by Julian Spivey
Director: Malcolm D. Lee
Starring: LeBron James, Cedric Joe & Don Cheadle
Runtime: 1 hour & 55 minutes
I’m surprised LeBron James wanted to do his own version of “Space Jam.” For his entire career he’s been compared to Michael Jordan, maybe fairly, maybe unfairly, but the comparisons have always been there. I’m surprised he’d want to follow in MJ’s shoes when it came to “Space Jam.” But James was probably like so many kids growing up enjoying the combination of Michael Jordan and Looney Tunes that he wanted to set out to make his own impact on today’s young generation the way Jordan did in 1996.
Before I get too far into this review, I wanted to get one thing out of the way – the original “Space Jam” is nothing special. It’s fun entertainment, especially for children, but it’s not great. It’s just so many loved it as children that it holds a special nostalgic place for them in their memories. So, if you don’t like James’ iteration “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” don’t act like it’s tramping on something sacred.
Is “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” directed by Malcolm D. Lee, cousin of Spike Lee, a good movie? No. No it is not. Is it enough to entertain children, which I’d have to assume is its main target featuring Looney Tunes? Probably so, though as a nearly 34-year-old man it’s hard to know what entertains children these days. Do kids still enjoy the Looney Tunes?
It’s important to note that “Space Jam: A New Legacy” is not a remake of “Space Jam.” It’s more akin to a sequel or a stand-alone film. The only similarities are it’s about the world’s biggest basketball star playing basketball with animated characters. I did think that the idea to place the basketball game in ‘A New Legacy’ in cyberspace, whereas the game in the 1996 version was in actual space, was interesting.
What “Space Jam: A New Legacy” does best is its many homages throughout the film to other Warner Bros. properties. You have homages to things like “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Austin Powers,” “Superman,” “Batman,” “The Matrix” and my personal favorite “Casablanca.” I also enjoyed the many characters that served as spectators during the basketball game like King Kong, Pennywise from “IT,” The Wicked Witch of the West and so on. The film also includes a fantastic cameo from actor Michael B. Jordan who, I believe it was Daffy Duck, mistook for the legendary basketball star of the 1996 film in hopes of helping the struggling team at halftime. I particularly love that he tried a “Friday Night Lights” pep talk, as well.
What “Space Jam: A New Legacy” is at heart is a story of fathers and sons and learning as a father to let your kid be who he is – LBJ wants his son (played by Cedric Joe) to love basketball as much as he does and to become great at it, but his son is more focused on creating his own video game.
The biggest disappointment I found in ‘A New Legacy,’ and likely the biggest difference between it and its predecessor, is that the Looney Tunes don’t feel necessary. That’s not something one should feel when watching a Looney Tunes movie. It feels like Bugs Bunny, Lola Bunny, Daffy Duck and the rest of the gang are merely here because it’s “Space Jam” and they’re supposed to be in “Space Jam.” I wanted more of the Tunes than Lee’s movie, written by Juel Taylor, Tony Rettenmaier, Keenan Coogler and Terence Nance, gave us.
It was also disappointing not having many other NBA players play big roles in ‘A New Legacy,” sure Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis, Klay Thompson and others are featured, but the roles aren’t nearly as integral or funny to this film as the appearances of folks like Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Muggsy Bogues and more were in the 1996 film.
Early in “Space Jam: A New Legacy” Lebron James remarks during a WB pitch meeting: “Athletes acting never goes well.” It was a wink to the audience, but it’s also so true.
by Alea Jeremiah
Director: Cate Shortland
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh & David Harbour
Runtime: 2 hours & 14 minutes
After a long wait Marvel’s “Black Widow” has finally arrived in theaters and Disney+ Premiere Access. “Black Widow” is the first Marvel movie we’ve gotten since “Spider-Man: Far From Home” in 2019, an eternity for the superhero movie giant affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw “Black Widow” delayed more than a year.
As a long-time fan of Natasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow), played by Scarlett Johansson, I loved this movie. I was hesitant going in since we had to wait so long for it, but it was worth it!
