GHOSTBUSTERS (1984)

Ghostbusters is one of those films that has always been there in my life, even though it was officially released when I was only four years old. I do recall when it was released in theaters that my parents had gone to see it without me and my brother. And when they returned, my mother made it sound like a movie that we just absolutely could not watch. I couldn’t understand what could be so bad, so my imagination created a few things. In hindsight, I obviously know what scene got her all riled up. And to be fair, it is one of the oddest scenes in the flick. It feels like something that should have been left on the cutting room floor.

You know the one…

When I finally did get to see it, it was on ABCs Sunday Night Movie so edited for television and cropped all to hell. For the longest time, it was the only version of the film I knew and I watched it often. It wasn’t until I watched a snippet on VHS at a friend’s house that I realized what I was missing. The scene with the bookcase falling at the library was only presented to me as a close-up of Bill Murray. On VHS, it utilized pan and scan and showed Dan Aykroyd reacting to his questions, which obviously makes more sense! Despite that as a kid, I was there for the spectacle. As I got older, I began to truly appreciate the blend of comedy and horror. It shifts between terror and laughs without feeling jarring.

Before deep diving into what this film is, I thought it would be fun to talk about what it COULD have been. The idea for the film has always been Dan Aykroyd’s. While the base premise was always about three guys exterminating ghosts, the initial script Aykroyd had written took place in the future and in space. Furthermore, he had written the roles for himself, Eddie Murphy and John Belushi. Just those changes alone would have created an entirely different film, and that not even mentioning the script’s overtly serious tone. Doesn’t seem ideal for comedic actors in the lead but what do I know.

Obviously, this film never happened and by all accounts probably due to Belushi’s death. While I wouldn’t say it was directly responsible, Belushi was a beast all his own. You don’t recast a role meant for him. You have to change it. That was immediately obvious once Bill Murray came on board. Luckily, director Ivan Reitman suggested changes to make the concept a bit more grounded and even introduced Aykroyd to Harold Ramis who helped rewrite the film into what we all know and love.

And love it I do! This is one of those films that got better as I got older, truly appreciating the humor, the horror, acting… everything. Bill Murray is obviously the stand-out with some of the best lines in the film. When Ray asks, “Where do these stairs go?” Venkman responds, “They go up,” in the most serious tone. Classic. Harold Ramis playing Egon as seriously as he did also adds to the humor of that character. Fun fact: he never smiles once in this film. It does strike me odd that there was this undercut romance between Jeanine and Egon, especially considering how emotionless he feels. Probably why scenes were cut.

Ray is the lynchpin of the group, somewhere between knowledgeable nerd and loveable goof with a dash of paranormal pervert since he dreams of getting blown by a phantom. I know I was skirting the line earlier but it seemed like the time to bring it up. Winston is a character that feels very secondary in this film and it’s a shame considering he had a well-developed backstory. Unfortunately, that character development hinged on the casting of Eddie Murphy who decided to make Beverly Hills Cop instead. Murphy made the right choice. The filmmakers did not. Ernie Hudson was perfectly cast as Winston and should have been allowed to sink his teeth into the role he signed on for.

He made the right call.

Sigourney Weaver adds a level of balance to the film that helps keep it grounded. She isn’t a caricature and feels the most realistic. Rick Moranis as Louis Tulley feels like a no-brainer. Everything he does as the character is so spot-on. Hard to imagine that they ever wanted John Candy for this role. William Atherton plays Walter Peck to perfection. If you can make me hate your face when you’re just acting, you’ve done your job. And while John Belushi may not be in the movie, he’s there in spirit, literally and figuratively, in the guise of Slimer. It’s not apparent but when you see it, it’s obvious. Go watch Animal House and it will get you there.

I guess I can see a resemblance.

The story itself is pretty solid as well, despite a few questions I may have. The how and the why have always felt solid. But the appearance of the ghosts never felt fully explained. And look, it may not be important. But just one line could possibly explain why there was an uptick in supernatural activity all of a sudden. Sure, there’s the random occurrence here and there and certainly when the containment grid is shut down, but what was the sudden happening that triggered their busy days other than “end of days” or whatever. What triggered Gozer at that moment in time? We do get some decent exposition in the jail scene about Ivo Shandor and how Dana’s apartment building acts as a beacon of sorts. I don’t know. I feel like there’s one little piece missing.

I may have become a man this day…

And you can’t talk about this movie without mentioning the iconic single that was a huge single and probably the biggest one-hit wonders ever. And that’s not meant to be a slight to Ray Parker Jr. He crafted one hell of a song. One that surpassed the supposed 60 drafts that came across the desks of the bosses at Columbia. The song was #1 on the Billboard charts for three weeks straight and remained on the top 100 for 21 weeks. That’s unheard of today. And with every hit comes someone looking to collect. The song was so popular that fellow artist sued Ray Parker Jr. over the track, citing it was similar to Lewis’s own song “I Want a New Drug.” I personally don’t hear it and think he was sore for turning down the gig to write the song. But the lawsuit was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.

This happened…

Speaking of lawsuits, how about those first Ghost Busters? You know the classic characters Spencer, Tracy and their loveable ape Kong that were part of a live-action TV show produced in 1975 by Filmation? Memba?? You would think there would have been a lawsuit when you learn about this show’s existence. And if you dig in deep enough, it sounds like there should have been. Go check out the Movies That Made Us for a deeper dive into this. At the end of the day, Universal Studios sold the name to Columbia Pictures for $500,000 and 1% of the film’s profits, which somehow it made none. Simultaneously, no doubt to screw with us all, Filmation whips out an animated version of this original show right about the same time as the animated version we all know as “The Real Ghostbusters”. Which is ironic if you think about it.

Ghostbusters is one of those 80s classics that boggles the mind when you look back on it. Everything that works are things that weren’t planned from the start. What would the film have been if Harold Ramis didn’t play Egon? Or if the film had been an intergalactic horror flick? OR if the film had been called Ghoststoppers or Ghostsmashers? The film opened the same day as Gremlins if you can believe it! You never know what will become a classic of its day. But this film is a great example of all the right pieces coming together for the perfect picture.

