Movies

Jungle Cruise

After watching another family friendly movie, F9, I decided to give this one a go. Dwayne Johnson is always fun, right? And it was! I had a blast of escapism, and loved the sense of adventure into the Amazon it provided. I missed these old adventure movies where the characters would go into the jungle and conquer traps, and natives. Just some good old campy fun. Like Romancing the Stone, or going more modern, a few of the Rock’s movies: Jumanji, Journey 2, The Rundown.

Now, besides the fun, I felt Dwayne Johnson was out of place here. His muscles most definitely ruining any immersion. No way was his character’s backstory what it was. I laughed during those scenes. But, he did have chemistry with Emily Blunt and she was simply divine to watch. A pure joy. Her character’s earnest need to explore and find the truth behind her bedtime stories came across beautifully. I loved watching her outwit her opponents. Simply remarkable. What was great about Dwayne Johnson was his delivery of lines; hilarious. The brother felt a complete trope and caricature and pandering to the LGBTQ+ crowd that one would typically find in a Netflix production. The plot mattered little as to the character himself, his purpose was to hold back the main character and bridge the villain to her and then redeem himself in the final act. Could have been any other kind of character, a sister, a mother, a father, a close friend, could have had any sexuality but it didn’t matter because regardless, they’d be trying to spin the narrative of how nobody respects that kind of person but family. Why not a drug addicted brother, and his redemption? Or a destitute/bum and this is his saving grace. Point is, that aspect of his character added nothing to the plot.

There was an over abundance of CGI but there was also plenty of practical effects, so as a viewer, in the moment, I enjoyed it. Later on though, I noticed the glares and cracks in such use of CGI. It makes the scenes forgettable. I find it difficult to remember besides major points of the plot. Happily though, the cinematography is beautiful. Wide, sweeping panoramic shots of the jungle and rivers.

Overall, I can see why Disney might be wanting to continue making movies out of their theme park rides. There’s a potential here for lots of money. Alas, I don’t think Jungle Cruise will do that. It released at a bad timing, and the movie itself while fun is also meh. Like I’d recommend it if you’re a fan of Dwayne Johnson or Emily Blunt, but as for the movie itself… Maybe?

Games

Control (Revisited)

This game still remains my favorite third person action adventure game in the last decade. There is not one aspect that I would change after having replayed it for free courtesy of Epic Games, and paying for the season pass. Those two expansions were beautiful additions, that helped answer some questions and as always, give more. The world of Control is a place steeped in mystery, and with that comes the fear of the unknown. Are there monsters in the shadows? Of course there are! But thanks to the hard work and effort of the Federal Bureau of Control, the world remains a relatively safe place. As the newly appointed janitorial assistant, Jesse Faden, you – the player, must help eradicate the parasites that have infested the ever-shifting building.

You eventually arm yourself with the so called service weapon, a sentient entity that provides you with an array of different forms of weaponry. You can craft these possibilities at the safe points, designated “control points”, with materials gained from the enemies you defeat – former humans corrupted by the antagonistic force and otherworldly entities. You can eventually acquire paranormal abilities to aid you in your duties. The strongest by far being telekinesis – in fact, this second playthrough was remarkably easy thanks to that ability being the first one I apply all the skill points I can to. These points are gained from completing quests (main or side) and finding hidden areas.

Combat is crisp, quick, and unforgiving. Know your enemy and the game is easy. Coming into it blind, it is a terrifying experience. Wary, and full of tension, you get startled at every twist and corner. The fear of the unknown keeps your wits sharp. Coming into it a second time, it is an action game where I’m the terror come to cleanse these wicked things. To quote a familiar franchise, “Rip and Tear” which is exactly what happens every time enemies appear. Decimate their ranks to ash as fast as possible to get back to the juicy parts – to exploring the map and finding out more secrets and knowledge behind what makes the world of Control what it is. To help unmask some of the mystery.

On and on the Foundation goes.

There are two expansions added to the game, one taking place after the game ends titled the Foundation and the other linking the game, Alan Wake, more tightly and intrinsically into the world of Control which can be accessed after completion of a certain main quest mission. Both of these are tiny little masterpieces in their own rights, each telling a compelling story while adding more to the world and simultaneously deepening the want to know more. I am infinitely more excited to future works by Remedy Entertainment.

Another astonishing experience that I gained this time around was that I played on a PC capable of RTX. The graphics were stunning, and I was kept fully immersed into the simulation – sorry, game. The Bureau’s glass offices reflecting everything else around them, I had no choice but to forcibly slam Jesse through each so I could stop running into areas that I thought had treasure but were merely reflections. One time, in the expansion, I was scared in the dark, and I kept running into a wall because I thought there was a chest inside. When I returned to safety, I thoroughly disintegrated that wall of glass with my essentially rocket launcher mode. Point is, graphics merely supplement the already phenomenal story and gameplay. They don’t distract. You don’t go “wow, that was a pretty game, but the graphics was the only thing good about it. Why didn’t they spend more time with story or gameplay?” Control is an equal package of perfection.

