Mortal Kombat **1/2
Warner Bros. Films
With the benefit of hindsight, can we agree that making Mortal Kombat
movies in the 1990s that were rated PG-13 was a really stupid idea? As a game, part of the primary appeal of Mortal Kombat
was always its brutally graphic killing methods, and if nothing else, first-time director Simon McQuoid’s R-rated interpretation leans into the creative carnage. After a prologue set in 15th-century Japan, the narrative shifts to modern MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan), who discovers that his bloodline connects him to an ancient war between realms that involves super-powered champions. The mythology at times gets unnecessarily convoluted and self-serious—at the risk of being an absolutist, no movie should ever again include a straight-faced reading of the line “The prophecy has been fulfilled”—while hanging on to the pretense that we should care about Cole or his family as characters. But things do perk up whenever the champions are brutalizing one another, which involves various dismemberments, eviscerations and heads going pop like squeezed grapes. It’s dumb, it’s lacking in much leavening humor beyond joking about the spelling of "Kombat," and it baldly sets up the prospect of a franchise—but at least this time, it actually feels like Mortal Kombat
. Available March 23 in theaters and via HBO Max.
My Wonderful Wanda ***
There’s an odd mix of farce, family melodrama and social consciousness in co-writer/director Bettina Oberli’s film, and it’s kind of amazing that it hangs together as well as it does. Wanda Kowalski (Agnieszka Grochowska) is a Polish single mother who returns to work as caregiver for Josef (André Jung), the patriarch of a wealthy Swiss family who’s been incapacitated by a stroke. Wanda’s presence ultimately complicates all of the relationships within Josef’s family—including his wife Elsa (Marthe Keller), his daughter Sophie (Birgit Minichmayr) and his son Gregor (Jacob Matschenz)—in a variety of ways, with the financial disparity between them always part of the dynamic. Yet while there’s interesting material in what Wanda puts up with in the name of financial need, it’s ultimately more interesting watching the familial tensions simmer, including Gregor’s reluctance to accept a role in Josef’s company, and Sophie’s resentment over not getting consideration for the role, all building to the best cinematic use of Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” since the opening credits of Kill Bill
. Various plot developments keep things perhaps overly complicated, but the character moments prove solid enough to provide a foundation for this strange combination of ingredients. Available March 23 via SLFSatHome.org.
Together Together ***1/2
Bleecker Street Films
Ed Helms and Patti Harrison in Together Together
From the very familiar font of the opening titles to a direct reference to a certain problematic filmmaker, writer/director Nikole Beckwith is clearly taking on a dynamic in cinematic rom-coms that approaches male/female age/power dynamics in a not-entirely-healthy way—but the result is infinitely warm and charming. Forty-something single guy Matt (Ed Helms) hires 26-year-old Anna (Patti Harrison) to be the surrogate for the baby he’s always wanted, leading to a friendship that gets complicated as it advances beyond the purely professional. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they “fall in love,” or that any of the other expected dramatic complications—Matt getting creepily possessive, or Anna getting cold feet—ensue. Instead, Beckwith simply offers a portrait of two people who need a close friendship more than either of them initially realizes. The result is a unique kind of on-screen chemistry between the leads, with a lot of the humor filled out by the terrific supporting cast. In its way, it’s extremely conventional in its low-key comedic rhythms; in other way, it’s utterly unconventional in letting two people get exactly the kind of love they need out of this particular relationship. Available April 23 in theaters.