Reel Opinions


Wednesday, April 28, 2021

A Note to My Readers - A Return to the Theater

Hello, everyone!  I hope you have all managed to stay safe and healthy during the past year.  

Well, this Friday, my local theater will be opening its doors once again.  They opened briefly for a few weeks in July of last year, but they were only showing old movies from the 70s and 80s, and they were only open for about a week before they closed down again.  

I have not visited my local theater since March 6th of last year, when I viewed Pixar's Onward.  I am hoping that as the weeks go on, and new releases slowly start to build over the Summer and Fall months that this blog can return to its previous format of being updated every weekend.  It will be slow at first, but gradually, things will return once again to how they once were. 

You can expect a review of the Oscar-winning, Nomadland this weekend, along with reviews of the anime film sensation Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train, and The Mitchells vs. the Machines at some point in the week ahead.  As the summer months go on, the releases will start to come more regularly, so I hope you will join me.  

I want to personally thank everyone for their patience and support during this long period, and I look forward to sharing my thoughts on films in the months to come.

2 comments

Friday, April 23, 2021

Mortal Kombat


It's funny to think that in the current mainstream cinema world, comic book movies have become some of the more consistently entertaining when it comes to blockbusters, yet Hollywood still has not seemed to have figured out the code for a successful video game adaptation.  This new take on Mortal Kombat (a franchise that has been dormant in terms of movies since 1997's abysmal Mortal Kombat: Annihilation) will satisfy the fans who are looking for buckets of fake blood, and want to see some of the famous "Fatalities" from the video games brought to life.  Everyone else will see it for what it is - A giant tease for a possible franchise that doesn't do enough to draw in those not already in the fanbase.

It's also funny to think that even though the Mortal Kombat video games have been around for nearly 30 years now, and have routinely been famous for their explicit and over the top gore, this is the first time that an adaptation has been given a Hard-R rating.  The previous two film adaptations from the 90s were cheesy PG-13 special effects spectacles, and there have even been kid-friendly cartoons made off of it.  First-time director Steven McQuoid has decided to change all that, and give us a movie that emphasizes the incredibly brutal martial arts fights, as well as the bloody carnage that made the games famous.  Limbs are torn off, people are gutted mercilessly, and there's more fake blood flying around than an all night slasher movie marathon.  All well and good for the fans, but those not in the know will find the plot thin, the characters even thinner, and the script stupid and juvenile. (The dialogue uses "F-Bombs" the same way a 13-year-old might in order to sound cool.)

After an extended prologue set in 17th Century Japan, where the last surviving member of a martial arts clan (Hiroyuki Sanada) is murdered along with most of his family by a mysterious assassin with the ability to manipulate ice to turn it into a deadly weapon (Joe Taslim), we are dropped into the main plot of the movie, which is disappointing, as this opening sequence and battle are the most memorable in the film.  Flash forward to the present, and we are introduced to our hero, a cage fighter named Cole Young (blandly played by Lewis Tan), whose fighting career has seen better days, and was born with a birthmark in the shape of a dragon's head upon his skin.  If you don't think that mysterious birthmark is going to be the key to Cole's destiny, and lead to him being the "Chosen One", then you don't know your hack screenwriting!  

Cole is tracked down by a pair of military vets, Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) and Jax (Mehcad Brooks), who are on the hunt for any fighter that bears a similar mark as Cole.  They have come to learn that there has been a battle between Earth and an alternate dimension known as the Outworld for centuries known as Mortal Kombat.  Those branded with the mark are fated to fight for Earth against the Outworld forces, which seek to control it.  Outworld has won the past nine Kombat tournaments, and if they win one more, the evil ruler Shang Tsung (Chin Han) will be free to conquer Earth.  Teaming up with Sonya and a wise-cracking mercenary named Kano (Josh Lawson), Cole and the others must find the temple of the Thunder God Raiden (Tadanobu Asano), who can help the fighters learn mystical powers and abilities that will help them fight for Earth.

The movie does throw some more plot into the mix, such as giving Cole a wife and teen daughter that he is fighting to protect, but it really doesn't matter much, and instead devotes the majority of the action to the heroes fighting off the bizarre creatures of the Outworld that Shang Tsung sends to destroy them.  These might have been fun if the special effects were better realized. (A multi-armed monster named Goro is especially sketchy looking.) It also would have helped if the dialogue was a lot better, and not comprised solely of a lot of "find your destiny" cliches, and poorly-used obscenities.  A bit of self-aware wit might have helped add to the fun, also.  Instead, it tries to pretend that this is serious business, and not a moronic B-Movie dressed up with a Hollywood budget.