MORTAL KOMBAT: THE GAMES

Mortal Kombat is a video game series that I’ve loved since I discovered it and the reasons have changed quite a bit over the years. My first exposure to the game was an arcade machine at a local Wal-Mart. It sat right there in the lobby on the way in, and I’m almost positive it was sitting there for a while before I actually paid attention to it. I’m not sure why I wasn’t initially curious about it. Perhaps I believed it to be a particular type of game that I had no interest in.

Eventually my best friend at the time came up to me in school and asked if I had played this game called Mortal Kombat. When I said “no,” he proceeded to describe a game that I was suddenly intrigued by. Blood in a video game? It was a concept that felt foreign to me.

A little history for those of you who might not know, there was a time where certain imagery and language was unacceptable in video games. In fact, if you were looking to see some form of depravity, you had to live in the dark realms of the PC space. A place that was much rarer back then since having a personal computer wasn’t commonplace. And even there it wasn’t as bad as I made it sound.

In 1992, Mortal Kombat along with two other controversial games, Night Trap and Lethal Enforcers, had decided to push the boundaries of what could be done in video games. And when those titles became known for their excessive violence, various parent and religious groups came after them calling for them to be banned which then led to government interference. Video game companies didn’t want the government messing in their business so they united and formed the ESRB, which like the MPAA, works to regulate and rate their products to clearly indicate what age group it’s suitable for.

Obviously, what twelve-year-old boy wouldn’t be intrigued by a video game with blood? But what makes it more intriguing than parents not wanting you to have it? I became obsessed with the first game even though I only owned the bloodless SNES version. Eventually, MKII came out and the SNES version had all the blood and guts. So it became my new favorite thing. So much so that I had every finishing move for every character committed to memory. I did have a game magazine that had them all listed, so it was just a matter of remembering what I read. If only I had been that focused in high school…

The obsession continued to MK3 and the introduction of Animalities just made it so much cooler for some reason. One of my first and favorite games on the N64 was Mortal Kombat Trilogy that featured every character from all 3 games into one package. It was a bit much and things were getting super ridiculous at this point. Friendships, babalities, “Toasty” but I was still enamored with it.

Now, I know many people hate on Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero but I kinda like it. Like I owned a copy of the N64 version and played through it several times, despite getting frustrated by the piss poor control scheme on numerous occasions. I think what intrigued me the most was the story. In fact, I actually went out and rented a PS1 version of the game so I could watch the live-action cut scenes. It was new for me at the time. Video games didn’t often have these back then. Yeah the acting is B-movie grade but I love it all the same.

When Mortal Kombat 4 came out, it seemed like something I’d never get to play since the magazine I was reading about it made it seem like the tech it used was beyond anything in the home market. Eventually it did release on N64 and of course I played the hell out of it. First time the series had voice acted cutscenes and it was as bad as you can imagine. This was typical of the time anyway. Just look at the original Resident Evil. While I could point to numerous moments in the game that are ludicrous. In fact, if you’ve ever heard some of the raw voice recordings for this game, you’ll hear some wild shit. However, there is only one that stands above it all: the Jarek scream.

Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance felt like it was trying to right the ship a little bit. Gone were all the ridiculous bits and the series was trying to shift to a more serious tone. And damn if it didn’t kick the game off showing it wasn’t messing around by not only having Shang Tsung and Quan Chi team up to kill Shao Kahn but also Liu Kang. This game also introduced the Krypt which added a bit of replay value. That is until you’ve found all the cool videos and stuff and all that remains are concept art. Plus, I also remember liking the song that was attached to this game called Immortal by Aedema or some shit. A very alternative metal band of the 2000s. The song is alright I guess.

There was a stretch of games here and after this that I barely remember or never played. Special Forces was a game I never played and heard sucked so I’m glad. I hate that I missed Shaolin Monks because I’ve heard great things about that. The next entries of the main series, Deception and Armageddon, must have fairly forgettable plots because I don’t remember what happens. Mortal Kombat vs. the DC Universe was a cool concept but it was never going to fly being neutered the way it was. The plot was… interesting to a point and I’ll leave it at that. The voice acting was way off though. Many of the characters were completely miscast.

The last three games released in the main series have been my absolute favorites: Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat X and Mortal Kombat 11. The writers for the reboot found a way to maintain the canon of the games while successfully rebooting the series in a new direction. Essentially the story in the game retells the events of the first three games, however certain events happen differently which changes everything for the long haul. You think that since we’re rebooting the series that Liu Kang would be back in form. But he’s dead by the end of this game. Furthermore, he’s killed by Raiden! Mind blown.

The cinematic nature of X and 11 makes them even better. In X, Raiden becomes corrupted by the power of Shinnok’s amulet then beheads Shinnok to keep him from being a threat since you can’t kill an elder god I guess. Plus, we get to see our characters evolve and even have kids. Then in 11, we’re introduced to the titan Kronika who is looking to reset the timeline completely and time travel allows us to see older versions of classic characters again. The banter between old Cage and new Cage was great. Then the Aftermath DLC added more story and gave Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa time to shine again as Shang Tsung and be a formidable villain. Plus, the ending gives way for a fresh start for the next entry in the series.

While on the subject of those games, the last two have really upped the ante in regards to fatalities. While some games in the series were limited to their capabilities, some games down the line just got straight lazy. The reboot attempted to step it up. The last two crushed it in every way imaginable with some fatalities that are straight up nasty. Trying to think of a favorite is difficult.

I also loved the inclusion of DLC characters that didn’t belong in the franchise. The reboot dabbled with the idea by adding Kratos from God of War and Freddy Krueger. X stepped it up by adding a bevy of amazing fighters like Leatherface, Alien, Predator and my all-time favorite Jason Voorhees. I got pretty good with him. 11 seemed to lean into 80s nostalgia with Rambo, Robocop and the Terminator. Cool additions but the horror icons feel more appropriate. That said, the fact they got Stallone and Peter Weller to voice Rambo and Robocop respectively was amazing. However, I still don’t know how the hell they got Schwarzenegger’s face but not his voice. What kind of shit is that?

While I’ve praised the series for the most part, I will say something I dislike comes from those behind the games. Netherrealm Studios has pulled some shady practices with the last game’s release. Now, follow me here: Mortal Kombat 11 released at the price of $59.99. The first Kombat pack costs $29.99 which gives you several DLC characters and skins.. Then the Aftermath DLC was an additional $39.99 which gives you an additional story mode and three new characters, one being Robocop. Finally a second Kombat pack for $14.99 that nets you three more characters, one being Rambo. All of this rounding out to close to $150 for one game. However, if you’re just now buying the game and get the Ultimate edition, you can have ALL of the aforementioned stuff for just $59.99. Tell me that’s not shady.

