Film review: Creed 2

Welcome to another sweet spot time for films!  Thanksgiving through Christmas is when Hollywood trots out the better than normal stuff: holiday feel goods, kids films, and comic book films.  Maybe even an academy award film in limited release or 2.  Let’s talk Creed 2 and take it back…do-do, doooo do. Take it baaaaaack.

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No, Carl Weathers doesn’t come back to life after his corpse is struck by lightning.  But it sure looks like Sly Stallone did.  Ryan Coogler is out as director as he was busy making billions with Black Panthers.  Stephen Caple Jr has come in from the bullpen to direct the sequel.  So Creed (Michael B Jordan) has risen through the ranks and has become the heavyweight champion of the world.  Meanwhile, in the center of American’s election, Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) is trained by his father, Ivan (Dolph Lundgren). But a hustling promoter (Buddy Marcelle) is watching Viktor smack around Russkies like Russian men knock around their wives.  Obviously, he’s looking to get a fight between Creed and Drago to recreate the fight that their fathers had 30 years ago.  FYI, the Dragos aren’t doing so well.  They’re humping crates around when they’re not training.  Russia has turned its back on Drago.  Brigitte Nielsen left Ivan because he lost to Rocky and then found true love with Flavor Flav.  You’ll definitely sympathize with Lundgren as Ivan Drago.  He lost everything and lived a life of obscurity, being SO CLOSE and missing it.  He is obviously trying to relive the glory days and what could have been through his son.  You’ll also remember he’s an asshole when he needles Creed and Rocky.   

Tessa Thompson reprises her role as Bianca, Adonis Creed’s girlfriend.  She continues to hit it out of the park in this installment.  She’s making strides with her music while fighting through her healing impairment.  And of course, Stallone is back as everyone’s favorite Italian pugilist/trainer.  Now that Creed is champion, Viktor Drago challenges him for a fight.  Cute the multitude of emotions/flashbacks that Creed and Stallone go through from 30 years ago, when we all had to suffer through James Brown’s “Living in America.”  And oh yeah, when Stallone balked at throwing in the towel and getting his best friend killed.  

Fast forward to Creed taking on the fight and getting smoked by Drago.  Except this fight ends in a DQ so Creed still holds onto the title.  We begin to channel Rocky 3 where Rocky gets tuned up by Mr. T and here are where the parallels begin.  Both are questioning their heart and hunger throughout the second acts.  A life changing moment occurs with Creed and he’s debating if boxing still worth it.  Phylicia Rashad appears fresh out of testifying at Cosby’s trial and returns as Creed’s mother.  She reminds him of the obvious that there’s no need to do the rematch  end up like his father but hey, make your own decisions, son.  And of course, what would be a Rocky/Creed film without a training montage?  Creed realizes he can’t go about it the usual way so Stallone takes him to another venue, a la Rocky 4, sans cheesy 80’s music.  No, he doesn’t finish at the top of a mountain while yelling, DRAGO, in a 360 degree shot.  One more parallel?  Sure.  Creed even enlists Tony “Little Duke” Evers, the son of his dad’s trainer, Duke.  Remember him? “Throw in the damn towel!” 

Creed 2 is pretty good.  We even get a nice cameo in this one, I guarantee you’ll have an, “Oh shit!” moment in this theater.  Yes, it’s pretty predictable and yes, there are a ton of obvious similarities to Rocky 4.  But this an enjoyable film and you’ll feel satisfied, not overstuffed, like Thanksgiving dinner.  And let’s cross our fingers that for Creed 3, he fights Clubber Lang’s kid.  And wrestles Hulk Hogan’s son, Nick.  Wait, whoops…

I give it a 7/10

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Film Reviews: Dunkirk, Atomic Blonde, and Spiderman: Homecoming

We’re almost at the end of summer and before you know it, certain things are going to happen.  They’re going to yank my favorite beer, Sam Adams Summer Ale off the shelves by the second week of August and replace it with GARBAGE Octoberfest.  A full month and a half before the actual Octoberfest and no one, repeat NO ONE, likes this beer.  It will also be time for me to take the annual trip for me to go Vegas for week 1 of the NFL.  And of course, it’s going to be soon enough when Hollywood drops a plate of continuous garbage into the theaters until November.  I did catch a few new films and I’m more than happy to tell you about them.

