Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Speaks Reviews: Creed


★★★

A few months back now, I sat in a movie theater, totally unsuspecting, and watched a trailer for a new film called Creed, a sort of spin-off of the Rocky Balboa films about the son of Apollo Creed (made famous by Carl Weathers in Rocky - Rocky IV). I thought very little of it. Shit. I'd never even seen Rocky

Then, the critics went nuts about this film. It quickly became one of the best reviewed movies of 2015, landed on Top Ten Lists, amped up with Oscar buzz. It seemed a sure thing...then....nothing. During that early December Creed high, I resolved that I would finally watch the Best Picture winning Rocky for the first time as a Blind Spot. Then, I would see Creed. 



Yesterday, I published my Blind Spot reaction to Rocky, a film I, of course, found wholly endearing in its embrace of the smallest, everyday moments and emotions. My reaction opened like this: 

At a certain moment while watching Rocky, it occurred to me why people love this movie so much:  It doesn't care about winning. Which makes it a winner. It's funny. I wonder if audiences today would embrace this movie the same way they did in 1976. We have an acclaimed, crowd-pleasing movie from the Rocky Balboa Universe this year called Creed. I haven't seen it yet (I wanted to see this first.), but I wonder if it succeeded for the same reasons...

I saw Creed on Sunday. And it does succeed for the same reasons and more.

Creed also works in the way the sequels worked (I assume), paying service to interesting opponents and using the strength of those opponents and the strength of those who surround you, who love you or offer you love, to accomplish victories that have nothing to do with winning in a sporting event. 

It even tells a similar story. A young man named Adonis Johnson is taken in by the wife of the late Apollo Creed. Adonis was born of an affair just before the prizefighter's untimely death. He is orphaned, a troubled kid, a born fighter. Years later, he decides to make his passion of becoming a fighter true. He seeks out Rocky Balboa, who reluctantly agrees to train him, and gets a shot at the light heavyweight title fight against the #1 fighter in the world, "Pretty" Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew). In the midst of all this, he falls for his new neighbor, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), a musician with troubles of her own. There are training montages. There are fights. There are boxing matches. We know the story, and we love it. 


Director Ryan Coogler even does the original Rocky one better, though. He has stayed true to the humble roots, the rough streets of Philly, but he has crafted fresh takes on integrating the legacy, so real even if fictional, of Balboa and Creed and their role in the idea of the sport in the common consciousness. The characters watch HBO's 24/7 and ESPN's Pardon the Interruption. The sport as the spectacle it is now is integrated but not overwhelming. It immerses us in the story. It makes a character even more real than we already feel he is. 

Coogler has also done a fresh take on simply filming the sport of boxing. At this point boxing movies are about a dime-a-dozen. It's almost as if film directors have to shoot a scene in the ring at least once, somehow. It doesn't often seem like much. The fight scenes in this film are as great as I've seen, including, though completely different, those devised by Scorsese for Raging Bull. The fight sequences are expert level on the part of Coogler, cinematographer Maryse Albrerti, and editors Claudia Castello and Michael P. Shawver. 

At the story level, which was envisioned by Coogler and written as a screenplay alongside screenwriter Aaron Covington, Creed is a flawless exercise in character study and an emotional triumph, despite that fact that it does follow a certain well-known "sports movie" formula. It rises above that somehow. It features the same types of truthful moments as the original, inducing nothing but feeling for its characters, the best kind of people in this world.


There's a moment late in this film when I popped up in my chair, teary-eyed, and let out an "Oh, Wow!" It really was that good. I only did that one other time in the past year, when I saw Inside Out, the other crazy Best Picture snub (more on that later). Again, as it was with the original Rocky, it is Rocky's words that do it for us. Funny and heartfelt and real. This time provided by a writer/director who obviously loves Rocky as much as Stallone himself. 

That we know Rocky Balboa so well only makes this film better. Or is it that this film is so good because it knows how well we know and love Rocky Balboa. Stallone is great here and will likely be awarded for that come next month at the Oscars. As his new charge, Michael B. Jordan delivers a powerful performance that equals Stallone's on every single emotional level. Adonis wants to make his way on his own name. Rocky knows how that feels. Both of these actors bare themselves in these characters to the hard truths about life, the hauntings of the past, and the uncertainties of the future. 

My wife and I left this film on a high that only the great ones can give you. It will be in my Top Five of 2015 without question.


One More Thing

#OscarsSoCreed-less



I use this blog as a platform to simply share the movies I watch and what I think of them. I don't read much "movie news," nor do I care about celebrities' personal lives in any way. I just love movies, and I don't get too sore when movies I love aren't nominated for awards. 

But I was quick to thrash against the stories of the past couple weeks, the ones in which a few prominent Black figures in the film world (Spike Lee and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith) made it known they will not attend this year's Oscars ceremony. Lee has since stated that this is a larger issue than the Academy, and that minorities need more of a voice at the studio level. The Oscars are a politics game, and, if you don't have any of the studio suits fighting for your movie, you won't make it to Oscar. 

