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

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    “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

Come to Daddy (2020): A Son and His Relationship to His Distant Father

Come to Daddy [DVD] [2020] - Best Buy

    I was first introduced to Elijah Wood in “The Lord of the Rings” Trilogy. He was great as Frodo and since than I have come to see his filmography goes into the strange. I like the more unique films that have something interesting to say. This film is great and flawed and totally worked for me. In this you have fantastic rising tension and we discover the truth of the situations along with our protagonist. Without getting into spoilers, this film was really strange and enjoyable and I recommend it to anyone who likes these types of films.

The film was directed by Ant Timpson and written by Toby Harvard.

Norval visits his isolated estranged father after receiving a letter from him. When he arrives at his father’s isolated home, all is not as it appears to be.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful, haunting and claustrophobic as well as a sense of distance and isolation. The color red is used well to up the stakes and action and even scenes that are dark have a kinetic energy and aliveness to them. Daniel Katz did a fantastic job.

Soundtrack – The music like the cinematography does a great job establishing isolation and tension and sets up the dark nature of the film. Karl Steven’s soundtrack kept me glued to the screen as he taps into what Norval is feeling as the stakes of the film continue to rise after the truth is revealed.

Tension – As mentioned in both the cinematography and soundtrack, tension is what drives the narrative and makes it work. Norval shows up to the isolated home of his father who abondoned him and his mom. They proceed to lie to one another. He discovers his father is drunk and has anger issues and dies when trying to kill him. At this point he is stuck alone in the house, relapses into alcoholism and discovers a secret torture room where his real dad is being held by the people he stole from to give Norval and his mom the privileged life in Beverly Hills (money from when they kidnapped one of the richest men in Thailand’s son and held him for ransom). He has two more people to face and has to free his father and is in over his head. This all happens with time to breathe in the story with the tension rising the entire time.

The Ending – In the end Norval saves his father and kills his business partners and in the process learns about the dark history of where his money came from. In the end Norval admits he never moved on from his dad and never let his mom move on either. In the end they die together as both were mortally wounded in the escape. The final scene is of Norval’s only memory of his dad from his childhood. It is touching and wraps up everything really well.

The Cons:

The Father Should Have Been Introduced Sooner – This is a film where I wish Norval’s real dad could have been introduced sooner. This could have been in flashbacks where we never see his face (to save the reveal) or even a conversation on the phone after receiving the letter. He is introduced late in the narrative and because of this it hurts the overall story. He is the person we need to be invested in via our perspective through Norval, and more time getting to know who he is or was would have helped with that.

Norval’s Life – Norval’s life is a complete mystery. He says he’s a DJ but lies about knowing Elton John so who knows if even him being a DJ is even the truth. The one thing we do know is that he is a recovering alcoholic and attempted suicide at one point. Both these points humanize this broken character but I wanted to know more about his life with his mom. One or two lines of dialogue could have fixed this easily.

This was a great and flawed film. I loved how strange it was and the tension and performances are really what make it work. I look forward to what Ant Timpson and Toby Howard do in the future. This is a film that easily could have failed under lesser writing and direction. If you are looking for a strange great film to watch under quarantine, definitely check this one out.

Final Score: 9.3 / 10 This was a flawed great film. It has a focused script which leads to the tension paying off really well.

Detective Pikachu (2019): A Film That Captures the Heart of Pokémon

Image result for Detective Pikachu poster

        “Detective Pikachu” was not a film I expected to enjoy as much as I did. I grew up with Pokémon Blue and Yellow on the Gameboy, saw some of the original show and traded some cards in Elementary School. I was a casual fan who enjoyed the zoology aspect of it. Pokemon are a cool concept and this film explores the relationship as mutual versus what can easily be interpreted as “dog fights” of the games. This film truly honors the show where Pokémon love the humans they work with.

The film was directed by Rob Letterman who co-wrote it along with Benji Samit, Dan Hernandez and Derek Connolly.

The story follows Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) as he uncovers the mysterious death of his father, with his father’s partner Detective Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds).

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – This is a world that explores the relationship with Pokémon and people. Tim is the base of this, as he doesn’t want his father’s Pokémon since he blames Pokémon for why his father was killed. From this, we get fighting rings, labs trying to control them, mutual relationship in the city and wild in the forest. There is so much diversity to Pokémon that it shows it is far more complicated in this world than at first glance. Most of the action takes place in Ryme City, which is the city where Pokémon and humans live in unity together.

