FlixChatter Review – MORTAL KOMBAT (2021)

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As a teenager back in the 1990s, I was a fan of the video game Mortal Kombat. It was the most popular game in the early 90s, then a film version came out in the summer of 1995 and it was a big success. So much so that the studio fast-tracked a sequel that would come out two years later. Unfortunately, the sequel was so bad and failed at the box office that it killed the film franchise. Now, almost 30 years later a new reboot of the franchise is hitting the big and small screens.

The story kicks off in 17th century Japan, Hanso/Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada) is living a quiet life with wife and children. Suddenly, assassins show up and kill his men and family. The man who’s in charge of the attack is Bi-Han/Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim). A brutal fight between Hanso and Bi-Han ensued and unfortunately Hanso was not able to defeat Bi-Han. It’s unclear why Hanso and his family were attacked, the filmmakers somehow assumed that people already know their back stories. That’s one of the many mistakes they made for this reboot.

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Fast forward to present day and we’re introduced to a has been fighter named Cole Young (Lewis Tan), he’s in an underground fight and got his butt whooped. While getting dinner with his wife and daughter at a restaurant after the fight, Sub-Zero suddenly showed up and started attacking them. Then Jax (Mehcad Brooks) came to their rescue, he instructed Cole to find Sonya (Jessica McNamee) who has the answer as to why suddenly his family’s life is in danger. Once Cole tracked down Sonya, she informed him that he’s one of the chosen fighters to defend earth from the evil lord named Shang Tsung (Chin Han) who lives in an Outworld and wants to rule our world. Sonya tells Cole that they have to find a hidden temple that house the world’s best fighters that can defend our world from the evil fighters from the Outworld. Cole agreed because he wants to save his family from danger. There’s not much else when it comes to the plot, the rest of the movie is full of bloody fights and special effects.

The screenplay is credited to Greg Russo and Dave Callahan, it’s a not bad script but not good either. By making the story more “grounded” and serious, it just took the fun out of it for me. The original 1995 film wasn’t great but at least it knows that it’s silly world they’ve created and just had fun with it. Here they tried to go all Nolan’s Dark Knight route and just didn’t work for me. Also, I thought there’s way too much fan service. I don’t mind if the filmmakers decided to include things from the source material, but this is a different medium and I expected something better from the creatives that are involved in making a film version. First time director Simon McQuoid moved things along by including brutal and bloody fights that fans of the video game will be happy to see. But narratively, he didn’t do a good job here. The movie also suffered from some very sloppy editing.

There’s not much to say when it comes to the performances. Some were cringeworthy and many were just wooden performances by the actors. The lead hero Cole is one of the weakest heroes I’ve seen in an action film. I don’t think it’s Lewis Tan’s fault since the character was so poorly written. The only stand out performance is Josh Lawson’s Kano, he’ basically the comic relief in an otherwise grim story.

Despite the shortcomings of this reboot, I still enjoyed it and of course the movie ended with tease of more sequels. Many fans of this video game are mostly in their 30s and 40s now, so I think some will enjoy it while many of us who expected more will likely be disappointed with this version. Me personally, I prefer the 1995 film version because it didn’t take itself too seriously and I had a lot of fun with it. I still think that original version is the “best” film based on video game.

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So have you seen MORTAL KOMBAT? Well, what did you think?

Guest Review: LIFE (2017)

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Directed By: Daniel Espinosa
Written By: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Runtime: 1 hr 43 minutes

I wish I could at least pretend to be as cool as the other writers who sit around me at these press screenings. I wish I could go to a genuinely scary movie like Life and calmly take notes, looking up at the screen dispassionately as I mentally critique some of the lamer dialogue. But I’m not cool, so instead I sit there cringing for an hour and a half, fighting the urge to put my hands over my eyes during a couple especially gag-worthy moments, “ohmygodohmyohmygodohmygod” written all over my face. On the bright side, any movie that can elicit this kind of reaction is pretty impressive.

