Freaks – You’re One of Us (2020): A Jumbled Start With Character Moments That Payoff in the End

Freaks - You're One of Us.jpg

     “Freaks – You’re One of Us” is a Netflix film that had the potential for greatness. The music is wonderful, the core characters and their relationships work and it really just falls apart in messaging and how jumbled it is in the beginning. This is not a long film but it feels long because of how long it takes for character advancing moments to happen. I’ll get into more detail below but without going into spoilers this is a film I’d recommend to anyone looking for a neat take on superheroes.

The film was directed by Felix Binder and written by Marc O. Seng.

The story follows Wendy who is taking medication after an incident from her childhood. After the mysterious Marek approaches her and proves superheroes exist she begins to explore that potential within herself.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack of this film pops. You’ve got a lot of popular 80’s songs that are covers that Wendy listens to on her walkman to and from work. This use of music adds an organic element to the story and also keeps the characters grounded. No matter what some characters may claim, they never stop being flawed human beings.

The Premise – The premise of superheroes having their powers being repressed by a pill and being outsiders isn’t anything new but this film still keeps it interesting as it is our world and no one believes in superheroes as they only exist in comic books. This is really what gives the characters and their arcs the potential for greatness.

The Main Characters – The main characters all work. You have Wendy and her family who is slowly coming into her power. You have Marek who escaped from the institute and is living as homeless man and is the one who shows Wendy the potential she has and there is Elmar who is a creeper co-worker who lives in comics and whose power acts as a corrupting mechanism. The three characters work and I wish them in their power had had more interactions as it is in those interactions that the film is strongest.

Marek – Marek is an immortal who is living in hiding after escaping an institute where his power was being repressed. We learn that his family died and he blames himself for it and has been unable to kill himself since that time. Wendy is the first character to give him hope and I really liked their friendship. She is there for his death when he is finally killed after the medication has been repressing his abilities. His final ask of Wendy is to rescue and awaken more people like them.

Elmar – Elmar is the villain of the picture. He lives at home with his dad and his dad’s girlfriend and blames his dad for him mom leaving. This resentment leads to escapism into comics and his dad is pushing him to have ambition. This takes a dark turn when he discovers his power and continues pursuing his co-worker Wendy. In the end he turns Marek’s location to the institute to isolate Wendy when they won’t become superheroes with him. His final act is nearly murdering his father and kidnapping Wendy’s family. She finally defeats him and his reign of terror comes to an end. He was a character with potential to become good but he never got out of his ego and selfishness so his character arc to villiany became obvious when Wendy and Marek wouldn’t join him.

Wendy – Wendy is our protagonist. She is bullied in her job and her only joy is in being a mother to her son as her husband and her are pretty disconnected from each other initially. It is when she is off the medication and defending herself and others that their relationship heals after Elmar attempts to kill her husband. At this point she is on the run with the rest of the members of the institute she managed to escape with and we see her planning to free more people but also knowing she can never be with her family again. It is a bittersweet arc but it works.

Okay:

Wendy’s Family – Her family is okay. They are kind of stock character types who don’t get beyond that but the actors do an alright job. They are good in the dramatic scenes they are in but in the quieter scenes the husband looked checked out at times. That might have also been the character but her family is not written as well as the 3 main characters.

The Cons:

Slow Start – The start is real slow and it takes a while before we start seeing the question of “So what?” being answered. So superheroes exist and have existed, what now? There is almost too much time spent establishing Elmar and Wendy when fewer scenes would have accomplished how disconnected they felt with their families and within themselves.

Message in Medication – The problematic element of the film is how it seems to be anti-medication. It could all just be a plot device but it is hard to separate that given how the institute full of superheroes is a hospital that looks like a psychiatric ward. The fact that the doctor in charge is presented as sympathetic and only wants to help also plays into this. Given the anti-science bent behind the premise it just strikes me as problematic and a bit toxic.

This was a film that had solid leads, presents the idea of superheroes in an interesting way and overall works as a film. It is nearly good and within the narrative there is so much potential for the story to really be great. It is really only the few but strong cons that bring it down and why I can’t rate it higher. If you are a fan of superhero films and seeing new approaches to the many premises that have arisen out of comics than this film is well worth your time.

Final Score: 7.8 / 10 I would say solidly good if the start wasn’t so slow. This isn’t a long film but it feels long.

Project Power (2020): Standard Drama With a Great Idea

Project Power - Wikipedia

     “Project Power” gives us a great idea and a solid cast but falls apart from the premise not being fully realized and one of the overused villain tropes that is executed horribly. If you are looking for a quick fun forgettable watch it is worth checking out on Netflix though. Enough is positive that I did find the film fun.

The film was directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman and written by Mattson Tomlin.