The Pokémon – The Pokémon are easily the best part of the film. Each of them have distinct personalities with Pikachu and Mewtwo being the most distinct. In this world Pokémon and humans have bonded together and each person has a Pokémon of their own. It is a really neat concept and I like how it shows they are intelligent animals. They fight, they get angry at one another but they also care for each other and their humans too. I’d love to see more of them within this universe if we get a sequel.

The Side Characters – The side characters are who really carry the plot. Whether it is Ken Watanabe as Detective Yoshida or Bill Nighy as Howard Clifford…it is these side characters that make the film interesting as they bring a lot of depth to the roles, where our leads by contrast are pretty bland.

Detective Yoshida – Detective Yoshida knew Tim’s father Harry and serves somewhat of a mentor role for Tim, who doesn’t want to be in Ryme City. His Pokémon is a grumpy Snubbull who’s gruffness mirror’s Yoshida’s kindness. I wish we’d gotten more time with him as Ken Watanabe steals every scene he is in.

Mewtwo – Mewtwo is initially presented as the antagonist, as from all appearances it looks like it was the thing responsible for the death of Tim’s father. Over the course of the film we learn it is quite the opposite though as Mewtwo was the one who saved Harry Goodman from the evil machinations of Howard Clifford and his goal to control and rule over Pokémon.

Howard Clifford – Bill Nighy is the big bad and the setup of finding out his plan is great. From all appearances it looks like he is trying to stop his son who appears to be the one experimenting on Pokémon. The reveal comes when Tim finds Howard’s son tied up in the closet and Howard’s Ditto is shown to have been the one manipluting things on Howard’s behalf. It is brilliant as well as this broken man seeking to become a God by putting his mind into Mewtwo and combining people with their Pokémon so he can rule over them. It is very well done and I loved his final fight with Detective Pikachu.

Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu – Ryan Reynolds voices Pikachu and also plays Harry Goodman who we learn was combined with Pikachu by Mewtwo in order to save Harry’s life. Pikachu doesn’t remember what happened that night so we get to see how his relationship forms with Tim, who never had a good relationship with his dad. It is really well done and in the end he fights Howard’s possessed Mewtwo so that Tim can rescue Mewtwo from Howards subjugation. It is really well done fight and Reynold’s sarcastic and cute humor works so well as Detective Pikachu.

Okay:

The Leads – The leads are super bland. Justice Smith as Tim Goodman, though he is at least sympathetic as a kid trying to form a relationship with his dad through his Pokémon Detective Pikachu. Same goes with the other lead Lucy Stevens who is most memorable in that she has an anxious Psyduck while she isn’t afraid of anything, so is always making her Pokémon panicked. They aren’t bad, but they are very one-dimensional and easily the weakest parts of the film.

This was a good film. It is hard to call it great because the leads are so bland. The core reveal in the mystery was touching though. If we return to this world in sequels, chances are I’d be giving it a chance. This movie was far better than it looked like it would be in the trailers. Ryme City is fascinating and I’d watch more Reynolds and Watanabe interacting with Pokémon. If you are a fan of Pokémon, I think you’d love this film.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019) – On Growing Up and Letting Go

      “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is a really good film. It isn’t as good as the first 2 films, but this is a solid end to the franchise. If you’ve come this far I’d say it is worth finishing. The ending is one of the most heart touching things you’ll see this year and the animation and action are the best this series has ever been. Also I am biased in that I am glad this is the ending.  A trilogy is a a great way to end any series and when you go beyond that it is easy for studios to mess up.

The film was directed, produced and written by Dean DeBlois, with Brad Lewis being the other producer.

The story involves Hiccup and his dragon-riders continuing to rescue dragons and bringing them to Berk. This leads to overcrowding leading Hiccup to call upon his dad’s dream of finding the “Hidden World” where dragons and humans can live and peace. All doesn’t go according to plan when an old dragon hunter enters the scene. Grimmel who hunted the Night Fury to near extinction. With the warlords at his back he brings war to Hiccup and Berk.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – The action in this film is great. Grimmel (the main baddy) and his Deathgrippers (venom-fire spitting dragons) cause some great action sequences when they are escaping, capturing dragons or fighting against Hiccup. Visually the action sequences are a lot of fun. The fact that Hiccup and his main crew now use dragon armor and Hiccup has a burning swords adds to the visual appeal of it all.

