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.

Film Review: Creed (2015)

Release Date: November 19th, 2015 (Regency Village Theater)
Directed by: Ryan Coogler
Written by: Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington
Based on: characters by Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Ludwig Göransson
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Anthony Bellew

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, New Line Cinema, Warner Bros., 133 Minutes

Review:

“Time takes everybody out; time’s undefeated.” – Rocky Balboa

*written in 2015.

I was highly skeptical about Creed when I first heard about it. It is a spinoff/sequel to the fantastic Rocky franchise, picking up a few years after its sixth installment, Rocky Balboa. This film follows the son of former Rocky Balboa rival and best friend, Apollo Creed. The young Creed searches out Balboa in an effort to convince him to be his boxing trainer.

My skepticism subsided when I saw this film’s score on Rotten Tomatoes and read a lot of the reviews on the web, most of which were very positive. It also reunites its star Michael B. Jordan with his Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler.

I really enjoyed this movie. Out of the Rocky sequels, it is certainly in the upper echelon. It captures the energy and spirit of what worked in the original film and works as sort of a remake, even though it is a sequel. This time, Adonis Johnson, the young Creed, is in the role of Rocky Balboa and Rocky is in the role of his trainer, Mickey Goldmill.

Adonis faces adversity and has the need to prove himself, similar to Rocky in the original. Except Adonis’ story is much different. Those differences aside, it is a familiar tale that treads familiar territory. But Adonis’ journey is unique and its hard not to get caught up in the emotion of it all, especially if you’ve been watching Rocky movies your entire life.

The film also adds more to the Rocky legend, as it shows where Balboa is after the events of the last film in his series.

Creed also pulls at the heartstrings for those who have had a forty year or so investment in the character of Balboa. He has his own fight for his own survival in the movie and he also finds a sense of belonging and family after he has lost his wife, his two best friends, his mentor and his son, who moved to Vancouver – far away from his dad and the issues of being the son of a local legend.

The relationship between Adonis and Rocky is heartwarming, heartbreaking and a beautiful thing to witness. Rocky films have always been full of emotion and self discovery and Creed lives up to those earlier movies.

I don’t want to give too much away but if you are a fan of the Rocky film series, this is a must-see. You won’t be disappointed and it reignites some serious nostalgia.

But again, this is Adonis’ film. That being said, I hope we get to see what happens after the credits role. Adonis Johnson becomes Adonis Creed and, as a character, he deserves to stand proudly next to the icons: Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Anything within the Rocky franchise. Also, Ryan Coogler’s other films with Michael B. Jordan.

Film Review: Rocky Balboa (2006)

Release Date: December 20th, 2006
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Antonio Tarver, Milo Ventimiglia, Geraldine Hughes, Tony Burton, James Francis Kelly III, Lou DiBella

Revolution Studios, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Columbia Pictures, 100 Minutes

Review:

“It doesn’t matter how this looks to other people. If this is something you gotta do, then you do it. Fighters fight.” – Little Marie

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen Rocky Balboa. I really liked it when it came out but at the same time, I was going through some heavy personal shit that this film emotionally tapped into at the time. I lost someone really close to me the day before this film came out and in some way, seeing this film that same week sort of helped me with the grief and guilt of that experience. And frankly, I’ll always associate this film with that experience.

Seeing it, over a decade later, and after having just watched the five original Rocky films, I do still like this picture but it is my least favorite of the Rocky franchise. Yeah, I’m that one weirdo that actually liked Rocky V and was happy with it as the ending to the series.

The thing about this film, is that I think it actually would have worked better without the whole fight element thrown in. But it’s a Rocky film so Rocky has to fight, I guess that’s the rule. I would have been more interested in seeing Rocky deal with his grief in an elderly reality where he can’t fight and certainly shouldn’t be allowed to fight. Eventually, he has to hang those gloves up and I would have rather seen him try to figure out how to overcome his personal demons when his one way of dealing with them is no longer available to him. There are different fights in life than the physical ones and we’ve seen Rocky use boxing as a metaphor for his life from the ’70s into the ’90s. I think that Creed did a better job of finding a way to help Rocky find meaning in his life outside of taping up his own fists.

