Tag Archives: 1/5

Space Jam: A New Legacy

When the ESPN docuseries The Last Dance aired last year, it unveiled plenty of insights into the Chicago Bulls’ historic NBA run in the 1990s but perhaps none more tantalizing than the implication that filming Space Jam allowed Michael Jordan to return to the league in top shape. To prepare for the 1996 sports comedy-turned-millennial pop cultural artifact, Jordan played scrimmage games with greats like Reggie Miller and former teammate Dennis Rodman in a state-of-the-art basketball facility built by Warner Bros. Perhaps it will take another 25 years or so to uncover the hidden merit behind its belated and belabored sequel Space Jam: A New Legacy but in the meantime, it’s best to take it at face value as the visually abrasive and artistically adrift piece of corporate cinema that it is.

Succeeding Jordan is Cavaliers/Heat/Cavaliers/Lakers star LeBron James, playing a fictionalized version of himself but retaining his real-life status as a father of three. He pushes his youngest son Dom (Cedric Joe) to follow in his footsteps on the court, while ignoring the fact that Dom would rather attend video game design camp than basketball camp. After taking an ill-fated meeting at the Warner Bros. studios, the two get on an elevator to leave but are lured down to a server room where the evil computer AI Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle) capitalizes on the rift between father and son. After becoming trapped in a virtual reality based on one of Dom’s games, LeBron and his son must square off in a digital game of hoops to get back to reality.

Any way you look at it, Space Jam is no masterpiece but it’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit when compared to A New Legacy. The former stands at a reasonable 87 minutes (79 minutes, if you lop off the lengthy closing credits), where its follow-up plays like a 115-minute unskippable ad for Warner Media, LLC. Sure, the Looney Tunes factor heavily into both movies but the process of reuniting the Tune Squad in Legacy leads to a tacky and irresponsible montage where various animated characters are copy-and-pasted into scenes from WB properties like Mad Max: Fury Road and Austin Powers. Even stupider is the decision to reference other movie characters from (inexplicably) What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? to (more inexplicably) A Clockwork Orange by way of cosplaying extras in the stands of the fateful digital ball game.

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a studio so garishly promote its own IP within a film as Warner Bros. does here and that’s including Ready Player One, the WB-produced Spielberg misfire that was less of a movie and more of an “Easter egg” hunt. Just because Bugs is the Bunny hiding the eggs this time around doesn’t make the designs on the outside any more appealing and the prizes on the inside any less putrid. Beyond the barrage of pop culture references, the screenplay with 6 credited writers attached is full of airball after airball in the humor department. There’s one joke that lands: a mistaken identity gag with a relatively clever punchline and a cameo from a well-known actor who doesn’t look totally embarrassed to be there. Still, it’s the equivalent of scoring a layup during a 40-point deficit with 2 minutes left in the game.

There have been cloying and unfunny films in the past but Space Jam: A New Legacy depresses me most because its narrative’s existence within a virtual world implicitly promotes another level of removal from reality to its impressionable audience. Movies are enough of an escapist entertainment as it is and devices that distract us from real life already pervade every facet of daily living. Do we really need to set kids’ entertainment in a techno-scape of zeroes and ones to keep their attention? The Space in Space Jam used to mean outer space; now it refers to a digital space that is constantly changing and warping around us in ways we can’t totally understand and ways that Hollywood certainly doesn’t understand. Let’s hope the legacy of Space Jam: A New Legacy is much shorter lived than its predecessor.

Score – 1/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Coming only to theaters is Old, an M. Night Shyamalan supernatural mystery starring Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps about a vacationing family who discovers a beach that inexplicably causes them to age rapidly.
Also playing exclusively in theaters is Snake Eyes, a G.I. Joe spin-off starring Henry Golding and Andrew Koji about the titular fighter joining an ancient Japanese ninja clan.
Streaming on Amazon Prime is Jolt, an action comedy starring Kate Beckinsale and Laverne Cox about a bouncer whose homicidal tendencies are kept at bay by an electrode-lined vest.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Dolittle

Robert Downey Jr. is on top of the world. Recently capping off an eleven-year stretch as Iron Man in the obscenely lucrative Marvel films, in which he reportedly earned $75 million for his Endgame role alone, he could seemingly do whatever he’d like at this point. Given that, it’s downright bewildering that he would follow up the iconic superhero era of his career with Dolittle, a slapdash CGI trainwreck that’s as mindless as it is misguided. It’s neither thrilling nor funny, which is problematic for a film that purports to be an adventure comedy, and it’s difficult to imagine that anyone over the age of the average kindergartener will get much from this bloated mess of a movie.