Additionally Netherrealm has been under fire for overworking their employees. Would you wanna work 80 hours a week? Plus, there have been reports of employees having various forms of PTSD after having to study graphic images of the human anatomy to accurately portray the fatalities. Doesn’t sound like fun to me. Something like this gives the series a black eye and makes it difficult to support. The programmers and writers (you know the creators) are the ones that make the game fantastic. The corporate heads are the ones that make it shit.

I’ve been trying to keep my thoughts condensed because I could go on about numerous little details I love about the series. But overall, I’ve been a fan from the beginning and if the series ended at 11, I would be equally disappointed and satisfied.

VHS: MEMORIES OF THE VIDEO STORE

This particular essay wasn’t part of Podcasters Assembled, but another podcast called Record All Monsters hosted by Robert Kelly who participated in the fourth season. Taking note that I clearly had an affinity for the characters as he did, he asked me to participate in a special episode of his podcast talking about our introduction to the King of Monsters. If you’re a fan of all things kaiju, give it a listen some time.

Like most of us, my love for kaiju movies stems back to my childhood. And while I am always looking for the most pure, pristine version of these films for my collection today, as a child, I was lucky to discover a new one I had never seen before. At the age I learned about Godzilla, the character had been featured in sixteen films. While Kong had been featured in some way in at least five, I probably only knew of two initially. Meanwhile, this doesn’t even get into films like Rodan, Mothra, Varan, Space Amoeba, and so many more that featured characters that I would be eager to learn about over the years.

I often struggle to remember what Godzilla film I saw first. Considering the timing of it all, I’m mostly confident it was Godzilla 1985. I have a deep fondness for the film and I have to believe it stems from being the first. Godzilla vs. Megalon has to be a close second. I know that I had a copy of it on VHS which was the first and only one I had for a long time. One of my cousins also had a copy but his was in a different slipcase which made it different enough to fascinate me for some reason.

That same cousin was how I first saw Godzilla vs. Gigan and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. I really dug the VHS cases of these films. If I’m not mistaken, these were reissued by New World Video with amazing cover art, both touting the message “All new! Never before seen on video!” There was one oddity though. For some reason, Nami, the Azumi Royal Family Princess who awakened King Caesar in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, was featured on the cover art of Godzilla vs. Gigan… twice. As in they took two different stills of her in different outfits and placed them side by side like they were the Shobijin from Mothra. It’s much stranger to me today than it was back then. In fact, I could have sworn there was at least one picture of her on the Mechagodzilla cover.

King Kong vs. Godzilla was probably the next one I stumbled upon while thumbing through tapes at a Kmart. I had to have been aware of King Kong because seeing the two of them together blew my mind. I know I had seen the original King Kong from 1933 first, followed by King Kong Lives not long after. I saw the 1976 version of King Kong after those two on TV, thoroughly confused why Kong’s roar was different than it was in Lives. Anyway, I had a copy of King Kong Lives on VHS, however it had been recorded by a family member off of a cable network like HBO. And the audio was quiet so you had to turn the TV up a bit to hear it properly. I kind of miss my old bootleg VHS collection…

While I was fairly loyal to my local video store, they didn’t really carry any old Godzilla films. Because of that, I was unaware how many existed. One day, we went to another video store one town over. A little bit bigger with a more expanded collection of films. Lo and behold in the sci-fi section sat Godzilla vs. Monster Zero. I was familiar with Ghidorah since he was in Godzilla vs. Gigan, but I had only seen a glimpse of Rodan in Godzilla vs. Megalon. So this was not only a new Godzilla movie but one with a monster I really haven’t seen before.

One weekend I went to a different video store in the same town with a friend of mine. We were looking for sleepover videos and I stumbled upon a title unknown to me: Son of Godzilla. I was immediately intrigued. HE HAD A SON?! HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?! This was probably one of the first films to make me question the series a bit. As a youngster, I didn’t quite have an appreciation for it like I do today. I didn’t despise it. Just confused by it all. Especially the donkey cries of Manilla. Imagine how confused I became once I saw Godzilla’s Revenge, also seen thanks to the aforementioned cousin.

Same goes for this one. Pretty sure this was the VHS my cousin owned.
I’m almost positive that the VHS case I first remember seeing was the third from the left, but I couldn’t find a picture of that case on its own so here we are…

Equally confusing to me was Godzilla Raids Again since the print I watched labeled the film Gigantis the Fire Monster. I had no idea how distribution rights worked at the time, so I wasn’t sure if this was supposed to be a Godzilla film or not. I mean, it LOOKED like Godzilla but most of the film he sounded like Anguirus which confused me more. But the Video Treasures cover art showed both Godzilla and Anguirus so it HAD to be right? US Distributors added more confusion into the mix with the additional titles, making me think I had discovered a new Godzilla film only to learn its one I had seen before. Titles like Godzilla on Monster Island, Godzilla vs. the Thing, and Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster were just a few to mislead me.

The only other film I’m pretty sure I saw around this time was Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, also released by Video Treasures. It’s cover art wasn’t as cool and it was the first time I noticed reused scenes since I first saw Godzilla fight Ebriah and the Giant Condor in Godzilla’s Revenge. Years later, when the TNT network began airing their Monstervision marathons, I saw a few familiar films being aired but it was my first opportunity to watch the original Godzilla. I didn’t appreciate it like I do today. Mainly because it was the original Japanese version and it was in black & white and whatever other excuse a teen like me could make.

Growing up in a time that was pre-internet, I had no idea how many films existed. Let alone that more were being made. The first time that I had some indication that other films existed was the NES game, Godzilla: Monster of Monsters. That game included a bevy of Toho kaiju I had never seen or heard of and would never discover their movies until I was grown. The SNES game Super Godzilla featured Battra and Mecha-King Ghidorah and the instruction booklet featured actual pictures from the movies, confirming these films existed which excited me. I would scour the video stores for them, not knowing the reasons I couldn’t find them.

My cousin and I did luck out eventually and found Godzilla vs. Biollante which had been released on home video in 1992. I think the only reason we even found it was because it was a Blockbuster Video. But it was so cool to see a new Godzilla film.

