Sunday, March 26, 2017

Power Rangers (2017) review

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While I was only around for half of the decade, I do consider myself to be a ‘90’s kid’. And with that said, many ‘90’s kids’ will agree that one of the definitive shows of their childhoods was Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Developed by TV theme song composers Haim Saban and Shuki Levy, the series, which utilized stock footage from Toei’s Super Sentai franchise and repurposed it around an American cast, became a worldwide phenomenon when it debuted in 1993. Nearly 25 years later, the series is still going strong today with new themed iterations debuting every year, and while nowadays some feel that the original series has not aged well because of its cheesy nature, it’s still very much a landmark show of its era. I’ll admit, though, that I wasn’t really a Power Rangers fan growing up, mainly just because the original Mighty Morphin series was already over before I was even a year old. However, because it’s so directly tied to my generation, I was at least interested in seeing the new film reboot of this legendary franchise. And thus, here we are with Power Rangers, the third Power Rangers film released to date after 1995’s Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie and 1997’s Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie. As stated earlier, it serves as a reboot of the original Mighty Morphin series, with a new cast taking on the roles of the original Ranger team. It’s also easily the biggest Power Rangers film to date in terms of its budget and scale. But, of course, this now leads to one big question; will this succeed in appealing to fans of the franchise while also serving as an effective introduction for the uninitiated? Well, for the most part, director Dean Israelite (Project Almanac) does succeed in redefining this franchise for a new generation.  

In the town of Angel Grove, suspended high school quarterback Jason Lee Scott (Dacre Montgomery), autistic nerd Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler), and ousted cheerleader Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott) begin to bond while being forced to spend time in detention for various incidents that they were involved in at school. One night, the three end up at the local mines where they, along with truant Zack Taylor (Ludi Lin) and new student Trini Kwan (Becky G), come across five mysterious coin-like artifacts trapped within the rocks. After taking them, the five begin to find themselves imbued with new powers, namely superhuman strength. When they return to where they found the coins, they end up in an ancient spaceship buried deep underground. There, they come across Zordon (Bryan Cranston), an ancient being whose consciousness was uploaded into the ship’s matrix by his android assistant Alpha 5 (Bill Hader). Zordon tells them that they have been chosen by the Power Coins that they’ve found to become the Power Rangers, a group of warriors who protect the Earth from those who seek the Zeo Crystal, the source of their power. And, sure enough, one of those threats, former Green Ranger Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), awakens from her long slumber and plans on rebuilding her monster, Goldar, to find the Zeo Crystal, which Zordon (the former Red Ranger) had buried deep underground millions of years ago when she betrayed their team. With little time to spare before she unleashes her army of monsters upon Angel Grove, the five teens find themselves tasked with trying to band together to become the Rangers and use all their abilities to save their home and their world.  

Overall, this new Power Rangers film does away with many of the campier elements of the original series. Now, for the record, there are still some silly moments here and there (e.g. brace yourself for one ludicrous bit of product placement that literally ends up becoming a major part of the plot) but, overall, the plot is taken more seriously than previous iterations of the franchise. And while this may result in some tonal inconsistencies here and there, like whenever Rita attacks someone in a rather intense manner, the film still manages to capture the feel of the franchise without going completely campy. Plus, with the addition of various nods to the series for eagle-eyed fans to point out, some of which I’m sure I didn’t notice the first time being only a casual fan of the franchise, I think longtime fans will enjoy this new film quite fine. Based on what I’ve seen from the original series, it doesn’t seem like it pulls any major deviations from the source material, aside from new characterizations for the protagonists, that would betray what made the franchise popular in the first place. The big question, though, is how it appeals to newcomers of the franchise. It does so by way of an ‘origin story’. And, yes, I know that this phrase has sort of become a ‘bad word’ amongst filmgoers but here, it is done quite well because it’s about the five teens learning to become the Rangers instead of just being instantly able to do so like in the show. Thus, it ends up sharing a similar aspect with 1997’s Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie in that the teens don’t fully morph into the Rangers until the finale. But in this case, it does work because of their journey beforehand to become the Rangers, instead of just sidelining them in their own film like Turbo did. And once they do get into the suits, the action, which, obviously, is primarily CG-based this time around with an undeniably Transformers vibe to it, is solid.  

As fans of the show know, one of its trademark lines was ‘Teenagers with Attitude’, a phrase uttered by Zordon in the opening credits (though not the show itself) to describe the team. However, in the show, the Rangers were always portrayed as good students and, thus, more like role models and not really ‘teenagers with attitude’. Here, though, they very much emphasize the ‘attitude’ part, showcasing a group of misfits who must come together to become the heroes they’re meant to be. And, like I said before, while the show had them capable of morphing into the Rangers right out the gate, I do like how, in this film, they must work to get to that level. Also, to the filmmakers’ credit, they did pick an excellent group of leads to take on these iconic roles. Granted, some get more attention than others (namely Jason, Kimberly, and Billy, who are the first to be introduced in the film; Zack and Trini don’t come in until they get the Power Coins) but they do have fantastic chemistry with each other. Not bad for a group that’s mostly made up of general newcomers; just goes to show that perhaps Dean Israelite’s greatest strength as a director is working with younger actors/actresses. As for their supporting cast, Bryan Cranston (who notably provided villain voices for the original series and was even the inspiration for the Blue Ranger’s name, Billy Cranston) brings the proper dignified nature to the role of Zordon while Bill Hader provides some enjoyable comic relief in the role of Alpha 5 (“Ai yi yi!”). Finally, there’s Elizabeth Banks as main villain Rita Repulsa; she’s quite over-the-top here, keeping very much in line with the Rita of the original series. It’ll either work for you or it won’t. Personally, it didn’t bother me but maybe that’s because she’s not really in the film that much, as the focus is primarily on the Rangers, which is a good thing.