Mangling an untraceable South African/Scottish/Welsh accent, Downey plays Dr. John Dolittle, a reclusive veterinarian who’s holed up in a mystical manor where he communicates with a menagerie of animals. When he gets word that Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley) has fallen deathly ill, he climbs atop his sassy ostrich and hightails it to Buckingham Palace alongside his companion creatures. He arrives to find that the Queen has been poisoned and that the cure can only be found on a remote island on the other side of the world. With his new human apprentice Stubbins (Harry Collett) and animal friends by his side, Dolittle sets out on a journey to retrieve the precious antidote.

Atop the heap of beguiling creative decisions behind Dolittle is the choice to have Stephen Gaghan, the mind behind hard-hitting political dramas like Traffic and Syriana, direct and co-write this would-be family entertainment. Besides 2016’s Gold, he hasn’t directed anything since Syriana back in 2005 and nothing in his previous work would indicate that he would even be a close fit for something this toothless and juvenile. He and his three co-writers strain hard for laughs that, aside from a misjudged Godfather reference, are aimed squarely at youngsters. Even though the story is ostensibly set in 19th century England, the animals interject frequently in 21st century American vernacular, as when an octopus warns Dolittle “snitches get stitches.”

The depressingly overqualified voice cast, which includes recent Academy Award winners like Rami Malek and Octavia Spencer, does their best to give life to their lifeless CG counterparts. Spencer, whose duck character is actually named Dab-Dab, is saddled with anachronistic clunkers like “do you understand the words that are coming out of my bill?” It’s difficult to imagine what could have compelled this many talented actors to sign up for this freak show in the first place. Most of the film is so on-the-nose obvious about what it’s trying to do and who it’s trying to appeal to, it plays out like one of the parody trailers that opened the Downey-starring Tropic Thunder.

The film’s peaks far too early with a lovely, hand-drawn animated prologue outlining Dolittle’s long-lost love and I would have much preferred watching a story carried out in this style. Instead, we have to bear the sight of Downey mugging against computer-generated cacophony with at least half of his lines sounding like they were re-recorded in post-production. With a $175 million budget, you may come in expecting Marvel-level visual effects but the fantastical creations here are much more dubiously rendered; other non-animal shots, like one in which Stubbins leaps from one part of a bridge to another, are equally unconvincing. Tepid and tedious, Dolittle is an endless parade of wasted talent both on and off-camera.

Score – 1/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
The Gentlemen, starring Matthew McConaughey and Charlie Hunnam, is the latest action caper from Sherlock Holmes director Guy Ritchie about a British drug lord attempting to sell his empire to a group of Oklahoma billionaires.
The Turning, starring Mackenzie Davis and Finn Wolfhard, is a supernatural horror update on “The Turn of the Screw” about a newly appointed nanny who looks after two disturbed orphans in a haunted Maine estate.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Serenity

Academy Award winners Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway team up once again after 2014’s Interstellar to bring us Serenity, a spectacularly miscalculated neo-noir that has “so bad it’s good” written all over it. Director Steven Knight’s previous film Locke was a stripped down feature that was essentially a one-man show for a confined Tom Hardy. Knight’s latest effort seems to take the complete opposite approach, merging story elements that have no business being anywhere near one another. “There’s some weird stuff going on right now,” McConaughey growls at one point while fixing his eyes on a bird above and the truth is, he doesn’t even know the half of it.

McConaughey stars as Baker Dill, a gruff fisherman who has made it his sole purpose in life to catch an oversized tuna that he’s nicknamed “Justice,” much to the chagrin of his first mate Duke (Djimon Hounsou). He passes the time consorting with townspeople of Plymouth Island like the well-off Constance (Diane Lane) until his ex-wife Karen (Anne Hathaway) comes back into the picture with a provocative proposal. She offers Dill $10 million in cash to take her abusive husband Frank (Jason Clarke) out to sea so that he can get him drunk and throw him overboard to spare her and Dill’s son from his violence.

At the outset, the premise seems to be a halfway decent hybrid of classic film noirs like Double Indemnity or To Have And Have Not and man vs. nature tales like Jaws or The Old Man and the Sea. That Serenity can’t find a harmonious balance between these two discordant genres is actually the least of its worries, as the truly outlandish third act reveals belong to an entirely different category of film altogether. Knight’s clunky attempts to foreshadow the most surprising revelations of the film’s conclusion are just as inelegant as the explanations themselves. It’s proof that the kind of twist endings that made M. Night Shyamalan famous may not be as easy to pull off as one might think.

