Tag Archives: sylvester stallone

Creed II

Since Ryan Coogler was busy making Black Panther, Sylvester Stallone took back the writing responsibilities (with Juel Taylor) for the eighth instalment of the Rocky franchise. As a result, Creed II is as much a continuation of 1985’s Rocky IV as a sequel to 2015’s stellar Creed and as much Rocky’s story as Adonis Creed’s.

In Creed II, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) has won six bouts in a row and is about to fight Danny “Stuntman” Wheeler for the world title.  Creed wins the fight and then, shortly after, proposes to his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson), and she says yes!  At that point, Creed should be on top of the world but he’s about to learn that creed_iithe championship belt is heavier than it looks, because he’s now the target of a bunch of wanna-be champs, including a Russian whose father killed Creed’s dad in Rocky IV. Creed will need Rocky’s help to beat the younger Drago, who so far has brutally beaten every boxer he’s gone up against.

Rocky’s part in this story is an important one.  In fact, several pivotal events that happen to Creed are shown from Rocky’s point of view, suggesting this is Rocky’s franchise again. Which makes sense when Rocky himself is writing the story.

Is that a bad thing? Kind of, which is hard for me to say  as a fan of the Rocky franchise. There’s something magical about the super cheesy and entirely predictable Rocky lovefests from Rocky II through to Rocky Balboa (Rocky is excluded because being the original, it is only predictable in retrospect). And Creed II captures that same magic at all the right moments. It’s a solid addition to this four-decade-old franchise.

But it’s a step back from Creed and that regression is further proof of Ryan Coogler’s genius (as if we needed any). With the first Creed, Coogler took the Rocky franchise in a new direction and included a ton of callbacks that riffed on the original formula without feeling derivative.

Unfortunately, Creed II doesn’t ever get to that same level because it is content to recycle the tried and true Rocky formula: a win at the outset, followed by a setback at an opponent’s hands, and then after a super-sweet training montage, a well-earned victory over that same opponent. Creed II executes that formula as well as any of the Rocky-titled films, but it never separates itself from that pack.  Rocky fans will leave Creed II satisfied, but fans of Creed may be in for a bit of a letdown.

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1976 in Film (Happy 40th Sean)

Sean and I are cruising around the Hawaiian islands to celebrate his milestone birthday, which is why you’ll find a common theme in the movie reviews here  for the next week and a half.

1976 was a noteworthy year in film. Rocky was the highest grossing movie, and it won the Oscar – for best picture AND best director (John G. Avildsen). It was p5214_p_v8_aaNetwork though that all but cleaned up in the acting categories – Peter Finch for best actor (he was the first actor to win posthumously); Faye Dunaway for best actress, and Beatrice Straight for best supporting actress. The fly in their soup was Jason Robards for All the President’s Men – poor Ned Beatty was shut out. In an upset, Barbra Streisand’s Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star Is Born) won best original song over Gonna Fly Now from the Rocky soundtrack but I don’t need to tell you which has had the more lasting impact culturally.

George Lucas began filming Star Wars in 1976, perhaps sensing that little Sean would definitely need to grow up playing light sabers. In a stroke of genius, Lucas waived the half-million-dollar director’s fee in order to maintain complete ownership on merchandising and sequels, which means that today he’s a mother fucking billionaire.

Carrie came out in 1976. So did Family Plot, Alfred Hitchcock’s final film taxi-driver-movie-1976starring Bruce Dern. And Freaky Friday with Jodie Foster. And Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. And To Fly!, a documentary about the history of flight produced by the National Air and Space Museum that was the second-highest grossing film the of the year and was the highest grossing documentary of all time until Fahrenheit 9/11 in 2004.

Kelly Macdonald, voice of Merida, the heroine from Disney’s Brave, known for roles in Trainspotting, Gosford Park, No Country for Old Men, and Boardwalk Empire was born in 1976 (the bitch. She’s married to my favourite bassist ever, Dougie Payne). So was fellow redhead Isla Fisher.

