Film Review: Creed II

Director Steven Caple Jr.’s sequel Creed II hits all the expected notes, but does it well enough to get viewers onside. The film is immensely entertaining.

A few years after his breakout fight, Adonis Creed’s star is on the ascent. As he rises in the boxing world, he receives a new challenge. His intended opponent is Viktor Drago, son of Ivan Drago…

A sequel to the 2015 hit Creed, this film sees Ryan Coogler pass the directing baton to Steven Caple Jr. (Coogler stays on as executive producer). Creed II picks up a couple of years after its predecessor. Protagonist Adonis Creed’s underdog becomes a champion, only for a new challenger to emerge. Creed II treads a familiar beat; the film will be reminiscent for fans of the Rocky franchise. The protagonist goes on enough of an emotional journey to engage with viewers. Likewise, there is development from Rocky Balboa, fitting nicely into the mentor mode adopted in the previous film. 

With the reappearance of Ivan Drago, the film loops back to Rocky IV. Whilst not a remake of the 1985 film, Creed II follows a very similar narrative path. In a sense, it is both a remake and a sequel. The use of footage from the 1985 film further emphasises this. Although the film concentrates on Adonis’ journey, there is enough about the Drago family to give this opponent motive and backstory. 

Caple Jr. does not shy away from the brutality of the boxing with some gory depictions. There are some nice shots; Adonis’ reflection in the trophy cabinet springs to mind. Music is used well, combining aspects of the Rocky theme with more contemporary tracks. Michael B. Jordan is convincing again as Adonis Creed. He offers both charisma and a heathy degree of authenticity. Tessa Thompson and Sylvester Stallone provide good support. Dolph Lindgren is also a welcome presence. The return of a few characters from the original franchise is a nice touch. 

Creed II is predictable in places, but this hardly matters when it is such an enjoyable watch.

Film Review: Bleed For This

BLEED FOR THIS

Bleed For This is a decently entertaining boxing film. It is perfectly watchable, but by no means a classic of the genre.

World Champion Boxer Vinny Pazienza is known for never giving up. When an accident threatens not only his career, but his life, it looks as if his boxing days are over. Vinny, however, wishes to prove the naysayers wrong…

Based on the true story of boxer Vinny Pazienza, Bleed For This follows the hallmarks of the boxing film. By the time the montage sequence rolls around in the first third, viewers will recognise the conventions. However, the accident puts a spin on things, and the film becomes more of a triumph over adversary.

Director and co-writer Ben Younger has created the archetypal boxing movie with Bleed For This. It follows a simple narrative to Rocky et al, following an underdog as he hopes to beat the odds. Younger’s film can be distinguished from others in the genre by the fact that it is based on real events. Besides this, however, there is little to make the film stand out.

The film blends drama and comedy, amongst the sports narrative. The film is very Hollywood in its style. Younger adds some nice touches, like the home video-style footage. The fight sequences are well executed; editing in the scenes add to the tension. Bleed For This focuses on Vinny and his relationship with those close to him. It is a male-heavy film; females are strictly supportive or viewed through a voyeuristic gaze. The film feels macho, a throwback to the era it is set in, perhaps. Miles Teller offers a strong performance as Vinny. Ciarán Hinds is decent as his father, whilst Aaron Eckhart is almost recognisable as coach Kevin.

Bleed For This is enjoyable and well executed. Compared to the recent Creed, however, it does not put its head above the parapet.

Bleed For This is being screened at BFI London Film Festival in October 2016.

Film Review: Creed

Creed

Director and co-writer Ryan Coogler’s Creed is a fantastic boxing film which sparks new life into the Rocky franchise.

