Welcome to The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl

I consider myself a Fangirl. What does that mean, you ask? A "fanboy" in the most common understanding is a hardcore fan of 'genre' based entertainment in particular. In my case - science-fiction and comic book based movies and television. Because I'm a chick - it's fangirl, not fanboy. There you have it! I am a big movie fan, however, not necessarily a 'film' fan. And now - I have the forum to present my opinions to the public! These will mainly be movie reviews -that will always be my opinion - repeat OPINION. Just what I think, and in no way do I present my opinion as fact. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will help you decide what to see at the movie theater this weekend!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Movie Review: Saban's Power Rangers (PG13 – 124 minutes)

Way back in 1993, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers debuted on Fox Kids weekday afternoon block of kids shows. The show used the brilliant (or cheap) idea of taking stock footage of monsters and fight scenes from the Japanese TV series Super Sentai franchise intercut around new shots of American actors. Story-wise, astronauts accidentally release Rita Repulsa on the moon, “After ten thousand years I’m free!  It's time to conquer earth!”  Rita then sets out to send various monsters down to earth to take it over, so Zordon, an ancient being, assisted by his robot Alpha 5 recruit five teenagers “with attitude” to become the Power Rangers to fight against Rita and her monsters.

The show was cheesy fun, and in 1995, they got a movie, in which the Power Rangers gained some ninja powers to stop Ivan Ooze (played by Paul Freeman, yes, that Paul Freeman).

Over the years, the Power Rangers saw multiple iterations, and I faithfully watched every episode of the first three seasons, but then they shifted the cast, and I lost interest.  Because I was such a fan of the cheesy predictable-ness of the original (and the gorgeous Jason David Frank as Tommy), I wasn’t sure how I would react to a new rebooted movie.

The movie opens on prehistoric earth, as a team of alien power rangers are losing a battle against Rita Replusa, the groups former Green Ranger.  In a last ditch effort to defeat her, Zordon, the red ranger, has Alpha launch a meteor strike at the planet, destroying both the rangers, the power coins, and Rita. 
Fast forwarding to present day, we meet Jason Scott, who is the star quarterback of the Angel Grove football team, and gets busted during a prank to capture an opposing team’s mascot.  In the ensuing car chase, he flips his truck and ends up injured, disappointing his father, on house arrest, and in detention.  Once in detention, he is joined by Kimberly hart, former cheerleader, and Billy Cranston.  Billy is getting bullied by the detention bully when Jason promptly puts a stop to it with a open-handed slap – which is really fantastic.  Yes, it’s a very Breakfast Club meeting, and yes, this movie opened exactly 33 years after the Breakfast Club.  Happy to have a friend, Billy invites Jason to join him on his planned outing for the evening, with the promise of being able to deactivate his ankle bracelet. 

They head to the local mine, where Billy used to go treasure-hunting with his dad, who has since passed away. Kimberly heads to the mine to go swimming in a pond, new girl Trini is there to hike and do yoga, and wild-kid Zack is there camping out.  Billy blows up the side of a cliff, and the five are together to discover the long-buried power coins.   The five swiftly realize the coins have given them some strength and resolve to head back to the mine for further research.

Meanwhile, Jason’s father happens to be a fisherman who accidentally pulls up Rita’s mummified corpse.  Sure enough, she recovers and sets out in town to collect as much gold as possible and find the buried Zeo crystal that she had been searching for all those years ago.
Back at the mine, the new rangers discover a buried spaceship containing Alpha 5 and Zordon’s head.  The rangers start training to be able to defeat Rita.  Sure enough, since they don’t really know one another all that well, they are unable to Morph (get their armor and control of their zords – giant robots shaped like prehistoric beasts).  This disappoints Zordon, because they won’t come together, but also because he is hoping to use the ‘morphin grid’ to come back to life and escape the wall he seems to be stuck in.  Rita attacks, so they head out to face her, and swiftly lose – and spoiler alert - Billy gets straight up killed.  Killed!

Returning to the ship, they each realize how much they mean to each other too late, which of course activates the morphin grid – and Zordon is about to step through, but instead uses it to revive Billy – telling Jason that there can only be one red ranger at a time, and this is Jason’s time and Jason’s team, and he needs to lead them.  Reinvigorated – the rangers are able to morph, defeat the putties (yes, there are putties, but not dudes in silver spandex, they are rock monsters) and call the zords to battle Rita’s raised Goldar monster.  They defeat Rita after bringing all the zords together to form the mega-zord and slapping Rita into outer space as the citizens of Angel Grove look on in appreciation. 

