While this film is basically Rocky VII, it's also much more than that, and perhaps the best in the series as it tells a standalone story with energy and skill. Reteaming writer-director Ryan Coogler with actor Michael B. Jordan after their underrated gem Fruitvale Station, this pulsing drama is also one of the best boxing movies in recent memory, harking back to classics in the genre while reinventing them with textured storytelling and raw performances.
Jordan plays Adonis, who never met his father, the iconic boxer Apollo Creed. He also refuses to take his surname, even after being adopted by Apollo's widow (Phylicia Rashad) and raised in a Los Angeles mansion with a great education. But he also can't resist the temptation to box, starting out in backroom Tijuana brawls. Finally he realises that something's got to give, so he heads to Philadelphia to explore his roots, meeting his father's former friend and rival Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) and asking him to teach him a few tricks to help further his career. But Rocky is battling his own issues, so these two mismatched men push each other forward. Adonis finds romance with the feisty Bianca (Thompson), and Rocky decides to help Adonis train to face the tough British champ (Tony Bellew).
The essence of this story is that we have to make peace with the past to move on to the future. This is woven into the script beautifully, without ever preaching, as Coogler encourages the audience to constantly see what's happening beneath the surface. This requires the actors to deliver unusually complex performances, and Jordan is wonderfully conflicted as a man whose inner nice guy is warring against his own history. Stallone, meanwhile, delivers one of his best performances ever as the sardonic, battered champion. He's relaxed and open, reminding us why we fell in love with Rocky to begin with.
Continue reading: Creed Review
Mayor Michael Nutter, Tessa Thompson, Michael B. Jordan, Irwin Winkler , Sylvester Stallone - The cast of 'Creed' at a press conference on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art at Philadelphia Art Museum - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States - Friday 6th November 2015
Unusually gritty and grounded, this terrorism thriller avoids the pitfalls of most overwrought action movies by creating characters and action situations that are unusually believable, even if the plot itself feels badly undercooked. The problem is that there isn't a clear sense of what's at stake here, because screenwriter Philip Shelby insists on continually blurring the mystery by withholding key details until he's ready to reveal them. So the cleverly played old-style suspense never quite pays off.
It opens at the US Embassy in London, where new security chief Kate (Milla Jovovich) has been alerted to the fact that terrorists are trying to get visas to enter America. Working with the ambassador (Angela Bassett) her team leaders (Dylan McDermott and Robert Forster), Kate narrows in on a suspicious doctor (Roger Rees) who's an expert in explosive gasses. But a shocking bombing stops her short, framing her as the villain. Now she's being chased not only by the Americans, but also a British inspector (James D'Arcy) and a ruthless assassin known as The Watchmaker (Pierce Brosnan). And Kate knows that she's the only one who can stop the nefarious plot, whatever it might be.
This is one of those films that enjoyably pushes its central character over the brink, so we can't help but root for Kate to get out of this seriously messy situation and save the day. Jovovich plays her in a plausible way as a capable woman who has no choice but to fight back and try to survive, because she's the only one who knows that she's not the real threat here. Everyone else is extremely shadowy, although McDermott gets to show a heroic side, as does the terrific Frances de la Tour as the only embassy staff member who believes that Kate is the good guy. Meanwhile, Brosnan gives a remarkably effective performance as a cold-blooded killer.
Continue reading: Survivor Review
With a strangely simplistic screenplay by William Monahan (The Departed), director Rupert Wyatt and his cast struggle to dig beneath the surface in a meaningful way. Mark Wahlberg does what he can in the lead role as a self-destructive gambling addict, but since he's never remotely likeable it's impossible to care what happens to him. It's decently made, but without strong characters or a resonant message the movie ultimately feels like a vanity project that's gone wrong somewhere along the way.
Wahlberg plays Jim, a swaggering university professor who torments his brightest student Amy (Larson) in front of the whole class. But she knows that he's also unable to pass a blackjack table without losing a small fortune. And it's probably money he owes to someone. Indeed, he's accruing such severe debts to a gangster (Michael Kenneth Williams) that he turns to his millionaire mother (Jessica Lange) for help, knowing that if she gives him the cash he'll gamble it away before settling his accounts. So he also turns to tough loan shark Frank (John Goodman), who stresses to Jim the importance of paying up and getting out of the betting world for good. But Jim seems incapable of even a shred of self-control.
