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.

Ep. 110 – Black Panther

February 20, 2018 by  
Filed under Podcast

This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review Marvel Studios’ mega-hit “Black Panther.” They also talk giveaways for “La La Land” live at the Majestic, a special deal for “Birdman” live at the Empire, and our 20th anniversary screening of “The Truman Show” at Alamo Drafthouse!

Click here to download the episode!

Creed

December 1, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson
Directed by: Ryan Coogler (“Fruitvale Station”)
Written by: Ryan Coogler (“Fruitvale Station”) and Aaron Covington (debut)

Nearly 40 years after the character Rocky Balboa made Sylvester Stallone a star and simultaneously launched one of the 1980s’ greatest and most ludicrous film franchises – seriously, we go from a best picture Oscar winner in 1976 to robot servants and boxing to end the Cold War by 1984 – we’re treated to the seventh entry in the “Rocky” series, “Creed,” a late-arriving sequel focused on the never-before-seen son of Rocky’s late nemesis-turned-best friend Apollo Creed and his desire to follow in his father’s footsteps in the ring. On paper, the idea seems less than ideal; we cared about Rocky Balboa, for better or worse, and he already got his send off in the self-titled “Rocky Balboa” back in 2006. Why should we invest in the son of a character who died three movies and 30 years ago? At first glance, sure, it reeks of desperation, but in practice, “Creed” is a knock-out, crowd-pleasing success and one of the best movies of 2015.

As the film begins, Adonis Johnson (Alex Henderson) is an angry young man in the middle of a brawl in a juvenile detention center after bouncing around various group homes. There he meets Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), the widow of his father, who takes him in as her own son. 17 years later, a full-grown Adonis (Michael B. Jordan, ripped to shreds and going by “Donnie”) is boxing for cash in Tijuana in between shifts at his white collar job at an investment firm. When the desire to fight overcomes him, he leaves his mother’s Los Angeles mansion and heads to Philadelphia to find Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, at his best). No one in LA will train Donnie, so he seeks out his father’s best friend, and the champ is initially reluctant to train him as well. But as these things go, Rocky sees both Apollo and himself in Donnie as he takes the kid under his wing, and it’s not long before Donnie falls in love with the girl downstairs (Tessa Thompson) and is offered a once-in-a-lifetime fight, but only if he reclaims his father’s name: Creed.

So how did what is basically “Rocky 7” vault itself into the discussion of the year’s greatest movies? The answer lies with Ryan Coogler, an Oakland-born director with only one other feature under his belt, “Fruitvale Station,” also starring Jordan. Coogler essentially reboots the longshot fighting the odds formula found in the original “Rocky” and turns it slightly on its ear, replacing Stallone’s underdog street tough with Jordan’s pampered-yet-angry quest for identity. Coogler gets a rock-solid performance from Jordan (who should vault to stardom after this role) and a fantastic turn from Stallone as an aged Balboa, alone in the world and battling the one foe he knows is undefeated: time. All through the film, Coogler teases out references to the franchise, and by the time Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” finally comes pumping through the speakers, you’ll be ready to stand up and cheer for Creed, the man and the movie.

 

Fantastic Four

August 7, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan
Directed by: Josh Trank (“Chronicle”)
Written by: Simon Kinberg (“X-Men: Days of Future Past”), Jeremy Slater (“The Lazarus Effect”) and Josh Trank (debut)

During various stages of production, there were whispers that the reboot of “Fantastic Four” was turning into a bit of a mess. Though there were reshoots and rumors that director Josh Trank was causing all sorts of on set issues, it was hard to tell if this was true or just Hollywood hearsay. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Trank left his job as director of one of the upcoming “Star Wars” spinoffs. Again, reports cited his erratic behavior and directorial performance on the set of “Fantastic Four” as one of the catalysts for the decision. Fox entered damage control mode, but the chatter hasn’t subsided as Trank’s “Fantastic Four” finally arrives in theaters, mired in all sorts of controversy.

After finding a way to send objects through other dimensions and return them back, Reed Richards (Miles Teller) is given a scholarship to a research institute. Once there, he along with scientist Sue Storm (Kate Mara) and technician Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) finalize a full size model of the project. Under the threat of losing the project, the team sneaks out to claim their stake of the newly developed alternate universe. Disaster strikes, however, and the team find themselves altered, with unexplainable new powers.

It may seem like with Teller, Jordan, Mara and Jamie Bell, “Fantastic Four,” Trank put together a great cast of likeable actors who can each shine in their own way and as an ensemble. Unfortunately, that isn’t even close to being the case. Bell is barely in the movie and adds nothing, Jordan has almost no character arc, and Mara just kind of exists in the background. Teller is the only one that gets any semblance of character development, and even he is a blank slate compared to charismatic roles in many of his other films.

In fact, almost anything character related in “Fantastic Four” goes absolutely nowhere. There’s an attempt to find connection through friendships, family strains and relationships, but nothing ever develops in any meaningful way. It’s the fault of a pretty mediocre script that is somehow both slow developing and way too accelerated. “Fantastic Four” spends most of its 100 minute run time in exposition mode, giving the full origin story treatment. It then hits the gas and clumsily stumbles into the climax, which takes place over a span of merely minutes, wraps up neatly, and ends with one of the worst scenes in a comic book movie in recent memory.