In “Black Widow,” you get to see a side of Natasha we haven’t seen before. We get to meet her family as they, not so easily, work together when the past creeps back in their lives.
The cast of this film did such a wonderful job. I especially loved David Harbour as Alexei. His character brought the perfect balance of humor and heart. It’s so fascinating learning more about Natasha’s past and what it was like for her before she became an Avenger.
The fight scenes in “Black Widow” are so well done, I didn’t find myself bored once throughout its two hour and 14-minute runtime.
“Black Widow” is bittersweet knowing Natasha’s future, but I think it brings more respect to her character and makes you love her even more.
I’m excited to see what’s next from her family whenever we get the pleasure of seeing them again. No spoilers but you for sure want to stay for the after-credit scene.
by Aprille Hanson-Spivey
Director: Jon M. Chu
Starring: Anthony Ramos, Melissa Barrera & Leslie Grace
Runtime: 2 hours & 23 minutes
As the broken immigration system is fiercely debated in political circles, social media and at the family dinner table, there’s no better time for a film like “In the Heights.” A love-letter to the Latino community, the genius of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musical turned summer smash hit is all about being seen. Sure, the movie is a spectacle in itself. It’s absolutely mesmerizing -- the bright colors, the intricate dance numbers, crystal clear vocals and the hip lyrics that only Miranda can write. It’s easy to get lost in the beauty, but the message is what’s most important.
I couldn’t help but imagine how powerful this movie must be for every Latino watching. Just having that representation on the screen through the actors that highlighted the best of the culture -- hard work ethic, love of family, along with sacrifice and struggle -- is something rare and beautiful.
Inspired by his childhood, Miranda, whose family emigrated from Puerto Rico to New York, made a film that didn’t gloss over real-life struggles, but made the story focus on the celebration of Latin culture. Along with director Jon M. Chu (“Crazy Rich Asians”) at the helm, it’s a near-perfect movie.
The story follows Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), a bodega owner in the Washington Heights neighborhood in northern Manhattan. While it’s never clear how his father died, Usnavi wants to recreate the happiness of his childhood and buys his father’s bar El Suenito on the beach of the Dominican Republic that needs serious TLC after a tropical storm destroyed it. The film opens with him on a beach, presumably at that bar, telling his story to a group of children.
The story is told in flashbacks with a cast of characters each running down their own dreams, searching for their own “El Suenito” while battling both subtle and glaring injustices because of their ethnicity.
Usnavi’s love interest, Vanessa, is a beautician who wants to be a fashion designer, desperate to get out of the Heights while hitting roadblocks, including being passed over for her rental application due to being Latino. Her current job at the beauty salon is heading to the Bronx as owner Daniela (Daphne Rubin-Vega) is set to move, along with fellow beauticians Carla (Stephanie Beatriz) and Cuca (Dascha Polanco). The trio are an absolute delight, particularly in the salon number, “No Me Diga.”
The intelligent and beautiful college student Nina Rosario (Leslie Grace) is back in town from Stanford, the pride and joy of the neighborhood, the one to make it out. But the lack of community in college and racial bias make her want to drop out, haunted by her former little girl-self who wanted to make everyone proud. Meanwhile, she picks right back up with ex-love Benny (Corey Hawkins), who works for her father, prominent business owner Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Smits) at the dispatch company. Kevin, a hard-working immigrant father, will do anything to keep his daughter’s dreams of education alive, even if it means selling his business.
Even though she’s about to give up, the teenage Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), who works at Usnavi’s bodega, inspires her to fight for the undocumented just like him, to change the system.
The glue holding the community together is the elderly Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz), originally from Cuba.
Usnavi wants nothing more than to go to the Dominican Republic with Sonny and Abuela Claudia, so, like most in the neighborhood, hopes to win the lottery. Each character goes on a journey, feeling the intense heat from both the summer during a blackout and the reality that the dreams they want are not always what they need.