Rashida Jones turned 40 this year too. She’s currently working on the script to Toy Story 4. Reese Witherspoon turned 40. David Oyelowo turned 40. Cillian 3t0kxqbttyjlMurphy. Benedict Cumberbatch. Audrey Tautou. Colin Farrell. Happy 40th to all.

Ryan Reynolds has been making 40 look good for nearly 2 months now, paving the way for the likes of Sean to do the same.

Albert Brooks made his film debut in 1976 in a little movie called Taxi Driver. Jessica Lange made hers in King Kong and Brooke Shields first appeared in Alice, Sweet Alice.

1976 was kind of cool outside of film too: the Steelers won the Super Bowl. The first commercial Concorde flight took off. Innsbruck, Austria hosted with Winter Olympics (and Montreal the Summer). The Toronto Blue Jays were ramones-ramones1born. Apple was founded by a couple of punks you might have heard of, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. The Ramones released their first album and the Sex Pistols play their first shows, but it’s (Peter) Frampton Comes Alive! that tops the charts. The Boston Celtics defeated the Phoenix Suns in triple overtime in Game 5 of the NBA Finals – still considered the greatest game of the NBA’s first 50 years. The CN tower, then the world’s tallest free-standing structure on land, opened to the public. Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford. Megamouth sharks are discovered off Oahu, Hawaii 4c33c725f6feaf2ce254254f6f1201fc(nothing to be concerned about Sean, I’m sure it’s just coincidence you’re both turning 40 in the same place). Bob Marley survived an assassination attempt. California repealed their sodomy law. Peyton Manning was born. And Ronaldo. And Mark Duplass, just a day after Sean. And as much as I love me some Duplass, Sean is still my favourite thing from 1976, and I’m so glad I get to spend the day looking for megamouth sharks on a submarine ride on the ocean’s floor with him.

 

 

 

 

Over the Top

Strange things are happening lately.  Sylvester Stallone won a Golden Globe and is nominated for an Oscar.  I’ve made Jay return to George Lucas’ glory days and watch the original Star Wars trilogy for the first time, which is something she swore would never happen.  And since these sorts of things come in threes, I like my chances of convincing Jay to watch Over the Top, whiover the topch I just found out is on Netflix.  Especially because Jay is still on oxycontin recovering from her back surgery.

Over the Top is a hidden gem in the same way as a lump of coal.  It was a very 80s attempt to reboot Rocky: take Stallone, put him in another salt-of-the-earth role where his muscles do the talking, give him a wholesome never-quit attitude, and add in Robert Loggia as the villain for good measure.  The ingredients are all here but this movie is absolutely awful.  So awful I can’t help but love it.

First, Robert Loggia.  This is exactly how I feel when I see him in anything.

He was the best (RIP, Mr. Loggia) and he really chews the scenery here.  Which is fortunate because in Over the Top, Stallone shows absolutely no charisma, the arm-wrestling bad guy is the most boring villain you could think of, and the kid Stallone is fighting for is so annoying, spoiled and entitled that you think all the way through that Stallone would gladly take $500,000 to never have to see him again.

over-the-top-poster

Second, trying to get us to cheer for Stallone’s down-on-his-luck arm wrestler is so misguided it hurts.  Is there even such a thing as an up-on-his-luck arm wrestler?  Are any of these guys in good financial standing?  I don’t know how legitimate the World Armwrestling League is, but the champion only gets $20,000.  So that was probably like $10,000 in 1987 dollars.  If you’re driving a semi across the country like Stallone does in Over the Top, I guess you can save money by sleeping in the cab, but how much are you left with at the end of the day even if you are good/lucky enough to win?  Just one more reason you wonder why Stallone wouldn’t take the $500,000 [SPOILER ALERT] rather than selling his truck (HIS ONLY SOURCE OF INCOME) so he can pull a Pete Rose and bet on himself to win the contest [END SPOILERS].  See how much you are going to love this movie?

