Creed 2 (2018)

Creed 2

Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) stares into the face of the son of Ivan Drago, Viktor (Florian Munteanu).

As in all great sports films (including the 2015 predecessor), Creed II is not about boxing but about development of character. Perhaps the only reason why it is not as great a film as the first is because it is not as fresh, but it still packs a whallop.

The film begins as Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan, who is having a great year with this and Black Panther) has just won the belt and is more than in his prime. He has proposed to his longtime girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson), whose music career is still going steady (despite the fact that she has in fact lost her hearing due to illness), and both are on the verge of starting a family. Even outside the ring, he is still looking for advice from his mentor/friend Rocky (Sylvester Stallone). There is still a vibrant electricity in their scenes together, filled with humor and heart.

All of this takes a back seat when Buddy Marcelle (Russell Hornsby, who was recently in The Hate U Give) is set to promote a fight between Creed and Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the infamous killer of Apollo. There is indeed intensity bubbling on the screen when we see the meeting between Rocky and the elder Drago. Ivan has been an outcast ever since his loss in the fourth film, and needs to win not only the promoted fight, but the respect of those he once considered family.

There is so much emotional baggage going into the ring for the audience (let alone the characters) that it is pretty impossible not to be invested in the action on-screen. Director Steve Caple Jr. handles the script as if it were a Hollywood relic (and rightly so). That is not to say the boxing scenes are boring. Far from it. He is smart enough to handle them with as much care as he does what happens outside the ring as well.

Parents, as long as your kids have seen the original films in the series (except number five), they are fine here. There is one mild scene of sensuality at the beginning, and some swearing (not to mention obvious violence), but I would say middle school and up is fine.

I left the film with one concern: where do we go from here? Topping off this face-off will be a hard act to follow, but one I will gladly pay for in a heart beat.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther

The Black Panther sticks another landing for Marvel

Perhaps it is late for me to say, but Marvel Studios is starting to mirror that of Pixar, in that it is hard for them to have a flop financially or critically (it helps when you partner with Disney). A decade after the universe was launched with Iron Man, Marvel Studios is still going strong, and now delivers one of their very best in Black Panther.

Introduced in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther takes place just after those events, where T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is being crowned King of Wakanda. Wakanda is a country steeped in poverty, but only in the eyes of the outside world. We learn it is truly flourishing with technology that is beyond anything we have yet seen in a Marvel movie (or any other). At first, I was afraid it would be too much like Asgard (the home world of Thor), but Wakanda still manages to stand out as its own environment.

Before he can take his place as king, T’Challa/Black Panther must stop Ulysses Klau (the always reliable Andy Serkis) from stealing Vibranium (the key substance to Wakanda and its economy, not to mention weapons and armor). Helping him is Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who manages to make a name for himself along the best of Marvel’s baddies.

What makes Black Panther so wonderful is the same formula that makes nearly all other Marvel films great as well. The actors take the roles seriously, but are still managing to have a lot of fun (especially Andy Serkis). Director Ryan Coogler (who also directed Jordan in Creed and Fruitvale Station) never has moments (well, maybe one or two) that drag on. We are enticed from the word go.

It also helps that, despite lack of screen time, every actor is giving all they got to the roles they play. Such actors include (but are not limited to) Lupita Nyong’o, Forest Whitaker, Martin Freeman, Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead‘s Michonne), Daniel Kaluuya (recent Oscar nominee for Get Out), Angela Bassett, and Sterling K. Brown (This is Us). When you see them on-screen, you know talent is erupting.

Parents, this is another Marvel movie, so if your kids have seen at least one (I don’t know many kids who haven’t), they are fine here. There is some swearing and violence, but no sexual content or nudity (despite some female characters wearing some revealing clothing, but nothing bad).

Is Black Panther the best Marvel movie? The vote is still out, but it is definitely in the running. It says a lot about an action/adventure movie when the action free scenes are as engrossing as the action scenes are (which are superb).

It is clear that 2018 now has its first great movie. And what a movie.

 

Overall: Four and a Half Stars ****1/2

And the Oscar goes to…

And-the-Oscar-Goes-to

 

Honestly, I am tired of the whole Oscarssowhite talk going around (I too wish it was more diverse, but it is not all the Academy’s fault: I mean, there were not many performances to begin with, sadly). Why can’t we just acknowledge the nominees as they are?

