Issue 9, Volume 89

Page 1

@thedailycougar Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Issue 9, Volume 89

Est. 1934

January 31, 2024 Front Page 8 Pages Color: Full Color

The Rec

The Hub




2 | Wednesday, January 31, 2024






No gains: Recreation Center renovations lead to student frustrations

“The construction they’re doing has made it a lot harder for students to actually have access to the gym,” said junior theater major Sarah Dugain. | Anh Le/ The Cougar



Students giddy to follow through on their New Year’s resolutions were met with disappointment at the start of the spring semester when they returned to find the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center still draped in white construction tarps. The Fitness Zone, located on the second level of the Rec Center, has been closed since mid-November. Now confined entirely to the first floor, students have begun to

complain about cramped conditions, access to equipment and a perceived failure on behalf of the University to communicate with the student body. “I didn’t expect for the second story to be closed this semester,” said junior theater major Sarah Dugain. “I feel that the construction they are doing has made it a lot harder for students to actually have access to the gym.” The second floor’s Fitness Zone was the heart of the Rec Center where members could use all the machines, weights and equipment needed for a full-body workout. Now UH, with a total enrollment of over 46,000 students as of fall 2023, is trying to accommodate its entire population of gymgoers with significantly reduced space. Since the second level has been closed the University has opened the Red Zone — a fitness space with squat racks, dumbbells, kettlebells, battle ropes and other exercise equipment. However, space is still noticeably limited compared to the second floor’s Fitness Zone. The University has also decided to move some equipment from upstairs to Court One of the main gym — a temporary measure until construction is completed, according to executive director for UH Campus Recreation Kim Clark. Many students, however, feel the stopgap facilities are a far cry from those offered previously. “You don’t have anything for back workouts. There are only bench presses for chest and nothing for shoulders or legs. So you don’t really have anything to work with,” said business management sophomore Diego Gonzalez. Gonzalez said this is his first semester at UH, and he was looking forward to using the Rec and no longer having to rely on a gym

membership. But now he is unsure about his options and said his routine has been thrown off. “It kind of messed up my routine,” Gonzalez said. “I’m used to five days a week at the gym. And then I get here and you can’t really get a full workout.” Most of Gonzalez’s friends have abandoned the Rec for alternative gyms, which he is also considering, he said. The lack of space and equipment has made many students aside from Gonzalez question their loyalty to the Rec. Some students have contemplated switching gyms while others are paying for a thirdparty membership on top of the fees they pay in their tuition for the Rec Center. Since the second floor has closed, many students have rushed to social media to express their opinions. There were nearly a dozen posts in the University of Houston

A sign is placed in the walkway of the Rec Center. | Anh Le/The Cougar

subreddit within the first two weeks of the semester mentioning the Rec with a majority of them wondering if the gym is even open and fully functioning. Among the many problems students are facing with the UH Rec Center this spring, transparency has been on top of the list. Students are confused about when the project is expected to be completed or why they are making renovations in the first place. “I just want them to be more clear about communicating with students because this is already the second or third time they said it’s gonna open and then it hasn’t,” said accounting sophomore Delia Grantham. Although the UH Homepage says $112, the UH Rec and Wellness Center is a $118 mandatory fee students pay during the fall and spring semesters. Students can find this total by looking at Mandatory fees in their Student Financials Collection under payment history. Many students frustrated with paying fees related to the Rec Center wish there was a way to opt out similar to the Cougar Access Textbook Program. “There should be an option to opt-out for the people that only used the second floor and who feel like they’re being restricted when they go to the Rec,” Grantham said. In April 2023, the Rec began a threephase construction project to replace the floors on each level due to damage from previous moisture issues in the facility, Clark said. “The existing rubber floor was damaged and worn down in the strength section and other high-traffic areas, and the subfloor was also damaged in some sections causing it to be uneven,” Clark said. Construction on the second level is part of this floor replacement project and was initially restricted for use the week of Thanksgiving. UH expected the job to be finished by the spring semester. However, that was not the case. “Unfortunately, the project team found deeper issues once the existing floor was removed and additional repairs were needed before the new floor could be installed,” Clark said. “We were unable to reopen the Fitness Zone by the first week of spring classes, but it is expected to be open in a few weeks.” The complete three-phase project is estimated to be finished by May 2024. But students can expect the second-floor Fitness Zone to be finished in early February, Clark said. “We recognize the inconvenience to students and appreciate their understanding as we work to make these necessary improvements that will ensure we have a safe and well-maintained space that will support the fitness and overall well-being of our students for years to come,” Because of setbacks in various projects over the years, some students are wary to trust the administration when it comes to timelines. “If it’s not done by next month, then they’re honestly just bulls*****g,” Gonzalez said.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024 | 3 ROBERT DE LA GARZA, EDITOR






