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REVIEW: Mortal Kombat (1995)

Three martial artists, Liu Kang (Robin Shou), Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby) and Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson), are summoned to a mysterious island to compete in a tournament – the outcome of which will decide the fate of the world.

I’ll preface this by say to the best of my knowledge I’ve never played any of the Mortal Kombat games (I think I might’ve played Street Fighter though) and I know nothing about the franchise. Much like how the release of a new Dune movie trailer made me want to watch the original from the 80s, the trailer for the new film adaptation of Mortal Kombat was released last week and as the action sequences looked pretty cool, it made me want to check out the first Mortal Kombat film from the 90s.

Maybe the original Mortal Kombat film works for fans of the games, but as someone with no experience with, I found the film to be incredibly monotonous and boring. The story is paper thin, Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) is an evil sorcerer who needs to win one more Mortal Kombat tournament in order to take over the Earth, there’s then a string of fights as the three heroes make their way through the tournament to the final showdown with Shang Tsung. It really is just one fight after another and there’s little to differentiate between them.

The fight where the trio of heroes are working together is half-decent as you’re seeing their different fighting styles plus there’s more adversaries so that makes things a bit more exciting. When it’s a one-on-one fight it’s not that entertaining. Perhaps that’s due to the fact I’ve now seen more modern action/fight sequences with the quick editing that makes things more engaging but with the slow mo shots trying to make things dramatic and the techno music that often plays during a fight (a call back to the game I’m sure) it all seems rather cheesy.

The characters themselves are all pretty one dimensional too. Sonya is the badass special forces officer (until she’s easily kidnapped and held hostage – obviously), Johnny Cage is a Hollywood actor with a big ego, while admittedly Liu Kang has a bit more backstory than the others, he’s quest for revenge is his main motivator. Their opponents are just people to fight on their quest to reach the final battle and you feel nothing as they are beaten or killed.

Everything about Mortal Kombat is very 90s and of its time. The set designs, the lighting and especially the special effects which have not aged well and were probably not that great for the standard of the 90s either.

I found Mortal Kombat more bemusing than anything. It’s cheese to the max but not in a fun way if you have no emotional connection to these characters of the games. It’s a repetitive film that may have some cool fight scenes but then they’re often undercut by the music which just makes the whole thing laughable. 1/5.

I’d be super interested to hear what fans of the game think of this, or even people like me who haven’t played it before. I’m not sure if it’s one of those adaptations that can please everyone.

REVIEW: Greenland (2020)

After it’s revealed that the comet that was supposed to pass by close to Earth’s atmosphere but not enter it, is in fact perhaps an extinction level threat, John Garrity (Gerard Butler), his wife Alison (Morena Baccarin), and their seven-year-old son Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd) embark on a perilous journey in search for shelter.

I love a good disaster film. In fact, I tend to love the not so good ones too. There’s something about the spectacle of them and imagining yourself in that situation and what you might do differently to the characters on screen. Greenland is one of the good disaster films. Perhaps I didn’t go into it with the highest expectations after Gerard Butler’s previous end-of-the-world-movie Geostorm which is bona fide fun nonsense, but Greenland really surprised me in how well it balanced the action and the characters.

There is spectacle in Greenland with John being sent flying by a shockwave or he and his family trying to avoid raining burning debris, and the effects are good, but the focus is on these three characters and what they’d do to survive and stay together. There’s news footage shown on TV of the carnage this comet is causing and bleak updates on the radio to give you and the characters a wider understanding of what’s going on in the world during this crisis, but having this family being the core of the film makes the threat more affecting.

There’s the big, standard disaster film stuff they have to deal with but there’s a lot of smaller, more personal stuff that’s even more tense and scary. Getting separated from one another, losing vital medication, it all helps round out each of the characters and get you invested in their fight for survival. The trip to a pharmacy in order to get medicine for Nathan is one of the most tenses sequences as you really start to see the collapse of society when people realise they have nothing to lose and only days to live.

Greenland really finds that balance for showing the good and evil in humanity. There are people who will stop to help someone just as they are committing a crime, there’s those who will do horrible things for selfish reasons, but there’s also people who are still kind and thoughtful in the face of such awfulness. People are complicated, and in an end of the world scenario when people are desperate, who knows how they could act.