The story follows Art Reilly / The Major (Jamie Foxx) as he hunts for his kidnapped daughter. At the same time Robin (Dominique Fishback) is a dealer of Power (a drug that gives an unknown superpower for 5 minutes) on the streets of New Orleans who finds herself pulled into the bigger conspiracy. At the same time one of Robin’s cop clients Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is tracking the Major.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The premise of a temporary super power drug that is on a time limit is great for upping the stakes. The film sets down the stakes really early on too as you see destruction happening all over the city before the 6 year time jump when we are first introduced to the drug. Sadly the premise is never fully realized. It stays surface, which is still entertaining but it could have been more.

The Action – The action is really what carries this film and keeps it from being bad. We have a lot of tight action scenes with a character going super and because of it those without powers have to use strategy and tactics to defeat the temporary supers. This action stays brutal and flows through the entire film.

The Main Trio – I liked the main characters. Jamie Foxx’s Major is an anti-hero and you get his desperation as he tries to find his kidnapped daughter. His relationship with Robin as an adopted daughter is great too as she also is selling Power to help her mother who has diabetes and will need surgery. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character is the most simple, he’s a cop who takes the drug to fight other supers and is a bit of a rogue element. In the end his empathy comes through as he listens to Major and he clearly sees Robin as family too. The dynamic that develops between these three is really what carries the film.

The Cons:

The Villain -The villain is an evil corporation again. Dr. Gardner developed Project Power and is selling it to gangs and cartels. There is talk about her trying to bring about the next evolution of humanity but it is only in the text. We never see her show that she cares about anything beyond money and power and the same function applies to her minions. Evil drug corporations are such an easy out at this point and like “The Old Guard” they handled completely bad here. I hope Netflix can give us a good original film with a compelling villain, cause so far I’m not impressed.

This was an enjoyable rental that could have been more. The trio is great and if they showed up in Netflix show in this universe or as a sequel, I’d probably watch it. The cast and the concept are really what carry this film and keep it from being bad. If you like the concept or any of the cast I would recommend you check it out.

Final Score: 7.8 / 10

The Rental (2020): Interesting Concept That Needed a Better Story

The Rental (2020) - IMDb

  “The Rental” is a horror film that managed to hold my interest but not much more beyond that. This is a film where the characters aren’t really explored beyond their base motivations and even with how well they are acted the film cannot be saved. The premise is really neat and the film is beautifully shot but it really could have been more. This is one I won’t recommend though as it needed more to even be fully enjoyable.

This was directed and co-written by Dave Franco who co-wrote it with Joe Swanberg.

The story follows two couples Charlie (Dan Stevens) and his wife Michelle (Allison Brie) go for a weekend getaway with Dan’s brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White) and his girlfriend Mina (Sheila Vand) as relationships begin to fall apart and the house is not all it appears to be.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Concept – The idea of a rental home being the trapped location for a horror movie is brilliant. It works and it makes sense. Especially with the popularity of AirBnB.

The Cinematography and Environment – The cinematography is dark and mist and fog are used beautifully to mask characters. This ties into the theme with all the lying going on in the film but that is about the only depth this film has.

The Cast – All of the cast does an amazing job, especially with the stock horror tropes they are given. Allison Brie especially does an amazing job as the loving and conflicted wife with the selfish husband and Dan Stevens is great as that selfish husband. They have moments of history we are told that give them complication but they never grow beyond that. The cast again is great but they weren’t given enough to

The Cons:

The Characters – The characters are all tropes. Charlie cheats on Michelle with Mina. Josh is a social outcast and Josh and Mina bring their dog to the rental where one of the rules was no dogs. Mina has regret and is the last of the characters to get killed by the nameless villain and feels outcast from her work but the characters themselves don’t exist beyond tropes. Michelle is the suburban housewife who needs things organized and is trusting and loving. Charlie is the player who is trying to grow. They are all tropes in the end whose arcs remain unfulfilled as the nameless villain kills them all in the end.

The Villain’s Motivation – We never learn who the villain is we just see that he installs cameras in apartments, homes, etc. He is a serial killer but we never learn why he is the way he is or even see his face. There is nothing there and he doesn’t work as a force of nature. We needed more.

This is a horror film that had so much potential to be good. None of the characters are given any nuance even though all the actors do a fantastic job in what they were given. We never learn about who the slasher is or why he is doing what he is doing. It is trying to pull a “Halloween” without putting in the work. The script and characters needed more work to truly get beyond the tropes as even the good performances can’t save empty characters. I wouldn’t recommend this one. There are better horror films out there.

Final Score: 6.5 / 10 The actors really deserved a better story.

