“Super Sentai: Gosei Sentai Dairanger: The Complete Series” (Shout Factory DVD). It may be just a personal quirk – though personal quirks usually turn out to be shared with many other people – but I like television, among all the other arts and crafts, to confuse me a little. The more completely I know a thing, the less interesting it becomes. “Lost” was better when I was a little lost myself. More or less consistent sense may be made of series like “Adventure Time” or “The X-Files”; their details may be mastered. But there is nothing like the feeling of happening upon a show like “Lazytown” or “Food Party,” that moment before you see the game, when they seem to have been set down from different planets. There is some pleasure in learning their language, their ways. Still, if as a reporter I will gather the facts, as a consumer I often prefer things to stay a little fuzzy.
Japanese pop culture has grown deeply entwined with our American own, going back to Godzilla and Mothra and Gidorah, the Three-Headed Monster; “Star Wars,” then and now, is a samurai space opera; manga and anime and mecha are no longer exotic terms. And yet it remains at the same time satisfyingly foreign. The elements of Japan’s “Super Sentai” TV franchise are familiar, because we have long since seen them domestically repurposed as “The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.” There are color-coded masked and helmeted heroes skilled in balletic-gymnastic martial arts; giant sentient transforming mechanical animals; monsters who grow big and stomp around miniature landscapes like Godzilla before them. But the unaltered original item has a flavor of its own -- at once more spiritual, if that’s quite the word, and more slapstick, more romantic and more comical.
Recently issued in its entirety, “Gosei Sentai Dairanger (Five-Star Squadron Dairanger)” – “dai” can be translated either as “generation” or “great,” research reveals – is the 17th installment in the series, which ran weekly from February 1993 to February 1994. (The preceding series, “Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger,” was the basis for the original “Power Rangers”; it has also been issued complete by Shout Factory.) The currently running “Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger (Animal Task Force Beast King Ranger)” is the 40th entry in the franchise.
A story runs not just within “Gosei Sentai Dairanger” itself, but from series to series -- there are movies too -- but I will leave it to you to master the ins and outs, if that is your thing. I am happy to watch randomly, to dip in wherever, to not quite know the Ryo of the Heavenly Fire Star (the Dragon Ranger) from Shoji of the Heavenly Gravity Star (the Pegasus Ranger); it’s easy, most of the time, to tell the good guys from the bad, the masters from the minions, and you do not need to follow the mythology to enjoy the atmosphere, the action, the hilarity, the intensity, the knit brows, the wide eyes, the stylized poses.
The rangers, gathered together under Master Kaku, are otherwise ordinary young adults who are strong in chi, the force that runs through all things; they amplify their auras and thus their abilities through special wristlets. There are some color-coordinated “gems” that do something too, I don’t remember what. When not fighting monsters they might be chasing a girl, or trying to perfect a gyoza recipe.
The villains, from a magical race called the Gorma, are overseen by a leather-clad troika who recall the Kryptonian super-villains in the Christopher Reeve “Superman” movies. The monsters they marshal include Father Magnet, Master Mirror, Tofu Hermit, Kabuki Boy, Lipstick Songstress, Bird Cage Vagabond, Purse Priest, General Cactus, Sergeant Cannon, Baron String, Count Kaleidoscope and the inept trio of Company President Gravestone, Teacher Telephone and Boss Kamikaze. You can pretty well imagine them from their names, though you will not have imagined them far enough. Most have one eye or three it seems to me without double-checking, and it’s pretty much a given that by an episode’s end each will grow huge to battle the heroes and their Mythical Chi Beasts, who will join into one super-robot to defeat them. It’s all in a day’s work for the Gosei Sentai Dairangers.
“Funny or Die Presents Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie” (funnyordie.com). Former “Onion” Editor Joe Randazzo wrote this hour-long sketch about the future Republican front-runner’s younger days. It stars a prosthetically altered, barely recognizable Johnny Depp as Donald Trump in what purports to be Trump’s own TV-movie adaptation of his memoir “The Art of the Deal,” supposedly preempted from its original scheduled airing by a football game and subsequently -- in the words of Ron Howard, who introduces it -- “thought to be lost in the Cybill Shepherd blouse fire of 1989.” (It later “turned up at a yard sale in Phoenix, Arizona,” says Howard. “I had to physically wrestle it from a nice woman named Jennie.”)
Director Jeremy Konner, who also directs “Drunk History,” knows some things about re-creating a past world on a budget. It is not meant to be a perfect pastiche -- the characters use words that could not be spoken on television then, they exhibit a knowledge of future events; Trump, who sometimes doesn’t understand references in a script he supposedly wrote himself, assesses his own performance, as himself, as Oscar worthy.
Patton Oswalt plays Merv Griffin, from whom Trump is trying to buy the Taj Mahal hotel and casino in Atlantic City, a move that would take “more than my normal deal-making genius superpowers.” (“You have to change your mind about the Taj Mahal,” Trump tells Griffin, “but don’t change it too soon because we need that tension in the plot.”) It’s set mostly in Trump’s office on his 40th birthday, as he tells the story of “The Art of the Deal” to a young boy caught trying to steal a copy -- “Kid, I lived it, and then of course I took credit for writing it” -- with flashes back to great moments in Trump history to illustrate the book’s various points of deal-making wisdom.
The cast includes Michaela Watkins as Ivana Trump, Henry Winkler as Mayor Ed Koch, Paul Scheer as “bloodthirsty lawyer and American hero” Roy Cohn, Alfred Molina as Jerry Scrager (“one of the top Jew real estate lawyers in New York City”), Andy Richter as Pete Rozelle, Stephen Merchant as Baron Hilton, Robert Morse as Tiffany & Co. head Walter Hoving, and Alf as Alf (“the only illegal alien I truly love”), and Kristen Schaal as his secretary, delivering messages over the phone: “Robert Durst said he would put the thing in the thing -- he said you’d know what he means; that actress in ‘Maximum Overdrive’ is named Marla Maples … and you’re no longer a registered Democrat.” Kenny Loggins as Kenny Loggins sings the title song.
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