If you haven’t played this game yet, I definitely recommend that you get around to it. It’s a harsh world, but the secrets contained within are worth the effort. And if you’re a fan of Poets of the Fall, you get to experience the wonders of their music within Control. Curious newcomers should check them out if interested.

Movies

Mortal Kombat (2021)

As is tradition with the Mortal Kombat movies, this one, like all predecessors, will have a terrible plot and execution but the fatalities will be glorious. And after viewing, this was precisely the case. I understand now why Warner Bros released the first 7 minutes on YouTube. That opening scene is the best fight of the entire movie.

Let me list the good in the movie before explaining the bad. The good parts are:

  • Fatalities: gruesome and what fans of the games wanted to see.
  • Character quips: in-line with the games, and well deserving of the characters.
  • Special effects: the budget clearly was spent mostly on this and it shows.
  • Camerawork: easy to follow along with the action and clear focus.
  • Costumes: great job at adapting the video game characters into real life.
  • Game References: fans will catch many of these and put a smile on their faces.

To address plot, which one doesn’t come to see with a Mortal Kombat movie, it is an incredible shame that this film decided to, once again, make it a set-up and prequel to the tournament. You can’t and shouldn’t call this movie Mortal Kombat if there’s no tournament. I would have called it something like “The Defenders of Earthrealm: Mortal Kombat Stories”. That makes better sense and helps diminish the disappointment when someone watches this movie expecting to finally see the tournament, for once.

What we got was a poor man’s attempt to put a coherent story for this franchise. Which is doubly shameful because the video games, especially the most recent MK11, have an actually decent plot. In fact, you’d be better off watching all the cutscenes of that on YouTube and you’d have seen a better told story. This film starts with a great scene between Hanzo Hasashi versus Sub-Zero and then jumps to a piss-poor MMA fight scene with our new protagonist Cole Young played by Lewis Tan. The actor here did a great job with what he had to work with. His martial arts background was clearly displayed, and it helped with the camerawork because there were no rapid cuts between stuntman and actor. Anyways, the story quickly develops into Cole on the run from Outworld assassins and on a journey to Lord Raiden’s temple. And then it simply stays there.

Enough on the plot, let’s talk about the fights. Some were enjoyable, others were a bore. Some were CGI fests and required even more suspension of reality – Goro would have killed his opponent with one punch, or the many that he threw in the barn would have ended them. I actually found myself reading stuff on my phone several times because the fights were merely fluff on the way to the fatalities.

Overall, it’s a fun watch for fans of the game. Kano is hilarious at quipping, and often references the game. The characters are worthy of their in-game counterparts. And as often stated, the fatalities are worth the price of admission. I didn’t talk much about the actors/actresses or the screenwriters because this is Mortal Kombat, and all people want to see is gruesome death and combat. Acting skills are of little importance as much of the movie is stunt work. This isn’t a movie you take to pad your resume, but rather because you wanted to have some fun. However, for the screenwriters, this is the opposite. This will not pad your resume in the slightest because the writing was banal and atrocious. Inserting game quips is not a testament to your skill. Lines such as: “How’d you get that?” – “He was born with it.” – “What do you mean?” – “It’s a birthmark.” This will forever cement one as a terrible screenwriter.

Mortal Kombat is available now on most streaming services and in theaters.

Movies

New Gods: Nehza Reborn

What a captivatingly strange movie! I had no idea what it was about going into it and after finishing watching it on Netflix, I must say I was pleasantly entertained. An epic story about God and Demons and reincarnation. From what I’ve gathered in looking it up, it is based upon the character of Nehza from the Ming Dynasty novel Investiture of the Gods. It is a 3D Chinese animated fantasy action adventure film directed by Zhao Zi and written by Mu Chuan. There is the option to watch it in English, but I always opt for the original language instead with English subtitles. The animation itself was fantastic, and well done. The computer graphics were amazing, and so were the many effects such as water, fire, and hair. All of it was incredibly well animated.

The story itself was pretty easy to understand despite going into it without knowing a thing. Basically, from my understanding, is that the story takes place 3000 years after the Ming Dynasty at which point humanity has devolved into a cyberpunk/steampunk world. Motorcycle races are held to captivate the hearts of those that are trying to survive in this trying world. One such racer, who becomes a champion at the start, Li Yunxiang is the protagonist of the story. When he encounters the greedy Ao Bing, who wants Li’s motorcycle for himself, that’s when everything explosively starts. Li is the reincarnation of the God Nezha, who is a God of fire. Ao Bing, is an ice God, and a dragon prince. His father is the main antagonist, the Dragon King of the East, who covets power above all else. There’s also a lot more but I’d rather you watch it than me telling you everything!

The action is on an epic level, with an awesome soundtrack to boot. Rock riffs and guitar during scenes of action, to melodic instrumentals during moments of philosophical teaching. A fusion of classic Asian instruments and music with modern takes, the soundtrack was a joy to hear and helped pump up the viewer when our protagonist is kicking ass. There is heart, sadness, and joy to be found, along with comical elements too – the character of The Masked Man provides this in ample shades. The voice acting was great, and the progression of the story elements was good. There was no moments of unfounded edits or cuts in the plot. What I did hate, and I’ve noticed is a staple of Chinese movies, is that animals are not respected at all, and are often killed to motivate a character to action. It is a cheap tactic to get the viewer invested and emotionally hurt. So I will spoil that for you, and warn you, that the animals do die.

