‘Creed’ Review

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Director: Ryan Coogler

Writer: Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington

Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Tony Bellew, Ritchie Coster, Graham McTavish, and Phylicia Rashad

Synopsis: The former World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Balboa serves as a trainer and mentor to Adonis Johnson, the son of his late friend and former rival Apollo Creed.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Rocky has been defined, by some, as one of the best sports films of all times and one of the best underdog stories of all time as well. You can’t really disagree too much since it’s a story and film that is still passed down today and the characters are still talked about and cared for. So when a new film was announced many were, reasonably, concerned, but when it later found out that the film wouldn’t follow titled hero Rocky Balboa, and instead follow the son of his rival and friend Apollo Creed, fans wondered if the idea was a smart one. Turns out, it was.

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Creed isn’t really a passing-of-the-torch kind of film or even a true blue continuation of the story, but rather a spinoff in its own right that keeps the history of the previous Rocky films and keeps Rocky Balboa (Stallone) involved in a lot of ways. The new central character is Adonis Johnson (Jordan), the child of woman that Apollo had an affair with years before. The film actually starts in 1998 with a young Adonis fighting some kids in the juvenile center he’s in when Mary Anne Creed (Rasha) tracks him down and decides to raise him as her own. We jump forward to 2015 where Adonis has a respectable job, but he is following in the footsteps of his legendary father and boxes in small rooms down in Mexico.

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Eventually he wants to prove himself – but not taking the Creed name as he doesn’t want things handed to him – and moves down to Philadelphia and seeks out his father’s rival and friend, Rocky Balboa to train him. Rocky turns him down at first telling him that he’s out of the boxing lifestyle and doesn’t think Adonis should go into the sport that his father died in. However, with Adonis begging him on and Rocky seeing that Adonis has tremendous potential, Rocky reluctantly agrees and the two start the journey and fight their own personal battles to leads to a speculator finish.

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While Creed follows a new path in Adonis, Rocky still plays a major role in the film. Rocky is going through his own personal battle that is natural and doesn’t seem forced to the sake of trying to make us feel for his character, and even more credit should go to Stallone. He pours himself into Rocky and gives a tremendous performance like we haven’t seen in a long while. But what makes his performance even better is his chemistry and scenes with Michael B. Jordan. The film elevates itself more when the two share scenes together and is probably the only reason Creed works and would have ever worked.

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Michael B. Jordan continues to prove that he’s one of the best young actors working today and doesn’t try to repeat the same performance or even emulate what Carl Weathers did as Apollo Creed, he plays the role his own way. Jordan manages to balance the chip on his shoulder attitude and being extremely likeable. While he is the “hero” of the film, it doesn’t really mean we have to like him and root for him. However, Jordan makes us root for Adonis. We see and feel his journey, so we know what he is going through and what his motivations are. For all intent-and-purposes, Jordan carries the film on his shoulders and he comfortable doing it.

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The supporting cast is good, but they’re overshadowed by the great performances of Jordan and Stallone. Tony Bellew plays the “villain” of the film as ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan, the boxing champion that – not really a spoiler – Adonis fights at the end. Bellew doesn’t have a lot of screen time and his story is just okay. Tessa Thompson plays Bianca, a singer that Adonis falls for. The love story isn’t anything new in the Rocky films, but the Bianca and Adonis relationship arc doesn’t feel forced and unnecessary, it’s actually a nice counter-balance to the boxing story and shows us the other part of the boxing lifestyle. Thompson’s Bianca thankfully isn’t the typical girlfriend/love interest, she has her own personal story that works for the film and, again, a nice counter-balance to Adonis’ story. Phylicia Rashad coming back to play Mary Anne Creed was great to see, but she doesn’t have a ton of screen time, but when she does it’s awesome to watch.

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Besides the performances, what makes Creed work is the direction by director Ryan Coogler. Coogler’s only other big screen effort is Fruitvale Station which Jordan also lead, and what got both of them the job to do this film. Coogler manages to bring the same sense of spirit and heart that the original Rocky had, and while he pays homage to the original series he isn’t beating us over the head with it and it’s all done respectfully to build this potentially new series of films. The other great thing that Coogler does great is the boxing scenes. The highlight is definitely the boxing match in the middle of the film. Coogler really puts in the middle of the match in a way that I haven’t really seen a boxing match done before. I thought the boxing scenes in Southpaw earlier this year where done well, but Creed could very well beat them out.

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All in all, Creed is definitely a must see film. Filled with a great story and performances by Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone, Creed feels like another great installment to the Rocky franchise, but also its own standalone film.

