Month: June 2016

Mortal Kombat (1995)

Occasionally there will be a film every so often that is simply terrible, so mind-numbingly bad that turns out to be quite entertaining. Mortal Kombat is probably my first experience at a video game franchise made into a movie. This has become a more increasing theme with Warcraft, Angry Birds and Assassin’s Creed all reaching the silver screen. The most popular adaptation to date would probably be the Angelina Jolie-led Lara Croft films.

Being a Mortal Kombat film, one thing would be necessary to include, the characters, heroes and villains alike. It chooses to focus on Liu Kang (Robin Shou), Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby) and Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson-Sampras) as they fight against the Outworld for the fate of the Earth. It’s a basic boiled down story of good vs evil for the fate of an object, this case being the Earth.

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Under the guidance of Raiden (Christopher Lambert), Liu Kang, Cage and Sonya are set with the task of winning the tournament to save Earth being taken over by the Outworld. This is down to a set of rules that proposed if the Outworld won ten consecutive Mortal Kombats, they could gain control of the world.

This film is rife with what is expected, action-heavy sequences, upbeat technobeat music and of course, slow motion. The nineties really loved their slow motion scenes, and this goes double for Mortal Kombat. Even the little side jumps and front flips warrant a slow motion capture apparently. And I haven’t a clue what was happening with the soundtrack, parts of it was rightfully teasing the Mortal Kombat theme and downright upbeat enough to keep in time and tune with the action sequences, however there seem to be parts that wouldn’t go amiss in a nineties disco rave.

Although this film is adapted from a video game franchise, the success in writing the story without any background knowledge required is excellent. However, the rest of the story isn’t the most groundbreaking, as it carries all the other overused elements of a good vs evil story.

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Director Paul Anderson added in ‘easter eggs’ for the fans of the video game franchise. Apart from the really enjoyable theme throughout the film, there are certain catchphrases famous throughout the Mortal Kombat universe. Notably, Scorpions “Get over here” and unleashing this weird creature from his hand and Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) reciting the “Flawless Victory” and the ever-famous “Finish Him”.

Often when I’m watching a film, the script largely passes me by, however, I can still notice a bad script. Mortal Kombat is one of these cases. It was so painstakingly bad, I wasn’t expecting the drivel to pour out of the actors mouths as it did. The effects aren’t exactly the most eye-catching either, Prince Goro seems to be an enlarged version of a Gorgonite (The good toys from Small Soldiers). That’s not to mention the off-cue punches/kicks and the oh-so-obvious miniature scale models being destroyed instead of the life-sized buildings.

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If you think this sounds up your street, then the news gets even better. It holds on for an hour and forty before bowing out. Throughout the stomach-churning script, the easily-foreseeable story and the terrible-yet-homourous fight sequences, the film still remains entertaining to a good level. If anything, this film is a gem. Not often does a terrible film become entertaining and require rewatches. Somehow, Mortal Kombat does.

It’s perfect for a terrible movie night alongside Troll 2.

Contagion (2011)

If you are a serious germaphobe, then I would not recommend watching this film, as a side effect of this would be enhancing your germaphobic tendencies. (Or alternatively turning into one after)

Between the rather tense thrillers of Solaris and Side Effects, Steven Soderbergh carried on his theme with Contagion. Bolstered by the all-star cast, including Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law and Bryan Cranston all putting in a collective masterful performance.

Soderbergh chose to plunge us immediately into the story, as he begins at Day 2 of the pandemic. He builds this suspense and tension fantastically as he quickly hops from country to country and city to city including London, China and Minneapolis.

This is only helped tenfold by the music as it is perfectly crafted and catered to each scene, helping the suspense build in time with the increased spread of the pandemic and of course with the ever-rising infection rate.

Due to the story of Contagion, there was never going to be a massive need for special effects. Soderbergh instead chose to funnel the story through centralised stories, with the bulk of it taken on by Dr Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) and the CDC. (Centre for Disease Control)

Soderbergh’s containment of the story is one of the biggest strengths, as instead of jumping around the globe to the affected areas, he reveals what is needed to know. Although Laurence Fishburne is the primary driving force, key parts of the story are still helped through by Matt Damon and Marion Cotillard, and how they are being being affected by this disease.

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The continual suspense being buiilt is another of it’s biggest strengths, due to the second and triple guessing about the whodunnit element and who could in fact be the fatal patient zero. Although this film is pretty much a medical thriller, it still remains interesting. However, Soderbergh still offers a look into basic human instinct when everything goes to pot and the lengths humans will go to, to protect themselves and their families.