Third, the music is the worst thing imaginable.  Any song that was cheesy to make the cut for Rocky IV can probably be found on Over the Top’s soundtrack.  No Easy Way Out is literally too good a song to be in this movie.  I didn’t think that was even possible but it’s true.  The featured ballad is a Kenny Loggins wuss rock gem, and the soundtrack also features songs from Sammy Hagar, Eddie Money and Asia.  It is probably the perfect music to arm wrestle to, if you have the urge.  And after watching Stallone [SPOILER ALERT] rock his way to victory [END SPOILERS], I predict that you are going to have that urge.

I give Over the Top a score of one man against the world out of the world.  But since the one man is 2016 Golden Globe winner and 2016 Academy Award nominee Sylvester Stallone, that’s actually a very good score.

 

 

Flashback Friday – Rocky Edition

One of the things I loved most about Creed (as mentioned in my review) was how nostalgic and referential (even reverential) it was about the previous Rocky movies.  I’m still thinking about the references I caught and wanted to spend a little more time with them here.

Lots of spoilers follow, so with that said, once you’ve seen the movie come inside and let me know what you thought!

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Creed

This is shaping up to be a rough movie season for Jay.  First, she got dragged to SPECTRE (which by all accounts is a spectacular movie).   Second, she’s been dreading Star Wars: The Force Awakens since it was a twinkle in J.J. Abrams’ eye.  And third, a whole other Sean-approved franchise makes a return and potentially gets rebooted into a whole new series of movies.  Dun Na NAAAAAA, Dun Na NAAAAAA!

That’s right, Rocky is back again, for the seventh time.  It seemed over after IV, V, and VI, but some studio exec decided we could handle more!  And it was clearly the right decision because I think MGM/Warner Brothers now has a whole new franchise on its hands, featuring Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed (Apollo Creed’s son).

I have always loved this franchise.  From the moment I saw Rocky III, I was hooked (yes, I started with III and have never regretted it – as recently discussed in my defence of SPECTRE, plot and character are pretty much unnecessary in franchises and here’s more proof that’s a good thing).  Based on my love for the franchise, I had high hopes for this movie but I was also nervous at how this would all turn out.  After seeing Creed, I am happy to report that this franchise’s record is still unblemished as long as we agree that Rocky V never happened.

One of my favourite things about Rocky VI (a.k.a. Rocky Balboa) was how much love it showed to the franchise as a whole.  Creed takes the same approach.  There are a number of nods to the past and they’re great to see.  The best part is that Rocky, as trainer, takes all that history and imbues Adonis with the style of boxing we’ve grown to love in these movies, namely trading head shots until both boxers’ faces look like ground beef.  Head trauma be damned, these boxers just have so much heart that they have to leave it all in the ring.  And do they ever!

As for the cast, Michael B. Jordan is great as Creed and Stallone is better than ever as Rocky.  The two characters come together naturally and it’s a great relationship to see play out, as uncle and nephew take on the world together and give us some classic Rocky moments along the way.  Especially Stallone, who really plays the old man well the whole way through (although at this point he’s almost 70 so it may not even be acting).  Either way there are some very funny moments to be found as the two leads interact with each other.
CARL

Overall, the only way this movie could have been any better is if they had worked in some Carl Weathers flashbacks where he got his stew on. I can see how that was tricky to work in to Creed since Apollo died before Adonis was born, but still, it would have been a nice touch.

Rocky-III

Want to know who won this fight?  Creed has the answer!

Other than that one shortcoming, Creed is perfect.  It delivers a great story, feels like a natural extension of the Rocky franchise, gives us a ton of nice call-backs to past events, and even answers some burning questions (including who wins the fight at the end of Rocky III).  Those fan-service moments were definitely my favourite aspect of the movie and they added so much to it.  They’re not just winks and nods, they are tools used successfully to remind us of Rocky’s mindset as he tries to pass on his winning ways to a new contender.

As the credits rolled, I reminisced about all the other great Rocky moments (see my list HERE but be warned, it contains tons of spoilers) and at the same time was excited for Creed II.  And mark it down, there will be a Creed II.  The seeds are sown here for at least two more movies and I hope they come to pass, because Creed is not just a great addition to the Rocky franchise, it is an excellent movie in its own right.