Life follows a crew on the International Space Station (Hiroyuki Sanada as Sho Murakami, Ryan Reynolds as Rory Adams, Rebecca Ferguson as Miranda North, Jake Gyllenhaal as David Jordan, Olga Dihovichnaya as Ekaterina Golovkina, and Ariyon Bakare as Hugh Derry) that has obtained a Martian soil sample containing a living organism dubbed “Calvin.” While initially thrilled at their discovery of life on another planet, the crew soon has to fight for their lives as Calvin quickly evolves into a terrifying creature that threatens both them and, if they don’t stop it, life on Earth.

While fighting a terrifying extraterrestrial is hardly an original concept for a film, it is still incredibly well done here. Both the pacing of the movie and the soundtrack create a suspenseful atmosphere the whole hour and forty-three minutes. The CGI is impressive, and Calvin is a truly spooky creation; the design isn’t over the top, but it’s still genuinely scary, and the way it moves is so unnerving. The whole cast gives a strong performance, especially Hiroyuki Sanada and Jake Gyllenhaal, who have a couple stand-out moments during some particularly emotional scenes. However, the actors do tend to mumble some of their lines, making them hard to understand at times. There is also some lazy dialogue-clichéd jokes, comments stating the obvious- that falls flat and sometimes distracts from the overall feel of the movie.

Despite the couple issues I had with this film, I really enjoyed Life. I can see myself watching it again and being just as creeped out as the first time, which, for a sci-fi/horror movie, is no easy feat. If you want to be on the edge of your seat for most of the run time, definitely check this one out.

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Have you seen ‘LIFE’? Well, what did you think? 

Birthday Tribute: Top 5 Favorite Keanu Reeves’ Roles & Trailer Spotlight: 47 Ronin

Today is Keanu Reeves’ Birthday and I almost missed it! Can you believe it he’s 49 years old?? He’s nearing 50 but he doesn’t look a day over 35!

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Keanu in Point Break (1991) and this year at Cannes

Keanu Charles Reeves was born in Beirut on September 2, 1864 in Beirut, Lebanon. His father is Hawaiian Chinese and his mother English, his first name means “cool breeze over the mountains” in Hawaiian. My pal and fellow Keanu fan Mark and I sometimes call him Chuck 🙂 Keanu strikes me as the type of actors who aren’t in it for the fame or money. He seems like a nice guy in real life too. Perhaps you’ve seen this video of him giving his seat to a woman on the subway that went viral. Dan at Top 10 Films recently posted Top 10 Random Acts Of Kindness From Actors and Keanu came in at number 1 as he donated his lucrative back-end deal for The Matrix franchise to the crew of the films, saying they were the unsung heroes, the ones who made the films so good. He has been quoted as saying, “Money is the last thing I think about. I could live for a few hundred centuries with what I have made already.” WHOA! Now, THAT’s real charity folks, nice to see celebs who actually walk the talk and that is a rarity in ANY industry.

I’ve been a fan of his ever since I saw him in Speed, and though he’s not the most expressive actors out there, he more than makes up for it in screen presence and that inherent movie star quality that an actor can’t really train for. There’s also a certain earnest demeanor about him that makes me root for him instantly, and he’s got that cool factor without appearing smug. Plus, Keanu not only looks good but sounds good as well with his deep, manly voice.

Keanu’s quite a prolific actor, with 70 films/TV projects under his belt since his start in the early 80s. His big break came with Point Break in 1991, but Speed and of course The Matrix made him a household name. I’ve seen just a little over a dozen of his films, both small and big-budgeted films, and though he certainly isn’t going to nab any acting awards, I’ve always enjoyed watching him. I actually own some of his films that I don’t mind seeing over and over again. If I were to rate my top 5 favorite roles, it’d look like this:

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5. Kevin Lomax – The Devil’s Advocate

4. Johnny Utah – Point Break

3. Paul Sutton – A Walk in the Clouds

2. Jack Traven – Speed

1. Neo – The Matrix

Honorable Mentions: John Constantine in Constantine + Shane Falco in The Replacements

I think he’s more versatile than people give him credit for. He’s obviously great as an action hero, but he’s got the sensitivity and vulnerability to play a romantic lead or a down-on-his-luck kind of guy like he did in Henry’s Crime. I haven’t seen the comedy Something’s Gotta Give and The Private Lives of Pippa Lee where he had supporting roles, but it proves that he does seek out a variety of roles in his career. He’s also ventured into directing, in the fascinating documentary Side By Side.

