By Jon Rutledge
Punching well within its weight class, Creed II is a knock out sequel that delivers something for new and old fans. Taking care to respect the source material it continues the story and shows us that everyone has a chance of redemption. If you have been watching Rocky moves since the 70s or only have joined the series in 2015 there is something for all viewers.
A bit of a history lesson here. Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) a Russian boxer killed Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) in the ring back in 1985, during Rocky IV. Rocky (Sylvester Stalone) has been cursed with the guilt that he could have saved Apollo by throwing in the towel at a critical moment. Against his better judgment, he follows the wishes of his friend and that leads to Apollo’s death. Those events have shaped Adonis “Creed” Johnson’s (Michael B. Jordan) life. Losing his father made him who he is.
Rocky challenges Ivan in Russia and defeats him. This disgrace causes Ivan to fall out of favor and he loses the status, support and respect being a boxer brought. He has lost everything but his son Victor (Florian Munteanu). He trains his son to be the champion he couldn’t be.
The opening scene we see Adonis take on the Champion and win this draws the attention of Ivan who sees his chance to regain everything he lost.
This is an incredible story that shows the growth of everyone. It’s not just a boxing sports movie it’s a story about redemption. Its strengths are about the lives of the two people trying to make alife and balance the demands of fame; one man trying to recapture fame and fortune by pushing his son to his limits and another man who is trying to reconcile his past and make a connection with his own family.
Adonis and his wife Bianca (Tess Thompson) move to LA to help her career and be closer to Adonis mother, Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad). Their onscreen chemistry is so engaging and wonderful to watch. It is a perfect love story that illustrates a great relationship of how two people can be a couple and still retain their own identity.
The rise and fall of the main character is the formula they use to shape this story around but its underlying theme is that family is the most important thing in our lives. No matter what we do or what we go through having a great support structure supporting you is paramount. It does include the tropes of other boxing movies but it’s not only those it’s so much more. The fight scenes are top notch and the training montage is outstanding but really it’s just frosting on a well-written cake.
Michael B. Jordan is outstanding in this role he has the range to pull of any role. Tess Thompson also brings her a game to this film as she is a strong character who is also vulnerable and tender. The story takes you by surprise; we have seen this story before but not in this way. I love the fact this is not a reboot or a rehash, it’s a continuation of a story that teaches us to never give up and hold fast to those who truly love us.
By Samantha Ofole-Prince
Enlightening and entertaining, this period piece laced with racial conflict and socially relevant humor is certain to snag several accolades this award season.
Set in the waning years of segregation, it’s an endearing comedy which centers on the relationship between a snobbish black concert pianist (Mahershala Ali) and his crass Italian driver Tony (Viggo Mortensen).
AcademyAward winning actor Ali, arguably America’s foremost actor, plays the real-life Dr. Don Shirley who in the 60s hired a New York City bouncer from an Italian-American neighborhood in The Bronx, to drive and protect him while on a concert tour from Manhattan to the Deep South.
Their relationship is almost adversarial at first from the moment Tony auditions for the eight-week gig, which pays $100 a week, for the idea of catering to a colored man isn’t initially appealing to him. Doc’s not like any of the African-Americans that he has grown up with in New York City, but he takes on the task after thesalary is increased. While on the road trip, his constant nattering, crass language and chain smoking irritates Doc and that’s where most of the comedy and humor comes from as both men clash, but as they spend time together in the Cadillac Coupe De Ville driving through the South in 1962, they begin to reveal themselves to one another.
The film primarily chronicles the obstacles the duo face together — institutionalized racism to prejudice to sexuality to stereotypes and the film takes its title from The Negro Motorist Green Book, an annual travel guide that was published annually from 1936 to 1966, which listed businesses and other establishments that served Black customers. In the U.S, it became invaluable in the South, where Jim Crow segregation laws varied by county and state, and unofficial rules in “Sundown towns” forbade Black Americans from being out after dark.
