Skip commercial Space Jam, but watch Last Letter and Joe Bell

click to enlarge The Last Letter from Your Lover
The Last Letter from Your Lover

Fine acting saves Bell

Good intentions and narrative lapses are at odds in Joe Bell, a fact-based movie with a problematic protagonist. Mark Wahlberg takes on the title role, an impulsive man living in denial with regards to his family and the world he lives in. After being told that his eldest son, Jadin (Reid Miller), is gay and being harassed at school, Joe contends – quite loudly — that he's supportive, but his actions prove otherwise. And when the harassment goes to extremes, he decides to go on a cross-country walk to raise awareness about bullying...or is he?

Joe's journey from self-serving egotist to genuine activist is a rocky one and doesn't, as rendered here, ring entirely true. His leap to awareness isn't completely convincing but ironically, we can't help but empathize with his long-suffering wife (Connie Britton) and children, who put up with his hollow declarations and actions. We suffer right along with them, hoping Joe will eventually see the truth about himself and his son and when he does, it seems a bit too pat. Still, the film's message, the sentiment with which it's delivered and uniformly fine performances make Bell bearable. In theaters

Last Letter avoids melodramatic pitfalls

If you're looking for an unapologetically romantic soap opera, you could do much worse than The Last Letter from Your Lover. Based on the novel by Jojo Moyes, this Netflix feature stars Felicity Jones as Ellie, a reporter who stumbles upon a trove of passionately written love letters. Her own love life in a state of flux, she becomes obsessed with tracking down the authors of these missives, captivated by the passion they contain. Cue the flashback, and we discover the pair is Jennifer Sterling (Shailene Woodley), a discontented high society wife, and reporter Anthony O'Hare (Callum Turner).

Casablanca and An Affair to Remember are both alluded to as Ellie uncovers the tragic love affair, one beset by a manipulative husband, miscommunication and bad timing. Director Augustine Frizzell walks a fine line, never allowing the movie to become too melodramatic, focusing on the interactions between the players, rather than emphasizing the cruel twists of fate they have to contend with. The cast follow her lead, and as a result, we end up invested in their characters' plights when they could have been so easily dismissed. Streaming on Netflix

Brash commercialism ruins Jam

When AT&T took over Warner Brothers and their ancillary companies in 2018, the bean counters in charge made it clear immediately the only thing they were concerned with was the bottom line. A massive number of jobs were eliminated, television projects deemed too expensive were cancelled and various divisions were consolidated to cut costs. Space Jam: A New Legacy was greenlit during this time, seemingly an obvious move to capitalize on the cult reputation of the 1996 Michael Jordan feature.

However, now that Legacy has arrived, it's obvious the suits in charge had something far more mercenary in mind. Its sole purpose is to remind viewers of Warner Brothers' vast catalogue. Using a basketball game that takes place within the studio's computer archive (don't ask), director Rowland Lee and his screenwriters are charged with populating the film with as many of the company's popular characters as possible. As LeBron James pounds the pixelated hardwood, Batman, the Iron Giant, King Kong and myriad others cheer him on, there to plant a seed in our minds that we should take another look at the flicks they're in. Obvious and crass, this is disaster from the tip off. In theaters and streaming on HBO Max.

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