Tag: sequel

CREED produces best Rocky story in 36 years

During recent weeks, all I heard about the seventh film in the Rocky series, Creed, was that it wasn’t needed. Fair game I figured. The sixth film seemed to put a nice stamp on the series after a lackluster fifth entry so why push it? When you leave this film, you will know why it was made. The Rocky Balboa saga comes full circle here and is the strongest film in the series since Rocky 2, which was made 36 years ago. It has a lot to do with Sylvester Stallone, the epitome of the tough hardened streets of Philadelphia this tale was born on. He’s never been better and bares EVERYTHING as an old, tired and lonely champ who sees a chance to redeem something when Apollo Creed’s son Adonis finds him at Adrian’s restaurant. Let me explain…

Some actors get better with age. Others fade into the distance, taken over by younger talents never to be found again. As he has gracefully plowed into his late 60’s, Sylvester Stallone has found his stride. He blows things up with the Expendables, makes a light film like Grudge Match, and returns to either Rambo or Rocky. He’s old, rich, well known and can do whatever he wants. With his latest film, Stallone packs the hardest punch in his entire career. He gave his baby and the rights to the characters to writer/director Ryan Coogler. This guy didn’t just pick up a script and say let’s go make a movie. Coogler had intentions here and something to add to the series. If not, Sly would have never given it over. Creed is the first Rocky film Stallone didn’t write.  The result is a special Thanksgiving treat that took me back to my first Rocky film when I was just five years old. Creed will fill loyal fans of the series with nostalgic thoughts while entertaining newcomers aka the young hashtag crowd.

The story is simple enough. Adonis(Michael B. Jordan, perfectly cut from the boxing mold and sharing an uncanny resemblance to Carl Weathers) is a lost soul at 30. The film opens with Apollo’s wife(not Adonis’ mother) taking him in from juvenile detention and raising him in her house. Adonis wrestles with the fact that he never knew his dad yet shares so many things in common, such as fighting. He quits his day job and goes to Philly to track down his father’s roots and Rocky.

The scene where he walks into the restaurant and asks Balboa who won that unofficial tussle from the end of Rocky 3 is perfectly scripted, acted and laid out. Coogler has a confidence with the camera that most young directors don’t have. He lets Stallone and Jordan do the lifting and circles them like they are fighters in a ring. From there, it’s cake talking. Rocky trains Adonis after initially declining and they are off. I don’t need to explain the rest. There’s a girl(Tessa Thompson), a few bumps, training montages(NO eye of the tiger) and a climactic fight.

Jordan is the perfect sparring partner for Stallone. He proved in Fruitvale Station that he could carry a film and tear into a role. The two actors meld into their roles seamlessly, conveying emotion and historical relevance like it’s following their footsteps. Jordan is a dynamic young talent and physically gifted so he convinces just as much in the ring as he does out of it. Stallone feeds off his energy and gives it all he’s got.

Coogler’s script is even better than his directing, filling the spaces in between the fight scenes with true grit from a fighter’s life. It’s believable and emotionally satisfying without being repetitive or manipulative.

I can’t say enough how good Stallone is. This is his baby. His stomping ground. With no offense to John Rambo, Rocky Balboa will always be the part I associate Sly with. I grew up watching him kick butt, take names and look good doing it in other roles but Rocky is his personal stage to swing the wrecking ball. Here, weary and gray, he goes for broke. Maybe due to the fact he didn’t write or direct, Sly could fully plug into the role and push harder. There are three scenes in Creed where he will break your heart. Smashing it to pieces with his poignant take on a boxer who searches for reasons to get up in the morning and keep throwing punches. Underrated for his entire career due to his action bravado, Stallone can act and do a lot with a look. The moment he goes “how you doin” or sits next to Adrian and Paulie’s grave to tell them what’s what, you just sit back and smile, realizing the actor is home again.

The boxing scenes in the series have always been stellar because they respect the true craft and sweet science of boxing and combat. Creed is no different. Real boxers like Andre Ward and Tony Bellew make cameos here and add authenticity to the film. The training scenes are legit boxing tutorials that give off knowledge if one is paying attention. The film carries a dirty lived in look that serves the fight game well. Coogler has respect for the characters and the world here, infusing it with flashbacks of the previous films and using part of the score and the same locations.

When I left the theater, my good friend, a former MMA fighter and beast of a human being, told me watching this movie took him back to those pre-fight emotions and internal energy. Some films can do that to you. They make you want to revisit a part of your own history because a connection was made. They hook you.

Creed wasn’t just good. It was surprisingly great and made for a purpose. The strongest film in the franchise since Rocky II. See it for Stallone. See it with the family. See it to revisit this cinematic champ one last time before Sly decides to hang them up.

Tom Cruise makes “Rogue Nation” feel fresh

Mission 5Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation‘s sign outside reads like this. Welcome to the Tom Cruise show. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to walk into Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation without an ounce of cynicism or pre-existing opinion of Cruise’s off screen persona and just enjoy a good old fashioned spy flick.