There are a few clichés like how John and Alison are estranged at the start of the film and are attempting to give their marriage a second chance, so the fight for survival helps bring them closer again. The performances from Butler, Baccarin and Floyd make this family feel real – there’s one moment where Alison becomes desperate and emotional and Baccarin’s performance just encapsulates what a mother being pushed to the edge would be like.

Greenland is a really tense and gripping disaster movie that puts one family at the centre of it. If you’ve watched Greenland, or like the sound of it, I’d definitely recommend The Wave and its sequel The Quake – two Norwegian disaster films that focus in on a few characters and their relationships as they fight for survival. 4/5.

REVIEW: Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)

It’s 1984 and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is discreetly helping people in Washington and trying to live the quiet life. That’s until power-hungry businessman Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) takes a powerful object and threatens the world and in the process Diana’s colleague Barbra Minerva (Kristen Wiig) goes down a dark path and Diana’s long-dead love Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) mysteriously returns.

Wonder Woman 1984 starts with a flashback sequence to a young Diana (Lilly Aspell) competing against full grown Amazon’s in a race across Themyscira. It’s a great sequence but you have to wonder how much it really adds in the film. There is a lesson Diana learns there, which she then reiterates later in the film, but because the film is so long, it doesn’t really have the impact that was probably intended.

Maxwell Lord is an overemotional and desperate type of villain. He’s manipulative and smarmy while also being a bit ridiculous and pitiful. It’s interesting having Diana have to go up against someone who is so much physically weaker than her and makes the final act not be a huge physical battle between the two. There are likely to be comparisons between Maxwell Lord and Donald Trump – whether they were intentional or not. There’s the floppy orange hair, the need to be more powerful and successful that they are, it’s easy to see some similarities.

Gal Gadot and Chris Pine continue to have great chemistry and Diana and Steve’s relationship is truly the heart of this film. The fish out of water dynamic is flipped around from the first film and it’s fun seeing Steve be enthralled with how much things have changed in the seventy years since his death – especially he’s joy in learning about more advanced planes and the space race. There are some emotional moments between Diana and Steve which really work and did cause me to tear up.

Kristen Wiig is good as Barbara aka Cheetah. She has the comedic timing to handle the self-deprecating jokes when she’s shy and awkward, and as Barbara gains confidence, Wiig can handle that too. It does feel a bit like Barbara was mostly in the film so she could become Cheetah and there could be the physical battle for Diana that she wouldn’t get with Maxwell Lord. Personally, I know next to nothing about the character, but some Cheetah fans may feel cheated.

The action sequences in Wonder Woman 1984 didn’t really have the same impact as those in the previous film. It may be because we now know the character of Wonder Woman and what she can do, though I do think the fights just weren’t as exciting and some of them did look a bit weird, which is probably down to shoddy CGI and green screen.

Wonder Woman 1984 really is a perfectly solid three-star film. It’s fun, perhaps a bit too long and convoluted but it’s a bright action, superhero film. The first Wonder Woman film is a lot better overall and, for me more enjoyable and has more rewatch value, I’m not desperate to see Wonder Woman 1984 again unlike how I was with the first film. Which is probably a good thing as now cinemas are closed near me again and HBO Max doesn’t exist here. 3/5.

REVIEW: Ava (2020)

Ava (Jessica Chastain) left her family behind years ago after becoming a deadly assassin who works for a black ops organisation. As Ava tries to reconnect with her mother (Geena Davis), sister (Jess Weixler) and ex-fiancé (Common), the repercussions of a job gone wrong make themselves known, she is forced to fight for her own survival.

Ava is a combination of two different genres – family drama and action thriller – and it does neither well. The family drama aspect is dull and while the thriller part is more convoluted with Ava’s mentor (John Malkovich) and employer (Colin Farrell) fighting over if she’s still capable at her job. By blending the two genres and plotlines, neither aspect is given the development it needs to be compelling. The family drama stuff drags, and the conflict between members of the black ops organisation feels out of place.

I’m a person of simple tastes and I’ll always like seeing actresses fight, and beat, guys in hand-to-hand combat, however a film isn’t a good film simply because it has that. The fight scenes are brutal, and Chastain often does end up covered in blood and bruises, but the sequences are so badly edited that they are neither easy to follow or engaging.