In 1998, with the release of Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla imminent, distributors decided to capitalize on it and fans like me were rewarded. While I did have one or two Godzilla films on VHS at the time, it was at this point that my collection grew significantly. Anchor Bay released a set of six with Godzilla vs. Megalon, Gigan, Mechagodzilla, Son of Godzilla, Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster which I had never seen and my absolute favorite Godzilla 1985. Now I had a copy to call my own that I still have to this day. Mainly because you can’t find it anywhere. That set BTW was really cool because when you displayed the cases together, it created the cover art to Godzilla 1985. Obviously, I bought a shelf for this.

Sony also jumped in and released never before seen Godzilla films from the 90s, Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, Mothra, Space Godzilla and Destoroyah. If my memory serves me correctly, it was a full year later before we got the release of Godzilla vs. Mechgodzilla II. Not sure why that was. I knew something was missing when I first saw Little Godzilla. My VHS collection quickly grew as I nabbed every Godzilla film that was being reissued. That was until DVD took hold, then the transition began.

I’ll always have fond memories of my VHS days. I believe my generation will be the last to truly discover films blindly. You looked at the case and if the cover art was cool, you hoped the movie was too. I love that I was able to discover Godzilla in this way. I was never overloaded with it. There was a thrill to discovering an all-new adventure and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

MORTAL KOMBAT LEGACY

I remember being somewhat intrigued by this idea when it was announced. At this point in time, Mortal Kombat had become somewhat stagnant. The game series had become convoluted and uninspired. There hadn’t been a film or TV project since Mortal Kombat Conquest, so sure I wanted some live-action combat. Wannabe director  Kevin Tancharoen (tankaron??) decided to make his own project with a little bit of money and some friends and Mortal Kombat Rebirth became an internet sensation. Wish it was that easy for the rest of us.

Looking back on it now and reflecting on the time it was released, I think the project was what I thought I wanted then but not what I want now. In a time that superhero films can portray our favorite characters without compromise, why would I want any other version but the truest one? There was this idea way back when that some things just couldn’t translate to screen properly, so we had to find a way to ground them or make them more realistic. Clearly, in this day and age, that’s not the case.

There are some interesting ideas here. Making Sonya and Jax detectives works more in-line with the concept. Baraka and Reptile having drastic changes in their backstory but finding ways to make a “realistic” version was cool. Raiden being locked away in a mental asylum was very intriguing, playing on the idea of whether or not he was who he said he was. An idea I would bet was lifted from Thor, since they released around the same time. But I could be wrong.

The show had decent enough talent. Michael Jai White as Jax is damn near perfect casting. Casper Van Dien was an inspired choice (if not unironic) for Johnny Cage. Mark Dacascos was great for Kung Lao. And the fact they got Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa to portray Shang Tsung shows how much he loved playing this character. If you think about it, he’s played three different versions of the same character. What other actor has done that?

The effects were great for a web series and the fight scenes were equally impressive. But it was a web series and I’m not all for watching a series like this in tidbits. I would have loved a legit series of this to allow characters and story arcs to be fleshed out more beyond seven minute vignettes. It’s a concept that could have worked wonders today seeing how everything is being transformed into bite-sized versions of itself. I never thought Tik Tok would survive but damn if the world didn’t prove me wrong. It’s gonna happen one day… you’ll see. Tik Tok original series.

Another thing the series had going against it was being on Machinima, which was a garbage-ass, click-bait YouTube channel that would post videos titles like “A third Mortal Kombat film in the works” question mark. Then you click on the video to get the scoop and they spend five minutes saying that there are rumors floating around that a film is happening but nothing confirmed. So essentially everything I just read in the video title. Assholes. So amazing how many other shows they had on their channel. Anyone remember that Terminator one? No? Neither do I.

This was a fun idea and I’m glad someone was able to get a career by remaking someone else’s work instead of making something original. That’s Hollywood in a nutshell. And yes I’m a little bitter.

Fun podcast art designed by the PodAss team!

MORTAL KOMBAT (2021)

Prospects of a new Mortal Kombat film had been bouncing around Hollywood for some time, but to no avail. Despite the name being a hot commodity, video game movies have a toxicity about them in the industry. Comic book movies used to be the same way. No one wanted to touch them. Mainly because most filmmakers and producers didn’t know how to approach them. They just thought they were silly kids books and that’s how they made them to be. In the case of video game movies, the running theme was to cram in whatever references from the game into the movie then work the story around it. Obviously this doesn’t work.

Eventually, more competent filmmakers started making better video game movies and the rate of good to bad began to shift. But even today, there are more bad than good and for that we can thank Uwe Boll. So, does the new film adaptation of Mortal Kombat tip the scales in favor of good or keep the bad weighted down? In my opinion, it’s better than most but not one of the best.

I had high hopes for this one. While this was the first big project for director Simon McQuoid, the fact that James Wan was attached to produce gave the film a bit of pedigree. However, considering how disjointed the film feels, I’m not sure how much he contributed to the final product. Or maybe I’m giving him too much credit.

My problem with this movie is a lack of a cohesive story. It starts off strong giving us the origins of Hanzo Hasashi and Bi-Han but then it slowly begins to fall apart as new elements are introduced. Sonya and Jax following leads based on clues they’ve found is a great idea. The kind of idea that would have been great to follow more than an entirely new character, especially considering the reason for that was to do it for the audience. That excuse worked for Monster Hunter. It doesn’t work here. There are too many characters in the lore of Mortal Kombat to not utilize them in some capacity to be the gateway for the audience. I don’t dislike the actor, nor did I dislike his performance. But his character becomes a problem for the narrative.

I liked that Liu Kang and Kung Lao were already training with Raiden, mainly because their fates are usually tied to the outcome of the tournament. However, we didn’t really have a tournament. Like a third of this movie was the training montage in a Rocky film. And I get that they need to train to unlock their arcana which is a clever way to involve their powers. But this is made uninteresting due to the way it’s handled. Kano has an eye power. Why? Jax’s metal arms become bigger. Why? Sonya gets rings. Why? It seems trivial to nitpick the power sets, but the writers never gave me a reason not to ask.

