A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 437 – Mortal Kombat: Annihilation

Mortal Kombat: Annihilation – May 11th, 2011

When my coworker printed out the list of DVDs her husband was getting rid of Andy and I went through it to pick titles. I’d marked some I was tentatively interested in, pending his approval (we don’t buy things without each other’s approval now – it’s better this way) and one was Mortal Kombat. I wasn’t sure if it was the one I’d seen or not but Andy confirmed that it wasn’t. But hey, why not, right? It’s got Christopher Lambert in it, after all, and it was only a couple of bucks. No big deal and we’d get a cheesy video game movie we hadn’t seen before. The thing is, when we opened the case and popped in the movie, it turned out to be the sequel. The case is for the first one, but the disc is the second. Which we have seen!

Back when I was in college I had friends who delighted in bad movies. Which fit well with my interests because I also delight in bad movies. I mean, they have to be a certain flavor of bad. There’s bad as in just plain horrible and not fun to watch. There’s bad as in poorly made. And there’s the sort of cheesy bad that crosses through into ridiculously fun to watch. The best examples I can think of for this type of movie are things like Dragon Wars and Sharks in Venice. They’re movies that are made both utterly seriously and thoroughly ridiculously at the same time. And this is one such movie, so a couple of my friends told me “Oh, we have to watch Mortal Kombat: Annihilation! It’s hilarious!” And so I grabbed it from work and we camped out in a friend’s dorm room and watched this and laughed ourselves sick. I’m fairly sure everyone else was drunk by the end. I wasn’t, since I don’t drink. But they were. I’m sure it just made the movie more amusing.

To be honest, I’d blocked out a huge chunk of this movie. Or maybe I’d just forgotten it. I wasn’t paying a ton of attention when I originally watched it. Cause, you know, it doesn’t command much in the way of attention. It’s a movie based on a fighting game. Consequently it’s pretty much a bit of plot that serves as an excuse for a ton of fight scenes. A ton of over the top fight scenes. With CGI dragons and hydras and robots and it’s just as silly as one might expect it to be. No wait, it’s sillier. So much sillier. I honestly don’t know if I can adequately describe the silliness without just telling people to go see it for themselves. It’s a combination of dated special effects, scenery chewing and characters who were originally meant to just look cool on a video game screen where they’d duke it out against each other.

Oh, there’s a semblance of a plot. The evil Shao Khan opens a bunch portals (bad ones, not fun ones like these) between realms and that’s bad and apparently will eventually destroy Earth. That’s super uncool and pisses off thunder god Raiden, who’s sort of a junior god here but never mind that for the moment. He talks to the Elder Gods, who tell him to reunite Princess Kitara with Queen Sindel and put Sindel’s soul to rest or something. I stopped paying attention. Basically what we’ve got is a plot that gives everyone an excuse to put the band back together and eventually face off with the bad guys. So off go the folks who started off with Raiden and didn’t get killed in the first scene. They split up, of course, because we have more opportunities for fights that way. Sonya Blade meets up with her old partner, Jax, who has big metal arms now. They fight some dudes. Liu Kang and Kitana fight some folks and Kitana gets kidnapped, then Liu Kang fights more, meets the mysterious Nightwolf, passes two out of three tests (I assume the third test was cut for budgetary reasons?) and ends up joining with Jade. Who of course will betray them all later.

It feels kind of pointless to even try and make the plot sound interesting. It’s not interesting. Evil dude and his team of evil super creatures/fighters threaten the Earth, good guys gather forces to defeat them. That’s about it! Oh, and Raiden gives up being a thunder god so he can be mortal and fight his brother. Oh, sorry, spoiler. Shao Khan is Raiden’s brother and they’re both sons of one of the Elder Gods and by setting up the whole thing their father is guilty of breaking the rules of combat – sorry, kombat – and there will be consequences. Or something. Mostly the consequences seem to be more fight scenes that ultimately culminate in some horribly dated CGI monsters that I think are supposed to be Raiden’s and Shao Khan’s animalistic forms. And then their father gets folded up into a box.

