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 ****

The Hate U Give (2018)

The Hate u give

After the death of her childhood friend, Starr’s life is forever changed.

It did not take long to see how preachy The Hate U Give would be, let alone how well-timed it has been released. I admit it took me a while to realize that maybe, just maybe, it needs to be preachy. It’s message is clear, and, for the most part, delivers it well.

No small part of that revolves around its main young star (pun intended) Amandla Stenberg (who, once upon a time, was Rue of The Hunger Games). She is Starr, who lives in one very run down neighborhood with her family. She informs us she was “nine years old when she had the talk” from her dad Mav (Russell Hornsby), about the statutes of the black panthers (not the Wakanda kind).

Flash forward to present day, where she goes to a private school (mostly white) since the public school is only a setting of chaos and trouble. She tries to live two separate lives, acting as “non-ghetto” as she can, even around her two friends Maya (Megan Lawless) and Hailey (former Disney Channel star Sabrina Carpenter). She even tries the act in front of her boyfriend Chris (K.J. Apa), who is not your typical movie boyfriend (which is a compliment).

One night, while at a party in her home neighborhood, she reunites with Khalil (Algee Smith), one of her best friends growing up (and first crush). Tragedy strikes when, after the party, he is pulled over and shot dead by a cop. The movie (based off of the book by Angie Thomas, which I will need to read soon) is far too smart to be about whether this cop is going to be arrested. It is far more than that.

There is grounded wisdom and solace that Starr gets mainly from her parents, which are played nicely by Hornsby and Regina Hall. We get also so very nice subtle work by Anthony Mackie (Falcon from the MCU) as the feared leader King, who once worked with Mav before the latter left it all behind. There is also Mav’s police officer brother Carlos, played by Common. Starr’s siblings are also nicely played, with Lamar Johnson as Seven, and TJ Wright as Sekani.

Parents, I have heard that the book does have some sexual content in it. There is not much of that here, aside from some kissing and mention of one character trying to have sex with a girl and failing (nothing shown). The PG-13 rating is mainly for the violence, swearing, and (most of all) the thematic situations. High School and up (maybe mature middle schoolers).

As stated before, the movie does get to be rather preachy at times. Perhaps I was just thinking a little too much of Spike Lee’s masterpiece Do the Right Thing, which may be unfair to compare this film to (or almost any film to). Director George Tillman Jr. does do a fine job with direction and pacing, and the film does give more proof that young Amandla Stenberg is a light that will only get brighter as her career progresses.

It is as timely a movie as any out there right now, so yeah, it is definitely worth the watch.

Overall: Four Stars ****