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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: RJ Cyler

Power Rangers (2017)

We’re already on 90’s nostalgia?

In Angel Grove, there’s a threat lying somewhere in the sea and her name is Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks). What does she intend on doing? Well, it seems like she wants to destroy the world and there’s only one team that can stop her: The Power Rangers. But who are exactly are the Power Rangers? Well, they’re a rag-tag group of teenagers who, through sheer chance and a Saturday detention, are all gifted with special powers that make them ass-kickers. There’s Jason (Dacre Montgomery), the star-quarterback who, after totaling his car, is stuck with an ankle-bracelet and has to throw away all hopes of a college scholarship; there’s Kimberly (Naomi Scott), a former cheerleader who wants to become something much more than just another one of the “bad girls”; there’s Billy (RJ Cyler) an autistic loner who doesn’t have many friends, but is incredibly smart and great with technology; there’s Trini (Becky G), who may be something of a rebel herself, for certain reasons; and then, there’s Zack (Ludi Lin), a teen who has to deal with his mother slowly dying and wants to do all that he can to make her last few years, happy ones. As one, they must band together to take down Rita and save the world.

Hologram or not, always listen to whatever Bryan Cranston says.

Even though it didn’t work wonders at the box-office and isn’t perfect, I sure do hope that the Power Rangers is granted a sequel. It’s the rare blockbuster reboot of a nostalgic series that’s smart, funny, diverse, and kind of fun, but never seems like it’s trying too hard to be something it isn’t. There’s references, Easter-eggs, call-backs, and hell, a few cameos from the old series that could have easily been lame fan-service, but instead, just feel like a nice way to remind the older fans of what once was the Power Rangers, and what’s soon to be next Power Rangers.

Or maybe not. Who knows?

Either way, I certainly hope so.

Cause what’s interesting about Power Rangers is that it’s a superhero flick, mixed with a bit of a high-school drama where the drama actually brings some heart, heft, and emotion to whatever the hell else is going on with the sci-fi. In fact, it’s very rare, but the characters here are much more interesting than any of the action, or exposition that gets thrown at us. Director Dean Israelite and writer John Gatins seem to actually care about these characters and rather than just having them written off as “types” that we’re so used to with these kinds of high school flicks, they become so much more; the fact that they are more, than what they represent, is even more of a welcome change-of-pace for a genre that seems to skip by this sort of stuff, even if it matters.

And though they’re all ridiculously hot and sexy, the cast is actually quite good in their roles. Everybody brings a great deal of charm and fun into roles that could have been boring and lifeless, with Cyler being the particular stand-out, balancing funny and sadness, sometimes, altogether and at once. They all seem to get along, too, with the chemistry working much more as they get used to one another and understand just who the other person is, where they come from, and why they deserve to be looked at as more than just another “jock”, “slut”, or “nerd”.

Eat your heart out, Michael.

That said, it’s not all great.

When it comes to the exposition and all of the crazy action, Power Rangers can lose itself a bit. While I know that this is the one thing that most fans will want to see with a Power Rangers movie, it’s a bit disappointing that some of it can be so silly and over-the-top, yet, not really fit with the rest of the movie. Like, for instance, Elizabeth Banks’ Rita Repulsa – while she’s clearly having cackling her way through every line, she’s not in the right movie. She’s perfect for a Michael Bay flick, for sure, but one where it actually seems like some heart and soul went into everything else, it doesn’t mesh.

Even the action itself by the end seems like a rehash of the Transformers movies, except this time, with a lot more cohesion and less chaos. It’s still fun and well-done, but once again, it still feels like filler for a movie that was trying to do something slightly more than we’re used to seeing. Does that in and of itself warrant it a sequel? Most definitely. But unfortunately, Hollywood may disagree with me on that.

Oh well. Another treasure of my childhood gone to waste, before my very eyes.

Consensus: With more time and care put into the actual heroes themselves, Power Rangers is much better than it has any right to be, even if the action and sci-fi stuff can get a tad tiresome.

6.5 / 10

So hip. So trendy. So not the 90’s. Boo!

Photos Courtesy of: Lionsgate Films

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War Machine (2017)

War is bad, m’kay?

Four-star General Glen McMahon (Brad Pitt) is one of the most respected men in the Army and it’s why all of the men that he surrounds himself with, not only just stand by every word he says, but also seem to have his back no matter what. Which is why when he’s sent to Afghanistan to bring the war to an end, they can’t help but do whatever it is that he asks of them. But it’s a rough situation McMahon and his men find themselves in; for one, they have to do the impossible tasks of stopping insurgencies for constantly forming and killing people. Second of all, they have to ensure that the politicians the U.S. wants in Afghanistan’s office, actually do get elected, so that they can promote “peace and tranquility”, despite the fact that the U.S. actually invaded Afghanistan in the first place. All that said, McMahon is a class-act and more than up to the task, but after a short while, even he finds himself on the receiving-end of all sorts of screw-ups that don’t seem to be coming from his directly, but somehow, he’s getting the blame for. When is he going to crack?