So, as I stated before, I didn’t grow up with Power Rangers. I did watch some episodes of the show before watching this film (as well as the previous films) and, like I said last time, I probably would’ve loved the show had I watched it as a kid. But, overall, going into this I was a newcomer to the franchise that had gradually become a casual fan once I finally watched some episodes of it. And overall, as a ‘casual fan’ of Power Rangers, I rather enjoyed this new film. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it’s groundbreaking or anything but as a new iteration of a popular franchise, it manages to appeal to both longtime fans and those like me who come into it generally new to the series. In the case of the former, it does this through solid but respectful homages to the franchise while the latter will find a surprisingly engrossing origin story with solid characters portrayed by an excellent group of leads. Now, with that said, admittedly if you weren’t already big on the series to begin with, you probably won’t get much out of this. Despite the change in tone, it’s still the same generally silly premise of teens fighting aliens in giant robots. But, if you are a fan of the show, it is a nice new addition to the franchise. It’s basically the original Mighty Morphin series but with the budget and scale that it just didn’t have back when it was on. Thus, I think longtime fans will enjoy this just fine; I can tell that just from my own theater experience. When the Power Rangers theme came on, there was applause. Thus, I think it’s safe to say that Power Rangers will be a definite crowd-pleaser for fans young and old.


Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Power Rangers: Film Retrospective

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This weekend sees the release of Power Rangers, the new film reboot of the popular TV franchise of the same name. For many kids of the 90’s, Power Rangers was one of the definitive facets of their childhoods. Developed by TV producer Haim Saban, who was initially known for providing soundtracks for shows like He-Man and Inspector Gadget, the franchise first got started in 1993 with Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. A superhero-esque series in which a group of teenagers becomes a team of warriors known as the ‘Power Rangers’ to fight the evil forces of sorceress Rita Repulsa with the help of giant animal ‘robots’ known as ‘Zords’, the show heavily utilized stock footage from Toei’s Super Sentai franchise, repurposing it around an American cast. Since 1993 (And yes, this franchise has been around for almost 2.5 decades now; feel old, yet?), the show has been on for 24 seasons, with a new themed iteration occurring each year. Examples of these later seasons include Power Rangers Zeo, Power Rangers: Dino Thunder, and Power Rangers: Mystic Force. The series originally aired on Fox Kids, where it became one of the programming block’s most popular shows. But, for most of the 2000’s, the franchise was owned by Disney, who aired it on their owned networks like ABC Family and Toon Disney. Saban would later go on to reclaim ownership rights in 2010, and the series now primarily airs on Nickelodeon. But now, let’s go back to the new Power Rangers film for a moment. This is the third Power Rangers film to date, as the previous two films were released in the late 90’s back in the franchise’s heyday. The first was based on the original series, Mighty Morphin, while the second film is based on the franchise’s third TV iteration, Power Rangers Turbo. And today, we’ll be looking at both these films.

But, before we get into the films, I should probably mention something. You see, I didn’t really grow up with Power Rangers as a kid. For one thing, the original Mighty Morphin series, which still stands as the most iconic iteration of the franchise, concluded in November 1995, before I was even a year old. The most that I ever saw of that version of the show was a single episode that I watched at, of all places, the University of Rhode Island during a Special Olympics trip that I was on with my family (who frequently volunteers for the Special Olympics) all the way back in 2002 or so (I’ll admit that I don’t know the exact year), many years before I ended up going there for college. I do remember seeing commercials for the series on TV (this was back during the Disney run when it aired on Toon Disney’s programming block, Jetix) but I never watched it. I guess you could say that it just wasn’t my thing. So, with that said, if I’m not too familiar with the franchise, why then am I looking at these two films? Well, that’s because I’m genuinely interested in the new Power Rangers film. Sure, I may not have grown up with the original show, but as a 90’s kid (and yes, I do consider myself a 90’s kid even though I was only around for half the decade), it is one of the definitive shows of my generation. Regardless of how the new film turns out, I’m genuinely curious as to how it will serve as a new adaptation of the series, specifically as a reboot of its most popular iteration. So, without further ado, it’s time to activate your Ranger powers and get into your giant Zord robots as today, we’ll be looking at the original two Power Rangers films. But first, I should probably get more acquainted with this franchise.

THOUGHTS ON THE SHOW

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To prepare for this post, I watched a few episodes of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers before watching the films. I didn’t watch the entire series because, well, there’s no way that I would’ve been able to get through all 145 episodes (!) of the original series in just a week. So, instead, I just watched some of the first few episodes and then the ones that had the biggest arcs (e.g. ‘Green with Evil’, which introduced Tommy Oliver the Green Ranger (later the White Ranger), and ‘The Power Transfer’, which revealed the new Red, Yellow, and Black Rangers who would go on to appear in the first film; Rocky DeSantos, Aisha Campbell, and Adam Park, respectively). And I was surprised to find that, as someone who didn’t grow up with this show and watched it for the first time as an adult… I kind of enjoyed it. Now, for the record, I do concur with the common points that everyone brings up about this show, namely the fact that it is very, very cheesy; goofy one-liners, strange plot-points, wacky sound effects, you name it, this show probably has it. Obviously, this show is for kids but, with that said, adults may not find much for them here unless they were part of the generation that grew up with it. Not surprisingly, in the show’s early years, it was highly scrutinized by parents for being too violent, even though it’s obviously quite tame by today’s standards. It’s also quite repetitive. Almost every episode plays out the exact same way. There’s a minor issue of the week followed by the appearance of one of Rita’s monsters that the Rangers eventually defeat in their giant Zord robots before concluding with closure for that episode’s subplot. I’m kind of amazed that this show managed to last for over 140 episodes despite almost all of them having similar plot structures.   

