Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015

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RELEASE DATE: June 30
RELEASE DATE: June 30

MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS: THE MOVIE is easily the crappiest movie in my Summer of ’95 retrospective so far. Maybe less offensive than BATMAN FOREVER, since it doesn’t seem to be made by professionals who should know any better, but it’s really something. I know it’s an extension of a cheesy kids TV show made up partly of stock footage from Japanese shows, but it’s amazing that a soundtrack album and a little bad CGI was enough to get this into theaters alongside real movies. APOLLO 13 and

JUDGE DREDD came out the same day. Watching it 20 years later POWER RANGERS does not seem like it belongs in the company of either, and the dark, low quality transfer on the DVD isn’t helping things. It didn’t get completely killed at the box office, though. That weekend it came in below APOLLO 13, POCAHONTAS and BATMAN FOREVER, but above JUDGE DREDD.

Like APOLLO 13 this is the story of an elite team of squares chosen to put on uniforms and helmets and fly into space. The Power Rangers are five teenagers chosen by a giant face in a glass tube named Zordon (Nicholas Bell, DARK CITY) to “transform into a superhuman fighting force” and defend the Australian-looking city of Angel Grove, California. That means morphing into masked and color-coded martial arts super heroes and piloting robotic dinosaurs called Zords that combine into a bigger, humanoid robot called Megazord to fight giant monsters. In their spare time the Power Rangers like to skydive, rollerblade and act as role models to local children who don’t know they’re the Power Rangers because it’s a secret identity, although that is never relevant to the story. As far as we see, none of them have parents, schools, jobs, homes or alone time. (read the rest of this shit…)

Terminator Genisys [sic]

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

tn_terminatorgNote: if you know nothing about this movie, this review has lots of spoilers. However, every major twist is given away in the advertising, one of them even on the poster.

There’s a cool, clever idea near the beginning of TERMINATOR GENISYS. We start out in the post-Judgment Day future, where the resistance leader John Connor (now played by Jason Clarke of ZERO DARK THIRTY) is about to destroy Skynet and its army of machines. But Skynet has just sent a T-800 (played by a body double with a digital-young-Arnold-Schwarzenegger head) back to 1984 to kill his mother Sarah Connor (now played by Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones, not to be confused with Lena Headey from Game of Thrones, who played her on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) before she conceives him. So John sends his best soldier (and secret father) Kyle Reese (now played by Jai Courtney from JACK REACHER and who would have been in the fifth DIE HARD if they had made one but there is not one in my opinion) back in time to protect Sarah. You know, the plot of THE TERMINATOR.

And then it goes and re-creates a few scenes we recognize from the first movie: the man in the garbage truck seeing the Terminator arrive naked in a ball of lightning, the homeless man in the alley seeing Kyle, the Terminator approaching three punk rockers (none of them Bill Paxton) and demanding their clothes. Except then, all the sudden, there’s another, older Arnold Schwarzenegger there, attacking the young one, with the help of Sarah. And we learn that this is a different timeline, not the one from THE TERMINATOR that we and Reese expected. This older Arnold is a Terminator who was sent back to when Sarah was 9 to protect her and raise her. So she’s not a clueless waitress who he has to convince, she already knows about the future and her son and how to shoot guns and everything. (read the rest of this shit…)

Apollo 13

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

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RELEASE DATE: June 23
RELEASE DATE: June 30

20 years ago, in the summer of 1995, director Ron Howard (GUNG HO) looked back another 25 years before that to the year 1970.

What does 1970 mean to you? For mathematical reasons I have to think of it as the beginning of the decade of funk, of soul power, of blaxploitation and disco. The decade of Scorsese and Copolla and DePalma, and JAWS and STAR WARS. But really it’s more like a bridge from the ’60s. Sly and the Family Stone were still performing, Bruce Lee was on the rise, James Brown put out “Funky Drummer,” “Brother Rapp” “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved” and “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine.” It was the beginning of PBS, Black Sabbath, Doonsebury and DJ Quik (who was born), but it was the end of the Beatles (who broke up, but released Let It Be) Janis Joplin (who went on the Festival Express, but died) and Jimi (who played the Isle of Wight Festival, but died). It was the year after Woodstock and the war was still going. It was the invasion of Cambodia abroad and the Kent State shootings at home. Basically it was a bubble of time floating in the middle of war and protest and multiple cultural revolutions.