John Lewis: Good Trouble (2020) – A Good Remembrance of the Life and Legacy of this Amazing Man

John Lewis: Good Trouble (2020)

Representative John Lewis is a man whose legacy and life would be hard to fully explore in an hour and a half. This really is the biggest problem with this really good exploration of the major events of his life and the work he was doing leading up to his death. John Lewis was a man always fighting for social justice and against systemic oppression even to the end of his life. He was a consistent voice against the corruption of the current administration in power and the targeting of African-American, immigrants and LGBTQA+ and this documentary captures many of those moments. Without going into the details that I cover later in the review this is a documentary well worth checking out and one I’d highly recommend.

The film was directed and produced by Dawn Porter.

The documentary follows the life of Representative John Lewis from his modern day work in D.C. leading up to his death and his childhood and past and how got involved in the fight for Civil Rights and justice for all.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The History – This is a documentary rich with history both past and present. It shows John Lewis’s early activism in college and marching with Dr. Martin Luther King jr. as well as his early political life that would become his way of fighting for change. He made the right to vote one of his major focuses and this documentary captures that really well. You also see his political career through the ages with the documentary ending in 2019. The breadth of history is handled well as well as the atrocities of white supremacism and systemic racism that Lewis, MLK and so many other African-Americans faced.

Competing Against a Friend / The Lewis and Bond Election – The one part of the documentary that goes into the flaws of Lewis are when he was competing against his friend Julian Bond to become a Representative in congress. He uses an underhanded tactic to do so and one that was often used against African-Americans and other groups kept from power by saying that Bond should take a drug test in order to qualify. In the end Lewis one by winning most of the white vote where as Bond had won most of the African-American vote. They were later interviewed together on television but the documentary doesn’t go into whether the friendship was ever recovered or saved.

Fighting Voter Suppression and Oppression – One of the main areas where Lewis fought for equality, equity and representation was in fighting voter suppression and oppression. He fought it against Jim Crow Laws and kept up the fight during his entire time in congress. This was illustrated in the recent past with his work with Stacey Abrams and the governor race in Georgia and his continuous to fight to be sure the Voting Rights Act would always be renewed.

The Cons:

More on His Childhood – We learn that John Lewis grew up on a farm and had siblings but I wish we could have learned more about them and his parents as they were clearly an inspiration in helping become the man he was.

More on His Relationship With his Wife – His wife is mentioned once as a major part of his life and his supporting partner. I wish we could have got more of her stories and beliefs. We don’t really get any of them and like the story of his childhood I wanted more stories given how important they were to John Lewis. The moments that were in the film were powerful though.

Representative John Lewis was a man filled with hope and that is something this film illustrates on multiple occassions. There were many times that he could have given into despair especially with the realities of systemic racism and white supremacy in the modern day murders that have been experienced. The hope was something that shown through all the past and current oppressions and I hope that hope and his fight can be carried on by all of us, so that the systems can be transformed and changed. R.I.P. John Lewis. Thank you for the amazing life and fight you lived.

Final Score for the Film: 8.8 / 10 So much time is spent in D.C. where I wanted to learn and see more the daily life lived of this amazing man, especially in regards to his family and childhood and his wife. They were touched on but deserved a lot more exploration.

The creators of this documentary have a section on their page for getting out the vote. I am going to boost that page here given how important it is and the historic nature of how suppression of the vote has always been used to suppress representation here in the United States.

http://https://participant.com/campaigns/johnlewisgoodtrouble?utm_medium=magnolia&utm_source=jlgt_site&utm_campaign=jlgt

Extraction (2020): Enjoyable Action That Had Potential to be More

popcornandreels on Twitter: "Chris Hemsworth featured on new ...

     “Extraction” was a film that had potential to be good and even great. There are a lot of things that work about this movie. The performances and action are both memorable and fantastic but it is held back by the cinematography, villain and lack of development of some of the minor characters. If you are looking for a fun escape for a bit during the pandemic and enjoy action films chances are you will enjoy this though.

The film was directed by Sam Hargrave and written by Joe Russo.

The story follows Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) as he works to extract Ovi Mahajan (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) son of an imprisoned Indian Drug-lord out of Dhaka Bangladesh as he is hunted by different factions within the city.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – The action for this film is great. There are a lot of kinetic gun and fist fights and great use is made of close corner combats on the streets of Dhaka. We get fights between market vendors and cars and upon layers of apartment complexes. It is really well done with the final fight being a holdout over a bridge.

Betrayals – One of the strongest aspects of the film are betrayals. Ovi was only caught because his father was betrayed as he should have been protected wherever he went. Tyler Rake is betrayed by his old war buddy Gaspar, played by Dave Harbour who has given up on any higher ideals beyond survival. These betrayals add tension to the film as the city is under siege from the Bangladeshi drug lord Amir Asif who had initially kidnapped Ovi and is using all his power to get him back and keep Tyler trapped in the city.