There are the extravagant moments, the most fun being the cast singing “96,000” in the water and poolside, hoping they hit that winning jackpot. The heartwarming moments, a family dinner with Abuela Claudia and the mesmerizing moments, most notably Nina and Benny dancing on the side of the apartment building. Abuela Claudia flashing back to when she came to the United States is both powerful and heartbreaking in “Paciencia Y Fe.” Miranda’s cameo as a street cart worker was a nice touch, along with subtle and not-so-subtle odes to his cultural phenomenon “Hamilton.”
Miranda and Chu have weaved a tale of triumph with sprinkles of hardship. They never minimize the issues, but the characters are not defined by them. Each one finds their El Suenito and that’s what matters most. It’s a musical for this moment in time and this generation and will undoubtedly be remembered as a classic.
by Tyler Glover
Director: Craig Gillespie
Starring: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson & Joel Fry
Runtime: 2 hours & 14 minutes
Disney’s journey into live adaptations of its beloved animated classics began with “Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book” in 1994. Shortly after that, Disney did a 101 Dalmatians adaptation in 1996, followed by its’ sequel in 2000. After this, it would be 10 years before Disney would release another one. However, with the enormous success of “Alice In Wonderland” in 2010, Disney immediately started cranking out live adaptations hoping to replicate the box office success of ‘Alice’ and that it has managed to do. So far, the live adaptations in terms of quality have been mixed. There have been some highs (“Aladdin” and “Beauty and the Beast”) and some lows (“Dumbo” and “Christopher Robin”). Audiences have still flocked to these films mostly due to the nostalgia factor.
However, what has been the most fascinating aspect to me is when Disney has explored the origin stories of its villains. What made them become bad? If we are all the heroes of our own stories, what is their motivation? Are they simply misunderstood? Disney hit a homerun with “Maleficent” and when “Cruella” was announced, the hope was for it to be able to match this story. What I did not expect was for it to exceed it.
“Cruella” tells the story of Estella Miller (played by Academy Award winner Emma Stone), a highly creative child who is very interested into fashion but also has a cruel streak. Her mother calls this side of her “Cruella” and wants her to try to hide Cruella away. As Estella grows up, she gets the chance of a lifetime to work with the Baroness, a haute couture designer (played by Academy Award winner Emma Thompson). As Estella works to achieve her dream of being a fashion designer, it threatens the Baroness and battle lines are drawn. In fact, the best scenes of the entire movie are when Cruella and the Baroness are at war with one another. Emma Thompson’s performance is reminiscent of Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada.” She is stone cold as the boss from Hell. Stone is also pitch-perfect and leaves us wanting more even after a two-hour run time. Both Emmas are perfectly cast and both should get Oscar nominations. Will they? Probably not, but it would be very well deserved.
Aside from the strong performances from Stone and Thompson, the film has a spectacular screenplay that really keeps us involved and excited to see what is going to happen next. Also, the film is beautiful to look at with beautiful sets and spectacular costumes that put us into the punk scene of 1970s London. This film will most likely be competing in the Best Costume Design category at the Oscars and stands a good shot at winning.
The only flaw that I really feel the film has is that we do not fully understand Cruella’s motivation as to what made her bad. The film touches on this evil side she has and even talks about how she could have been born that way. While it does touch on whether it is a nature or nurture thing that causes people to be bad, it does not give a clear answer. Although, a sequel has been greenlit so Disney will have a chance to rectify this.
Disney’s other live action venture into a villain’s origin story, “Maleficent,” chose to completely make a villain of King Stefan for us to understand Maleficent. While “Cruella” also shows us a horrible person that our hero had to face, it manages to present us with two three-dimensional characters who even though we may not agree with them, we understand their hunger and their drive for success. In future Disney villain tales, I hope Disney follows the example of “Cruella” rather than “Maleficent.”
“Cruella” has a compelling story that keeps you engrossed the full two hours with captivating performances from its cast, especially the leads. It takes us into the world of ‘70s London with its captivating sets and gorgeous costumes. It also leaves us wanting more and we can only hope that Disney will give the film’s sequel 101 percent like they did on this one. This truly is one of the best live action Disney films of all-time.