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Let’s be honest, it’s John Williams (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jaws) and then everyone else for film scoring.  But Hans Zimmer (Batman trilogy, Inception, Lion King) is a SOLID number 2.  I went to see Hans Zimmer at Radio City last week.  He played for 3 hours and all of the hits.  If you don’t know him, he’ll be on the Mt Rushmore of cinematic composers.   Being Zimmer is Nolan’s go-to guy for film score, he also does the latest Nolan joint.     As I’ve said before, no one bats 1.000, not even Babe Ruth. But Hans Zimmer is perfect in previous attempts and this is no exception.  Zimmer does such a job that it will be a bigger fix than the 1919 Black Sox if he doesn’t get the Oscar this year.  The score AND sound make will send shivers up your b-hole and if doesn’t, you ain’t alive.  

Now let’s talk about the actual film.  Nolan tells 4 different stories at the same time with some familiar faces from previous Nolan films, Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy.   The story of Dunkirk is the Brits and French (further perpetuating stereotypes) have been pushed to the shores by the Nazis (pre-USA intervention) and are looking to retreat via the sea.  But those pesky Krauts drop bombs and send torpedoes (actual torpedoes, not Sofia Vergara’s luscious cans) on the British naval ships that attempt to bring the soldiers back.  Harry Styles (of One Direction fame; note that not one of their songs is on my phone.  Not even as a guilty pleasure) plays the son of a former British soldier that takes his boys toward Dunkirk toward the rescue effort.  

There are problems with this film.  One, with the exception of Styles, his brother, and father off to help the stranded; there aren’t any characters that you feel any relationship with.  Cillian plays a pilot that is shot down and rescued by Styles’s father but you don’t get a feel for his character.  Same goes for fellow flyboy Tom Hardy.  Another group of soldiers that are holed up in a ship are another group you feel nothing for.  Secondly, there is no need for the roundabout fashion in which Nolan tells the story.  Some people complained that it was difficult to follow; I didn’t feel like it was but there were a few moments where you have to mentally jump back and forth.  Lastly, this film is 110 minutes but I felt it DRAGGED at times.  My friend Ryan made a great point about not having any relationship with the characters; being that this films was simply about survival and didn’t need to be a nationalistic film with sentimentality.  Fair points but this film didn’t grab me.

I just didn’t feel that invested in the story nor the characters.  However, it is beautifully shot and as I previously said, the score adds fantastic gravitas to the moments.  The dogfight scenes are amazing.   And this is also EXACTLY what I said about Nolan’s previous film, Interstellar.  Is Dunkirk as bad as I thought Interstellar was?  No, but it’s also not much better.  I think this is the film that may get Oscar noms when virtually every other Nolan film should have been honored.  Why?  Because it deals with history and we all know that as well as social issues are cheese in the mouse trap to get nominations.  Here’s something else about Interstellar that applies here: If you have any desire to see this, make sure you see it in the theater.  Because seeing it at home won’t give you the experience and you’ll dislike it even more if you’re watching on anything less than a big screen and 4dx sound.

I give it a 5.5 out of 10

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Atomic Blonde has been garnering comparisons to John Wick.  Yes, the fight scenes were choreographed by the same guy.  But it’s definitely not 2 hours of ass kicking, gun-fu.     There’s a story line here, much more involved than a guy hunting down the Russian mafia who killed his wife and dog.  And I loved John Wick and liked John Wick 2.  But this is deeper.  

Let’s go back to November 1989, a few days before the Berlin Wall comes down.  Charlize Theron (never on anyone’s top 10 hot list but she should be) is an MI-6 operative who is sent to Berlin to find out why her fellow compatriot was gunned down by a Russian assassin while hiding a list of agent code names as well as their real names.  And the game is afoot the second she touches down in Berlin; as she uses her stiletto shoe to thwart attackers in a moving car.  James McAvoy (Professor X in the recent X-Men films as well as the schizophrenic in that AWFUL film, Split) is a man who can get his hands on anything on the black market and his especially interested in getting that list or the man who memorized that list.  