Still, I have to admit that the kid in me found this show to be quite enjoyable. The use of Super Sentai footage results in some enjoyably cheesy fight scenes that are reminiscent of old Japanese monster films (e.g. Godzilla), and even though the instances in which the show switches between Japanese footage and American footage are obvious, it’s still an interesting hybrid of ideas. And even though the show is undeniably cheesy and often repetitive (e.g. the same stock footage of the Zords going into battle appears in multiple episodes), there’s kind of a charm to it all. As for the main characters, they often tend to be rather generic with simple character development, which is probably due in part to the repetitive nature of the show and its ‘morals’. However, they are still all-around likable and each of the main leads are fine in their respective roles. Plus, I think we can all agree that Tommy Oliver AKA the Green Ranger… is arguably the best character in the entire show, thanks in part to the epic 5-parter that he debuted in, ‘Green with Evil’. Yes, they did a 5-part story arc, something that you clearly don’t see too often on a TV show. And, ultimately, it’s a prime example of how this show sometimes managed to raise the stakes despite being a light-hearted show for kids. So, in conclusion, while I didn’t grow up with this show, I probably would’ve loved it if I did. Would it have led to me sticking with it throughout its numerous iterations? Eh, probably not but, still, it’s clear to see why the original series was such a big hit with its target demographic.

And now, onto the films…

MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS: THE MOVIE (1995)

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In between Seasons 2 and 3 of the show, the Power Rangers appeared in their first feature film, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie. However, in this instance, the film does not tie into the series’ canon; it’s its own separate entity. The only real effect that it had on the show was that some episodes of the second season ended up getting filmed in Australia, where the film was being made. Still, this film is exactly what’d you expect from Power Rangers. It’s cheesy and has a minimal plot with little to no character development but it’s also light-hearted with some enjoyably over-the-top fight sequences. As such, the main villain Ivan Ooze (played by Paul Freeman AKA Belloq from Raiders of the Lost Ark) is more of a campy villain than a threatening one. Really, the only ‘evil’ thing that he ever did was screw over X-Men: Apocalypse (click here if you don’t know what I’m referring to). One of the film’s primary advantages, though, is that because it has a bigger budget compared to the show, it does feel more high-quality in terms of its production design. Granted, the same can’t be said for a lot of the visual effects. Unlike the show, which utilized practical effects (namely, the Godzilla technique of rubber-suit fight scenes), the film uses CG… and simply put, this CG has aged quite horribly. Still, at the very least, the bigger budget does allow the film to have a grander scale to it compared to the show. Thus, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie proves to be a harmless affair. Fans of the show will probably like this just fine, as it has just enough Ranger action in it to satisfy them. But for the uninitiated, like the show, you won’t get much out of this.

Rating: 3/5

TURBO: A POWER RANGERS MOVIE (1997)


Two years after the first film, we got the second Power Rangers film; Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie. This time, the film WAS directly tied to the series’ canon. Specifically, it serves as a bridge between Power Rangers Zeo, the second iteration of the franchise, and the third ‘series’, Power Rangers Turbo. However, despite this advantage over the first film, and a return to the practical ‘Zord’ effects… that’s all that this film has, really. It’s a slow-moving film with minimal action. In fact, for a film that’s part of the Power Rangers franchise, there isn’t even a lot of ‘Power Ranger’ action in this film. Aside from a brief few seconds in which Pink Ranger Katherine dons her Zeo outfit (and then almost immediately morphs out of it once she falls into water because apparently, those suits aren’t waterproof), the full team doesn’t morph into their new ‘Turbo’ Ranger suits until around more than half an hour in, and they don’t even fight in them until the final third. Thus, most of the fight scenes in this film (which are quite underwhelming, for the record) see them in their civilian attire. Not even the return of original series stars Amy Jo Johnson and Austin St. John (Kimberly and Jason, respectively) can save this film. Thus, Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie, unfortunately, ends up being a very mediocre affair. It kind of reminds me of the 2008 Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated film that was released in theaters in that it feels more like a made-for-TV film. It just doesn’t have the same ‘filmic’ quality of the first film. And despite what I said before about fans of the show enjoying the first film despite its faults, I can’t say the same for this because of its severe lack of ‘Power Ranger’ action. Maybe this goes to show why, based on what I’ve gathered from the review of the subsequent Turbo season by online comic book reviewer (and Power Rangers fan) Linkara, it seems like Power Rangers Turbo wasn’t very popular amongst fans of the franchise. And this film probably had something to do with it.