Project in Zone E limits parking spots for students New dining

facility delayed, name changed LOGAN LINDER


“Parking should be more helpful towards students since we are paying for the passes and tuition at UH,” said marketing senior Mitchell Hudson said. | Anh Le/The Cougar



On the first day of the Spring semester, students were surprised to find a large part of Zone E Lot blocked off for construction. With no knowledge of the closure, many students found themselves displaced with no accommodations. In an email sent to students later that day, UH Parking and Transportation Services told students that, “a portion of Zone E will be closed to vehicles and pedestrians through Feb. 29 as Facilities/Construction Management runs underground conduits for new lights and security cameras.” It is unclear when the area was initially closed down for construction, but students parking there found out about the partial closure on the first day of classes. “I didn’t know at first, I just drove in and went down the middle lane to my usual spot to see a giant area sectioned off with

“The limited parking has made it difficult for students to find a space and it’s not uncommon for them to search 10-15 minutes looking for a spot.” Mitchell Hudson, marketing senior. caution tape,” said physics and computer science senior Frank Landry. “I was not given any advance notice and I never received an email as well.” In response to students complaining in a Reddit post, Parking and Transportation Services replied with a link to the email sent to Zone E permit holders. “Parking and Transportation Services was aware of this project and as a result of the

reduced number of available spaces, we also reduced the number of permits available in Zone E for the spring semester,” said Parking and Transportation Services assistant director Richard Zagrzecki. “We sold the appropriate number of parking permits to ensure we accommodate those Zone E permit holders.” However, students argue they have still been negatively impacted by the closure. The limited parking has made it difficult for students to find a space, with some spending as much as 10-15 minutes looking for a parking space, said marketing senior Mitchell Hudson. Zone E also happens to be the nearest lot to Cullen Oaks, Cambridge Oaks and The Quads. Some commuters say they are competing with students who live in these dorms and feel it’s unfair they’re forced to share spots with residents who camp their cars in Zone E more often than not. “There’s a fight over spaces and commuters are going to be at a disadvantage because they have to give up their parking spot every day and students who live on campus get to keep it most of the week,” Landry said. Students have not been offered an alternative solution to tackle this problem. When complaints have been brought to UH Parking and Transportation Services, Hudson said the response felt cold and unsympathetic. Students are upset with how UH has handled this situation, but this is not the first time students have complained due to decisions made by UH Parking. “Parking should be more helpful towards the students since we are paying for the passes and tuition at UH,” Hudson said. “They should operate more towards the benefit of the students and not the benefit of the parking office and how much money they make.” The construction is expected to be finished by the end of February, according to Zagrzecki. However, some students are hesitant about the timeline considering their past experiences with construction on

campus. Landry said the situation has exacerbated the existing stress of finding a parking spot before class. “If I have to continuously search for parking in the lot that I have a pass for, it’ll be a major inconvenience for me,” Hudson said.

“There’s a fight over spaces and commuters are going to be at a disadvantage because they have to give up their parking spot every day and students who live on campus get to keep it most of the week.” Frank Landry, physics and computer science senior. Some students also said they are worried about their safety because Zone E is the furthest lot and has a reputation for being unsafe on campus. “Zone E is very thinly shaped, meaning that more often than not you’re stuck all the way in the back, causing you to walk even further to a class. It’s often the last lot to go and has a reputation for being dangerous,” Landry said. In 2022, the University committed $18 million to upgrade the campus lighting system. The project will continue throughout 2025, in addition to programs such as Walk in the Dark and FIXIT, said UH spokesperson Shawn Lindsey.

