Mortal Kombat

Posted on April 22, 2021 at 7:00 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some crude references, language throughout, and strong bloody violence
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Pervasive peril and violence, very gory and disturbing images, characters injured and killed including a child
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: April 23, 2021
Date Released to DVD: July 5, 2021
Copyright 2021 Warner Brothers

Mortal Kombat” is a movie based on a video game. So, let’s be real here. We’re not looking for or even expecting complex characters or surprising plot twists. We’re here for the martial arts carnage and a few middle-school-level wisecracks, and that we get.

Character development? I’ve seen more complex backstories on Cabbage Patch Dolls. All you need to know is there are good guys and bad guys and the stakes are the very future of the planet, which, it turns out, turns on, you got it, mortal combat, trial by combat — to the death. Oh, and don’t expect it to make a ton of sense, either. Just sit back and watch the fights.

It begins with a pre-credit sequence set in an edenic 17th century Japan, with a devoted farming couple, their gallant young son, and infant daughter. As the father (Hiroyuki Sanada as Hanzou) is out getting water, bad guys arrive, led by B-Han (Joe Taslim), whose awesome fighting skills are enhanced by his ability to manifest ice. He will later be known as Sub-Zero. He says he is there to avenge, but we do not get any details. Only the baby survives, and she is taken away by a glow-eyed guy who travels via lightning named Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano).

Skip ahead to present day, where Cole Young (Lewis Tan) is fighting for $200 a bout and not doing very well. He is devoted to his wife and daughter. And he has a mysterious dragon-shaped birthmark, which identifies him to those in the know as a champion. one of those designated to fight for the good guys. Not much time for narrative here. Or anywhere else in the movie. It’s battle, battle, training, battle all the way.

Which is a good thing, because the martial arts are great and, for those who are fans of the game, let me quote Wikipedia:

The basic Fatalities are finishing moves that allow the victorious characters to end a match in a special way by murdering their defeated, defenseless opponents in a gruesome manner.

The finishing moves/fatalities are suitably gruesome. Like guts falling out of ripped-open torsos and being sliced open by a buzzsaw like a side of beef. And gallons of spurting blood. As for the script, well, it has exactly what you’d expect, a lot of “the prophecy is upon us” and “winning Mortal Kombat cannot be left to chance,” portentousness, “if you fail to discover your inner power you will never defeat your opponent” pep talks, plus some middle-school-level “humor.”

So, fans of the game will enjoy the call-outs to their favorite characters and inside information and those who are not familiar to the game but like to see martial arts fights with lots of gore will be suitably entertained and even look forward to the sequel.

Parents should know that this film has extended and very gory and graphic peril and violence, along with strong and crude language and references.

Family discussion: Which power do you think you could manifest? How do you fight people who do not follow the rules?

If you like this, try: The game and the “Mythic Quest” and “The Guild” television series.

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Action/Adventure Based on a video game DVD/Blu-Ray Fantasy movie review Movies -- format

Kung Fu Panda

Posted on November 3, 2008 at 8:00 am

kung_fu_panda.jpgPo (voice of Jack Black) is a soft, sweet-natured cuddly panda. He works as a waiter in his father’s noodle shop but dreams of being a kung fu champion. He studies kung fu history and cherishes his action figures of the Furious Five, the country’s top martial arts masters: Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Mantis (Seth Rogen). They are trained by Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) under the guidance of the Master (Randall Duck Kim).

The great villain Tai Lung (Ian McShane, providing the obligatory deep voice and English accent), guarded by 1000 soldiers, breaks out of prison and the Master must select a new Dragon Warrior to defend the people. The whole town gathers to see which of the Furious Five it will be. In what appears to everyone — including Po — to be a mistake, the Master points to the panda as the chosen one. And it is up to Yoda, I mean Shifu, to train him.

The Furious Five are, well, furious. Like a group of middle school mean girls, they tell Po he does not belong. Shifu is frustrated and impatient, insisting that the panda cannot be trained. He does not have the grace or balance for martial arts.

The panda is part teddy bear, part Pillsbury Doughboy, part Cookie Monster, all soft, sweet, and cuddly. Like Santa, he has a belly that shakes like a bowl full of jelly, a long way from a lean, mean fighting machine. He is also unsure of himself, ashamed of his clumsiness. He is afraid to try for his dreams — afraid to upset the father he loves (Po never seems to notice they are of different species) and afraid he does not have the ability to do better. When he fails in training, he says dejectedly, “I probably sucked more than anyone in the history of kung fu…more than anyone in the history of sucking.” He admits to Shifu that he only stayed “because I thought if anyone could change me, make me not me, it was you.” But Po will learn that the source of his strength is what no one can teach him — his sincerity and humility. Po will find within himself the strength, focus, and resolve to face Tai Lung.

As wise and experienced as he is, Shifu has some lessons to learn as well. He has to find a whole new way of teaching — it turns out the way to a Dragon Warrior’s heart may be through his stomach. And he has to explore some regrets and mistakes from his past.

All of this is handled very lightly — the film spends more time on the pratfalls than on the brisk training montage and the fight sequences are well within the PG range. The sweet-natured lumbering bear with the big tummy trying to achieve the grace, discipline, and balance of kung fu gives the animators a lot of opportunities for offbeat variations, sight gags, and contrasts, a cartoon tradition going back as far as the ballet-dancing hippos in “Fantasia.” And the scroll-inspired landscapes and colors are spectacularly beautiful.

