Film Review: Creed II (2018)

Release Date: November 14th, 2018 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Steven Caple Jr.
Written by: Juel Taylor, Sylvester Stallone, Sascha Penn, Cheo Hodari Coker
Based on: characters by Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Ludwig Goransson
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Wood Harris, Phylicia Rashad, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu, Andre Ward, Brigitte Nielsen, Milo Ventimiglia, Russell Hornsby, Carl Weathers (archive footage)

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, New Line Cinema, 130 Minutes

Review:

“Because of you… I lose everything. My country. Respect. You ever see stray dogs in the Ukraine? They go for days without food. People spit on them, they are nothing. No home. Only will to survive… to fight. I have son. All he knows… [raises his fists] …is this.” – Ivan Drago

I really anticipated and then liked the first Creed movie but I was even more excited for where a second one could go.

The reason being, is even back in 2015, I kind of knew they were going to revisit the Ivan Drago storyline that was Rocky IV. Naturally, it felt unavoidable, as Apollo Creed’s son becomes his own man in the boxing realm but the death of his father is still a very big chip on his shoulder. It’s the one thing that eats away at his soul and has to be conquered for the man to become great. Plus, Dolph Lundgren is still tight with Stallone and it made sense on every level.

So even though I liked the previous one, this chapter in the Rocky franchise is a bit better. The Drago story here was great and it had so much depth that it almost improves Rocky IV, which was severely lacking in narrative and character development. Ivan Drago isn’t just a Russian machine raising another Russian machine, here he is a man, a real character, broken, tired, angry and ready to get what he feels is justice for his honor.

Dolph Lundgren was absolutely superb in this. He has more lines and screen time than he did in Rocky IV and you get to see him vulnerable. Also, his relationship with his son is really good and by film’s end, you see this intimidating Russian monster become a real father. But that also gets into a bit of a problem I have with the film, which I’ll get into towards the end of this when I start talking about the few negatives this movie had.

As can be expected with Rocky films, especially after Rocky Balboa and Creed, the movie was solid in its writing, its direction, its score and its acting. From a technical and performance standpoint, there isn’t really anything bad you can say about how this looks and feels on screen.

One person that really captured my attention was Phylicia Rashad. I loved her in the first one but she had more time to shine here and she really takes over the scenes she’s in. She doesn’t overshadow the other actors but her presence and her spirit lifts up their already good performances. Every scene she’s in is meaningful and frankly, why hasn’t Rashad been in more films and television over the years? Maybe she doesn’t want to work as much after her long stint on The Cosby Show and Cosby but this role made her feel like a well aged Clair Huxtable, as I just felt like she was America’s mom once again. She is probably the strongest character in this franchise apart from Adrian, considering what she’s lost and how she still supports Adonis and Rocky, despite what she could lose in doing so.

I was surprised to see Brigitte Nielsen in this. It was absolutely great that she appears in two key scenes. The reason I was surprised by it, is I hadn’t heard anything about her participating and assumed she just wouldn’t be in it due to her divorce from Stallone a few years after Rocky IV. While she doesn’t really share scenes or dialogue with Stallone, I hope the two of them found peace with their divorce from three decades ago. Seeing her in this though, made me wish she had a real verbal exchange with Lundgren and Stallone on screen.

As far as the negatives go, there are only three and they’re minor.

First off, the speech scenes where a character is down and they need to be lifted up by someone else weren’t as strong in this film as they have been in Rocky-related movies of the past. They were okay but they lacked emotional impact and real oomph. None of them were really memorable, except for the scene where Ivan Drago has to get through to his son Viktor. In that moment, Drago has to swallow his pride, stop blaming Rocky and admits that he simply lost a fight, all those years ago.

That brings me to my second negative, as it also involves Ivan Drago.

The scene where Ivan and Rocky come face to face, Ivan unloads on Rocky about what Rocky cost him. Rocky kind of just sits there and takes it, not saying too much. Part of me was waiting for Rocky to tell Drago that he lost more: his best friend, his mind, his body, etc. Because if comparing notes, Drago took more from Rocky. But that didn’t happen and I felt like it needed to, to make Drago think and reflect on his loss and how he’s not just a victim.