The action scenes aren’t as many as Wick but they’re really good.  There’s one scene where Theron fights off 4 attackers in a continuous shot.  The camera work is amazing, you get a “Bourne Ultimatum” feel with some of these sequences.  And as an added bonus, you also get some quick shots of Charlize Theron’s boobs when she submerges in ice baths.  There’s even a lesbian sex scene with her and a French spy.  An enthusiastic thumbs up from this reviewer.  Lastly, you’ll totally dig the 80’s soundtrack playing throughout the film as well as footage from news organizations covering the events leading up to and the destruction of the Berlin Wall.

This film was a pleasant surprise on many levels and it’s a little more than just a typical summer action blockbuster.  It didn’t make big money on opening weekend but doesn’t that mean the audiences guessed right by passing on it.  It’s quite enjoyable with a few nice twists and Theron proves that women can kick ass without it being a forced feminism agenda.  You hear me, female Ghostbusters reboot?

I give it a 7/10

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Last and certainly not last, I saw Spiderman: Homecoming a few weeks ago but was lazy and never wrote the review.  This is the best Spiderman film of all time.  Tom Holland crushes it as Peter Parker, he gives the role a lot more fun as well as that nerdy aspect to it. It also doesn’t hurt having Downey Jr in it a few times, reprising his role as Tony Stark/Iron Man who gives Parker an upgraded suit.  And let’s not forget Michael Keaton who is having a resurgence for the ages.  I liked Birdman, LOVED the Founder, and he’s fantastic as the Vulture.  This film doesn’t miss on any aspect and has a fantastic twist in the third act with one of Peter’s classmates.  I eagerly anticipate anything Spiderman in the future as Holland did a great job of erasing any memory of Andrew Garfield and also nicely scrubbed Spiderman 3 from my cerebellum.  

I give this an 8.5/10

4 Film reviews: Logan, Get Out, John Wick 2, and the Founder

2016 was an AWFUL year for films.  I was hoping 2017 would have started out fresh and wow, has it ever.  I’ve got 4 reviews for you and it’s been too damn long and my apologies for not getting these out faster.

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First one is the final installment of Wolverine simply titled, “Logan.”  Hugh Jackman gets into ripped shit shape and straps on the adamantium for the last time.  This one takes place in the future and Wolvie is looking OLD.  He’s even having problems healing himself.  Hell, he’s even taken up being an Uber driver.  You think he looks bad?  Wait till you see Professor X, he looks like a mummy in a wheelchair.  Mutants are all but extinct.  So Logan is keeping Professor X hidden as the government put out an APB on him because Xavier’s uncontrolled mind powers have caused a few problems, including the Westchester incident.  Unfortunately, we don’t get a chance to see or hear more about it…unless they broke it down when I ran into the bathroom for 2 minutes.

Logan is approached by a Mexican woman who asks that she takes care of her daughter who turns out to be, surprise, a mutant.  Immediately, a security force wants her back and Wolverine is none too obliging.  X-23 is the mutant in question and she’s a Wolverine clone, amongst other mutants.  So of course, Xavier and Wolverine take on the challenge of getting her to safety.

The first 2 standalone Wolverine films are trash.  Xmen Origins and the Wolverine were major disappointments.  They were goofy (in a bad way, not like how Deadpool pulled it off masterfully), anti-climatic, and you left just not giving a shit what happened for 2 hours.  Logan is not disappointing for many reasons.  One: This is R-rated and you can take a good guess why.  Jackman slices and dices like OJ did Nicole Brown Simpson one fateful night in 1994.  You see limbs, heads, and dignity get sliced off with geysers of blood…as it should have been.  The other X-Men/Wolverine films were PG-13 so they were cautious about keeping the gore to a dull, singular spray of blood here and there.  Not Logan, they’re not shy about showing it all.  Secondly: this film is DARK, just as the way it should have been.  You feel for Jackman’s descent into loneliness as he attempts to patch all inward holes with drugs and alcohol.  You feel for him as he takes care of a degenerating Xavier.  You feel for him as he adopts the undesirability of protecting X-23.  One of the few knocks of this film is that I felt it did drag toward the end and could have cut out 10 minutes or so.

Third time’s the charm as they close out the Wolverine with class and sadness.