So often this films just seems to be going through the motions; Ava gets betrayed by her employers, she argues with her family, she gets in a fight or a shootout. It’s like the script was full of tick boxes of action or narrative beats but few of them connect with each other, so the overall plot isn’t cohesive or entertaining.

Ava is dull and generic, so if you like some mindless 90-minute action film then this would suit but it’s not memorable at all. Even though the scene with Chastain taking down a bunch of guys while wearing a backless red dress is pretty cool. 1/5.

REVIEW: Upgrade (2018)

After a brutal attack that leaves his wife (Melanie Vallejo) dead and himself a quadriplegic, Grey (Logan Marshall-Green) feels his life isn’t worth living. When an artificial intelligence implant called STEM is offered to him, Grey is able to move again and with his newfound abilities he seeks revenge for his wife’s murder.

Upgrade is really clever while never being obnoxious with it. The basic premise is something we’ve all seen before – having a man seek revenge/justice for his wife/girlfriend/family’s murder is the starting point for so many action/thriller films. With Upgrade it it takes that starting point and takes it to new and interesting places.

Upgrade is set in the new future where technology is so advanced. There are self-driving cars, smart houses, and the integration between humans and machinery seen as the norm. Grey is a guy who prefers to not rely on technology and to build things himself, so when he’s suddenly put in the position where he’s near enough defenceless without technology it makes things challenging for him as he has to relearn his body – both when he’s paralysed and when he can suddenly move again thanks to STEM.

STEM is like its own character. Grey can here its voice in his head and they have these conversations, discussing how to find the people who killed his wife. Stem can also take complete control of Grey’s body which lead to some very violent and innovative fight sequences. They really are great, and Marshall-Green does a great job as his body is moving robotically but brutally but the expressions on his face (which he always has complete control over) are often scared, confused and shocked by what he’s doing. His performance is all around great as you can clearly see the difference between not only when STEM has control and not, but also how Grey was before the attack.

Upgrade is a great revenge action flick but it’s also one of those films that has a decent amount of substance to it. In this world where reliance on technology is so great, there’s ethical dilemmas about what Grey has done to his body and how he can allow something to take control of it. And even outside of Grey’s situation the little bits of world-building that show how everyone is reliant on technology, surveillance and AI is interesting.

Upgrade is tense and thrilling and the action sequences really stand out due to how well they’re shot and how creative they are. The violence is sometimes pretty gruesome so be aware of that, but it’s also surprisingly funny thanks to the dynamic between Grey and STEM. Upgrade really is one of those films that you hear a load of great stuff about, and it does indeed live up to the hype. 4/5.

REVIEW: Vehicle 19 (2013)

Michael Woods (Paul Walker), a parolee, arrives in Johannesburg to reconnect with his ex-wife but when he unknowingly picks up a rental car that has kidnapped whistleblower Rachel Shabangu (Naima McLean) in the boot, he becomes entangled with the corrupt local police.

Vehicle 19 is one of those one location films and this one takes place in a car. It’s in a similar vein to Locke (2013) and Wheelman (2017) however with Vehicle 19 the camera never leaves the inside of the car. While Michael may briefly leave the car, the camera stays stationary. This technique is a double-edged sword really. It’s supposed to rack up tension as you are in a tight space with the main character with no escape, but equally some thing’s end up repetitive as you’re forced to see the action happening at a distance through the car windows.

Paul Walker does a good job carrying the film, giving a solid performance. His character wants nothing to do with Rachel and the trouble he’s now involved in and seeing him go from self-centred to determined to do what’s right feels like it’s earnt. Rachel and Michael’s dynamic ends up being really interesting and something I wish we’d seen more of. The fact that Michael is kind of a fish out of water works well too, both in terms of the politics of the city and just knowing about the layout of the city. He is clearly a skilful driver, but he doesn’t know Johannesburg at all so is often forced to ask for directions or go back on himself as he races through the streets.

Corrupt police officers are nothing new in film, but Vehicle 19 does manage to pull a few surprises with the genre. The car chases are often exciting though sometimes restrictive in terms of how the action is shown.

At just over 80 minutes Vehicle 19 does go by at a good pace and, after more character stuff at the beginning, the action beats are hit steadily. Vehicle 19 is a decent thriller and though its unusual filming style makes it stand out a little more than the generic action film it could’ve been, it’s still not something that’s super memorable. 3/5.