Adonis Johnson is the son of late boxing champion Apollo Creed. He seeks out his father’s friend and fellow former champion Rocky Balboa to train him. In retirement, Rocky is reluctant to train the young boxer at first, but Adonis perseveres…

A continuation of the Rocky saga, Creed focuses on a new face; the illegitimate son of late boxing legend Apollo Creed. The story concentrates on Don’s rise from self-trained amateur to professional boxer. Director and co-writer Ryan Coogler follows on from the success of his debut Fruitvale Station with an uplifting and entertaining boxing movie.

Creed works well as both a continuation of the Rocky story and a film in its own right. The film’s protagonist is a new face, with his own story to tell. Nevertheless, there is sufficient linkage to the Rocky franchise, as well as the significant inclusion of Rocky Balboa. Creed concentrates on the story of a burgeoning fighter, yet his relationship with Balboa and Balboa’s own narrative are crucial factors.

Creed is not so much a rags to riches tale as may be expected. Emphasis, instead, is placed upon acceptance. Adonis must fight in more than one way to have his career and right to box accepted. The relationship between Adonis and Rocky is crucial in building the protagonist’s background. The progressing relationship is depicted in a engaging and believable fashion, much like the other relationships in the film.

Fight sequences in the film are produced with exactly right of tension required. Coogler does a fantastic job of building tension to the fights. These are used sparingly, as are references to the previous Rocky films. This restricted use, of the famous theme for example, has a greater overall effect.

Michael B. Jordan delivers a solid performance as the title character. He is believable in his drive, and in his relationship with Balboa and Tessa Thompson’s Bianca. Sylvester Stallone reprises his most famous role with aplomb; the actor very much deserves the acclaim he is receiving.

Creed is a film that packs a punch. Most will find Coogler’s film very satisfying.

Previews: Ant-Man Trailer, Irrational Man Trailer and More

Previews of forthcoming attractions this week include the latest Ant-Man trailer, Irrational Man, Steve Jobs

Ant-Man Trailer

Here is the latest Ant-Man trailer. The film looks like it will have a healthy dose of comedy, and given that the film is about an ant-sized superhero, this will be welcome. Starring Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas, Ant-Man hits the big screen on 17th July 2015.

Irrational Man Trailer

Woody Allen’s latest film Irrational Man stars Joaquin Phoenix as a philosophy professor who  gets caught in a love triangle with two women. Emma Stone returns for her second performance in an Allen film whilst it is the first for Parker Posey and Joaquin Phoenix. Irrational Man opens in UK cinemas on 11th September 2015.

Steve Jobs Trailer

Here is the debut trailer for Steve Jobs. The film comes with quite a pedigree; it is directed by Danny Boyle, written by Aaron Sorkin, and stars Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet and Seth Rogen. Steve Jobs will be released in UK cinemas on 13th November 2015.

The Walk Poster

The Walk poster

The Walk is based on the true story of a man who walked between the two World Trade Centre towers in New York. The film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon and Ben Kingsley, and is directed by Robert Zebecks. The Walk hits the big screen on 2nd October 2015.

Creed

The Rocky franchise gets another instalment, albeit with a bit of a difference. Michael B. Jordan stars as the son of Apollo Creed, and sees Sylvester Stallone reprise his role as the boxing legend. Creed also reunites Jordan with his Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler. Creed is set for release on 27th November 2015.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl Trailer

The Diary of a Teenage Girl has already won praise at film festivals this year. The film is about a teenage girl growing up in San Francisco in the 1970s. Starring Bel Powley, Kirsten Wiig and Alexander Skarsgård, The Diary of a Teenage Girl will hit the big screen in the UK on 7th August 2015.

Masterminds

New comedy Masterminds tells the true story of a group of idiots who pulled off a $17 million heist. The film stars Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Own Wilson and Jason Sudeikis. Masterminds will hit UK screens on 7th August 2015.

 

 

Film Review: Grudge Match

Grudge Match

Like the protagonists in the film, Grudge Match is a bit out of shape. However it does entertain, and offers a surprising candour.

Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp and Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen had an intense rivalry as professional boxers. Thirty years later, a boxing promoter attempts to coax them out of retirement for one final bout…

Grudge Match is set up as Rocky versus Raging Bull in all but name, as the footage at the beginning of the film will attest to. The start of Grudge Match is a bit shaky, but the film settles into a more comfortable flow.

Peter Segal’s film plays the ageing fighter premise for laughs. These can be hit and miss; many of the jokes are based around the fact that the protagonists are old, but only some of these hit the mark.

Grudge Match has a more serious slant as well. The rift between the two boxers revolves around a woman; Sally. This and the tangent with her son BJ, gives the central characters depth and motivation. The narrative is somewhat predicable, with some inevitable turns.

Where Grudge Match excels is in its build up to the fight. There is a surprising realism in how the attitude toward the event changes. There is no doubt that a match between two long-retired competitors would lack mass appeal. It is the viral videos and subsequent appearances that gradually build the fight into something of an event. Similarly, it seems believable that ‘The Kid’ would use his showboating to turn a profit.

Sylvester Stallone plays ‘Razor’ in a subdued fashion, the antithesis to Robert De Niro’s larger-than-life showman. Kim Basinger is well cast as Sally, whilst Kevin Hart is suited to the wisecracking facilitator role. It is Alan Arkin who shines whoever as the elderly boxing coach.

Grudge Match is by no means a classic, but it is certainly a watchable film.

Stuff To Look At

Plenty of pre-Christmas visual treats this week, including the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer, 22 Jump Street, How To Train Your Dragon 2 and more…

A New York Winter’s Tale

A New York Winter’s Tale is a upcoming fantasy starring Colin Farrell and Jessica Brown Findlay. The film is the directorial debut of screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, who also wrote the screenplay based on Mark Helprin’s novel. A New York Winter’s Tale is out in UK cinemas on 21st February 2014.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Here is the first Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer. After the success of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it makes sense that a sequel would follow. It is unclear whether this new film will bridge the gap between Rise and the original Planet of the Apes films, but one thing is clear: Cesar looks angry. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is due for release in July 2014.

22 Jump Street

Warning: this is the red band trailer. The film reboot of 21 Jump Street was something of a surprise success in that it actually worked well as a comedy. In sequel 22 Jump Street undercover cops Jenko and Schmidt go to college. The film is out in UK cinemas on 6th June 2014.

How To Train Your Dragon 2

How To Train Your Dragon was a great animated adventure, so I have high hopes for its sequel. This trailer for How To Train Your Dragon 2 does not reveal much in terms of plot, but it looks fantastic. How To Train Your Dragon 2 is set for release in June 2014.

Blended

What is Blended you ask? Well it is a new comedy that once again teams up Adam Sandler with Drew Barrymore. The thing that is giving me some hope is that it is directed by Frank Coraci, helmer of guilty pleasure The Wedding Singer. Blended is out in the UK on 23rd May 2014.

Grudge Match

Above is a featurette for upcoming movie Grudge Match. The film pits Robert De Niro against Sylvester Stallone when they are offered a chance to re-enter the boxing ring. So basically Raging Bull versus Rocky. Grudge Match is out in UK cinemas on 24th January 2014.

Mr Peabody and Sherman

I want Mr Peabody to adopt me! Frankly what is not to love about this film? A talking dog, who is also the smartest person in the world. Fantastic. Let’s hope Sherman isn’t too annoying. Mr Peabody and Sherman is released in the UK on 7th February 2014.

Film Review: Real Steel

Real Steel is predictable Disney fare that should prove to be enjoyable for fans of robot fighting. The film is not particularly original, but is likely to pull viewers along for a ride.

In the near future, Charlie Kenton is a struggling promoter trying to make money within the sport of robot boxing. As Charlie’s debts mount, he discovers he has a 11-year-old son. When Charlie and his son Max find a discarded robot, they decide to enter it in boxing competitions…

The narrative of Real Steel is about as predictable as they come. The film features a triumph against the odds story that focuses on the relationship between father and son. Charlie is not the typical loving father; the relationship between him and Max develops as the story progresses.