Saju Rav – Saju Rav is Ovi’s father’s enforcer and gives easily one of the best performances and has one of the best arcs in the film. He is doing all he can to protect Ovi as his own family has been threatened by Ovi’s father and if he fails they’ll be killed. He and Tyler are evenly matched and as Tyler shares his own trauma you see how their stories of family motivating them mirror each other. Randeep Hooda does a fantastic job.

Tyler Rake – Hemsworth brings a lot of depth to what would could easily be a blank slate action hero. Thankfully this is not the case as he opens up to Ovi about the loss of his own child and when see why he is a broken character whose team hopes he can keep it together. It is this empathy that he shares that further humanizes him beyond the fact that when we are first introduced to him he is on a bridge badly injured and fighting for his life. Suffice to say, I look forward to “Thor: Love and Thunder” as Hemsworth continues to shine as an action star.

The Cons:

The Cinematography – The cinematography looks like a Michael Bay film and I hate that style of filming. What I mean by the entire film has a sickly yellow sunset sheen to the entire thing and everything feel just out of focus. If a film looks bad the other cons are brought out even further as presentation should catch your eye but in a way that complements the scene, not hurt it.

Lack of Development of the Indian Members of the Team – Khan is the really cool women in charge of the Indian special forces trying to get Ovi out of Bangladesh and besides her worrying about Tyler and going in to rescue him on the bridge I know nothing about her or her motivations. This applies to the rest of the team members too. If even the “Mission Impossible” Franchise can get this write there is no reason that they could have gotten development given we spent way more time with the villain and it did nothing for the script.

The Villain – The Villain Amir Asif is not threatening and not even complex. This is a character who is a controlling bastard with nothing more to him. He is eventually killed by Khan at the end and it felt like an afterthought, which is about how much development he got in this film.

Films that don’t reach good or great is pretty common among the Netflix originals but I’m grateful they are getting made. The potential in these stories give the directors, writers and Netflix the chance to learn and make something better. I wish this film had better taken advantage of where it takes place and developed Khan and her team as they had so much potential. I wish this film had been a collaboration with Bangladeshi or Indian cinema (having a Bangladeshi or Indian writer or director for instance). That I think would have solved the issue of the areas that are underdeveloped (the supporting cast) or not developed at all (the villain). Still, if you are looking for an enjoyable action film, this is a fun escape.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

The Old Guard (2020): A Solid Concept That Nears Great

The Old Guard (2020) - IMDb

     Greg Rucka is one of my favorite comic book writers and Charlize Theron is one of my favorite actors so this film already had a lot going for me in regards to the existence of the film. Is it one of my favorite films this year? Nope. This film is really good but doesn’t quite rise to greatness due to bland villains and some pacing issues. Besides those two things this is a film I’d highly recommend to anyone looking for a fantastic action film that explores deeper issues.

The film was directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and written by Greg Rucka and adapted from his comic book “The Old Guard.”

The story follows a group of immortals lead by Andy (Charlize Theron) who must seek out a newly formed immortal after they are betrayed they must find out who and why they were betrayed while helping the new immortal Nile (KiKi Layne) find herself in her new identity.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The premise of a group of immortals going on missions to take out bad people is honestly pretty cool. You get why they are so jaded yet trying to make a difference as you come to see how many people they have lost over the years, as well as the fact that their powers don’t last forever. This adds tension and stakes as none of the characters know when the regeneration will stop.

The Action – The action is very “John Wick.” It is brutal, tactical and is really fun to watch. Over the course of the film you get to see each of the immortals in action and from that the weapons that they came to specialize in over the years. You get to see both gun and melee combat depending on the situation and the tactics “The Old Guard” are using to achieve victory. Suffice to say, it is really well done.

The Relationships and Characters – The relationships and characters are what drive this story and elevate it from being simply enjoyable to really good. I’ll go into a few of those relationships here as they are what really made the story for me beyond the action.

James Copley – Chiwetel Ejiofor plays a CIA agent who betrays the Old Guard to a pharmaceutical company who wants to use their blood to heal people. We see that his desire to help others was the reason for the betrayal and his change of heart when he follows all of their stories and sees how their acts of protecting the innocent lead to millions of lives being saved. I’m glad he survived as he is easily the most complex character in the film.

Joe and Nicky – Joe and Nicky have one of the best written relationships in any film I’ve seen this year. They were on opposite sides of the Crusades and over the course of failing to kill each other fell in love. They have one another’s back to the fullest degree and show us that even in a world where you will outlive everyone you can still find someone you can love so truly and fully. Seriously, this relationship is beautiful. These two men are fantastic.