Ever the square, Howard (who had spent part of his 1970 guest starring in a Lassie two-parter) made a period piece that’s a worshipful tribute to people completely removed from all of that. (read the rest of this shit…)

School Daze

Monday, June 29th, 2015

tn_schooldazeSCHOOL DAZE is Spike Lee’s sophomore jointational work, and was never one of my favorites from him. But man, looking back at it now I love its youthful exuberance. Here’s 30 year old Spike having access to the studio’s resources for the first time – he goes from a few actors in apartments in black and white to a huge cast on a college campus. He even has a full-on song and dance number. It’s the first example of what I think is one of his weaknesses: his overreach in tackling too many things at once, creating an unfocused and overstuffed narrative. But in this context that’s kinda charming. He’s really goin for it.

Since DO THE RIGHT THING and MALCOLM X were Lee’s most culturally recognized movies, certain white people pigeonholed him as a guy who only makes movies about white people being racist. Of course that’s not even a complete description of the content of those two movies, let alone applicable to most of his filmography. And joint #2, just like joint #1, I’m pretty sure doesn’t show a single white person in it. (read the rest of this shit…)

Chappie

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

tn_chappieCHAPPIE is a slight but sweet sci-fi story from South Africa’s Neill Blomkamp. It’s like a meaner SHORT CIRCUIT or an unexpectedly good Asylum knockoff of the remake of ROBOCOP. The Johannesburg police are very happy with their new police robot “Scouts,” invented by cubicle-bound corporate employee Deon Wilson (Dev Patel from SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE), and have flatly, perhaps rudely rejected The Moose, a human-operated ED-209 lookalike pushed by jealous ex-soldier Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman). But Deon isn’t really invested in that feud – he’s invented an A.I. program which the boss (Sigourney Weaver) won’t even let him continue with, and that’s all he really cares about right now.

still_chappieMeanwhile the weirdo South African electronical rap group Die Antwoord are involved in a drug deal gone bad and busted up by Scouts. A scary gangster named Hippo (Brandon Auret, who played mercenaries in both of Blomkamp’s other movies) who has a crazy hairdo that would make any David Ayer character teary eyed with envy, says they owe him a ridiculous amount of money, so they decide they have no choice but to quickly pull off the heist of a lifetime so he doesn’t kill them. That leads to the hair-brained idea of kidnapping Deon to get “the remote” that they assume he has for clicking the power off on the city’s law enforcement. For some reason he doesn’t really have one, go figure. So as a compromise he installs his A.I. program in a damaged police robot for them to teach how to be “the illest gangster” and use robot powers such as jump high and metal punch to help them pull off their robbery. (read the rest of this shit…)

Pocahontas

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

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RELEASE DATE: June 23
RELEASE DATE: June 23

Disney’s POCAHONTAS is the big animated feature of the summer of 1995, a part of the “Disney Renaissance” and feature animation resurgence that started in the late ’80s and early ’90s. But if the popularity of Disney animation was a motherfucker trying to ice skate uphill, this would be the point when he had just reached the top and now was beginning to slide back down in reverse. It came out a year almost to the day after THE LION KING, the tale of fathers and sons and a bunch of unrelated songs about a farting warthog and a smartass weasel guy or whatever, which smashed all box office records for animated features and remained the highest grossing of all time until TOY STORY 3 beat it 16 years later. More importantly, POCAHONTAS came about 5 months before the first TOY STORY arrived like a European with an infected blanket, triggering the end of the popularity of line drawings on the big screen.

Though not very highly regarded, and controversial for its fictionalization of history, I think POCAHONTAS is a respectable swan song for the age of Disney hand drawn animation. It goes whole hog with the house formula of glamorous heroines in a Broadway-inspired musical format, but takes some risks and, most notably, gloriously showcases the artistry of the studio’s best animators, designers and colorists. (read the rest of this shit…)

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

tn_kingsmanWell, I wasn’t sure if I could do it, but I did, you guys: I enjoyed KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE. Although I have this idea of director Matthew Vaughn as an overhyped Friend of the Internet, when I look at his filmography it’s really only KICK-ASS that I have a beef with. But since KINGSMAN is the director and writers of KICK-ASS adapting from another comic from the same guy that did KICK-ASS you can see why it would be a concern.

Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is a young British man of drinking age. His dad died in Iraq when he was a kid, his mom has an abusive asshole boyfriend, he hangs out at the pub with his friends, gets in fights, doesn’t have a job. This could be the beginning of another GREEN STREET sequel, but when he gets busted for stealing some asshole’s car it’s not a soccer fan club that helps him out, it’s a stranger who claims to be a friend of his dad.

