film

Action Flick Double Feature: “Mortal Kombat” (2021) & “Nobody”

After the Academy Awards this last weekend I was reminded of all the Awards Nominees and Winners that I hadn’t gotten around to watching just yet. Therefore, I chose to insert a double feature focusing on two recent releases of the action variety to spice things up a bit in-between the last Rapid Fire Reviews and the next one which will focus almost exclusively on the awards circuit films that remain to be seen. So, until then, let’s dive in and enjoy two ridiculously over-the-top genre films. It’s good to sit back and delight in a few guilty pleasures every now and then!

Written by Greg Russo and Dave Callaham, and directed by Simon McQuoid, “Mortal Kombat” is a reboot of the video game property previously adapted into two films in the 1990’s. If you’re familiar with the story element of the video game franchise, especially from the ninth game in the franchise released in 2011 going forward, then you’ll likely enjoy and grasp the many references and character beats plucked from various games and iterations. If not, then buckle up and begin the process of accepting that this is a story about *nearly* immortal ninjas on revenge quests hundreds of years in the making- and also a war between worlds with a tournament based on fights to the death that decide who rules which realm. It’s…. a lot. But let’s be honest- most of you didn’t come for the actual story at hand. You came for the bone splitting, skull crushing, gallons-of-blood violence; and on that front the movie delivers. Tenfold. There’s also a surprising amount of care that went into fully realizing the game characters, their various personalities and backgrounds, I was surprised to see that level of commitment given to even some of the characters least involved in the actual plot. This movie knows its audience, and it matches the tone perfectly. The standout of the film is, without a doubt, Kano (Josh Lawson). He’s a constant chatterbox who’s entirely over-confidant, but incredibly dangerous as well. I could try to explain the winding and nonsensical plot, but it essentially boils down to this: If EarthRealm (The Home Team) loses another round of Mortal Kombat to Outworld (The Bad Guys), then Outworld will be allowed to invade and take over the Earth. There’s a lot of players on both sides of this potential inter-world warfare, and without the structure of knowledge from the series’ lore, you may find yourself scratching your head when a wise-cracking killer named Kabal (Daniel Nelson) shows up near the beginning of the third act. Trust me, even knowing most of the characters and general storylines going into this movie, there were times when I had no idea why characters were traveling halfway across the world. Who cares? Bring on the next Fatality! Everything involving the blood feud between Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) however was downright eclectic, they were handled with the most care, and Sub-Zero felt like a legitimate threat the entire movie. Were there some things I didn’t care for? Sure, the editing during fight scenes was rather frustrating at times, there was quick-shot editing around all of the fights while the rest of the film didn’t feel as erratic. If I really wanted to be a critic about it I’d say the rapid-fire introduction of characters throughout the movie felt too fast and gimmicky- but the cheese and gimmicks are part of the love I have for this video game series and now this movie. It’s nowhere near perfect as a film, but I don’t know if you could adapt it better with most aspects of the film. The biggest detractor of the whole story however was the insert lead character of whom nobody ever gave a damn about, Cole Young (Lewis Tan). The actor looked like he was really giving it his all, but nobody I’ve discussed the movie with cared about him either. He wasn’t a gigantic detractor to my personal enjoyment of the movie- but I honestly didn’t care if the character lived or died at any moment. He was “generic default hero” personified. “Mortal Kombat” comes highly recommended from me, if you know what you’re getting yourself into. Keep your expectations in check and you’ll probably have a good time. Obviously, this is no “Citizen Kane”.

Written by Derek Kolstad and directed by Ilya Naishuller, “Nobody” is an action movie starring Bob Odenkirk- which is a sentence I never thought I’d say. Even more surprising (no offense Odenkirk) is that it’s an entertaining and effective action movie in the same style as “John Wick”, minus the gun-fu. Which makes sense as Derek Kolstad is the screenwriter on all of the John Wick movies, and this is Naishuller’s second feature film after “Hardcore Henry”, nothing against that fun roller coaster of a flick- but this is a huge improvement. Odenkirk stars as Hutch Mansell, a typical middle-management, middle-aged, suburbanite with a family of four and an impressive vinyl collection. At least, that’s what he appears to be from the outside. Deep within that carefully managed shell of a man lies a long dormant version of himself that’s been itching to escape. After a pair of small time criminals break into his home at night he slowly begins to slide back into those old ways. At an hour and a half this suburban power fantasy wastes little time establishing Hutch as a man feeling chained by the repetition of his daily life, an increasingly loveless marriage, and a teenage son who no longer respects his father. It all builds as we are given hints of what Hutch is capable of, and who he used to be. That all boils over when a group of rowdy Russians board the same bus as Hutch after they drunkenly crash their car. Hutch takes control of the situation and reveals the killer hidden behind those tired eyes. During this scene there’s a shot of Hutch strangling one of the thugs with the Bus’s pull-string and banging the poor fellow’s head against the glass with the light above flashing “Stop Requested”. That, my friends, is my kind of dark comedy. There’s bits of that throughout the film, and it all adds up to an action movie with a unique flare. Who would expect Bob Odenkirk to be a real threat in a fight? Probably nobody before this film came out, and the actor delivers on that concept. I was also surprised to see Christopher Lloyd playing Hutch’s father- he even gets in on the action later in the film! Also, RZA the Rapper stars as Hutch’s brother in hiding, who acts as his voice of reason through a secret radio transmission. This little film has a lot going for it, and honestly it exceeded my expectations. If you’re looking for a simple but highly entertaining action flick- this is it! Highly recommended.