Overall, it was a highly enjoyable spectacle and I do recommend watching this. I will be looking forward to the next installment with great interest.

Movies

Justice League: The Snyder Cut

Where does one begin with this 4 hour epic? Do we discuss the runtime? Ah, I know. The comparison to the theatrical release. The version that was, without a doubt, butchered by Joss Whedon. Reportedly he had reshoots for 75% of the film. The result was a complete tonal difference from Snyder’s vision, like a Batman the quips jokes in the face of danger. Then we had his misogyny at play when Flash clumsily fell on top of Wonder Woman and his face landed between her breasts. Just not a good time. So much character development was cut in favor of constantly moving the narrative forwards. Cyborg and Flash’s entire origins and personal growth were cut, and Flash was reduced to a side gimmick to deal with a Russian family while a major battle is happening.

Snyder’s vision is immediately restored in the opening credits with a dark scene unfolding showcasing Superman’s death from the previous movie, and the shockwave from his death cry cascading across the planet. It sets up purpose as to why these dimension hopping soldiers of destruction invade Earth. The stage is shown for how truly powerful Superman is. The fear he brings to his enemies. From there, the plot establishes each of the superheroes. Arthur Curry is a kind man who helps those in need and he’s idolized by those he helps. And true to his character, not yet grown, he is not beholden to the surface or the oceans. He is his own man. Wonder Woman is a force for good who is not scared of killing her enemies or those that wish to do harm. Nor is she afraid of brutalizing them in defense of the innocent while still inspiring young girls to be anything they aspire to.

The Flash is a young man, Barry Allen, who takes random jobs here and there to fund his tuition for being a criminal justice student. He does so in order to find a way to save his father from prison, for a crime he did not commit. Barry is lighthearted and full of empathy and wonder. His powers are showcased in a short scene in which he saves a young girl from a car accident. This scene helps establish who he is, and provides a feeling of an origin. Cyborg has his entire arc reinstated. A young man lost in the world, feeling like a monster and resenting his father’s choices. His mother dead in an accident and him left clinging to life. His father breaking every ethical and moral scientific law to save his son however he can. Both Flash and Cyborg are similar in that they yearn for their fathers. This feeling is easily identifiable with, and helps humanize these otherwise otherworldly characters.

The movie does a phenomenal job at bringing all these different characters together for a singular purpose of defending the planet. Each character has a soul to them, they feel fleshed out and not merely caricatures of the comic book characters they represent. They have depth, and growth in an arc. Even Batman! “Faith, Alfred. Faith.” A man who previously would take even the smallest chance that someone could be his enemy and acted on it, rather than having faith that they could be a force for good. Talk about a turnaround. Together, they save the planet from the villain Steppenwolf and we, the audience, have a blast watching this wild ride.

Steppenwolf has actual purpose this time around. He is no longer a creepy dude that calls those boxes “Mother.” He merely wants to get back into the good graces of his Master, Darkseid – A god of destruction and death from another dimension. To that end, he strives to find the three Mother Boxes and to reunite them to create a calamity known as the unity – a cataclysmic event to scorch the planet and purge it of all life. Therefore making way for Darkseid to come and claim his grand prize. Even Steppenwolf’s appearance is a huge step up, wearing armor that seemingly reacts to his thoughts. The theatrical cut feels like an afterthought of bad CGI.

The movie itself is presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio which gives the appearance of old cartoons. It invokes a similar feeling to watching animated shows on a Saturday morning. The score is heavy rock interspersed with each of the character’s themes. It gives weight to each battle, no matter how small and gets the blood pumping in anticipation. There are several scenes across the entire movie that serve no purpose in moving the narrative forwards but instill a sense of lore and weight for these characters. It helps establish and maintain the mythic feeling of several such as the Amazons or the Atlanteans.

Even Superman is changed, maybe not for the better but definitely more nuanced in that he’s a man (alien) reborn and thus no longer what he once was. This is even symbolized through the black costume he wears. He toys with his enemies and brings them extra agony than they would get normally. He’s got a bit of darkness in his heart and Lois Lane is the only thing that brings him back to the light.

There are plenty more references and nuances to be found within the movie that brings joy to fans, and continues to help establish this universe of superheroes. Overall, it’s a great and markedly improved version compared to the theatrical. It’s got heart, soul, and purpose. But is it what fans truly want of their childhood heroes? I’d say it’s not, but it is a great vision to have seen come to fruition. Zack Snyder definitely put his own twist on these characters and for this movie, it works. For the comic book characters that were represented, I’d say it’s a departure. That being said, did I enjoy the movie? Yes, I did. Despite its length, it held well. It had merits. It even set up the possibility for more. Would I want to see this reality explored further? No, I would not. Would I recommend this movie for fans of DC superheroes? Yes, I’d say definitely watch it and forget there ever was a theatrical cut.