I liked that Shang Tsung was actively working to sabotage Earthrealm before the tournament. It makes sense that he would be doing this, making winning the tournament more difficult. And perhaps that’s a thread they should have pushed on more. Bring in more fighters, Shang Tsung and his goons wipe out quite a few, and leave the fate of Earthrealm to a handful of fighters that must now survive Mortal Kombat. And those survivors could be the ones he underestimated. I could see Johnny Cage fit that bit easily. Plus, since the tournament isn’t active, perhaps the “cheating” he was doing couldn’t necessarily be labeled that way. Mortal Kombat wasn’t happening so what rules was Shang actually breaking? They brought up these rules but like many other things, never followed up or through.

All of the actors played their characters well. The biggest standout was Josh Lawson as Kano. He stole the show and his smartass take would have clashed with a smartass Johnny Cage, so maybe write them differently? I don’t know. Just a thought. But again, he was a highlight. His fight with Reptile (was that Reptile? Had to be Reptile) was cool. Complete with Kano’s OG fatality. Max Huang was awesome as Kung Lao and I’m angry he died. He embodied that character straight out of the games and had the coolest fatality in the movie, bar none.

Hiroyuki Sanada was perfectly cast as Hanzo Hasashi but felt wasted in this movie. He really only had a chance to shine in the opening sequence, then the character of Scorpion was relegated to a glorified cameo at the end. I still don’t know why he had to have a descendant. Why was his bloodline so important? Little details could have made this story make sense.

For example, Hanzo Hansashi was destined to defeat Outworld forces in Mortal Kombat, so Shang Tsung hired Bi-Han to take him out. Sure, there was already a rivalry, but now why not make it interesting. Bi-Han is imbued with powers granted by Shang Tsung, explaining that detail. Bi-Han kills all of the Shirai Ryu thinking he’s severed the bloodline. Shang thinks he’s won and Earthrealm is a shoo-in. Enter Cole whatever years later and boom, prophecy is still on the table. But even still, I don’t like Cole.

Cole is the personification of studio executives sticking their opinions in movies they don’t understand. And anytime you hear that studios left the production alone and allowed the creatives to do their thing, it’s typically a damn good movie. And look I’m not saying it’s shit. Annihilation still holds that title. It’s problematic for many reasons films like this have fallen apart in the past. They are too concerned about building a world and planning for sequels that they forget to focus on the story at hand. Easter eggs are great and well placed ones can lead to something later. Great examples were Shinnok’s amulet in Raiden’s temple and Liu Kang referencing his former master Bo Rai Cho. These were little nuggets that rewarded fans while planting little seeds.

This film feels like pieces are missing and those missing pieces were replaced with pieces that look like they could fit but just don’t. One would hope that a sequel would help make this movie better but that’s part of the problem. A movie shouldn’t exist to make another one better. It needs to be able to stand on its own merits. Not a flawless victory for me despite some promising material.

MORTAL KOMBAT: SCORPION’S REVENGE

When this film was announced I was a mix of excited and confused. I was excited because the prospect of a well-animated Mortal Kombat feature that was rated R could be amazing. I was confused because by the time of its announcement. I was well-aware that a live-action reboot was in production so the timing of it all seemed odd. I know it’s not like they can’t exist simultaneously but still.

I’m a pretty big fan of animated films. I absolutely love all of the DC animated features so seeing that WB Animation was behind the project made me feel confident that it would at least look good. And for the most part it does. It’s not the smoothest animation with all the big budget finesse but I think it’s solid.

In regards to the narrative, it takes an interesting approach. Considering almost 30 years of lore had been fleshed out, the writers really honed in on the story they wanted to tell without trying to cram every character and reference it could find into the film. This is an approach I hope the new film takes as well.

The film focuses on Scorpion’s backstory and journey for redemption while weaving it into the premise of the first Mortal Kombat. It can’t be denied that the film borrows some of its structure from the original live-action film which I’m cool with. That movie is almost 25 years old, and I’m surprised it took this long for a reboot.

In regards to Scorpion, the narrative is mostly faithful to the source material. I say mostly only because it took at least four games for Hanzo Hasashi to learn who was responsible for the death of his family. But this film pulled no punches to the brutality of it all. And to be honest, I was surprised they showed his son die on-screen. I did read that they scaled back the death though. Apparently, they were going to show an icicle pierce through him but decided against it. And it’s not necessary. The scene is heartbreaking enough.

But the story essentially follows familiar beats of our three main heroes plus Raiden, albeit with a variation on their introduction. Joel McHale was made for Johnny Cage, at least the more arrogant version of the character. Not saying he could never do serious material but this version is him all the way. Jennifer Carpenter is good as Sonya, laying down a good tone of badass. Although I couldn’t say she brought anything unique to the table that elevated the character beyond that. The voice actors for Liu Kang and Raiden are fine. They are fairly stoic and one-dimensional, but the end of the film does set up what could be a sequel focused on Liu Kang.

Most of the cast is filled with lesser known voice actors but hearing Steve Blum voice Sub-Zero again was a nice treat. He was the voice for the character in Mortal Kombat X and 11 and he does a great job. Plus, Kevin Michael Richardson reprising his role as Goro once again! See? I told you he was awesome. And Goro gets to be responsible for Jax losing his arms which was a great twist. That would have been a good pun had he twisted the arms off, but alas he went for the pull method.

The fight scenes are done pretty well which should be expected in an animated feature since you can do anything. The gore is everything you ever wanted it to be. In fact, had this been live-action, I think the film would have been slapped with an NC-17 rating with this level of gore. The utilization of the X-ray moves was cool and can really only work in animation. It would either be distracting or ridiculous in live-action. At least in my opinion.

Some of the dialogue is eye-roll inducing but works all the same. One such example is Sonya’s line “fuck with the blade, you’re gonna get cut.” Like it’s so bad but lands for some reason. I did appreciate the myriad of Easter eggs throughout the film. The filmmakers knew they couldn’t touch on everything so they just tossed in little nuggets here and there which I appreciated. The “test you might” area in the dining hall was a nice wink. We got cameos from lesser known fighters like Nitara and Motaro. I’m almost positive the creature torturing Hanzo in the Netherrealm is Moloch from MK5, but I’ve not seen anything to officially confirm that. It looks like him.