Whatever. The plot is so not the point. The point is the ridiculous characters, acting, dialogue, effects, fighting. Fighting. More fighting. And you know what? When you accept that the fighting is the point you can just sort of sit back and let the movie wash over you in a series of punches, kicks, leaps, dodges, ridiculous weapons (blade fans – oh, fighting games, I am appoint). I’ve got to say I do like Sonya. She’s given some good fights and her breasts never threaten to pop out of her shirt, which is pretty impressive. Actually, kudos to the costume folks on the boob wrangling front, since I don’t think any of the women in this movie are fighting in outfits that look as if they’re about to undergo massive structural failure the next time something bounces the wrong way. So I enjoy the fights. They’re fun. Especially when two former American Gladiators get to duke it out. Even if one does have horns and a big horse butt (cause he’s a centaur with a spiky tail).

Quick aside here: I have never been able to adequately explain this in my own head, but for some reason I obsessed over American Gladiators for a little while when I was a kid. I can still pick Tower and Nitro out of a lineup and I can still bitch and moan about the women’s gladiator names. The dudes get things like Sabre and Laser and Titan and the women got Lace? Lace? I always thought Tower was a meh sort of name and okay, Malibu is just straight up hilarious as a tough guy name. But Lace? Seriously. Come on. At least in this movie Malibu (Deron McBee) gets to be a bad ass as Motaro. Still gets his butt kicked by fellow former Gladiator, Lynn “Red” Williams as Jax, who gets the best and least stilted lines of the movie. So, score for him! Ten points!

There is something about this movie that just makes me crack up. I am a little sad that we didn’t get to see Christopher Lambert as Raiden tonight, but we did get to see a movie I enjoy (for whatever reason) and hadn’t seen in a while. We’ll have to go out and find an equally cheap copy of the first movie now, for the sake of completeness. But I doubt it will be able to live up to this movie’s cheesetastic glory. I mean, Lambert counts for a hell of a lot, but this movie has one of the Warriors (James Remar) as Raiden and two American Gladiators. How do you beat that? You don’t. You just don’t.

May 11, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 344 – Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time – February 7th, 2011

I was not looking forward to this movie. Granted, it’s a cheesy action movie based on a video game series I quite like, but I was not looking forward to it. In fact, I didn’t want to own it. I’m fairly sure I was vocal about not wanting to see it or own it before it even came out in theaters. It rubbed me the wrong way right from the beginning and yes, I blame the casting. It suffers from the same issues that plague The Last Airbender (and no, I won’t be watching that) and I know I said I had problems with it. And then one day I came home from work and Andy told me he’d bought it. We might have had words about that. And now we have a standing policy not to buy things without consulting each other first. When I grabbed a pile of movies for cheap at work I put them aside first, checked with Andy, and then paid for them. I think that’s a good policy, both for the collection and for our marital bliss.

All that being said, it was not as horrible as I expected. Of course, I went in with expectations about as high as a worm’s eye view, so that wasn’t hard. I can think of worse movies. I can think of worse movies in our collection. But that does not make this a good movie. Even the presence of two actors I quite enjoy isn’t enough to make this a good movie. Witty banter isn’t enough and pretty props and effects aren’t enough. It’s just plain not a good movie. And there were no spinning saw blades in the floors and the princess didn’t crawl through any cracks, so right there it fails as a movie of the video game for me. Were spinning blades in the floors too much to ask? I think not.

Part of the movie’s problem is that I just don’t buy Jake Gyllenhaal as the prince. He seems a nice enough actor, but I’ve always seen the prince in the games as a Han Solo sort of character. And to pull off that sort of character you have to ooze charm. You have to be so charismatic you could be loved and adored by the people you’re shooting. Or stabbing, as the case may be. And Gyllenhaal, well, he just seems to be a bit too serious. A bit too quiet. He just doesn’t do it for me. I haven’t seen too much with him yet, so I don’t want to speak to his abilities in other types of roles, but I don’t think he’s really the charming scoundrel type. He can’t pull off moments like selling a princess into slavery without making me want to slap him. That moment was really close to Beastmaster levels of disgust for me and there wasn’t enough survival-of-the-me snark to mitigate the grossness.