Rating: 1/5


And those are my thoughts on the Power Rangers films, as well as my first real reaction to the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers series. Like I said, I didn’t grow up with this show but looking at it now, I bet I would’ve if I was around when it was on. Obviously, I know that some of you did grow up with it so if you did, be sure to sound off in the comments below with your favorite memories of Power Rangers. You can also expect a review of the new Power Rangers film sometime this weekend. Until then, it’s morphin’ time! 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Beauty and the Beast (2017) review


Disney’s been on a roll as of late with their live-action reimaginings of their classic animated films. Granted, this current trend of theirs isn't going over well with ‘everybody’, as I pointed out last time, but, for the most part, films like Cinderella and The Jungle Book have been major successes on both a critical and commercial level instead of just on a commercial one as was initially the case with these films. And for their latest endeavor on this front, Disney revives one of its most beloved stories for a new generation; Beauty and the Beast. The studio’s original animated take on the classic fairytale of the same name from 1756 was the second smash hit of the ‘Disney Renaissance’ era when it was released in 1991. In fact, it was so universally adored that it ended up being the first animated film ever to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, a feat that has only been accomplished 2 other times since then by, fittingly enough, a pair of Pixar films; 2009’s Up and 2010’s Toy Story 3, which, of course, were released under the Disney banner. So, yeah, one could say that there was a lot of pressure on this new take on the ‘Tale as Old as Time’, directed by Bill Condon, who's no stranger to musicals having written the screenplay for 2002’s Best Picture winner, Chicago (not to mention directing 2006’s Dreamgirls, which won 2 Oscars), and features an all-star ensemble cast. After all, we’re talking about one of the most famous Disney stories of all time, meaning that this new film has a hell of a lot to live up to. Thankfully, Condon does do justice to this beloved masterpiece of a story with a highly enjoyable new take on Beauty and the Beast that respects its predecessor without being a direct carbon copy of it.

In a quaint little town in France, a young woman named Belle (Emma Watson) is a complete mystery to the rest of the people living there. Never once conforming to the expectations that life tries to set upon her, Belle spends most of her days reading, inventing things, and ignoring the advances of the town’s popular but egotistical local hunter, Gaston (Luke Evans), while also hoping to someday leave the confines of her ‘poor, provincial’ town. That day ends up coming sooner than anticipated when she goes to rescue her father Maurice (Kevin Kline), who had been taken prisoner by a monstrous Beast (Dan Stevens) that resides within a forgotten castle not far from town. To save her father, Belle ends up taking his place as the Beast’s prisoner. But, soon after, she begins to learn the big secret behind the castle and, more importantly, its mysterious owner. As it turns out, years ago, the Beast was a selfish and vain human prince who was cursed by an Enchantress after he had rejected her pleas for shelter. Turning him into a Beast, as well as turning his servants into enchanted household objects, she puts the Prince under the pressure of having to find true love in time before the last petal of the red rose that she initially offered him falls. And, thus, as Belle begins to become more and more accepted by the Beast and his servants, she does begin to fall in love with him, which soon causes problems once Gaston learns of the situation.

Now, admittedly, as far as Disney’s remakes go, this is more like Cinderella than The Jungle Book. By that, I mean that you shouldn't go into this expecting a lot of differences between this new version and the original. It's the same exact story with the same primary plot points. So, with that said, I know what some of you will inevitably say; “Why the hell remake a masterpiece then?” But I'm going to ignore that debate for now because, to me, it all comes down to execution, and I'm pleased to say that this film is very well-made in every possible way. Sure, it's still the same story as the original but I'd say that there are just enough new elements in here, as minor as some may be, that help differentiate it from the original (e.g. a new plotline that reveals why Maurice and Belle stayed in their provincial town for all these years). Visually, this film is a top contender for next year’s Oscar for Best Visual Effects, Production Design, and basically every other major technical award at that ceremony. Yes, a lot of the visuals in this are CG but they are done excellently. And as for the songs, well, what more needs to be said about them? They're the classic songs written by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice and are all handled brilliantly in live-action. You'll be tapping your foot along to the beat of ‘Gaston’, marvel at the grandeur of ‘Be Our Guest’, and awe at the beauty (no pun intended) of the title song, ‘Beauty and the Beast’. There's also some great new songs as well, including the sweet recurring melody ‘How Does a Moment Last Forever’, which is sung three times in the film (this includes the end-credits version sung by Celine Dion who, of course, sung the title song during the end credits of the animated film) and the Beast’s new big solo, ‘Evermore’.

One of the best things about the film, though, is its ensemble cast. Because, damn, does this film have one of the most impressive ensembles in recent history. Of course, it's all led by Emma Watson, who does a phenomenal job in the role of Belle. Simply put, she does justice to one of Disney’s most beloved heroines while also doing just enough to provide some nice little updates to the character here and there without ever going against everything that made her great in the first place. And I know that she’s gotten some flak for her vocal performance during the musical numbers but I thought she was fine in that department. Dan Stevens is also fantastic as the Beast, perfectly conveying everything that goes into the character's great redemption arc. As for the villains of the film, both Luke Evans and Josh Gad are clearly having a lot of fun in the roles of Gaston and LeFou, respectively. They ham it up in the best way possible, as Evans perfectly encapsulates our favorite manly but shallow villain while Gad brings new depth to the role of Gaston’s loyal lackey. Kevin Kline is great as well in the role of Maurice, as he portrays the character in a much more toned down manner compared to the original that fits very well with the new plotline that shows why he’s been so protective of Belle all this time. And of course, we can't forget about the Beast’s servants and man did they get a great cast for these iconic supporting roles; Ewan McGregor as Lumière, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts, Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Plumette (Fifi in the original film), Audra McDonald as Madame de Garderobe the Wardrobe, and Stanley Tucci as new character Maestro Cadenza the Harpsichord.

