“Power Rangers”

While watching “Power Rangers,” all I wanted was Krispy Kreme. Mmmmm…. Krispy Kreme….

In Angel Grove, a Breakfast Club ensemble of high school students befriend each other and find strange coins. The students are former football star Jason (Dacre Montgomery), ostracized mean girl Kimberly (Naomi Scott), the autistic Billy (RJ Cyler), new girl Trini (Becky G), and loner Zack (Ludi Lin).

The coins empower these kids and lead them to an ancient being named Zordon (Bryan Cranston), who trains them to be the next Power Rangers, protectors of the galaxy. Meanwhile, alien invader Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) searches for the Zeo Crystal in her plot for world domination.

“Power Rangers” isn’t an original film since it borrows heavily from “Man of Steel” and “Chronicle.” While those films were overly destructive, brooding, and cynical, “Power Rangers” depicts the optimistic side of one discovering powers. Sure, there’s some cheese, but that’s part of the fun.

“The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” was always a cheesy show with mindless action, but it had heart and great messages about diversity and friendship. “Power Rangers” maintains these messages, even when it occasionally treads on the dark side.

The original series depicted the characters as these perfect, popular kids, but in “Power Rangers,” they’re far from that. Jason is an outcast for letting down Angel Grove’s football team, Kimberly is guilt-ridden over a prank, Zack ditches school to take care of his mom, Billy’s often bullied for his disability, and Trini is afraid of coming out to her parents.

Any writer could have written these sensitive arcs in a juvenile fashion, but writer John Gatins (“Kong: Skull Island”) handles them maturely and realistically. All the rangers feel like kids and not caricatures. The cast does well with their roles, especially RJ Cyler as Billy (I related to him the most).

Elizabeth Banks steals the show as Rita Rapulsa and is clearly having a blast on camera. Whether she steals gold, brag about her plan, or eats a Krispy Kreme doughnut, she rocks.

Speaking of Krispy Kreme, “Power Rangers” over kills Krispy Kreme product placement, but it weirdly suits the plot and tone of the movie. It’s more charming than annoying. I would say the only let down of “Power Rangers” was the action was lackluster (lots of slow-mo, fast-mo fight scenes). But good news is there’s an upcoming sequel, which means room for improvement.

Grade: B+


“T2: Trainspotting”

It’s about time Danny Boyle and Ewan McGregor made amends and followed up “Trainspotting” (one of my favorite films) with a sequel. It’s better than half of the long-waited sequels.

Nearly 20 years after Mark (McGregor) stole money from his friends, Mark now lives in Amsterdam with a wife and career. He unexpectedly returns to Scotland and reconciles with estranged friends Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) and Spud (Ewen Bremmer). They aren’t as fortunate since Simon now makes a living blackmailing people and Spud has relapsed into his heroin addiction. Then the psycho Begbie (Robert Carlyle) escapes prison, raising hell for the trio.

The brilliant and kinetic Boyle once again shows flare and energy in this long-waited followup. “T2” might seem unnecessary, but there’s a sequel book (“Trainspotting” is based on a novel), so it’s somewhat necessary. When it slows down in storytelling, Boyle makes up for it with his visuals and music.

There are quite a few transgressive moments in “T2” that have the same level of energy as “Trainspotting.” Most of these moments are electrified by the cast. Whether it’s Mark singing a song about King William killing Catholics in front of an ecstatic audience, or Mark and Begbie realizing they’ve ran into each other in a sleazy men’s bathroom, the laughs are consistent.

“T2” slows down halfway through and shifts to a nostalgic tone, which is both admirable and frustrating. We see the characters in a new light with Mark realizing he’s not as innocent as he lets on, he and Simon are criticized by Simon’s girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), and Begbie sees the error in his ways.

Simultaneously, Spud spends most of his time writing a novel and these scenes result in pacing issues. Veronika’s subplot with her, Mark, and Simon nearly turn the film into a formulaic romantic comedy, but thankfully Begbie (an always great Robert Carlyle) saves the film from going that direction. Another plus about the nostalgic tone is viewers don’t need to see “Trainspotting” to follow along. “T2” stands on its own.

The ending scene is dark if you analyze it closely. Characters seem okay either staying in the same place or simply going backwards. “Trainspotting” was about rebelling against society, so it’s obvious these characters won’t snap out of their rebellion. And I’m okay with that!

Grade: B

“The Belko Experiment”

My worst day at work didn’t involve being locked in my office and forced to kill my coworkers. “The Belko Experiment” depicts this nightmarish scenario with little-to-no impact.

Belko is a non-profit with a vague description in the middle of Columbia. One day, all of the branch’s outsourced American employees are locked in their office and given instructions from their intercom to kill or be killed. Why? Well, we don’t exactly know (or find out).

Written by James Gunn (“Guardians of the Galaxy”), “The Belko Experiment” has potential of being a sharply funny horror satire. Leave it to a hack director like Greg McLean of “The Darkness” (my pick for 2016’s worst film) to take a great premise nowhere.

Your list of characters includes the COO with military background (Tony Goldwyn), two bromantic maintenance workers (Michael Rooker and David Dastmalchian), the office creep (John C McGinley), and two lovers reminiscent of Jim and Pam Halpert (John Gallagher Jr. and Adria Arjona). McLean and Gunn have every opportunity to take these characters into insightful and satirical turns, but rely on violence as their shock source.