And like a lot of recent blockbusters, Mortal Kombat exists solely to tease future sequels, not even bothering to give us a proper ending or closure.  When all is said and done, where have we gotten with these characters?  I'm sure those in the know are already familiar with the backstories and eventual fates of these fighters, but for those of us who did not pump dozens of quarters into a Mortal Kombat machine back in the day (I was a Street Fighter kid, myself.) will not find the time spent with these characters fulfilling.  For all the brutal fights they do, and for all the gory special effects, they have surprisingly little impact.  The movie really boils down to a nearly two hour long tease about movies that may or may not get made.


I'm finding myself increasingly frustrated by films that do this.  When Marvel hinted at a wider Cinematic Universe to come with 2008's Iron Man, they waited until after the end credits.  The movie itself was self-contained enough that we could be satisfied.  Nowadays, it seems every blockbuster needs to just be a lot of set up, and Mortal Kombat is content to continue that trend.

1 comments

Friday, April 02, 2021

Godzilla vs. Kong


I'm sure there are many people who will call Godzilla vs. Kong a smashing success, because it gives the audience exactly what the title promises, and does so with the finest special effects available.  Both titular Titans are animated and rendered beautifully, to the point that it's kind of astonishing just to watch the CG water running off of Kong's fur, or Godzilla's scaly backside.  And when they do go at each other, the battles are cleanly edited, and pretty involving for a fight that was done entirely on a computer.  It creates a sense of realism, which is saying something when you consider who the two combatants are.  

Of the two giant monsters, Kong is the star.  Godzilla has been placed in a supporting role here, and mostly shows up to battle the giant ape, or crush a couple cities. (Pensacola, Florida and Hong Kong both get to be under the lizard's feet.) Kong is treated as a sympathetic character, as he bonds and even begins to communicate with a little deaf girl via sign language.  This immediately brought to my mind the 1987 movie, Project X.  That was the film where Matthew Broderick bonded with a chimp through sign language, and the two helped to unravel a government plot involving using monkeys as test pilots.  Now that I think about it, Broderick was in that 1998 Godzilla movie also.  Maybe if he were here, he could figure out how the two could resolve their differences.  

He's nowhere to be found, however.  In his place are a large human cast that the movie spends way too much time on, when what we really want to see are the giant monsters duking it out.  I understand that a movie like this needs a human element as well, but why make the characters so forgettable, and the plot so hard to care about?  What it all boils down to is that the human characters are searching for a place within our planet called Hollow Earth, which is believed to be the birthplace of all the giant monsters that are now stomping around our major cities. (Why do you never see Kong or Godzilla threatening a tiny little farm community in Wisconsin?) Godzilla, who was thought to be peaceful before, has suddenly started attacking cities.  Some people believe that he is targeting the mysterious Apex Cybernetics Corporation.  The company is run by a guy played by  Demián Bichir, who spends all of his time in a dark control room downing whiskey like it were water, so you know he's up to something.
Meanwhile, a group of scientists want to help lead Kong back to his home in Hollow Earth.  They are led by Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) and Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), a woman who has studied Kong a lot, and is known as a "Kong Whisperer".  Little does she know, her adopted deaf daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle) has an even bigger bond with Kong, and has learned to communicate with him through sign language.  And in yet another plot, we have one of the few returning characters from the previous Godzilla movie, teenager Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown).  She's the one who thinks Godzilla is targeting the shadowy Apex Corporation, and so she teams up with her dorky friend Josh (Julian Dennison) and conspiracy theory podcast host Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry), to uncover what's really going on over at Apex.  

So, Godzilla vs. Kong is constantly cutting to the team of scientists making their way to Hollow Earth, and the group of young heroes solving a mystery like a bargain-basement Scooby Gang, when all we really want to see are the ape and lizard clobbering each other.  When the movie obliges, it works as escapist entertainment, and we do get some memorable moments, like the first encounter between the two monsters built around a convoy of ships that is transporting Kong.  Moments like this are few and far between, however.  Most of the movie's attention is on the multi-character plot that is constantly changing gears from being sentimental creature and kid bonding movie, conspiracy theory thriller, and bad comic relief.  I also get that a lot of people are going to think that the characters and humans don't matter, and that as long as the movie gets the effects right, the movie has done its job.

But is wanting to give a damn about the people inhabiting the story such a bad thing?  The characters in 1993's Jurassic Park were not exactly deep, but they were interesting, quirky, and played by actors who knew how to grab our attention along with the special effects.  The actors here come across as either stiff, or kind of annoying.  There's not a single believable trait or memorable line of dialogue between them, and that kind of kills what the movie is supposed to be.  We're supposed to have some kind of involvement here.  Otherwise, we're just watching two very well done special effects creation wander about a plot that hasn't really been thought through.  When all is said and done, even spectacle movies need something natural for the audience to grab onto.


You might think differently.  If you do, ignore this review, and enjoy Godzilla vs. Kong for what it is - A well made, intentionally dumb movie that is the most fun when it is at its silliest.  As it went on, I kind of wanted more silliness, and less of the stilted acting and plot.  Besides, the two CG monsters show more emotion than the actors do, so focusing on them can only help. 

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