All posts by One Guys Opinion

Dr. Frank Swietek is Associate Professor of History at the University of Dallas, where he is regarded as a particularly tough grader. He has been the film critic of the University News since 1988, and has discussed movies on air at KRLD-AM (Dallas) and KOMO-AM (Seattle). He is also the Founding President of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics' Association, a group of print and broadcast journalists covering film in the Metroplex area, and was a charter member of the Society of Texas Film Critics. Dr. Swietek is a member of the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). He was instrumental in the creation of the Lone Star Awards, which, through the efforts of the Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Film Commission, give recognition annually to the best feature films and television programs produced in Texas.

THE CAST OF “SABAN’S POWER RANGERS” ON THE FILM

Producer: 
Director: 
Writer: 
Stars: 
Studio: 

The Power Rangers have been around on U.S. television for nearly twenty-five years in various incarnations, and though they’ve appeared in a couple of movies over that time, neither was a major studio effort. Now, with “Saban’s Power Rangers,” the team of teens who morph into costumed superheroes to fight evil invaders from space come to the big screen again. The film is essentially a reboot that takes the story back to the beginning, a feature-length origins episode in which the characters have become more textured, as the young actors—Dacre Montgomery (Red Ranger Jason), Naomi Scott (Pink Ranger Kimberly), RJ Cyler (Blue Ranger Billy), Becky G (Yellow Ranger Trini) and Black Ranger Zack (Ludi Lin)—discussed during a recent Dallas interview. “We landed on February 8 in Vancouver last year, and we were friends by February 9,” Cyler said of the quintet.

Asked about director Dean Israelite’s comment that he looked for actors who shared qualities with their characters, Montgomery said, “I think I’m very similar to Jason because you see him and…he’s kind of like this jock douchebag, like I am. But he’s multi-dimensional, I’d say. He doesn’t really want to do his sporting career, and in school I wasn’t a sports person at all. He’s struggling with his relationship with his dad, not something I experienced, but something I found interesting to touch into. And I think he’s endearing, he wants to know the people in the other social groups in his school. And in high school I didn’t really have any friends, so any social group I would have taken.”

Lin added, “For me, with Zack, we share some background. I was raised by my mother, and so was Zack. He’s an outside at times, and so am I. I’m outside a lot. I backpack a lot, I travel a lot looking for adventure, same as Zack. And the other side is that Zack is kind of insecure, because he’s missing a lot of things in his life, and I have that side in me, too. With that being said, with our characters—and all the characters—I think the movie is about the specific lives of these characters as individuals, and how once you can accept yourself as you are, you can start doing good for yourself and for others.”

Scott said of Kimberly, “She has a maturity about her, which maybe I do. I think she is self-assured, but she’s the popular girl, and when that all goes downhill, she just sort of goes ‘Stuff it, I’m done with these fake people anyway.’ I think that’s what she’s searching for, which is really cool. But there are things I’m not. I’m kind of a tomboy, a little more like Trini in that way.”

Becky G interjected, “Trini is a loner, and coming from a musical background and having established what I like to think of as a successful music career and having toured the world and getting to meet fans, I wondered what [the director Dean Israelite] saw in me. And we had a conversation, and I realized that I’m a lot like my character—I am kind of a loner. It’s very easy in this industry to feel alone, even surrounded by thousands of people. Trini is in this high school, surrounded by people every single day…but feels invisible. People think they know you but they don’t know you—that was a kind of subconscious connection to my character.”

Cyler noted, “With Billy, the thing I feel like the thing that makes us similar is the whole-heartedness, he wants everybody to be happy. That’s why I’m so energetic. Sometimes people will say, ‘RJ, you’re a little bit much for this morning,’ and I’ll say, ‘No, you’re just too little for this morning.’ It’s that part of Billy that also tags with me. Also, the part that he’s this dude that just does it. That makes him similar to me. We both seek that adventure.”

The delicate balance of meeting the expectations of fans and doing something new was admittedly an issue, the actors said, but they emphasized that their first duty was to be true to the characters, portrayed in the script as kids struggling with personal problems they have to overcome in order to learn to work together.

Scott said, “My responsibility as an actress is to do the character justice, and we were able to do a fresh take and a blank slate, so I was able to come up with the character with the director and figure out who she was, like with any other movie or any other character. Everything that was iconic about the Power Rangers is built into the script. My job is to do the character justice. That’s what I’m focused on.”

Cyler added, “Y’all aren’t the only ones who used to watch it—we did too. But I’m not responsible for certain [changes], so I’m not going to take that on my shoulders. But I do take on the responsibility, as Naomi says, to do the character justice.”

“I think the key word here is imagination,” Becky G interjected. “This is an original story; although the character names may sound familiar, you are meeting our characters for the first time in 2017, dealing with real teenage issues that are very current and relevant. And that’s why it’s such a diverse cast—not just the colors of our skins, to start off with, but also the fact that we’re both boys and girls, female and male superheroes working together, literally saying that we are not one without the other. And on top of that, there are the different social groups that we come from.

“Growing up watching ‘Power Rangers,’ I was attracted to the colors, the power, the action—it wasn’t necessarily something about a specific character that made me think, ‘They’re going through exactly what I’m going through.’ This time around, it’s much more layered to who we are. Even the OGs—the original Power Rangers fans—we want to give them something new as well.”