Due to construction and supply chain delays, the Retail Auxiliary and Dining Center, formerly The Hub, will now fully open in fall 2024 despite an original opening date of this spring. Replacing the Student Center Satellite, The RAD Center will open another location of the UH staple The Nook Cafe and a new Market location in early February. All six food concepts won’t be fully open until the fall of 2024 as the pandemic is still having lasting effects on its production. “The pandemic was a huge factor in delays for the project from significant inflation which required revising the scope of the building,” said executive director of Auxiliary Services Deborah Huebler. “And supply chain issues that arose during that time, in addition to delays from weather.” The Nook, which has been a part of campus since 2013, will see little differences in the RAD Center’s location, offering similar menus and services. “I think it’s great we’re expanding within campus,” said Nook shift lead Katia Maldonado and UH alumna. “The staff and students have built a great relationship and we’re hoping to bring that same experience and familiar faces to the second location.” Opening with the rest of the center this fall are The Burger Joint, a handcrafted burger and milkshake eatery, The Taco Stand that serves authentic tacos, tortas, burritos and more, Paper Lantern, an Asian grill and sushi place, and Absurd Bird, a chicken shack. On top of construction delays, The RAD Center has also undergone a name change. The change was due to conflicts with another building also to be named the hub. The Innovation Hub, which is set to start development soon and will open next fall. Planning for The RAD Center, then called The Food Hall, began in 2018 after the underground Student Center Satellite experienced significant flooding. While it was slated to open the summer of 2022 delays caused the groundbreaking ceremony of the center to take place that year instead. “We know that with the closure of the old Satellite building in 2019, a sort of food desert was created on that portion of campus,” Huebler said. “The opening of the RAD Center will help fill a gap in food options for campus customers who work, visit and study in that area; and will contribute to a more robust and comprehensive dining program for the overall campus.”

4 | Wednesday, January 31, 2024






After a year off the court, Ramon Walker has regained his love for basketball



Hours before each game, Ramon Walker Jr. walks onto the court before the rest of the UH bench unit comes out for pre-game warmups. He starts with some stretching, then begins shooting free throws before stepping back behind the three-point line until his teammates join him. He’s alone. Save for maybe a student manager to help rebound, he’s putting in work before anyone else. Once the whole team comes out, he splits his time doing drills with both the guards and the big men. He’s the only player that does so. That’s the type of routine and commitment to his craft Walker, now in his third season at Houston, has built for himself in what was a difficult last year. “I trust in the work that I put in,” Walker said. “I come in here at night and shoot a thousand shots. Just seeing the ball go in a bunch of times and shooting it with confidence.” This time last year, Walker was away from the program to “work on Ramon” as head coach Kelvin Sampson put it. Walker had last played in the team’s conference opener against Tulsa on Dec. 28, 2022, and would later be given a medical redshirt and sit out the rest of the season. It was a far cry from Walker’s position just 10 months prior. As a true freshman in 2021-22, Walker was thrust into a prominent role after season-ending injuries to Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark left him as the only remaining guard on the bench. Walker played a critical role in the depleted Cougars’ Elite Eight run, playing 27 minutes in the team’s Sweet 16 upset over one-seed Arizona and bringing a much-needed spark with his relentless effort and reliable jump shot. But the return of Sasser and Mark the next year along with the addition of several freshmen who warranted playing time saw Walker’s role come into question. Also, a hand injury which Walker admittedly came back too quickly from caused him to develop a bad hitch in his shot. As the season progressed, the sophomore’s minutes began to dwindle along with his state of mind until the mutual decision was made to sit out to

Ramon Walker Jr. has taken advantage of his time on the court after stepping away from the program last year due to personal reasons. He played an unexpectedly large role in his freshman season in 2021-22. | Anh Le/The Cougar

focus on his mental health. “All of a sudden his role changed. And, you know, that changed his life in a lot of ways,” Sampson said. “He had to take care of some off-the-court issues that far, far, far exceeded the importance of athletics or basketball.” With basketball out of the picture for the time being, Walker found himself without the game he loved and without direction. Before he could begin the process of returning to the court, Walker had to do some soul-searching. “Just really taking a long look in the mirror. Like, what don’t I like about myself,” Walker said. “And how can I go about just fixing those little flaws that I had, and being a better person.” With the support of the program along the way, Walker rediscovered his love for basketball and decided that moving forward his focus would solely be on getting back on the court. Walker built a solid routine throughout the spring and summer and his mental health steadily came with it. “Just building structure, like having a

