Creed II

November 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson
Directed by: Steven Caple Jr. (“The Land”)
Written by: Sylvester Stallone (“Rocky”) and Juel Taylor (debut)

When Sylvester Stallone handed writer/director Ryan Coogler the reigns of his beloved “Rocky” franchise a few years ago, Coogler transformed what was arguably a stagnant series into “Creed” — a nostalgic drama with depth and meaning. At that point, Stallone had already done his part, giving audiences an unexpected Best Picture Oscar win in 1976 for the original film and a franchise-worst contribution with the 1990 sequel “Rocky V.”

Although Stallone redeemed himself in 2006 with “Rocky Balboa,” it was the spinoff “Creed” that proved there was still untapped emotion in Rocky’s world of boxing. In the hands of Coogler, “Creed” became one of the surprise hits of the year and even earned Stallone a much-deserved Oscar nomination for his seventh reiteration of the Rocky character — only this time a lot grayer, lonelier and sadder.

Coogler’s choice to follow Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the son of Rocky friend and competitor Apollo Creed, was an inspired one — and Coogler delivered more than anyone could’ve imagined. Unfortunately, Coogler was unable to return to write or direct “Creed II” (some little movie called “Black Panther” got in the way) and, despite screenplay duties going back to Stallone, the sequel suffers because of it.

The premise, of course, is what will inevitably make “Creed II” hit big at the box office. Adonis squaring off with Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the boxer who killed his father in “Rocky IV,” is every fanboy’s dream. What “Creed II” just can’t seem to recapture is the distinctive voice of Coogler. Director Steven Caple Jr. (“The Land”) tries to do his best impersonation but doesn’t equal Coogler’s creativity or narrative ambition.

What’s more troubling is that in the three years since we’ve seen Adonis, he hasn’t grown as a character. In the first three quarters of “Creed II,” Adonis is unlikeable and immature. When Rocky decides he doesn’t want to train him for a match with Viktor (Mr. Miyagi does the same thing in “The Karate Kid III!”), Adonis throws a predictable fit (“I’m taking this fight with or without you”) and a myriad of sports movie tropes start ruining what should’ve been a memorable return to the ring.

“Creed II” also misses a major opportunity to tell a great story about fathers and sons. Stallone’s script just isn’t strong enough to link the dynamics between Ivan and Viktor, Apollo and Adonis, and Rocky and his estranged boy Robert (Milo Ventimiglia). Somewhere under the clichés there’s something heartfelt to be said, but Stallone and first-time screenwriter Juel Taylor simply don’t land their jabs. But, hey, at least there’s a bunch of training montages.

Dolph Lundgren – Don’t Kill It

March 7, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

The term “B-movie” might be synonymous with campiness and low-production value, but director Mike Mendez doesn’t mind if you put his new horror movie, “Don’t Kill It,” into that category. He’s only cares if you have fun watching it.

During an interview with me last week, Mendez and “Don’t Kill It” star and all-around badass, Dolph Lundgren, talked about their new film, which follows Jebediah Woodley (Lundgren), a demon hunter who teams up with an FBI agent to eradicate an evil force plaguing Mississippi.

During our talk, Mendez and Lundgren shared their different opinions on the idea that “Don’t Kill It” is considered a “B-movie.”

Dolph, where did Jebediah get his look from—the trench coat, the hat, the vaporizer?

Dolph Lundgren: A lot of that was Mike and I talking. Originally, the film was set in Alaska, but we changed it to the south. But, yeah, Mike came up with a lot of those ideas. We had a great costume designer. He came up with some really good ideas. In the original script, the character smoked, but Mike thought the vaporizer would be kind of fun because it’s modern, but it’s still kind of cool and old-school. It’s quite visible on film as well. I thought it was a great idea. It was a collaboration.

Mike, what led you to casting Dolph in the lead role? What said “demon hunter” about him?

Mike Mendez: I’ve been a Dolph fan since I can remember—obviously from “Rocky IV,” but I love action movies, so I saw him “The Peacekeeper” and “Showdown in Little Tokyo” and [1989’s] “The Punisher.” He’s an icon. I think that’s what was exciting for me about the project. The character of Jebediah had the potential of being an iconic character. So, to have an actual icon don his coat and hat sort of lends itself to making something memorable. I think it is sort of awesome that we’re introducing Dolph to a whole new generation who can appreciate what I saw when I was a kid.

Dolph, you’ve always been a very physical actor. You’ll be turning 60 years old this year. How do you handle the physicality of your job now that you’re getting a bit older?

DL: You have to be real careful as you get older because you don’t want to get injured. It takes longer to heal. I’m a little more careful. I don’t do any more crazy stunts like I used to back in the 80s when they didn’t have CGI. Sometimes, you get a chance to do your own stunts like jump from a motorcycle to a car or jump out a window, but I don’t do that much anymore. I do try to do some of the fighting scenes. Audiences kind of expected to see the star [of the movie] doing some of those things. It’s also fun to stay in shape for it, so I try to do as much as I can.

Mike, how do you feel about the term “B-movie?” Some people connect that subgenre with movies that are campy and corny. How do you feel when people refer to your films as “B-movies?”

MM: Well, it’s kind of a funny thing. I don’t think of it that way. But, obviously, others do because I constantly see “B-movie filmmaker” or “trash cinema auteur” written about me. (Laughs) I kind of expect it now. But [my films are not “B-movies”] to me. I take this as serious as anything else. I think I just sort of revel in it. I love the horror genre and I am not above demons and vampires and zombies and werewolves. I love it. It’s just what I enjoy. [“B-movie”] is not a term I necessarily love, but I definitely understand it and I have to except it. A lot of the people I grew up admiring like West Craven and Sam Raimi, they all were labeled as “schlockmeisters,” so I’m in good company. Whatever people want call my movies is fine. Just as long as they’re having a good time, I feel we’re doing our jobs.

Dolph, what about you? Do you like the term?

DL: I don’t really like it. I think it’s different for me because most of the enjoyment of my job is to entertain people. I meet a lot of these people when I go on the road to do publicity. Some people just like action movies. Movies like [“Don’t Kill It”] have great fans who are very loyal and very thankful. They’re certainly just as good, if not better, as the critics who label a movie as an A-movie or B-movie or C-movie. I mean, when I did “Expendables 2,” Chuck Norris was in it. He’s done some B-movies before. But I tell you, when he came on set, he was the biggest star there. Everybody wanted his autograph more than [Sylvester] Stallone or anybody else. Even more than Mel Gibson when we had him in “Expendables 3.” You can look at [the term “B-movie”] sitting in an office labeling movies, or you can look at it when you’re on the ground with the regular people that you’re entertaining. I look at it that way. It makes me feel good to make a lot of the films I make. I try to see it in a positive light. I try to see life like that.

So, Dolph, what do you think Ivan Drago (his character in “Rocky IV”) would be doing now, 35 years after he lost to Rocky Balboa? Do you think he’d be working for Vladimir Putin?

DL: Yeah, maybe. Everybody’s asking about Ivan Drago, and I think he’s going to come back again. I have a feeling. We might get to see him one more time, which I never would have thought. But, yeah, he could be. He could’ve stayed in shape. He could be running a [Russian] hacking department for an Internet division. He could’ve turned the American elections around and gotten his boy [Donald Trump] in the White House, which he succeeded in doing. He could be holding some video footage of things that happened in Moscow, which could destroy [Trump].

MM: (Laughs)

DL: Yeah, that’s what could have happened. Drago could’ve changed the course of world history.