And thus, Disney is now 4 for 4 with their recent live-action remakes. I mean, admittedly I don't think I can go as far as to say that it's the ‘best’ of these remakes but I can tell you one thing; it's a hell of a lot better than its current 71% score on Rotten Tomatoes suggests. Thankfully, that's still considered a ‘fresh’ rating but I have the feeling that some of the more negative reviews that the film has been getting have been a lot more stringent on comparisons between the two versions of this story. Like I said before, I can see why this is happening. Because this one is arguably the closest to its animated counterpart out of all the Disney remakes released to date, the word ‘unnecessary’ has undeniably been thrown around a lot. Maybe it is… but I don't care. I love the original (it is, after all, my 3rd favorite Disney animated film of all-time) but I also love this new take on it, as its heart is very much in the right place. Plus, it is a genuinely well-made film in terms of its production design and visuals, not to mention having a fantastic ensemble cast to portray this story’s collection of iconic roles. Simply put, it's just an incredibly satisfying ‘feel good’ film and in this current time, this is exactly the kind of film that we need right now. Just ignore all the negativity in the world for a few hours (especially the negativity directed towards a certain element of this film; more on that in a bit) and enjoy a charming new take on a classic that we all know and love. On that note, to those who aren't big on these Disney remakes, don't worry, for the original animated film is still as perfect as it ever was. This new version is ultimately just like the remakes of Cinderella, The Jungle Book, and Pete’s Dragon; it's a nice complement to the original source.

Rating: 5/5!


(P.S. Well, I should probably address the big controversy surrounding this film because… oh boy. So, as many of you are aware, the film has been getting some flak recently from some audiences after an announcement that stated that it would have Disney’s first ‘exclusively gay’ moment involving the character of LeFou. Because of this, there's been quite a bit of heavy blowback from various parties; some countries banned the film unless cuts were made, a theater in Alabama refused to show it, and in Russia, it was given an adult rating. Yes, in Russia, this film is considered nearly as mature as, say, Logan. To all this, I say… this is one of the stupidest and most overblown controversies in recent memory. This moment that everyone keeps talking about is just one SMALL moment at the end of the film. Heck, if it hadn't been pointed out beforehand, I bet most of us wouldn't have even noticed it because the film’s quite subtle about it. Bottom line, Disney isn't trying to force an LGBT agenda down our throats; they're just trying to represent a wider audience. What the hell is wrong with that? Also, this backlash totally goes against the great positive messages of this film, namely, you know, accepting people for who they really are on the inside. So, yeah… this backlash is frigging stupid.)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

In Defense of Disney's Live-Action Remakes

(Disclaimer: As some of you will recognize, this is not the first time that this specific post has been published. A few weeks ago, I submitted a different form of this post to the animation website Rotoscopers. I knew that it would spark some controversy there due to those who aren’t big on Disney’s remake run, but I wanted to point out some positives about the company’s current live-action film strategy and try to reason that it’s not the worst thing in the world. I would like to thank the team at Rotoscopers for publishing my post and will be dedicating this new version of it to them. I will also be providing a link to the Rotoscopers post for you folks to check out if you haven’t already. The major difference between the two versions of this post is simple; with Rotoscopers, I had to keep it to a specific word limit. Here, expect a much longer post that’s much more in line with the usual content that I post here.)

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This weekend sees the release of one of the year’s most highly anticipated films; Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. The film is a live-action adaptation of the studio’s beloved animated masterpiece of the same name from 1991 and is the latest in a growing line of new adaptations of classic Disney stories. For you see, Disney’s current live-action film slate is primarily based around one thing; live-action remakes/re-imaginings of their animated classics. This trend first got started in 2010 with Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, a pseudo-follow-up to the studio’s animated take on the Lewis Carroll story of the same name from 1951. While the film received mixed reviews from both critics and audiences, it was a smash hit at the box office, as it managed to gross over $1 billion worldwide. Four years later, that commercial success continued with Maleficent, a ‘re-imagining’ of Disney’s 1959 effort, Sleeping Beauty. It was the same situation; the film attracted a polarizing reception but was a major box-office hit. One year later, Disney then released a remake of Cinderella but unlike the previous two films, this one not only did well at the box office but it was also the first to be generally well-received by critics. Because of this, Disney then proceeded to announce a wide slew of remakes/re-imaginings over the next few months for films like Mulan, Winnie the Pooh, Dumbo, and so on and so forth. It’s honestly gotten to the point where almost every single Disney animated classic has a remake that has either come out, is slated to come out, or is currently in the works.

But, as some of you might have guessed, this slew of ‘remake announcements’ hasn’t gone over entirely well with everybody. Namely, there are quite a few people on the internet who are not a fan of Disney’s current live-action film strategy for various reasons, including the obvious argument of ‘why remake a classic’ and the fact that these remakes are now the primary projects on the studio’s schedule instead of original films. In fact, some of my good friends in the blogger community are in this exact crowd. As for me, though, I’m eagerly looking forward to a lot of these new remakes because of the great potential that they have. Now, for the record, I’m well-aware of an old quote from Walt Disney himself in which he remarked that ‘you can’t top pigs with pigs’, which basically asserted his own theory on the idea of sequels after he produced several sequels to the studio’s 1933 classic short, Three Little Pigs, that weren’t as successful as the original. But that was a different time; nowadays, nothing is ‘truly original’ anymore, meaning that stuff like this is bound to happen. Now, let me be clear, I love seeing an original film as much as the next person. Heck, my #8 favorite film from last year was Swiss Army Man. However, I’m not one of those people who outright condemns sequels, reboots, and remakes just because they exist. Thus, today on Rhode Island Movie Corner, I’ll be listing three reasons as to why I’m enthusiastic towards the upcoming line of Disney’s ‘live-action remakes’. Again, let me be clear; I understand where those who are against the remakes are coming from but, please, hear me out on this for a moment.