The strange thing about “Fantastic Four” is that there are a few glimmers of hope. There is something oddly refreshing about its early scenes, where we see members of the team as somewhat normal people, working research jobs. There are no suits, no super powers, and most importantly, no super vague world ending threat. It’s a situation that is ripe for creating a character driven, intimate superhero movie that we haven’t seen much of. It isn’t great by any stretch, but there are moments where Trank creates almost an anti-comic book movie atmosphere. Of course, this is something that is short lived and once it takes off into generic comic-book movie territory, complete with obligatory gaining of powers, lame villain turns (minus the head-exploding powers of Dr. Doom which was, admittedly, awesome), super lame one-liners, and shoddy CGI, anything unique about the film vanishes into a puff of smoke.

“Fantastic Four” is perhaps best described as an incredibly frustrating experience. There are moments throughout the film where the viewer can actually see what Trank was trying to do. The problem is that they are fleeting, and have no lasting impact. The actual experience of watching “Fantastic Four” is not agonizing, but under scrutiny, and as soon as the credits role it becomes abundantly apparent that literally nothing about the film works. It’s a waste of talented actors, a well-known property, and perhaps most valuable, our precious time.

That Awkward Moment

January 31, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Zac Efron, Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan
Directed by: Tom Gormican (debut)
Written by: Tom Gormican (debut)

Over the past few years, it seems the market has been saturated with “guys will be guys”-type movies. Specifically, this is the type of film that typically features a group of men in some state of arrested development and tries to portray realistic conversations between friends about love, sex, and relationships. In “That Awkward Moment,” this archetype is once again explored, this time with a group of single guys shying away from relationships and making a pact to stay single.

Though they are in different stages in their relationships and lives, friends Jason (Zac Efron), Daniel (Miles Teller), and Mikey (Michael B. Jordan) find themselves in situations where they are questioning where their relationships are going. As two of them find themselves getting closer to girls than they expected and one becoming more distant, they must decide if their pact to stay single is worth keeping.

As far as the cast is concerned, Efron, Teller and Jordan often struggle under the constraints of a mostly unfunny script. This, unfortunately, also means that Efron is extremely inconsistent in delivering laughs as he displays some questionable natural comedic ability. Conversely, this also means the very naturally funny and charismatic Teller is the shining member of the trio. On more than one occasion, Teller is able to pull a laugh using well-conceived timing as opposed to Efron who relies on the written screenplay and the occasional bit of physical humor.

Like many similar films, “That Awkward Moment” comes with its characters presenting a litany of new vocabulary terms and shorthand that describe certain situations.  This time around, the guys discuss the “so…” period, the time in which a girl will start a sentence with “so…” and question where the relationship is headed. This sets the table for a film that has a vein of adolescence running through it. It isn’t just in the lack of commitment by at least two of the three leads, but also in the seemingly arbitrary justification of their actions, which is to stick to their pact.

When it all comes down to it, “That Awkward Moment” feels sophomoric in many ways. The film feels unpolished, the script, while occasionally funny, is formulaic, and often times, the conversations between these friends feels either unnatural, forced, or just plain overdone. Teller, whose career trajectory will be interesting to watch, has his moments, but can’t save a poor script and a faulty premise.

Fruitvale Station

July 26, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer
Directed by: Ryan Coogler (debut)
Written by: Ryan Coogler (debut)

Whether you know the story behind the death of Oscar Grant or not, first-time director Ryan Coogler lays it all on the line for you at the very beginning of “Fruitvale Station,” a stunning and emotionally rich film that paints a uniquely authentic and compelling picture of a 22-year-old young man who lost his life on January 1, 2009. Oscar might just be a name to you now or a headline you remember reading in the newspaper a few years ago, but in “Fruitvale Station” Coogler turns him into so much more – a three-dimensional person whose fears, flaws, dreams, and character create a reason to agonize over the tragedy that occurs and hope it never happens to anyone again.

In “Fruitvale Station,” which was awarded the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in January and a special prize at the Cannes Film Festival in May (not to mention a well-deserved two-minute standing ovation), Coogler starts the film off with the real-life footage of the night Oscar is killed; footage that is recorded on cell phones by onlookers who witnessed the events unfold. After spending the evening with his girlfriend and friends in San Francisco to celebrate New Year’s Eve, Oscar (Michael B. Jordan) is detained by transit police in the subway station during their trip back home to Oakland when a fight breaks out. During the commotion, one of the officers attempts to subdue Oscar on the ground and then fires a single bullet into his back allegedly thinking he is firing his taser. Oscar is pronounced dead at the hospital later that morning.

While the death of Oscar is one of the most surreal things you’re likely to see online, “Fruitvale Station” doesn’t allow it to become the sole purpose of the story. This is about Oscar’s life, in fact, and Coogler is steadfast in showing us who the lead character of this narrative is from as many vantage points as possible. As truthful as it is, the raw look at Oscar is sometimes not flattering, but Jordan gives his character the human qualities it takes for an audience to stand behind someone that has made his fair share of mistakes. As Sophina, Oscar’s supportive girlfriend and mother of his only child, actress Melonie Diaz (“Raising Victor Vargas”) gives a touching performance and sets up a strong familial network between Oscar and the most important women in his life, which include his sweet daughter (Ariana Neal) and his loving mother Wanda (Octavia Spencer).

As Coogler’s first feature film of his career, “Fruitvale Station” is a cinematic anomaly. First-time directors shouldn’t be making movies as poignant as this. It’s a testament that the industry needs to find more room for intimate independent projects that examine social issues and deserve more attention. Who cares about the politics? Coogler’s focus is on the people.