Creed II

Creed_II_posterDirector: Steven Caple Jr.

Screenwriters: Che Hodari Coker, Sylvester Stallone, and Juel Taylor

Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteau, and Brigitte Nielsen

I’ve said before that great sports movies are more about life, passion, talent, and determination, and less about “the game.” This statement applies to the 2015 film Creed and even more so with its sequel, Creed II. However, that does not necessarily make it better.

Creed II opens with Adonis “Donny” Creed (Michael B. Jordan) “riding high now” achieving the level of World Heavyweight Champion, beating Danny “The Stuntman” Wheeler (Andre Ward) for the title, and propelling him to the highest echelon of the sport. This accomplishment coupled with Creed’s mentor and trainer Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) in his corner, attracts the attention of disgraced former World Heavyweight contender Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). Drago, whose loss to Balboa 33 years earlier resulted in a life of ignominy back in Russia and abandonment by his wife has been training his son Viktor (Florian Munteau) and sees an opportunity to regain his glory by pitting Viktor against Adonis for the title. Viktor, it goes without saying, is a threat in every sense. He’s enormous, fast, and has been conditioned for years by his father to crush any opponent. Ivan, of course, notoriously murdered Adonis’s father Apollo in the ring, and so any fight billed as Creed v. Drago sells itself in its sensationalism. The problem is, Rocky senses that this fight is happening for all the wrong reasons and if Adonis wants to go through with it, he’ll have to do it without him.

creed_iiDrago

So there it is, the setup for the film is Rocky IV, revisited. And the similarities do not end there. Creed II is very aware of itself, and this works both to the film’s advantage and disadvantage. Director Steven Caple Jr. makes subtle and overt references to just about every other film in the franchise in this film, which is at times rather endearing and at other times a bit too familiar. An example of the latter comes in the form of the conditioning montage. Rocky IV’s cross-cutting training sequence is pretty iconic, depicting Ivan Drago training conventionally (and juicing up with some roids) while Rocky trains in the Siberian wilderness, carrying logs in the snow and pulling sleds. An identical scene is present in Creed II, which is a tad too “on the nose.” On the other hand, some call-backs are crafted with just the right amount of nuance, like the way Caple Jr. takes the conflict of excess versus grit, flamboyantly displayed in Rocky IV, and tones it down to something more palatable for Creed II.

Of course it is easy to get caught up in the familiarity of Creed II, but there is plenty of unique material here as well. Michael B. Jordan continues to put out great and memorable performances, and man is this guy jacked! Creed II is also one of the more dramatic films in the eight Rocky-franchise films. While Creed was very character driven, it was still mostly a redemption story for its pair of protagonists. With Creed II, we get a chance to explore some generational themes that open the story up a bit, especially in regard to Adonis and Bianca’s (Tessa Thompson) relationship.

drago

Still the obvious focal point of this film is the return of Drago, and while there’s plenty here to enjoy and experience, Creed II is missing that signature moment that we want, and perhaps we have to fault Caple Jr. for that. The fight sequences and the drama overall is missing the sting, choreography and ambition that Ryan Coogler was able to achieve in the previous film. The technical brilliance of Creed no doubt is what caught the eye of Disney executives, leading them to hand him Black Panther, which as we all know became the biggest comic book superhero movie ever and highest grossing movie from a Black director ever. In that regard, congrats to Caple Jr. for stepping up in the first place! Still, Creed II does “throw in the towel” so to speak when it comes to giving us any surprises or something lastingly memorable. Overall, this is a decent entry into the franchise that while not a standout, will keep things fresh enough to make us want to see more. B

Creed II is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 10 minutes.  

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The People’s Critic’s Top 10 Holiday ACTION Films!

Treeboom.jpgAn annual list of holiday films is a challenging endeavor once you’ve been at it for a while. I mean, sensibilities change slightly from year to year, but not enough to warrant developing a list that is nearly identical to the year’s previous list. Therefore, I have invented a gimmick to allow me to publish an annual holiday film list that is different enough from year to year and also will not damage my journalistic integrity by contradicting original recommendations. If you want to know my quintessential thoughts on the best overall holiday films, please see my 2014 list or my 2015 list.