I give this a 7/10

Next up is the surprise hit of the year thus far, “Get Out.”  Jordan Peele of “Key and Peele” fame as well as infamy for “Keanu” (what a piece of cold dogshit that was) creates his directorial debut.  Get Out is the story of a interracial couple that visit the white woman’s parents’ house in upstate NY.  Chris, the lead character, has trepidation while meeting her parents (Allison Williams, the only attractive one in the show, Girls) that go over the top to prove that they’re not racist.  Katherine Keener plays Williams’s mother who is a hypnotist that can cure Chris’s penchant for smoking.  After tricking him into temporary hypnosis, he begins to notice things aren’t what they seem with the family as well as their friends.

And that’s all I’m going to tell you about this because the payoffs for this film are too great.  You can see Peele guiding the audience down a usual path in the first act but the 2nd and 3rd act are where his writing and directing skyrocket into the stratosphere.  This isn’t your typical thriller with cheap jump cuts with sound effects to scare the audience, this is much more than that.  You’ll thoroughly enjoy the ride as well as Chris’s best friend who is a TSA agent that fills his head with ideas about crazy white people.

This is easily one of the best thrillers I’ve seen and one of the smartest written films I’ve seen in a LONG time.  The hype is well deserved and this is hopefully just the beginning of a long, successful storyteller and director.

I give this a 9 out of 10

One of the surprise films of the last few years was “John Wick.”  When I saw the preview, I thought what most people did and that was, “Who gives a shit, it looks like every generic action film in the last decade.”  Well, this turned out to be a pleasant hit and a cult classic.  Keanu is back as the Russian hit man with little to say and a lot of ass whooping to do.  The film with him getting back his car that got his wife and dog killed in the first one.  Then, he’s called back out of retirement (again) when a favor is called in by your typical scumbag.  Keanu does it and of course, is double crossed and then has every hit man (and lady) hunting him down in NYC.  The only type of person NOT trying to kill him was a hipster on a unicycle.

This film seems to have coined the phrase, “Gung Fu,” which is the combination of kung fu and gun play and there is plenty of it here.  Plenty of solid action with a decent plot and they beautifully tee up John Wick 3.  If you like the first one, you’ll like the second one, maybe just a little less.

I give it 6.5 out of 10.

Last and certainly not least, is a holdover from 2016.  Michael Keaton plays Ray Kroc, one of the all time most recognized and reviled businessmen in this country.  The Founder chronicles how Kroc goes into business with the McDonald brothers, who created a workflow to get burgers to customers in less than 2 minutes, and then takes over by franchising their operation.  This film was completely shut out of the Oscars and what a joke that was.  Keaton MASTERFULLY plays the hero and the villain.  One moment, you’re rooting for Kroc to take McDonald’s to the promised land.  The next, you’re aghast he strips the McDonald’s brothers of their rights and profits.  Keaton should’ve been nominated as should have this film…and they both would have won in my book.  I only saw Arrival of the nominated films as of posting time of the article but I’ve yet to hear how Moonlight or the others could knock this off the perch.

I give this an 8.5 out of 10.

Star Trek: Beyond

 

It’s been awhile since I’ve been to the theater because this summer has consistently dropped stinkers upon the masses and I’m glad to say that the public isn’t buying into the garbage.  The latest Star Trek film was just released yesterday and this was one I circled as a “must see” but I admit, when I saw the previews, I wasn’t impressed.  First off, I’m not a Trekkie so let’s not get up in arms if I miss a minor detail here.  No JJ Abrams, he was too busy doing a fantastic job with “Star Wars The Force Unleashed.”  In the director’s chair for this installment is Justin Lin who is most noted for the “Fast and the Furious” films.  Also, Simon Pegg (plays Scotty in the recent films) wrote this film.  Gone are Kurtzman and Orci who penned the first 2.  And believe me, you notice.

The film starts out with Kirk pondering his place in Starfleet and in life, same with Spock.  Then, we get right into it as the Enterprise follows up on a distress call and away we go.  Idris Elba plays the villain but you would never know as he’s layered in makeup.  The film cruises till about the 2/3 point when we learn why Krall (Elba) has a bug up his ass with the Federation.  At this point, I was holding in copious amounts of urine and I wasn’t completely focused but I’m a little fuzzy why Krall did what he was doing.  It kind of felt like they forgot late in the film, “oh yeah, we need to hurry up and get a few more plot points in between the final action scenes.”