film

Review: The Disaster Artist

Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber and directed by James Franco, “The Disaster Artist” is the true story of the making of the now infamous cult classic/midnight movie extraordinaire, “The Room”. At the center of this hurricane of a film production is the friendship between Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) and Greg Sestero (Dave Franco). The film begins with Greg taking an acting class in San Francisco where he timidly makes an attempt at the scene he’s been given before quietly sitting back down. Immediately after that the acting teacher asks if anyone else would like to make an attempt at the material. One lone voice responds to that call. Tommy Wiseau meanders down the stairs and proceeds to throw everything at his scene, quite literally. He grumbles and screeches, climbs the set structures to jump off and dramatically lay out on the floor- all while wailing without shame. This is Wiseau in a nutshell, confident and shameless-even when his instincts betray his intentions. Greg, meanwhile, is mesmerized by this display of fearlessness and seeks out Tommy after class to seek an attempt at capturing what Wiseau has in spades, confidence beyond measure and consideration. The long-haired and heavily accented force of nature accepts and after a scene in a diner where he pushes Greg to recite some lines loudly while ignoring the onlooking of everyone in the restaurant, they agree to go to Los Angeles to break into acting. These small moments are the foundation upon which the rest of the film rests, two weird nobodies sharing a dream and conspiring to beat the odds and secure that dream.

disaster

This movie could have easily been a joke where the audience laughs at the ridiculous nature and choices of Tommy Wiseau and crew (and admittedly we do), but the film makes a serious effort to never make Wiseau the butt of the joke in a malevolent or mean-spirited fashion. It’s more along the lines of the audience rooting for Wiseau and Sestero, but then laughing when they fail in spectacular fashion. There’s an admirable stab at infusing humanity into the mysterious Wiseau so that we don’t feel as though we’re kicking him when he’s down. Instead the laughter is complimented by a hand offering assistance and encouragement at another go at it.

artista-do-desastre-840x577

After living and striving in Los Angeles for several months with next to nothing to show for their acting efforts, Sestero and Wiseau ultimately decide to try and make their own film instead. With Tommy’s seemingly endless funds and ambition the two scrape together a production crew, and cast the film with much bluster and blundering involved. If you know anything about the basics of filmmaking you’ll find a lot to laugh about. For example, Tommy and Greg go to a film rental shop to get some gear and instead of renting the expensive cameras, lenses, and filmstock, Wiseau opts to simply buy it all, both the film and the video cameras- everything. The budget details for “The Room” must have been staggering and quite amusing. Like choosing to build an alleyway set that looks exactly like the one just outside the studio, or the questionable choice to green-screen the Los Angeles skyline- of which they also have access to. That’s just the tip of the myriad of oddball and expensive creative choices that led to the creation of this very specific movie.

Disaster-Artist-James-Franco-Tommy-Wiseau-Pictures

“The Disaster Artist” is an oddball of entertainment. The Franco brothers did a lot to portray the two midnight movie makers with heart and ambition, and that’s why the film succeeds at the end of the day. Sure, the weirdly acute creative decisions of “The Room” provide hearty laughter with it’s most infamous scenes recreated, “YOU’RE TEARING ME APART LISA!” and “Oh Hai Mark” among many others, but with the grounded focus on friendship and creative ambition against all odds (and then some), “The Disaster Artist” repurposes that same love for the cinema that got so many people involved in filmmaking to begin with. Perhaps the strangest product to come from Hollywood in years, this film was a joy to watch, and laugh with.

 

Final Score: 158 takes of “Oh Hai Mark”

*Oh and for a more in depth look into the horde of celebrity and comedian cameos in the film, check this out:

https://www.wmagazine.com/story/the-disaster-artist-celebrity-cameos-guide

P.S. The next pairing of these two titans of B-movie mania is actually right around the corner. “Best F(r)iends”, written by Sestero and starring both Wiseau and Sestero, has been described as ‘like a Hitchcock noir- but with Tommy Wiseau‘ So that should be quite the unique piece. I say check it out, (I actually will be seeing this one) you probably won’t see anything like it- their track record indicates as much.

P.P.S. It’s also being released in two volumes, a la “Kill Bill”, Vol. 1 will play in 600 select theaters nationwide on March 30 and April 2, followed by Vol. 2 on June 1 and June 4.