I’m struggling, friends. On one hand, I asked for big, dumb blockbusters to come back. On the other hand, not like this. You don’t need me to tell you that Mortal Kombat is a shit movie catering to the dumbest common denominator. That was a given; it’s right there in the title. Combat is spelled with a C. Spelling it with a K is a 60 point I.Q. reduction.
And for the record, my generation is the target audience. I was thirteen years old when the original game hit arcades and it was awesome for one reason – all the blood. Finish him! Rip his spine out! Look at the fountain of blood spew from his neck! Give me another quarter! That’s not a movie, that’s an adolescent who hasn’t found his dad’s Playboys yet.
Therein lies the fatal flaw in remaking this movie in 2021. The original movie was successful back in 1995 because we were still just sixteen years old, games still hadn’t embraced the blood and gore like Mortal Kombat, and skinny kids playing video games weren’t exactly fighting off all the ladies. Now, we’re in our early forties, blood and gore in video games stopped being impressive two decades ago, and we have families now, so you know we finally put down the joystick, if you know what I mean.
Don’t get me wrong, this movie has plenty of other flaws. Once you get past the discussion of “who is this even for?” you get to the discussion of how nearly every movie adapted from a video game has been hot garbage. And nowhere is that more true than for games that are nothing more than one-on-one fights. Yes, that original game had what can technically be referred to as a plot, but, no it really didn’t. The movie takes that plot and gives it all the fleshing it out it rightly deserves, which is to say none whatsoever.
There is a tournament that many of the humans don’t know exists, but they are a part of, and they have to fight against monsters from another realm in order to prevent a wizard from taking over Earth. Is that a bad thing? Don’t know. Why are certain people chosen? Random reasons. Are there other realms? Maybe in the next movie. Are any of the characters developed beyond their single magical power that is featured in the video game? LOL.
Once you get past the, ahem, plot, you notice that the movie is just a series of lurches between surprisingly dull fight scenes and really, really bad acting. The original movie at least crammed itself into a tournament format and didn’t take itself seriously. It knew it was a based on a video game and leaned into that. This new version thinks it is a real boy. The opening scene features a family in rustic, 17th century Japan getting murdered by an evil ninja with ice powers (Sub-Zero), with just an infant surviving in hiding. Four hundred years later, we meet Cole Young, descendant of the family and MMA whipping boy. He is just trying to eke out a living and support his wife and daughter when Sub-Zero comes back to finish the job. Next thing we know, there are fighters everywhere, a training montage, words about prophecies and tournaments, and poorly filmed and choreographed fight scenes featuring absurd finishing moves that somehow manage to not know they are absurd. You had one job, movie.
Considering we just got Godzilla vs. Kong, the awfulness of Mortal Kombat stands out even more. Godzilla vs. Kong knows exactly what it is and delivers – giant lizard punches giant ape. It too has some really stupid story trying to rationalize why they are fighting, but the fights themselves are excellent to watch and make you forget the things said five minutes earlier. Mortal Kombat’s fights are like watching a puppy die, but if the puppy’s head is cut off and bowels ripped out. And just to add insult to injury, the special effects during the fight scenes are terrible. Seriously movie, you had one job.
Like I said, I asked for this. Not specifically this – I still have standards. Just because new movies are being released in a slow trickle doesn’t mean I still won’t skewer sewage posing as film. The good news is Mortal Kombat is another HBO Max movie, so rather than waste two hours watching the film, you’re better off picking up your joystick. If you know what I mean.
Rating: Ask for all of your money back and kiss your family, especially if you made them sit through the movie with you.
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After eight films that have amassed almost $5 billion worldwide, the Fast & Furious franchise now features its first stand-alone vehicle as Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham reprise their roles as Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw in Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.
Ever since hulking lawman Hobbs (Johnson), a loyal agent of America’s Diplomatic Security Service, and lawless outcast Shaw (Statham), a former British military elite operative, first faced off in 2015’s Furious 7, the duo have swapped smack talk and body blows as they’ve tried to take each other down.
But when cyber-genetically enhanced anarchist Brixton (Idris Elba) gains control of an insidious bio-threat that could alter humanity forever — and bests a brilliant and fearless rogue MI6 agent (The Crown’s Vanessa Kirby), who just happens to be Shaw’s sister — these two sworn enemies will have to partner up to bring down the only guy who might be badder than themselves.
Hobbs & Shaw blasts open a new door in the Fast universe as it hurtles action across the globe, from Los Angeles to London and from the toxic wasteland of Chernobyl to the lush beauty of Samoa.
Directed by David Leitch (Deadpool 2) from a script by longtime Fast & Furious narrative architect Chris Morgan, the film is produced by Morgan, Johnson, Statham and Hiram Garcia. The executive producers are Dany Garcia, Kelly McCormick, Steven Chasman, Ethan Smith and Ainsley Davies.