The movie is directed by Dean Israelite, a South Africian director.  This is his first big-time Hollywood movie.  It looks great, and the action is fun.  I will say, the show focused a little more on the martial arts, and there’s very little of that in this movie. There is some in the training sequence, but I could have done with a little more of that - just a few more action/fight sequences.  I think because this is an origin movie, so there's no time for that.  I do miss the Goldar from the show, new Goldar is a little melty, and less comedic. So - the new one fits the new movie, I guess I just miss the old one! 

The movie also solves the issue of what I used to call ‘power-ranger acting’ – where your entire head is covered in a giant helmet, so in order to clarify who is speaking, every gesture is over-articulated.  In this movie, the face screens can be removed from the helmets, so you can actually see the person talking. The movie is incredibly long for a Power Rangers movie, but it’s long because of the character development at the front end. Some have argued that it was unnecessary, but honestly, I didn’t mind it.  The cast was all pretty capable for what was asked of them:
  • Australian Dacre Montgomery plays Jason, and does a decent job of playing a kid a little overburdened by all the expectations of others placed on him. It’s not an original character, but it’s a proven trope, and he does well with it here, especially when he finally steps up and helps to unify his team of his four new friends.

  • British actress Naomi Scott plays Kimberly, the pink ranger.  She is dealing with her own levels of self-doubt, shocked by how terrible a person should was capable of being in seeking popularity.  Recently booted off the cheerleading squad and now searching for a new identity, she’s grateful to stumble into four new friends that she can start over with.

  • RJ Cycler (Earle from Me and Earle and the Dying Girl) plays Billy – and if you haven’t heard by now, the character is Autistic.  Telling Jason he’s on the spectrum, Jason responds by joking if that is like P90X, which Billy clarifies that he doesn’t understand that joke because his brain doesn’t work that way, and Jason states that he understands.  At no point does it make Billy any less of a character – he’s not the butt of any jokes, and he’s not portrayed as weak or needing protection from the others. He’s an equally valued member of the team, and that is absolutely brilliant for kids to see today. He is never treated as less than as he bonds with his four new friends. Cycler's performance is fantastic, and he definitely is the heart and soul of the movie. 

  • Ludi Lin plays Zack, the wild-kid in school.  He’s basically blowing off high school, half because he’s taking care of his sick and dying mom, and half because he’s unsure how to handle his emotions about his mom being sick and dying, but is grateful to have four new friends that he can talk to about it.  He gets lets development than the others, but still does a good job. And man, those arms in that tank top are great. 

  • Singer/songwriter Becky G. plays Trini, and she’s attempting to fit in to her family, who are perfectly traditional.  She’s a bit worried that if she is honest with them about who she is (it’s strongly implied that she’s gay, but not outrightly stated), that they will be unable to handle it.  She’s not really looking to fit in, but is happy to have four new friends who will have her back regardless.

  • Elizabeth Banks plays Rita Repulsa, and I really enjoyed the storyline of her once being the green ranger to Zordon’s red ranger. It makes her attack a little more personal.  She vamps her way through the movie, equal parts cheesy, disturbing, and in some parts – truly frightening.

  • Bryan Cranston plays Zordon.  Yes – he did voice a couple of the monsters in the original 90s series and is the reason Billy’s character’s last name was and is Cranston.  He does a good job of making you believe he really just wants out of the wall, despite the fact that he did sacrifice himself to save the world.  Once he realizes he can trust this new ranger team, he feels comfortable stepping back into mentor role.

  • Bill Hader voices Alpha 5, and yes, does say Aye-yi-yi a couple of times.

Overall, I have to say I was really pleasantly surprised. I genuinely loved the movie.  The kids are great, and really come together to be a great team.  I will say, I miss the practical effects of the old show, with cheesy robots for the zords, because these CGI zords – I really could not tell which beasts they were supposed to be. Kimberly is still a pterodactyl, Jason still seems to have a T-Rex, and Trini seems to be a sabre-tooth cat, but both Billy’s and Zack’s were a little tough to tell.  And yes, the old putties were ridiculous, but these rock monsters were no fun.  

And yes, the characters do start wearing only their color – a bit from the show that always used to crack me up.  No one in Angel Grove could ever figure out who the power rangers were, but these five (and then six) kids were always hanging out together and only ever wearing the same colors that the power rangers were, and still no one ever thought they were the power rangers!