REASON #1: MANY OF THE RECENT REMAKES HAVE BEEN GOOD

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Now, of course, this is an argument that can be quite subjective, just like film itself, hence why I decided to start this post with this argument right out the gate. There is no such thing as a ‘universally beloved’ film; every film has its critic and the recent Disney remakes are no exception to this. However, some of the most recent remakes in this lineup have genuinely been a success with BOTH critics and audiences. And again, as I noted earlier, this wasn’t initially the case. Both Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent were polarizing, to say the least, and believe me when I say that I have come across opinions on both sides of the spectrum. I have seen plenty of people who have expressed absolute contempt for these remakes. But, at the same time, I’ve also come across quite a few people that absolutely love these films. Therefore, it makes a lot more sense to me now why Alice in Wonderland managed to gross over a billion back in 2010; there were some people out there who did really like it. Same situation with Maleficent, which overcame its mixed reception to gross over $750 million worldwide and end up as the 4th highest-grossing film of 2014. So, in short, while the films may not have done well with critics, they were doing well with audiences and, if you ask me, that usually matters more; knowing that audiences were enjoying it. Clearly, most audiences aren’t bothered by these remakes coming out and, if you ask me, why rain on their parade?   

But then when Cinderella came out, things were a little different as the critical reception was far more positive compared to Alice and Maleficent. Maintaining a solid 83% on Rotten Tomatoes and with over $500 million worldwide, it was very much the first in this line of Disney remakes that was a true bona fide success from a critical standpoint and not just a commercial one. Again, it did have its critics (believe me, I’ve gotten some flak from some people online for liking this film) but it ultimately proved that, if anything, these remakes could be fantastic. And then, in 2016, audiences were treated to not one but two highly successful adaptations of classic Disney films (note: before any of you bring up the critically-bashed sequel to Alice in Wonderland, Alice Through the Looking Glass, that doesn’t really count in this instance because it’s primarily a sequel). Director Jon Favreau’s adaptation of The Jungle Book was one of the best-reviewed films of 2016 and it grossed nearly $1 billion worldwide. And then, near the tail-end of the summer, there was Pete’s Dragon. It didn’t reach the same commercial heights of the other remakes, which is understandable considering that it’s based on a Disney film that isn’t as well-known compared to something like The Jungle Book, but it too was well-received by most critics and it did manage to break even with around $140 million worldwide on a modest $65 million budget. Now, let me be clear, I’m not saying that all the upcoming Disney remakes are going to be successful with both critics and audiences. There probably will be some critical duds here and there. However, no matter how well or how bad these upcoming remakes fare with critics, the previous three Disney remakes will stand as genuine success stories and proof that not only can they be done, but done well.

REASON #2: THERE IS POTENTIAL FOR NEW TAKES ON THESE STORIES

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To me, the best thing that a ‘remake’ can do is offer a new take on a classic story. And that’s one of the key reasons as to why I am genuinely looking forward to most of these Disney remakes. While some will no doubt share many similarities with their animated predecessors, it’s not like they’re going to be ‘note-for-note’ copies or anything. The only real instance in which I’ve seen this happen is director Gus Van Sant’s 1998 remake of Psycho and the critical bashing that film got is a good reason, I’d say, as to why you don’t see a lot of ‘note-for-note’ remakes. Alice in Wonderland, for example, was a ‘continuation’ of the original story while Maleficent was the story of Sleeping Beauty told from the perspective of the titular villain, Maleficent. Say what you will about the films themselves but the decision to tell these stories from a different angle was, at the very least, ‘something different’. The other big Disney remake of this nature, which ultimately ended up being the most different from its predecessor, was Pete’s Dragon. Instead of being a musical like the original 1977 film was, the new adaptation was more of a drama. And while this may have ticked off some fans of the original, to the point where some even referred to the new film as ‘Pete’s Dragon in name only’, again, it was ‘something different’. Jon Favreau took a similar approach with The Jungle Book. While there were some elements of the original animated film that were featured in the new version (e.g. its most popular songs), Favreau also utilized elements from Rudyard Kipling’s original story to create something along the lines of a hybrid between the film’s two primary source materials.