The thing with the fight and how it all goes down is unrealistic. I just can’t see a boxer as old as Balboa getting cleared to fight the undefeated world champion, whether it’s just some corny exhibition or not. The idea of it also sets a bad precedent of some sort of reality where aged fighters can somehow hang with guys in their prime that are at the top of their game. Sure, this is a feel good story for old men, past their prime, but Sugar Ray Leonard should absolutely never step into the ring with Floyd Mayweather.

Everything else about this film I mostly liked. Rocky owns a restaurant, he is having a hard time with his relationship with his son, he gets to spend quality time with Paulie and he gets to reconnect with a young girl he hasn’t seen since 1976. I also loved Spider Rico’s role in this movie, as he was there for comedic relief but it was cool seeing Rocky still care for his old rival and friend.

Rocky Balboa is a sad and borderline depressing movie. It does have its patented feel good ending but it was unsatisfying in the fact that it was tied into the fight within the film. I would have rather seen him reconnect with his son, find love with Marie and accept that life goes on and he has to go on with it. While it sort of happens, it does so with the fight as a metaphor for everything because surviving a beat down of epic proportions means that your problems are gone until you need to make a sequel.

But I get it, what’s a Rocky movie without a fight? And if Stallone didn’t have his most famous character throw down, people wouldn’t have gone to see the film. What is Rocky Balboa without boxing? But couldn’t that have been the whole point of the film?

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Anything within the Rocky franchise. Also, Ryan Coogler’s Creed.

Film Review: Rocky V (1990)

Release Date: November 16th, 1990
Directed by: John G. Avildsen
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Sage Stallone, Tommy Morrison, Richard Gant, Kevin Connolly, Tony Burton, Burgess Meredith (cameo), Carl Weathers (archive footage), Dolph Lundgren (archive footage),

United Artists, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Now, like your Mark Twain once said, ‘Virtue has never been as respectable as money.'” – George Washington Duke

I have never gotten the level of hatred that people have for Rocky V. Is it the best in the series? No. But I also don’t think that from a quality standpoint, it is anywhere below the later sequels III and IV. It actually has a great and important story and examines some areas of a boxer’s life and boxing as a sport that were probably long overdue in being explored in this long running film series. There is one big negative but I’ll get to that.

First, the film deals with Rocky Balboa getting brain damage after his bout with Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. It also deals with how athletes are often times taken advantage of by financial crooks, as we see Paulie give power of attorney to their accountant, who lost all their money in a failed scheme. Additionally, we get to see the crookedness of high profile boxing promoters with the character of George Washington Duke, who was an obvious caricature of Don King, who exploited several young boxers that he “owned” for his own personal monetary gain. Lastly, the film deals with a boxer and his relationship with his family and also with his personal struggles when his career is over. Rocky V is a film with a lot of layers, all of which I found to be interesting.

And that’s the thing. You could say that there is too much going on in Rocky V from a narrative aspect but I like that the film addresses these issues, shows them play out naturally and doesn’t have to spell everything out for the audience or beat them over the head with each issue. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize the challenges as they appear and to understand that ultimately, Rocky has always had what he needs most and that the solution is simply embracing the love in your life.

Rocky V may be cheesy at points but aren’t most of the Rocky films to some degree? Balboa is a good hearted guy always ready to crack a bad joke and those characteristics have sort of become larger than Balboa in the films themselves. Plus, by the time you get into the later films, Paulie just adds in his own sense of humor that keeps the later sequels grounded in lightheartedness even with serious subject matter.

This film also brings the original creative team of the first Rocky back together. John G. Avildsen returns to direct, Bill Conti is back on the music and ultimately, it works well to recreate the poor area of Philadelphia that Rocky, Adrian and Paulie rose out of but now have to return to. The addition of Burgess Meredith, even as a ghostly cameo, is a nice nod to the first film and brings things full circle, which was good considering that this was the last film in the series for sixteen years.

The big negative I mentioned before is Tommy Morrision, who played the boxer Tommy Gunn. The character starts as Rocky’s protege but decays into a puppet for the sinister George Washington Duke and thus, becomes Rocky’s big opponent at the end. The problem with Morrison is that he is a real boxer and not an actor. Rocky films work better with actors as the rivals. Imagine if Apollo Creed was played by George Foreman or Larry Holmes, it just wouldn’t have worked as well. Also, I felt the same way about Antonio Tarver in the sixth film and Tony Bellew in Creed. None of these guys had the impact of Apollo, Clubber Lang or Ivan Drago. Plus, Morrison’s line delivery was really painful at times.

