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: John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum

Warning: Spoilers for “Chapter 2”, but not “Chapter 3”

Written by Derek Kolstad, Chris Collins, Marc Abrams, and Shay Hatten and directed by Chad Stahelski “John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum” is the third entry in the John Wick series which finds the titular Wick (Keanu Reeves) right where we left him at the end of the last film; which is to say, running for his life with his dog at his side. For those needing a refresher, the second film established the world only hinted at in the first film, wherein there are rules for the initiated- and those rules are taken with a deadly seriousness. The first rule, is that you may not conduct “business” on continental grounds. The Continental, being the internationally recognized hotel for assassins. The second rule is that once bound to a marker, you must oblige the bearer of any request they make. Markers are circular discs that open to two halves, one side is red with the blood of the needing, and the other is only imprinted with the blood of the subservient once the request has been completed. Once you ask someone for help with a marker, and they accept, you must know that you will have to repay them eventually. “Chapter 2” establishes the severity of not adhering to the will of a bearer with a marker binding you to them. Wick is forced into assisting a bearer in “Chapter 2” and seeks retribution once the task is completed- but kills the bearer on continental grounds and thus labeled Excommunicado with a heavy bounty placed on his head, though the Continental’s manager Winston (Ian McShane) gives Wick a one hour grace period before the contract is open to all known assassins.

You can’t see the dog from the last film here, but trust me, he’s there.

With a $14 Million price tag on his head, Wick scrambles to make it out of the city, but also by getting his dog to the continental where he knows they will take care of him. The first twenty minutes of this film have some of the most inventive and rollicking great action sequences since “The Raid: Redemption” took the action genre by storm eight years ago. Speaking of that film, there are a handful of actors that make the jump to this series for a few particularly formidable foes that Wick must tango with. In fact, one of the best aspects of this film, aside from the crazy-violent and gut-wrenching action scenes, are the multitude of cameos from a variety of sources. The first fight in the film is between Wick and “Ernest”, the 7 ft 3 in tall assassin played by Serbian NBA player Boban Marjanovic, in the New York Public Library. It’s an excellent fight to kick the movie off, it may have been a little short, but wow- I didn’t know you could do THAT to someone with a book! We also get cameos from Jerome Flynn (famously played Bronn in Game of Thrones) and Jason Mantzoukas (He played Rafi from “The League”) as one of the many homeless citizens in league [ba dum tss- I’ll see myself out] with The Bowery King once again played magnanimously by Laurence Fishburne. Of course I’d be negligent in my reviewing duties if I forgot to mention Tiger Hu Chen. Not only has he previously starred as the lead in the only film that Keanu’s directed himself in “Man of Tai Chi” (check it out, it’s fun!) but he also has the goriest death in this film, in my humble opinion.

As with the previous two films, the action in this series is increasingly inventive. If you’ve ever read or seen an interview with the director, Chad Stahelski, you’ll see that he has a deep love of the action genre and cinema as a whole. In both “Chapter 2” and this film the opening scenes pay respect to Buster Keaton in homage to his legendary stunt work in the 1920’s, by playing his work projected on the side of a building and on one of the many large screens in Times Square. Stahelski has thrown in a multitude of nods and winks to cinema’s past and many eagle-eyed, and knowledgeable, fans will catch them. A particularly fun one is when Wick breaks into an old antique gun shop and has to modify two guns into one quickly enough to get one shot off as his pursuers break the door down. The director himself has stated that that shot was a direct callback to “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” with Eli Wallach, putting a pistol together in the gun shop.

While the plot in films like these isn’t always the primary concern, this series knocks that notion off it’s feet by continually expanding on the lore and mythology behind the assassin’s organization by examining how it works, it’s many hidden layers, and who controls whom. I don’t want to get into too many spoilers since the film’s still in its opening week, but admittedly, this one does a great job at giving us morsels of information, like John Wick’s real name for example, and some understanding of where he came from and how he was molded into The Baba Yaga.

This is another excellent entry in the franchise and personally I had a great time with it! The action was superb, satisfying, and mystifying! The cast was well rounded and precise given the runtime, no one felt wasted! However the very best news that this film could give, was that there’s even more Baba Yaga to come! The fourth film has already been greenlit and given a May 2021 release date according to several movie news outlets, and nothing could have made this action fan happier to hear!

Final Score: 7 cuts!

*Here’s a fun interview with the director on the stunt work in the film (though it does contain spoilers!):

https://www.polygon.com/entertainment/2019/5/18/18627988/john-wick-3-fight-scenes-how-they-did-horse-dog-shootout-continental-breakdown