I have been doing Oscar Contests since I was about 13, and have learned as I went along (I used to think it was ok to have ties in catagories). I am not saying I know all the answers, but if you want to win an pool you may be in, here are my picks in all catagories (and reasons why)…

For a list of all nominees, visit

http://www.imdb.com/awards-central/oscars?pf_rd_m=A2FGELUUNOQJNL&pf_rd_p=2348233542&pf_rd_r=0KC5ZWBP7PAY2XWABKNB&pf_rd_s=right-1&pf_rd_t=15091&pf_rd_i=main&ref_=ac_ac_ac_lk10

Best Picture

Picture

 

Truly, the biggest award of the night is also the biggest toss up of the night. The PGA awarded The Big Short while SAG awarded Spotlight and DGA The Revenant. Those three are the top three closest to the finish line.

Being that The Revenant also should be winning Best Director and Best Actor, I have it down as winning Best Picture. Still, it is going to be a photo finish, so don’t be surprised if it goes to the other two (or even Mad Max: Fury Road).

Will win: The Revenant (65 % sure)

Could win: Spotlight, The Big Short

Should win: Room (my favorite of the year)

 

Best Director

 

 

Director

Only twice in history has a director won Best Director two years in a row. Being that he just won his second consecutive DGA award (the first time that has ever happend), it seems best to say that Alejandro G. Innaritu will win again this year for The Revenant (the DGA award has predicted Best Director at the Oscars all but 5 times in over 50 years). If there was a spoiler, it would be my personal pick, George Miller, for his incredible work on Mad Max: Fury Road.

Will win: Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant (95 % sure)

Could/Should win: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

 

 

Best Actor

 

 

Actor.jpg

 

 

The wait is over. All who have been waiting for Leonard DiCaprio to win an Oscar will finally get to see the chance. Even one of his competitors, Eddie Redmayne, has stated he wants Leo to win. I would not be surprised if the other nominees felt the same way. It also helps that it is the best performance of the group. I personally can’t wait to see the standing ovation, and hear his speech.

Will win/Should win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant (100 % sure)

Could win: No one really, but if I had to pick, it would be Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs

 

 

Best Actress

Actress

 

 

 

One of the reason’s I picked Room as my favorite movie of 2015 was the performance by Brie Larson. It is one that will go down in history, and an Oscar will only help it more. The only real threat is Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn, proving she is still one of the best young actresses around.

Will win/Should win: Brie Larson, Room (95% sure)

Could win: Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

 

 

Best Supporting Actor

Supporting Actor

“CREED”: (L-r) SYLVESTER STALLONE as Rocky Balboa in “CREED.” Photo: Barry Wetcher / Warner Bros. Pictures

 

 

 

 

I am still a bit upset that Room’s Jacob Tremblay was overlooked, but all the five nominees give stellar performances. Still, none was more surprising or as heartfelt as Sylvester Stallone in Creed. Tom Hardy is probably the next closest, proving he is one of the best actors working today. Still, expect a win for Rocky.

Will win/Should win: Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Could win: Tom Hardy, The Revenant

 

 

Best Supporting Actress

Supporting actress

 

 

I must admit I was not a huge fan of The Danish Girl, but I was impressed by the great turn by Alicia Vikander. Despite other great performances in the catagory, I feel she will win. However, it would be kind of cool to see Kate Winslet win, mainly to see her and Leo holding Oscars next to each other.

Will win/Should win: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl (90% sure)

Could Win: Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

 

Best Original Screenplay

 

Original Screenplay

While Inside Out was the most original film of the last few years, expect the win to go to Spotlight.

Will win: Spotlight (90%)

Could win: Straight Outta Compton

Should Win: Inside Out

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Adapted Screenplay

 

Even if the film was very confusing at times, expect this award to go to The Big Short.

 

Will win: The Big Short (90%)

Could win/Should win: Room

 

Best Animated Feature

Animated

While I have heard great things about Anomalisa, I doubt anything is beating Inside Out.

Will win/Should win: Inside Out (95% sure)

Could win: Anomalisa

Best Forgein Language FilmForgein Language film

 

 

I have not seen any of the films, but I have heard nothing but good things about Son of Saul, a film I am hoping to see.

 

Will win: Son of Saul (85% sure)

 

Best Cinematography

Cinematography

 

It is rare for someone to win consecutive Oscars, so it is even rarer for someone to do so three times in a row. Still, that seems to be the case for Emmauel Lubezki, after winning two years ago for Gravity and last year for Birdman. Expect him to win again for The Revenant, unless they finally give one to Roger Deakins (for Sicario).