Gemma Arterton does a slightly better job with the banter and snark, which is nice. I mean, it’s kind of cool having a female lead who tricks the scoundrel male lead into feeling sorry for her before kicking his ass. That’s what I want from my Prince of Persia princess. Really, she outshines the prince whenever they’re on screen together. Can’t complain about that. And then there’s Ben Kingsley, who arrives on screen looking like he should have “Grand Vizzier” written on his hat in rhinestones. Oh, Ben Kingsley. You need to find some movies where you’re the good guy, or even a neutral guy. Or at least a better bad guy than this, bitter over being a king’s brother. Richard Coyle was the surprise here for me. I know him best as Jeff in the original Coupling series. Bizarre to see him so coherent, and I did enjoy seeing him do something so very different from what I know him from. Still, I wish it had been in something better than this.

The plot isn’t anything special. It’s your typical treason plot, with someone close to the king (they didn’t call him a grand vizier but come on – look at the beard!) plotting to take over the throne and setting up our hero to take the fall for it. We get some backstory, with the king adopting homeless orphan Dastan and making him the youngest of his three sons for some bizarre reason. The king’s brother tricks the three young princes to attack a fortified holy city so he can steal a magical dagger that contains the sands of time and which can be used to reverse up to a minute of time if needed. The king is killed, Dastan is blamed, he goes on the run with Princess Tamina, the ruler of the holy city, and together they have to try and keep the dagger out of the wrong hands while also stopping… the dagger from getting in the wrong hands. I mean, okay, Dastan knows he can’t let the bad guys get the dagger, right? So he takes the dagger with him when he heads back to the city where the bad guys are. Smart move, jackass.

There’s actually a whole plot in the movie where Dastan and Tamina head to a sanctuary in the middle of nowhere to try and dispose of the dagger by plunging it into the earth. Great idea, except one of Dastan’s brothers shows up (Garsiv, played by Toby Kebbell – and I must say I liked him, even if Andy is totally right and dude was pulling some major Karl Urban facial expressions) and then a bunch of hired hit men show up and it really feels like a climax. Sure, it’s not as showy as the real climax ended up being, but watching it, I realized there was another 36 minutes to go and kind of boggled. The movie lurches from action scene to action scene. There’s even a sandstorm. Saaaaaaandstoooooooorm. And no, that’s not the only MST3K reference that found its way into this movie for me. It is a movie perfect for riffing on (and yet RiffTrax hasn’t done it).

By the time the actual climax happens and there’s sand everywhere and time’s being reversed and then set going again and reversed again and so on and so forth I was so bored all I could do was snark about the lack of spinning blades. It was pretty obvious how it was going to go in the end, though I was amused to see that our hero had to subcontract a key part of the plan to another hero (the knife throwing Seso, played by Steve Toussaint about as well as one could play a role with so little to work with outside of action). It just left me feeling like with a budget like that, and material like the game(s), they could have done a better job. Frustrating, but there you have it. It didn’t grate on me as much as it could have, but it certainly wasn’t surprisingly good or anything. And seriously, if I’m ever a world leader, remind me not to have a grand vizier. Especially not one who looks like Ben Kingsley.

February 7, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

February 7, 2011

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

“Most people think time is like a river that flows fast and sure in one direction, but I have seen the face of time and I can tell you that they are wrong. Time is like and ocean in a storm.”

So begins one of the greatest video games of all time. A game which shares a title with this movie and very little else. The game is a near perfect blend of action, puzzles, and plot. It made you care about the characters of the nameless Prince and the rival princess Farah who is the only other person not corrupted when the sands of time are released. It has adventure, romance, magic and most of all a wonderful way of telling the story.

I remember seeing the previews for this in the theater and saying to my wife “we’re going to see that, right?” It was the same reaction I had when we saw the previews for the Clash of the Titans re-make. I knew this wouldn’t be as good as the source material, but I was curious to see how a truly great game would hold up when adapted into a summer blockbuster big budget movie. We didn’t end up seeing it the theaters though, and when I eventually bought the movie on DVD (at the same time that I bought Clash of the Titans in fact) Amanda was aghast that I would waste our money in such a way. Why, she wanted to know, did I keep buying movies I knew were going to be bad?

