Despite my better efforts, there are some huge gaps in my film-watching repertoire. Gaps which, since 90% of my friends are just as film-nerdy as I, I am constantly given sh*t for. Which I super deserve. So, with summer in full swing (gonna have to change that line starting next week), I’ve decided to get to work on catching up on these gaps.
This week I take a look at 1995’s “Mortal Kombat” and 1987’s “Raising Arizona”, the DIFFERENT-IST MOVIES OF ALL TIME.
Ok, so I’m kinda cheating with this one, because I’ve technically seen it before, but I was six at the time, so i don’t think it counts. Also, I’m a moderately big “Mortal Kombat” fan. I haven’t played all the games and i’m not very good at the ones I have played, but I like the mythology and characters and I’m knowledgeable enough about the lore. So I do have an unfair advantage going into this film because I actually know who everyone is supposed to be.
The film, based on the video game series of the same name, was directed by Paul W.S. Anderson and stars Robin Shou, Linden Ashby, Bridgette Wilson, Christopher Lambert, and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. The plot follows three martial artists from vastly different backgrounds as they participate in an interdimensional martial arts tournament for the fate of the world. And yeah, that does sound pretty badass. And so, after playing MK 9 for a couple hours as “research”, I gave the film a watch and…
It is tolerable at worst and awesome at best! If I have one piece of advice about the movie, it’s this: turn it off halfway through. The first half is an amazing action movie with some insane fight scenes, but it drags its ass like you would not believe for the second half. When you reach the point in the movie where the skeleton ninja explodes, TURN IT OFF. I know, that goes against literally every impulse you have as a film viewer, but trust me, nothing you will see will be that good in the rest of the film. Except the Mortal Kombat music playing over the ending credits. That’s pretty great, too.
Of our three main characters, I found the one that’s supposed to be the protagonist the least interesting. We have Liu Kang, a former Shaolin monk avenging his brother’s death, Johnny Cage, an egotistical Hollywood film star, and Sonya Blade, a tough as nails special forces officer. Sonya was likable and badass, and Cage was such a d*ck it was fun to watch, but Kang was honestly kinda boring. His motivation was cliche and he acts like a moron in the film’s climax. I also have to complain that they took Scorpion and Sub-Zero’s bitter feud from the games and threw it out the window to make them both voiceless henchmen. Now Mortal Kombat doesn’t exactly have the most developed characters in the world, but the backstory of the dueling ninja clans (the Lin Kuei and the Shirai Ryu and no, I didn’t need to look that up) and their two greatest champions is one of the most interesting in MK lore. It’s about a never-ending quest for vengeance between two groups of super powered ninjas!!! How was that not the premise of this entire movie?!?! Whatever. As far as characters go, Goro and Kano are both used well, even if Kano does exit the film too early.
That brings me to a complaint: the side stories in this are wrapped up way too quickly. Sonya kills her target halfway through the film and that’s it for her development and Cage’s character arc pretty much happens offscreen. It feels like the entire movie raced along for the first hour and then had to extend out it’s runtime another forty minutes for some reason.
The effects in this movie range from spectacular to god-freakin’-awful. Here’s a handy guide: if it’s a practical effect, it is amazing, if it’s a CGI effect, it looks terrible. The Goro suit is a masterpiece of animatronic glory, but all the CG with Reptile is so primitive it made my eyes bleed. The set design is glorious in a way I haven’t seen in a while, but Scorpion’s weird-ass spear is terrible. i also want to acknowledge that this movie tries to be accurate to the source material even when it seems ridiculous. And it works! I don’t care if you’re showing a ninja with a skull for a head, if you commit to it hard enough, it will work. I feel like Warner Brothers could take a few lessons from this movie for their upcoming slate of DC Comics films. Oh, but the one major inaccuracy is that GORO’S FIRST FIGHT IS NOT A “FLAWLESS VICTORY” AS SHANG TSUNG CALLS IT! THAT GUY LANDED SOME BLOWS IN THAT FIGHT!!! …Sorry.
Three out of five stars.
Ok, so at the beginning of this column, I joked about “Raising Arizona” and “Mortal Kombat” being as different as humanly possible. But here’s the thing: I hadn’t watched “Raising Arizona” yet when I wrote that. I was just assuming they’d be super different based on what I knew about each film ahead of time. But… um… aside from quality, these films aren’t as different as I originally assumed.
The film, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, follows an ex-con and an ex-cop as they kidnap a baby because they can’t have one of their own. Hilarity ensues… like, for real, hilarity does in fact ensue in this film. Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, William Forseythe, John Goodman, Frances McDormand, and Randall “Tex” Cobb star in this fun as hell live-action cartoon. The movie opened to mixed reviews, but has found an audience recently as a cult-hit. And let’s be honest, as much as I like this movie, cult-hit was what it was made for with its cartoonish reality and ridiculous characters.
Let’s talk about those characters, shall we? Cage plays H.I. McDunnough, a former criminal (and I guess current criminal as well, given the whole kidnapping thing) with a pattern of using an unloaded gun to rob convenience stores. Cage’s natural wackiness works excellently in this role. I feel like Nicolas Cage should only play characters like this forever. At the very least, that would have prevented “Left Behind” from happening. Holly Hunter plays H.I.’s wife, Ed McDunnough, a former cop who somehow passed her psyche evaluation. Hunter does a great job with the role and her motivations are immediately understandable from her performance throughout. John Goodman is good in everything and this is a thing so he’s obviously good in it. Forseythe is a great comedic partner for Goodman and more than holds his own in their scenes together. All the supporting characters are great in unique, likable ways as well.
The plot, which is loosely about redemption but mostly about babies and wackiness carries along at an incredibly quick pace. Which works because it has a lot to get through. Hell, despite how quickly they push through it, it takes them eleven minutes to get to the opening titles with all the exposition necessary. The film isn’t hurt by its shorter length, though, and it avoids overstaying its welcome. Also, any movie that finds a way to make its climax “fistfight with a quasi-demonic biker” has a place in my heart.
This is a tough film for me to review because it’s… well… a GOOD comedy. What can I say about it besides “it’s funny and enjoyable, check it out”? Again, like with “Wet Hot American Summer” most of the good things I can reference are the jokes and I can’t exactly turn this column into “Hunter repeats funny moments from the movie like a plagiarizing parrot” now, can I? It’s great! Watch it!
Four out of five stars.
Well, this week truly was a “Flawless victory”. I’m taking next week off because I’m moving, but I’ll be back in two. Oh, and I WILL be back. After all, they’ve got a name for people like me: “recidivism”.