With fine acting, subtle direction by Peter Farrelly, the period details and dramatic aspects of the story are so well handled. The infectious humor in the film is organic, generated more out of situations and the contrasts between the characters and every one of these dramatic maelstromsmanages to appear fresh. With dry wit as well as genuine warmth, the movie never resorts to sentimentality and it’s the balance of humor and drama that makes Green Book powerfully authentic.
The film also showcases the musical talent of Dr. Donald Walbridge Shirley, the virtuoso pianist, composer, arranger, and performer. Linda Cardellini plays Dolores, Tony’s wife, the bassist, George, and cellist, Oleg, who together with pianist Shirley comprised The Don Shirley Trio are played by Mike Hatton and Dimiter Marinov.
A film that will force audiences to confront preconceptions and unexamined prejudices “Green Book” shows us that friendship is forged through small kindnesses, and laughs shared and is a sure bet for awards come next year.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
By Jon Rutledge
It seems old dogs can learn new tricks. Sony has made a move worthy of the Marvel brand. Sony’s past films have been all about how to leverage story to sell products. This time it’s a character-driven story and it’s outstanding. It has a great mix of action, humor, and tenderness. This film is a proper origin story that focuses on the character, not the powers.
Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is the new Spider-man but he has to learn what this means for him. We also get to see a glimpse of the origin of other Spider themed heroes as they all get pulled into one dimension. Our hero doesn’t follow the normal origin as both
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of his parents are living but he does have an uncle he looks up to, Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) and he seems to be a normal kid. I think this makes him more identifiable.
The filmmakers put their characters in difficult situations with hard choices. Watching Miles navigate this world and become a burgeoning hero is very compelling. Heroes need good villains and this one has brought in some excellent talent to voice King Pin (Liev Schreiber), Tombstone (Marvin ‘Krondon’ Jones III) and Doc Ock (Kathryn Hahn).
Villains need to have depth and their motivations need to be logical to be good, I mean a good bad guy. We can see what King Pin is doing and why he is doing it. He needs to be stopped, but his motivations make scenes. This is what completes this film so nicely. All the characters have clearly defined motivations.
Zoë Kravitz gives a memorable performance of Mary Jane. Her eulogy of the fallen hero is one of the reasons Miles feels the need to carry on the name of Spider-man. She inspires the best in all who remember Spider-man. Having Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) in the film as a love interest /mentor to Miles really ties up a lot of the characters we expect to see in a Spider-man film.
This is the first film to screen after the death of Stan Lee and I admit, it was hard to watch his cameo without feeling a wave of grief. Stan Lee made the superhero a normal person and therefore made them easy to connect with as if they could be among us. Some believe when you die you will live on in the memories people have of you. If they are right Stan Lee is an immortal and will never be forgotten.
The artwork is outstanding as well. They masterfully use different styles of animation to emphasize a character or show backstory or even to take us out of our normal reality to share in the experiences of the main characters. What stands out is how engaging all of the different spider heroes were, I could stand to see more films of each of them. Yes even Spider-ham, OK maybe a TV show for him.
This gives me hope we can see more because I am down for any direction they want to take from this point. This is an outstanding foundation to build a completely new franchise on. Swing by the theater and see this on the big screen, you won’t regret it.
Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman Receives Three SAG Nominations
By Samantha Ofole-Prince
Nominations for the 25th annual SAG Awards were announced on Wednesday with BlacKkKlansman taking home a trio of nods.
The SpikeLee directed drama based on the true story of an African-American detective who infiltrated and exposed the Ku Klux Klan earned an Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture nod and earned acting nods for its actors Adam Driver and John David Washington.
Awkwafina and Laverne Cox announced nominations live from the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood Calif. SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris introduced the presenters, who revealed nominations for acting in television and film. Prior to that, SAG Awards committee chair JoBeth Williams and committee member Elizabeth McLaughlin revealed this year’s stunt ensemble nominees.
The 25th Annual SAG Awards ceremony will be simulcast live on TNT and TBS on Jan. 27 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.