REVIEW: 30 Days of Night (2007)

After the Alaskan town of Barrow is plunged into darkness for a month, it is attacked by a bloodthirsty gang of vampires and survivors, led by Sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett), fight to survive the next thirty days until the sun comes up again.

30 Days of Night is a great vampire film and it’s also a great apocalyptic survival film. The film begins with many of the townsfolk moving away for the month as thirty days without sunlight is enough to put anyone on edge, nevermind throwing vampires into the mix. As people move out, Eben is called to investigate more and more weird occurrences and soon it becomes clear that something is trying to cut the town off from the rest of the world. When the sun goes down, it’s clear why that’s the case.

The film quickly sets up Eben as the lead and introduces various townsfolk and the people who are most important to him; his grandmother (Elizabeth McRae), his younger brother Jake (Mark Rendall) and his ex-wife Stella (Melissa George). As the sun sets and the vampires attack, things get very gruesome very quickly.

The initial attack on the town is brilliant. It’s very suspenseful and does the jump scares just right. There’s also a great overhead view of the town that shows the devastation these vampires are causing, pools of blood on the snow, people trying to escape before being struck down, and the echoes of screams.

The vampires themselves are very creepy and effective. They are all dressed really smartly but then they have pale skin, black eyes and a load of blood coating their faces and hands. Danny Huston plays the leader of the vampires and he is an intimidating presence whenever he’s on screen. Admittedly I often find Danny Huston menacing in films as I think I’ve only ever seen him play the bad guy, but adding fangs, long nails and blood into the mix makes him even more menacing.

There are time jumps, as seeing the whole thirty days would make a very long film, and it shows how time has passed with the growth of Josh Hartnett’s beard. The survivors have to decide between whether staying put for the thirty days would be their best option, or do they need to go out for supplies and maybe move elsewhere to be safer.

30 Days of Night is so effective because normally in vampire (or any monster) films, the humans only need to survive for one night, or generally a much shorter period of time than thirty days. The thirty days adds an extra layer of tension as there’s so many other things that could go wrong. The survivors could be discovered, they could turn on one another, they might run out of supplies – some of these elements could have been explored more but the ones it does touch on are good.

The performances are all great too, naturally the characters closer to Eben are given more to do and development than others, but there’s still some effective character moments. 30 Days of Night is an unsettling vampire/survival film, the score is eerie and adds to the whole creepy vibe of the story and the vampires themselves are some of the most lethal and scary ones I’ve seen for a while. 4/5.

REVIEW: Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (2015)

When a zombie apocalypse breaks out in their small town, best friends and scouts Ben (Tye Sheridan), Carter (Logan Miller) and Augie (Joey Morgan) – along with cocktail waitress Denise (Sarah Dumont) – must use their scouting skills to make it out alive.

This is one of those films where it started out and I was like, “Yeah, this is alright, a bit generic but fine” but then something clicked and I ended up having a great time with it.

The actual proper zombie battle stuff does take a while to get going, instead it spends time focussing on the friendship between the three scouts. The three scouts all have the sort of personalities you’d expect; Ben is the normal, relatable one, Carter is the loudmouth one and Augie is the more awkward one. They bicker and fall out as some of them feel like they’re getting to old for scouts while others still love it and it’s all very normal teen friend drama but in scout uniforms.

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is actually really funny. There are clever visual gags, one-liners, gross out and humour (they’re teen boys – what do you expect?!), and just a lot of laugh out loud moments. Perhaps I went into this with rather low expectations, but this was far funnier than I was expecting it to be.

The comedic timing and chemistry between the three friends and Denise is really good. Denise is badass and how she fits into the dynamic of this kind of dorky friendship group works surprisingly well. The four of them each bring their own skills to the zombie fighting and the action sequences are all well shot and very entertaining.

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse has a solid mix of gore, crudity and laughs which makes it very enjoyable in its ridiculousness. Like honestly, there’s zombie cats and it has possibly the best use of a Dolly Parton song I’ve ever seen and that whole sequence, just like the film in general, is just so much fun. 4/5.

REVIEW: Ready Player One (2018)

When James Halliday (Mark Rylance), the creator of a popular virtual reality called the OASIS dies, a virtual contest is created to compete for his fortune and for control of this virtual world.

