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Space Jamming

We speak with live action actors Sonequa Martin-Green and Don Cheadle about their roles in Space Jam: A New Legacy, and of course, working with LeBron James.
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Space Jam: A New Legacy

animation, family film, Review, Theatrical, This Week 1 Comment

There are big shoes to fill, both literally and metaphorically, when taking on a Space Jam sequel.

The beloved ‘90s flick is, for many, a cherished piece of nostalgia that not only amplified the reputation of basketball superstar Michael Jordan but brought Bugs Bunny and his wacky Looney Tunes comrades back into the mainstream.

Now, twenty-five years later, director Malcolm D. Lee (Girls Trip, Night School) dreams in vibrant-colour and feelgood splendour in the LeBron James (also a producer) lead standalone sequel, Space Jam: A New Legacy.

We learn from the get-go that James has worn the expectation of greatness since childhood. Whether from his mother or coach, the payoff brought on from hard work and dedication is not lost on him. Alas, it is a bittersweet farewell to childhood (RIP Gameboy) and all of the activities that, despite bringing joy, are but distractions for James on the path to excellence.

A brief montage highlighting James’ decorated career brings us to present-day Los Angeles. We now meet a dedicated entrepreneur, philanthropist and family man who despite his immense wealth, still carries with him a studious work ethic that he enforces upon his children, particularly his youngest son Dom (Cedric Joe).

Unable to accept Dom’s passion for making video games, opting to have him focus instead on basketball, James must reckon with his beliefs. It is a feat that materialises physically as James and Dom are tricked into entering the Warner 3000 Server-Verse, a digital universe composed of beloved Warner Bros. IP, by a megalomaniac and shimmeringly dressed A.I., Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle, a delight).

Now a hand-drawn being, James is transported to the dysfunctional Looney Tunes world and must reunite the estranged Tunes (a highlight overloaded with fun references to other properties) to defeat Al-G and his team of monster creations in a game of basketball. To lose would result in James’ imprisonment and the deletion of the Looney Tunes.

Had the trailer left you worried A New Legacy would be a busy explosion of Warner Bros. IP fighting for attention, audiences need not fear. Their presence, in large part observed as characters on the sideline, offers both chuckles and a fresh take in showcasing the Tunes brand of animated dysfunction. (We are not quite watching ‘Ready Player LeBron’ but it would not be surprising if Warner Bros. were working on a live-action adaptation of The Iron Giant.)

What is most thrilling about A New Legacy is the liveliness of the worlds created, with each destination carrying with it a varying style of animation that brings with it added freshness. The key standouts here being the 2D elements, a polished homage to the Tunes origins, and the sleek CGI designs of the basketball duel which, along with the bass-heavy soundtrack, plants the series firmly into 2021.

Character-wise, James and Joe’s relationship feels real, even if the script haphazardly dives too deep into the conventions of sports-drama/family storytelling. These bumpy bouts of dialogue, often feeling like cliched pep-talks, remain fleeting, and are often diffused by humour brought out in a solid voice-cast that brims with personality (albeit the occasional Happy Gilmore impression ringing through).

Given the long stint between Space Jam films, it is tricky to predict what is next for the series: Will James return? Can a sequel work with other sports? Will it be a generational thing? Whatever the case may be, if the antics are as good as they are in A New Legacy, this certainly won’t be all, folks.

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Spirit Untamed

animation, family film, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Last seen galloping freely amongst the North American wild in 2002’s remarkable Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, the world’s favourite honey-coloured mustang, Spirit, makes his big return in CG form in Spirit Untamed.

In the film, gone are well-crafted hand-drawn visuals and the existential poeticism of its predecessor. Instead, first-time director Elaine Bogan favours doll-like animation and well-trodden themes of girl-power “you-can-do-it-isms” that rival Barbie in terms of corporate pep.

Rather than keep Matt Damon on the payroll to narrate a profound introspection on the beauty of freedom (that Spirit is lost somewhere in the Cimarron), we have headstrong youngster “Lucky” Prescott (Isabela Merced, Dora and the Lost City of Gold) taking the reins as lead. Her story, involving the reconnection with her absent yet over-protective father, Jim (Jake Gyllenhaal), lacks any sense of distinguishable flare.

She travels far and wide with a crew of fellow tween activists on a mission to thwart local bandits (Walton Goggins serving as the film’s intentionally under-developed, old-West big baddie, Hendricks) who have captured Spirit’s herd.

Lucky’s relationship with Spirit follows that of other Dreamworks fare, with a potential reworked title of ‘How to Train your Stallion’ feeling better suited.

When the film does tackle themes of animal liberation, it does so in contempt of court; providing mixed messages around free-range living amidst the backdrop of a rodeo. Youngsters in the crowd may find themselves asking their parents why the other horses don’t dream of the same wide open plain living that Spirit does; a retort parents may struggle to find an answer to.

Yes, if you can look past the film’s ties to the original, there is an empowering and positive energy that will resonate with the littlies for which the film is targeted at. For Spirit purists, this film is worlds apart.

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Lupin the Third: The First

animation, Asian Cinema, family film, Home, Home Entertainment, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Remember when an action-adventure film would actually deliver a fun, entertaining romp without the existential angst or deadpan violence? Well, thankfully Lupin the Third: The First has landed to remind us of what good old fashion action-adventure movies can be.