Creed scores a knockout: ten triumphant underdogs out of ten.

 

10 Magical Movie Moments

In response to A Fistful of Films’ blogathon, 10 Perfect Cinematic Moments, here are Sean’s. Check out Matt’s and Jay’s as well!

The Usual Suspects – “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled…”

As surprised as I was to find out Kaiser Sose’s identity, it was the way the reveal was handled that puts it on this list. This is more than a “gotcha” moment; it is an amazing sequence that was perfectly executed by Kevin Spacey, Chazz Palminteri and Brian Singer, and I am sure a lot of others. The movie would still be good if this sequence was something less, but the scene makes this movie a classic and makes this moment one of my favourites.

Gladiator – Battle of Carthage

This battle is not the film’s climactic one but it is the turning point in this movie. For Russell Crowe’s Maximus, it is his rebirth. For his fellow gladiators, it is when they find their leader. And for Joaquin Phoenix’s Commodus, it is when he realizes his days are numbered. It is such a fantastic battle that is so well filmed, has such high stakes, and perfectly captures that underdog victory feeling.

E.T. – Flying Bicycles!

This was the first moment that Jay and I came up with for this list, and at the same time, I think that says a lot. Of all the moments ever filmed, this one comes to mind because it is so magical and unexpected,  because it really shows you that anything is possible and there are no limits at all – if you can dream it, you can do it. That is the essence of movies and that feeling is what we hope to see captured in some new way every time we see something new.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back – “I am your father”

I had to put this one on here.  It’s part of my childhood.  This was the moment I realized that things are not just black and white.  There isn’t just good and evil.  It took me a while to understand how this was possible but when I figured it out I loved what it said about the world (though I was a little scared by it too).  By the way, Darth Vader’s life before these movies was much better in my head than it was when put up on-screen in Episodes 1-3.  And it always is, isn’t it?  Some things are better left to your imagination.

Big – The Big Piano

How perfect is this moment?  So perfect that when I went to New York for the first time only a few years ago, seeing this piano made me feel like a big kid.  Exactly the way I like to think Robert Loggia is made to feel by Tom Hanks’ Josh in this scene.  It’s hard to keep touch with that feeling in the abstract, sometimes we need help. This scene gives me that help every time and that is a powerful thing.

Raiders of the Lost Ark – Swordfight

This swordfight is not much of a fight at all.  It is totally one-sided and that is what makes it so brilliant.  Indiana Jones’ reaction here sums up the character perfectly – there are no rules, this is not about being a hero, there is just a goal that he is going to accomplish and no one will stand in his way.  Steven Spielberg has such a gift at doing that, at distilling things into a five second wordless sequence that others would have to spend dialogue and time on.  It’s so much better this way.

Rocky – Gonna Fly Now

Rocky has gone through a lot at this point.  He hasn’t had an easy life and he has been trying to become more than a punched-out shell.  Not many believe in him, possibly including a lot in the audience.  This scene is where it turns around, for Rocky anyway.  After this it doesn’t matter what happens, he’s already won.

Singing in the Rain – Singing in the Rain!

For a movie that has been around more than 50 years, it took me a while to get to it.  I shouldn’t have waited that long!  Singing in the Rain is amazing all the way through but the title song is really something special and stands out above all else.  It is simply magical and no one else does it like Gene Kelly does.  Brilliant!

Days of Thunder – “He always goes to the outside”

Cole Trickle plays the long game in this movie.  He spends an hour of screen time setting up Russ Wheeler for this moment, and we all see it coming but Russ himself.  I like that we see it coming.  It makes it that much better when Cole slingshots past Russ, and the best part is that Cole still takes the time to smash Russ into the wall.  Of course he did.  That’s Cole Trickle.

Amelie – Walking with a Blind Man

This one gets me every time.  It is so joyous and so magical with so much energy.  Again it feels like the movie leads up to this point.  The music adds so much and it’s another moment where director Jean-Pierre Jeunet is not constrained by the rules of our world.  If a blind man is happy why shouldn’t he glow?  It just makes sense.