Friday, November 27, 2015

Creed - Review


Academy Award Winner Sylvester Stallone revives once again his “Rocky” franchise tale with his 7th story about his iconic persona aka “Italian Stallone” aka Rocky Balboa. Only in this latest effort the title of this film is called “Creed” which is named after Rocky’s very first nemesis “Apollo Creed” who after the first four films went from being in the ring mutual combatants to best of friends until Apollos Creed’s surprising death at the hands of the super Russian Boxer named Ivan Drago (as if you didn’t already know all this already).

In this installment Director Ryan Coogler’s who directed the critically acclaimed “Fruitville Station” and who looks a lot like the lead actor Michael B. Jordan, the story “Creed” revolves around a smart and up and coming boxer named Adonis Johnson (Jordan) who was born out an affair Apollo Creed had with his mother. It also resulted in Adonis never really knowing his famous heavyweight champion father who died before he was born.  Still, there’s no denying that boxing is in his blood, so Adonis heads to Philadelphia, the site of Apollo Creed’s legendary match with a tough upstart named Rocky Balboa.

Adonis tracks Rocky (Stallone) down and asks him to be his trainer.  Despite his insistence that he is out of the fight game for good, Rocky sees in Adonis the strength and determination he had known in Apollo—the fierce rival who became his closest friend. 

So eventually and grudgingly so, Rocky agrees to take him on. So we watch Rocky train the young fighter and with Rocky in his corner, it isn’t long before Adonis gets his own shot at the title…but can he develop not only the drive but also the heart of a true fighter, in time to get into the ring?

PROS: Also starring Tessa Thompson (“Selma,”) as Creed’s girlfriend Bianca, Phylicia Rashad as Apollo’s widow; and English pro boxer and former three-time ABA Heavyweight Champion Anthony Bellew as boxing champ “Pretty” Ricky Conlan, the film “Creed” works big time. It captures the magic of the very first Rocky film with the right amount of old school Rocky touches as well some modern touches to keep a new generation of ephemeral minded film goers thoroughly engaged. The writing also works well as it deliberately and patiently develops the central charcter relationships with realism allowing the viewer over time to seeing and hearing something that is meaningful, with deep emotional consequences and honest humanity. 

Also kudos to Director Coogler, who directs his film with an authentic sense of the moment and no preordained out comes. It takes you down an inevitable path of a big fight at the end but you don’t really see it coming because of his fine hand at directing what could  have been just another Rocky story completed exhausted of any new plots to sell.  

CONS: The editing in a few scenes seemed a bit too snappy and quick for my taste but this is only in few instances and only bothers someone like me who has a sense of what good editing can do to making a scene go from good to great to iconic. Ultimately it’s no big deal in “Creed”.

CONCLUSION:  “Creed” has genuine earnestness at its core with real human warmth and crowd-pleasing surprises. But the biggest surprise is actor Sly Stallone. Now hold on while I go down stairs to get a hit of “Woodford Reserve” bourbon before I write any further, I needed to make sure my mind is right before writing any further.

OK, I'm back and here it goes………….. Sly Stallone, deserves an Oscar Nomination as Best Supporting Actor. Yes, Stallone cuts through some of the corny and sometimes bravado laden dialog from some of his previous films, including some of the Rocky films, to deliver one of the most honest, weighty, moving and stirring performance you will see all year. Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeees.

He manages to capture what we like about his first Rocky film which was that obscure guy who was both quiet and yet funny, but above all filled with endearing optimism by just working hard and being honest and kind to friends both in and out of the ring. He not only exhibits these same qualities in “Creed”, he makes that occasional lumpy feeling jump in your throat as that occasional slightly slurred speech “lug of a guy” you just want to root for again all because he is just loveable nice.

“Creed” is crafted with a lot of smarts that over time earns the viewer’s trust in that you are seeing real people on the big screen who are putting their real affections and real honesty on the line for others they care about. In the end just as with the first Rocky film it all comes together to do some heartstring-tugging on your soul.

I hope “Creed” is the last film for this series, but something tells me it won’t be – hey people in Hollywood will always want to make more money if they can, so I am guessing there will be more coming now.

Still, do not pass up this “Creed” just because you have some preconceived notions about this being another recycled clich├ęd Rocky film; no go see it in the theater for the well-choreographed action, good acting and moving story.

In the end “Creed” is “IN-CREED-IBLE” entertainment for 2015.

3 – 3/4 Stars

Monday, November 23, 2015

"Spotlight" & "Brooklyn" - Reviews

Starring Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Brian d’Arcy James and Stanley Tucci, "Spotlight" tells the riveting true story of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe investigation that would rock the city of Boston. And what was the story? It was the incredible kept secret and crisis involving one of the world’s oldest and most trusted institutions – The Catholic Church and Faith.
With the newspaper’s tenacious “Spotlight” team of reporters we watch as they delved cautiously but with dogged determination from one allegation to multiple allegations of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. The movie tells the year-long investigation of uncovering the shocking decades of systematic cover-up at the highest levels of Boston's religious, legal, and government establishment, touching off a wave of revelations around the world.

