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.

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.

 

The Expendables 3

August 15, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford
Directed by: Patrick Hughes (“Red Hill”)
Written by: Sylvester Stallone (“Rocky”) and Creighton Rothenberger (“Olympus Has Fallen”) and Katrin Benedikt (“Olympus Has Fallen”)

The movies in “The Expendables” series should be tons more fun than they actually are. They should be winking so much at the audience that you think they’re in some sort of distress. After all, why gather up all these action movie old timers and various MMA stars in the first place if all you’re going to do is throw them into a plot that seems leftover from some direct-to-Netflix action flick they’d be starring in anyway even without the combined ‘80s star power of your Stallones and Schwarzeneggers? Not that a spoof mentality or comedic take on the genre of ‘80s action cheese is what this assemblage of actors should aspire to, but man, would it kill the filmmakers to turn out something a touch less dour and routine?

The third film in the franchise opens with Barney Ross (Stallone) leading his team of grizzled warriors on a mission to rescue their long-lost compatriot Doc (Wesley Snipes) from a prison train. After busting him out, the Expendables are sent by Drummer (Harrison Ford, snoozing) to take down a villainous warlord revealed to be Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson, digging into the role with glee) who also happens to be a cofounder of The Expendables. When his team fails, Barney fires them and decides it’s time for some new blood, soliciting Kelsey Grammar to recruit a quartet of bland youngsters who are promptly captured. So once again it is time for the old dogs–plus Antonio Banderas as a scene-stealing newcomer—to save the day and take out the bad guy.

The premise, even if it is worn out by the third film in the series, of having “action” stars of generations past (though I’m not sure Kelsey Grammar and Antonio Banderas really count at all) team up for a fresh take on a tired genre is ripe for a good time, but alas, the only people that seem to be having any fun with this material at all are Gibson and Banderas, with Gibson making his case to be a big Hollywood star again, provided he go hat in hand and apologize for his past insanity. But that’s neither here nor there, and even crackling turns from Gibson and Banderas can paint over the fact that supposed ringer Harrison Ford is so incredibly disinterested in the whole affair that he plays one confrontation scene with Stallone while standing perfectly still. Ford’s attitude was likely “Who gives a shit?” It feels like that sentiment is the defining characteristic of the whole movie.

The Zookeeper

July 15, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Kevin James, Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb
Directed by: Frank Coraci (“Click”)
Written by: Nick Bakay (“Paul Blart: Mall Cop”), Kevin James (“Paul Blart: Mall Cop”), Jay Scherick (“Norbit”), David Ronn (“Norbit”), Rock Rueben (debut)

Deep inside the ferocious land of Hollywood, grazing around the talent pool like a fat warthog at a watering hole, a stumpy beast hunkers down waiting to pounce on the first screenplay too weak to defend itself. His eyes dart back and forth as other more agile predators pick off the meatier prey one by one. Suddenly, the creature gets his chance. A scrawny script has been separated from its herd and is helpless. Within seconds, the brute leaps from his squatting position and takes aim. His broad calves push him forward for the kill, but it isn’t meant to be. His feet are caught in the brush and he lands on the ground with his face in the mud.
 
This is what the narration might sound like if the Discovery Channel featured a Kevin James Week.
 
Unfortunately for audiences, James, best known for the TV series “The King of Queens,” which ran for nine seasons before ending in 2007, gets his paws wrapped around more flimsy screenplays than anyone who likes to laugh would hope.
 
Despite his terrible movie choices over the last four years (“I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry,” “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” “Grown Ups”), James is as harmless as a collection of chubby cherubs, which is one reason he continues to get second-rate roles in comedies like “The Zookeeper,” another dismal product from Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Production Company (AKA Rob Schneider’s meal ticket).
 
Directed by Frank Coraci, who delivered one of Sandler’s best movies with “The Wedding Singer,” “Zookeeper” takes a page from another James flick, 2005’s “Hitch.” Instead of taking dating advice from Will Smith, however, James, who plays insecure lead zookeeper Griffin Keyes, is schooled in the subject of love by a zoo-full of chatty wildlife. Voice work includes Sylvester Stallone as a discerning lion, Nick Nolte as a depressed gorilla, and what sounds like a constipated Sandler as a capuchin monkey.
 
Although it might sound like another wannabe “Charlotte’s Web,” the talking animals don’t make up much of the story, which centers on Griffin trying to win his materialistic ex-girlfriend back. In one unfunny scene, a wolf explains that a male mammal must mark his territory to get the female species’ attention. Acting like even more of a numskull and for no particular reason, Griffin relieves himself in a potted plant at a dinner reception as if the advice was actually useful.
 
Let’s just hope James stops pissing on things long enough to realize his film career is already sufficiently soaked.