Lin agreed. “I don’t think there’s any burden,” he said. “We’ve gotten a lot of support from fans. And there’s no point in re-imaging something the same way. If you’re going to re-imagine something, you have to do it differently. There’s a certain risk in that, but there’s a certain excitement to that if we’ve pulled it off. And with this movie the point for us was to deepen the characters and get people to become attached to these characters and view them as realistic characters that they can relate to.”

Asked about the pressure to look good in the tight-figure Ranger outfits, Becky G admitted, “Putting on the suit, to be honest, was not the most comfortable.” But she added: “It was important to me to be a real person on camera. We’re teenagers in high school.”

Scott added, “We trained really hard. We worked our butts off, like three times a day. As Naomi, yeah, I want to look good on camera, I want to be at my best, but it’s the stamina to get through the shoot. We’re girls in high school—we’re not Victoria’s Secret models.”

Lin said, “There’s the physical side of it and the sentimental side of it. The physical side was definitely uncomfortable, definitely restrictive—there are like five layers on you at some points. But there’s the mental aspect, the symbolic aspect, where you put on the mask and you feel like, ‘Oh, wow, I’m a superhero,’ and you feel the symbol, the image that they represent. And you know why superheroes are anonymous, because anyone could be behind those masks. Hopefully kids will watch this movie and see the imperfections in these characters, how realistic these characters are, and feel that if they get together and be themselves and find friends, they can go out and be heroes themselves.”

PERSONAL SHOPPER

Producer: Charles Gillibert
Director: Olivier Assayas
Writer: Olivier Assayas and Christelle Meaux
Stars: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz, Anders Danielsen Lie, Ty Olwin, Hammou Graia, Nora von Waldstatten, Benjamin Biolay, Audrey Bonnet and Pascal Rambert
Studio: IFC Films

B

The very weirdness of Olivier Assayas’ second film with Kristen Stewart would seem to militate against it. “Personal Shopper” is set, to some extent at least, in the world of high fashion (Stewart plays Maureen Cartwright, a young American woman living in France, who picks out clothes and shoes for a rich woman too busy to do it herself). But it’s also a murder mystery of sorts, as well as a horror movie involving spectral phenomena that can apparently communicate with the living through modern devices like smart phones. It seems implausible that a combination of these elements should make for a successful film, but though its parts don’t entirely cohere, this is a fascinating, if sometimes frustrating, piece of work—a slow-moving, macabre psychological thriller that, while implausible, casts an intoxicating spell.

Cartwright, you see, isn’t merely the shopper of the title. She might also have psychic powers, which she is putting to the test by staying overnight in a house that’s supposedly haunted. (Apparently a couple considering buying the place won’t commit until they’re assured that any malignant spirits have been exorcised.) And that’s not all: the place was previously the home of her late twin brother Lewis and his girlfriend Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz), who’s trying to sell it. She shared a heart condition with Lewis, and years ago they had promised one another that whichever of them died first would attempt to contact the other from beyond. During her night in the house Maureen does encounter a ghost—a frightening apparition that sends her fleeing out the door. But it was not, she insists, Lewis.

On the job side, Cartwright continues to purchase wardrobe items for her employer Kyra (Nora von Waldstatten), whose celebrity status goes undefined but whose present lover, a journalist named Ingo (Lars Eidinger), offhandedly remarks that he thinks Kyra is about to dump him. Maureen must be careful, too, since the most important rule of her job is that she must never try on the garments she buys for Kyra; she does, though, first at the urging of some of the sellers, and then back at her apartment, where wearing the items gives her the vicarious thrill of being someone else.

A plot, of a sort, emerges when Maureen takes the channel train to England and begins receiving strange text messages suggesting that she’s being followed. The insistent texts have an erotic, threatening tone, and continue when she returns to Paris, setting up an assignation in a hotel room. Are the messages from Lewis? They’re certainly not from her boyfriend Gary (Ty Olwin), who’s off in Oman working on a long-term tech project and stays in touch only via Skype. Then a murder intervenes, and though the identity of the victim and how the search for the perpetrator progresses won’t be revealed here, it can be said that the picture offers a startling conclusion, though one that might provoke more questions than it answers.

Much about “Personal Shopper,” in fact, is befuddling, and it takes off on tangents that allow Assayas to indulge his filmmaking whims without really seeming to go anywhere. At one point, for example, Maureen consults an old Hammer-style movie about the psychic interests of novelist Victor Hugo, who conducted histrionic séances involving table-tapping spirits whose messages had to be worked out in transcription. The digression is just that, but Assayas seems to take enormous pleasure in recreating the sixties look of the clip, and that’s enough to justify its existence. There’s also a lovely scene involving some sort of presence moving unseen through a hotel lobby that’s carried off with a ridiculous simplicity that would have made James Whale proud; the fact that it doesn’t appear to have much connection to the plot is beside the point.

Much of the brooding mood of the picture, moreover, comes not from the director but his star. Stewart, with her hollowed-out look and her often blank expression, becomes a study in sorrow, obviously grief-stricken over Lewis’ death and desperately seeking some kind of closure while fearing what that might bring. Everybody else in the cast is purely functional, but the behind-the-camera contributions are essential to the atmosphere that Assayas and Stewart create—Yorick Le Saux’s dreamy camerawork, Francois-Renaud Labarthe’s production design, Marion Monnier’s halting editing, and especially Jurgen Doering’s costumes. Even the effects—absurdly rudimentary though they might be by Hollywood standards—seem entirely right.

You may come out of “Personal Shopper” scratching your head, but you will find it hard to shake off its effect.