Review Rewind – Mortal Kombat (1995)

Francois Petit (Sub-Zero, left) and Robin Shou (Lui Kang, right) duel to the death in Mortal Kombat (1995)

Release Date: August 18, 1995

Director: Paul W.S. Anderson (as Paul Anderson)

Cast: Christopher Lambert, Robin Shou, Linden Ashby

Rating: 3/4 Stars


Looking back, I couldn’t have imagined any other reason why I watched Mortal Kombat multiple times as a kid if it were not for the insanely popular game series this film was based on. I was 7 years old when it came out and an avid player of the game when Dunk-a-roos, Snack Packs, chicken nuggets, and Fruit Gushers were a staple of my diet. Aside from the frenetic action and kick-assery on display, its otherworldly and ancient aesthetic, and a rip-roaring soundtrack streamlined with rollicking guitars, Tibetan music, and 90’s infused Electronica, I couldn’t remember much else. Years later, and on the heels of its 25th anniversary, I took the opportunity to rewatch the film. It’s safe to say that even today Mortal Kombat remains as offbeat, bombastic and thoroughly entertaining as it was years ago.

Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Shang Tsung) ushers in a new class of fighters in Mortal Kombat (1995)

The story of Mortal Kombat follows a trio of characters including Lui Kang, a troubled and wayward former disciple of ancient martial arts, who learns of his younger brother’s death at the hands of Shang Tsung, a sorcerer hell-bent on ushering in the demise of humankind. Sonya Blade, a tough-as-nails officer, is out for justice to catch the killer of her work partner while a former champion fighter and now actor, Johnny Cage, looks to prove his credibility amidst gossip and rumors that he is a fake. A celestial tournament under the moniker of Mortal Kombat serves as the key to bringing all these characters together through challenges and face offs against unparalleled enemies in brute and fatal fashion. Need I say more? Let’s face it: you’re probably only here for the action, and boy, does it deliver.

Chris Casamassa (Scorpion) is set for attack (and apparently cross-eyed at that) in Mortal Kombat (1995)

By no means is Mortal Kombat a technical marvel, but praise can be given to its solid and moody production design evident in the many sets and stages for our fighters to duke it out on. CGI hasn’t aged as well, but its use and appearance remain effective in broadening the scope of danger and mysticism encountered along with pretty cool practical creature effects mixed in. Acting is buttered with a heavy dose of cheese and camp with a standout role by the wonderful Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Shang Tsung played with devilish charm. Christopher Lambert savors a penchant for mischievousness and seriousness as the god of thunder, Raiden, and Linden Ashby’s portrayal of Johnny Cage delivers comedy painfully corny and endearing at the same time. Robin Shou as Lui Kang delivers a performance that beckons our attention to root for sweeping success, and Bridgette Wilson-Sampras as Sonya Blade embodies the tough-type who stands confidently in a fight all on her own.

The trailer alone is worth a look into the energetic tone and feel of this action-packed film

Where Mortal Kombat falls flat is in its disjointed and one-note narrative leaning heavily on exposition; however, where story lacks, the film is livened with charisma and fun on all sides by its actors and insanely kinetic action. Much is forgiven in the creatively choreographed fighting on display aimed to thrill and excite, and the accompanying music and playlist included elevates the ante to heart-pumping effect with case in point being its techno-driven theme song that remains as iconic as it has been since it was first heard. I mean, come on—who doesn’t just want to spar immediately at its pulsating beat?

(from left to right) Talisa Soto, Robin Shou, Christopher Lambert, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, and Linden Ashby gather to celebrate camaraderie in Mortal Kombat (1995)

As the credits rolled, I couldn’t help but smile recalling what I had just watched. Mortal Kombat and its mix of music, design, martial arts, and brazen acting so bizarre and kooky leaves little room for disappointment in entertainment value. When it focuses on the draw to battle, Mortal Kombat succeeds despite the limitations of its PG-13 rating; much could only be imagined with a hard R rating. If you’re looking for a time capsule picture from the 90s, one that is fiercely confident in its world and characters, then this movie will test your might, providing pure escape and fun for you to have at with. While Mortal Kombat won’t be remembered as a cinematic masterpiece of the refined kind, it doesn’t bar it from being a quintessential masterpiece of its own kind.

Mortal Kombat is rated PG-13 for non-stop martial arts action and some violence.