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Now, the one film I’ve been anticipating for quite some time is 47 Ronin. I actually mentioned this back in 2010 when I featured its director Carl Rinsch‘s short sci-fi film The Gift which was at one point optioned to be made into a feature film. Besides Keanu, who looks like he’s in his element, I quite like the Japanese cast: Hiroyuki Sanada (who was sadly wasted in The Wolverine) and Pacific Rim‘s Rinko Kikuchi. Check out the trailer:

Here’s the synopsis per EMPIRE:

After a treacherous warlord kills their master and banishes their kind, the leaderless samurai vow to seek vengeance and restore honor to their people. Driven from their homes and dispersed across the land, this band of Ronin must seek the help of Kai (Reeves), a half-breed they once rejected, as they fight their way across a savage world of mythic beasts, shape-shifting witches and wondrous terrors.

Ok, despite the rather blah trailer, I’m still intrigued by this. Visually, it looks pretty cool but let’s hope this won’t be another case of style over substance as we could use a truly epic Samurai movie. Per IMDb, this is the seventh cinematic adaptation of the Japanese folktale of the 47 Ronin, after The 47 Ronin, Chûshingura, Chushingura, The Fall of Ako Castle, 47 Ronin (Japanese film) and The Last Chushingura. But this is the first out of Hollywood. Even though Keanu is a Western actor, his Asian heritage makes him look like he belongs in this film. I haven’t been following it closely but it seems that it’s been in development hell for years with budget and creative differences issues. There were even rumors last year that Universal fired Rinsch as the budget ballooned to $225 mil (from the already massive $175 mil). That’s just ludicrous even for a 3D film, and such a huge risk for the studios to give it to a first-time director!

But hey, you never know, it may still make money. I mean, look at World War Z. We’ll see if this turns out to be a good one. The film comes out on Christmas day, 2013.


So, what’s your favorite Keanu role and what do you think of 47 Ronin?

FlixChatter Review: The Wolverine

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I’ve been a huge fan of the X-Men universe ever since Bryan Singer’s X-Men movie back in 2000. That was the first time I ever saw Hugh Jackman and he’s certainly the most intriguing character of the mutant ensemble. When the spin-off movie came along, it certainly wasn’t off to a good start, though I actually didn’t abhor X-Men Origins: Wolverine as much as people did. Now four years later, the fury mutant with indestructible metal alloy adamantium bonded to his skeleton is back, angrier than ever.

This movie takes place right after the third sequel of X-Men: The Last Stand, where in a heart-wrenching finale, Wolverine (Logan) had to kill the love of his life Jean Grey to save humanity. Constantly tormented by her death, Logan’s now retreated in the Canadian wilderness where his only friend is um, a grizzly bear. His past suddenly catches up with Logan when a Japanese girl turns up at a bar one rainy night, and invites him to meet Yashida, a man he once saved in a Nagasaki bombing in 1945.

It’s nice to see a superhero movie nary of a megalomaniac hellbent on destroying humanity. No exploding buildings/world landmarks by aliens/monsters taking over earth, etc. There is a huge atomic bomb at the opening sequence in Nagasaki, which was an intriguing start that shows us the incredible healing power of the titular hero. The plot of this movie certainly promises something truly riveting, as Logan not only has to confront his past and inner demons, but also has to grapple with losing his immortality. The setting in Japan adds that cool novelty factor, and I was prepared for an engrossing journey as the stakes become really personal for Logan.

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Unfortunately, apart from a few exciting scenes, I find myself feeling quite bored by this movie. Let me start by the character itself. Now, amongst his fellow mutants in the X-Men movies, Wolverine easily stands out with his brooding sarcasm and the whole tortured-soul persona. But take the group away, watching him brood, sulk, snarl, and growl for two hours straight doesn’t exactly translate to riveting entertainment. Hugh Jackman‘s a good actor but he’s not given any opportunity to display much range here, and an actor’s charisma can only do so much. There is only one truly hilarious moment [also an excuse to show off Jackman’s buffer-than-buff physique], but the rest of his expressions range from solemn to dour. It doesn’t help that the rest of the supporting characters are one-dimensional or less, as most of the supporting cast (especially the female ones) are acting novices.