Soderbergh choice to focus on the interactions of people, whether that be handshakes, coughing in enclosed places or the handling of different things between people, only enhances this story. Now this is where the germaphobia begins to set in, as the characters onscreen begin to interact with things risking the chance of infection.

As the story wears on, it certainly doesn’t drag as it becomes interesting as we begin to see the lengths that Dr Cheever and his team go to when trying to halt the infection spreading and trying to find a vaccine. Laurence Fishburne assumes command of this story, but continually supported by a phenomenal cast.

Jude Law and Kate Winslet are infectious with their key performances to support Laurence. Jude as Alan Krumwiede, the fear inducing ‘truth’ reporter and Kate Winslet the field operative of the CDC, whom takes it upon herself to be on the front line and first defence.

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This film nearly becomes a complete perfect picture, however, the irregularities in the story just slightly let it down. Often I am all for open-ended endings, but Contagion does not fall into this bracket for me as I feel there are just far too many questions left to be answered.

But standing at around an hour and forty minutes, the film is of perfect length for viewing, as it doesn’t drag on too much, it rather just reveals enough information to keep us hooked. There are huge strengths to this film, including the cast and the soundtrack, but I feel the way the story told is actually is the biggest strength in this film. As I said, Soderbergh teases enough of the story to keep the audience hooked and in suspense whilst the story plays out over the pretty much perfect running time.

Once Upon a Time in the Midlands (2002)

Nothing of interest happens in the midlands, but Shane Meadows somehow found a way to tell a rather enjoyable story of love, robberies and a cowboy.

Much like Trainspotting this film is very much a working class story, but set in Nottingham. Jimmy (Robert Carlyle) wakes up in Glasgow, living in squalor, to see his sister appear on a show that could only be described as an early noughties Jeremy Kyle. A humiliation of rejected proposal is shown across the nation, as Dek (Rhys Ifans) proposes to Shirley (Shirley Henderson).

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Whilst Dek is being rejected, Jimmy is in cahoots with some Glaswegian bit-time crooks that have a knack for stealing the oddest cars going. The first being a stretch mini, the last being a truck with a boat attached to the back. The crooks target a group of clowns and steal a bag from them, in a scene that wouldn’t go amiss in the Arctic Monkey’s Flourescent Adolescent music video. Jimmy decides to take the bag and head for the hills, or rather Nottingham.

Arriving in Nottingham, with a bag that is full of cash, Jimmy has one goal. To win back the affections of his daughter, Marlene, and of course, the love of Shirley. Now from the usual love triangle when a child is involved, the returning competing father usually takes them on a whimsical day that is full of joy and over-consumption of father-daughter bonding scenes. Where does Jimmy take his daughter? To the pub.

By the way, this all stemmed from a relationship issue between Carol and Charlie, an estranged couple trying to mend their marriage via mainstream media.

Shane Meadows has excellently tapped into what families like this are actually like instead of vying for the perfect model family. He showed that typical families go to play bingo and spend nights down the local working men’s club to enjoy a boogie.

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The love triangle between Shirley, Dek and Jimmy envelopes this film, but also the Glaswegian crews come a-knocking for Jimmy, which also causes a ruckus. Ifans, Carlyle and Henderson all have that certain chemistry, but also anticipate the awkwardness perfectly between the three during well-timed scenes throughout the film. The rest of the cast backed up by Ricky Tomlinson and Kathy Burke creates the believable working class hero triumph throughout the film, and there is no better man to play the villain then the Glaswegian Prince Robert Carlyle.

I thought it was strange for Meadows to name his Midlands based tale, Once Upon a Time in the Midlands, however, all becomes clear over the course of the film. Apart from the obvious Midlands Cowboy Charlie (Ricky Tomlinson) the music that is teased throughout the film has that Western-tinge to it and of course the general story framework, of the hero and villain, Dek and Jimmy, respectively.

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Although I’m not entirely certain as to why Shane Meadows made a film regarding Nottingham and the Midlands as a whole, but I’m rather glad he did. Although the film has the romantic comedy story at the centre of it all, it doesn’t weigh to heavy on Once Upon a Time in the Midlands’ shoulders. Considering the onslaught of romantic comedies from the late 90s and early noughties being set in America or London, Meadows setting his in Nottingham is a refreshing change of pace. His choice to instil the comedic flair with Burke and Tomlinson was the correct choice, but also didn’t feel forced in anyway. Everything came natural and seemed natural, which I feel is one of the biggest triumphs of this film.