Review – Onward (2020)

Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland, left) and Barley Lightfoot (Chris Pratt, right) are brothers destined for adventure in Disney/Pixar’s Onward (2020)

Release Date: March 6, 2020

Director: Dan Scanlon

Cast: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Rating: 3.5/4 Stars


[The following review is spoiler-free]

With its 22nd feature film to date, Pixar has accomplished what very few studios have been able to do in 25 years. Having recently been released for subscribers to stream on Disney+, the folks at Disney have bestowed upon viewers a gem of a film sure to invigorate joy and adventure in all those who take the time to venture onward.

Barley (Pratt) and Ian (Holland) seek to find the location of the Phoenix Gem with the help and guidance of The Manticore (Octavia Spencer) in Onward (2020)

The film opens up with a narrator telling us of a tale long ago in a land unlike ours when magic was alive and well. With the rise and advent of technology and innovation, magic soon became a relic of the past as convenience and the pursuit of immediate gratification became of utmost importance. Fast forward to the present day, we meet two brothers on different sides of the same coin: Ian (shy and unconfident) seeking to mark his place among peers, and Barley (bold albeit reckless) seeking to remind others of the past. Upon Ian’s sixteenth birthday, both brothers are gifted a staff and spell from their deceased father promising to resurrect him from the dead for one full day cycle. As the spell is disrupted from casting its full effect, both brothers embark on a comical and perilous journey to attain a gem that will aid them in completing the spell and bringing their father back to life before time runs out. As they trek the quest, their relationship as brothers faces challenges spurred on in true Pixar-fashion that not only stands the test of time, but beckons us to look upon those who have made an impact in our own lives.

Fairies, such as those pictured above, litter and take to the streets in Onward (2020)

With a whimsical story balancing both attention to detail and subtext, Onward not only entertains viewers but brings forth to the surface timeless themes related to family and friendship. Much of the narrative is dedicated to the interplay between brothers as they laugh and fight their way through the odds in both personal and harrowing ways. Chris Pratt and Tom Holland make wonderful pairings as brothers, and the adventure they set upon is as charming and thrilling as you’d hope to see. Colorful characters fashioned after folklore and myth liven the fantasy element in both dramatic and comical effect reflecting upon ways and people we’ve come across this side of reality.

Yet again, the animators responsible for bringing the world to life do an excellent job as settings become further photorealistic lending believability to a world purely generated out of the most imaginative of minds. Character animations are top notch, and the delivery of human performances stirs up every bit of emotion as the action and drama unfolds. Aside from a few small and underdeveloped plot threads, the story remains ever so focused (and rightly so) on the adventure and familial ties at the center of this spectacular film.

Brothers in progress, Barley and Ian, dance around their semi-resurrected, half-bodied father in Onward (2020)

In the end, Onward is a winner of a film and a wonderful detour into fantasy and heart-warming human territory. Delightful and immensely entertaining, it catapults itself into the higher echelon of animated adventures. While not amongst my all-time favorites in Pixar’s ever-expanding catalog of films, Onward definitely remains to be seen again and again whether alone or shared amongst family and friends. There’s a little bit of everything for viewers to latch onto, and don’t be surprised if Onward tugs at your heart-strings during its pleasant and evenly-paced runtime. I shed a tear or two, and for those of you who may see someone they can relate to or project onto, I suggest the same can be predicted for you as well. Be sure to grab your tissues with your snacks, and buckle up and sit back as you enjoy the ride.

Onward is rated PG for action/peril and some mild thematics elements, and is available to stream through most digital platforms for rent or purchase as well as being included in the film library for Disney+ subscribers.

Review – Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver face off one another in another duel of the fates in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Release Date: December 20, 2019

Director: J.J. Abrams

Cast: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver

Rating: 3/4


[The following review is spoiler-free.]

“No one is ever really gone” is truly a phrase that must have been the through line for this latest (and promised final) entry in the aptly titled Skywalker Saga. If you haven’t seen the film already, you’ll have an idea as to why once end credits roll. Despite its lukewarm reception from both critics and audiences alike, the film has gone on to be another billion-dollar hit ensuring more to come in the popular space epic franchise. Since 2017’s critically acclaimed and incredibly divisive The Last Jedi, much remained to be accounted for and resolved in this final film of Disney’s Sequel Trilogy. With Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, it’s best to say there’s much that is had and more to be wanted.