8 out of 10 – really entertaining, and super fun.  A little too long, but that didn’t bother me too much. I can’t wait for the sequel!  Mainly because of the mid-credits sequence where the team is back in detention, and the teacher announces there is a new student in detention, Tommy Oliver – and the camera shifts to an empty chair with a green jacket thrown over it….

Bonus – interviews!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Movie Review: Kong Skull Island (PG13 – 120 Minutes)

King Kong debuted in 1933, making him 84 years old in March of this year with the release of his eigth movie.  The previous films are King Kong (1933), Son of Kong (1933), King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), King Kong Escapes (1967), King Kong (1976), King Kong Lives (1986); King Kong (2005).  In the originally story, he’s a giant, prehistoric ape who is captured and removed from his home on Skull island, take to New York to be put on display, and tragically killed after escaping and climbing the empire State Building.  His personality can vary between tragically understood and abused to raging monster.

In this version, we have the tallest version of King Kong in American movies. He was at his very biggest in 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla at about 147 feet.  In Peter Jackson’s three hour version from 2005, he was about 25 feet tall, and was essentially a giant Silverback gorilla.  However, this 104 foot version is more kaiju than ape. This version begins with an airplane crash during a dogfight in 1944.  The crashed American pilot and the crashed Japanese pilot are still fighting on the island when they encounter Kong.  So yes, this King Kong movie does not mess around, you see Kong within the first five minutes. Which I honestly had no issue with!

The opening credits then fast forward us to the 1973, and our brand new satellites have just now picked up a deserted island in the south Pacific.  The island is surround completely by storms, but a crew from Monarch (a shady company), is determined to get to the island to explore it. They sell it to a government official as “hey, you want us to get there before the Russians, right?”, which works, and gets them funding – as well as a ride with a helicopter assault squadron that was just about to head home from Vietnam after the announcement that America was pulling out of Vietnam.  That announcement did not set particularly well with the leader of the helicopter squad, Preston Packard, who seems to feel that they were abandoning the battle.

Packard and his company of soldiers (all of which displaying various war-movie-soldier stereotypes…the one writing to his son, the one who just wants to get home, the quiet warrior, the burned-out one, etc.) meet up with the three Monarch reps (Bill Randa, Houston Brooks, and  San) who have already procured the talents of former British SAS ‘tracker’ James Conrad.  On the ship that will take them as close as possible, they also meet embedded photographer Mason Weaver who is there to document whatever they happen to find.  Assembled, they approach the horrific storm on the outside ring of the island, and board the helicopters to fly in.  Once through, they immediately start using seismic bombs to chart the land.  Of course, dropping explosives upsets Kong, and he starts demolishing helicopters, scattering the survivors around the island.  

From that point on the various groups try to get back together, and make it to the evacuation point on the north end of the island.  They swiftly learn the island is not what they expect, being inhabited by several unusually large creatures.

Mason and Conrad end up with a couple of soldiers and stumble into the natives of the island.  Just as they are about to be speared, Hank Marlow appears to stop them.  Marlow is the American pilot who crash landed on the island during World War II at the beginning of the movie and has been living with the natives on the island since then. He basically gives the newcomers all the exposition they need – under the island is populated by some horrible and dangerous lizard things, and above, Kong, and his family – protected the people and the island. Well, the skull things took out Kong’s parents/family, and now he is all that is left to protect the people and the other island inhabitants. Realizing that Kong was just defending his kingdom when he attacked them, Conrad and Mason have a new appreciation of the situation, and resolve to leave the island without causing any more damage.

Meanwhile, Randa and Brooks meet up with Packard and some other soliders.  Packard is bound and determined to find the one helicopter that had soldier Jack Chapman, and the explosives on it – he’s not leaving the island without killing Kong.  Brooks confesses that Randa hired him because he wrote a theory on monsters living beneath the earth, and they were really there to prove his theory.  As they head off, Marlow shows Mason and Conrad the boat he and his Japanese friend had spent the last couple of decades building. They head up the river, finally making radio contact with the other group.  As they meet up, Packard is telling everyone he needs to find Chapman, when what he really wants is the bombs.  They find the remains of Chapman, and encounter a few of the skull things.  Conrad, Marlow, and Mason attempt to tell Packard and the soldiers that they need to leave Kong alone and get off the island, but Packard is obsessed and the soldiers follow his orders.

This all builds up to one final fight, where Packard uses way too many of the explosives to attack Kong and cause some major damage.  Mason, Marlow and Conrad are able to stop them and win over the soldiers to their side of the argument just as the biggest skull monster from underground pops up, due to being bombed awake.  There is one final epic fight as the remaining people attempt to assist an injured Kong in his battle with the giant skull monster lizard thing.

Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who previously did Kings of Summer, the movie is a throw-back to the classic old school monster movies.  Shot mostly on location in Hawaii and Vietnam, the jungles feel completely real but also completely foreign and ancient. Kong’s makeover has him more sasquatch than gorilla, walking upright and towering over the island.  He’s fully CGI-animated through performance capture, and is more of the hero of this movie than the tragic lead.  In the previous Peter Jackson remake of the original story, Kong’s story ends sadly as he is captured and dragged to New York to be put on display. Here, he’s encountered in his original habitat, and gets to leave the story as a hero, successfully defending his home from both outsiders and monsters from within. I have to say – I really preferred that. It was much more fun to see him battling monsters than feel depressed for him as he dies alone and scared in New York City.  The movie never once pretends to be anything other than it is – pure monster movie fun – and the cast really seems to be enjoying the ride.

  • Tom Hiddleston plays James Conrad, tracker. He’s prepared for jungle settings, and while thrown by giant beasts, he recovers pretty well and keeps a level head once things get crazy.  Hiddleston is great at this kind of thing, and his casting almost feels like a spoof of the traditional action hero leads.

  • Samuel L. Jackson plays Packard. He does an amazing job of Sam Jacksoning his way through the island, making bad decision after bad decision to hunt down and kill that one last giant enemy.  He refuses to listen to reason, even when everyone else is trying to tell him Kong is not their enemy.  His end squishing is justified.  Yes, He gets squished.

  • Brie Larson preps for Captain Marvel by be quite capable in the action sequences of this movie. Mason Weaver is a hardened war photographer, not taking any crap from anybody, and determined to let her lens tell the truth of any situation. She’s quick to see the truth of the situation, and bond with Kong.

  • John C. Reilly plays Hank Marlow and absolutely steals this movie. He’s the heart and soul of the story – because Kong’s character is not as well developed as it has been in the past, so Marlow is really the way we learn Kong.  He’s so genuine, and funny, and touching, and brave that you can’t help but cheer for him when he’s on screen.

  • John Goodman plays Bill Randa, and at no point do you feel that you can trust him. He’s a crazed monster hunter who knows something is there, and is determined to get off the island with proof.

  • Corey Hawkins plays Houston Brooks, who actually seems shocked that the hypothetical paper he wrote turns out to be true and feels more like an academic rather than an adventurer.

  • John Ortiz plays Victor Nieves, a member of the scientific expedition that Monarch hijacks to get to the island. He tries to use common sense, not wanting to go through the storm, but quickly gets sucked into the adventure.

  • Tian Jing, who just stole the Great Wall for me, is in this and plays San, the third member of the Monarch team. I loved her so much in the Great Wall that I was disappointed she didn’t have much to do in this movie. She’s there to support Houston’s theory and exploration.  Here’s hoping her role gets expanded in the next movie.

  • Toby Kebbell plays Jack Chapman and also did a lot of the Kong performance capture. He’s really wonderful, and not used enough, but the short amount of screen time he gets is put to good use, as a soldier focused on writing to his son and getting home – which galvanizes the rest of the company. I still love him from one line in Wrath of the Titans. “I heard you were a great disappointment.” “That’s right, I am great.”

  • Jason Mitchell plays Soldier Mills – who is the ‘just want to go home’ soldier. He’s charming and fun and gets to be mostly comic relief.

  • Shea Whigham plays Soldier Cole, and seems to be completely burned out on the whole situation, he barely reacts to the nonsense of the island, trying to stay focused.

  • Thomas Mann plays the young soldier Slivko whose main purpose is to trade jokes with Marlow about the last 30 years or so of things he’s missed.

  • Eugene Cordero plays Soldier Reles, who barely has lines, and is there to mainly look shocked about the entire situation.

Overall, this is easily the most fun I have had at the movies so far this year. It was an unapologetically entertaining popcorn monster movie.  Yes, this Kong has less character development than some previous Kongs (looking at you, three hour Peter Jackson movie), but he’s still really fun to watch. And yes, it does clearly seem to be setting up further monster movies (Kong vs. Godzilla) for future clashes.  It’s been my policy to always support Godzilla in a monster battle, but this Kong is pretty great, it might make choosing sides difficult!  Here’s hoping they actually have to team up to battle someone or something else (looking at you King Ghidorah).   

9 out of 10.  Fantastic, entertaining spectacle.