The third negative is that you are obviously pulling for Adonis but as the final fight starts to come to its end, there are events that hit you emotionally for Viktor Drago. His mother abandons him, as she leaves her seat when the fight takes a turn. It’s a scene that is done so effectively that in that moment, you want Viktor to win. While I think empathizing more with the Dragos can definitely be explored, the way it’s done in that moment, sort of took the momentum away from the fight and the ending. It felt as if the film was going for a twist but then didn’t commit to it.

Now those negatives don’t ruin the film but they do prevent it from being a great motion picture. Still, I certainly want a Creed III and I want to see the Dragos find peace and to regain their family honor. I think the next natural step is for the two sons of the franchise’s biggest tragedy to both overcome the effects of it and find a bond with one another. And for Rocky and Ivan to embrace… but that’s probably asking a lot.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the first Creed, as well as all the Rocky films before it.

Documentary Review: Power of Grayskull: The Definitive History of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2017)

Release Date: September 9th, 2017 (Power-Con premiere)
Directed by: Randall Lobb, Robert McCallum
Written by: Randall Lobb, Robert McCallum
Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, various others

Definitive Films,FauxPop Media,Pyre Productions USA, 95 Minutes

Review:

This documentary recently dropped on Netflix, so being that Masters of the Universe was one of my first loves as a kid, I definitely wanted to check this out.

Power of Grayskull does a nice job of telling the He-Man and Masters of the Universe story from before its conception up to modern times. It even spends a good amount of time on the motion picture, which I still love, even if it took tremendous liberties and wasn’t quite the Masters of the Universe that I knew.

The first part of this is very similar to the Masters of the Universe episode of the Netflix show The Toys That Made Us. It talks about where Mattel was at, going into the early ’80s, and all the events leading up to them needing to develop a solid toy property for young boys.

This gets into more detail than that TV episode though, as this isn’t whittled down to television length. It spends more time discussing the key players involved and the steps taken as the franchise expanded into new toys, a second show called She-Ra: Princess of Power, the 1987 live action movie, what happened when the property started to cool off and how it still finds a way to circle back around and have some success.

The highlight of this whole thing was the portion that was devoted to the live action movie. At least, it’s what I found most interesting. Especially, since Dolph Lundgren and Frank Langella did interviews and both stated their love of working on the motion picture.

If you are a fan of Masters of the Universe, this is a cool documentary to check out. It brought me down memory lane and even reminded me of characters I had forgotten.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Other documentaries on specific fandoms: Turtle Power, Ghostheads and the Netlfix TV series The Toys That Made Us.

 

Film Review: A View to a Kill (1985)

Release Date: May 22nd, 1985 (San Francisco premiere)
Directed by: John Glen
Written by: Michael G. Wilson, Richard Maibaum
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Roger Moore, Tanya Roberts, Grace Jones, Christopher Walken, Patrick Macnee, David Yip, Alison Doody, Dolph Lundgren, Maud Adams (cameo), Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell, Robert Brown

Eon Productions, United Artists, 1.. Minutes

Review:

“You slept well?” – Max Zorin, “A little restless but I got off eventually.” – James Bond

From memory, this is a cheesy, goofy James Bond film. Having now revisited it for the first time in nearly a decade, this may actually be one of my favorites of the Moore era and of all-time. Quite simply, this is really f’n fun!

But then Moore’s films have always been fun and I am being reminded of that, as I have recently rewatched all of his ’80s era stuff. Something about this movie puts it ahead of the other two ’80s Bond pictures he did though.

This is a really good cocktail that also features the always fantastic Christopher Walken, as the villain, as well as Grace Jones, who commands everyone’s attention whenever she appears in anything. I friggin’ love the duo of Walken and Jones in this and they are one of the best villain tandems in Bond history. They have a strange but amusing relationship that is accented by both actors’ unique personalities. I almost wish they would have survived and been around in more than one movie but unless you’re Blofeld or Jaws, that just doesn’t happen in classic Bond-lore.

Tanya Roberts was far from the most memorable Bond Girl ever but she was really good here. She just fit in well with everyone and did her job, quite solidly. She wasn’t a complete damsel in distress but she also wasn’t some KGB badass either, she just felt more like a real, normal woman when compared to most of the other Bond Girls.

It’s also worth mentioning that this has one of my favrotie title sequences in the franchise. I have just always loved Duran Duran though, probably because I was a kid of the ’80s and heavily under the influence of the pop culture of the time.

Additionally, I really like the scheme in this picture. It’s nutty and ambitious but it just works for a Bond film of the classic era and it was probably the perfect plot on paper in the mid-’80s when the tech industry was blossoming and booming.

Another highlight was the San Francisco setting in the latter half of the film. The Golden Gate Bridge finale was top notch and a high point of the Roger Moore era.

The only thing that really bothered me about the film was that incredibly cheesy moment in the opening sequence, when Bond is trying to evade the Soviet enemies on skis and “California Girls” starts blaring. It’s a jarring moment that pulls you out of the movie and the gag wasn’t that funny.

I know that a lot of people look down on this chapter in the Bond franchise and see it as a low point. I don’t. This movie has a special place in my heart but it also might be that it is hard to push down nostalgia and see things more clearly. This was the second Bond film I ever saw in its entirety and I rented it a lot as a kid.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Roger Moore James Bond movies.

Film Review: Rocky IV (1985)

Release Date: November 27th, 1985
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Vince DiCola, Bill Conti (Rocky themes)
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Tony Burton, Dolph Lundgren, Brigitte Nielsen, James Brown

United Artists, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Going in one more round when you don’t think you can – that’s what makes all the difference in your life.” – Rocky

For some reason, Sylvester Stallone felt compelled to keep making Rocky movies. I’m glad that he did though, as the character still lives on today in the Creed film series, which was a spin off after giving Rocky Balboa six of his own movies from 1976 to 2006.

Rocky IV was the first Rocky movie that I saw in the theater. I was six at the time and I had seen Rocky III but the experience with this one blew my mind. Plus, it had a Cold War twist, which was something I was just starting to understand at the time, thanks to a plethora of ’80s movies that dealt with it.

This film also introduced me to Dolph Lundgren, who would become on of my favorite action stars of the era and really, I still love Dolph today. In a lot of ways, he was also the glue of the picture, even if his Ivan Drago character had no personality here. That was sort of the point though, he was a literal killing machine, emphasis on machine. He was like a Terminator with boxing gloves that was propped up by his country as their hero but all he wanted to do was to crush his opponents, regardless of patriotism and Cold War propaganda.

The real villain, as far as being the mouthpiece anyway, was Drago’s wife, played by Brigitte Nielsen, who was on the cusp of marrying Stallone in real life. She would also appear with her then husband in 1986’s Cobra. I liked Nielsen in the ’80s, even if her career was partially propelled by her marriage. I wish she would have stayed in the right groove and continued to be a presence in action pictures but she didn’t do much of anything memorable after 1987’s Beverly Hills Cop II and that could very well be due to her marriage with Stallone ending so quickly. But I’m not going to get all celebrity gossipy like TMZ.

For fans of the series, this film starts off with a solid blow to the gut, as within the first half hour, you get to see the aging Apollo Creed sign on for an exhibition with the Soviet boxer, leading to his death after being pummeled in the ring. The rest of the film deals with Rocky needing to defeat the monster that murdered his friend for sport.

It’s easy to chop this up as a revenge flick but I think it is more about a boxer seeking out justice in the only way he knows how and about climbing an impossible mountain, which is made obvious by a scene where Rocky literally conquers a mountain. However, it is also a critique on the senseless nature of the Cold War which had Americans and Soviets uneasy and paranoid for decades.

Many people have called this a propaganda picture, it isn’t. Does it beat you over the head with Americana? Sure. But it uses its platform and its political context to deliver a message of peace and hope. By the time you get to the end, Rocky’s big speech in the final scene isn’t pro-American or anti-Soviet, it’s pro-human and anti-war. It was also fairly prophetic considering the massive changes that happened in the world and the Cold War finally coming to an end just a few years later. Hey, maybe Rocky Balboa helped in tearing down the Berlin Wall.