Joonas Suotamo (Chewbacca), Oscar Issac (Poe Dameron), Daisy Ridley (Rey) and Finn (John Boyega) travel across the stars in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Roughly a year after the events of The Last Jedi, the film starts off with an enraged Kylo Ren seeking to confront a revived (and unexplained) Emperor Palpatine who threatens to once again rule the galaxy with a cruel and unforgiving fist. Meanwhile, Rey continues her Jedi training under the guidance of General Leia Organa, and the rest of the gang (Poe, Finn, and Rose included) work to stay one step ahead of the First Order’s plan to wipe out the Resistance. As Palpatine’s Final Order is unveiled, Rey and the rest of the gang must band together in an effort to thwart utter defeat along an interplanetary quest that challenges everyone involved with revelations brought to life in true Star Wars fashion.

Adam Driver as Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Ben Solo) in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

New characters involved are mostly welcome due in part to design and utility: there’s the new and cute droid with a finicky sensibility, a no-nonsense spice runner donning a cool and sleek costume, a defected stormtrooper searching for home and identity, and a witty/entertainingly endearing droidsmith whose height is no more than a foot tall. Regarding characters we know and have followed thus far, it is a nice change in pace to finally see the main crew working together as a cohesive unit with performances from all actors involved balancing both drama and levity well. While the time allotted for key players to punctuate their imprint and impact in the story is satisfying and appropriate for some, it can’t be said for several others that proves to be disappointing if not downright unfortunate.

Babu Frik! Crafty droidsmith and scene-stealing Anzellan is a welcome addition to the epic space saga in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Everything technical about the film is as superb as you’d expect with familiarity to other Star Wars features from decades past: John Williams’s orchestral score consisting of well-regarded themes remains as thrilling and emotional as ever; production design and camera work succeeds in capturing a fully lived-in universe with sweeping action and grand spectacle sparing little expense; and easter eggs scattered throughout nod and wink in fun and amusing ways to keep both casual and diehard fans alert and engaged in near lengthy runtime. On the downside, pacing between acts can feel disjointed at times, and keeping up with the details in narrative and implications revealed requires some of the more serious suspensions of disbelief and logic in any of the Star Wars film to date.

That being said, while The Rise of Skywalker is nowhere near some of my favorite films in the saga (that group of films primarily belongs to those composing the Original Trilogy), it’s nowhere near my least favorite. As with most things, metaphors and anecdotes may prove better to convey my overall opinion of the film with food to be a prime example. Personally, I like my Star Wars like I like my steak: medium-rare. With a total of 11 live-action feature films (or steaks) in the can already, there are many offerings and flavors to choose and savor from the pack.

Who is Rey, and what will become of her? Daisy Ridley journeys the answers in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Despite having all the ingredients there, The Rise of Skywalker is just a bit overcooked and tepid for my taste. It’s passable and enough to finish without feeling completely dissatisfied, but it just doesn’t compare to the best I’ve had this side of the galaxy. Do I think you have to eat your steak like mine to be fully satisfied? Of course not. For me, and for what it’s worth, I like my Star Wars to satiate a certain a level of satisfaction that can only be enjoyed with meticulous care and attention to form and detail all around. The Rise of Skywalker is enough to get me by until the next course is to come. To the cooks in the kitchen, I say to you: take your time. I’ll be ready—waiting with fork and knife in hand.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action, and is now available on digital and physical platforms.

Review – The Invisible Man (2020)

Elizabeth Moss in The Invisible Man (2020)

Release Date: February 28, 2020

Directed by: Leigh Wannell

Cast: Elizabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Harriet Dyer

Rating: 3/4 Stars


[The following review is spoiler-free]

Remakes, retellings, and reimaginings. We’ve all heard it before. Among the throng of retooled and rebooted material that continues to flood the market today, it’s refreshing to come across those few that not only lend themselves to being entertaining, but also give credence to relevancy in a more socially-inclined and aware culture. As for Blumhouse’s 2020 take on the literary classic, The Invisible Man combines efforts and talents that succeed as a whole.

Harriet Dyer and Elizabeth Moss in The Invisible Man (2020)

Set in contemporary times, The Invisible Man has viewers thrusted into Cecilia’s (Elizabeth Moss) escape from a brilliantly intelligent and abusive, narcissistic romantic partner named Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). After successfully finding shelter under a friend, and with the assistance of her sister and legal representative, Emily (Harriet Dyer), news breaks out of Adrian’s untimely (and uncharacteristic) death. Confused, and attempting to shake off Adrian’s controlling grasp that continues to haunt her, Cecilia learns she has become a beneficiary to a generous amount of money from his estate. Upon her reluctant acceptance, strange things begin to occur throughout her daily routine: important documents go missing, items reappear from long ago, and emails are sent to others unbeknownst to her. Despite the unexplainable nature of it all to everyone else, Cecilia becomes convicted of Adrian’s real presence and soon finds herself back on a plight for survival from a familiar and now unseen threat.

