Tag Archives: RJ Cyler

Power Rangers

Most people my age or younger will remember at least one iteration of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers live-action television series, which first aired in the UK in 1994. Most people my age or younger will remember their iteration of the five colourful superheroes with a degree of fondness.

Some people my age will have revisited the show since then on a nostalgia trip and been thoroughly devastated at how bloody awful it actually is.

Big robot dinosaurs combining into one ginormous suit of armour and proceeding to smash giant space monsters to smithereens; what’s not to love if you’re seven years old? And, I guess, what is there still to love if you’re now 30 years old?

That was one of the questions that fell to writer John Gatins (Real Steel, Kong: Skull Island) and director Dean Israelite (Project Almanac) to answer. Another was how do you make a single unifying movie, based on a series that keeps reinventing itself for multiple generations of kids, that would appeal to all of these audiences?

Their answer rather unsurprisingly largely consisted of not bothering to pander to any particular one of these pre-existing crowds and instead create their own story. Thankfully.

Jason the jock (Dacre Montgomery), rebellious Kimberly (Naomi Scott), Billy (RJ Cyler) the genius who is “on the spectrum”, Zack (Ludi Lin) the crazy one, and the loner Trini (Becky G.) – the only cast member who was actually a teenager during production, at 19 years old – must put their differences to one side and bond as a cohesive unit if they are to unlock their true potential as guardians of the Earth’s lifeforce (or something) against the evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks).

For a large portion of Lionsgate / Temple Hill Entertainment’s big budget adaptation, the Power Rangers exist solely as their teenage misfit counterparts, who band together through circumstance after stumbling upon glowing coins that grant them superhuman strength. It’s a good 70 minutes in before we see the Red, Pink, Black, Yellow and Blue suits of armour, let alone any action, fights, zoids or monsters.

Rather than a tale of teenagers with attitude, this is more akin to a story about teenagers with boring, mundane, typical teen angst. Not quite social outcasts, just regular Breakfast Club high school kids with normal lives – except for the whole acquisition of super powers and an ancient evil force intent on their destruction, of course.

The problem here is that the creators wanted to have their cake and eat it. They wanted a Power Rangers film with minimal Power Rangers-ing. The course direction is similar to Israelite’s debut feature, Project Almanac, as a group of kids discover a power greater than themselves and deal with the consequences. In isolation, we should be grateful for a film of this calibre deciding to spend some time building backstory for these otherwise ordinary kids; yet it feels like an age before we even get a glimpse of a shiny metallic suit, or spinning high-jump over the heads of some henchmen, putty patroller, fodder types. I’m not requesting Transformers levels of constant inane explosions, but something would’ve been better than nothing.

It’s also disappointing considering the amount of time spent bulking up their backstories, that they remain extraordinarily bland. Billy is the strongest personality in the ensemble, but has only two interesting features: He’s defined by his relationship to the Chris Pine Kirk rip-off, Jason Lee Scott (not to be confused with actor Jason Scott Lee, according to Wikipedia) and his Hollywood-autism. That is to say, he’s good with numbers and doesn’t get humour when it’s convenient for the script to crack a few jokes. He’s rarely the butt of a joke, but most of the humour is derived from his lack of social awareness.

It’s not exactly new for Power Rangers to bang the diversity drum, albeit in a slightly less abrasive fashion than yesteryear. In 2017, the African American character wears a blue uniform, as opposed to automatically being the Black Power Ranger. The Chinese character dons the Black mantle as opposed to uncomfortably being labelled a Yellow Power Ranger, which is reserved for the hispanic Trini whose sexuality is somewhat ambiguous. Causing some level of upset elsewhere is the fact that Kimberly is still the Pink Power Ranger and, more controversially, now has boobs.

Yes, both of the female character’s costumes have boob… pockets? I’m not sure what the correct term is, but they have space for boobs in their costumes’ chest plates. The notion of the sexualisation of teen girls was something that caused a brief outcry from some quarters when the first images were revealed, but it’s turned out to be little more than a damp squib. These aren’t non-binary Power Rangers, nor are they sex-things to be lusted over. The characters have genders; their costumes denote their gender. There’s not much more to it and (to use a slightly inappropriate term given how this paragraph has gone so far) it’s not worth getting your knickers in a twist over.

As well as the five young heroes, their home town of Angel Grove would have benefited from a touch more personality. The small slice of Americana would have leant the final catastrophic battle more weight if you were even slightly bummed out to see a place you cared about being destroyed. Alas, it was indistinguishable from whichever other town in whichever other modern CGI-laden action movie you can think of.

The bad guys will be bad guys; and whilst it was enjoyable to see Elizabeth Banks ham it up to High Heaven as Rita Repulsa, she was very comfortably nestled in Villain 101 territory. The decision to make Goldar a voiceless CGI globule was also depressing. A quipping sidekick to Rita’s sinister villainy would not have gone amiss.