Rocky IV is the most important film in the series because it carries a message bigger than the film itself. While the first is the best motion picture and the most inspiring, Rocky IV is the one that made me see the world differently. Granted, I was a six year-old clutching his G.I. Joe figures but it may have been instrumental in making me who I am today, someone who doesn’t buy into propaganda or nationalism and who only practices tribalism when it’s associated with the Chicago Cubs and Chicago Blackhawks.

Rating: 7.75/10

Film Review: The Expendables 3 (2014)

Release Date: August 4th, 2014 (London premiere)
Directed by: Patrick Hughes
Written by: Sylvester Stallone, Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Antonio Banderas, Jet Li, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Kelsey Grammer, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger

Millennium Films, Nu Image, Lionsgate, 126 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

“I need a job! All I know what to do is kill people! And I do that very well, Goddammit!” – Galgo

The Expendables 3 isn’t out yet but I saw it. This film is just about exactly what I expected. At this point, the novelty has worn off and the film is just incredibly cookie cutter, predictable and the one-liners made me roll my eyes. I can’t tell, at this point, if they are trying too hard or just not trying at all.

I feel like Stallone has taken the Michael Bay approach and just sees these as Transformers movies starring humans instead of CGI robots. I say that because like those films, The Expendables series has given us movies full of insane action sequences strung together by something barely resembling an actual plot that isn’t even all that important.

I get it though, these films are about celebrating the fact that all these cinematic bad asses are all together on the same screen, at the same time. But as I said, that novelty has worn off.

As the second film had to up the ante from the first, this one has to up the ante as well and gives us the addition of Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Kelsey Grammer, Antonio Banderas, Wesley Snipes and a new crew of younger Expendables. It has gotten to the point where there are just too many damn people on the team now. I feel like I am watching some sort of live-action version of the 80s G.I. Joe cartoon and every character in the entire series was forced on screen at one time. I almost feel that with a cast that has grown to be so massive, that this would work better as a television show. Granted, I doubt any of these big stars would commit to something so time consuming and they’d actually have to write a decent plot.

And speaking of time, it feels as if each big cameo actor got flown out to an exotic location and had about one day’s worth of work to shoot their scenes – having never read the script. Nothing about this felt genuine. I’m not saying that these guys don’t enjoy meeting up every two years to hang out on a film set and blow shit up but the camaraderie that they probably have in real life, doesn’t really come through on screen.

There is nothing from this film that is memorable. Having just watched it the other night, I can’t simply recall one sequence or scene that I can pinpoint as anything worthwhile to take away from this picture. It isn’t a waste of time, I liked it overall. However, The Expendables 3 only has enough steam to get it through one initial viewing. While I would watch another sequel in two years, I’m fine never seeing this or any of the previous films again.

Film Review: Masters of the Universe (1987)

Release Date: August 7th, 1987
Directed by: Gary Goddard
Written by: David Odell
Based on: He-Man and the Masters of the Universe toy line by Mattel
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, Courtney Cox, James Tolkan, Christina Pickles, Meg Foster, Billy Barty, Robert Duncan McNeill

Golan-Globus, Cannon Films, 106 Minutes

masters_of_the_universeReview:

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was a huge franchise in the 1980s. There was a massive toy line, a cartoon, a spinoff called She-Ra: Princess of Power and a bunch of other stuff. Then, after the fanfare sort of settled down towards the late 80s, we got a live-action movie.

This film is awesome! Well, truthfully, it is pretty bad from a critical and snobbish standpoint but it is incredibly enjoyable because of Frank Langella’s portrayal of Skeletor. Sure, Dolph Lundgren is awesome but his He-Man was pretty generic. Langella’s Skeletor on the other hand, was fantastic and still comes off as a great on-screen villain and one of my favorite cinematic bad guys from my childhood.

This movie was pretty much panned by critics and everyone else. I don’t care. It’s a far from perfect film but it has so much charm and 80s awesomeness that it stands above most of the big blockbusters today. Its practical effects and makeup were spectacular, its animated bits were greatly done for a film on a tight budget and the cinematography and art direction were fantastic. This movie captures your attention in a visual sense and it delivers something pretty unique, especially for its time.

The plot is pretty weak; the story doesn’t even matter that much though, as the audience for this film just wanted to see He-Man and Skeletor throw down in the most anticipated final battle since Return of the Jedi. Additionally, it’s a non-stop fantasy action picture from beginning-to-end. It has a Star Wars meets Dune meets Conan the Barbarian vibe and it does it well for seemingly pulling from all three of those franchises to some degree.

Not only does this film give us Lundgren and Langella duking it out for the title of “Master of the Universe” but it gives us a really young and even cuter Courtney Cox, a stunning as ever Meg Foster, an awesome as always Billy Barty and Strickland that assistant principal from Back to the Future that called everyone a “slacker”.

I love this film. I don’t care if most people hate it or refer to it as “stupid” or “horrible”. Sure, it doesn’t follow the He-Man mythos that closely and it is full of cheesy moments but I don’t give a shit. Back in the day, most film adaptations of non-film stories or franchises did whatever the hell they wanted anyway.

Masters of the Universe is an incredibly flawed film. However, with Langella’s Oscar worthy performance as Skeletor and the fact that this still brings me back to my younger days when He-Man ruled the world, I’ve got to give it serious props.

Besides, popcorn goes best with mindless cheesy fun.

Film Review: Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Release Date: February 1st, 2016 (Regency Village Theater premiere)
Directed by: The Coen Brothers
Written by: The Coen Brothers
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, Alison Pill, Wayne Knight, Christopher Lambert, Fisher Stevens, Patrick Fischler, Clancy Brown, Robert Picardo, Dolph Lundgren, Michael Gambon, Peter Jason

Working Title Films, Mike Zoss Productions, Universal Pictures, 106 Minutes

hail_caesarReview: 

The Coen Brothers always peak my interest when they have a new film coming out. Granted, I’m not a nut like the hardcore Coen loyalists but I am a legit ordained minister of Dudeism, a relgion based off of their film The Big Lebowski.

Hail, Caesar! is a motion picture littered with stars. For the most part, everyone other than Josh Brolin, Alden Ehrenreich and George Clooney feel like they are just glorified cameos. Ehrenreich isn’t even on the poster. But then you have Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson and Jonah Hill on it, while they are only in a handful of scenes.

The film is beautiful to look at but it is lacking in just about every other regard. Sure, the acting is top notch but when you have a cast full of talent like this, where most of them are limited to just a few scenes, they all probably had their best stuff because they weren’t bogged down by a rough shooting schedule and didn’t need to focus on anything longer than a few pages of dialogue, if that.

It is an enjoyable movie, don’t get me wrong, it just wasn’t as exciting or as interesting as it would lead you to believe. The introduction of Johansson’s character was magnificently shot and executed but I feel like her character was just brought into the film so that the Coen Brothers had a reason to create their own old school Hollywood synchronized swimming extravaganza. And I feel like that is the true purpose of this film, that the Coens wanted to try their hand at old school filmmaking techniques and to do it while working with all their friends.

Additionally, where we saw footage of films within the movie, they never really looked like pictures from 1951, where this is set. The films, even if they were black and white, were too sharp and too clean. The typefaces used looked out of place and not of that era.

There was just too much going on in the movie. I know that the plot is about Brolin’s Eddie Mannix and how he has to manage all these Hollywood superstars. However, it would have been a more interesting movie had it really just focused on one of his situations. Sure, the others could have been included but too much time was given to things that distracted from the narrative. The only real interesting plot thread was Clooney’s Baird Whitlock being kidnapped and held for ransom by communist writers. In fact, I adored the dialogue in those scenes between Clooney and the commies.

Hail, Caesar! is fun, to an extent. It just feels very empty and although it created a world that truly feels lived in, it didn’t explore it deeply enough.