So what’s the gimmick? Holiday films are themselves a subgenre of the various classic genres of film. In other words, we have holiday comedies, horrors, dramas, classics, tragedies, etc. Therefore, my intention is to offer a list of the best holiday films of a specific genre each year. 2016, for better or for worse, may go down as one of the most tumultuous years in recent memory. While “Tumult” is not a generally accepted genre, Action/Adventure certainly is. Therefore, this year the list is getting an action overhaul to reveal The People’s Critic’s Top Ten Holiday Action films of all time!

 

  1. reindeerReindeer Games – John Frankenheimer’s final film, Reindeer Games, does not generally enter the discussion as one of the director’s best efforts. However, when previous films include, Birdman of Alcatraz, The Manchurian Candidate, Grand Prix, and The French Connection…II (still pretty good though), you buy a little favor as you enter your final act. Reindeer Games does not find its way onto many top 10 lists, so I am honored to have crafted one that it most certainly (just barely) belongs on. Admittedly not a problem free film, Reindeer Games finds Ben Affleck coerced to assist in a Christmas Eve casino heist by Charlize Theron and her brother Gary Sinise.

  1. lethalLethal Weapon – Nothing says, have a holly, jolly Christmas like Mel Gibson, right? Well, the boys may be “getting too old for this shit” now, after four films and a television series, but back in 1987, the buddy duo of Murtaugh and Riggs was a new thing. Right from the start when a naked hooker swan dives out of a hotel room window to her death to the song, “Jingle Bells,” this film has the holiday spirit! A coke bust in a Christmas tree lot is just the icing on the cake. This film is a blast though. While the mismatch, buddy-cops does feel cliché now, this was the film that really put that formula on the map.

  1. majestyOn Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Not only the best Bond movie, but Diana Rigg is hands down the best Bond girl as well! George Lazenby’s sole entry as Bond sees 007 off to Switzerland in pursuit of that nasty Blofeld who threatens to release a lethal virus upon the world unless he receives a pardon for all of his previous crimes (perhaps this film would have been more aptly named, ‘Lethal Weapon’ than #9). The film is set around the holidays. They don’t play a major role, but there is a lot of snow everywhere, some dangerous Christmas gifts, and perhaps the worst Christmas song you’ve ever heard.

  1. imIron Man 3 – Occasionally I hear people ask, why hasn’t Marvel made a Christmas movie yet? Well, guess what? They did, and it was Iron Man 3.  Sure it was released in the month of May, but this one truly has a May/December relationship.  The holidays play a pivotal role here, whether it’s a scene at a 1999 New Years Eve party or a scene where Tony Stark tests out his new Iron Man suit to a funky rendition of “Jingle Bells” – the holiday spirit is there.  Iron Man 3 is a very smartly made film, and while it still addresses comic book staple themes like good/evil, identity, revenge, and freedom, an emergent theme can also be extracted from it – learning from mistakes.  This installment is Downey Jr.’s best as he tactfully and authentically balances humor, intensity, and sentimentality without ever missing a beat.

  1. batmanBatman Returns – A Tim Burton Christmas is always a good time. Add Batman and you have something really special. Megalomaniac and billionaire (sound eerily familiar?) Max Shreck (played by Christopher Walken) and Oswald “The Penguin” Cobblepot (Danny DeVito) join forces in corrupt quest to take control of Gotham City. Another moody masterpiece from Burton using the holiday backdrop as a stark contrast to create a macabre, surreal experience for the viewer. Christmas imagery is turned on its head where ornaments and even trees are charismatic weaponry, rather than fun decorations.

  1. rockyRocky IV – Granted, this film probably has the least to do with the holidays than any of the others on this list. Still the climactic fight happens to be on Christmas, which qualifies it for the list. This is pure guilty pleasure watching as all of the tropes of the fighting genre are on full display. The epic battle between underdog Balboa and the superhuman Draggo (played by Dolph Lundgren) is worth the set-up though.

  1. gremGremlins – “No bright light, don’t’ get him wet, and whatever you do – don’t ever feed him after midnight.”  These are the three rules that are sure to be broken when Randall Peltzer brings his son Billy home a strange new pet for Christmas!  In no time Gremlins are unleashed on Kingston Falls. This film dances the line between horror/action and comedy with great results.

  1. prisoners2Prisoners – Hugh Jackman plays Keller Dover, a construction worker who lives in a quiet New England suburb with his wife, teenage son, and six year old daughter. While spending Thanksgiving with the family of his life-long friend and neighbor, Franklin Birch (Terrance Howard), Keller and Franklin discover that both of their daughters are suddenly missing. With the help of Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) and the police, they are able to track down the RV and apprehend a suspect (Paul Dano), but due to his mental incapacity and lack of evidence, he is released. This sends Prisoners in a harrowing new direction as Keller and Franklin wade through some ethically murky waters in the search for their daughters. This is an intense one, and while not a traditional holiday film nor a traditional action film, it has both and is outstanding!

  1. jurassic-worldJurassic WorldHow will you spend your Christmas vacation? Why not at the same Costa Rican island where just 22 years prior, dinosaurs ran wild killing everyone in their path? That’s the premise of this blockbuster sequel whose cold-blooded characters heighten our warm blooded heartrates with more action and more “chaos.” Grab a cup of cocoa and hitch a ride on a raptor for this year’s number two holiday action film!

  1. dieDie Hard – Perhaps the film that made the holiday action film subgenre possible, Die Hard is a classic. That nasty Hans Gruber (played expertly by the great Alan Rickman, whom we lost earlier this year) takes control of the very office building where NYC cop John McClane’s wife, Holly, works. With all of the building inhabitants except John McClane now held hostage by Gruber and his band of terrorists, McClane finds himself the only one who can save Christmas…and the lives of his wife and her coworkers! Rickman makes “snarky, German terrorist” an art form and the action and the tone in this film are perfect. There’s just no topping this one.

What do you think?  Did I get it right or did I miss your favorite holiday film?  Let me know!

The Weekly DISCussion

Over the recent Thanksgiving weekend, a family member and I inevitably started discussing movies. After a thought-provoking and inspiring conversation about the alleged merits of the film Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, it occurred to both of us that The People’s Critic has vastly overlooked an opportunity to extend movie commentary to the comforts of home. Therefore, a new weekly feature has been born: The Weekly DISCussion. The Weekly DISCussion will suggest a Must See DVD of the week along with a Netflix Must Stream of the Week.

Must See DVD of the Week: FargoImage

As the holiday shopping season kicks off, remarkable deals start rolling out for all kinds of movies. One of these deals that cannot be passed up is the Coen Brothers 4 disc box set, which includes Fargo, Millers Crossing, Blood Simple, and Raising Arizona. Although all four of these are worthy of the Must See DVD of the Week, I have settled on Fargo. Fargo is a masterpiece of simplicity. Joel and Ethan Coen put a microscope on Brainerd, Minnesota, a simple town, with simple people who are disrupted by the ingeniously idiotic decisions of one car salesman. The story is good, but its the “authentic” tone of the dialogue that really puts a unique stamp on Fargo and the experience of watching it. It’s good, you betcha!

Netflix Must Stream of the Week: Drive Image

Drive is a movie that I am still astounded has not caught on in a big way. Drive follows a stunt driver played by Ryan Gosling as he makes movies by day and hires himself out as a getaway driver by night. Gosling is calm, but cold. His deliberate detachment makes him an enigma, but it is a necessary evil of his profession. Director, Nicholas Winding Refn allows the story to burn slowly but punctuates it with vivid, strong action and violence that keeps the audience on edge. The film resembles the gritty 80s films of directors like Michael Mann or Brian DePalma. Additionally, the score is reminiscent of those 80s films as well and is excellent.