Grandpa?

War Machine is an odd movie in that it’s no doubt a satire on the war in Afghanistan, and how the U.S. clearly had no idea how to end its conflict without looking dirty, mean and downright brutal, but it’s also a movie that tries to go a bit deeper and ask us how we get there in the first place. In that sense, the movie doesn’t quite work; War Machine is a movie that’s far too enamored with its silly, sometimes off-the-wall characters and the situations they find themselves in, to really get all that involved with what really causes war and conflict between two nations to begin with. Sure, are those ideas played with here? Yes, they are, but they almost seem like they don’t go far enough to really stick the knife in and twist it, like all good satires do.

You know, like Three Kings, for starters.

But hey, War Machine isn’t Three Kings, which isn’t a good thing, or a bad one – it’s just a thing. They’re both satires that make fun of the war, as well as the people who find themselves wrapped-up in them, but the former clearly has a certain angle it’s wanting to take, getting down into the PR-side of it all. In fact, War Machine does work best when it’s trying to develop just how a country can look when they’re not just trying to end a war they sort of started, but just how they can do it all without looking like the evil and maniacal beings that they probably are. It’s an interesting conflict that already sits next to other interesting conflicts to be seen here, but it also makes me feel like War Machine could have been longer.

Then again, at two hours, the movie doesn’t feel long, nor does it ever really drag. It moves, even if it can’t always figure out a perfect tone to stick with, but that’s normal with most satires. Having fun and making jokes are easy to do, but when it comes to turning that other cheek and getting all serious, then yeah, it’s a little bit more difficult. That said, writer/director David Michôd does a solid job here transitioning between the many threads of plot and tone, even if by the end, it still sort of feels like it may have benefited from some more developing on certain ends.

Two worlds collide.

For example, while it was nice we got see some heart and humanity behind Pitt’s McMahon, where was everybody else’s in this insanely-stacked cast? After all, the movie does sort of pride itself on the fact that McMahon’s surrounded by this rag-tag group of goobers, who may also be efficient at their jobs, or may just be good enough that McMahon lets them slide on doing rather dumb stuff. In fact, a much more developed and concise movie probably would have kept the focus fully on this group alone and sort of had all of the other stuff go by the waist side. Because, yeah, when you have Anthony Michael Hall, John Magaro, RJ Cyler, Tilda Swinton, Ben Kingsley, Scoot McNairy, Will Poulter, Griffin Dunne, Alan Ruck, Emory Cohen, Keith Stanfield, and hell, even Topher Grace here, feeling as if they’re maybe, I don’t know, a bit dumped around, it’s a shame.

But hey, at least Pitt’s good, right? As always? Right?

Well, actually yes. See, while all of the reviews have been criticizing his role as just another goofy and rugged take on Aldo Raine, but this time, older and with grayer hair, it actually worked for me. In a way, it was nice to see Pitt take on a role that was clearly meant for an older fella (which he is), in which he gets to be both charming, as well as a little stern. Some of his mannerisms are a bit over-the-top and maybe put-upon, but it’s hard to get annoyed by them after awhile, especially once we see this character away from the spotlight and just chatting it up with those around him, especially in the lovely, yet, rather sad scenes he has with his wife, as played by Meg Tilly. Pitt may be playing a character here for sure, but he tries to go deeper and the movie helps him in that regard.

Is it his finest hour? Nope, but hey, it’s still a joy to watch.

Consensus: Tonally uneven and a bit underdeveloped, War Machine could have benefited from some more time, perhaps, but thanks to a smart message and solid cast, it goes by easy.

6.5 / 10

Still muggin’ it, eh Brad?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)

Of course hipsters have found a way to make cancer ironic.

High school senior Greg (Thomas Mann) isn’t all that in love with himself. He’s self-loathing, whiny, and actually kind of selfish, but because he doesn’t try to stand out from among the rest of the high school crowd, he’s gotten along with just about everyone around him; even if they don’t know full well, just who the hell Greg actually is. The only person he does hang out with is Earl (Ronald Cyler II), someone he considers more of a “confidante”, if only because they film so many movies together where they parody Criterion classics. However, one day, Greg gets a bit of a wake-up call when his mom (Connie Britton) strong-arms him into hanging out with a classmate who just recently came down with cancer, Rachel (Olivia Cooke). Greg does so, but because he’s such an awkward downer, the early times he spends with Rachel don’t quite go anywhere that makes her, or him feel better. But as time rolls on, the two start to hit it off, although the fact that death is always looming on the horizon makes Greg feel like he’s being too rushed for his own good; something that he apparently seems to be struggling with as the prospect of college becomes all too real for him.