“The Belko Experiment” is violent in hardcore fashion and I wouldn’t expect less from McLean. Though after the fifth head explosion and third mass shooting, the violence becomes tiresome and meaningless. Even a particular tape roller kill is underwhelming. And of course, McLean loves violence against women, showing men once again sadistically stalking and killing their female coworkers (Ebert must be rolling in his grave over this).

The game is part of an experiment that isn’t fully explained, even when the big revelation occurs. All we get is a, “We learned a lot about humanity here.” What did they learn? Well, we sadly have to wait for a sequel to find out. The ending is a forced sequel setup that has me thinking the filmmakers didn’t even fully develop their own premise.

James Gunn explained he backed out of directing because he wasn’t in the mood to direct anything too violent. If he had stayed on, maybe “The Belko Experiment” would have had the satirical edge, some more innovation, and no sexist undertones. Maybe he’ll stay on for the unnecessary sequel.

Grade: D+

“Kong: Skull Island”

So, Warner Bros is now doing a Marvel-style universe with classic monsters? Okay, I’ll give it a shot since “Kong: Skull Island” was damn entertaining.

It’s the end of the Vietnam War and career soldier Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) is called into action. Joining him are the badass tracker Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), fearless photographer Mason (Brie Larson), and the shady expedition leader Randa (John Goodman). But when they drop bombs on the island they’re exploring, King Kong emerges and grounds them. They find that Kong isn’t the most dangerous creature on the island.

“Kong: Skull Island” is an homage to classic monster movies and Vietnam War movies. It’s shamelessly fun and that’s admirable. Even when Samuel L. Jackson says, “Hold onto your butts,” you can’t help but chuckle.

The filmmakers are more focused on the supporting cast members than Hiddleston, which is an unusual move. Hiddleston’s character has no back story or arc; he’s just the cool guy that swings machetes at mosquitoes in a sequence reminiscent of “300.” Larson’s development isn’t any better. It’s unfortunate since Hiddleston and Larson are versatile, talented actors.

Instead, we focus on Goodman’s Randa trying to prove he’s right, Jackson’s Packard wanting retribution for his men, and John C. Reilly’s Hank Marlow trying to get home. These three compete for scene-stealing status with each other, and Reilly emerges victorious. Reilly brings an even balance of humanity and humor to “Kong: Skull Island.”

The visuals and action sequences vary between harrowing, gruesome, and plain ridiculous. Kong has enough footage and action to make up for Godzilla’s lack of screen time in the 2014 “Godzilla” movie. Thankfully, the action is consistent start-to-finish. Arachnophobes, beware of giant spiders!

I’m skeptical about the concept of turning the classic monsters into a movie universe, but if we get a “King Kong vs. Godzilla” remake, I’ll be there in a heartbeat.

Grade: B


Hearing a drunken Logan (Hugh Jackman) utter “Fuck” in the opening of “Logan” is a clear warning that this isn’t a kid-friendly “X-Men” film. “Logan” is a grim, bloody, and depressing character study.

Set years after Logan saved the future in “Days of Future Past,” the X-Men are no more and Logan is a has-been. He’s a limo driver and drug dealer caring for a senile Professor X (Patrick Stewart). When Logan is offered a large sum of money to drive a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) to North Dakota, he finds that she has a lot in common with him. For example, they both have a group of cyborg mercenaries led by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) on their tale.

“Logan” is an unconventional superhero film. It has more in common with the Western and Apocalyptic Sci-Fi genre films like “Unforgiven” and “Children of Men” than it does with “X-Men.” Director James Mangold (who also directed “The Wolverine”) depicts the world of “Logan” as a sad, hopeless, and violent world that no one wishes to live in.

The journey of Logan throughout the films has been him surviving horror and war, hoping to find peace. Here, Logan’s accepted that peace is out of the question, and that he’s destined to live a never-ending life of carnage. Jackman plays the part perfectly, and it’s been an honor watching him for seventeen years.

Patrick Stewart deserves serious award recognition for his work as Charles. Whether he monologues about family or his guilt, or manically rambles about Taco Bell, Stewart is both heartbreaking and sincere, providing much-needed light to a bleak film.

The supporting cast is fine, with Boyd Holbrook playing Pierce as a fanboy who wants to be buddies with Logan, and Stephen Merchant as a mutant ally of Logan’s, but they’re mostly exposition tools. Their talent is no match for newcomer Dafne Keen, who’s the most badass on-screen kid since Eleven in “Stranger Things.”

Hugh Jackman has stated that “Logan” is his last run as Wolverine. Given it’s his ninth time playing the part, does he have to stop now? Because we can use more R-rated Wolverine movies.

Grade: A-

Ranking of the “X-Men” Films (excluding “Deadpool”):

  1. “X-Men: First Class”
  2. “X-Men: Days of Future Past”
  3. “Logan”
  4. “X2: X-Men United”
  5. “X-Men”
  6. “The Wolverine”
  7. “X-Men: Apocalypse”
  8. “X-Men: The Last Stand”
  9. “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”