Commentary

October 4, 2013

Fly Over: ‘Gravity’, and ‘Mortal Kombat: Legacy II’

Gravity

In theaters: ‘Gravity’

Beautiful.
No adjective appropriately conveys the sense of awe that washes over you while viewing the cinematically brilliant “Gravity.”
Alfonso Cuaron’s (“Children of Men”) film is majestic. The CGI and special effects used make 600 kilometers above Earth more surreal than flying caped crusaders. Not since Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” has an audience truly been captivated by a film’s ability to adequately demonstrate the vastness, hopelessness and wonderment of space.
Sandra Bullock stars as Dr. Ryan Stone, a medical engineer on her first voyage into outer space. She’s having a rough go, barely able to keep from vomiting as she works. Fortunately, she’s accompanied by Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney), a smooth talking veteran on his last voyage.
Kowalsky is floating around space bouncing back and forth between the spacecraft and a satellite Stone is working on when Houston informs the crew to abort their mission – from this point on, strap on your seat belt, and take a deep breath.
The Russians used a missile to destroy one of their satellites, which causes a major debris field to orbit the Earth at supersonic speeds, destroying everything in its path. Stone soon finds herself displaced, flipping end over end into the vast emptiness – only Kowalsky’s calm over the radio saves Stone from floating for eternity into the abyss. With their ship destroyed and no communication with Earth, their only chance is to make it to the International Space Station. But, of course, they’re running out of oxygen and jet fuel. Ever the optimist, Kowalsky uses his charm to get Stone to concentrate by talking to her about her life on Earth.
At this point in the film, the more human element comes to the forefront as Stone describes to Kowalsky a personal tragedy and explains why her favorite thing to do when not pulling 18-hour shifts in the emergency room is to simply drive. But the duo doesn’t have long before the next round of space debris heads their way – Kowalsky uses some sort of magic (math) to calculate the amount of time it takes the debris to orbit the Earth. And, once the pair reaches the space station, their plight, especially Stone’s, becomes more complicated.
The majority of the movie feels as though it was filmed in one long, breathtaking shot. There’s an organic feeling as you get lost in Stone’s desperate attempt to live. It’s as though you’re placing yourself inside that space suit.
“Gravity” sucks you in with its cinematography and acting. Space is infinite. And, as Stone peers out from the space station back at Earth, you’re reminded of your insignificance – hopelessly small in the grand scheme of the universe.
Bullock gives the performance of her career and looks even more beautiful than when she first burst onto the scene as Keanu Reeves’ sidekick in “Speed.” Clooney is his typical charming, cocky self who certainly looks and acts the part of those 1960s’ heroes that the American public fell in love with. My only complaint is I wanted more. “Gravity” is the pinnacle of filmmaking. You lose yourself for an evening in a place that will always fascinate – space – and walk away with a child-like awe and enthusiasm.
“Gravity” is rated PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language.

 

Mortal-Kombat-Legacy-II-poster-DAL

and online: ‘Mortal Kombat: Legacy II’

I’m a huge fan of the “Mortal Kombat” video game series, almost to the point of mental instability. It’s not for the blood and gore, mind you, it’s for the atmosphere, characters and storyline (and if you say fighting games don’t need storylines, well then I say “your mother”).
As with many other properties, the powers-that-be have tried several times to adapt the series into film, but around the time of “Mortal Kombat” (2011) a man named Kevin Tancharoen started a web series titled “Mortal Kombat Legacy,” which retold character origin stories with a slightly more realistic twist. It was a decent attempt, enough to green light its second season, which is an overall improvement but still with some glaring mistakes.
Power-hungry Emperor Shao Khan of Outworld desires to invade Earthrealm (in other words, Earth). In order to do this, however, he must challenge and defeat its strongest champions in “Mortal Kombat,” a mystical martial arts tournament. Raiden, the god of thunder, gathers Earthrealm’s warriors while Kahn’s sorcerer Shang Tsung gathers the challengers. Now placed on an unknown island, both groups must find and fight each other to the death to decide the fate of their world.
What’s nice about season two of “Legacy” is one doesn’t really need to have seen the first to understand what’s going on. It’s fairly self-contained with only a few characters having their season one story continued, and even then they provide flashbacks.
Tancharoen also does a decent job in retaining much of the fighters’ characteristics from the games, while also adding his own spin. Sometimes this works, such as main protagonist/boy scout Liu Kang falling on dark times. What they do to Kuai Liang, the younger brother to Sub-Zero who ends up adopting the name later in the games, is unforgivable on multiple accounts, but those of the many who didn’t know there were two Sub-Zeros probably won’t care. Still, for only ten episodes the viewer gets a decent grasp of the situation and the characters. Though how they’re going to explain Kenshi, Scorpion and Sub-Zero are still alive since feudal Japan (which was never the case in the games) is still up in the air.
The acting admittedly isn’t as bad as I was expecting. It’s not all fantastic, but not cringe-worthy either. Ian Anthony Dale has become my go-to choice for Scorpion, and even though Robin Shou and Linden Ashby are still my choices for Liu Kang and Johnny Cage, Brian Tee and Casper Van Dien do a good job as the respective characters. The best thing, however, is Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa reprising his role as Shang Tsung from the first “Mortal Kombat” movie; I wouldn’t be surprised if Tagawa really was the soul-stealing sorcerer. Much of the cast doesn’t have a lot time on screen due to the size of the cast and short running time, but many of them did all right. Michelle Lee and David Lee McInnis were a little too bland for their roles as Mileena and Raiden.
Just as with the first season, the running time for each episode is around ten minutes, though the fact that each episode now ties into the other helps out. Unfortunately, the intro and end of each episode tends to take a pretty big bite out of the overall running time.
The script writing is nothing to write home about, but the only problems I really saw were the overuse of the F-bomb. I was happy; however, to see the fight choreography has improved. Even if the fights tend to last for a short time, they’re not oversaturated with flips and techno music. The fight between Kenshi and Ermac is a particular favorite of mine, being probably the most intense and diverse in my opinion (both are telekinetic and the former uses a katana. Enough said). As for the gore hounds, there is enough without overdoing it, and there are quite a few “Fatalities.”
In short, the second season of “Mortal Kombat: Legacy” shows that Tancharoen has a nice grasp on the property, though there is still plenty of room for improvement. I look forward to season three.
Available for free viewing on Machinima’s channel at Youtube.com.




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