The Animation – The animation is the best it is has ever been. It must have been difficult to animate the Hidden World when they finally reach it. There are such a variety of dragons and mirage of colors that it simply draws you in. Same goes for when Hiccup moves the Vikings to find a new land. The sheer amount of characters and creatures in motion is seamless, as well as the reveal of the new forest island they choose to call home. This is a movie animated on an epic scale and it loves it up to that. Every scene has so much detail to it, while still focusing in on the characters who drive the action.

Astrid and Hiccup – This is the core relationship that drives the series. Astrid and Hiccup are the heroes of the film. Astrid is the one who sees the big picture and sees the people, while everything Hiccup does is to protect the dragons. It is a wonderful dynamic and we see how they compliment one another. Hiccup is the idealist while Astrid is much more down to earth. I do wish Astrid had got more development as so much of her development is tied to Hiccup as chief, but it still shows they are partners. This is really them growing as leaders and in regards to Hiccup, him accepting that the dragons should be free and not domesticated.

Toothless and the Light Fury – This relationship is a relationship between two cats. Like Astrid and Hiccup they compliment one another as the Light Fury shows Toothless that he can lead all dragons and be their guardian. The Light Fury is also being used to her getting revenge is a mini-arc that I appreciated, as well as her coming to trust humans when she saves Hiccup after he frees Toothless from Grimmel’s control. This relationship was adorable and was just as core as the main relationship that drove the film.

The Ending – The ending is a reunion of friends. Astrid and Hiccup take their kids to the Hidden World where the dragons are living and meet the Light Fury and Toothless’s babies. It is really sweet and for any fan of the series you will feel. This gave the series a sense of finality too, which “Kung Fu Panda 3” didn’t give in the same way. This was smart and if the studio does go greedy, they’ll have to be really smart to give this trilogy a worthy epilogue.

Okay:

Grimmel the Grisley – F. Murray Abraham is good at giving us a threatening feeling character in Grimmel. His introduction is killing a dragon without reacting and escaping Burk, even with it being full of dragons. He also has the Light Fury that he uses to bait Toothless, which is clever. Traps are his game and they could have been used so much more. He has a trap that nearly works that should have killed at least one of the characters (Hiccup’s dad was killed last film, raise the stakes). But in the end it doesn’t work. This doesn’t help as from here on in he never feels like a threat. Our heroes beat him without their dragons after Grimmel takes control of them when he captures Toothless, and though we are given good visuals it is nothing more. He needed to truly hurt our heroes or have a real personal reason we saw to want to end all dragons. We don’t get either, which makes him the weakest enemy in the Trilogy. Still a decent villain but he deserved so much more lore and development.

The Cons:

The Villain Warlords – There are 4 warlords who clearly have different looking armor so should have had differing personalities and goals, but they don’t. Instead we have 4 people who hate Berk, want to kill dragons but not use them in anyway we ever see (resources, etc.) and are all just stupid fighters. The only thing that sets them apart is their armor sets and the fact that 3 are men and 1 is a woman. This isn’t good. They should have been in a more adversarial relationship against Grimmel (or split between them in loyalties) or at least have different expressed goals at what they’d do with the killed dragons. They served no purpose beyond paying Grimmel to take on Berk. David Tennant voiced one of the warlords, and I couldn’t even tell. He’s one of my favorite actors so it was such a horrible use of such great talent.

If you’ve come this far, you deserve to finish. The film itself is solidly good with a great ending and it does give a bit more lore. Where it fails is in the minor characters, which is a shame is that is the only thing keeping the film from greatness. I wanted more time with Hiccup’s mom Valka and his Uncle, or any of the Warlords. They deserved better development. I would still recommend to any who love the series and great animation. This film knows that this is the end and it goes all in on the operatic fights and the core relationships. This is a film that knows how to say good-bye.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2019): An Exploration of Art and Obsession

         Terry Gilliam is one of the Director’s who has a vision I really respect. He brings magical realism to all his work and brings a tragic undercurrent to every story. His characters are flawed and he gives us worlds without heroes that are relatable and broken. “Fisher King” and “Brazil” are some of my favorite films and this is a great film that deserves to be among them. This was also a film that was hell to make. It was in some form of development for 29 years. It is a success that it finally was made and turned out as great as it is. Before I get into spoilers this is a great film and one I’d recommend to any fan of Gilliam’s work. It has all of his visual strengths and flawed characters and also the flaws of his films as many of the women he writes are more ideas than characters.