CONCLUSION: Spotlight is clearly one of the best films for 2015 and I have no doubt that it will be nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and possibly several Best Supporting Actor Nominations, with special note to Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton.

The strength of this film is its ensemble of fine actors working as a team together  in the highest form of acting collaboration, as no one actor has a singular leading role in this unique film. And while there is no real crescendo moment in “Spotlight” it is very reminiscent of the procedural style found in the 1976 Best Picture nominated film “All the President's Men”.  The true story of the President Nixon White House and the array of operatives working there who were involved  in the scandal of covering up the Watergate break in and the  Washington Post reporters who broke the story starring actors Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford. 
Just like its predecessor, “Spotlight” takes us down a path we already know where we are headed in regards to its conclusion. But as was the case in 1976  and now with "Spotlight" what is really fascinating to see as film viewers is what good journalistic investigation looks under the cinematic microscope, as well as what personal human commitment looks like to getting to the unquestioning result that they are all tirelessly working to achieve -  THE TRUTH.

4 Stars



"Brooklyn" tells the profoundly moving story of Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), a young Irish immigrant navigating her way through 1950s Brooklyn. Lured by the promise of America, Eilis departs Ireland and the comfort of her mother’s home and her adoring sister for the shores of New York City. The initial shackles of homesickness quickly diminish as a fresh romance sweeps Eilis into the intoxicating charm of love. But soon, her new vivacity is disrupted by her past, and Eilis must choose between two countries and the lives that exist within.         

CONCLUSION: Based on a novel of the same name, “Brooklyn” is well acted and has a quiet beauty that is easy to become enchanted with its old style exactness to its direction which makes it appropriate for the time period it is portraying.  It also has a lot more humor in it that was a pleasant surprise, especially involving discussions of the seemingly antiquated social mores and customs involving males and female relationships i.e. touching each other and the overall matters and awkwardness of tentative romance.

Eventually the film does turn from its classic romantic style into something weightier involving issues of marriage and culture that seemingly holds true even by today standards. And while it never offers up any real dramatic surprises to its story it does work on the level of telling a story about love, family, culture, intimate relationships with an abundance of old style wit, charm, poignancy, tenderness and nostalgia as any film in recent memory.

“Brooklyn” works well in the finest sense of just solid movie making and therefore I believe will be nominated for Best Picture, as well as a strong possibility of securing a Best Director nomination for John Crowley and a Best Actress nomination for Saoirse Ronan and her beautiful performance of the love torn “Eilis”.

“Brooklyn” is an elegant film with dream like qualities to its story that everyone can relate to with a superb direction that makes it a real pleasant joy to have experienced.

4 Stars  



Saturday, November 7, 2015

Spectre - Review


1962 was the first time film fans had the chance to see novelist Ian Flemings featured character Secret Agent 007 James Bond in the adaptation of his first book titled “Dr. No.” And with the perfect casting of a relatively unknown British actor named Sean Connery their collaboration transformed Ian’s Agent 007 from the pages of a series of successful books into an international phenomenon that subsequently resulted in the Bond films becoming one of Hollywood’s longest and most lucrative franchises with 24 films and counting. The mere mentioning of the name Bond connotes debonair, sex, intrigue, thrills, action, action, witty humor, great international locals and lots of girls, ah yes the Bond girls. So whenever I and probably you hear a new Bond film is coming out there are some basic expectations that you will be highly entertained (see sentence listing connotes).

PLOT: In the latest Bond installment called “Spectre” we find actor Daniel Craig as Agent 007 in Mexico City on an unauthorized mission during the festival of “The Day of The Dead”. He’s there because his former boss, mentor and friend “Q” (Judy Dench) who died in the film “Skyfall” had left Bond a cryptic message to uncover a sinister organization that Bond is determine to complete as her dying wish. The only thing is as Bond peels back the layers of this sinister organization he discovers it has a connection to his own youthful past filled with deceit.

BOTTOM LINE: Overall Spectre stays within the legacy of all of the Bond films enduring past. It’s visually stunning to look at and is filled with some really well coordinated moments of action sequences involving a helicopter, a car chase, a plane chase, a train fight in the desert and a helicopter chase again. What is missing is having any meaningful relevance within the plot. Specifically, rather than keeping me glued to my seat, the plot felt like it was just business as usual, even if it was directed with precision, great choreography action and photogenic sexy style. Essentially, this film felt like pieces of previous great Bond moments that were spliced into Spectre, that while was very lavish to look at never felt like a story that was taking me any place new with any dangerous intrigue or ominous adventure.

Make no mistake about it, while Spectre is slick it is also a bit scattershot and a bit disorganized offering nothing new. It’s my guess is that the Broccoli family and the creative minds behind this successful franchise may be finally running out of ideas for the venerable James Bond to save the world from. I hope not, as a world without Bond films would be very empty.

Ultimately, Spectre is decent enough entertainment for you to see in the theater especially for the great action and polished execution. It’s just overall this Bond effort Spectre plot is not quite “shaken” and certainly not “stirring”.

3 – 1/4 Stars