Speaking of action scenes, that’s what Justin Lin is known for in the FnF franchise.  In this film, we don’t see anything close to Vin Diesel growl out monosyllabic phrases while his car does a 720 in between 2 high rise buildings.  However, there’s a scene where Kirk is on a motorcycle that reminded me, “Yep, this makes sense because Lin is directing.”  And if we can get away from playing, “Sabotage” in future films, I’d be happy with that.  It worked in the first one just fine, no need to keep flogging that horse.
And there was a little buzz about Sulu coming out as gay in this installment.  Calm down homophobes, it isn’t that bad.  Just only when Kirk bends him over the captain’s chair and has his way with him while yelling out in Klingon.  Just kidding.

I thought this film was fine.  Definitely the weakest of the bunch but not bad.  Would I drop 15 bucks on it?  Maybe but don’t think you’re getting as good of a film as the first 2.  I felt there were moments like it was a mad libs where they had “insert character trait/emotion here”to check the boxes.  I didn’t get much of an apathy or any other emotion for Elba’s villain.  The final action sequence felt too much like the ending of the other 2 films.

I give it a 6 out of 10.

The Hateful 8

Yet another winner from Quentin Tarantino.  The trailers didn’t grab me but neither did the trailer for Django Unchained and I also loved that film. The man knows how to write an enrapturing story; complete with original characters and no one better at dialogue than Tarantino.  This film doesn’t lag at all.  It keeps up with his usual gory scenes but for those of you who winced every time you heard the N-word in Django.  Don’t worry, it’s only used around 100 times which is the same amount Barbara Bush uses it on MLK’s birthday.

In the last 30 years, I put him, Spielberg, and Christopher Nolan as the best in the business.  I don’t give a shit about his views on the cops; he will get my 15 bucks every time without fail.  He continues to deliver hit after hit and this is no exception.  I did hear him say on Howard Stern that he started making films with the goal of stopping after he made his 10th.  Let’s hope that’s the case.  I give this film a solid 8.5/10; this and Star Wars have been a great 1-2 punch to end the year.

Here’s my ranking of Tarantino’s body of work.

10. Jackie Brown-the only blemish on his otherwise stellar track record.  This film is boring, awful, and forgetful.

9. Death Proof-Part of the Grindhouse film.  Liked it but when you have as many gems as Tarantino has created, decent films are toward the bottom.

8. Inglorious Basterds-Felt this one is highly overrated.  Sans the opening scene where Waltz finds the Jewish family in France and the bar scene where the major sniffs out Fassbender, this films wasn’t that special. Not enough time focused on Brad Pitt’s unit and I felt that was an opportunity for him to create some unique characters.  Besides Bear Jew, I couldn’t tell you about anyone else.

7. Kill Bill volume 2-Fantastic choreography and fight scenes.  Loved the duels between Madsen and Hannah.

6. Kill Bill volume 1-Same as above. Uma Thurman is a hot badass, not much more you can ask for.

5. True Romance-yes, I know he didn’t direct this but he wrote it and this is what got him on the map.  Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper crush it in this film.

4. Hateful Eight-see above

3. Django Unchained-Great take he did with the view of a slave turned bounty hunter and Chrisoph Waltz as his German mentor is one of my favorite Tarantino characters of all time.  Loved Di Caprio as Calvin Candy, also quite memorable and enjoyed hating him.

2. Reservoir Dogs-First story that I can think of off the top of my head with the plot told in a circular fashion.  A gutty crime drama that opened my eyes and thought this was the best crime film since Goodfellas.

1. Pulp Fiction-  Travolta rises from the ashes from the land of washed up actors.  SLJ as the spiritual yet but not to be fucked with Jules?  Game, set, match.  Keitel as Winston Wolf, a character that fans ALWAYS quote.  Without question, Tarantino’s greatest film.  The dialogue in this film needs to be put into any film textbook as the gold standard.  The story zigs and zags and then comes together with a big red bow on top at the end.