Nevertheless, the father-son dynamic is not handled as well as it could have been. The transformation of Charlie occurs too quickly, thus his original persona appears inauthentic. Moreover, Max’s aunt and uncle are really sidelined in a way that rings hollow. It seems as if the screenwriters have focused on the central theme at the expense of making the auxillary characters and strands cohesive.

The absent parent theme is in keeping with the Disney preoccupation. There is no doubt as to where the film is heading, as far as this strand is concerned. Notwithstanding, the robot boxing is an interesting twist; allowing action sequences without the real threat of violence to Max.

The fighting sequences are well directed by Shawn Levy. The robot effects are excellent, and help to make the action scenes engaging. The art direction in the fight venues is also great. The film is set in the near future, and there is a credibility to this. The clothes, style, locations and much of the technology are all recognisable. It is the advent of robot boxing that is the only thing that suggests futuristic advances.

Hugh Jackman is well suited to the role of Charlie. Jackman has this watchable quality that makes him likeable it most films. Dakota Goyo is fairly decent as Max, and quite low on the annoying child factor scale. Evangeline Lilly has a one-dimensional role as Bailey, while Anthony Mackie is underused as Finn.

Real Steel is a bit like Rocky with robots. Viewers who give the film a shot will most likely find it an entertaining diversion.

Film Review: The Fighter

The Fighter is set in 1993, a time when few would have believed Marky Mark’s career would have longevity, let alone that he would deliver award-worthy performances. Nonetheless, Mark Wahlberg’s acting is not even the highlight of The Fighter, a film that boasts great writing and superlative performances.

A low-level boxer dreaming of success, Mickey Ward is always in his brother Dickie Eklund’s shadow. A former boxer with a drug addiction, Dickie thinks he is going to make a comeback. However, it is Mickey’s career that is on the up, and his older brother has a significant part to play…

Based on the true story of Mickey Ward’s rise to success, The Fighter is an incredibly engaging movie. Although it is a story about boxing, the film primarily focuses on the very personal story behind the sportsman. The Fighter is more concerned with relationship dynamics than accounting Mickey’s triumphs. It is this that give the film its heart, and compels the audience to root for Mickey Ward during the matches.

Screenwriters Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson infuse the narrative with both emotion and comedy. The dialogue is fantastic; it generates a surprising amount of humour. The Fighter is so effective because it easily flits between poignancy and absurdity. A heartfelt conversation between the two brothers can be quickly followed by some humorous interaction between Alice and her daughters, for example.

David O. Russell directs The Fighter with aplomb. The film never really feels like it is building in momentum; it feels like an exploration of the characters’ lives rather than a path to a big climax. The film may have dragged in another director’s hands, but Russell crafts his characters with care and attention. He depicts a multi-faceted group who all have Mickey’s best interests at heart, despite some of their actions.

What is most interesting about the visual style of the film is the use of television-style footage. At the beginning of the film, a camera crew follows Dickie around for a documentary. This is a great introduction to the characters, succinctly exhibiting how each of the brothers are treated. The boxing matches also employ this televisual appearance, which gives these scenes a heightened sense of realism. The fights do look like actual boxing matches; the violence of these bouts is more acute as a result.

Mark Wahlberg is brilliant as Mickey. Wahlberg offers a quiet, composed performance, which contrasts well with Christian Bale’s larger than life Dickie. Bale is fantastic as the drug-addled former boxer, giving one of his best performances to date. Melissa Leo is excellent as Alice Ward, often stealing scenes with her outlandish persona. Perfomances are great all round and the casting is on point, particularly with Amy Adams as Charlene and Alice’s daughters.

Falling somewhere between Raging Bull and Rocky in terms of tone, The Fighter is a very enjoyable film. Highly recommended viewing.