This was a fun, breezy take on a familiar story and really makes me hope they look at doing more of these animated films. In fact, each film could take on a particular set of characters and games in the series. Since Scorpion, Sub-Zero and Quan-Chi have had the spotlight, let the next film focus on Liu Kang’s journey as the tournament moves to Outworld. The third could be about Kitana’s history with Shao Kahn, her mother, Mileena and so on as Kahn invades Earth. Just a suggestion I have that will hopefully come to fruition in some way.

MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION

(sigh) Where do I begin? Anytime I’ve approached a film on this show, I always try to remain a positive voice since I know most people will take care of the opposing side. However, finding anything positive to say about this film is harder than solving the Riemann hypothesis. So, unless hell freezes over, I too will be kicking the shit out of this film.

The Reimann Hypothesis… in case you were curious. Go ahead… read it… I don’t mind.

I watched this film in theaters on opening weekend and it was the very first time I walked out of a theater, feeling robbed. Like someone owed me my time and money back.

As soon as the movie gets started, you can tell something isn’t going to be right. Three actors from the first film have already bounced, replaced by bargain basement versions. And look, they may be great actors in their own right. I can say that I have enjoyed James Remar’s work in other films. But here… not so much. I think the only reason Robin Shou stayed on was because he didn’t have anything else going on. But I can’t confirm that. I wasn’t there. Same with Talisa Soto. Who knows? Sometimes you need a paycheck.

Then we see Shao Kahn for the film and (sigh) the moment I saw Brain Thompson, my expectations immediately dropped. He’s like the poster child for bad movies. I know he’s been in the rare one here and there, but 90% of his filmography is trash. Plus, after being treated to an amazing tease of Shao Kahn in the first film, this was far from the pay-off we were promised.

Also during this scene, you can immediately see the decrease in film quality. So much piss-poor green screen work. Then the costume designer looks like they raided the dumpster at a Party City somewhere. Like how do you have more money in your budget than last time, yet make your movie look significantly cheaper?

I’ll tell you how! You cram it to the brim with so much unnecessary shit! Like my god! There was a film producer sitting on the side lines somewhere saying, “Well, we gotta have this character and this character and this character  and this character because fans love them and we don’t want to upset the fans.” Well you failed because fans were plenty upset by this abortion.

While some characters with nothing to do at least felt like they had a purpose, others were down right shoved in with absolutely no explanation whatsoever. Case in point: Mileena. She comes out of nowhere and attacks Sonya, all for the sake of a fight. What makes it even worse is when Sonya looks at this masked individual and says, “Kitana?” She looks nothing like her! AT ALL! Furthermore, the filmmakers could have easily had Talisa Soto play this role since Mileena’s supposed to be a twin. At least one thing in this movie would have made sense.

And while this is a PG-13 film we obviously can’t have fatalities. The first film cleverly found a way around that which was cool. This film insteads to opt for one of the most ludicrous aspects in the games: the Animality. And I guess I should thank them for attempting to explain this soul searching journey Liu Kang must take to unlock his Animality but then you see it at the end of the film and wish to god you were blind. Furthermore, you can only hope to be blessed with a rock to the head in hopes of damaging your short-term memory, so you’ll never again be burdened with such memories. I guess we should be grateful they didn’t choose babalities.

I guess if there was one little sliver of something good in this film it would be Litefoot as Nightwolf. This dude looks like he walked straight out of the game and does a decent enough job with the material he’s given. It’s nothing more than a glorified cameo but at least it’s important to the story… whatever that is…

Honestly, I’m not even sure where to go from here. The movie is so damn incoherent that I don’t even know what to focus on next. Scorpion and Sub-Zero fight? Random, pointless, and makes zero sense. One could say “sub-zero” sense and that joke would be on par with this film. Liu Kang fights Jade for some reason. Baraka, I guess, shows up swinging on chains or something? I didn’t rewatch this film because I didn’t want to be angry for 90 minutes.

This movie is shite. Pure and simple. I honestly think that the filmmakers wrote up a budget of $30M, pocketed $20M of that then the rest went to the production. And I’m being generous when I say that. I don’t like this movie…at all.

MORTAL KOMBAT (1995)

For a teenager in the 90s, this movie was a big deal. The games were already a huge deal for me and many others like me, so seeing that a film was being made damn near broke my brain. Nevermind that it was PG-13. There was a MOVIE!

Remember kids! Video game movies were much rarer than that they are today. I think by this point there may have been 2 or 3. I know Super Mario Bros. was already out. I’m almost positive I saw the trailer for this film when I saw Street Fighter, but I could be wrong.. I also think there was a Double Dragon movie out around the same time. Those are all I can remember and I struggle to say positive things about them, so I’ll move along.

To me, Mortal Kombat is one of the best video game movie adaptations ever made. I could even argue that it still is. Obviously, films like Sonic the Hedgehog and Detective Pikachu are good films featuring video game characters. But could you say they are faithful adaptations of the material? I don’t think so.

Director Paul W.S. Anderson was fairly new at this point, having only directed one other movie prior to this. I didn’t know who he was. Although I could say I didn’t know many directors at the time. I was aware of a few. Anyway, I had no preconceived notions about what he would or wouldn’t do wrong here. Now, after his string of Resident Evil films, I’m a harsher critic of his. That said, I did dig Monster Hunter so the guy is hit and miss for me.

At this point in time, there wasn’t much to the story of Mortal Kombat like there is today. So sticking to the basics of fighters competing in a tournament to protect their world wasn’t difficult. And they chose not to complicate it either. Which is great for this film because it’s all you really needed. Just lay the groundwork.

One thing that can ruin a good plot is bad actors. While I can’t say the entire cast crushes it, none of them are terrible. Robin Shou who was fairly unknown before this flick does just fine as Liu Kang. Linden Ashby might not look the part of Johnny Cage (at least in my mind) but he’s great. Bridgette Wilson is fine. That’s all I can muster for her. Trevor Goodard is clearly having fun as Kano, which is bittersweet when you are reminded that he died of a drug overdose in 2004… don’t mean to bring the room down. Just pointing out factual information.

And while I know everyone will be tearing the Goro puppet three extra assholes, at least recognize Kevin Michael Richardson for doing an outstanding job voicing him. You all know that guy! Even if you don’t, you do. Oh and Frank Welker essentially doing Inspector Gadget villain Dr. Claw for Shao Kahn is funny but works all the same.

