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 ****

Fences (2016)

fences

Troy (Denzel Washington) gives one of his sons a good talking to…

There will be no “Oscars So White” at the Oscars this February.

After two years of no recognition for anyone in the black community who make movies, it was as if Denzel Washington just said “Ok, I will put a stop to that” and decided to direct Fences.

The movie is based on the play by the late August Wilson (who had worked on the screenplay before his death in 2005). After he won a Tony Award for his role, Washington brings his Troy Maxson to the big screen. Troy is a garbage man who works during the 1950s alongside his best friend Jim Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson). Married to his wife Rose (Viola Davis, who also starred with Washington on stage), he has two sons, Lyons (Russel Hornsby) and Cory (Jovan Adepo). Lyons is a struggling musician, who does seem to come by to ask his old man for ten dollars on every one of his dad’s pay days. Cory is finishing High School, hoping to play on a football scholarship, which Troy is against. There is also Troy’s brother Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson), who suffered a brain injury during the war.

All the acting is stellar. Once again Denzel Washington gives us more reason to believe why he is one of the most talented actors to grace the silver screen. This performance ranks up with some of the best work that he has ever done. As I was watching him, I realized you could take any thirty seconds out of his performance, and it would be able to be used for him when announcing him as a Best Actor nominee (which it is pretty much impossible for him not to be).

There are secrets that are exposed, things that are brought out into the light, and all of this is handled so well we forget who the actors are. We don’t sense “Oh look, Viola Davis is acting right now.” We sense that Rose is expressing herself and showing us pain that we hope no one else has to go through (though sadly some do). This may finally be the chance Davis gets at winning an Oscar, and it will be well deserved.

Parents, I am glad to say the movie is PG-13, and for the right reasons. There is swearing, but it is mainly for the thematic material in the film (there is no sexuality, but some suggestive talk). I would say mature middle schoolers and up.

One thing about Washington’s performance is that it is so great we forget he directed the film as well. There is certainly a sense that the movie feels almost like a play, but a movie at the same time. While the movie is not perfect (it drags a little at times, mainly at the end), it is certaintly one of the best movies of 2016.

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