Bonus; Cast Interviews

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Movie Review: Get Out (R – 104 minutes)

I’m not really a fan of horror movies, I don’t enjoy being scared, nor do I enjoy being grossed out – and the majority of today’s horror movies seem to rely too heavily on jump scares or “torture porn” in an attempt to shock the audience.  However, Get Out had some incredibly powerful word of mouth. It was 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes when I saw it, and I had several friends say I should see it.
Going with their recommendation, I went to see it, and now I am one of those people saying you should see it. And try to see it in a full theater, it really elevates the experience!

The movie begins with a shocking abduction of a man who was just walking through a neighborhood, but then swiftly cuts to introducing us to Chris Washington, a photographer living in the city. He’s preparing to head up to his girlfriend Rose’s of five months parents’ house for the weekend, and is a little nervous, because he’s black, she’s white, and she tells him she hasn’t mentioned that to her parents yet. Since she assures him it will be fine, he goes; arranging to have his friend Rodney (a TSA agent) watch his dog while they are gone.

The trip starts out fine, but they hit a deer, and have an uncomfortable encounter with a cop afterwards. 

Upon arriving at the house of Dean and Missy Armitage, Chris is beginning to have a decent weekend, but then slowly gets more and more creeped out and uncomfortable when encountering the black groundskeeper, Walter, the black housekeeper, Georgina, and Rose’s brother Jeremy.  Things come to a head when the Armitage’s host a party, inviting all their friends…all their white friends that Dean is way too excited to introduce Chris to.  

When Chris attempts to talk with the one other black man at the party, things go awry pretty quickly, and Chris finally decides he wants to leave.

I’m not going to say much else about the story – you really should see it. And yes, it’s more of a thriller-horror than a slasher-horror, but there are a few unsettling moments in the movie – and a few jump scares.

Jordan Peele, half of the genius comedy duo Key and Peele, wrote and directed this movie after being influenced by many different factors – including the movie the Stepford Wives.  He somehow found a way to touch on systemic racism, interracial dating, and other societal racial expectations and use them as tools in which to frame an excellent, thoughtful, but still entertaining, story. The cast is wonderful:

  • British actor Daniel Kaluuya plays Chris, and does an amazing job of starting at skeptical and ending up at terrified, then determined.  He absolutely has the best side-eye ever. He was fantastic in this, and I’m very interested to see what he does next.

  • Allison Williams makes her feature film debut as Rose, and honestly, she was great in this.  I loved her performance, and I can’t really say why, because that might give away bits.

  • Catherine Keener plays Missy Armitage, a therapist who specializes in hypno-therapy to help her patients quit smoking and other terrible habits. She’s pretty shady from the beginning, and keep an eye on her literal silver spoon.

  • Bradley Whitford plays Dean, and this is a character that feels very much like his character from The Cabin In The Woods – just a bit too nice, he mentions just one time too often that he “would have voted for Obama for a third term,” is constantly calling Chris, “My man”.  He’s that one white guy trying way too hard to be cool with the black guy.

  • Caleb Landry Jones is creepy as hell, and at no point did I buy him as a pleasant brother in town for the weekend when he immediately starts asking Chris about his MMA knowledge and wants to demonstrate a choke hold. Back off, man.   In case like me, you were trying to figure out where else you had seen him, he was Banshee in XMen First Class.

  • Marcus Henderson plays Walter, the groundskeeper, who lets Chris know that despite the hard work, he’s “Not doing anything I don’t want to be doing.” With the creepiest smile ever.

  • Betty Gabriel plays housekeeper Georgina, and she was really amazing, she basically stole each scene she was in, which was impressive, because she barely does any talking.

  • Lakeith Stanfield plays the man abducted in the beginning of the movie – who then is also the guy Chris runs into at the party, very slight spoiler alert there.

  • Stephen Root plays Jim Hudson – a party attendee at the Armitage’s event who befriends Chris, mainly because he’s very familiar with his photography; even though he’s blind.

  • LilRel Howery plays Rodney the TSA agent, and honestly – this dude is the best part of this movie. His role starts out as pure comedy relief, but then he basically becomes a hero as the movie goes on. It feels like the majority of his lines were improv, and everything about his character is genuine and hilarious.

Yes, believe the hype on this one, it is that good. I saw it in a full theater, and honestly, that is part of what I loved about it. Seeing it in a huge group, with everyone reacting to all the moments together – talking back to the screen, telling Chris to get out, was entertaining and fantastic.  

9 out of 10, very nearly the perfect horror flick, with just enough jumps and gore to keep it solidly in that genre, but also with just enough think-y bits and comedy to elevate it beyond the genre.

Bonus; Just a bit of Key and Peele...