The fact of it is that this movie isn’t all bad. Oh, it can’t hold a candle to the writing and charm of the game it takes its name from, but it’s a passable if somewhat over long summer action flick. It has some fun fight scenes, a little wire work, and some acrobatics which, although they do not really capture the flow of action in the game, look kind of cool I suppose. I’d say it has two main flaws. For one there’s Jake Gyllenhaal. He makes a strange sort of action hero. He has the physique (he must have done a whole lot of push ups) but he doesn’t have the charm. Somebody made an effort to make him look like the Prince in the second PoP game. The one with the mopey, angsty, Trent Reznor inspired hero. And although there are quips for him to deliver in the movie they never seem to work. I would posit that the problem is that at heart Jake is a ham. He’d be more at home in some of the campier comedy inspired episodes of the Highlander TV series laughing it up with Adrian Paul. When he’s called upon to bring some intensity he just comes up short.

My other problem with the movie would be that it takes so long to get moving. It’s about forty minutes before the prince first uses the dagger of time to rewind. There’s a long preamble that introduces the slightly confusing royal family with the king, his evil brother (don’t deny that you knew from the very first time Ben Kingsley appeared on screen that he was evil) the king’s two biological sons and his adopted street urchin son Dastan (our hero ladies and gentlemen.) Then there’s an extremely long siege on a peaceful neighboring town where Dastan gets the dagger. And back to the capital of Persia (wherever that is in the confusing alterna-universe of this movie) where the king is assassinated and Dastan framed for it. All of that before we get any sands of time at all. I think that one thing this movie very much needed was a ruthless and creative editor. If your movie is about the manipulation of time then perhaps it should not be so ploddingly linear – and perhaps you should set a better pace from the outset.

I won’t say that I expected more from this movie. It delivered pretty much exactly what I saw in that preview in the movie theater. In the end though it doesn’t have a creative moment in the entire film (you know what would have been a cool and unexpected twist? If Ben Kingsley had turned out NOT to be the bad guy!) It borrows not just from the game but from the Disney Aladdin and the Indiana Jones movies. It is about half an hour longer than it needs to be. After watching the whole thing tonight I wanted to hold the ‘L’ button and re-do it. I leave you with another quote from the classic game this was based on: “Wait. That’s not how the story goes.”

February 7, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 28 – Resident Evil: Degeneration

Resident Evil: Degeneration – March 28, 2010

Well, nothing helps one unwind from a weekend of gaming convention like a direct-to-video, based-on-a-video-game animated zombie movie! Seriously, I’m in a post-con haze right now and the brain is not working at full capacity. I’m at maybe 3/4 power, max. But Resident Evil should wake me right up. I say this because I’ve had to stop watching Andy play the games because they started giving me nightmares where I’d hear that fucking chainsaw in the distance and run and run and run. Fun times. Maybe I’ll make him put in Katamari or something after the movie’s over.

My first impression: This looks exactly like the cut scenes in the games. I keep expecting to be instructed to hit a button to start the game or something.

Ah! And our floppy-haired hero has arrived. I am dead serious when I say this is like playing a game but you don’t get to control anything. The floppy-haired hero has just been given a mission: To go into the infected zone and rescue three civilians and a senator who have barricaded themselves in and given their location to a 911 operator. He’s got a little team with him and a map and a goal. And then later on, after the mission and another cut scene, there’s another goal and another mission. It’s a game without controls.

Now, here’s where I wax nostalgic about PAX East (yes, already): In his keynote address, Wil Wheaton talked about how when he had a 12 hour block of time alone at home with uncontested access to his home theater, he planned on watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy back to back to back. A noble goal! But instead, he pulled out Dragon Age: Origins and continued his game. The reason he gave was that he didn’t know how it would end. That’s the cool thing about a well-written video game. You get to make decisions that change how the story plays out. You get to change the ending. I swear, it was an amazing speech and I wish I could be half so eloquent. Hopefully he’ll post the entire text on his blog eventually and I can point to it.