Terry Gilliam directed and co-wrote the film with Tony Grisoni.

The story follows Toby (Adam Driver) an advertising director who has returned to Spain to film a commercial about Don Quixote. After stumbling onto his student film where he changed a life of a small town forever with his film. Toby returns to the town and finds that all those involved with the town have come upon misery or death…with the cobbler Javier (Jonathan Pryce) who played Don Quixote, now believing himself to be the figure from the books. From here Toby is pulled into Javier’s adventure as he must own up to his own selfishness and the man he has become.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – Nicola Pecorini does a wonderful job bringing Gilliam’s vision to life. From the use of stark colors when they are filming the commercial in the desert, to the final showdown in an old Castle that has been turned into a costume show…his use of color presentation brings each scene to life. It is from this presentation that the dreamlike nature is brought to the film and shows how many of the characters blur the lines between fantasy and reality.

The Soundtrack – Roque Baños López handled the soundtrack well and blends his influences to give us classic Spanish guitar work combined with the more epic operatic feel of the core adventure. He also works tension into every scene with the way he weaves the soundtrack through the film. The final showdown is a great example of this as it emphasizes the nightmarish costume party taking place and the fall of our heroes.

The World – The world that the film takes place is compelling as it mixes the story of “Don Quixote” into the real narrative of a town controlled by a Russian Gangster, sociopathic Hollywood executives and a crew who exploit one another and the people around them. This is a terrible world in regards to most of the characters who make up it, which ends up making sense why Javier became Don Quixote because the cruelty of life where there isn’t justice was too much for him to bare. This world is a beautiful tragedy and I look forward to watching it again. There are so many sad and comedic moments that I found it impossible not to be drawn in.

The Leads – The leads are really what carry the film. Adam Driver’s Toby is an egomaniac who eventually learns to be good but goes mad in the process (becoming Don Quixote after he accidentally kills Javier). Jonathan Pryce’s Javier is a madman who is driven by idealism but by the end of the film finds himself in death and Joana Ribiero’s Angelica is wonderful in how she calls each of them out in different ways while seeking freedom from the Mob.

When Creation and Art Leads to Obsession – The major theme of the film is the creation of art and how it can lead to obsession. The Russian mob boss has everyone dress up so that they can all live in his illusion, Javier once he figures out how the play the role of Don Quixote becomes the character and Toby in his initial obsession is what consumes the town and later himself when he adopts the role of Don Quixote after accidentally killing Javier. Given Gilliam’s own obsession in making this film, this film is most likely true to his life in many ways.

The Cons:

Presentation of Women – The women in this film are not fully realized characters. You have the Producer’s wife who is presented as a sign of temptation and corruption and you have Angelica as the fair maiden to be saved. Thankfully Angelica is shown to be more than this caricature by the end of the film but the Producer’s wife is not so lucky. They are also the only actresses that have any major role in the film so the fact that they are put into these awful roles by the men stands out all the more. This was definitely what brought the film down the most for me. The objectification by the cruel men is never called out. They just end up experiencing a different form of objectification.

I’m grateful this film got made. Gilliam has such a unique vision as a director and I love his magical realism. It isn’t perfect but the magical realism of Gilliam is something that I’ve always enjoyed, it is one of my favorite genres of fiction. There is something to be said for an artist who can so beautifully mix fantasy and reality into his narrative and comment on the nature of that blending in the process. I can see why Gilliam had been trying to make this film for so long. What he created is beautiful and amazing and to any Terry Gilliam fan I highly recommend. I’m planning to check out the documentary “Lost in La Manche” as it goes into the failed attempts to make this film. If you are a fan of Gilliam or this genre too, check it out.

 

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Sorry to Bother You (2018): A Surreal Exploration of Race, Class and Privilege

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