It's virtually impossible to connect with a character this one-sided. Aside from his literary intelligence, there's nothing remotely redeeming about Jim, so it's difficult to escape the feeling that he's getting just what he deserves. And it gets worse when he starts romancing Amy, a nubile girl barely half his age. Wahlberg never plays Jim as anything but an unapologetic loser who has orchestrated his own misfortune. So why should we care what happens to him? At least the side characters interject a bit of complexity, most notably Lange and Goodman, who command the entire film with just a couple of scenes each. The usually terrific Larson barely registers in an underwritten role that makes very little logical sense.
Continue reading: The Gambler Review
Irwin Winkler - Photo's from the American Film Institute's festival 2014 and the premiere screening of 'The Gambler' at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, California, United States - Monday 10th November 2014
Elite hitman Arthur (Statham) lives a solitary life in a New Orleans bayou with his stinking wealth and exquisite taste. But he's shocked when his boss (Goldwyn) gives him his next assignment: to kill his mentor Harry (Sutherland).
Arthur is a cool professional, but now he's also wracked with guilt. So he takes Harry's wastrel son Steve (Foster) under his wing, teaching him the assassination trade and letting him practice during a few jobs. But the work gets increasingly dangerous, and soon it becomes apparent that Harry was set up. Revenge is in the air.
Continue reading: The Mechanic Review
Like a symphony that's incomplete because all the notes aren't available, what I didn't get out of this is a three-dimensional portrait of the subject. The show, structured as a dead or dying man's vision of his life played out like a movie and stage production, is loaded with talent and a detailed recreation of his period. The portrayal of the swank, rich life is as festive to behold as it is off-putting. The world in which Porter whirls and commands with assured, inevitable success is an alien one. Rather than feel a part of it, we are there to revel in the entertainment.
Continue reading: De-Lovely Review
It's not really Spacey's fault, it's just the script. Spacey is Quoyle, a newly single father, after his slutty whore of a wife (Cate Blanchett) is killed while selling their daughter on the black market to earn spending cash for her latest biker boyfriend. Quoyle spends his time grieving and in denial and soon decides to follow a long lost aunt to the homeland of his family in Newfoundland. There, he stumbles into a job as the shipping news reporter for the local newspaper.
Continue reading: The Shipping News Review
But much of Life as a House is completely watchable. Mark Andrus's script (he's written As Good As It Gets and the underrated, rarely seen Late For Dinner) appears cookie-cutter: he gives us the lazy, lonely, eccentric nobody (Kevin Kline); his estranged family, including beautiful ex-wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) and alienated teen (Hayden Christensen); and his predictably uptight neighbors, pissed off that his ramshackle of a house has stood in their beautiful oceanside neighborhood for twenty years.
Continue reading: Life As A House Review
Based on Tom Wolfe's novel (though heavily inspired by the truth), The Right Stuff follows the formative years of the space race, from 1947 to 1963, when it was us vs. the Russians. The film begins as we first punch through Mach 1 in experimental aircraft and ends with seventh and final Mercury astronaut blasting off.
Continue reading: The Right Stuff Review
The film charts the life and career of boxer Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro) from his rise to glory in the 1940s to his fall into washed-up grotesquery in the '50s, a lounge lizard parody of his former self. That LaMotta turns into the very sort of schmuck, fat-bellied and dissipated, that he would've abhorred in his youth marks one of Scorsese's most poignant treatments of his trademark theme of the individual struggling to transcend his worst instincts to achieve greatness and grace. Anger and bitterness are ever-present here, either churning at the film's surface or roiling just below in slow burn. LaMotta, the insecure hothead who chafes at the underworld hoods who've ensnared him, directs his rage outward in the form of sexual jealousy at his wife, Vickie (Cathy Moriarty), and through his tornado-like fury in the ring. The boxer's battle for self-acceptance even threatens the most meaningful and enduring relationship he's got, the one with his brother and manager, Joey (Joe Pesci); indeed, Raging Bull is, to a large extent, about the effect of blind ambition on our most meaningful, enduring relationships.
Continue reading: Raging Bull Review
Working class waitress Slim (Lopez) finds herself living a dream when she marries a loving, wealthy contractor named Mitch (Campbell). They settle into a flawless suburban life and eventually give birth to an adorable daughter, Gracie. Everything seems to be perfect for Slim.
Continue reading: Enough Review
The BBC drama starring Aidan Turner returns to BBC One on September 4th.
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