Ready Player One is based on the book of the same name by Ernest Cline. I read the book back in 2016 when the hype for it was at its peak and to be honest, I didn’t really like the book. I thought the main character was creepy towards and obsessed about the main female character as well as being very arrogant and all around unlikable – and then there was this over reliance on pop culture references that ended up being more annoying than anything else. So to say I had low expectations for the film version is an understatement.

The film follows Wade Watts or, as he’s known in the OASIS, Parzival (Tye Sheridan) as he and his friends search through the OASIS for the clues to finding the keys that will lead to Halliday’s fortune. There’s car races and battles and so many pop culture references. Some references are very blatant while others are blink and you’ll miss it types where if you get it that’s cool but it if you don’t you’re not missing anything. Or at least, I feel that what the film was going for but as it relies so heavily on nostalgia and computer game and movie references, there’s a whole other level of enjoyment to potentially have with Ready Player One if you get all these references. Otherwise, when Wade is in the virtual world it does look great and there’s all these cool looking characters or items, but you don’t get any meaning from them – they’re just there.

Wade’s not as unlikable here compared to his book counterpart and that’s probably because while we do get voice over narration from him explaining what the OASIS is, you don’t spend all his time with his thoughts. There’s still a very rushed “romance” that’s terrible and Wade’s friends turn out to tick the ethically diverse box.

As well as Wade and his friends competing with other players to find the keys to OASIS’s future, there’s a big bad corporate businessman played by Ben Mendelsohn who wants to win the challenge in order for his company to take it over. It’s such a cliché and Mendelsohn is pretty great as the over the top businessman who’ll stop at nothing to stop those pesky kids, but it’s something we’ve all seen so many times before and they don’t do anything interesting with it.

In the virtual world, Ready Player One looks great and some of the battle sequences are engaging but on the whole the characters and story just seem flat. It’s also a pretty depressing future (it’s set in 2045) where people escape into the OASIS because everyone’s stopped trying to make the real world better. Ready Player One plays out like a video game and if you enjoy them and know a lot of the pop culture references, you’ll probably have more fun with this film than I did. 2/5.

REVIEW: The New Mutants (2020)

The saga of The New Mutants production and release is almost legendary at this point. Different cuts were made, reshoots happened and the release date got pushed back by at least two years and was then released after the supposed peak of a global pandemic. What a legacy this film has.

The New Mutants follows Danielle Moonstar (Blu Hunt) who wakes up in a facility after her home is destroyed. There she’s told by Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga) that she’s a mutant and she and the four other teenagers are there to learn how to control their powers.

The New Mutants gets props for attempting something different within the comic book/superhero genre. There’s a small group of superpowered people (something we’re all familiar with by now) but instead of being in a safe and nurturing environment to learn about their powers like we’ve seen in previous X-Men movies, these teens are in what is called a hospital but is more like a creepy mental institution from a horror movie. There’s cameras and microphones everywhere and Dr Reyes likes to do tests on them and send them to solitary confinement if they misbehave. And that’s before each of the teens start to see and experience unexplainable horrors.

These mutant characters aren’t ones that are so easily recognisable. Personally while they’re regular human names didn’t instantly mean something to me, like Scott Summers would for instance, as their powers were slowly revealed I realised that all but one of the five were in the latter seasons of the X-Men: Evolution cartoon series. I highly recommend that series (it does the Apocalypse storyline brilliantly) especially if you want to see more of these characters as I feel it’s unlikely they’ll get a movie sequel.

Danielle is a nice enough character but isn’t particularly compelling. Her scenes with Rahne (Maisie Williams) are the best as their hesitant but blossoming relationship is an unexpected bright spot in a film where all the characters have or currently are experiencing great trauma. Anya Taylor-Joy often steals the limelight as the cutting Illyana, while Sam Guthrie and Henry Zaga aren’t given much to work with as their characters are the stereotypical quiet but nice guy and the brash jock type respectively.

After all the wait, The New Mutants is just fine really. It could’ve been scarier, and it could’ve delved more into these characters, so it doesn’t end up fulfilling the potential of its concept. It has a 90 minute runtime and you do feel that, an extra 20 minutes could’ve done wonders for character development and allowed for scenes to breathe as it was hard to gauge how long Danielle and the others had been in the facility before everything went wrong. Overall, The New Mutants is perfectly serviceable but not one to rush out to see during a pandemic. 3/5.