Now, admittedly, the 2015 remake of Cinderella was basically just the same general story as its predecessor; a young girl is subjected to relentless cruelty from her wicked stepmother and stepsisters but her life then changes once she meets a charming prince. So, of course, some of you may ask “Well, why the heck did they remake it, then?” But, you see, they did throw in a few new things here and there to differentiate itself from the original, like having scenes with young Ella and her parents (whereas in the original, these scenes were just part of the opening narration, sans her mother) and additional scenes between her and the Prince prior to the Ball instead of just having them first meet at said Ball. Stuff like this, especially the latter, did help the film expand upon the story of the original which, as great as it is, is admittedly a product of its time. And, overall, it’s clear that a similar method is going on with the new Beauty and the Beast. While still the same story of a young woman who slowly falls in love with the monstrous-looking prince of an enchanted castle, there are a few changes that have been made here and there to make it its own thing; most notably, Belle is now an inventor just like her father. Now, for the record, I’m not saying that these changes are going to automatically improve upon the original, nor am I expecting the new film to be ‘better’ than the original. Instead, I view it in the same way that I do the other Disney remakes; as a nice complement to the original that can stand on its own merit alongside the original. On that note…

REASON #3: NOTHING. IS. GETTING. REPLACED!

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This is the one point that I feel should be stressed ad nauseam… because, clearly, this is the one thing that those who are against the Disney remakes fear the most when it comes to them. They fear that these remakes are the studio’s way of ‘erasing’ the original animated films from existence, implying that animation is inferior to live-action/CG. Trust me when I say that this is not the case whatsoever. This isn’t like the original Star Wars trilogy, where George Lucas has continually made changes to the films without ever giving us any chance of viewing them in their original format. No matter what happens with these remakes, the originals will still be there at the end of the day. Case in point, the original Beauty and the Beast was just given a fancy new 25th-anniversary Blu-Ray right in time for the release of the new film. They also released the original Jungle Book on Blu-Ray a few years ago; sure, it may have been two whole years before Jon Favreau’s live-action version and it’s since gone back into the Disney Vault but, again, it shows that Disney still cares about the original versions. Yes, there have been a few behind-the-scenes videos in which those working on the new BATB (namely, director Bill Condon) say stuff along the lines of ‘technology allows us to do things we couldn’t do in 1991’ but that’s just the marketing material talking. Not once have they ever said ‘we’re trying to replace the original film’. In fact, most of those who’ve worked on these Disney remakes have made it clear in interviews that they adore the original films and were doing their best to try and live up to their reputation.   

And at the end of the day, if any of these upcoming remakes don’t turn out so good, so what? It’s not like they’re ‘metaphorical murder’ or anything (note: that phrase ‘metaphorical murder’ was an actual comment made by a critic of the Disney remakes). The reputation of their original sources won’t be tarnished by them; heck, if anything, they’d just end up making the originals even better by comparison. This is a mentality that’s been around for pretty much every other remake, reboot, and so on and so forth that’s come out in the past few years, not just the ones from Disney. Whenever one’s announced, the internet reacts to it like it caused the plague or something. But, really, that’s all that it is; a mentality, not a reality. Sure, some remakes are more questionable than others but it’s not like there’s some law out there that states that a certain film can’t be remade. The worst possible outcome would be that it’s just a lame remake, nothing else. Heck, this backlash towards the Disney remakes is honestly not too far off from what happened with the new Ghostbusters film. As we all know by now, when that film was first announced, it was absolutely savaged by the internet, particularly from angry fanboys who just couldn’t handle the fact that their favorite franchise was being brought back (and don’t get me started about when they found out that women were starring in it). But, it came out, and it did ok with critics. More important, though, is the fact that all copies of the original Ghostbusters films did not spontaneously combust into flames as was feared. And guess what? Neither did any of the Disney animated films when their live-action remakes were released.


In fact, some of the most beloved films of all time just so happen to be remakes. John Carpenter’s The Thing? Remake. The Departed? It’s a remake of a Hong Kong film from 2002 named Infernal Affairs. And the classic Wizard of Oz that we all know and love from 1939? That was the 11th film adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s books (and it sure as hell wasn’t the last either)! Bottom line, just because Disney’s releasing a bunch of remakes doesn’t mean that they consider animation to be inferior. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that films like Frozen, Zootopia, and Moana are more than enough proof that animation is still Disney’s primary source of film output. Now, I’ll admit that I do think that Disney probably should’ve been a bit more conservative when it came to announcing all these remakes. It probably would’ve been better if they had announced like one or two a year instead of, you know, a new one every other week. Still, I think it’s exciting that we’re getting new takes on the classic stories of our childhoods that will help introduce them to a new generation. Just remember that the original films still exist, okay guys? Because if there’s any real sign of these films being overshadowed by their new live-action counterparts, it’s more the internet’s fault and not Disney’s (Remember when all those videos bashing The Jungle Book came out before the remake's release? Well the same thing just happened again with Beauty and the Beast.). And to those who aren’t big on these upcoming remakes, that’s fine; no one’s forcing you to watch them. Just let those who are excited for them have their fun, okay?

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Kong: Skull Island (2017) review

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For nearly nine decades, King Kong has stood (figuratively and, in some cases, literally!) as one of the most iconic creatures in film history. The original King Kong from 1933 still stands as one of the most famous films of all time, particularly thanks to its groundbreaking special effects done by Willis O’Brien. Since then, this classic story of ‘Beauty killed the Beast’ has seen numerous updates over the years. There was the 1976 remake starring Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, and Jessica Lange that was fairly hyped back in the day but ultimately received a mixed response from both critics and audiences upon release. And then there was the 2005 remake directed by Peter Jackson, which was far more successful with critics and audiences despite its butt-numbingly long 3-hour runtime. And this year, the Eighth Wonder of the World is back in a new film, Kong: Skull Island. The film serves as the second installment in Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures’ newly-developing ‘cinematic universe’ of monster films, dubbed the MonsterVerse, that first started with the 2014 reboot of Godzilla. These two classic monsters will soon share the screen in Godzilla vs. Kong, a ‘re-imagining’ of the duo’s previous crossover from 1962 that is set to come out in 2020. But first, it’s time to revive cinema’s definitive ape. Unlike Godzilla, which was set in the present day, Kong: Skull Island is set in the 70’s and is directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who previously directed the 2013 indie film The Kings of Summer. Here, he takes us on a wild ride that may not have much to it in terms of story and character development but delivers on good old fashioned monster action.