But the two stand-outs here are Christopher Lambert and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, with the latter being the most memorable. Christopher Lambert does fine but his French accent fumbles over a line or two. Tagawa chews scenery and elevates the movie to another level. Much like Frank Langella did as Skeletor in Masters of the Universe but that’s a whole other topic. I was truly excited to see Tagawa return to the role in Mortal Kombat 11 and really be able to do so much more with the character. I would have said the same about the other actors… but… well, meh.

The martial arts in the film are alright. For some people, this could seem like the best fight scenes ever and perhaps I thought so as well when I was 15. However, once you’ve seen legit fight scenes coming straight out of Hong Kong cinema, everything else pales in comparison. But I’m not knocking them.

The Liu Kang/Sub-Zero fight was pretty cool. I always loved that backflip Sub-Zero pulled over Liu Kang’s head. The Johnny Cage/Scorpion fight was pretty intense, although it does go off the rails a bit when they teleport to Scorpion’s domain. Just an odd choice to make mid-fight, I guess. Then as random as it feels to just happen out of nowhere, the fight between Liu Kang and Reptile is pretty badass too. I’m not sure how everyone else feels about it, but I’ve always loved the use of the video game audio when Reptile was fully formed. Always felt proper to me for some reason… like I would have made that choice too.

The special effects in the movie have not aged well, but I’m pretty sure they were impressive enough back in 1995. A few hold up here and there like Sub-Zero’s ice powers. And look while I can admit that Goro’s design is flawed, I really don’t know how else they could have pulled this character off any better back then. CG wasn’t good enough for a fully formed character. Just look at Scorpion’s hand parasite thing. Seriously what the hell was that?

I appreciated the film not trying to cram as many video game references into the movie as they could have. Another film made that mistake and we’ll talk about that NEXT time. As disappointing as it was not getting to see Scorpion and Sub-Zero go at it, at least they made a passing reference to their history and why they aren’t fighting each other.

And the film wouldn’t be the same without the signature theme Techno Syndrome. It’s bizarre that this particular tune has persisted after all this time. That whole Mortal Kombat album felt like nothing more than a quick cash grab but somehow that tune rose above it all. It is catchy though. You can’t help but yell “Mortal Kombat” when it starts.

Overall, I felt this movie did a respectable job in translating the source material without deviating so much that it feels foreign or adhering so much to it that it isn’t a coherent flick. Too bad that lesson wasn’t remembered the second time around.

THE BEST AND WORST OF GODZILLA & KONG

Tackling this subject is not a simple task for me. I am 100% unapologetically a defender of any and all things Godzilla and Kong. When people decide to shit talk any of these movies, I immediately get defensive of them. I think it boils down to so many positive connections I have with them stemming since childhood. They’re like a warm blanket. That said, I can recognize the low points in each series. I’m not blind to them.

But for me to narrow it down will be damn near impossible. So I’ll do my best to keep it simple.

King Kong Escapes is hard for me to watch but I still try. If you thought Kong’s suit in King Kong vs. Godzilla was bad, then this one will destroy your brain. Funny story: as a kid, I loved the concept of Mechagodzilla and at one point thought it would be cool if there was a movie where King Kong fought Mecha King Kong. Little did I know Mechani-kong predated Mechgodzilla by seven years. Imagine my surprise when I saw this flick for the first time.

To build off of that, I can find joy in any Kong movie. Son of Kong? It’s barely an hour long and just fine. Kong 76? Dig it! King Kong Lives? I consider it a hidden gem and will defend it till my death! I love me some Kong.

Godzilla vs. Hedorah (aka the Smog Monster) is one that I’ve grown to appreciate over time but would definitely consider it one of the lowest points of the series. The concept is noble in a way. Our hero Godzilla is fighting the personification of pollution, which is somewhat ironic when you think about it. Plus, it was attempting to send a message much like the original film was but did it in a sillier fashion because that’s where the series was at the time. Once Godzilla flew, I was like, “Well I’ve seen it all now.”

You really can’t go wrong with any of Godzilla’s Showa era stuff which, for those who don’t know the term, is any film in the series made between 1954 to 1978. So many solid flicks that range from social commentary to satire to plain old sci-fi fun. Then we have classic monsters like Mothra, Rodan, Anguirus, Ghidorah, Gigan, Megalon, King Caesar and Mechgodzilla just to name a few of my favorites.

Probably one of my all time favorite Godzilla films is The Return of Godzilla aka Godzilla 1985. This was one of my earliest introductions to the character and I loved it so much. As a kid, I would cry at the ending. So angry that he was killed. SPOILER ALERT: He returns again 4 years later alive and well. Anyway, this was a menacing Godzilla. He felt like a genuine threat and looked the part as well. I love the score of this film. I love the alteration on Godzilla’s roar which sounds much more sinister.

It’s a much darker take on the character that had not been done for decades and I dig the hell out of it. I know some people prefer the lighter “Godzilla is the hero” stuff but this is my preference. In fact all of Godzilla in the Heisei era (basically all of the films in the 80s and 90s) is my preferred take on the character. 

I dig every iteration of Mechgodzilla. I love the idea of Spacegodzilla. Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Attack of the Giant Monsters from 2001 is my favorite Millennium era film. Godzilla’s Final Wars design is my least favorite although the movie rocks overall.

And finally, Shin Godzilla is an underrated masterpiece.

GODZILLA VS. KONG

There was a time that I thought I’d never see this film. After numerous rights issues preventing a new crossover to the multiple delays that came once the film had been completed, the road to seeing the movie felt like a journey in its own right.  But we finally got it and despite some issues the film has, I believe it was worth it.

I watched the film on opening day on HBO Max, which is not where I wanted to watch it but where it was convenient for me to watch it. And while it may not have been a full theater experience, I did my best to replicate it. My first viewing experience left me unsure how I felt, mainly because of a bias that I’ve been spouting on here for weeks. After a week had passed, I watched it again with no expectations of anything and found myself coming out the other side more fulfilled.

The plot of this flick is pretty straight-forward and honestly I appreciate that. No need to complicate a movie that explicitly states a fight is going down in the title. Godzilla’s rampaging and we don’t know why, although it’s fairly obvious when you see he’s targeting a specific facility. Even if you don’t know the exact reason why, deducing that Apex is up to no good is not hard. 

Conversely, Kong is contained on Skull Island for what I would assume is his protection, although that reason feels muddles considering Godzilla and Kong have existed simultaneously for decades and never once did Godzilla seek him out, so why didn’t he come after him before and why would they need to protect him now? All we’re told is it’s due to an ancient rivalry which sounds cool BUT never explained.

But then Kong is needed to lead a team to the Hollow Earth because it could reveal a new power source for Apex. See? Not hard to deduce. Obviously for reasons previously stated, getting Kong to the entrance will be problematic. But they ultimately succeed and Kong gets to explore the Hollow Earth before his big showdown with Godzilla. See? Simple enough.

Some of my issues with this film stem from there being little to no follow through with the entirety of the Monsterverse franchise. There have been very few characters that have overlapped in these films and, in my opinion, only one felt like they were developed beyond one movie. That character being Dr. Serizawa. However, there was a character in this film named Serizawa who seemingly had an initial interest in Gojira at the beginning but then he was nothing more than a lackey for Apex. Was this supposed to be someone related to Dr. Serizawa? If so, how and why are they working against Gojira? But perhaps he’s not. Just another guy in the world with that surname. Odd choice for a writer to make though. I don’t know. This felt like an undeveloped plot thread.

The return of Madison Russell and her father Mark was nice to see but did not feel necessary. Their presence changed nothing. Madison claiming that she knows Godzilla wouldn’t act this way could fall to anyone in Monarch, even Mark despite his previous feelings towards him. And everything she and her friends do throughout the movie is nothing more than exposition for us as an audience. They do nothing to move the plot in any way. That said, Brian Tyree Henry and Julian Dennison are both entertaining as always.

For me, the biggest misstep here would be the character of Nathan Lind played by Alexander Skarsgård. While I have no issue with him or his character, the character that SHOULD have been here is Houston Brooks from Kong: Skull Island. He was the man behind the Hollow Earth theory AND worked for Monarch AND was last seen in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, so why not have him appear here to finally SEE what he theorized for decades? This was a missed opportunity to tie together these films in a much more cohesive manner.

And while we’re talking about the Hollow Earth, this is something that needs to be fleshed out in a future installment. You can’t introduce a Journey to the Center of the Earth style world with famous kaiju and not explore it fully. Especially when there is a clear history of something going on down there! Hell, this could be a prime opportunity to introduce other unseen kaiju from Toho. Gorosaurus would be a great call back to King Kong Escapes. Maybe some other lesser knowns like Varan or Baragon. Hell why not someone like Gamera. Nab the American film rights to him and finally get him and Godzilla to clash! That’s how they pulled this off!

To digress for a moment, one complaint I’ve heard about the film is its leaps in technology and logic. How we go from the grounded element of the 2014 film to the portal jumping of this film. I want to point out once again that this is not unheard of in Godzilla films. By the 5th film entry of the Showa era, they were dealing with aliens and crossing film franchises. Be like Elsa and let it go.

Xiliens from Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

I guess the human characters I do enjoy would be Dr. Andrews and Jia. Since they are the connection to Kong, they feel necessary and I like that they are protective of him. Plus, having Kong be able to sign was a nice addition that felt like proper growth for the character. And let’s talk about the monsters because that’s why we all came here.

First, we get to see a Skull Crawler again which I was so excited to see. Being used as a tool for an Apex training exercise was a clever way to use them. Then we get some winged vipers (whose name I don’t know) in the Hollow Earth. Seeing that creature reminded me of a design I had for a character years ago where I crossed elements of a snake and a spider. Obviously this leans more towards a cobra with dragon-like wings but still it’s an uncanny resemblance.

Then what should have been the biggest surprise but wasn’t because we all literally knew it was coming: Mechagodzilla. The design is good, although I would say the take in Ready Player One is my preferred conception  if we’re comparing Americanized versions. I get the design here though. It works. And they made it a force to be reckoned with, just as it was in the Japanese iterations. My only gripe is that it should have come close to killing Godzilla, like putting him on his last legs like Godzilla did to Kong… yeah I gotta talk about that.

First things first, Both Godzilla and Kong are handled with care. Nothing about either of them feels uncharacteristic. Godzilla is a force of nature reacting to a threat he is sensing. He senses Ghidorah and when you learn that, it makes sense as to why he’s being extremely aggressive in his search. This was a major threat that damn near wiped out the world. I did like the idea that Ghidorah “possessed” Mechagodzilla so, in a way, Godzilla was facing two of his biggest nemeses in one form!

Kong is more relatable because of the emotions you get from him. And when they clash? We get some real fights that don’t feel cheap or rushed. When Godzilla attacked at sea, I knew Kong was in trouble from the start. This is Godzilla’s domain. This wasn’t a fight he could easily come out on top of. Then when they meet in Hong Kong, Kong puts his newly found axe to good use and gives Godzilla an grade-A ass whoopin’! But ultimately, Godzilla gets the upper hand and forces Kong to submit but not willingly.

I will openly admit that when that scene played out, I was upset. Even my wife looked over at me and said, “you are so pissed right now, aren’t you?” Having time to reflect, I agree that it was the right decision to make. Godzilla is more powerful and I’ve never once not believed that. My stance was always standing by the underdog. I despise people who instantly dismiss those they deem to be weaker and then proceed to rag on them while pumping up their big champion. It comes off arrogant and bullyish. And I can’t stand a bully.

Kong gave as good as he got and, in the end, I think Godzilla respected him. They both knew who the alpha was but Godzilla can acknowledge strength all the same. He saw Kong take down Mechagodzilla and game recognizes game. Then the ending gives way to an approach to both franchises continuing without having to worry about crossovers. Godzilla rules the Earth. Kong rules the Hollow Earth. Saying that aloud almost sounds like he got the second place trophy.

There were some nice callbacks to the original film like Kong’s airlift, the tree in the mouth gag, and even Kong being revived with electricity. If there were any more than that, then I must have missed them upon both viewings.

All in all, the film delivered on its promise of a throwdown and none of the monster action was obscured or in the dark. It even ends in a way that leaves the door open to a variety of possibilities for future installments without setting a direct path forward. I hope we get to see Godzilla and Kong again in this universe whether it’s separate adventures or together. I think I will always have more of a fondness for the original Japanese films, but I believe my fondness for these films will also grow over time.