Beauty in the Beast. Using stunning and gorgeous special effects, the story of Belle (Emma Watson) and her imprisonment by and growing affection for the Beat (Dan Stevens) plays out in the same way as the cartoon. A selfish prince is cursed by an enchantress and everyone in his castle is turned into fancy objects. Belle finds herself in a small town gossiped about by the villagers and wooed by the crude hunter Gaston (Luke Evans). Belle's father Maurice (Kevin Kline) is an inventor hoping to sell his wares at the market when he becomes lost in the woods and stumbles upon the enchanted castle. He is imprisoned by the Beast but his horse returns to Belle who seeks out her father. 

Belle trades places with her father but is let out of her cell by the mouthy candlestick Lumiere (Ewan McGregor). The cautious clock Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) does not support the idea but Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), her son Chip (Nathan Mack), the dresser Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald), and Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci) are friendly to Belle and encourage the Beast to talk with her. They romance starts slow but in time their affection grows. Meanwhile, supported by his friend LeFou (Josh Gad), Gaston continues his plan to wed Belle by trying to win over her father who spouts outrageous stories of the Beast capturing Belle. Gaston does not believe him and they are unable to discover the castle.

The Beast and Belle grow fonder of each other bonding over reading and their mutual ostracism from the outside world. The objects work to make Belle feel comfortable and push her and the Beast together as Maurice is persecuted for his statements. As the Beast falls for Belle, he decides to let her go and she returns to the village to help free her father after seeing his distress in the enchanted mirror. She works to free her father and uses the same mirror to show the villagers the Beast, which whips them into a furious mob that marches to the castle. A hilarious battle plays out and there is a final duel between Gaston and the Beast, which ends tragically until the enchantress comes through and fixes everything.

The film is a fun time with the same catchy songs as the original cartoon and only a small amount of additional exposition about Belle's mother that only fleshes out the character more. The set pieces are extraordinarily beautiful and it is hard to believe Belle when she complains that the town is provincial when it looks so gorgeous. The special effects looked great though the candle and clock looked a bit different than the cartoon. The Beast looks great and Dan Stevens's expressions come through to humanize and endear the furry creature. Emma Watson is great and can sing quite while though she wouldn't commit to a few songs that really needed that extra lung power. The supporting cast is wonderful as well, Luke Evans as Gaston was my favorite followed closely by Ewan McGregor's Lumiere and Josh Gad's Lefou.

Disney has done a great job adapting their animated properties into live action spectacles from this film to the Jungle Book and Maleficent, I've yet to see Cinderella. This film will be a smash at the box office and an all-around huge success despite mediocre reviews. I found the songs very catchy and wonderful and would love to see this film again when it comes to rental. I would highly recommend this to those who grew up with the film and enjoy musical fairytales. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Disney's Academy Award nominated film, Beauty in the Beast tells the tale of a selfish prince and bookworm who form a relationship after the beastly prince (Robby Benson) captures Belle (Paige O'Hara). After a quick prologue on the background on how the prince was cursed to look like a beast, we are introduced to Belle who proclaims her love of books and her boredom with the provincial town she lives in. Bell is courted by a rude hunter Gaston (Richard White) who depends on his companion Lefou (Jesse Corti) for periodic confidence boosts. Belle's father Maurice (Rex Everhart) is an inventor who is excited to premiere his new woodchopping device at the festival but on his way, he becomes lost and stumbles into a dark wood where wolves attack him. Fleeing the wolves, he pushes into an enchanted caster where at first, he is a welcome guest by the enchanted objects until the Beast shows up angry and imprisons him.

Meanwhile, Belle fends off a marriage proposal from Gaston and worries for her father when his horse Phillipe returns without him. Concerned, Belle sets out on Phillipe's back to find her father leading her back to the castle. She comes inside and is spotted by Lumiere (Jerry Orbach) and Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers), a candlestick and a clock. The two items follow her as she discovers her father locked up and is accosted by the Beast. Seeing that her father is sick, she trades places with him and is imprisoned herself. Maurice flees the enchanted castle and rushes back to the pub where he tries to explain the situation to an incredulous Gaston and skeptical townspeople who throw him out. 

Lumiere and Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury), a teapot, with her son Chip, a teacup, escort Belle out of her cell into a room where a dresser comes alive and welcomes her to her new enclosure. The Beast is awkward but yet he attempts to charm her despite his hot temper. The candlestick and his lover the duster encourage the Beast to be romantic but he has become inexperienced at social interaction. Slowly, their affection for each other grows especially after the Beast shows her his library. As they grow fonder, the Beast proposes throwing a ball and the two dance to music and find each other falling in love. Belle still wishes to be free and once she sees her father trapped in an asylum through a magic mirror, the Beast frees her to go.

Belle returns to the village, frees her father and brings him home, but Gaston demands Maurice be imprisoned for his absurd behavior. Belle uses the magic mirror to show the villagers the Beast which drives them into an angry mob. Led by Gaston, they lock up Belle and her father and charge towards the Beast's castle carrying torches with the intent to kill. The Beast has grown depressed since Belle left and believes that she has abandoned him when the mob arrives. He has given up but the household items have not. They defend themselves in a hilarious battle but Gaston makes it through and attacks the beast on the tower. Belle escapes with the help of Chip and Maurice's inventions and rushes back to the castle.

Gaston and the beast fight, probably my favorite part and the Beast finally beats Gaston though he spares him when he sees Belle. As he rushes to his love, Gaston stabs him in the back then slips backward to fall to his death. Belle reunites with the Beast but it is too late as the Beast is injured and dies. As Belle cries over his body and proclaims her love, the spell is reversed and the Beast and all the items return to human form. The cartoon is a beautiful combination of artwork and music and a classic film that is wonderful to revisit.