The year is 1973. As America begins to back out of the Vietnam War, Bill Randa (John Goodman), senior official for a government program known as Monarch, and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), a geologist working for Monarch, acquire permission from the U.S. government for a mapping expedition to an uncharted island in the South Pacific known as ‘Skull Island’. To help them during the operation, they enlist the aid of an elite helicopter squadron known as the Sky Devils, led by Lt. Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), for escort and former British Special Air Service captain/tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) to guide them once on the island. Along the way, they’re also joined by anti-war photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), who’s along for the ride for her own reasons. But, once they arrive on Skull Island, they immediately come across its most notable resident, King Kong (portrayed via motion capture by Terry Notary), who ends up attacking them and subsequently strands them on the island. Separated into two groups, the survivors are now forced to try and get to the other side of the island in time to meet up with a resupply team. But, along the way, they find themselves having to deal with the other creatures on the island aside from Kong, specifically a race of creatures known as Skullcrawlers who were unleashed because of their efforts in mapping out the island.

While 2014’s Godzilla was a solid critical and commercial success, at least when compared to the infamous 1998 remake directed by Roland Emmerich, not everybody was a fan of it. One of the main reasons why was due to the limited screen-time of the title character; about eleven minutes to be precise. Here, though, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts wastes no time when it comes to getting into the monster action and he does deliver on that front. The action in this film is epic and a lot of it is thanks to the excellent visual design. As many have pointed out, it’s arguably the film’s greatest strength. From the bright and flashy color palette to the various homages to the 70’s, particularly Apocalypse Now, this film is absolutely gorgeous to look at. Like the 2005 film, Kong is portrayed via motion-capture and, fittingly enough, following in the footsteps of Andy Serkis’ take on the character in the 2005 film, here he’s played by Serkis’ Planet of the Apes co-star Terry Notary (AKA ‘Rocket’). And, boy, is Kong a ‘beast’ in this film. Standing at 100 feet tall, he absolutely towers over the human characters, resulting in some epic ‘scale shots’ that I’m sure look amazing on an IMAX screen (admittedly, I only saw this on a regular screen so I wouldn’t know). The other great thing about the film is that it isn’t just another redo of the original Kong story. In other words, we don’t go back to New York at the end of it to see Kong climb the Empire State Building; heck, this Kong doesn’t even need to climb it given his height. Instead, almost the entire film takes place on Skull Island and, as such, wastes no opportunities in terms of showcasing its unique wildlife.

But while the visuals, visual style, and action sequences are great, admittedly the story is the film’s biggest weakness. Despite what I just said about it not being a rehash of previous Kong films, it’s basically just a simple ‘get off the island’ story, nothing more, nothing less. And the same thing can be said for the characters as well, which may have something to do with the fact that this film has one of the largest ensemble casts I’ve ever seen. Seriously, there are quite a lot of characters in this film and, as you might have guessed, some of them don’t get much to do in this. Still, at the very least, the film does have a good cast to play these parts, as limited as some of them may be. All the leads do good jobs; Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson, etc. However, the biggest standouts of the film come from the supporting cast. This includes Shea Whigham as Earl Cole, an eccentric member of the Sky Devils, and, most of all, John C. Reilly as Hank Marlow, a former pilot who had been stranded on Skull Island for nearly three decades after crash-landing there during World War II. Now, I’ll admit that in regards to Reilly, when he first appeared in the film’s second trailer, I wasn’t sure at first how he’d factor into the film. Clearly meant to be the main source of comic relief, initially, I was unsure if it would fit with the overall tone of the film, which seemed to be generally serious based on the first few trailers. However, having now seen the film, it’s clear that Reilly’s performance is in line with the film’s overall light-hearted nature; as such, he’s one of the best parts of the film and, technically speaking, he’s arguably got the most to work with in terms of character development out of anyone in the entire cast.

It seems to me that Kong: Skull Island is proving to be just as polarizing as 2014’s Godzilla. But while Godzilla divided audiences primarily due to the limited screen-time of the titular monster, it looks like the polarizing nature of Skull Island is due to just what kind of beast of a film it is. It has much more to it in terms of monster action than Godzilla but, like that film, it also doesn’t have much to it in terms of plot and character development. Still, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts does succeed in what he clearly must have set out to do; make a good old-fashioned monster film. And thanks to some excellent monster action, as well as fantastic visuals based on a gorgeous 70’s-inspired visual style, Kong: Skull Island is a highly entertaining new take on the lore of King Kong. Admittedly, I wouldn’t say that it’s my favorite of the Kong films (that honor is between the 1933 original and Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake) but it’s a worthy addition to the Kong franchise nevertheless. Not only that, but I am looking forward to the future installments of Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures’ MonsterVerse, especially the upcoming crossover between Kong and Godzilla which, without giving anything major away, is teased in this film.

Rating: 4/5

(Also, be sure to check out my buddy Alex Corey’s review of the film over on his blog, Alex Corey Reviews!!)