Andy and Booker – Booker and Andy are the oldest of the immortals and are connected in their pain and loss. Booker knows that Andy broke after her best friend and possible lover Quynh was locked in a metal suit and dropped to the bottom of the ocean. They were never able to find her and Booker after losing everyone gave up on life and betrayed the Old Guard to Copley. In the end after the Company is stopped Booker is exiled for 100 years from the Old Guard.

Andy and Nile – The other great relationship is the one between Andy and Nile. Andy is the mentor figure as Nile is coming to terms with becoming an immortal and having to fall off the map to protect herself and others. It takes her time to accept this and Theron’s Andy is perfect as she is so jaded but it is only because she cares so deeply about those who live and all those she’s lost. Andy’s the oldest of the immortals while Nile is new.

The Cons:

Drags in Parts – There are a few sections in the beginning before the betrayal that film really drags. Part of this is due to how one-dimensional the villains are but the rest is simply pacing. Still, this is one of the few problems the film had.

The Villains – The villains are a pharmaceutical company and just selfish gits. The CEO especially has no redeeming qualities and didn’t feel like a valid threat who could really take on “The Old Guard” once their sights were set on him. This was a shame as a well written villain easily could have elevated this film to great.

As a huge Theron and Rucker fan this is a hard film not to recommend. I have not read a bad comic by Rucka and even in bad films Theron is often times the best actor in the room. The film ends with a cliffhanger as Booker meets Quynh who is back from the hell of being trapped in the cage underwater. What her motives are at this point remain to be explored and this is a time I think a sequel would only help things. This was a really good film and if you are looking for a fantastic action film that explores what one would do with immortality this will probably be your jam.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10

 

Gretel & Hansel (2020): A Powerful Tale of Making One’s Own Path

Amazon.com: Gretel & Hansel Poster 27x40 Original D/S Movie Poster ...

     “Gretel & Hansel” is fantastic. As a horror fan, the horror films I tend to enjoy are ones that aren’t dependent on jump scares and aim more ambiance and the feeling of a constant fear. In stories like this it leaves more time to explore characters versus the monster and slasher films were often characters simply exist to die. This is a story that has been retold so many times. I still remember the B-Movie “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” and I had a collection of Grimm’s fairy tales as a kid. This story has a few intriguing twists that enrich the story and it is easily the most beautifully directed film I’ve seen this year.

The film was directed by Oz Perkins and written by Rob Hayes.

The film takes place in unspecified time period during a famine as Hansel & Gretel must seek shelter after food after they are cast from their home.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Tone – The tone of this world is absolutely fantastic. There is the terror and dread as the story begins with the story of a child being exiled to the wood’s to die because the village exiles her after her father had originally saved her as a baby when he took her to an enchantress. This curse and “Othering” that our heroes feel is really well done especially as it is felt by the women in the toxic patriarchal society they are a part of.

The World – We have a world that could be our future or our far past. This is part of the beauty of the story as it is presented as timeless with the only alien thing being the use of magic in the world, which is handled subtlety as it is truly the characters and their relationships that drive the story. This is a desperate world and you can see how it shaped the characters into the people they became.

The Cinematography – Galo Olivares has an eye for creating a beautiful scene. How colors and shadow are used in this film give the story an almost dream or nightmare like quality. The use of symmetry in scenes also helps capture that dark fairy tale-like nature of the story. It is easily the most beautiful and cinematic films I have seen this year.

Holda / The Witch – The biggest mystery of the story that really drives the narrative is that of Holda, the Witch. She is the one who takes in the children and there is the hint that she may have been the child abandoned in the woods. Over the course of the story we learn that she was the child’s mother and that she killed her other children after her daughter had killed her husband. This lead to her tricking to her home and transmutating them into feasts squash, bread, etc. as she gained power and held their souls trapped. It is only thanks to Gretel standing up to her and stopping her that the souls of the dead are finally free. Alice Krige does an amazing job as this Darth Sidious like character seeking to corrupt Gretel and make her a sociopath as both of them were oppressed and abused by the culture around them.

Gretel – Sophia Lillis does an awesome as Gretel. Like in the story she is forced to raise her younger her brother when her mother kicks her out after she refuses to sleep with the man she is a house cleaner for. After they meet a hunter in the woods who saves them from a cannibal but with him she realizes her only option is to marry that is all. That is until she meets Holda who helps her discover her magic. For sometime she trusts Holda until she sees how her brother is becoming drained and how little Holda cares for him. She also begins to see spirits and when she investigates further she sees the spirits of theses dead children are victims of Holda in her gaining of power. After this frees the souls and sets her brother on his way to the village the hunter had mentioned as she decides to become an Enchantress but one that values life and that she will make her own path in the world.

The Cons:

What Happened to the Original Witch? – We never learned what happened to the original witch, Holda’s daughter. We can assume she taught her mother the magic but she never comes up again after her mother kills her siblings and becomes a witch herself. This is really strange given the competitive nature of power in the film as the Witch’s are like Sith Lords always seeking more and caring nothing for those around them with the exception of Gretel and possibly the original Enchantress.

