Space Jam: A New Legacy

STREAMING REVIEW:

Warner/HBO Max;
Comedy;
Rated ‘PG’ for some cartoon violence and some language.
Stars LeBron James, Don Cheadle, Cedric Joe, Khris Davis, Sonequa Martin-Green, Ceyair J Wright, Harper Leigh Alexander, Sue Bird, Anthony Davis, Draymond Green, Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson, Nneka Ogwumike, Diana Taurasi.

Borrowing the same basic concept of its 1996 predecessor, Space Jam: A New Legacy dives into the realm of video games to bring the Looney Tunes back to the basketball court.

As with the original, the story involves an NBA player teaming up with Bugs Bunny and the gang in a high-stakes basketball game with dire consequences if they lose. The 1996 version starred Michael Jordan, who was recruited to help save the Tunes from being imprisoned by the owner of a cartoon amusement park planet.

The 21st century version of the premise involves LeBron James, the current era’s equivalent of a player with Jordan’s superstar stature. However, fans of the original film looking for another fun romp that doesn’t take itself too seriously will likely find themselves disappointed early in the proceedings, as A New Legacy quickly devolves into what is essentially a promotional reel for Warner Bros. IP.

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Space Jam: A New Legacy plays like a collaboration between the marketing departments of the NBA and WarnerMedia, resulting in a script that seems like it was developed by a PR committee that just finished a marathon of the original Space Jam, Ready Player One, Tron and the “Wreck-It Ralph” movies.

The story involves LeBron being recruited by Warner Bros., for a partnership involving a new slate of films in which he would be scanned into a computer and inserted into several movies created by a algorithm named Al G. Rhythm (given humanoid form by Don Cheadle) that controls the supercomputer where all Warner’s characters are stored.

LeBron’s reaction to this little piece of meta-commentary on Hollywood’s creative bankruptcy is to declare that the idea of athletes acting in movies is a bad idea, and thus Al’s proposal is stupid. The movie then proceeds to do exactly what it thinks it’s cleverly making fun of.

After Al takes offense to LeBron’s rejection, he somehow traps LeBron and his movie son, Dom (Cedric Joe), in the computer to get revenge.

Conveniently for the plot, 12-year-old Dom is some sort of genius video game designer, so Al steals his basketball video game as the arena for the contest that will allow LeBron to win his son back and earn their freedom.

For their team, the Goon Squad, Al and Dom create super-powered avatars based on some of the top NBA and WNBA players. All LeBron has to do is recruit a team of Warner Bros. characters to compete with them. His first instincts are to team up with the likes of Superman and King Kong, but then LeBron meets Bugs Bunny and his plans are derailed.

It seems Bugs is the only character left in the Looney Tunes section of the Warner Bros. Serververse (where each franchise has its own “world” that looks like a cartoon planet) because Al convinced the other Tunes their talents would be better served elsewhere. Daffy Duck, for example, hangs out in the DC Comics-based world posing as superman, complete with the John Williams theme.

Bugs uses LeBron’s predicament as an excuse to round up his friends on the pretense that they’re the ones being recruited to play. And thus, LeBron ends up teaming up with the Tune Squad for the big game, just like Mike 25 years earlier.

LeBron’s version, though, is more of a reboot or a remake than a sequel. It’s a completely standalone adventure that makes just a few passing references to the original while mostly ignoring its established worldbuilding. The original featured the Tunes as real-world characters living in their own realm beneath the surface of Earth (not unlike Toontown from Who Framed Roger Rabbit), while the bad guys were cartoon aliens from another planet, hence the “space” in Space Jam. The new iteration is more like “Cyberspace Jam” given how it pretty much all takes place in virtual reality.

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The creators of A New Legacy also appear to have misunderstood what made the story of the original work beyond the basic premise. The original film was as much the story of Jordan rediscovering his love of basketball as it was about the Looney Tunes playing alongside him. The movie famously chronicles Jordan’s real-life foray into an attempt to play professional baseball after he abruptly retired from the NBA following three championships. The film ties into this by having the evil aliens steal the talent from top NBA stars; as Jordan was away from basketball, his talent was left intact, leaving him for the Looney Tunes to recruit.