Based on the previews, I was expecting Wonder Park to be much worse than it ended up being. I am probably cutting it some slack due to my man/nerd crush on John Oliver, but it exceeded my expectations. More importantly, it kept my son’s attention, which is really the primary point of animated films. Yes, they should be well-written and rendered also, which is why Wonder Park isn’t even in the same universe as films like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Wonder Park is decently written (at best) with fantastic visuals, but gets pretty lazy in parts. The worst offense – and this is unforgivable, even in a kid’s movie – is when the heroine sneaks away from her math camp group after staging a puking event on the bus. Wonder Park asks us to believe that the teachers at a math camp wouldn’t bother to count the children as they got back on the bus. No. NO! Now, I will let my son tell you about the rest of the film.
What movie are we talking about today?
Is this the most excited you have been for a movie?
I thought you would be, because it’s an amusement park and you love Disneyworld.
I don’t love it. I like it.
What was Wonder Park about?
An abandoned amusement part.
So it’s abandoned; no one goes there?
No, because somebody did go to an amusement park. There are animals there.
What do the animals do?
Run for their lives!!!
Or fly for their lives.
What are they running from?
Is that why the park is abandoned?
Where did they come from?
The darkness. [starts singing] “…hello, darkness, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again….helloooo…”
So the park is abandoned because chimpanzees came from the darkness?
Sorry, chimpanzombies. Does somebody come to save them from the zombies?
She invented the park. It came to life.
I would ride that ride.
Did she build it with somebody else or was it her own idea?
She built it with her mom.
If the park is imaginary, if she invented it in her room, how does she GO to the park?
When they went on a field trip, and her friend puked in the bus, and then they all ran out in the forest. And June went out way far in the dark forest.
And that’s how she found it?
Did they have any rides at Wonderland?
What was the best one? Your favorite ride that they showed?
The one that she first ride-d. The BIG one. The one that was the rollercoaster one.
I would not ride the ride that stopped like that.
What is their plan to save the animals and the amusement park?
Use a big spider thing.
There’s a big spider thing?
Why was there a big spider thing?
Well, it throws balls. It throws balls three miles.
Is that a ride at the park?
It sounds awesome.
Yes, it’s horrifying! Also, they don’t have a measuring thing.
You mean the thing to measure how tall you are?
Yeah. They don’t have a height thing.
What animals were there
A monkey. A bear – a BLUE bear. A porcupine. A warthog. A person. Chimpanzees.
You mean the chimpanzombies?
Was that all of them?
No. And two squirrels.
Squirrels? You mean woodchucks?
Yes. ….how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
Squirrels. Woodchucks. Whatever.
As much wood as a huge roller coaster?
Yes. Then at least he has dinner.
Who was your favorite character in the movie?
Because he was sleepy.
He was sleeping the whole time?
No, just sometimes.
What was your favorite part in the movie? You said right after the movie, that you needed time to think about it. Have you thought about it?
My favorite part is………the marker.
The marker? Tell me about the marker.
It can…make things. Like a bendy straw slide.
Well, that’s cool. Is that how they make all the rides – with the marker?
If we had given them markers instead of typewriters, Aquaman might have been worth watching.
How would you describe the movie to other kids?
I don’t know. I don’t know the description.
Was it bad, good, too long, funny?
Kind of scary. Kind of happy happy happy. That’s what the chimpanzombies say: happy happy happy!
If Wonder Park was a real park, how much money would you pay to go there?
2 million dollars?!
2 million cents. And 4 dollars.
And would you tell kids and parents that it’s a good movie to go see?
Yeah. I bet they’d like the park where the dad eats too much pizza and he blows the roof off the house. Remember that??
I do remember that.
You get 3 words to say about the movie. What are they?
Or, Wonder. Land. And Fun.
Rating: Worth two million cents and four dollars, which we confirmed with the math teachers on the bus.
In an effort to watch more documentaries this year than the zero I watched last year, Science Fair is the second I have watched (the first being the excellent Won’t You Be My Neighbor) so far. I was very interested in Science Fair because I can relate to the high school kids portrayed in the film. They are highly competitive, scientifically-minded perfectionists who tend to avoid the stereotypical high school bullshit. They are more concerned with improving airplane designs, inventing arsenic detectors for drinking water, or enhancing machine learning algorithms than who kissed whom at so-and-so’s party last night. Ah, to be young and nerdy again (and, yes, I was nerdy as well, though I was able to hide it a bit as a baseball player).
What I liked most about the film is the unbridled optimism these kids have for their ideas and the world. The film focuses on nine kids from around the world, following each of them from their local competitions to the big competition at the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). We get to listen to them explain their ideas, learn who they are as people, and watch them navigate a competition that appears to be more cutthroat than any high school sport in America. What I liked least about the film was constantly thinking about how reality would kick almost every one of these kids in the crotch, whether it be a big chemical corporation squashing a device to combat pollution, politicians refusing to champion medical research funding in favor of pharmaceutical lobbyists, or that a large chunk of the population is now convinced that science is the spawn of Satan. Ah, to be young and naive again.