Ramon Walker is shooting a respectable to 35.3 percent from three-point range and 3.2 rebounds per game in 18 games this season. | Anh Le/The Cougar

schedule, knowing what I’m going to do day in and day out has really helped me get in the system,” Walker said. “Just engulfing myself in basketball.” “When you go through that adversity, you find out really quickly, do you like it or love it,” said assistant coach Kellen Sampson. “And I think what Ramon found out about himself is that he loves it. And he made sure that his plan B was making sure plan A worked.” Once Walker was ready to get back to work and his hand was finally fully healed, the next step, with the help of Kellen, was a long and grueling one: rebuilding his jumper. The process of pulling the wires back on a shot that once helped Walker win the Guy V. Lewis Award for best high school player in Houston would take a toll on anyone. Countless hours in the gym were spent performing fundamental, seemingly elementary shooting drills over and over, trying to find something consistent and repeatable, encouraged by every make and frustrated with every miss. “The hardest thing for all these guys to go through is when you struggle at something that your whole life, you’ve been terrific at,” Kellen said. “Once we could grasp why and what happened, and could kind of get him to exhale and not be living and dying with every miss, you can start to put the pieces back together.” Slowly but surely, Walker’s shot began to improve. Though the issue stemmed from his hand injury, Kellen emphasized to Walker the importance of first building a base with his lower body to create a duplicable, easy shot. And while the confidence began to grow in his stroke, the younger Sampson made sure that Walker understood that his value on the court went beyond just his shooting and that his energizer-bunny-like ability to defend and grab rebounds and loose balls was indispensable. “Sometimes your focus is so much on what is your perceived weaknesses that

you’re not aware of all the strengths,” Kellen said. “He was neglecting all the other things that he’s awesome at.” Fast forward to now, and Walker’s number has been called again. After fighting for playing time for much of the first month of the season, a season-ending injury to sophomore guard/forward Terrance Arceneaux in mid-December made Walker the next man up, much like in 2021-22. With a year away from the court and plenty of hard lessons behind him, Walker has tried to make the most of his time back. Walker played important minutes as a de facto power forward in UH’s win over No. 25 Texas Tech, allowing the Cougars to grab an early lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. After a sloppy first eight minutes from both teams, Walker sprinted to the corner on a fastbreak where he received an L.J. Cryer pass and confidently drained a three to cap a decisive 13-0 run. On top of that, Walker made plenty of his usual hustle plays, grabbing three offensive rebounds in a dominant conference home win. “It was good to see Ramon going and contribute. I could just see his body language and how he felt about himself just skyrocket after the game,” Kelvin Sampson said. “And then he came in (the next day) bouncing on his toes, and that was good to see.” A few days later against UCF on Jan. 20, Walker played 19 minutes, hit another three, went 4-5 from the foul line and dished out two assists in perhaps his best game of the season so far. As his confidence and role continue to grow as the season wears on, Walker looks back on his challenging year without basketball as an opportunity to reflect on his own growth into where he is. “I feel like last year, was needed. Because I feel like it was a good time to figure out how to better myself as a basketball player and as a person,” Walker said. “I’m well prepared to be in the position I’m in right now.”

Wednesday, January 31, 2024 | 5 STARNS LELAND, EDITOR





In her senior year, Laila Blair finds escape through art RILEY MOQUIN


It is tough to imagine UH women’s hoops without thinking of Laila Blair. The senior guard has been the team’s leading scorer since her freshman season. She became a team captain as a sophomore. She was the first player in program history to make the American All-Conference first team. In many ways, Blair’s name has become synonymous with the Houston women’s basketball program over the last four years. Yet Blair wants the world to know there is more to Laila than the buckets she gets on the court. When she finds the time, such as during the winter break, Blair takes the chance to do some reading. It is a hobby she says she did not pick up until college, having only been consistent with reading the Bible growing up. While the Bible remains her all-time favorite book, road trips and airport visits for away games during the season have given her the chance to become a more consistent reader. “I just finished this book called Moving in the Apostolic,” Blair said. “It’s a biblical book, it talks about advancing the Kingdom of God and allowing heaven to touch Earth.” If books are a more recent interest of Blair’s, movies are a story of lifetime enjoyment. “I’ve always been a big movie fanatic,” Blair said. “My favorite movie genre is horror.” A horror movie buff, Blair is a longtime fan of the works of Stephen King. In particular, she says “The Stand” is her favorite Stephen King adaptation, though insists the 1994 version is much better than the 2020 remake. Blair’s love for movies would not translate into personal creativity until