Let me tell you right now. The reason these films work so well, no matter the director, is the star. The face on the poster. The man carrying all the marbles and the boulders of pressure on this summer blockbuster scale. Cruise doesn’t just do his own fight scenes. He also hangs off the side of departing airplanes as they take off. He also rides motorcycles around roads hanging off steep cliffs. He also dives into large bodies or water and does all this at the ripe age of 50. When I think of Cruise and Mission Impossible films, the pursuit of authenticity comes to mind. He wants to make it as real as possible and he wants the audience to have as much fun as he did filming it.

The plot isn’t too distracting and has just the right amount of juice dripping from the grill at this cinematic barbecue. Cruise’s IMF team(Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames) are being hunted by a rogue “Syndicate”, who wish to destroy the unit and also make a lot of money in the process. This is a film where the bad guy isn’t really noteworthy. He’s got an accent, a nasally voice and an ability to tuck the bottom part of his face into a snarl. He wants to take Cruise’s Hunt down and do it all flashy like, which makes for amazingly rendered action sequences.

You don’t come to a Mission Impossible film to be wooed by Oscar caliber acting. You want to see what these guys do this time. They didn’t disappoint. Writer/Director Christopher McQuarrie(who wrote a past Mission film and is the creator of Usual Suspects) ups the ante here with Cruise and company. Leading up to the release, the scene where Cruise literally hangs off the side of a plane carried all the energy of the marketing campaign. That stunt is pretty cool and sets off the pre-credits sequence. It pales in comparison to the other stunts.

The sequence that takes the cake is a scene where Hunt dives into a government facility that is guarded by 100 feet of concrete and protected by a pool of water that whips around like a hurricane when you are in it. Hunt’s desperate plea to extract a chip, card or whatever is revealed slowly and raises the stakes as the three minute timer on his watch counts down. Folks, we all fear drowning but what the filmmakers do here is create a truly harrowing yet fun experience. We are sucking the oxygen out of our own lungs watching Hunt try to dangle.

The motorcycle chase is filmed extremely well, and all the gun fights sound authentic, ringing off a Michael Mann like echo in your ears. It’s almost as if the Fast and Furious gang challenged Cruise and company to create the most outrageous action set pieces, and the veterans just winked and went to town. I’m sorry, Vin Diesel, but when it comes to real action stunt work, Cruise has you beat big boy.

Rogue Nation is just smart enough to make us forget about the outlandish stunts, plot threads and somewhat uneven pacing at times. It’s alert, confident and delivers the goods you come to expect when seeing the trailer.

The cast is cool as silk, with Renner and Baldwin providing some levity with biting one liners and humor. It’sRebecca Ferg good to see Rhames back and Pegg is always a reliable comedic presence. The steal here though is newcomer Rebecca Ferguson, a gorgeous Swede who takes turns helping and betraying Hunt’s crew. Ferguson isn’t just a pretty face. She’s athletic enough to fulfill the action duties and has a naturally beautiful body that doesn’t seem anything overly fancy or anywhere near ordinary. Whether she’s climbing up her opponents to wrap her legs around their neck and stab them in the chest or she is racing on a motorcycle, Ferguson holds her own and then some and her co-stars know it. There’s something about a pretty lady with an European accent who can throw a punch and take one as well that just knocks me out. You’ve been warned, Emily Blunt and Kate Beckinsale.

While it’s not as polished as the first one or as slick as the last, this 5th round of Mission Impossible daredevil work is a worthy piece of summer entertainment. Whenever the plot starts to spin out of control and everybody is wearing fake masks and throwing kicks and shooting all over, Cruise grounds it all with his hard work and dedication to the character and the series. He’s a thinking man’s action hero and is all the fuel this Mission needs.

Also, Rebecca Ferguson doesn’t hurt.

Riddick: Vin Diesel’s Best Role

“Like I said, it’s not me you have to worry about now.”-Richard Riddick

Vin Diesel will always be known as the rugged, romantic race car heisting family man Dominic Toretto and for good reason. The Fast and The Furious films are blockbuster hits and summer film launching gems that have gotten better with each entry. In the business of make believe, the role that nets the studio the most cash brings you the most acclaim. That’s why Harrison Ford is known as Indiana Jones and Star Wars instead of his best role, Jack Ryan in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. With no disrespect to the soulful nitro powered hero Dom, Diesel’s best role is Riddick, the criminal steely eyed killer who can tangle with desert serpents like we put together a bowl of cereal.

It all started back in 2000 with Pitch Black, a relatively low key science fiction action thriller with a unknown Diesel, Cole Hauser and Radha Mitchell being stranded out in a futuristic kill zone with the planet’s worst inhabitants(think Aliens mixed with Starship Troopers). Pitch Black was a great time at the movies because it didn’t take itself too seriously and allowed Diesel to use every ounce of his charisma, action hero brutality and gifted use of one liners. (more…)