If you are fan or horror films chances are you will enjoy this one. This is a great example of how the simple, if it is really expanded upon can lead to a great story. The timeless nature of fairy tales is also captured in this film too, showing just how many ways there can be to adapt a tale and give one’s own spin to the story. Gretel’s story is absolutely fantastic and Alice Krige as the Witch is a fascinating antagonist. She is a truly amazing actress. Suffice to say this is a film I highly recommend and definitely one of my favorite to come out this year.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Mortal Combat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge (2020) – Fails to Elevate the Base Story

www.gstatic.com/tv/thumb/v22vodart/18001953/p18...

    “Mortal Combat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge” is a film that fails to elevate itself beyond the base premise of adapting itself form the game it is adapted from. “Mortal Combat” is a series that I’ve played a few of the games within and I always found the mythology and characters entertaining as well as how unique the game was at the time for the brutality of the combat. These aspects made it unique among the games of it’s era and even today it still holds that uniqueness of gameplay and presentation. This film does capture that aspect but it fails to elevate the story beyond the base revenge story premise, which is a shame as this film has a fantastic voice cast.

The film was directed by Ethan Spaulding and written by Jeremy Adams.

The story follows Scorpion (Patrick Seitz) as he seeks revenge against Sub-Zero (Steve Blum) for the death of his family in the tournament when the veil between worlds is thinnest. Celebrity Johnny Cage (Joe McHale), soldier Sonya Blade (Jennifer Carpenter) and apprentice Liu Kang (Jordan Rodrigues) are also seeking justice in the tournament as they are lead by the mysterious Raiden (Dave B. Mitchell).

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Animation – The animation flows and capture the brutality of the video game really well. I can see why this film was rated R for violence, which is fitting for “Mortal Combat” since that is probably what the series is most known for.

The Mortal Combat Action – As stated above in the animation this is a brutal film. You see chopped limbs and some pretty hardcore finishing moves. If it had gone tame I’d probably have rated the film lower given that what “Mortal Combat” has always been from the beginning is a brutal fighting game.

The Idea of the Characters – Like the videogame you have different character tropes. Johnny Cage is the arrogant celebrity who needs to grow up. Scorpion is the avenging wronged Ninja and Sonya Blade is the wronged soldier seeking revenge and to save her mentor. Liu Kang is the apprentice who becomes the master and you have the Obi-Wan mentor in Raiden and the literal devil in Quan Chi. All of these are great ideas.

Hanzo Hasashi / Scorpion – Scorpion is the only character with an arc who felt like more than an idea. I think what helps is we see him with his son before he loses his entire village and family as well as his ascendance in hell and deal with Quan Chi before Quan Chi admits he pretended to be Sub-Zero to use Scorpion. In the end Quan Chi is defeated and Scorpion stays on the island to die. Given that it looks like they are setting up a sequel, I bet he’ll be back. He was easily the only real compelling character.

The Cons:

The Rules of the Island – The villains don’t follow the rules of the island bring in a bunch of mercenaries that are absolutely pointless and wasted. The breaking of the rules establishes the main villain Shang Tsung is evil, but that was established when he put his champion on Sonya Blade’s commander Jackson “Jax” Briggs. We didn’t need to see him be more of a backstabber. This in turn plays into the villains who are the weakest part of the film.

The Villains – The villains in this film suck. They fail to be threatening or even have any interesting drive. Shang Tsung wants his master Shao Khan to conquer Earth which happens if he wins the tournament in the film. Goro is just his stupid muscle who has a cool design. Kano is also a stupid mercenary who is the primary antagonist of Sonya and Jackson. He is useless and why he has issue with them in the first place is never addressed in the film. If any of these villains had been given a bit more development I’d at least consider them okay but sadly that is not the case.

This film is okay. I wouldn’t say it is terrible as it captures the essence of the videogames really well and even the core aspects of the characters. Because of the animation and character ideas there was the potential for a genuinely good film to be made. I still enjoyed the film for what it is and am curious if it will get the sequel the ending is so clearly setting up. I want more 2D animation to be made and this film gives an enjoyable version of this.

Final Score: 7 / 10

The Invisible Man (2020): A Powerful Exploration of Abuse

The Invisible Man | Universal Pictures

      “The Invisible Man” is a great film that explores what it is like to live with an abusive partner. Blumhouse seems to be the type of Studio that either puts out powerful films (like this and “Get Out”) or Redbox level forgettable crap (“Split,” etc.). Suffice to say this is a film well worth your time and worth checking out if you are a horror fan. I’m glad that Universal got away from the Dark Universe Franchise after the failure of “The Mummy” as the original film for this had Johnny Depp as the “Invisible Man” and hero. Instead we are given an amazing heroine and a story that makes a larger point.