Will win/Should win: The Revenant (85% sure)

Could Win: Sicario

 

Best Film Editing

Film Editing

The fast paced, yet somehow smooth editing of Mad Max:Fury Road should win.

Will win/Should win: Mad Max: Fury Road (80% sure)

Could Win: Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens

 

Best Production Design

Production Design

Despite the awesome looking images of The Revenant and the realistic looks of Mars of The Martian, the futuristic deserts of Mad Max: Fury Road should drive away with it.

Will win/Should win: Mad Max: Fury Road (70% sure)

Could win: The Martian

 

Best Costume Design

Costume Design

Sandy Powell is up against herself for Carol, but her work in Cinderella is what is the best of the bunch.

Will win/Should win: Cinderella (75% sure)

Could win: Carol or The Danish Girl

 

Best Make-up/Hairstyling

Make-up

Another award for the outstanding Mad Max: Fury Road.

Will win/Should win: Mad Max: Fury Road (70% sure)

Could win: The Revenant

 

Best Original Score

Original Score

I am as big a fan of John Williams as anyone, and his work in Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens is more proof he is the best film composer ever. However, he has already won five Oscars while another legendary composer, Ennio Morricone, has yet to win a competitive Oscar (he won an Honorary one a few years ago). Like Dicaprio and Stallone, expect a standing ovation.

Will win: Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight (90% sure)

Could win/Should win: John Williams, Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens

 

Best Original Song

Original Song

I won’t lie: I am not a huge fan of any of the songs, but the best one, “Til it happens to you” from The Hunting Ground, should bring an Oscar to Lady Gaga and (finally) Diane Warren.

Will win/Should win: “Til it happens to you”, The Hunting Ground (75% sure)

Could win: “Writings on the Wall”, Spectre

Best Sound Editing

Sound Editing

I am still trying to find out the difference between Sound Editing and Mixing, but expect both to go to Mad Max: Fury Road.

Will win/Should win: Mad Max: Fury Road (80% sure)

Could win: Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens

 

Best Sound Mixing

Sound Mixing

See above. Don’t bet against a rock band on trucks.

Will win/Should win: Mad Max: Fury Road (80% sure)

Could win: Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens

 

Best Documentary Feature

Documentary

Will win: Amy (80% sure)

 

Best Documentary Short Subject

Documentary Short

Will win: Body Team 12 (50% sure, and not just because they look like Minions)

 

Best Animated Short Film

Animated Short

Will win: World of Tomorrow (45% sure)

 

Best Live Action Short Film

Short film

Will win: Ave Maria (30% sure)

Best Visual Effects

Special Effects

The Revenant had one amazing bear attack and Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens gave us more Star Wars brilliace. Still, the fact that Mad Max: Fury Road had very little CGI effects, which is why it should win.

Will win/Should win: Mad Max: Fury Road (75% sure)

Could win: Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens

Top 10 Films of 2015

Top 10 films of 2015

 

It is true that some years have better movies than others (1939 and 1994 are prime examples). This does not mean some years are always bad, it just means you have to look harder for them. 2015 had movies you may have had to look harder for to see.

Of course, I did not see every movie that came out last year (I still need to see Beasts of No Nation and Straigh Outta Compton), but I do feel rather confident still with my top ten list ( in which good movies like CarolThe Big ShortWar Room, and Bridge of Spies did not crack the list).

 

Wild Card

Sicario

Benecio Del Toro and Emily Blunt in Sicario.

It may not have gotten all the love it deserved, but great acting and tension fueled Sicario, especially the great performance by Benecio Del Toro.

 

10.

Steve Jobs

Michael Fassbender reveals the iMac in “Steve Jobs”

Written by the always wonderful Aaron Sorkin, Michael Fassbender will most definetly get an Oscar nomination as Steve Jobs, also with equally great performaces by Kate Winslet and Jeff Daniels.

 

9.

The Hateful Eight

Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kurt Russell, just two of “The Hateful Eight”.

Basically, anything by Tarantino is worth seeing, and The Hateful Eight is no exception. It is fun to watch as much as it is for those who made it.

 

8.

Matt Damon portrays an astronaut who faces seemingly insurmountable odds as he tries to find a way to subsist on a hostile planet.