A New Legacy, on the other hand, has such a cut-and-paste story that they could have plugged nearly any marketable NBA player into it without it being fundamentally different, since the player’s family at the center of the story is entirely fictional. And then they chose LeBron James, one of the most unlikable players in the NBA, who in some metrics is considered the league’s most-hated player.

For the big game, the movie’s creators are essentially just playing a game of “spot the famous Warner Bros. character” in the audience, as the court is surrounded by extras dressed in recognizable costumes but who bear little resemblance to the original actors who played them (the guy dressed as Robin from the 1960s “Batman” show is especially distracting as he dances around every time he’s on camera).

As much as it all is an excuse for glitzy graphics and flashy colors, it should at the very least keep small children entertained.

Avengers: Endgame

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 8/13/19;
Disney/Marvel;
Action;
Box Office $857 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language.
Stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Holland, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Tom Hiddleston, Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista, Letitia Wright, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Evangeline Lilly, Tessa Thompson, Benedict Wong, Jon Favreau, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Rene Russo, John Slattery, Tilda Swinton, Hayley Atwell, Natalie Portman, Marisa Tomei, Taika Waititi, Angela Bassett, Michael Douglass, Michelle Pfeiffer, William Hurt, Cobie Smulders, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford, Josh Brolin.

A satisfying ending is a beautiful thing.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe began as one of the boldest gambits in movie history: a comic book company financing its own movies, based on relatively unknown characters, with the hope of someday uniting them in a crossover.

While no one could have predicted that 2008’s Iron Man would be as big a hit as it was, the other early films of the MCU were much more modestly received, and it wasn’t until the first Avengers film in 2012, the sixth in the MCU canon, that the true potential of what they were trying to pull off came into focus.

With Avengers: Endgame, the 22nd film in the MCU, that effort has resulted in the highest-grossing film of all time worldwide. Say what you will about the corporate structure of Hollywood and the surging dominance of all things Disney, which owns Marvel, but the industry-shattering creative forces of producer Kevin Feige and his team simply have to be admired for their shear audicity.

Avengers: Endgame brings together just about every notable character to play a role in the previous 21 MCU films to close out a number of storylines that have been weaving through the films for 11 years.

Foremost among them was the aftermath of last year’s Avengers: Infinity War, which ended with one of the biggest cliffhangers in the history of cinema, as the villainous Thanos (Josh Brolin) assembled all six Infinity Stones and caused half of all life in the universe to disappear with a snap of his fingers.

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Like the best series finales, Endgame manages to capture the essential elements of what fans love most about these films, providing both a feeling of nostalgia and a sense of how far things progressed from the beginning to now, all while giving the characters a sense of closure that honors who they are and what they’ve fought for.

And yet, Endgame is not the end of the MCU. The currently in theaters Spider-Man: Far From Home provides a nice little epilogue to it, and Feige at Comic-Con showed off a roadmap of the MCU’s next phase. However, Endgame is certainly a well-earned conclusion for several chapters of it.

Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, and written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, Avengers: Endgame is a testament to narrative efficiency despite its three-hour running length.

The Marvel movies have hit upon a winning formula of consistency, and Endgame is really no different. There are certain things the audience expects of it, but that’s not to say it approaches these goals in expected ways. The screenplay manages to defy expectations in its plot twists but remains true to the characters and provides a number of emotional payoffs that will particularly hit home for fans who have managed to follow the story arcs through all the films. This is simply a level of catharsis that stems from a 20-film journey that simply cannot be matched by most other cinematic achievements.

Endgame perfectly balances its sense of seriousness and tension with appropriate levels of humor and fun, resulting in a brisk pace that keeps the viewer eager to see what comes next. The film also warrants multiple viewings just to absorb the level of detail layered into the film.

The story is something of a love letter to the fans in the way it ingeniously re-visits some of the previous MCU films from a new perspective, deepening those films in small ways retroactively. Yet it wouldn’t be an “Avengers” film if it didn’t also culminate in what has to be the ultimate big-screen superhero battle.