The film was written and directed by Leigh Whannell.

The story follows Cecilia Cass as she escapes from her abusive and wealthy boyfriend. After it is believed he killed himself she finds herself haunted when mysterious occurrences happen around her sister’s house.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The premise is intriguing as you have a woman escaping abuse and her boyfriend was CEO of an advanced tech. company and it is from this that the idea of the “Invisible Man” is born. From this premise the horrifying nature of psychological abuse is explored as well as privacy being touched upon too as some of the film viewed through the lense of a video camera.

The Horror and Exploration of Abuse – The horror aspect is handled really well as her boyfriend uses his invisibility suit to drug her so she loses memory (and a job interview). He hacks her computer and has her send a horrible email to her sister and at one point slaps her sister’s child making it look like Cecilia did it. This comes to a height when he kills her sister in a public place and puts the knife in her hand, making it look like Cecilia did it. The horror through the loss of control she has over her life, when she had so little to begin with living with him (he told her what to wear and how to act) is done really well and is what makes the film work. Like other survivors of abuse, she doesn’t know who she can trust and is left questioning every truth she discovers as even her boyfriend in “death” tries to control her life.

Cecilia Cass – Elisabeth Moss does such a powerful job in this role. She gives Cecilia strength and resolve as well as capturing the desperation she feels in her escape from abusive boyfriend and as her life crumbles around her. This arc is completed after she is framed for her sister’s murder and she brings the fight to her boyfriend as we learn her boyfriend’s brother was working with him and is stopped from murdering her niece and brother-in-law. It is as this point she begins to take control and confronts her now discovered boyfriend and frees herself from his abuse and control.

The Ending – In the end Cecilia finally gets revenge. She uses her boyfriend’s technology against him and makes it look like he killed himself. After this her cop brother-in-law covers it up for her and she is finally free from the man who had made her a prisoner.

Okay:

The Supporting Cast – The supporting cast is pretty unmemorable. I’m not putting them as a con as the performances aren’t bad…I just couldn’t tell you what the motivations were beyond base greed and control in regards to the antagonists. Her sister, her brother-in-law and the niece are all caring people but I don’t know what they do and what motivates their day to day. If this had been fleshed out it would have boosted this film higher in score.

The Cons:

The Tech. Company and Larger World – This is a film that misses a lot of details that would have made it a favorite film if they’d been explored better. We learn her boyfriend is CEO of a tech. company but we never see how the company makes so much money. It exists and is used like a prop when it could have been so much more and fleshed out who the character of her boyfriend and his brother were further.

If you are looking for a great horror film during this time of Covid-19 and quarantine I would highly recommend this one. It doesn’t feel long, it has a powerful message against abuse and Elisabeth Moss’s performance carries this film. I hope we see Blumhouse put out more films of this quality and that the other former Dark Universe films will realize how well this works and continue the trend of individual films that are complete on their own and not part of an extended universe. Any great story can stand on it’s own and doesn’t need to be part of a franchise.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

Da 5 Bloods (2020): The Intersectionality of Justice

Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods Netflix Movie Gets Colorful New Poster ...

    Before I get into the review itself, I wanted to write about something that would educate and bring awareness to #blacklivesmatter and the ongoing oppression of African-Americans here in the United States. Reviewing “Star Trek” unless it was an episode that would be related would just feel hollow. What is going on right now is far more important and I come from privilege. Spike Lee has once again created it. This is a film that speaks to ongoing oppression on both the United States and global scale and brings it down to a personal level while tying it to the importance of why it matters and is tied to the now. Without giving away any spoilers, this is an amazing drama and Spike Lee has once again directed and co-wrote one of my favorite films. There are layers to this film that can’t be expressed and that I’ll be going into deeper.

The film was directed by Spike Lee who co-wrote the film along with Daniel Bilson, Paul De Meo and Kevin Wilmott.

The story follows the survivors of of their squad from the Vietnam War, seeking buried treasure and facing their demons they left from the Vietnam War.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Presentation – Spike Lee does an amazing job of giving us a few different presentations of the narrative. We get flashbacks filmed like a documentary from Vietnam. We have modern interviews and still images and pictures. This gives a rough and real quality as the times we have it with a more modern cinematic quality is when we are with the Old Bloods. The different ways of filming presentation through the film give the film gravitas and history.

The Characters – The characters are who drive the narrative. We have the surviving Bloods (Paul, Otis, Eddie, and Melvin) who each carry the wounds from the Vietnam and carry their PTSD in different ways that give them depth. We have their guide Vinh whose family are Viet Cong, you have Tiên who is Otis’s former lover who he had a child with and you have Paul’s son David as well as the members of LAMB who are trying to get rid of the landmines from the war.