The fortune cookie-like “everyone is special” lessons of the film get a little murky, though, and parents will want to talk to children about alternatives to violence, safe participation in martial arts, and telling the truth. But the film’s unpretentious sweetness, the striking visuals and fresh settings, and strong voice characterizations by Black, Hoffman, Rogan, and Cross make this satisfying family entertainment.

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Action/Adventure Animation Comedy For all ages Talking animals

The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor

Posted on July 31, 2008 at 6:00 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for adventure action and violence
Profanity: Some strong language (bastard, son of a bitch)
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, including drinking to deal with stress, scenes in bar
Violence/ Scariness: Non-stop action-style violence, some graphic images (faces melting, characters on fire), disturbing themes (mummies coming back from the dead)
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters, strong, brave, capable minorities and women
Date Released to Theaters: August 1, 2008

Salt the popcorn and settle your gigantic soda in the cup-holder. Brendan Fraser is back and just as important, so are the mummies. Strictly speaking, these guys are not mummies, but they’re close enough.

It’s only been nine years since the first film, in which handsome, wisecracking, intrepid adventurer Rick (Fraser) met the brilliant, gorgeous, and equally intrepid librarian and Egyptologist Evie (Rachel Weisz). They found themselves battling mummies and falling in love. But this is movie world, so in the third installment Rick and Evie have a college-age son named Alex (the bland Luke Ford). Oh, and Weisz is not around any more, as we are informed with a brisk wink at the fans before the action gets underway. We first see Evie from behind, reading aloud from one of her books, and it is Weisz’s voice. But then she answers a question with “Honestly I can say she’s a completely different person,” and the camera swings around to show us that Evie is now played by Maria Bello.

And after that, it is just about all action, all the time. As is appropriate for movies in this category, there is just enough plot to give us an opportunity to have various kinds of conflict in various kinds of settings and otherwise stay out of the way of all of the chases, explosions, and battles. It’s sort of the same idea as Hellboy 2 — a sleeping army will awake and take over the world for evil if blah blah. This time, Rick and Evie end up in China mostly so that mummy honors can go to Jet Li as the evil emperor who was cursed by a witch who has the secret of eternal life.

Like the old movie serials that inspired it, the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously. But it takes the action scenes seriously and there are some great ones, especially a chase in a truck filled with fireworks. You can guess where that one is going. Yes, it is a little over the top by the time the Yeti show up. And Bello, as terrific an actress as she is, doesn’t match Weisz’s chemistry with Fraser and does not have his gift for finding the right mix of sincerity and spoof. The father-son-conflict and the romance are weak and predictable. But Fraser is spot on, Michelle Yeoh adds elegance and dignity as the witch, and Li is agreeably fast and fierce as the Emperor. When the silliness gets out of hand, just grab another handful of popcorn and before it’s gone the next fight or chase or near-plane-crash or fall or avalanche or mummy-esque attack will get things going again and remind you of the pleasures of the summer movie.

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Action/Adventure Fantasy Movies -- format Remake Series/Sequel

Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior

Posted on February 8, 2005 at 8:02 pm

There are three reasons to see this movie. First: the dazzling martial arts moves of Tony Jaa, whose lightning reflexes and breathtaking gymnastics are both impressive and entertaining. Second is the authenticity. As the tagline says, this film has “no safety nets, no computer graphics, and no strings.” This is not the kind of movie that inspires critics to use words like “balletic” and “graceful.” This is the kind of movie that shows you that everything but the injuries is really happening on screen. The third reason is so that you can see the first leading performance by a man who is set to become the next big action star.

With all of that, the reasons not to see the movie — predictable script (“The fate of the whole village lies in your hands!”), effective but not especially artistic direction, and adequate but not especially impressive movie-making, with a lot of those hiccup-y little instant replays that show you the most exciting stunts a second or even third time.

Jaa plays Ting, who must retrieve the head that has been stolen from the statue of Buddha in his small rural town in Thailand. So for the first time he goes to the big city. Then he has a lot of chase scenes and fights. Then the movie ends.

But the fights are very cool. Ting fights in the street. He fights in a ring. He goes underwater. His legs catch fire. He fights with his hands, with his fists, and with knives.

Jaa is an electrifying performer and the movie is primarily designed to show off what he does best, with what little story there is just there for breathing room and a change of location before the fight scenes start up again. There is a wheelchair-bound bad guy who can only speak through an electronic voicebox (it is really eerie when he laughs) and a female sidekick with an annoying voice that may be intended to be funny but just sounds somewhere between a whine and a screech. But the movie is a showpiece for Jaa, whose talent is well worth showing and viewing.

Parents should know that the movie has constant, intense, and graphic violence with bone-crushing injuries. Some characters are killed. The plot involves drug dealers and drug use and characters smoke and drink. They also use strong and sometimes crude language (as translated in the subtitles).

Families who see this movie should talk about how Ting makes the decision about whether he will fight or not. Why did George change his name? Why was Ong-Bak so important to the village?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the films of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li.

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