The latest big screen adventure of the titular Monkey Punch creation, Lupin the Third: The First marks the first time the franchise has received full CGI treatment, delivering a beautifully rendered world where its cast of rogues feel completely at home within some remarkable action sequences, exotic locales and an impressive English language dub.

For those unfamiliar with Lupin III, pronounced as a solid French Lu-Pon, the Japanese series has been running since 1967 across a number of mediums including print, animation and live action Japanese films. Created by manga artist Kazuhiko Kato aka Monkey Punch, the story follows the illegal machinations of the grandson of famed French gentleman thief Arsène Lupin, made famous in a series of French novels by Maurice Leblanc. And while the licensing rights, and subsequent lawsuits to the characters are something of legend in Japanese publishing, The First offers newcomers a relaxed, enjoyable introduction to the franchise’s key cast of characters while managing to pay reverence to long time fans, and the Parisian origins of the series.

Set during the 1960s, The First is at heart a heist film, setting our anti-hero Lupin III against his nemesis Detective Zenigata, a naive young officer with a hidden agenda named Laetitia, and a cult of Nazi zealots, all seeking to possess the fabled Bresson Diary; a heavily booby-trapped mechanical book thought to reveal the location of an ancient Aztec weapon known as The Eclipse.

Written and directed by Takashi Yamazaki, whose credits include the Always: Sunset of Third Street trilogy and Parasyte films, The First plays like an authentic ‘80s action-adventure film, offering fans of the genre a familiar cocktail of Indiana Jones, Connery era James Bond and Spielbergian adventure. All of which is complimented by a strong English dub helmed by professional voice actors Tony Oliver (Lupin III) and Laurie Hymes (Laetitia) who imbue their characters with charm, humour and when necessary a perfectly balanced sense of gravitas.

Visually, Lupin the Third: The First delivers a solid CGI experience; while not completely on par with the likes of The Adventures of Tintin, the final product is none-the-less entirely absorbing, crafting a fun urgency to the many raucous chase scenes while the cataclysmic effects of the film’s ultimate McGuffin, The Eclipse are brilliantly effective.

While it may not have the exposure that a Pixar or Disney film might attract, Lupin the Third: The First certainly deserves a look. It goes without saying that it’s been an exhausting year, and if you’re looking to indulge your nostalgia of more relaxed times, or simply looking to educate your kids on what movies use to feel like, then embrace a little cinematic self-love and take yourself, and the family, to the see Lupin the Third: The First in cinemas.

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Cruella

family film, Home, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Seeing Disney announce another live-action remake of a classic IP is like seeing a beloved celebrity trending on social media: as soon as it catches the eye, there’s a sinking feeling that something horrible has just occurred. What started out as a potentially interesting attempt at postmodern self-reflection on the studio’s part has become soured by the presence of recent duds (Beauty And The Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King) and even the better ones haven’t crossed the threshold into ‘vital’ territory as of yet. But if there is any goodwill left out there for these re-dos, if it can be condensed into one last burst of optimism that something will go right, then it should be directed towards Cruella, because the Haus of Maus might actually be onto something here.

Cruella is cut from the same cloth as Maleficent in its character-redefining mission statement, with Emma Stone delivering the best Eva Green performance she never gave as an anti-hero Cruella, but dyed with surprisingly darker colours.

Cruella’s backstory may have its sticking points (the reworking of the dalmatians struts right up to the edge of desperation), but in pitting Cruella’s Vivienne Westwood-isms against Emma Thompson as the deliciously narcissistic Baroness, the depiction of fashion-punk revenge is as garish and well-frocked as it is murky and psychological.

Just as the actors have been well-picked (including another show-stealing turn from Paul Walter Hauser), those behind the camera are also ideal. Director Craig Gillespie gets to deconstruct the image of a pop culture villain as he did with I, Tonya, writer Tony McNamara gets to poke at the obscenity of the rich upper class a la The Favourite and The Great, and co-writer Dana Fox breaks out the same sense of pointed but ultimately light-hearted subversion that made Isn’t It Romantic watchable.

Add to that the kind of costume design that outright demands academic attention, and imagery that cross-breeds Baz Luhrmann and Derek Jarman like they’re peanut butter and chocolate, and it’s just enough to override the insidious soundtrack.

Admittedly, Disney banking on the punk rock aesthetic is bound to raise eyebrows in a ‘Kendall-Jenner-selling-Pepsi’ kind of way, and there’s a definite Dumbo-esque feeling of Emmanuel Goldstein chicanery involved. But it’s a testament to the skills of everyone in attendance that even that becomes a non-issue before too long. Even with the slightly-overlong running time and the aforementioned soundtrack salad, this represents a major turning point for the Disney remakes.

Cruella contains an aesthetic wholly of its own design, rather than just the same Chanel suit being altered ad infinitum, and while the story still has its recognisable elements (it shares a story credit with The Devil Wears Prada and it shows), the bespoke balance of light and darkness is rocked with such utmost confidence and poise that it looks absolutely fabulous. Kind of like Cruella’s hair.

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The Mighty Ducks: OG Game Changers

The scrappy young cast of The Mighty Ducks were barely teens when they broke into the spotlight back in 1992, featuring opposite Emilio Estevez in this enduring family dramedy about a ragtag youth ice hockey team. And now they’re back for 1 special episode in the Disney+ series.