Little did Eggsy know that his father was in a secret society of highly skilled, well-financed super-spies working independently of any government. This guy who helps him, code named Galahad (Colin Firth, THE KING’S PEACH), says he owes Eggsy’s dad for saving his life. Galahad notices Eggsy’s squandered potential (he quit the Marines as well as an Olympics-bound gymnastics career) and decides to recruit him to try out for their organization. But it’s a tough audition. It’s kinda like trying out for the SEALs but only one person gets to join. (read the rest of this shit…)

Falling Down

Thursday, June 18th, 2015

tn_fallingdownJoel Schumacher’s FALLING DOWN (1993) is a movie I’ve always hated for what I thought it was saying. Watching it again a couple decades later I think I was partly wrong. Maybe even mostly wrong. But I still can’t get all the way on board. I’ll try to explain why.

Michael Douglas plays a defense industry office drone in L.A. who one morning gets stuck in traffic, loses his shit, decides to abandon his car and walk home. And along the way he decides to go nuclear on anyone he thinks is wronging him. This includes gang members who try to collect a toll for him sitting on their rock and a Neo-Nazi (Frederic Forrest, VALLEY GIRL) who shows him his weapons cache, but also a convenience store clerk, the staff and patrons of a fast food restaurant and random construction workers. As he travels he builds up an arsenal by taking people’s weapons, like a video game that didn’t exist yet at that time.

(He’s credited as “D-FENS” after his vanity license plate, but they find out his name is William Foster, so that’s what I’ll refer to him as.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Judgment Night

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

tn_judgmentnightI’m interested in this idea of The Place White People Can’t Go. According to pop culture and middle class conventional wisdom there are large swaths of every major city that are like the wild west or a post-apocalyptic dystopia. The second a woman steps off the wrong subway or a man’s car breaks down on the wrong block, homeless men in ragged coats turn their heads from the flaming oil barrels where they warm their hands, and seedy criminals step out of the shadows of the garbage-strewn, rat-infested alleys to attempt a gang rape or mugging before this shaky-handed outsider gets a chance to unfold his or her map.

Admittedly many of these swarmers are white too, so maybe it’s really The Place Suburbanites Can’t Go. But it seems like a specifically white paranoia, perpetrated on white movie characters. It’s perpetuated in movies I like, such as the DEATH WISH series, as well as many an ’80s comedy. More recently it made an appearance in TRAINING DAY when walking through the barrio nearly got Ethan Hawke’s “shit pushed in.”

This is not entirely made up. Of course there are high crime areas (in Seattle it’s called “my bus stop”) and desperate, troubled people everywhere, and we’ve all heard stories, some of which are true. But I really think the whole thing is blown out of proportion in a way that appeals to our worst instincts and makes problems worse. In most cases I believe a white man can go anywhere and get a funny look at worst. If you mind your own business most people will leave you alone. Going into “a bad neighborhood” is not really like being a piece of meat in a tiger pit. You’ll probly be okay. (read the rest of this shit…)

Batman Forever

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

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RELEASE DATE: May 19
RELEASE DATE: June 16

“Those who cannot remember [BATMAN FOREVER] are condemned to repeat it.” –George Santayana, The Life of Reason, 1905

You guys wanna see a hit summer blockbuster that was well received at the time, but has since been disavowed like a discredited ideology? The summer of 1995 gives you BATMAN FOREVER.

Just six years earlier Tim Burton had smashed open the zeitgeist with BATMAN, which had been used as somewhat of a reference point for would-be blockbusters since, clearly influencing at least the scoring and marketing of DICK TRACY, DARKMAN, THE ROCKETEER and THE SHADOW, for example. But Burton’s second one, BATMAN RETURNS (1992) was weirder, more personal, and therefore less enthusiastically received by the public. That made the studio weary about plans for a Burton-directed part 3, and they parted ways. Burton is credited as an executive producer on FOREVER, but apparently his only role was to give the new director his blessing and meet with screenwriters Lee & Janet Scott Batchler once to discuss the importance of duality in Batman characters.

Joel Schumacher was a weird but not controversial choice for a replacement. People remembered THE LOST BOYS, FALLING DOWN and maybe FLATLINERS as good movies. And he did THE CLIENT – you know, those John Grisham court room thrillers were a big deal in the ’90s, for some reason. I wonder what happened to that whole genre. Anyway, a 1993 Entertainment Weekly article said “Hiring Schumacher to direct the summer-of-’95 release is seen by insiders as an attempt by Warner Bros. to get the Batman movies back on track” because “Warner doesn’t want a repeat of the macabre 1992 sequel, BATMAN RETURNS, which frightened small children and angered many parents.” It goes on to quote an anonymous “source close to the project” as saying they didn’t want Burton to direct because “he’s too dark and odd for them.”

Yeah, because Schumacher made a real normal movie. No oddness to see here. Just a couple of bros in shiny plastic muscles driving a car up the side of a building. Don’t worry about it, fellas. (read the rest of this shit…)