The Bloods – The Blood are the characters who drive the narrative and they are all fantastic. You have Norman who is Young Blood, their leader who taught about Dr. King and Malcolm X and the history of the United States and the oppression of African-Americans in the United States. All the actors do an amazing job but Chadwick Boseman is absolutely fantastic as Norman. We have Melvin who has a family and can’t see beyond his family but sacrifices himself in the final fight to save Otis from a grenade. We have Eddie who was once wealthy but lost it all and has become an activist and member of the Black Lives Matter movement as he remembers that Norman was the one had taught them activism and history. He is sadly killed by a landmine after they’ve recovered the gold. We have Paul who has become selfish after the war. His wife died at childbirth and he could never bring himself to love his son. He’s also a Trump supporter and the closest thing he has to friends are the Bloods. He also blames himself for killing Norman as he did accidentally kill him from friendly fire during the war and was never able to forgive himself. His arc ends with his accepting his son and forgiving himself before he is killed. Paul’s son David also becomes a member of the Blood as he is the one who helped them find the gold and is the character who never stops loving his dad. There is also the one member of the original members of the Bloods who survives, Otis. Otis rekindles a relationship with the woman he left after the war and they had. It is really well done as we see Otis takes painkillers as a way of dealing with his pain and PTSD and is the kindest member of the group. Otis was my favorite member of the Bloods. Clarke Peters is fantastic in the role as are Delroy Lindo, Norm Lewis and Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Jonathan Majors as the other members of the Bloods.

Vinh – Vinh is the guide for the Bloods and has family who were Viet Cong. He is a generation younger than the Bloods and shows them that the war is over and that it is okay to move on. It is his Uncles who pay for the Bloods drinks at the bar and Vinh plays peacemaker between The Bloods and a few other groups they run into. He is thankfully rewarded with some of the CIA gold at the end as he is the one who helps them get it out of Vietnam and the money he has is used to help his business. He was my favorite character in the film and Johnny Trí Nguyễn was great.

Tiên – Tiên is amazing. She is Otis’s former lover and used to be a prostitute during the war. She owns her own house and works with Desroche to help in international exchange. She went through so much as her half-black daughter was looked down upon by the people in Vietnam and the U.S. troops. She brings this all to Otis’s attention and only lets Otis have a relationship with them when Otis uses his money and time to stay. That he isn’t just going to run away again. It is a powerful story and Lê Y Lan is wonderful in the role.

The Intersectionality of Justice – A major theme of the film is the intersectionality of justice. We see this on the International scale with the United States and France’s relationship to Vietnam and how the Vietnam war came about. We see it in the Bloods. African-American soldiers who fought in a war for a country that didn’t even treat them as full human beings with equal rights and how today that still carries through in the prison industrial complex and the killing of African-Americans by cops who then face no consequences…as well as red lining and where resources and power lie. This exploration of resources and power is the basis of Intersectionality in the film and it is beautifully handled through the Vietnamese people we meet and the memories and relationships the Bloods have with the characters they meet.

Black Lives Matter and Connection to the Present – Black Lives Matter is also central to the film. Eddie plans to donate his share of the gold to the movement as he calls our characters back to the present and “the ongoing oppression of our people.” This is something that the surviving members of the Blood aren’t ready to face until after Eddie’s death by the landmine. Even with Norman’s teachings they still just want to live well and forget. This is where the call to action and the movement comes in and in turns calls on us to fight against injustice and speak. The same fight for equality, equity and justice from the 60’s isn’t over as the mistakes and oppression of the past continues. The film highlights this on multiple occasions and it is part of what lends the narrative so much power.

The Cons:

Pacing – There are a few scenes that could have been made shorter and in turn the pacing would have been improved. Paul’s rant in the jungle is the best example of this. It is his meeting Norman after he is bit by the snake that it starts to flow again. This is the greatest example of the pacing issue the film has but there were others too.

The Villain – The villain is a selfish Frenchman named Desroche. He is greedy and out for the gold that the Bloods are seeking. There was no dimension to him and I didn’t believe that he would have let them live if they’d handed over the gold. This was a shame as him being French added another dimension to Vietnam as a colonizer and his soldiers are all Vietnamese people he’s paying. This should have been explored.

This is easily the best film I’ve seen this year. Not only does it answer the “So what?” of the present it also gives us complex characters who grow and change as they face their inner demons. I can’t wait to see what Spike Lee does next. I loved the depth and intersectionality that this film has and the performances are amazing by all members of the cast. I highly recommend and remembering the film’s call for justice.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10 Easily the best movie I’ve seen this year so far.

Here are some resources provided by Black Lives Matter to help restore justice.:

https://blacklivesmatter.com/resources/