Director: Robert Schwentke
Studio: Paramount Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG 13
No ninjas can stop all the spoilers!
The origin story of the notoriously silent G.I. Joe ninja loner, Snake Eyes (Henry Golding).
Inevitably, we begin our journey with Snakey as a nameless son, hiding out with his Father (Steven Allerick) in a sort of self-imposed witness protection. After a few moments of father-son bonding in the woods, this idyllic life is shattered when the bad guys come and execute his Father in a rather Cobra style, complete with dice-rolling and the pronouncement of, “Snake eyes – you lose!”
A flurry of kicks and punches later, we catch up with young man Snakey, engaging in cage-fights with Yakuza, being recruited by Yakuza boss Kenta (Takehiro Hira) to smuggle things into Los Angeles, and in general well on his merry way to getting himself killed for underworld interference, just like his Father. He’s even taken the name of his Father’s killer – Snake Eyes. And while it makes sense to have an animal predator name when trying to move through the Asian gangster world, it takes a special kind of psycho to take the name of your father’s murderer while you work on becoming strong enough to take them out.
After a botched execution command and a rather improbable save through a horde of Yakuza and cage fighters, Snakey makes the acquaintance of Tommy Arashikage (Andrew Koji), the heir apparent of the Arashikage ninja clan. And nothing would do but for Tommy to take Snakey back to the Arashikage clan compound and insist on having Snakey go through several trials to prove his worthiness of joining the Arashikage clan and becoming a ninja!
Or it would be if Snakey didn’t have the inevitable ulterior motives. As it turns out, minor spoilers that frankly we knew damn well were coming but anyway here we go, Snake Eyes is actually working for Kenta to take out the gemstone power source of the Arashikage ninja clan from within, and if he can manage that Kenta has promised him the name of his fathers killer. … Because everything Snakey has learned about the underworld being honorable so far still holds true, right? Right?!
About here we will begin dropping amusing anecdotes, things we’ve learned from watching ‘Snake Eyes’ already:
#1 Ninja are more honorable than Yakuza. At least, they think so.
#2 Everyone in Japan carries a sword apparently, openly, on the street, it’s like the necessary umbrella only much more deadly.
Here is also where we pause for reflection, as Snakey begins his testing to prove his body and mind worthy of becoming a ninja of the Arashikage clan, aided and goaded on often at the same time by the likes of Blind Master (Peter Mensah) and Hard Master (Iko Uwais). Those of us who knew and loved the G.I. Joe cartoons when we were young, or even liked the slapsticky live-action films that came out years back, know that Tommy Arashikage is destined to become Storm Shadow, one of Cobras’ elite warriors and Snake Eyes’ own personal nemesis. So this entire montage of anticipatory training and then testing in the Arashikage family compound is, while visually striking and even amusing to watch, an exercise in futility. And the three giant CGI anacondas guarding the Arashikage family treasure, the gemstone of power, that Snakey has to beat somehow or another, are a gleeful hop and a skip far past ridiculousness.
#3 Because if an ancient ninja clan is going to have a giant terrifying freaking anaconda snake as a test, might as well go whole-hog and have not one but three!
So Snakey has managed to throw everything into chaos, steal the gemstone of power of the Arashikage clan with the intention of giving it over to Kenta and, unbeknownst to him, the entire Cobra bad guy collective. Looks like it’s time for yet another improbable save and new-info-dump from everyone’s favorite lady Joe, Agent Scarlett (Samara Weaving)! And of course, the bad guys are consolidating their power with the dubious help of Cobra, which means introducing yet another beloved female character of the ‘G.I. Joe’ universe, that black bodysuit-wearing Cobra femme fatale known only as the Baroness (Ursula Corbero)!
#4 How could you guys do that to the Baroness’ hair? How?! It’s like her signature mane has been chopped short with a chainsaw and shellacked into not moving – ever!
Lots and lots of beautifully choreographed fighting ensues, aided by legendary ‘The Raid’ star Iko Uwais and Japan’s heavyweight stunt coordinator, Kenji Tanikagi, and that turns out to be one of the films saving graces. (It sure isn’t the convoluted and gaping-holed plot.) The interactions between Snakey and Tommy, as they both struggle for a place to hold their own, whether it’s the long ancient history of the Arashikage clans ascension or the fairly constant if the nagging presence of the long-standing counter-terrorism unit G.I. Joes and their enemies the Cobra collective, affecting Snakey’s entire family without realizing it, demonstrate the crushing weight of familial expectations and the common desire to break free. The trouble that neither Tommy nor Snakey want to acknowledge, is that some problems can’t actually be solved by gorgeously beating the snot out of it!
#5 BTW, Samara Weaving as Scarlett was a bomb choice, and she kicks serious ass for the few moments she’s sporadically on-screen when she’s not being used as a plot-drive clue-x4 device.
For a supposed soft reboot of the entire ‘G.I. Joe’ film universe, ‘Snake Eyes’ told as an origin story, present-tense explanatory break and even future presence is fraught with storytelling misses, plot holes, and “you’d automatically know this stuff if you were a real fan” moments, but, it is wonderfully shot and the fight scenes, of which there are a plethora of styles and gloriously cheeky moments, are great fun to watch!
Midnight Mass: The Blood of Life
The isolated island community of Crockett receives a mysterious new head priest, full of secrets and a brand new testament under a very unusual Messenger of God.
Meet poor Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford), freshly released from prison and wracked with guilt over what got him there, a stupid drinking accident that caused the death of his ex-girlfriend. The last thing he wants to do is go back to Crockett and the judgment of the mostly religious community there, his disappointed family, and the nightmares of his ex’s death that plague him. But where else would have him? Resignedly on the ferry, he goes.
Riley’s dad Ed (Henry Thomas) isn’t the kind of man who talks very much at all, much less about his feelings, or his very real disappointment in his elder son. Riley’s teen brother Warren (Igby Rigney) has no idea what to say to him either, and just generally keeps mum. Riley’s mom Annie (Kristin Lehman) is accepting and loving, hesitant in how to help her eldest son but never wavering in her faith in the help of our lord Jesus. Mom seems to think a good heaping dose of the Church would set Riley right but is surprised to learn that the old priest of the Parish, Pruitt, has taken an extended leave of absence from the island, and his newcomer replacement Father Paul (Hamish Linklater) is young, charismatic, and bursting at the seams to tell the whole island about the gifts he brought them, most especially what he claims as a new testament under a messenger of God.
We’ll get back to that whole ball of issues in a moment, the other interesting characters of Crockett Island. Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan) is the nightmarish overly polite and gently, almost lovingly condescending neighbor Christian woman you’ve ever loathed, the kind of person who explains away every last thing her Church may do wrong or contradictory because, after all, God works in mysterious ways. Pfft. Of course, Bev immediately ingratiates herself as the second to the new Father Paul in their services and is the first to start covering up his transgressions as they become more rampant.
Newcomers to Crockett Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli) and his son Ali (Rahul Abburi) present a burgeoning problem to the plans of Father Paul and his shadowy companion, for they are both practicing Muslims. The practical side of investigating these so-called ‘miracles’ and strange happenings falls on Hassan’s shoulders, as he already struggles with barely-concealed racism and suspicion from his fellow islanders, and of course his son is being wooed away from him by the promise of actual, tangible miracles, but from a different whole faith and God. Father Paul definitely does not practice a traditional Christian faith and relies far too much on making use of the eucharist, the ceremony of the blood and flesh of Jesus Christ turning into bread and wine and, well, consumed.
Wade (Michael Trucco) and his wife Dolly (Crystal Balint) are lifers of the island and both in general interested in one thing, the advancement of their own family, specifically their daughter Leeza (Annarah Cymone), who happens to be in a wheelchair. And that happens to be the canny Father Paul’s first real miracle-with-a-cost that he demonstrates to the astonishment of the parishioners, after a heartfelt and rousing sermon, Father Paul commands Leeza to rise, to stand, and to walk. And lo, she does. What parents wouldn’t wholly dedicate themselves to a cause after seeing this happen to their beloved precious daughter? The fringe benefits of healing, and power, the ones that come at a mighty, currently unnamed, cost, are simply a nice bonus.
Joe Collie (Robert Longstreet) is the town drunk, and while his reasons for drowning his sorrows in the sauce might be understandable, absolution wears a very different face when it comes from Father Paul. While Leeza might be willing to forgive Joe, and even as Joe begins attending the newly-formed Al-Anon meetings on the island of course hosted by Father Paul, redemption might’ve been better sought from medical professionals, and not this newfound method of religious worship.
Dr. Sarah Gunning (Annabeth Gish) is the islands’ kind of all-around medic, and this is how she and Riley’s old friend Erin (Kate Siegel), also newly returned to the island, a few months pregnant but traveling quietly alone, met when Erin comes to the Doc for obstetrics. Sarah’s older mother Mildred Gunning (Alexandra Essoe) has many medical and mental issues, and Sarah struggles in their shared home, to take care of her addled mom and balance her own life. Then Father Paul takes it upon himself to visit one of his oldest parishioners, bringing the sacred host and wine with him to give directly to Mildred, who starts looking and acting so much better under his loving care.
The show is very much a slow slow burn, with a lot of the actual action taking place in the last two episodes. Much of the beginning and middle episodes feature two people just sitting alone, having quiet and seriously in-depth conversations about heavy subjects – grief and repentance, what happens when we die, the disasters that come as a result of addictions, how our actions’ consequences reverberate to those we love around us, faith and the foibles of man, and of course, the giving of oneself over to a higher power, for strength, and guidance, and love.
Except, for the higher power that Father Paul brought back with him, to share with his beloved flock of Crockett Island, while it may be extremely powerful and full of what could be considered miraculous magic, everything comes at some kind of a cost. And when the Messenger of God is finally revealed to the shocked denizens of Crockett at Easter Mass, with Father Paul rapturing on about rebirth as the bloody massacre begins in earnest, it’s faith, not in any kind of God or religion, but faith in each other, that may save a few hardy souls.
Question the wisdom of your religious leaders along with the rest of us in a fine slow-burn addition to the Flanaverse, Midnight Mass is on Netflix now!
Saw X: It ain’t brain surgery!
Legendary executioner Jigsaw returns to exact revenge on a cadre of scam artists who promised him a bogus cure for his cancer!
First off, be aware, that this is what I call an interleaved sequel, a movie set between previous films in the franchise. In this case, Saw X occurs after the events of the very first Saw film, and before Saw II. Everybody got where we are? Good! Into the madness, we dive!
So, as we all know, John Kramer’s been diagnosed with cancer, very aggressive brain cancer, and likely doesn’t have much time left. And he’s tried everything under the sun, doing a ton of meticulous research, we’d expect nothing less from our master of the art of murder, and not one thing has worked. Yet one man from the support group for cancer sufferers, Henry (Michael Beach), offers an off-the-books supposed miracle cure, and John jumps at the chance.
Why does this nonsense always sound too good to be true? Because it is. Deleted scenes from the first Deadpool movie already told us why traveling to Mexico for any kind of medical cure is a sublimely stupid move, but Kramer is desperate. And while he might be sick and dying, John Kramer has never been what anyone could call stupid. So the villa out in the Mexican countryside, the affable cab driver Diego (Joshua Okamoto) professes surprise at Kramer being highjacked for his good, the nervous muttering from assistant Valentina (Paulette Hernandez), the side-eyeing from little housekeep Gabriela (Renata Vaca) and her tequila, and most especially the smooth and smarming reassurances of head “doctor” Cecilia Pederson (Synnove Macody Lund), all leave a kind of sour taste in John’s mouth.
The whole cluex4 scene is done in the style that the Saw films are known for, where we the audience are treated to cut-together explanatory scenes in a flip-flash fashion of usually about two minutes, for poor John when he realizes he’s been hoodwinked and just how badly, seems a little contrived. But then it’s entirely possible that we the audience truly expected our genius mastermind of the infamous Jigsaw murders to have realized what was happening sooner, and got enraged along with Kramer. And cheered as he prepared to take his bloody and ultra-violent revenge!
First up in our grand guignol of executions is the return of Jigsaw’s first protégé, Amanda (Shawnee Smith). And despite her avowed reverence for Jigsaw and his proven “therapy”, Amanda does waver a bit when the scammers are put through the paces of their specially-made Saw traps, and they shriek and blubber and bleed out. The appearance of the ringer of the bunch, Parker (Steven Brand), doesn’t even slow our beloved engineer of the damned down, because we knew Jigsaw would have his other apprentice waiting just off stage, the deliciously vicious Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor). Even the monkeywrench of involving little-boy soccer fan Carlos (Jorge Briseno) in the traps, is just another cog in the machine that is the brilliantly plotting mind of John Kramer.
A fine addition to the Saw legends, showcasing a return to the beloved style and panache of the original Tobin Bell-starring Jigsaw films, Saw X is splashing gore and gallons of blood in theaters now!
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off
“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off,” Netflix’s latest series, is a rollicking journey through the world of video game culture, blending nostalgic references with a fresh narrative twist. Centered around Scott Pilgrim, portrayed with magnetic charisma by Michael Cera, the show skillfully integrates gaming elements into its storytelling, creating a delightful homage to the video game subculture.
The series cleverly employs pixelated graphics, power-up animations, and game-like sound effects to bring the virtual world to life. These visual cues, reminiscent of classic video games, enhance the storytelling and resonate with audiences familiar with the gaming landscape. The attention to detail in recreating iconic gaming moments is commendable, creating a visual and auditory treat for enthusiasts.
The exploration of video game culture goes beyond mere aesthetics; it becomes an integral part of the characters’ identities and interactions. The script intelligently weaves gaming terminology and tropes into the dialogue, effectively blending the real and virtual worlds. The series navigates the challenges and triumphs of the characters through the lens of gaming, making it a unique and engaging experience for both gamers and general audiences.
The ensemble cast, including standout performances from Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, and Chris Evans embraces the gaming theme with infectious enthusiasm. The chemistry between the characters is palpable, adding emotional depth to the series.
“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” successfully taps into the zeitgeist of video game culture, offering a nostalgic yet contemporary take on the gaming phenomenon. It’s a must-watch for those who cherish the pixelated roots of the gaming world while providing an accessible and entertaining narrative for a broader audience. The series takes off not only in its title but also in its ability to soar within the ever-expanding realm of Netflix originals.