On the subject of quipping, when Zordon’s (Bryan Cranston) android assistant, Alpha (Bill Hader), could be heard, he barely raised a smile, let alone a chuckle or laugh. But at least we’re spared the agony of an irritating, bumbling, goofy clown that irritates more than entertains. He’s just… there.

An action movie of this calibre doesn’t necessarily have to be wholly original in concept to be entertaining, but it definitely needs character and personality. This would be hard enough to achieve in any ordinary 12A, 120 minute, bog-standard origin story; never mind one that is supposed to have five main characters.

Ultimately, that’s all that Power Rangers could be. A broad mishmash of Fantastic Four (minus the body-horror) levels of character development and self-awareness, with MCU at its most vanilla. It’s an inoffensive popcorn movie struggling to be relevant.

Although you’ll forgive me if I don’t accuse it of ruining my childhood – a rewatch of the original 5-part Green with Evil arc already did that by itself. I mean, who thought it would be a good idea to give Zack his own flying car?

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

me & earl & the dying girl“I’m not hanging out with you because I pity you. My mom’s making me.”

For the most part, I tend to actively avoid films that are guaranteed to make me cry.  Not through some kind of masculine Neanderthal type thinking that guys shouldn’t cry, I’m just not much of a fan of streaming like a little girl in a room full of strangers. There are, of course, exceptions; with a soft spot for all things military and pretty much all animals, sitting in that dark room for Max was a no-brainier for me. But for the most part, films made to make you blub are saved for viewings at home where only the wife can laugh at the Neanderthal crying.

Me and Earl and The Dying Girl has a name that doesn’t need much decoding to realise it’ll try to have you balling at every turn, but having gone into the screening last night never having seen a trailer for this film, what I didn’t expect was to spend a large portion of my time truly laughing out loud. It’s a testament to not only how wrong an impression of a film can be just from the name, but also how genuinely great the film is.

Greg (Thomas Mann) is a little more than a typical high school loner. He’s crafted his ability to simultaneously get along with everyone while remaining invisible into an art form. Only really having meaningful interactions with his friend, “coworker” and fellow filmmaker Earl (RJ Cyler) and his, admittedly pretty awesome, history teacher Mr. McCarthy, whose office doubles as a lunchtime hideaway for Greg and Earl while the über-cool educator uses the personal time as a forum to drop life lessons and advice. Spending almost all of his free time with Earl making parodies of classic films in various forms, Greg narrates us through his life as a ghost in his senior year at a Pittsburgh high school with no real ambitions outside of being away from the crowds once his year ends.

Catching wind of a classmate being diagnosed with leukaemia, Greg’s overbearing mother – played beautifully by the always amazing Connie Britton – forces the angsty teenager to go and spend time with her hoping that it’ll give him a warm, fuzzy feeling inside to do something nice for Rachel (Olivia Cooke), the film’s titular “Dying Girl“. Unwillingly dragging his sorry behind to her house and greeted by Rachel’s struggling-to-cope mother, the also always stellar Molly Shannon, she welcomes the opportunity at company for herself as well as her sick daughter and introduces Greg to Rachel.  With about as much interest in accepting pity and Greg has in offering it, Rachel seems to take an instant liking to the quiet, but surprisingly funny, film nerd and the pair instantly form a friendship that is not only completely non-sexual, but gives both of them so much to gain from one-another that in a very short space of time, the pair have become, for want of a better description, platonic soul-mates.

As the final months of high school play out, Greg and Rachel become so close that an outsider would guess that they have been life-long friends, with Rachel being the only person that Greg and Earl have shared their parody films; with pun-tastic titles like Senior Citizen Kane and Sockwork Orange, and with Greg being the only person Rachel is comfortable being herself with, especially as her cancer treatment starts to take its toll and leaves the teenage girl with almost no confidence in herself.  In a completely co-dependant relationship, the high schoolers have to come to terms with their need for each other and the possibility that they might not have each other for long.

Now, considering I’m very, very far from this film’s main target audience, I admit to coming out of it in a really good mood.  I imagined a film about a boy being forced to be friends with a girl with cancer to end up being overly weepy, with a real over the top feeling to the sentimental parts of the movie.  But I’m happy to say that Me and Earl and The Dying Girl almost perfectly balances the funny highs with the emotional lows of the story. Almost instantly caring for all the players in this game is a feat that I didn’t think a film about secondary school kids would be able to do for me any more and the tone is set just right so that those emotionally taxing parts that I would usually try to avoid, instead of taking the easy and manipulative route, they leave you with a lump in your throat but also leave you with an enormous grin on your face at the same time. Getting that weird limbo state somewhere between happy and sad is an amazing place to be put in by a film you weren’t expecting to enjoy.

The bottom line; Me and Earl and the Dying Girl will easily sit with great high school flicks like The Breakfast Club and Mean Girls but will absolutely not be out of place being mentioned in the same breath as great dramas like The Descendants and The Fault in Our Stars. It’s a brilliant comedy drama with an affecting and long-lasting message for its entire audience and if, like me, it wasn’t on your radar; it absolutely should be now.  

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is released in UK cinemas on 4 September 2015.