The Russos have become masters of visual storytelling, which is a rather important quality to have when the goal is to adapt a comic book. Endgame is perhaps the biggest comic book movie ever made in terms of its scope, and the Russos are especially adept at framing their shots for maximum impact. It comes as no surprise that the film looks great on Blu-ray, with bright colors and sharp visual effects.

Another challenge brushed off with aplomb is balancing the sheer number of characters involved in a story of this magnitude, especially given the assemblage of performers of the magnitude the MCU has the clout to get. The closing credits of Endgame include the names of at least eight Oscar winners, and five of them appeared together in one of the film’s key scenes. Needless to say, the performances all around do not disappoint.

The film’s effectiveness is also given a huge boost by a phenomenal musical score by Alan Silvestri, who is perhaps the greatest living film composer who has yet to win an Oscar. Unlike Infinity War, in which the primary musical identities were Thanos and the Avengers as a group, Endgame revisits several character themes from the previous films, resulting in a deeply satisfying musical narrative. This approach only heightens the emotional connection between the audience and the characters, particularly when it comes to Captain America (unsurprising, since 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger was Silvestri’s first MCU effort).

These are details that, when combined, make it easy to overlook those parts of the film (and the MCU) in general that probably shouldn’t be thought about too much, and instead appreciate what the film has managed to accomplish.

The Blu-ray provides a great feature-length commentary from the Russos and the screenwriters as they reflect on their long MCU careers, analyze the various moving parts of the franchise, and provide some great insights on the making of the film and the challenges of cleanly telling a story that is complicated by its nature. The Russos also offer a short introduction to the film.

There are also 36 minutes of featurettes, many of which shine a light more on the history of the MCU and how things evolved into this particular film. There are spotlights on the story arcs of Captain America, Black Widow, Thor and Iron Man (the latter also including Robert Downey Jr.’s screen test for the role). The Russos and their impact on the MCU is the subject of another featurette.

There’s a vignette that celebrates the many female heroes of the MCU. Also, the disc includes a seven-minute tribute to Stan Lee and a look back at his many cameos in the MCU movies.

Other extras on the Blu-ray include a funny two-minute gag reel and six deleted scenes, which offer a mix of fun and poignancy, especially the ones that make light of perceived plot holes from earlier movies. The excised footage features unfinished visual effects and runs about five minutes.

Digital versions available at Movies Anywhere and many digital retailers, such as Vudu, offer these extras as well as a six-minute featurette about the relationship between Captain America and his true love, Peggy Carter.

Streaming Video Service Quibi Discloses 2020 Launch Date, Pricing, Programming

Quibi (“quick bites”), the mobile-based subscription streaming video service created by Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman, is slated to launch April 6, 2020 with two pricing plans.

Katzenberg, who sold DreamWorks Animation to Comcast for $3.8 billion in 2016, and Meg Whitman, former CEO of Hewlett Packard and eBay, unveiled further details of the short-form video service backed by $1 billion in funding at recent media events in Los Angeles and Banff, Canada.

The $4.99 monthly plan will feature advertising, while a $7.99 plan will be ad-free.

“We’ve just raised $1 billion,” Whitman told attendees at the event hosted by the Producers Guild of America. “But we will go out to the market, in the fall or next spring. We don’t need the money right now, but we will need more to get to break even.”

With its deep pockets (Whitman expects to generate another $500 million in funding this year), Quibi has attracted mainstream talent both in front and behind the camera.

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Steven Spielberg is writing a horror series that will only be viewable at night. Speaking at the Banff World Media Festival June 9, Katzenberg said the episodic series, “Spielberg’s After Dark” will only be accessible after the user’s smartphone senses what time of the day it is.

Directors Antoine Fuqua (Training Day), Sam Raimi (Spider-Man), Guillermo del Toro and Don Cheadle, among others, have projects underway with Quibi.

Katzenberg said the platform is targeting users with episodic content that is from seven-to-10 minutes long. Quibi promises 125  pieces of content weekly and 7,000 titles in the first year.

“What Quibi is doing, it’s not really short form,” Katzenberg said. “Chapters or act breaks … are specifically shot to be watched on the go. If you’re 25-35 years old, you get up and you’re on [a smartphone] for over five hours [a day].”