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.

Sorry to Bother You

July 20, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Armie Hammer
Directed by: Boots Riley (debut)
Written by: Boots Riley (debut)

Embrace the absurdity. That’s the best advice anyone could give moviegoers who walk into the bizarre, dark comedy “Sorry to Bother You,” written and directed by rapper Boots Riley. It’s one of the most original films you’ll likely see all year, which, depending on your threshold for certifiably crazy storylines, could be a rewarding experience or one that frustrates you.

“STBY” is really an indie movie told in three substantially different acts, all of which progress (or digress, if you refuse to go along for the ride) into a stranger narrative than the one before. To begin, we’re introduced to Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a young black man desperate to find a job and move himself and his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) out of his uncle’s garage apartment.

He gets the opportunity to climb the corporate ladder when he takes a job with a sketchy telemarketing corporation that promises him a bright and prosperous future if he is able to work his way up and become one of their elite “power callers.” With a promotion comes the opportunity to rub elbows with Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), the coke-snorting CEO of a controversial company that profits from slave labor.

The first act is clever and funny as we watch Cassius make sales calls and transport into the houses of the people he is trying to pitch. It’s an inventive way to show the intrusive nature of Cassius’ position and how little power he wields as an insignificant voice behind a telephone. Cassius starts to get the hang of it, however, when a veteran coworker (Danny Glover) advises him to use his “white voice” when speaking to customers. The trick works, and Cassius skyrockets to the top floor, to the frustration of his co-workers who hoped he would support their efforts to unionize so they could demand higher pay and benefits.

Seen as a sell-out — a theme Riley also explores with Detroit, an aspiring performance artist — Cassius pursues his capitalistic self-interest, which leads him to the discovery of what “power callers” are actually selling their clients, and calls into question Cassius’ own sense of moral responsibility. Riley piles on the surreal, politically charged metaphors and satirical scenes at a frenetic rate, so if you keep up, you’ll probably enjoy most of the insanity.

It’s the third act of “STBY” that’ll certainly be the defining moment for viewers who are on the fence about whether Riley lets his sometimes unfocused ambition as a first-time filmmaker get the best of him. What “STBY” has going for it in these final scenes is that it never loses its identity as a bat-shit ridiculous concept that doesn’t take itself the least bit seriously. If anything, it’s refreshing to know there are creators bold enough to attempt something so risky and anarchic.

Ep. 111 – Annihilation, Game Night

February 28, 2018 by  
Filed under Podcast

This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review “Annihilation” and “Game Night.” The guys are also baffled by James Gunn’s revelation that Baby Groot isn’t Groot reincarnated, but actually Groot’s son.

Click here to download the episode!

Thor: Ragnarok

November 2, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Tessa Thompson
Directed by: Taika Watiti (“What We Do in the Shadows,” “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”)
Written by: Eric Pearson (debut) and Craig Kyle (debut) & Christopher L. Yost (“Max Steel”)

As unloved as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s “Thor” franchise has been, it’s still been able to reach the coveted trilogy status. But with the latest film, “Thor: Ragnarok,” it’s abundantly clear that Marvel has decided to burn down the boring version of “Game of Thrones” that is all the Asgard stuff and slot the God of Thunder into a more comical role with a blatant “Guardians of the Galaxy” influence. It’s a great idea, really, and Chris Hemsworth has a clear gift for comedy, but the unwillingness to make a clean break from the tedium on the other side of the Bifrost keeps “Ragnarok” from achieving the same highs as Marvel’s other cosmic franchise.

The film begins with Thor hanging in a cage, conversing with a skeleton, before destroying a devil-ish creature names Surtur intent on bringing on Ragnarok—otherwise known as the destruction of Asgard. Thor returns home with the Surtur’s crown for his father Odin’s (Anthony Hopkins) throne room, only to finally uncover that his mischievous brother Loki (Ton Hiddleston) has been posing as their father since the events of the last movie, “Thor: The Dark World.”

When Thor and Loki finally track Odin down on Earth, he’s at death’s door. When he dissolves into nothingness, it allows for the coming of his firstborn, a daughter named Hela (Cate Blanchett) who is determined to rule Asgard and conquer the universe. A battle with Hela in the Bifrost sends both Loki and Thor spinning off into space, stranding the Avenger in a junkyard on a remote planet where he’s captured and sold by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) to the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, the absolute best). There, Thor is forced into gladiatorial combat against the Grandmaster’s champion, none other than fellow Avenger Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who Thor will have to convince to help him in order to stop Hela.

New Zealand director Taika Watiti delivers solidly when “Ragnarok” goes for laughs – which are often wonderfully weird, especially anything with Goldblum – but falls into the same trap as previous directors Kenneth Branaugh and Alan Taylor before him, in that the palace intrigue on Asgard just isn’t interesting, no matter how much vamping Blanchett does in her villain role (also a bad move for the story: spoiling the Hulk reveal in the trailers, but that was probably unavoidable). Doubtless this was all at the behest of the studio at large, eager to move on to something more crowd-pleasing, but unable to resist putting a button on Asgard for the dozen or so people who could have possibly given a shit.

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.