Anyhow, the point I’m making is that the interactive stuff is a crucial difference between movies and video games. In a movie based on a video game, you’ve got to deal with that. This movie? Didn’t. I can’t say whether or not the game that could have been made from it would have been any good, but it would have been better than just sitting here and watching the plot play out without my input. It’s not made any better by the insertion of flashbacks from the actual videogames that the plot is based on.

Oh, yeah, there’s a plot. It’s pretty much every Resident Evil plot. There’s a virus that turns people into zombies and a big corporation that’s run by assholes and it might or might not be directly involved but it sure as hell has something to do with the mess. Our floppy-haired hero is a special agent who’s dealt with outbreaks of the zombie virus before and then there’s a woman who’s a civilian and also dealt with an outbreak. It’s complicated a tiny bit by a terrorist who lost his family in a prior outbreak who’s convinced the shady corporation has something to do with the virus, but really, it’s not that complicated. Terrorism’s bad, shady corporations that have illicit stores of zombie virus are bad, and zombies are bad. Oh, and never trust anyone with an accent that’s not American. What more do you need to know?

I really really wish there was game play in here. Because the story’s coherent, if predictable, and that would make for a decent plot if I didn’t always feel like the characters need a little help getting things done. I mean, the soldiers in the movie have to be told to shoot the zombies in the head! How the hell do they not know you’ve got to shoot zombies in the head? I expected this to be a lot worst than it was. I mean, it wasn’t good, but it wasn’t a slog like Advent Children. Still, hopefully tomorrow we’ll watch a real movie (instead of a prolonged cut scene) since PAX East is over now.

March 28, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 27 – Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children

Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children – March 27, 2010

I’m going to make a confession: I have never played or watched Andy play a Final Fantasy game. To be honest, most of the JRPGs I’ve watched have bored me. Endless repetitive grinding and then cut scenes that make me miss the grinding. So I don’t bother. Therefore, I had absolutely no clue what any of the backstory was for this movie.

Now, another confession: We watched this in multiple sittings. I’m giving us a pass on this, not because of the movie, but because of the weekend. Yesterday we had a block of time picked out for Stand By Me and tomorrow the con ends at 6pm so we’ll be home in the evening. Today we weren’t sure what the mid-afternoon to evening time would hold for us so we watched about half while we ate breakfast, some more while we were at home to feed the cats, then the rest this afternoon while we took a little break from the con. In the future? I think I’m going to have to insist on single viewings, especially for movies like this. It was hard to make myself pay attention to it after a break.

I will say, the movie is pretty. It is an hour and forty minutes of pretty. That being said, it definitely takes a trip to the uncanny valley. The characters are beautifully done, but they’re creepily reminiscent of a line of life-size dolls I wish I didn’t know existed. So overall, the pretty is beaten out but the creepy and the feeling that there’s a lot more story somewhere, and I’m not talking about the videogame.

See, the thing is, I watched an hour of it and felt totally lost. But I assumed I was totally lost because I didn’t know the game. So then when we took a break to head back to our home and the cats, Andy filled me in on some backstory for the main character (Cloud) and the world the movie is set in. And the result? Yeah, still pretty fuzzy on the details. There’s this guy, and he was a soldier (or actually, a SOLDIER, except he wasn’t, as Andy told me, except that doesn’t EVER come into play in the movie so whatever) and now he’s got these kids living with him but he’s never there I guess and there was obviously a big war or something and now lots of people are infected with some sort of plague or supernatural taint. And there’s a guy in a wheelchair who’s being all mysterious and manipulating stuff all over the place. And people want the soldier dude to come back and have a life, but he doesn’t want one, and the wheelchair guy wants him to fight for him but he won’t do that either. And then there are bad guys on bikes who want to take all the infected kids and do… something… I guess.

And then there’s the climax. It lasts for approximately an hour. It’s a series of boss fights, really. Just strung together with pauses in between for encouraging looks from the female lead and sometimes character introductions for people I might care about if I’d played the game but I didn’t so I don’t. They’re just set dressing for me.

Eventually, after the hour long climactic battle(s) the good guys win and the bad guys lose and it rains and everyone’s cured. Hooray!

What a slog.

March 27, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment