Power Rangers

Cast: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G, Ludi Lin, Bill Hader, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Banks

Director: Dean Israelite

Writer: John Gatins


I was a 90s kid which means that I watched my fair share of Power Rangers growing up. The shows were spectacularly corny and silly but it worked very well for what it was, a campy kids TV show. However many different versions were made, the movies and shows all followed the same tried and true formula. A baddie would release some monsters to wreak havoc, the power rangers would suit up and fight them, the baddies would intervene by making one of monsters enormous, and then the rangers would work together in their animal-robot things to take it down. It was the exact same thing episode after episode after movie after episode. But it worked. It was a formula that children could recognise and follow and the show itself was fun enough that its ceaselessly repetitive structure didn’t really matter all that much. Looking back now it’s clear to me what a stupid, lame show it really was, but back then I couldn’t have cared less.

In the idyllic town of Angel Grove, high school football star Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) gets himself into trouble for an elaborate prank gone wrong and ends up in detention. There he meets Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott), a shunned cheerleader, and Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler), an autistic nerd. The three end up at an old gold mine along with Trini (Becky), a moody loner, and Zack (Ludi Lin), a reckless maverick. After Billy breaks some rocks with his explosives, the five discover strange coloured coins and each take one. They later find that they’ve all acquired superhuman abilities overnight and return to the mine to discover the source. There they discover a spaceships inhabited by the robot Alpha 5 (Bill Hader) and the consciousness of Zordon (Bryan Cranston), a ranger from long ago. Zordon reveals that the five have been chosen to assume the roles of the Power Rangers and that they must begin training in order to defend the world against the imminent return of the dreaded Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks).

This is a film that truly exceeded my expectations. It isn’t by any means a great movie, but it is far, far better than a Power Rangers movie has any business being. All I really expected was five teenagers in coloured suits performing elaborate karate moves on weird-looking monsters. Instead I got a compelling teenage drama worthy of John Hughes with a Power Rangers episode taking up the last 30 minutes or so. The movies gives us five diverse teenagers who really do have attitude and showcases them all in believable, gripping ways. Billy’s autism and Trini’s sexual orientation don’t feel like topical traits the movie tacked on to score diversity points, they feel like genuine parts of their characters. The film actually takes time to show how much of an outsider Billy is, especially after the loss of his father who was the one person he felt he could really talk to, and how disconnected Trini feels with her clueless, conservative parents. Zack meanwhile shares a touching bond with his sick mother and is torn up by her illness while Kimberly struggles with being the subject of resentment amongst her classmates after committing an offence that’s actually pretty deserving of animosity. Jason completes the ensemble as its least interesting member, but he has his own father issues as well that leads to a couple of good moments.

As much as I enjoyed getting to know these characters and watching them bond, it did result in one rather glaring flaw. It takes forever for these characters to actually become the Power Rangers. After they meet Zordon about 30 minutes in, the five teenagers spend the subsequent hour training and learning about their abilities. In order to become the Power Rangers they must learn to morph, but the only way they can do that is by believing in themselves and discovering the power that is already within them. The climax cannot start until this happens and, when it finally does, there’s little more than twenty minutes left to go. The disconnect between the discovery of their abilities and their climatic showdown isn’t nearly as mishandled as it is in Fant4stic, but it’s still an issue. The teenage drama that takes up the first 90 minutes is good, but after a while it started to drag and I found myself looking at my watch wondering when they were finally going to master morphing and become the Power Rangers.

Once the climax does get started its about what you’d expect. The movie follows the standard Power Rangers formula to a tee in their battle against Rita as she comes to Angel Grove to find the something crystal of something power so she can something something destroy something Krispy Kreme something. Banks for her part completely commits herself to the role of the gold-obsessed alien and fully embraces the campy, ridiculous nature of this franchise. The rest, especially Cranston, play it straight for the most part but not to the point where they’re taking themselves too seriously. There’s plenty of comic relief, albeit some of it crude and predictable, and enough over-the-top action for the film to live up to the Power Rangers name. It isn’t a smart or a well-made film, but to be perfectly honest I never expected Power Rangers to be either of those things. That the film is at all thoughtful or compelling is in itself a miracle. There is an earnestness and sincerity to Power Rangers that I found rather charming. It’s a silly film but it falls on the right side of silly, offering kids some good, harmless fun with a couple of good lessons to take away and think about.

★★★

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Trumbo

Cast: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Louis C.K., Elle Fanning, John Goodman, Michael Stuhlbarg

Director: Jay Roach

Writer: John McNamara


In the long, colourful history of Hollywood, the story of the Hollywood Ten marks one of its unhappier periods. In the early days of the Cold War when insecurity and paranoia grew from the fear of the Soviet Union, leading figures in American law and politics (most infamously Senator McCarthy) sought to prevent their communist ideology from taking hold of the American public. The result was a witch-hunt that propagated fear, corrupted institutions and ruined lives. It is remembered today as a dark episode of American history that demonstrates what happens when irrational panic and warped patriotism are allowed to permit the abuse of democracy. Dalton Trumbo, as one of the Hollywood Ten blacklisted for his political activism, is hailed as a man who stood up to the oppression of the Blacklist and is often credited with defeating it. Trumbo is a film that sets out to celebrate the man’s legacy by giving his story the Hollywood treatment. (On a sidenote I first learned about this subject because of Herbert J. Biberman who was also one of the Hollywood Ten. He went on to direct a movie called Salt of the Earth, a film about socialism and feminism that is well worth a watch).

Upon the conclusion of the Second World War Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) is one of the most celebrated screenwriters in Hollywood. However his radical politics gets him into trouble when the McCarthyist hunt for Communist sympathisers turns its head towards the entertainment industry. Persecuted by such figures as the influential columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), Trumbo and his friends, including fellow writer Arlen Hird (Louis C.K.), are made to testify before the House Committee of Un-American Activities where they are subsequently found in contempt and blacklisted. Exiled and disgraced, Trumbo seeks to find a different means by which he can provide for his wife Cleo (Diane Lane) and his children, including his socially active daughter Nikola (Elle Fanning). His solution is to anonymously write B-movie screenplays for the low-budget King Brothers Productions led by Frank King (John Goodman). It is also during this period that Trumbo secretly writes the screenplays for Roman Holiday and The Brave One, both of which would go on to win Academy Awards, as well as Spartacus, the movie that effectively ended the Hollywood Blacklist.

The big problem with this movie, as is often the case with other ‘based-on-a-true-story’ movies of this type is that it takes a simplistic approach towards its subject matter. In order to convey what an injustice the Hollywood Blacklist was, the film determinedly portrays its perpetrators as decadent villains and its victims as venerable heroes. While the Blacklist was indeed an injustice, the approach this film takes felt too one-dimensional. There is a scene that stuck out where J. Parnell Thomas, the judge who had Trumbo convicted, is himself found guilty of tax evasion and ends up serving time in the same prison. Upon meeting each other during their incarceration Thomas remarks on the irony of them both ending up in the same place to which Trumbo defiantly counters, “Except that you committed a crime and I didn’t”. The movie was so superficial yet morally superior in its portrayal of these events that this scene felt cornier to me than heroic. I felt like the complexity and significance of this truly fascinating figure and his story was somewhat lost by the film’s desire to overcompensate for the wrongs that were committed. In a way Trumbo suffers from a similar problem that I found with fellow Oscar nominee The Danish Girl, which is that its depiction of the story is too safe and lacks power and weight because of it.

As much as I like Cranston as an actor, I must say that I thought his depiction of Dalton Trumbo came across as something of a caricature. This doesn’t exactly mean that I think he gave a bad performance, I just thought it was a little thin. Trumbo never really felt like a character to me, but instead felt more like Cranston trying to play a character. It is for sure an entertainingly eccentric performance but it lacks the nuance that I know Cranston can bring. In truth most of the characters in this film are thinly written, meaning that many of the performances provided only work on a surfaced level. Mirren for instance delivers a delectable performance as the malicious columnist who has set out to ruin Trumbo and his allies, but it is a performance completely lacking in substance. Consequently she comes across as more of a cartoon villain than she does a portrayal of a real-life figure. In fact most of the famous names portrayed in this movie, including Edward G. Robinson, John Wayne and Kirk Douglas, feel more like soulless simulations than they do characters.

The film is simplistic, distortive and hollow but it still has its merits. It is by all means an entertaining and even a compelling film, even if it does lack the weight that a more challenging and introspective approach to the story would have given it. Cranston certainly provides a solid leading performance as the idealistic Trumbo and is backed by a formidable supporting cast who all deliver stronger performances than the material warranted. The film is sketchy and historically selective in its approach to the story but still depicts it in an appealing way to those looking for a simple and straightforward movie about a real-life hero overcoming and defeating a movement of tyranny and persecution. The story of the Hollywood Blacklist is an important one that deserves a smarter and worthier film but Trumbo is agreeable enough, if otherwise undistinguished.

★★★