There’s been many “twee” movies before Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, and don’t worry, because there will be plenty of more. It’s just up to all of us to figure out what respective movie out of this subcategory is worth checking out, seeing as how it still works and is relatable enough, even despite all of its tendencies; or, if it’s just a piece of pretentious crap that only film school kids would love and adore. And thankfully, Earl is definitely part of the former.

It's hard to be pissed when Nick Offerman's around, though.

It’s hard to be pissed when Nick Offerman’s around, though.

Although it definitely does flirt with being a part of the later.

One thing to be said about Earl, is that it definitely loves itself. The whole plot-line surrounds the fact that all of these characters are so awkward and weird with themselves, that when it comes to honest, one-on-one interaction with another human being, it’s stumbling and odd. That’s the whole idea surrounding this plot and while it definitely offers up some neat little pieces of insight into teenage characters we don’t normally see these kinds of movies made about, the movie still thinks that having a numerous amount of scenes where characters stutter, mumble and dance awkwardly around what they want to say next, is the perfect solution for hilarity. Problem is, it isn’t and it gets to be a little annoying.

Though, the movie definitely does improve after the first half-hour or so. Some of this has to do with the fact that director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon seemed to be struggling with how to find his footing with this material; which thankfully, he does, because the movie becomes something of a pleasant delight as it goes along. The movie may never fully get past hugging and patting itself on the back, but it does also realize that there are some real issues to deal with, rather than just shoving them off to the side, shrugging it all off, and moving on while moaning and complaining about how the world just doesn’t get them.

Sorry about that. A little tangent always seems to come from me when I talk about these hipster-ish types.

A girls room: The place any teenage male would want to be and yet, he clearly seems not to care.

A girls room: The place any teenage male would want to be and yet, he clearly seems not to care.

Anyway, as time goes on, Earl finds itself in a sweet place as it begins to discuss certain ideas that we don’t too often see in these kinds of movies. Whereas one movie would make the cancer all about the fact that life is ending, Earl takes it one step further and uses this as a device to explain what it’s like to grow up, realize that your future is right ahead of you, and it’s about time to take a hold of it. Don’t get me wrong, though, the movie doesn’t forget that there is a life in danger here at the forefront, however, it doesn’t also forget to explore the beauty in living one’s life, whether it was planned perfectly, or not. Sometimes, that’s the beauty of life – it can end up in places that you’d never expect.

And at the center of this flick, is the tender relationship that Rachel and Greg have – however, don’t expect it to go in places you’d normally expect it to (as the movie, once again, constantly reminds you of itself). While it would be so incredibly easy to pin-point exactly when Rachel and Greg would find certain interests with one another, start to get along, bond, and, eventually as time rolled on along, fall in love, this movie’s a lot smarter than that. Sure, they bond, get to know one another and definitely make each other better as a result, but they don’t have that one key moment where they fall in love, shout it out to the stars and decide to take a trip to the Anne Frank house.

Once again, I’m sorry, but sometimes, I can’t help myself.

As Rachel and Greg, respectively, Olivia Cooke and Thomas Mann are both quite good in roles that seem to be tailor-made for their strengths. Cooke is smart, smarmy and funny, but she’s never too much of so to make us forget that her character is still dealing with some incredibly life-altering problems, and it’s these moments where she seems to break down and remind us of this that have the most impact. As for Mann, his character is more one-note in terms of how he constantly just shoulder-shrugs his way through each and every scene, but he makes it work with smaller, less-seen subtleties in scenes that you wouldn’t expect him to have it. Sure, he may be self-loathing and a tad bit self-righteous, but he also seems to clearly care for others when push comes to shove and definitely wants that human connection he hears is so much of the rage back home. And then, of course, there’s Earl, played wonderfully by Ronald Cyler II, who you should know is just as charming as the title makes him out to be.

Hence why he’s in the title.

Consensus: While some of its stylistic tendencies tend to get a bit excessive, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl still keeps its heart in the right place to make it affecting coming-of-ager, without really settling for the sappy moments these kinds of movies are expected to have.

7.5 / 10

Basically, Be Kind Rewind, the junior version.

Basically, Be Kind Rewind, the junior version.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire