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Mortal Kombat

Posted on April 22, 2021 at 7:00 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some crude references, language throughout, and strong bloody violence
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Nudity/ Sex: Some sexual epthets
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Pervasive peril and violence, very gory and disturbing images, characters injured and killed including a child
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: April 23, 2021
Copyright 2021 Warner Brothers

“Mortal Kombat” is a movie based on a video game. So, let’s be real here. We’re not looking for or even expecting complex characters or surprising plot twists. We’re here for the martial arts carnage and a few middle-school-level wisecracks, and that we get.

Character development? I’ve seen more complex backstories on Cabbage Patch Dolls. All you need to know is there are good guys and bad guys and the stakes are the very future of the planet, which, it turns out, turns on, you got it, mortal combat, trial by combat — to the death. Oh, and don’t expect it to make a ton of sense, either. Just sit back and watch the fights.

It begins with a pre-credit sequence set in an edenic 17th century Japan, with a devoted farming couple, their gallant young son, and infant daughter. As the father (Hiroyuki Sanada as Hanzou) is out getting water, bad guys arrive, led by B-Han (Joe Taslim), whose awesome fighting skills are enhanced by his ability to manifest ice. He will later be known as Sub-Zero. He says he is there to avenge, but we do not get any details. Only the baby survives, and she is taken away by a glow-eyed guy who travels via lightning named Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano).

Skip ahead to present day, where Cole Young (Lewis Tan) is fighting for $200 a bout and not doing very well. He is devoted to his wife and daughter. And he has a mysterious dragon-shaped birthmark, which identifies him to those in the know as a champion. one of those designated to fight for the good guys. Not much time for narrative here. Or anywhere else in the movie. It’s battle, battle, training, battle all the way.

Which is a good thing, because the martial arts are great and, for those who are fans of the game, let me quote Wikipedia:

The basic Fatalities are finishing moves that allow the victorious characters to end a match in a special way by murdering their defeated, defenseless opponents in a gruesome manner.

So the finishing moves/fatalities are suitably gruesome. Like guts falling out of ripped-open torsos and being sliced open by a buzzsaw like a side of beef. And gallons of spurting blood. As for the script, well, it has exactly what you’d expect, a lot of “the prophecy is upon us” and “winning Mortal Kombat cannot be left to chance,” portentousness, “if you fail to discover your inner power you will never defeat your opponent” pep talks, plus some middle-school-level “humor.”

So, fans of the game will enjoy the call-outs to their favorite characters and inside information and those who are not familiar to the game but like to see martial arts fights with lots of gore will be suitably entertained and even look forward to the sequel.

Parents should know that this film has extended and very gory and graphic peril and violence, along with strong and crude language and references.

Family discussion: Which power do you think you could manifest? How do you fight people who do not follow the rules?

If you like this, try: The game and the “Mythic Quest” and “The Guild” television series.

Interview with My Dad, Newton Minow, about the FCC, the SS Minnow, Saying No to JFK, and Media Today

Posted on April 22, 2021 at 11:22 am

One of the great pleasures and honors of my life was the chance to interview my wonderful dad for Emmy Magazine in honor of the upcoming 60th anniversary of his famous speech to the National Association of Broadcasters, calling television “a vast wasteland.”

An excerpt:

Sixty years ago, on May 9, 1961, the 35-year-old Chairman of the FCC, Newton Minow, made three significant appearances. In Washington, he gave his famous “vast wasteland” speech to the National Association of Broadcasters, telling them that while “when television is good, nothing is better,” he expected them to do more to uphold their statutory obligation to serve “the public interest, convenience, and necessity.” Then he went back to the FCC office, where he met with Elizabeth Campbell to sign the original license for WETA, the first educational television station in the nation’s capital, now the producer of the Ken Burns documentaries and the nightly Newshour. And then he flew to Chicago to attend the father-daughter dinner for my Brownie troop.

Copyright Emmy Magazine 2021

I often thought about how those three events defined his character: inspiring those around him to do better, supporting the visions of people making enriching cultural content and reliable news sources widely available, and always putting his family first.  Over the next decades this was reflected in his efforts as a founder and board chair of PBS, a director of CBS, helped create the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), where he served as vice chair until this year, worked to require the V-chip and closed captioning, helped get the start-up funding for “Sesame Street,” and argued for the rescission of the radio license of a station that broadcast virulently racist and anti-Semitic programming.  And he and my mom will celebrate their 72nd wedding anniversary this spring.

 

Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts

Posted on April 15, 2021 at 6:15 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: Some racial epithets
Nudity/ Sex: References to children with multiple women
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: References to lynching and abuse
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: April 16, 2021
Copyright Kino Lorber 2021

Outsider artist Bill Traylor was born into slavery. Traylor was the name of the white family that enslaved him and his family. They were more benevolent than some; the plantation owner’s will provided that Bill Traylor’s family should not be split up when they divided the estate. And so, even after emancipation, Traylor’s family stayed, working as field hands and then as tenant farmers. He lived his whole life within 40 miles in Alabama, farming until he was too old and infirm. And then he spent the rest of his life in a vibrant Black community in Montgomery, fed by a deli owner and sleeping on the floor of another business, drawing and painting all day out on the sidewalk, with whatever materials were available to him, including bright blue poster paint given to him by a teenage sign-painter and torn off pieces of cardboard signs.

