December 1, 2015 by  
Filed under Movies

“Creed” is technically the seventh “Rocky” film, and it’s probably the best since the original “Rocky” in 1976. While “Rocky Balboa” was a great apology for “Rocky V”, “Creed” is a fresh start that begins a new legacy and starts to say good-bye to an old one.

The film opens up with Creed as a young boy, known as Adonis “Donnie” Johnson, who seems to be a magnet for fighting at the juvenile correctional facility he lives in. He’s taken in by the wife of Apollo Creed, who died in the mid-80’s and is not the mother of Donnie, as he was conceived by a woman Apollo was seeing on the side. Donnie (played by Michael B. Jordan as an adult) lives a decent life, and has a decent job, which he leaves as the boxing world beckons him, as his father’s shadow also haunts him.

Donnie doesn’t go by his last name Creed, he wants to establish himself as his own fighter and have his own name. He enlists Rocky Balboa (in a truly Oscar worthy performance by Stallone), who reluctantly agrees to train him, because he was such good friends with Donnie’s father. Donnie has to establish himself first, and has his first real professional fight which he wins. His real last name, however, is leaked, and Donnie is requested to fight a guy on his way out but still has something to prove. Ricky “Pretty” Conlan, a English fighter out of Liverpool (played by real life boxer Tony Bellew), is the one defending his title. Adonis must agree to change his last name to “Creed” in order to put himself on the ticket.

Of course, he accepts and of course there’s a big fight at the end. In the middle, we have a wonderful character study of Donnie maturing, but also finding himself close to Rocky and the friendship between the two is where the real strength of this film is. All of the training montages (because every “Rocky” movie must have one) are great, including my favorite that involves a group of rowdy bikers, and of course we are rooting heavily for Donnie to win his fight against Conlan. But he’s not the only one fighting something. Rocky is diagnosed with an early stage of cancer, and knowing what his deceased wife Adrian went through and lost her battle, he isn’t sure he wants to put the gloves on for that. Donnie makes him realize, however, there’s something to live for.

The other nice relationship is with Donnie’s neighbor, Bianca (well played by Tessa Thompson). She’s an up and coming musician (the music sounds much like trip hop, and reminded me of Massive Attack), and she seems to shut out most people, but she is interested in Donnie. The two of them have some sweet scenes together, and we very much feel like we’re seeing Rock and Adrian again–but these two do not go an ice rink and no turkeys are hurled into the snow.

The film is strong because writer/director Ryan Coogler wanted to make a “Rocky” picture personal to him, and he succeeds. The performance by Michael B. Jordan is also strong, and he makes an appealing character much like Stallone did with Rocky for all those years. We might yet see a new series of “Creed” pictures. I think the formula can sustain itself if the story and characters can continue to grow. It’s always a pleasure to see Stallone play a good role, and Rocky has always been my favorite.

There are nice homages to the series, including a brief cameo by Cuff and Link; and Donnie receives a pair of trunks in the style of his dad as a gift from an important person in his life that also wants him to have his own legacy. This film achieves what Donnie did, in doing just that.

My rating: :-)

The Fighter

January 6, 2011 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

Out of all of David O. Russell’s films, which include “Three Kings”, “I Heart Huckabees”, and “Flirting With Disaster”, this may be one of the most accessible to a regular audience. And strangely, it’s one of his most character-influenced. This is a film about people; and more specifically, family. It’s got a boxing background story, but it’s not really about boxing. Maybe that’s why it was called “The Fighter” instead; then again, we already have a film called “The Boxer”. In any event, Russell’s mark isn’t exactly all over this picture–but it’s still very well made, and it’s extremely well acted.

It tells the true story of Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) who was what they call a “Stepping Stone” fighter–basically any fighter that contenders use to beef up their stats or make themselves a contender by beating them. Ward’s problem is that he has no real direction, and a huge part of that is because of his has-been crack-addicted brother, Dicky Ecklund (Christian Bale) who still brags about “knocking down” Sugar Ray Leonard years ago. His brother is also his trainer but he’s far from reliable. He also doesn’t get good match-ups because they’re set up through his mother (Melissa Leo in a role that would be criminal not to nominate an Oscar for). In one instance, he’s supposed to fight someone to get him back on track. He’s fighting a “stepping stone” himself; but the boxer comes down with the flu and instead of backing out and re-scheduling, he fights the back-up fighter who is 20 pounds heavier than Micky and pummels him.

Micky is caught between two worlds. After he is dismantled in his last fight, he is approached by someone to train in Las Vegas, and work for him. His mother, and family including 9 sisters, are appalled. But Micky new girlfriend, played very well by Amy Adams, believes it’s his ticket to freedom and to be a real contender. But Micky doesn’t want to leave his mom or his brother. He believes family is the most important thing to him.

And family is the most important thing to this film. It deals with family dysfunction; and yet, I think as you look at your own family, you can see some connections and actually relate to some of the situations that Micky goes through. You can also begin to understand why he needs his family; but also, why he needs to break away. Micky is literally in a fight between his “new” family (the boxing family), and his own real family. And that is the essence of this film.

There are surprising laughs in this film, too. The sisters are priceless, and some of the things that Dicky does are quite amusing, albeit ridiculous and dangerous. The sick sense of humor this film has at times may be the only indication that it’s David O. Russell’s work. But much like “The Wrestler”, the director takes a back seat to the narrative and lets the story tell itself through its characters. I still have to remind myself that film is directed by Darren Aronofsky.

Overall, this is a solid film. Most of that credit is due to the actors, however, and not as much to the filmmakers or writers. While they are fine, the acting is top notch. Wahlberg is Wahlberg; there really isn’t much to his character to begin with. But Christian Bale and Melissa Leo are just absolute showstoppers. When they are on screen, your eyes are completely glued. They bring this typical “underdog” story to life. But I like the angle that here’s a boxer who is totally dominated by other people; and ultimately, it’s his own choice how he actually makes his breakthrough. But he can’t do it alone. Some may say that omitting the Gatti fights was unfair because that’s what really made Ward a champion. I would maintain again that again, this is not a boxing story. It’s a story about family. And with that, it works just fine the way it is.

My rating:  :-)