Michael B. Jordan makes his first feature as director in his third Creed film as star. Creed III sees a retired Adonis Creed living comfortably with his wife and daughter, the walls of their mansion coated with trophies achieved during successful careers… until a figure from Adonis’ past comes back to haunt him.
If that language sounds clichéd, then good, because the film is nothing but. 2015’s Creed was a powerful reinvigoration of the Rocky series, so perhaps it’s fitting that this third instalment is reminiscent of those Roman numeralled sequels, all soap opera and surface. What could have been rich and dramatic is instead thin and uninterested in complexity. But the fights are nice and punchy and Jonathan Majors’ Damian is a bright spark, so there’s that.
1996’s Space Jam is beloved of people Mike’s age throughout the Western hemisphere, despite basketball’s limited reach beyond North America – it was a Looney Tunes film, full of imagination and laughs, and is today a nostalgic linchpin for millennials. And because millennials now make films, it’s back, twenty years on, with Space Jam: A New Legacy, featuring LeBron James in Michael Jordan’s central role as the basketball star who joins forces with the Looney Tunes to defeat a team of superpowered villains.
But the wit and tone of the 1996 original is nowhere to be found here, beyond those unacceptably brief moments in which Bugs Bunny and co. get to shine. There’s a heavy focus on family, a theme that’s come up more than a few times on recent podcasts and never feels intelligently explored, with LeBron’s son held hostage in scenes that are supposed to heighten the sense of threat but in fact just grind any sense of entertainment to dust. But even that isn’t the film’s biggest problem – it’s the corporate project of it all.
Now, that a big-budget studio property has a corporate project to it is no surprise, but the extent of A New Legacy‘s is shocking. As LeBron and his son are sucked into Warner Bros.’ computers, the studio’s back catalogue becomes their universe, quite literally. The Looney Tunes have a planet. Harry Potter has a planet. Game of Thrones has a planet. Even Casablanca has a planet. And throughout, clips from old films are invaded by the Looney Tunes, references pop up constantly, and characters from countless properties pepper the crowd at the climactic basketball game. Any of these alone is nothing to screech about, and indeed, spotting characters and references is fun on its own merit – but the ethos behind it all, of making Warner Bros. the sole provider of culture in a universe pathetically dependent on the work it cannibalises from itself, is as revolting as it is revoltingly proud of itself. It really has to be seen to be believed. But in order to believe it you’d have to see it. What a dilemma.
So, no. We don’t recommend Space Jam: A New Legacy. Mike’s still going to try to get José to watch the first one though.
From a central focus on two aspiring young basketball hopefuls from Chicago, Hoop Dreams weaves an incredible tapestry of race and class in America, without once explaining itself to the audience, without once winking and imploring us to notice something. William Gates and Arthur Agee, two black boys of about 14 or 15 years old, are plucked from their neighbourhoods by a scout for St. Joseph’s High School in Westchester, a white suburban private school that dips into the inner city looking for talent to boost its basketball team, chucking back any kid that doesn’t show enough promise. Over the course of several years, we follow William and Arthur’s development.
William and Arthur don’t start in the same place – William is touted as the next Isiah Thomas, a former St. Joseph’s alumnus who reached the NBA, and receives as an individual gift a personally guaranteed scholarship to St. Joseph’s from a wealthy benefactor. Arthur is labelled with no particular expectation beyond that he shows the potential to go pro, and whose partial scholarship becomes a financial burden once the school decides they’ve had enough of him – they want tuition fees from him now. The stresses put on these boys come from all angles – their school demands they perform for the team while keeping their grades up, their parents and communities put all their hopes into their success, and achieving stardom, a vanishingly unlikely prospect, feels like the only hope for a life free of minimum wage jobs and the power being cut off because of unpaid bills. Over the course of three hours, we understand intimately who William and Arthur are, the familial and socioeconomic circumstances that shape them, and follow them as they grow, learn, and encounter hurdles throughout their time at St. Joseph’s.
Hoop Dreams is an all-time great documentary, a portrait of life in early Nineties America that is both a state-of-the-nation declaration for its time and effortlessly legible and relevant today.
Following his critically acclaimed documentaries about Formula One legend Aryton Senna and troubled jazz singer Amy Winehouse, Asif Kapadia turns his inquisitive lens to Diego Maradona, arguably the greatest footballer of all time, and a man who moved rapidly from the slums of Buenos Aires to worldwide fame, winning the World Cup with Argentina and leading declining Italian club Napoli to two league championships. Kapadia’s film beautifully and economically tells his story, making understandable and human the dark side that accompanies the success, including an illegitimate son, his infamous addiction to cocaine, and perhaps less well-known, his association with the Camorra, the Neapolitan crime syndicate.
Mike has never really “got” these kinds of documentaries, and José is more than happy to oblige him with his impressions of what they do, and in particular what this one does so well. It is not just about the man but about the times, places, people and cultures that were the environment of his life. Maradona is rendered deeply human as the film details the grip that not only the Camorra held on him but also his football team, Napoli’s president refusing to sell him at his request, a capitalist demand for the value he holds, and then, when he is used up, this once-idolised, deified icon of Napoli is unceremoniously discarded, left to quietly slink away as his former worshippers turn on him – and all the while, the human cost to Maradona is incalculable, his extraordinary level of fame extraordinarily difficult to cope with, his descent into deeper drug dependence tragic and his punishment for beating Italy at the World Cup brutal. The film draws an important and poetic distinction between Diego and Maradona, as described by Fernando Signorini, his former fitness coach at Napoli: Diego is the youngster from the slum who loves to play, has insecurities and worries, and is, as Signorini says, “a wonderful boy”; Maradona is the star, the mask that cannot show any weakness, and an unpleasant counterpart to Diego – but without Maradona, Diego would still be in those slums. What the world has always seen is Maradona. What Kapadia shows us is Diego, hidden away, a victim of his own success, further and further buried but, nonetheless, always present.
We also talk a little about Amy, Kapadia’s 2015 documentary, which Mike has watched recently as José’s suggestion and truly loathed, finding it as exploitative and demon-feeding as the media frenzy it depicts and decries. José believes that Mike is too moralistic, but Mike disagrees, and that’s where we leave it.
But! Diego Maradona. It’s a truly great documentary, complex and rich, subtle and tragic, beautifully, smoothly edited, and featuring plenty of thrilling footage of one of the greatest footballers of all time doing the things that gave him that reputation. It’s fantastic. Don’t miss it.
The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.
The story of Tonya Harding raises all manner of issues for us to delve into. I, Tonya is a film about class, domestic abuse, celebrity, opportunity, achievement. We examine its visual design and use of competing aspect ratios, its use of direct address to camera, and the conceptualisation of the working class characters and mother-daughter relationship. Mike believes it insists upon Tonya Harding’s fame too heavily, not aware of how she’s only really remembered in the USA. José finds its portrayal of working class people uncomfortable. An energetic discussion.
The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.
The story of the rivalry between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe at the 1980 Wimbledon Championships, discussed by Jose Arroyo and Michael Glass. One a hotheaded youngster, fuelled by anger and unable to keep his temper in check. The other an elder statesman, cool and calm, analytical and detached. And then there’s Borg and McEnroe.
The podcast can be listened to in the player above or at this link.