Creed is a surefire Best Picture candidate, though. It is an emotional experience that features great performances from actors, both black and white, and excellent work from its African-American writer/director. It is, apart from that, completely color blind, as is should be. And it SHOULD BE there among the Best Picture nominees. I can't imagine why it's not. How did this not get the backing it deserved? It is better reviewed that four of the eight Best Picture nominees, including The Big Short, The Revenant, Bridge of Spies, and The Martian. The Academy can nominate ten. This year, it nominated only eight. I've said it before, and I'll say it again:  Either nominate ten, or nominate five. None of the in-between bullshit. 

I don't know if this is race thing. I don't know if the praise for Stallone really did overshadow everything else, but Creed could be a contender in many major categories, including also Best Director (Ryan Coogler), Best Actor (Michael B. Jordan), and Film Editing, easily. I mean, Bryan Cranston in Trumbo? Come the fuck on! Nobody even saw that movie. Creed made $100 million at the box office, universally LOVED by every single person I've talked to and most critics. Not only is the Academy going against popular appeal with this snub, it is going against what it's done before in awarding Best Picture to this film's direct predecessor, the original Rocky. Nobody went to bat for this movie, it seems. 

That is what I'm mad about.

It is quite obvious that Creed is one of the best films of the year on every level. What gives?

I'll still be watching the Oscars. It will be interesting to see how this conversation of race enters into the show, as I'm sure it will with news that host Chris Rock went back to the drawing board after the uproar over the nominations. And I hope this conversation leads to a future in which the film industry and its award ceremonies continually push for not only excellence but a larger diversity in the artistic endeavors AND entertainments they pursue and praise going forward.

A "boycott" of the Oscars is hardly necessary, but the discussion it has brought into the open may well be just what the movies, in general, need. 

10 comments:

  1. I know that you know how I felt about Creed, so no need to restate that. I am just glad we saw it in the theaters! As for the extra bit, I still believe that Viola Davis said it best, that people of color can't do much if the roles aren't there. I don't know about Lee's argument because like you, I could give two flying flips about what goes on behind the scenes and by who. However, I do feel that Creed was a miss is several categories, and even though Stallone was nominated (rightfully so), it goes back to the old argument that has been around for years with the Oscars ... "Oh here is (insert older actor who has a reputation) in a movie again, we better nominate him/her." Same is true for your Trumbo example, "here is an actor who made a name for himself in TV going for it in a movie, better nominate him." But doesn't the same thing apply to Wallace, I mean Vince Howard, no wait Michael B. Jordan. I guess not because he doesn't have a Golden Globe?

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    1. Good point about Michael B. Jordan, though he wasn't quite as popular as Cranston was on TV. Anyway, this Stallone love feels like a giveaway, but, at the same time, I'm sort of rooting for him. He's like Rocky in that way.

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  2. I had no intention of seeing Creed, but now I want to give it a go. Great review!

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    1. Oh, do it! It's such a solid film.

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  3. An absolute yes on both parts of this post. It is a phenomenal movie that I really enjoyed. I look forward to the rest of Ryan Coogler's career. After this and Fruitvale Station, it's obvious the man knows what he's doing. Great review AND commentary!

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    1. Thanks, man. Glad you agree. I totally need to see Fruitvale Station. Seriously, the only thing that kept me from it was me knowing it would hit me so hard emotionally. I'll be seeing it now. Coogler has the stuff, and this is just a great movie.

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  4. I have never had a desire to see Rocky or any of the other sequels but this film I do want to see, strangely enough. I think I was sick of America the great. American is all which Rocky seemed to force down my throat. I know that thinking (at least with the first movie) is wrong but this is how it was promoted back then. I am so sick of Oscars So White. Oscars has been this way since 1928. It starts before where actors should be given roles no matter what race they are unless it is specifically needed. You can't have a black plantation owner in the 1850's and you can't have women landing on D-Day beaches. I will always watch the Oscars and I think they should stop boycotting because they are just segregating themselves which doesn't help the matter at all

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    1. I don't think you can attach some huge patriotism to Rocky or Creed. The sequels, I'm sure, are another story. I haven't seen them. And I like your points about the whole Oscar "controversy" that seems to happen every single year. Change the game, not the awards system. That's how I feel about it.

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  5. Creed was excellent. It's definitely in my top 20 films of the year. I'm alright with it not being a Best Picture nominee. Still, I give it 4 out of 4 stars.

    And I agree with you on the OscarsSoWhite thing. Michael B. Jordan should've been nominated over Bryan Cranston. Trumbo didn't even get that good reviews, & I don't even know why people were saying it could've been up for all these big awards. Michael B. Jordan should've definitely been nominated.

    And I think it should be a strict 10. Carol should've been the 9th nomination, & Inside Out should've been the 10th nomination. 5 nominees seems too small to me. That would leave out some great films. 10 seems like the best number of Best Picture nominees.

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    1. I honestly think 5 is enough. That's how it was my whole life until 2009, and most years it's between only a couple for the win anyway. But you're right. Strict 10 or bust at this point.

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