 

Creed

5 out of 5

‘Southpaw’ Review

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Dir: Antoine Fuqua

Writer(s): Kurt Sutter

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker, Oona Laurence, Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson, Miguel Gomez, Skylan Brooks, Beau Knapp, and Naomie Harris

Synopsis: Boxer Billy Hope turns to trainer Tick Willis to help him get his life back on track after losing his wife in a tragic accident and his daughter to child protection services.

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

 

Everyone loves a great redemption story and director Antoine Fuqua with first-time feature film writer Kurt Sutter (FX’s Sons of Anarchy) have bought just that to us with Southpaw. The film goes through the motions and even hits the usual clichés we see in usual comeback stories, but it’s the performances by lead Jake Gyllenhaal and the direction of Fuqua that keep the movie enjoyable and powerful.

 

The film starts with Billy “The Great” Hope (Gyllenhaal) beating a boxing opponent retaining his victory record. When doing press, an up-and-comer boxer Miguel ‘Magic’ Escobar (Gomez) taunts Billy saying he wants a shot at him. However, his wife Maureen (McAdams) worries about Billy and tells him he should take a break and spend time with her and their daughter Leila (Laurence). Billy considers it, but Escobar continues to taunt Billy at a gala and the two go at it. In the chaos, Maureen gets shot and dies leaving Billy alone and going on a tailspin that eventually ends up with Billy losing everything and putting Leila in child services.

 

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However, not wanting to lose his daughter, he slowly tries to clean up his act and goes to a local gym that is run by a former boxer, Tick Willis (Whitaker), who reluctantly agrees to let Billy train at the gym. Eventually, Billy gets a chance to get back in the game and possibly get Leila back if he takes on one huge fight.

 

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One of the things that bothered me, as well as others, is the fact that the first trailer gives away that McAdams’s Maureen dies. It’s one of the pivotal plot points in the movie and essentially starts off the real story of Billy’s rise after everything is taken from him. It probably would have been hard to get around it, since it does happen early in the film, but it did take away a little bit from the scene, especially even more, because the actual scene is really strong. Also, if you go in thinking to see a lot of boxing action in Southpaw, you’ll probably be a little disappointed. There is some great boxing action in the film, which I’ll get to in a little bit, but Southpaw is a drama through-and-through. In fact, it is a bit hard to watch sometimes. Not because it’s bad, but because Billy is constantly having to push through both physical beatings and emotional beatings. If Sutter was trying to prove how resilient Billy is as a boxer and a person, he succeeds for the most part, although it takes some time to get to that point.

 

However, the only reason is works is because of Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance. Make no mistake, this is Gyllenhaal’s movie and is one of the only reason the film works so well. Gyllenhaal has pulled out some great performances as of late and Southpaw is no different. He is able to bring out every emotion in Billy that makes us sympathize, root and even relate to him.

 

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The rest of the cast is hit-or-miss. Forest Whitaker’s no-nonsense Tick Willis is tail-made for the actor and nails every scene he’s in, with a standout scene near the end of the movie. Rachel McAdams, who doesn’t have a ton of screen time, still manages to bring a nice mix of charm, attitude, and toughness to Maureen. Oona Laurence’s Leila Hope has her moments to shine, but is otherwise an outside driving force to Billy’s actions throughout the movie. However, make no mistake, when she’s onscreen, it is great to see – in a non-creepy way.

 

“50 Cent” plays a greedy and morally questionable manager who you’ll love to hate, but think “yeah, this kind of guy probably exists in real life.” Miguel Gomez as Escobar pretty much disappears through the middle of the movie, and only pops up at the end of the movie for the unavoidable final fight of the movie. It’s no fault to Gomez, he’s only doing the best he can with what he’s given. The movie isn’t about him, it’s about Billy and his road to redemption. Unfortunately, Naomie Harris gets the short end of the stick playing a social worker assigned to Billy and Leila’s case. Harris does okay, but an actress of her talent and caliber being reduced to a small supporting role kind of sucks.

 

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Like I said, Southpaw is a drama through-and-through, but the boxing scenes are great to sit back and enjoy. Fuqua really tries to put us the viewer in the ring with the characters and what is going in their head. The boxing scenes feel almost raw and brutal and are probably some of the best scenes in the movie, camera-work wise.

 

All in all, Southpaw feels like a familiar structure and fits into some clichés and common threads in other redemption/underdog films we’ve seen in the past. However, Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance and Fuqua’s direction in some of the bigger scenes make the film pop and standout in its own right. Southpaw may not the easiest movie to sit through, because of the drama, but it is highly enjoyable at the end of the day.

 

Southpaw

4 out of 5

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