Oliver Jackson-Cohen in The Invisible Man (2020)

Leigh Wannell, who previously directed a surprise hit in 2018’s Upgrade, employs the frequent use of camera shots lingering and holding onto still, empty spaces that encourage viewers to question whether someone is there or not—much like our main lead. Pacing is deliberately slow during the build-up to important revelations, and the film ratchets up in intensity as the film moves toward its conclusion. Acting is consistently serviceable to the plot and nature of the film, and Elizabeth Moss stands out in a great leading performance that stirs just enough care and concern for her well-being despite not knowing all the details. Regarding narrative, a mild level of disbelief is to be had as certain choices are made that would question some good old-fashioned logic, but it doesn’t prove too distracting to an otherwise fairly solid script.

Elizabeth Moss in The Invisible Man (2020)

Overall, The Invisible Man is a well-done and effective thriller. More could have been pulled into the narrative to give further backstory to the relationship and themes explored, but The Invisible Man delivers in its suspense and surprise as it highlights a wide variety of issues including intimate partner violence and mental health. I’ve seen the film twice now (once in the theatre, and once again at home via streaming) and I’ve got to admit the film had lost some of its luster for me on a second viewing, only slightly. Regardless, The Invisible Man is worth a watch for those looking for a dramatic and thrilling time.

The Invisible Man is rated R for some strong bloody violence, and language. Due to the recent pandemic at play, The Invisible Man is currently available to stream exclusively via select platforms. Check with your streaming services to see if it’s available to watch at this time.

My 10 Favorite Films of the Year

What an incredible year of film it has been! I hope you all have enjoyed the recent breaks and gatherings this holiday season. As the year comes to a close, I’d like to share with you my favorite films of 2019. These are the films that I personally found myself enjoying the most this past year and that have remained in my thoughts well after the end credits. I have not seen every film released in 2019, and needless to say, there may be some other great and enjoyable films I have yet to see that I look forward to discovering in the days and months ahead. I highly recommend you consider these films in your own time, and may you all have a wonderful and Happy New Year!

– Tyler Pacholski, Creator/Head Writer


[The following films are ordered by their release date]

Shazam!

Release Date: April 5, 2019

Fun, witty, and surprisingly dark at times, Shazam! is a heartwarming and thrilling superhero romp of a film. Dare I say, a new Christmas classic.


Avengers: Endgame

Release Date: April 26, 2019

An exhilarating spectacle and fitting end to an era of incredible MCU storytelling. Avengers: Endgame is an epic of scale and scope in each and every way.


Toy Story 4

Release Date: June 21, 2019

Toy Story 4 is a gem of a film that marks the end and beginning of relationships both old and new in true Toy Story fashion. Keep your Kleenex box near, tears are guaranteed to abound.


Midsommar

Release Date: July 3, 2019

A hypnotic, daytime haunt that is in equal parts a breakup movie as it is an engrossing look at family and cultural relativism. Having seen both the theatrical and director’s cut, Midsommar cast its spell with a most disturbing and dreadful fright.


The Farewell

Release Date: August 9, 2019

Both laugh-out-loud funny and balling-your-eyes-out crying, The Farewell is a poignant and amusing look at a family both different and similar to us all.


The Peanut Butter Falcon

Release Date: August 23, 2019

A tale of triumph and brotherly love, The Peanut Butter Falcon is a sweet and darling film that left a lasting smile on my face from beginning to end.


Joker

Release Date: October 4, 2019

Brutal and visceral in its content and presentation, Joker is a masterful character piece and commentary that is sure enough to burn the most sturdy of facades down and piss on its ashes. With a tour de force turn from Joaquin Phoenix, expect a slew of award nominations (and wins) in the coming months.


The Irishman

Release Date: November 27, 2019

A class act of filmmaking and acting that harkens back to the epic gangster films of the 1970s, The Irishman succeeds in both its patient and pressing telling of events behind the scenes in one of history’s most notorious and unsolved disappearances.


Parasite

Release Date: November 8, 2019

One of the best films of the year, Parasite is a most wicked ride crafted by stunning writing, taut direction, and a stellar ensemble of actors. If there ever is a sure winner for a film in a best feature category, this is the one to beat.


Knives Out

Release Date: November 27, 2019

Devilish and delightful, Knives Out is a film that relishes in its subversive take on the whodonit genre and wins with its wry wit and charm.

Honorable Mentions: It: Chapter Two, Doctor Sleep, John Wick 3: Parabellum, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood