Tag Archives: sylvester stallone

Emotionally Powerful ‘Creed’ Is One of Year’s Best

Creed_posterIt’s OK, Michael B. Jordan. All is forgiven for “Fantastic Four.”

“Creed” is the seventh installment in the “Rocky” franchise and the first since 2006’s “Rocky Balboa.” The film follows Apollo Creed’s illegitimate son (Jordan) as he attempts to come out of the shadow his father left behind. In order to be taken seriously as a boxer, he reaches out to the retired Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to train him. Ryan Coogler directs and co-writes.

Michael B. Jordan was put on mainstream Hollywood’s radar after 2012’s found footage superhero film “Chronicle,” however it was the following year’s “Fruitvale Station” (directed and written by Coogler as well) that made everyone start to see him as a possible star. “Creed” finds both Jordan and Coogler at the top of their game, and shows why Stallone and the studio made the right choice putting their faith in two under-30 guys to continue a historic franchise.

I liked how “Creed” isn’t a full-blown “Rocky” sequel, nor does it try to be. As a person who doesn’t know much about the series outside the major cliffnotes, it was important that I could relate to and understand what was happening throughout the film. I’m sure I missed a callback here or inside joke there, but I knew the characters and motivations without the film spoon feeding them to me.

The film is shot masterfully, with numerous long takes. There is even a fight in the middle of the film that is one single take, and it’s amazing. Being one take adds immense tension to the scene, as there aren’t cuts to give us a chance to breath and relax. Coogler and his team deserve massive props for pulling this off, because people get cut and bloody but there aren’t chances for makeup teams to have applied it. Movie magic, I suppose.

The film uses hip hop for much of the backdrop, which gives the film a unique and “modern” feel compared to the other “Rocky” films, however still has some nice instrumental moments, including the famous theme (even if it initially feels a bit cheesy for its cliché timing).

The film flows at a nice pace for most of the time, although it does slow a little when Creed is preparing for the big final fight. The film also decides to add a dramatic twist to the story, which definitely feels a little forced and formulaic however does give Stallone the opportunity to deliver a nice speech (possibly his “For Your Consideration” moment for the Academy?).

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t getting a little choked up during the climax, which features both powerful bits of dialogue as well as an engaging fight. “Creed” works as both a standalone and a revival to a franchise that many thought had its best days behind it. It is one of the year’s best films and a star-confirming vehicle for Michael B. Jordan, and also shows that maybe Stallone still has more to offer than cheesy “Expendable” action flicks.

Critics Rating: 8/10



Third Time’s the Charm for ‘Expendables’

Expendables_3_posterThe “Expendables” franchise in a nutshell: Sylvester Stallone has gathered the biggest action stars from the past 30 years, thrown in a few old jokes and sprinkled it all with excessive violence and gunplay. The results have been mixed, with the first film being fun but taking itself way too seriously, while the sequel was a little more self-relevant but was still sloppy.

With “The Expendables 3”, Stallone and his team have clearly taken notes because, while not a masterpiece or even particularly good film, the third time is the charm for this group for the steroid and Botox mercenaries.

Directed by Australian newcomer Patrick Hughes, “Expendables 3” follows Barney Ross (Stallone) as he tries to find new, younger blood in order to bring down an arms dealer, and former Expendables member, played by Mel Gibson. Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas and Arnold Schwarzenegger are among the many costars.

First things first, the jokes are much more prevalent than in past films. Stallone brought onboard Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, writers of “Olympus Has Fallen”, to co-write the script with him, and it results in the same irrelevant, intentionally awful jokes that not only made “Olympus” so much fun, but the action films from the 80’s. Harrison Ford, filling in for Bruce Willis who was fired after demanding $1 million a day, has the most fun of the newcomers, and unlike Willis looks like he actually gives a darn about being there. He has smile on his face the entire film, and has one funny running gag where he tells Jason Statham to “stop mumbling” whenever he speaks in his British accent.

Also, unlike the first two films, we know and actually empathize with the villain. Gibson’s weapons dealing character is given an actual backstory and there is one scene where he is talking to Stallone about why he does what he does and feels genuine.

Of all the newcomers, two stand out for reasons they may not like, the first being the lone female Expendable, played by UFC fighter Ronda Rousey. Her acting has a lot of opportunity for improvement (nice way of saying she’s not very good), and on more than one occasion she clichély says “men” when a group of the guys do something stupid. The other “standout” is Antonio Banderas, who, I swear to God, pulls a Jar Jar Binks. He is just over-the-top, quickly saying unfunny lines and never stopping the talking.

When news broke that this film was PG-13 instead of R, most people freaked out. We saw what happened when an R-rated franchise goes PG-13 earlier with RoboCop, so many people were nervous that this one. However the 4th Die Hard was rated PG-13, and that is arguably featured the best action of the series. And “Expendables 3” luckily falls closer to the Die Hard side of things.

Director Patrick Hughes stages some fantastic action sequences, and right from the start of the film you know you’re in for a thrill ride as it opens up on a train during a hostage rescue. Yes, there are the obligatory close-ups and shaky cams that accompany PG-13 films, but it never distracts you (this was shot as R but was cut to PG-13, because money).

At this point you know whether you like these films or not. I personally found the mix of new age tech versus old school fist fights an entertaining step in a new direction for the franchise, and is the best film in the series (take that statement for what it’s worth). There’s a part in the film when Ford turns to Stallone and says “that’s some of the most fun I’ve had in years”. I wouldn’t be lying if I said “Expendables 3” is some of the most fun I’ve had all summer.

Critics Rating: 7/10

‘Grudge Match’ Uninspired and Unfunny


            It’s Jake La Motta versus Balboa. Raging Bull versus Rocky. De Niro versus Stallone. What could go wrong? Well if you guessed “most everything because those two men are now 70 years old” then congratulations, you got it! “Grudge Match” stars De Niro and Stallone as two former boxers who are brought out of retirement to have one final tie-breaking fight. Kevin Hart and Kim Basinger also star and Peter Segal directs.

This is not the first time Hollywood has paired old actors together; it’s been done this year, in fact, with “Last Vegas”, and that too starred De Niro. Only difference is that film was funny, and De Niro actually looked like he wanted to be there.

I found it really hard to find any joy in “Grudge Match”. De Niro and Stallone both clearly don’t care about the movie and slump through their roles with very little enthusiasm. Not that the script would have done them any favors if that had chosen to care.

Of the two guys who wrote the movie, Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman, only Kelleher has any experience writing a feature film; and that experience comes in the form of the 1996 kid’s film “First Kid”. The script is just riddled with clichés and a lot of unfunny lines that are just handed to the audience with no effort at all. Even the hilarious Kevin Hart can’t make much of his dialogue pop, as much as he may have tried.

The saving grace for the film is the end fight. Director Segal has proven he is capable of shooting sports and action scenes with “Get Smart” and “The Longest Yard”. The climax is everything you would expect from a feel-good holiday movie, but it was one of the few effective aspects of the movie.

I really wanted to like this movie. I went in expecting “Last Vegas” but with boxing gloves instead of poker chips, and walked out feeling empty inside. When I could understand what Stallone was actually saying I didn’t care, and when De Niro gave yet another mailed in performance you’re more insulted than anything. The film was slated to be released in January, a month notorious for Hollywood’s dumping ground of bad movies, but was pushed up to a Christmas release.

Middle aged people may get some sort of nostalgic rush from “Grudge Match” but aside from a few chuckles and the end fight, which ends very abruptly, the film has nothing to offer. It is kind of like when a fight is really hyped up and publicized, and then ends in a one round KO. Only instead of ending quickly, “Grudge Match” just draws on and on and on…

Critics Rating: 4/10