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 Expendables 2

September 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

In the 1980’s, there was an entire subgenre of action/adventure that was dedicated to roided up hunky heroes killing bad guys and loving every minute of it. The kings of this subgenre were definitely Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and to an extent, Bruce Willis. The three of them were icons of machismo in that decade, bringing back the identity of the alpha male in lead roles for blockbuster films. The three of them even ran a restaurant business together–we all have to remember Planet Hollywood. I personally enjoyed the Hollywood Club. The one disappointing thing was, though, the three of them never shared air time in a movie together.

Well, in 2010, Stallone decided it was better late than never to bring them all together in a big, bombastic action lark, “The Expendables”. Unfortunately, the chemistry wasn’t all there yet in that film, and Arnold only shared a brief cameo with Willis and Stallone that was meant to be funny but came off more as awkward. The film itself seemed to take itself too seriously considering what it was supposed to be, which was just a big dumb action picture. There was an unnecessary heavy-handed (and heavy drooled) scene with Mickey Rourke, who was basically evoking his Randy the Ram character from “The Wrestler”, and the characters weren’t fully fleshed out yet.

Here, the formula and chemistry finally comes together. This movie is fun. The cast seems to be more at ease with each other; it helps that they can all speak English (letting Li have a small role in this film was a great choice). The bickering, snarkiness, and good natured ribbing between Stallone and Jason Statham is much more amusing than it was in the first film. The two really seem to like each other more as people in this one. Lundgren is also more entertaining…he was a bit too brooding in the first film. Here, he’s more of a comic foil, and that works fine. I liked the new additions of some younger blood with Liam Hemsworth and Yu Nan. And another thing missing from the first film that fits perfectly here?

Chuck. Norris. Yes, he’s only in a bit role, and he also looks a tad uncomfortable. He does borrow a “Norris”ism from the famous internet meme. But it’s cute because Norris is so genuinely nice that he seems to be enjoying having fun with himself. I would’ve liked to see him perform a roundhouse kick to the face of someone, but that’s OK. We do get a few good ones from the villain, who is very nicely played by Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Everyone is right at home in this film, and it really comes off the screen so we can just sit back and watch the sparks fly. The plot, which is the weakest element of the film, revolves around a mission to nab something from a safe, and it gets taken by Van Damme and his crew, and the gang has to retrieve it. We never really know why this thing is important, but this is one of those movies that when you start trying to break it down, you’re just going to get lost in plot hole hell. So don’t think about it.

This film is the definition of a popcorn movie. But it seems to be more self aware, and I like that Stallone handed off the directing duties this time. It’s great to see these guys still be abe to carry a film, even though they’re too old to do it without a little help. It’s sad in a nostalgic way–growing up these guys were just awesome. They’re showing they’re mortal, and they’re not exactly aging well. But their sense of humor is in the right place here, although some of the self-referential stuff gets a bit drawn out (the “Rambo” line was useless).

If you’re up for some brainless action candy, this will not disappoint. It’s a good excuse to get out of the house for a few hours, and it’ll put a smile on your face to see that these aging hunks still got it.

My rating: :-)