high school. In her sophomore year, Blair discovered a love for graphic design after taking a digital art course that introduced her to photography and the basics of Adobe Photoshop. As she got later in her high school career and grew into one of the top 30 point guards in her class, she became immersed in filmmaking by editing her own highlight tapes. “In my senior year and going into college... I started making highlight videos of me playing,” Blair said. “I really found a lot of joy in just making edits... then it turned into ‘I want to shoot a movie.’” Once she committed to the University of Houston for basketball, Blair decided to major in media production to pursue her filmmaking dreams. Some of her films have been casual, such as gameday vlogs on her YouTube channel. Other more elaborate works include her current project, a short film telling the life story of Richard, the beloved cashier at the Student Center South market. “It was just a thought at first... Richard is an extraordinary dude so it’s easy to tell his story,” Blair said. “It was fun and it inspired me to do more. This is just the beginning of what I’ll do in the film world.” Blair’s documentary on Richard, to be called “Richard’s Best” when it is eventually released, is just one piece of the UH star’s journey as an ambitious creative-minded person. In the fall, she joined Coog Radio as one of the co-hosts of a weekly radio show called “Coogs @ Nite.” The show is lifestyle-focused, and Blair says what started as simply a desire to get more involved on campus became a release from the basketball grind. “To meet those girls that are part of Coogs @ Nite, to spend time with them and laugh with them and talk with them,”

Star UH basketball guard Laila Blair participated in a live set at the Coog Radio Pop-Up in November as part of a weekly radio show she co-hosts entitled “Coogs @ Nite.”. | Leydi Gonzalez/CoogRadio

Blair said. “It was an outlet to take myself outside of just talking about basketball, which I love... but you do need other outlets.” The radio show also gave Blair the

On top of being the face of Houston women’s basketball ever since she stepped on campus, Laila Blair has made her mark at UH as a filmmaker and radio host in addition to her athletic stardom. | Oscar Herrera/The Cougar

opportunity to meet new people and make positive connections with others, something she values highly. Her filmmaking dreams make this clear. While her favorite films to watch may be “The Stand” or “It”, Blair’s own work instead tells the stories of people who have left positive impressions on her life such as Richard. Above all, Blair dreams of one day making a film telling the life story of her late grandmother. “My grandmother is a big reason why I’m so passionate about my faith,” Blair said. “I just want to honor her life. She was one of those people behind the scenes...she didn’t have a lot of money, wasn’t into materialistic things. Everything about her was just about being a light.” While she concedes there was a time when she felt basketball defined her as a person, Blair shows pride in the game now being just one piece of a larger story. “That is really my ‘why’ more than anything,” Blair said. “I want people to see me as a light for Christ first and a God-fearing woman.” “If that is shown through basketball, or through film or through art, whatever I do... I just want to use my platform to be a light.”

6 | Wednesday, January 31, 2024






UH’s infrastructure isn’t just an inconvenience, it’s dangerous too MALACHI KEY


Nearly every student at the University has something to say about its infrastructure. Whether it’s issues with endless construction or buildings falling apart, it’s almost a running joke at this point. But if UH administration’s consistent neglect isn’t taken seriously, the consequences for the student body range from inconvenient to life-threatening. You don’t have to look far to find students complaining about infrastructure issues. In the past few weeks alone, the UH subreddit has been full of posts complaining about the on-campus dorms in Moody Towers. “Wanna fill up your water bottle? Water fountain is broken. Wanna wash clothes? Machines are broken. Wanna go to another floor? Take the stairs or get ready to wait 10 minutes for the elevator to mosey its way up and down 17 floors, taking 10 seconds to open and close the door each floor,” said one user. For some students, having to slightly change your routine due to maintenance issues is nothing more than a mild incon-

Rubble from crumbling bathroom ceilings lies on the ground, creating further obstacles for disabled students. | Malachi Key/The Cougar

venience. But for students with a disability, these issues run the risk of ruining their entire day. Moody Towers only has two elevators that are meant to access over a dozen floors. If one elevator goes down, this forces every student to use the same one, causing space issues for wheelchair-bound students. If both elevators go down, disabled students are at risk of being stranded, especially in potential emergencies. Even without the threat of an emergency scenario, these issues seriously detract from students’ quality of life in more ways than one. Between waiting for

