Taco Tuesday…At The Movies!

    I like my tacos like I like my women: cheesy and spicy. On a side note, I also love my girlfriend. But let’s get back to why you’re here. I saw two movies, one which was very flawed (Life) and another that is shockingly good (Power Rangers), I know smart reader, you clearly thought a film based on a horrible 90s cartoon could be good.

    I didn’t think three dollar tacos could be tasty either. Guess life felt like surprising us all today.

Life

    Speaking of life, let’s talk about something where everybody dies. This is the part where I tell you there will be SPOILERS.

    This is basically Alien with a weaker plot and characters you don’t really care about. That’s not to say Life is a bad film. The performances are all on point, and there’s elements of a good horror flick here, but this script badly needed a re-write.

    The space ship ISS captures a probe coming from Mars that has a soil sample. The crew aboard extracts a single cell from it and basically turns it into the first example of extraterrestrial life. They watch it grow with joy from minor cells to a small plant-like organism.

    Here’s the crew you’re supposed to care about: a misanthropic doctor (Jake Gyllenhaal), a British quarantine officer (Rebecca Ferguson), a hot-shot pilot (Ryan Reynolds), the Japanese engineer (Hiroyuki Sanada), a crippled biologist (Ariyon Bakare) and the Russian commander (Olga Dihovichnaya). All of the actors do an excellent job at portraying idiots you hardly get to know, but that’s not their fault. They didn’t write the script.

    Oh yeah, the living organism. So it grows and everyone is all happy until it breaks the biologist’s hand. He’s been giving it way too much nurture and attention, to the point where I didn’t really feel sorry for him being wrapped up by the creature. 

    From there, it’s one bad decision after another. The monster is in quarantine, but the pilot goes in to rescue the biologist. He succeeds, but is then trapped and killed himself by the monster. It’s a gross moment that should’ve been so much more. 

    Director Daniel Espinosa (Child 44) wants to create a good creature feature to scare us, but keeps hurting himself with bad filmmaking decisions. A slithering monster stalking and killing its prey for their blood should indicate a horror movie with gross scares; but Espinosa never ratchets up the gore and violence to match it.

    The monster is basically a really strong octopus that wants to suck your blood. It never shows weakness other than getting knocked around a few times, and doesn’t have a terrifying final form to build up to. It just grows into a bigger and stronger octopus. That’s not very creative filmmaking.

    Espinosa also fails to establish characters that we want to see live. The doctor flat-out hates people on Earth and the quarantine officer reveals she plans to kill off him and herself if they can’t stop the monster (this occurs after the others have already died). The biologist is portrayed as having some sort of daddy complex toward the monster, and his death defies belief in a film made of head scratching moments.

    The only vaguely sympathetic person is the engineer, who we find out is going to be a father. That detail takes about thirty seconds to establish, and goes a long way toward making him likable. More of that detail on the others would be nice.

    Up until this point I’ve excluded referring to Ryan Reynolds’ character. Ads for this on Twitter claim he “steals the show”. There’s not much to snatch. Gyllenhaal is ostensibly the main character, but is such a wallflower in this role that Reynolds, who has quietly morphed into a good actor, quickly takes over. Then the movie kills him off thirty minutes in. You’re a lot less engaged once that happens.

    Because Espinosa fails to make you like the astronauts, you’re basically watching a movie where people die, and that’s it. Take out all the subtext about “life creating death” and yada, yada, yada. I’m sure that’s what the people behind this were trying to achieve, but you can stop right there. There’s no heart behind the blood and guts.

    The ending is something that has gotten attention online as a cruel twist; it’s not much of one. It’s an amusing little deceptive edit, but not something that rips out your heart like it wants to. It kinda sets up a sequel where the alien is now free to roam Earth. Extraterrestrial life on causing death on this planet, if it can be called that If that happens (going off of its box office, I say no), I hope Espinosa does a better job making us care about 7.49 billion people here than he did with six in space.

Power Rangers

    I am an embarrassing human being. I get overly excited over lame franchises that haven’t been cool since the Clinton administration. I still get sweaty and beet red over seeing a new Sonic the Hedgehog game. My geek days have never left me behind.

    I’m also proud to say that Power Rangers was always just a little too lame for me. Z-grade special effects plus people in dumb suits performing McDojo-level martial arts? I’ll take a hard pass.    

    It’s important to establish that, because despite my lack of enthusiasm for the source material, I really enjoyed this new take on the 90s TV show/phenomenon. Which is funny, cause there’s really nothing on the surface separating this from other CGI-heavy film revivals of shows from that time period (Transformers, G.I. Joe, TMNT).

     But underneath all the visuals? It’s a completely different film. One that has heart and humor that wasn’t entirely pulled from a pubescent boy’s mind. There’s also performances here that do a little bit more than make concerned faces around explosions. Dare I say it, this movie even has a lesson about accepting family that I bought.

    This is already too much for me, so I’ll let the plot explain itself. Jason (Dacre Montgomery) is a quarterback-turned-hoodlum dealing with a knee injury. He becomes friends with Billy (RJ Cyler) and Kimberly (Naomi Scott). They discover power stones at a mine with Zack (Ludi Lin) and Trini (Becky G), and wake up with super powers after a car accident.

    Of course they’re the chosen ones, or at least that’s what the ancient ranger Zordon (Bryan Cranston) and his robot sidekick Alpha 5 (Bill Hader) say. They also need to stop super villain Rita Replusa (a hammy Elizabeth Banks) from collecting enough gold to create Goldar, a large mecha that can assist in world domination.

    Yes it’s stupid, and the filmmakers know it. At one point Trini tells her parents half-jokingly that she’s a superhero now. Her mom responds by telling her to pee in a cup. It’s a cheap gag, but at least director Dean Israelite (Project Almanac) knows what level he’s operating at here.

    The reason why the movie succeeds in telling its stupid story is because of the actors. Montgomery and Scott are attractive young actors who carry scenes well, but Cyler is the standout. His character was peculiar, yet interesting when I watched him. But the internet Word of God (Wikipedia) claims Billy is actually meant to be autistic, which made me appreciate how Cyler nailed those mannerisms. What’s is real acting doing here, and what did it do with the dumb, entertaining popcorn flick I was watching?

    Lin and Becky G are excellent and likable too. I caught the LGBT angle of the Trini character, which is a brave thing to put in film that could’ve been surface level stupid. Somehow, we’re getting brave decision making from people making a Power Rangers movie.

    I’ve been using the words “stupid” and “dumb” a lot more than I should for a movie I liked. It’s time to give this reboot some credit for being an entertaining film with a lot of energy. In a weird way, it reminded me a lot of last summer’s criminally underrated Nerve. That film operated at pace that inspired you to run along and scream out in enjoyment. It put you around so many active young people doing crazy things you couldn’t help but watch.

    A smaller, franchise-minded version of that happens here. It’s a thrill watching the teenagers learn their powers and hone them. You, the reader, will enjoy it so much you can even forgive the lame theme song appearing for a moment so brief it must’ve been a contractual obligation (after all, Hiam Saban’s name is on the title here).

    I’ve read that the plan is to spawn five or six sequels. That will kill this franchise just like Transformers. But before I grow to dislike what this series becomes, I’ll enjoy it for what it is; a surprisingly fun blockbuster that was deeper than it deserved to be.

Post-Script: If you happen to be lucky/tolerating of sweatiness enough to live in the Phoenix metropolitan area, go to the taco shop called Mr. Mesquite. It's peak delicious.

Published by Jagger Czajka