“Outsider art” is work created by people who are untrained, self-taught, not a part of the art community, creating art for themselves, not for galleries or museums. We do not know what Traylor would think about the way his work is revered today. In this documentary, directed by Jeffrey Wolf and executive produced by artist Sam Pollard, we hear a story of the one time he did see his work on the walls of a gallery and, according to legend “did not recognize it.” But the commentary in the film suggests that it was not is work he did not recognize but the setting that displayed them. He would be even more amazed at the seriousness with which his work is discussed by artists, curators, and scholars in this film.

I attended the first major show of Traylor’s work, at the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum. As they pointed out, The paintings and drawings he made are visually striking and politically assertive; they include simple yet powerful distillations of tales and memories as well as spare, vibrantly colored abstractions. When Traylor died in 1949, he left behind more than one thousand works of art. The simplified forms of Traylor’s artwork belie the complexity of his world, creativity, and inspiring bid for self-definition in a segregated culture.” His is the only substantial art we have from someone born in to slavery, and it is important as art and artifact, giving us a vital chance to see the world the way he did.

Poster from the SAAM show, Copyright 2018 Smithsonian

This film wisely takes a multi-faceted approach to Traylor’s life and work, incorporating music, dance, poetry, and commentary from historians, critics, curators, scholars, other artists, and Traylor’s own descendants. Some of the historical material is as illuminating for what we do not know as for what we do; the records of the lives of Black Americans during this period are very limited. And some of the expert commentary is more heartfelt than insightful. The best art produces an emotional connection that cannot be reduced to language. Appropriately, inevitably, what is most eloquent here are Traylor’s images themselves.

Parents should know that this film includes discussion of enslavement, lynching, Jim Crow laws, and racism as well as Traylor’s multiple children by different women.

Family discussion: Which of Traylor’s paintings did you like the best? Why wasn’t he seen as an important artist in his lifetime? What pictures can you create about the world you remember?

If you like this, try: “The Realms of the Unreal” about another outsider artist, Henry Darger

We Broke Up

Posted on April 15, 2021 at 5:40 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: Some strong language
Nudity/ Sex: Sexual references and situations
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Emotional confrontations
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 16, 2021

Copyright Vertical Entertainment 2021
Relationships are complicated. That’s one reason we like movies, where they are generally less complicated, and give us the reassuring but inaccurate message that things work out the way we wish they would. The title of “We Broke Up” sets us a premise that looks like a romantic comedy but ends up as a bittersweet acknowledgment that relationships are, well, complicated, and sometimes it is hard to figure out what we want, much less figure out how to make what we want work with someone else’s wants.

Lori (Aya Cash) and Doug (William Jackson Harper of “The Good Place”) have been together for ten years. They have the affectionate verbal shortcuts of people who know each other well and trust each other without reservation. As far as Lori’s mother is concerned, Doug is part of the family.

And then, as they are waiting at a counter for a Chinese food take-out order, Doug impulsively proposes and Lori’s reaction shocks them both. She throws up. By the next morning, they have broken up. The timing is awkward, though, as Lori’s sister is getting married and they are expected at the destination wedding weekend. They are both in the wedding party and they decide to pretend that they are still together so Lori’s sister can have her perfect day free from any tensions or conflicts.

Of course, there has never been a wedding and very few family gatherings of any kind without tensions or conflicts. Lori’s sister is Bea (a radiant Sara Bolger), who, in stark contrast to Lori, is marrying Jayson (Tony Cavalero), a man she has known for just four month. While Lori and Doug seem stuck like bugs in amber, Bea and Jayson are impulsive, impetuous, and show no signs of stopping to think about what they are doing. The wedding is at a resort which was once the summer camp Lori and Bea went to as young teenagers, and there are elaborate plans that include a “Paul Bunyan Day” series of camp-style competitive events, except with lots of liquor. And like all weddings, there are chances to renew connections and meet new people. Doug and Lori, still pretending to be together, find themselves wondering about possible other partners.

The ambitions of the film, co-written by director Jeff Rosenberg with Laura Jacqmin (“Grace and Frankie”) are impressive, but the characters are too thinly written to support them, despite the best efforts of the actors. The contrast between the impulsive couple heading into marriage and the couple who have made no progress toward marriage or children or, in Lori’s case, a career, is intriguing but plays out awkwardly. There are moments that come across as genuine but they are surrounded by others that are uneven in tone and execution. Ultimately, like the couples in the film, we are not sure what we want for them.

Parents should know that this film has mature material including sexual references and situations, tense family confrontations, drinking, drunkenness, drugs, and references to underage drinking.

Family discussion: Are you more like Lori or Bea? What do you think will happen to them?

If you like this, try: “Plus One,” “The Five Year Engagement,” and “Table 19”

Trailer: F9

Posted on April 15, 2021 at 7:00 am

I think we’re due for a chases and explosions movie, aren’t we? And “F9” looks like just the thing to kick off the post-pandemic world into gear. This is why they should have a stunts category at the Oscars. And why they should give another one to Helen Mirren.