Fencing added to Agnes Arnold Hall after two student suicides occurred in Spring 2023. For disabled students, the fencing means taking longer routes on uneven sidewalks. | Malachi Key/The Cougar

the elevators to get repaired, taking hours out of your day to find alternate routes if basic amenities aren’t functioning and potentially dealing with water damage from Moody’s frequent flooding, disabled students living in the Towers can quickly find themselves in a hellish spiral. The issues with Moody Towers in particular have been pointed out numerous times. Articles in The Cougar from 2019 and even further back noted nearly the exact same issues while also addressing how inaccessible the communal showers are. While the University promised to take action on the towers “within three to five years” much of their focus at the time was on fancy new projects, such as introducing the now-commonplace Starship food delivery robots. Ironically, these same delivery robots ended up causing further problems for disabled students by taking up space on sidewalks that are already uneven and hard to traverse in a wheelchair. Some students even reported that the robots would stop in front of wheelchair ramps at the end of crosswalks sometimes, potentially trapping wheelchair-bound students in the street. If you’re not disabled, it can be easy to dismiss these critiques as overly harsh. After all, the Starship program doesn’t cost nearly as much as renovating Moody Towers would, and the University did eventually approve plans to replace the building with a new dining facility. But even if the necessary changes eventually get made, UH administration has a bad habit of dragging its feet or avoiding problems until they become too big to ignore. For example, Agnes Arnold Hall has also had its fair share of infrastructure issues, including flooding, fires and malfunctioning elevators. With enough neglect, these infrastructure problems quickly go from inconvenient to dangerous. Middle Eastern Studies Program Director Dr. Emran El-Badawi

has spent over a decade trying to bring attention to these concerns, repeatedly recounting stories of being trapped in elevators or watching them fall without warning. El-Badawi has consistently brought detailed critiques to University Administration, and year after year he was reassured that Agnes Arnold was first priority for renovations that would improve health and safety within the building. “Agnes Arnold Hall was one of six buildings slated for renovations,” El-Badawi said. “However, renovations have been delayed year after year for almost a decade. In the meantime countless crises, including multiple suicides, have occurred.” Like El-Badawi observed, it took multiple tragedies to finally push the University to take action despite imminent risk to students and faculty. To this day, he refuses to take the elevators out of fear that he could get more seriously hurt if they malfunction. One might think that UH would at least be willing to act quickly in extreme situations like natural disasters. Unfortunately, this culture of neglect runs deeper than most might think. Even in highly dangerous flood conditions, the administration has played fast and loose with student safety. During Hurricane Imelda in 2019, the University announced that operations would continue as normal, only retracting that statement hours later. But by that point, thousands of students had been stranded on campus. Under the University’s emergency plan, Chancellor Renu Khator makes the final decision when it comes to whether or not campus closes during inclement weather scenarios. In 2008, Khator had to publicly apologize after choosing to keep campus open after Hurricane Ike made landfall. These choices were made with the full knowledge that Houston is both extremely vulnerable to flooding and that multiple campus buildings still needed upgrades to avoid being devastated by floodwaters. So what does all this mean, and what

can the average student do about it? Well, for one, it means that University administration has persistently ignored issues over multiple decades that could have put students’ wellbeing in jeopardy. It’s hard to say whether these decisions are due to greed or negligence, but the pattern is clear. The good news is that there is something the average student can do about these issues: Don’t shut up about them. The only reason change came about from any of these scenarios was because students refused to let the issue fade away. Even in the smallest of scenarios, speaking out can make a massive difference. For example, when one disabled student broke her arm in 2019 due to UH repeatedly refusing to install a door that was accessible to her, she refused to give up. Her social media campaign calling the University out on their negligence eventually led to more disability-friendly doors being installed in several buildings. So be loud and be petty if you have to. No issue is too small to complain about; you’re paying to be here after all. Ask questions and don’t take no for an answer. Why hasn’t the campus lighting

Burst pipes in the student parking garage on Elgin create potential flooding issues | Malachi Key/The Cougar

project been completed despite supposedly being in progress for multiple years? Why are students paying hundreds of dollars a semester to use a Rec Center that’s had the entire second floor rendered inaccessible by construction with no end in sight? UH promised you a safe, hygienic and accessible college experience when you first arrived here. For many, they’ve failed in even the most basic of areas. You deserve better, but change starts with you. So stop accepting their half measures and demand what you’re owed.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024 | 7 MALACHI KEY, EDITOR