While people knock the street fight at the end of the film, I’m fine with it. We’ve seen Rocky in the ring more than a half dozen times. Seeing him take it to the streets and embracing his roots against a jacked up farm boy was kind of cool.

I think that Rocky V came out in a time when the franchise sort of ran its course. It was the fifth film in 14 years. Plus, there was solid competition when it came out, so it didn’t perform well. Critics weren’t crazy about it but they aren’t crazy about most movies. I think people shit on Rocky V because it’s fun to shit on something that everyone hates. But I think it is more about following the crowd and not really about the movie. People just parrot each other’s sentiment and comments without much actual thought of their own but that’s why we always end up with shitty presidential candidates. But I’ll stop there and not go on some political rant.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Other Rocky films.

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

Video Game Review: Real Boxing 2 – Rocky (Phones & Tablets)

Real Boxing was pretty popular on its own but once they did the sequel and made it Rocky Balboa themed, featuring all 6 movies as well as Creed, it got my attention.

I’ve never been a fan of boxing games on phones or tablets. However, Real Boxing 2 – Rocky has better controls than the other games I’ve tried over the years on various phones and operating systems.

The problem is, the controls still aren’t great. I think it is just hard to make a boxing game that is somewhat realistic and even harder to get it to feel that way when all you can do is swipe your phone screen. But at least there was a solid effort at making it work, here.

The highlight of the game is that you get to unlock skins for all the key fighters from the Rocky franchise. But there is a lot of filler and a huge roster of other boxers that make the game feel overloaded and convoluted.

Additionally, it is hard to progress once you get beyond the initial stages. You can’t train or really improve unless you are willing to lose a lot of matches just to slowly build up stats. The challenge curve is too great for how you progress and you’ll feel invincible for a half dozen matches then suddenly you fight like a chump. You can only really keep up with how hard the game becomes, if you want to start dropping money.

I was excited and enthused when I started playing this game but I lost interest after a few days and after stacking up loses because I wasn’t yet convinced that spending money was going to be worth it. I don’t think that it is because the game will make it impossible to progress unless you don’t like winning, love being thrown to the wolves and have the patience to plug away at this game a lot longer than anyone really has time for.

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: Rocky III (1982)

Release Date: May 28th, 1982
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Tony Burton, Mr. T, Hulk Hogan

United Artists, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 100 Minutes

Review:

“No, I don’t hate Balboa. I pity the fool, and I will destroy any man who tries to take what I got!” – Clubber Lang

Rocky III is the first sequel to kind of dip in quality. Regardless, it is still an enjoyable film that is actually a bit more entertaining than the previous two pictures. It’s shorter, it’s more fun overall and both Mr. T and Hulk Hogan make the fights in this film more exciting and definitely more colorful.

This film fast forwards a bit from the events of Rocky and Rocky II. Here, Rocky Balboa has been the world champion for a little while. We get a nice vignette of him conquering a myriad of challengers along the way. Plus, the beginning of this film is greatly enhanced by its theme song “Eye of the Tiger” by Survior.

The reason why I like Rocky III so much, even though it isn’t of the same quality of the first two pictures, is that it has so much energy. Hulk Hogan plays Thunderlips, a giant wrestler that Balboa fights for charity. He is a massive brute that is overly ostentatious. Then you have the real villain of the story, Mr. T’s intimidating and jacked Clubber Lang. The guy literally looks like a killing machine in boxing gloves.

This chapter also adds some serious emotional baggage that treads new territory for Rocky. He loses his trainer, loses his title and feels like he’s hit rock bottom. Then Apollo, his greatest rival, shows him how to pick himself up and find his edge. Apollo knows that Balboa is greater than Clubber Lang and his respect for Rocky pushes him into helping the fallen fighter right the ship.

I love Rocky III. It really evolved the series into a new decade, the ’80s. And like that decade, it feels more carefree, entertaining and opulent. We enter a world of excess, where Balboa is beyond poverty but with these changes, come new challenges and life isn’t a cakewalk for the warrior.

Rating: 8/10