The tomboy red-head Yukio (Rila Fukushima) seemed a lot of fun at first but as soon as we arrive in Japan, we’ve got another Japanese girl to contend with, Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto). It’s too bad as Yukio had just shared an interesting back-story of her own, but oh well, the script dictates that it will be about Mariko and Wolverine. It’s even more frustrating as Mariko is barely as interesting as a door knob, and even the relentless chase by the the Yakuza assassins fails to give her a character. By the time these two got together, the romance between them feels so awkward and entirely unconvincing. Oh, lest not forget the ‘phantom romance’ between Logan and Jean Grey, haunting him in lacy négligée, inviting him to join her in the after life. It’s excruciating to see Famke Janssen being so utterly wasted in this movie.

The one Japanese character that I was most intrigued with is Mariko’s ambitious father Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada), but his role is underwritten and ultimately he becomes just another subject for Wolverine to fight with. Logan’s main mutant nemesis is Viper, a supermodel-like blond with prehensile tongue (Svetlana Khodchenkova). Sure she’s sexy but she’s nowhere near as fun as Mystique, nor as memorable. There’s a hint that perhaps there might be some kind of personal connection between the two but it doesn’t amount to much.

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There are some really promising moments in the movie. The reunion between the dying Yashida and Logan is inherently intriguing, as Logan learns the real reason why he’s invited to Japan. But soon things turn hugely convoluted as family crisis turns into a deadly chase between the Yashida family and the Japanese Yakuzas. The fight scenes at the funeral display Wolverine’s bad-assery, though the hero is perhaps not as impervious as he once was. The already fast-paced action goes even faster, bullet-train fast to be exact, as Logan has to fight off a bunch of Yakuza goons at 300 MPH, whilst the damsel in distress is sitting inside blissfully unaware. I have to admit the action in this scene is thrilling to watch, perhaps one of the highlights of the movie.

To call this movie wildly uneven would be a giant understatement. Now, I don’t mind the slower pacing that allow the characters to breathe, so long as it doesn’t become tedious. By the time we get to the third act, the movie seems to have lost its footing entirely. Starting with Logan being showered by arrows like a pin-cushion, all the way to the final battle with a giant mechanized robot that resembles the Silver Samurai in the comics. The whole fight sequences are loud and relentless but somehow they had little impact to me.

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I read a comment in one of the major blogs saying something about how this film “…fetishize and exotic-ize elements of Japanese culture for Western consumption” You know what, I kind share that sentiment. But the biggest letdown for me is that I was hoping that the Japan-setting is an integral part of the Wolverine story as in the comics, how his time in that country shapes who Logan is as a character. Instead, we get more of an overdone fish-out-of-water story of a reluctant hero feeling ‘trapped’ in a place he doesn’t want to be in. Not exactly a groundbreaking story by a long shot. Director James Mangold and writers Scott Frank and Mark Bomback tried too hard to create an introspective and something of substance, but in the end it proves to be quite a superficial endeavor. I don’t think if I knew more, nor cared for, the character than I did before seeing the film.

Final Thoughts: So much promise… but ultimately a letdown. I expected a great deal of emotional gravitas from the story, but I didn’t connect with Wolverine’s Japanese journey as much as I had hoped. Even the big reveal that sort of brings Yashida and Logan’s relationship full circle lacks an emotional bite.

Yes, I think this one is an improvement over the first Wolverine film, but unfortunately, only by a smidgen. Hugh Jackman said he’s achieved the best physical form in this movie than he’s ever before. Indeed he’s in the best shape of his life, and it’s impressive to behold, if only the film itself were in as good a shape.

Thankfully, this movie doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the X-Men franchise. In fact, the post-credit scene that ties it to the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past is easily my favorite part! I think this one curmudgeonly mutant who ‘doesn’t work well with others’ is actually far more watchable in an ensemble than as a lone wolf.

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Thoughts on this movie? I’d love to hear it!