Wonka (2023) Review: Is this new treat sour or sweet? MALACHI KEY


For many viewers, the announcement of yet another beloved classic receiving a prequel likely elicited groans and eye rolls. This reaction is more than fair, especially considering how swamped the box office has been lately with needless sequels and reboots. But underneath its corporate wrapper, “Wonka” has a surprisingly sweet filling that’s sure to leave viewers hungry for more. Reviving a film as magical as “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” is hard enough as it is. Between Mel Stuart’s brilliant direction, Gene Hackman’s charming yet unnerving portrayal of Willy Wonka and the utterly enchanting musical stylings of Bricusse and Newley, the film is regarded as a classic and for good reason. An entire generation of children fondly remember the delight they felt at seeing the chocolate river for the first time, and it’s nearly impossible to get “Pure Imagination” out of your head after you first hear it. As strange as it may sound, “Wonka” works best when it decides to lean away from the films that came before. Timothee Chalamet puts on a performance all his own as the titular Willy Wonka. He’s not as creepy as Depp nor as aloof as Hackman’s Wonka, but he doesn’t have to be. The greatest strength of the film is his ability to stand on his own as something new. Rather than trying to rehash Charlie’s adventures in Wonka’s chocolate factory, the film follows a younger, more idealistic Willy Wonka at the start of his career.

Jose Gonzalez-Campelo/The Cougar

The relatively naive Wonka quickly finds himself in trouble and has to partner with a young orphan girl named Noodle (Calah Lane) and a collection of other charming characters to make all their dreams come true. Despite not being directly based on one of Roald Dahl’s books, “Wonka” oozes with the same kind of childlike wonder and whimsical energy that made the original film feel so magical. The musical numbers are extravagant, the set designs look like they were ripped right out of a children’s book and the chocolate will make you want to reach through the screen and take a bite. You can’t have bright colors without a little darkness, however. After all, our secondary protagonist is a British orphan down on her luck, and what good is a character like that without a cartoonishly evil villain to oppose her? When it comes to over-thetop villains, “Wonka” delivers in spades. Early on in the film, Willy finds himself deep in debt to the nefarious boardinghouse owners Tom Davis’s Bleacher and Olivia

Colman’s Mrs. Scrubitt. Colman and Davis put on a fantastically hammy performance that’s reminiscent of the cruel headmistress Mrs. Trunchbull from Roald Dahl’s “Matilda.” The two of them are boisterous, cruel to children and horrendously dimwitted. This all adds up to a duo that’s equal parts ridiculous yet somehow charming. Bleacher and Scrubitt are far from the only obstacles our heroes face in their journey, however. Willy’s remarkable talent for chocolate-making ends up alarming Paterson Joseph’s Slugworth, Matt Lucas’s Prodnose and Matthew Baynton’s Fickelgruber, the town’s resident chocolatiers. The villainous trio, alongside the corrupt chief of police, is driven by a singular determination to maintain control of the city’s chocolate-making business. They firmly believe that chocolate should be simple and unsurprising, which means that Wonka’s whimsical treats pose a serious risk to their bottom line. It’s clear that the powerhouse actors portraying these three were given a lot of leeway, resulting in some utterly delightful

performances. They strut around in ridiculously colored suits — Fickelgruber literally retches whenever anyone mentions “the poor” — and all three of them spend quite a bit of time sneering and plotting. With all that being said, there are a few areas where the film struggles. For as much as it treads new ground, it still struggles to escape the shadow of the past in some areas. For one, the musical numbers were terrifically fun, but very few of them were quite as memorable as the songs from the original film. Using mostly original songs with only limited references to the iconic 1971 soundtrack should be commended, to be sure. However, it seems unlikely that much of the film’s score is likely to be remembered outside of the occasional TikTok trend, which poses a problem in an era where trailers intentionally hide that films are musicals to avoid alienating general audiences. Similarly, Hugh Grant’s performance as Lofty the Oompa Loompa is fairly enjoyable. But his character feels like it serves no real purpose other than to connect this film to the 1971 movie. “Wonka” isn’t perfect, to be sure. At times, it struggles to justify its existence in comparison to the films and books it draws from. But it also has a surprising amount of spirit that keeps it from feeling like just another cash grab. So if you’re in the mood for a treat, keep chewing on it for a bit: you might just find something you like in the center.

i The Cougar


John Lomax


Cindy Rivas Alfaro WEB EDITOR

Emma Christensen NEWS EDITOR

Robert De La Garza SPORTS EDITOR

Starns Leland


Anh Le


Jose GonzalezCampelo


Atirikta Kumar Camryn Alberigo Grace Rednoske Logan Linder Regan Grant Riley Moquin


Malachi Key


John Lomax Cindy Rivas Alfaro COVER

Anh Le Jose Gonzalez-Campelo

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