Matt Damon portrays an astronaut who faces seemingly insurmountable odds as he tries to find a way to subsist on a hostile planet.

The most surprising thing about The Martian is not the performance by Matt Damon, nor the supporting cast, but that Ridley Scott directed a movie with humor. That is rare.

 

7.

Spotlight

Possibly the front runner for Best Picture, Spotlight is the story of the true revelation of the dark secret in the Catholic Church in Boston, and beyond. Every actor brings their A game to this film.

 

6.

Creed

Stallone shows Jordan the ropes in “Creed”.

Nostalgic as well as new, Creed is all the things we love of the original Rocky flicks. Stallone is truly remarkable here in the role no one could duplicate.

5.

Star Wars The Force Awakens

Rey, Finn, and BB-8: the three new heroes of the galaxy.

Sure, the story was a lot like the original film, but Star Wars: The Force Awakens brings new characters (as well as old) to new life in a film that is not doing to shabby box office wise right now.

4.

The Revenant

Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Revenant”.

Filled with more realism and grit than any other film this year, The Revenant is a wonder to behold. It is also the ticket to that long awaited moment of calling DiCaprio an Oscar winner (and it would be well deserved too).

3.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron team up in Max Max: Fury Road

I like to think of director Michael Bay watching Mad Max: Fury Road and taking notes. There is just enough story here to back up one of the best action flicks ever. Like Star Wars and The Revenant, this film shows why films should be watched on big screens, not small ones. It is like Lawrence of Arabia on caffiene.

2.

Inside Out

Fear, Joy, and Disgust are just three of Riley’s voices in “Inside Out”

Easily the most original film of the year, I feel that Inside Out will be like a fine wine: aging better through your years on earth. It ranks among the best animated films ever made.

1.

Room

Jacob Tremblay discovers what lies outside the room.

You know a movie is good when you can’t get it off you mind, even months after you have seen it. Such is the case for my number one pick of 2015, Room. I drove about an hour to the theater and an hour back, and it was worth every second.

Brie Larson is the front runner for Best Actress, and I have not seen a better performance by anyone (of any age) this year than that of 8 year old Jacob Tremblay. The film is likely to never be forgotten once seen.

Creed (2015)

Creed

Stallone shows Jordan the ropes in “Creed”.

Creed is easily the  biggest surprise to me of 2015. I had a feeling it would be good, but not as great as I thought it would be.

I guess I should not have been so surprised, since it is from director Ryan Coogler (who also wrote the screenplay), responsible for making the wonderful film Fruitvale Station in 2013. Here, he brings the star of Fruitvale Station Michael B. Jordan, proving again he is a wonderful young talented actor.

Jordan stars as Adonis Johnson, who was kicked around youth detention centers as a kid. He never knew his parents, but one day is introduced to Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), the widow of the late Apollo. He is not her son, but the result of an affair that Apollo had (his fatal bout with Ivan Drago in the fourth Rocky movie happend before Adonis was born).

He eventually quits his job (despite a premotion and his mother not wanting him to) because he want to fight. The gym in which his father’s trainer started will not take him anymore, so he has one last idea: go to Philly to see the legendary Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, in case you did not know who played him).

Balboa now runs a restaurant (called Adrian’s, after his late wife), but never goes back to Mickey’s’ Gym. Eventually, Adonis (who does not want people to know who his father really was, hence the last name change) convinces Rocky to take him under his wing. We all know it will eventually lead to a ending bout with a big time boxer (Tony Bellew). What we get along the way is a character study that deserves comparisson with the original Rocky (I have only seen the first, second, fourth, and sixth from begining to end, with enough bits and pieces from the third to know how it goes. I am told to stay away from the fifth.)

The acting here is stellar. We see great chemistry between Michael B. Jordan and Stallone (who was nominated for an Oscar nearly forty years ago for the role, and may very well be again). There is also nice work from Tessa Thompson as Bianca, Adonis’s love interest who is battling her own life battles as well.

Parents, the PG-13 rating is justified. There is some swearing (I believe I counted one F bomb), and there is a scene of sensuality that does not become too “R” material. Also, there is (obviously) a little violence (I mean, it is a boxing flick!). 13 and over is the right age for the film (although if they know nothing about the original films, they will be not only confused, but robbed of a chance at nostaligic moments).

I end with a comment that is cliche, but I don’t care: Creed is a knockout. It will be on my top ten list of the year.

Overall: Four and a Half Stars **** 1/2