Half the country could learn a thing or ten from her.
Science Fair also highlights a couple of coaches – the educators assigned to sponsor the students through the process. One of them reminded me of the familiar egotistical sports coaches famous for berating children while ESPN gleefully exploits them on camera. This science fair coach is the educator version of a helicopter parent, constantly preening to the cameras. In her defense, she is brilliant (multiple degrees including in hermatology and microbiology) and is pushing kids towards science and technology fields that may help all of mankind rather than entertaining mankind by smashing into each other at high speeds. I will give her the benefit of the doubt here because we really, really need more scientists.
The other coach – literally a high school football coach – agreed to sponsor the lone ISEF hopeful at his school. That guy is a genuine hero, because he admittedly knows nothing about her ideas, but wants to support her ambitions just the same (Side note: The science teachers at her school had no interest in sponsoring her – the football coach was the only one who said yes). It is utterly disappointing to learn that this particular high school completely ignores the student’s achievements and celebrates only the marginal athletic successes. Ah, to be young and shoved aside for sports.
Remember, this is about the kids.
After two excellent documentaries, I am really starting to look forward to more, which is not something I would have said last year. I have no idea what makes one documentary better than another from a film standpoint, but I do know that the key starts with being interested in the topic being discussed. As long as the film does not have an obvious bias or is filled with easily debunked garbage, it is probably worth a watch if you care about its issue. Ah, to be young and idealistic (he said as he neared forty years old).
Rating: Do not ask for any money back and consider donating to your school’s science departments instead of stadiums.
(Award season consideration has returned, so my mini-reviews are back as well. Enjoy as I rapid-fire them at you through the end of the year.)
I am not quite sure what to make of Suspiria. On one hand, I found myself nodding off multiple times during the two hour and thirty-two minute run-time. On the other hand, it features scantily clad ballet dancers and witches. On another hand, Dakota Johnson continues to display the acting range of a doorstop. On the fourth hand, there is a brutal scene featuring a helpless woman being contorted into a ballpark pretzel.
The film has some very interesting ideas, but never seems to be able to get its ducks in a row. The basic premise is that a coven of witches run a prestigious dance school. As my Ruthless cohort, Devon Pack, explained in his review, there is no real mystery in this film because we know about the witches at the start of the film. Fairly early in the film, we learn the coven is trying to keep an old mother witch alive and are looking for a girl for the witch to subsume (or eat, or possess; this is never clear). In steps Susie Bannion (Johnson) looking to impress Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) and impressed MME Blanc is. Blanc is also conflicted on if they should sacrifice Susie, as Susie appears to be quite powerful. On the side is Dr. Josef Klemperer (also Tilda Swinton, in old man makeup) investigating the disappearance of one of his patients, Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz), as well as her claims of the existence of the coven. These three threads never weave together to form a complete whole, as they kind of meander around each other for a while before smashing into each other in the climax. Think about how A Cure for Wellness ended and you get the picture.
If there is one thing to blame for my lack of interest, it is that the movie looks and feels like it was made forty-five years ago by a director fresh out of film school. I am not a big fan of 70s-era film nor am I a fan of movies that explode at the end for no other reason than to make sure the audience is still awake. On top of that, the film is constantly switching languages – from English to German to French and back – that it is possible the film qualifies as a foreign film. I think my final answer is that Suspiria is mostly a flat film that has its moments, but is bogged down by a director who does not know that it is 2018.
Rating: Ask for nine dollars back. The pretzel scene is worth a buck or two.
(Award season consideration has returned, so my mini-reviews are back as well. Enjoy as I rapid-fire them at you through the end of the year.)
First Reformed is an ambitious film that attempts to take on multiple, major societal and political issues through the lens of a preacher. Abortion, climate change, corruption, and religion are all crammed into an hour and fifty-three minutes as protestant preacher Father Toller (Ethan Hawke) is forced to confront those issues whilst coming to terms with his own mortality via a cancer diagnosis and the death of his son. Unfortunately, the ambition proves too great when the film comes to an abrupt end with zero resolution to any questions asked throughout the film. In fact, the last two minutes of the film will raise so many questions that you end up cursing every name scrolling by in the premature end-credits. Without giving away too much, where the hell did the barbed wire come from and, huh?! This is not like the end of Inception where you are left wondering if DiCaprio is still in a dream because the movie did a fantastic job of setting you up for that question. This is a full-fledged “where the hell is the rest of the movie” or “no, seriously, that cannot be the end of the film. There was no setup for that at all.” Like last year’s It Comes at Night, First Reformed will leave you completely unsatisfied, including getting any insight into any of those major issues.
Rating: Ask for five dollars back or the fifteen minutes of film missing from the end.