Even before the preposterous turns that kick in around the hour mark of the film’s runtime, the needlessly profane script is loaded with dialogue so hollow that it would float in the water if it was tossed overboard. Knight’s direction is equally incompetent as he chooses to fixate on unusual imagery that never fully justifies its existence, as when we see a mysterious man played by Jeremy Strong in a full suit wading through water. To the film’s credit, it’s rarely unpleasant to look at due to Jess Hall’s exotic cinematography, although it is sometimes undercut by bizarre editing choices that seem far too stylized for the story that’s being told.

Just because the performances are not quite as bad as everything else that’s at play here doesn’t mean the actors should entirely be let off the hook. McConaughey is channeling the same one-note brooding demeanor that he uses for his Lincoln car commercials, while Hathaway adds little dimension to the same kind of femme fatale character we’ve seen played better in countless other films. Clarke and Strong both overact so wildly in their scenes that it became increasingly difficult for me to stifle my laughter anytime either of them was on-screen. Watching Serenity is like watching a catastrophic shipwreck occur in slow motion.

Score – 1/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Miss Bala, starring Gina Rodriguez and Anthony Mackie, is an action thriller that follows a makeup artist who trains to take down a drug cartel after they kidnap her best friend.
Playing at Regal Coldwater for one day only on Friday, Febuary 1st is They Shall Not Grow Old, a documentary from Peter Jackson comprised of World War I footage that has been colorized and modernized.
Another limited engagement screening happening at Cinema Center on Thursday, February 7 is Joni 75, a concert film celebrating the life and prolific career of singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Venom

There is a time in which Venom, the new Sony-backed superhero movie featuring a popular character from the Spider-Man comics, could have likely passed as a decent entry into the genre. If it had arrived prior to 2008, the year game-changers like Iron Man and The Dark Knight hit theaters, then it’s possible that its muddled blend of faux-gritty realism and buddy movie antics could have played as novel or even subversive. The problem is that we’ve since had 10 years of seemingly innumerable superhero films and it’s more than a bit puzzling that Sony thought they could release something this flat and uninspired in 2018.

Tom Hardy bumbles his way through a thoroughly gonzo performance as Eddie Brock, an investigative reporter whose unethical practices lead to him lose both his job and fiancé Anne (Michelle Williams) in the same day. After trying to exact revenge on Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), the head of a shady bioengineering company called the Life Foundation, he gets tangled up with an alien entity called a symbiote and is subsequently “taken over” by the foreign creature named Venom. Now sporting a new set of superpowers that allow him to mow through henchmen left and right, Brock vows to stop Drake before he unleashes his dangerous symbiotes into the world.

The big problems with Venom start with the bone-headed script, which not only regurgitates tropes that are well past exhausted by now but also bounces around from one plot point to another without a shred of logic attached. It doesn’t help that it also includes dubious lines of dialogue like the supposedly menacing “have a nice life” and the downright bizarre “ain’t nothing change but the weather”. Save for some of the bi-play between Brock and Venom, particularly one exchange that occurs at the top floor of a high building, most of the comedy falls flat and feels completely at odds with the dark and moody tone that director Ruben Fleischer is attempting to establish.

Hardy, who also voices the carnivorous Venom creature, is perhaps the only person trying to do something interesting but different doesn’t always mean better. Lurching around like the alien-possessed farmer from Men In Black, he chooses to voice Brock like a marble-mouthed buffoon who can rarely stay ahead of the curve. Meanwhile, fantastically over-qualified supporting players like Williams and Ahmed are hindered by inconsistent and generally dopey characters that don’t add any dimension to the already lackluster story.

Like the inky substance that overtakes the film’s protagonist, Venom also has an especially murky and lifeless look to it. As is becoming more routine for blockbusters these days, the majority of the scenes take place at night to disguise sloppy CGI and editing. The film’s final fight scene, which looks like it’s set in an exploding silly string factory, is both visually incomprehensible and unappealing. It’s another swing-and-a-miss by Sony, who leased the rights for some of the Spider-Man characters to Marvel Studios but obviously retained control of Venom on the hopes that they could score a hit sans the web-slinger. Unfortunately, I fear they will indeed have financial success with Venom, which means we’ll have plenty more cash-grabbing superhero ventures for years to come.

Score – 1/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
First Man, starring Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy, is a Neil Armstrong biopic covering the lead-up to the Apollo 11 mission and is the latest from Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle.
Bad Times at the El Royale, starring Jeff Bridges and Dakota Johnson, follows seven strangers as they begin to uncover each others’ secrets during their stay at a novelty southwest hotel.
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, starring Jack Black and Wendi McLendon-Covey, looks to cull chills once again from the popular children’s horror book series by R. L. Stine.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup