Film Crazy: “Creed II,” “Green Book” and “Widows”

“Creed II” (Released) The theater was packed, and I don’t recall having heard a louder outburst of cheering for any movie moment. Was it predictable? Yes. Did it deliver what the fans wanted? Absolutely. Despite “Creed” (2015) Director Ryan Coogler opting to make “Black Panther” instead of this sequel to his own movie, I’ve seen proof that it’s clearly a crowd-pleaser,  which is what the “Rocky” franchise has always done best. Michael B. Jordan returns as Adonis Johnson/Creed and Sylvester Stallone is back as Rocky Balboa. And although that would likely be enough, we also have Tessa Thompson, Adonis’ girlfriend Bianca and Phylicia Rashad as Adonis’ mom, both also from “Creed.” We see an early training/boxing sequence in Russia featuring (professional boxer and chiseled human mountain) Florian Munteanu as Viktor Drago being trained by his father, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). If you are a fan of the franchise at all, you know exactly where this is headed. Wisely the relationship between Adonis and Bianca is a key element this time. Mr. Jordan and Ms. Thompson have tremendous chemistry, and the filmmakers deserve credit for hitting the hearing-impaired issue head-on. It’s a topic that’s rarely seen in movies, and is handled very well.  For fans, it’s great to see Rocky Balboa and Ivan Drago back in the ring together — even if only for a moment; however, maybe not as thrilling (dramatically speaking) as when the two first reunite Godfather-style in a table at Adrian’s Café. It’s a surreal moment that both Lundgren and Stallone play perfectly — one with pent-up emotional turmoil and the other quite content with what life has delivered. Of course, Sly can play Rocky in his sleep… and he’s comfortable with the shuffles and mumbles of an elderly Rocky and it’s a pleasure to watch an old friend.   “Green Book” (Released) “Green Book” (not the official book title) was a travel guide highlighting safe places for African Americans to stay, eat and visit from the 1930s through the mid-1960s. Yes, it was a real publication and yes, there was a real need for it during the Jim Crow era. The book makes for a nice movie title, but this dramedy from director Peter Farrelly focuses more on the budding friendship of two men from vastly different worlds separated by a few city blocks. Farrelly is one-half of the infamous Farrelly Brothers who have directed some raunchy comedy hits as “There’s Something About Mary” (1998) and “Dumb and Dumber” (1994). This is quite the change of pace for him, as it is for co-stars Mahershala Ali (Oscar winner last year for “Moonlight”) and heavy drama actor Viggo Mortensen. We see a crisp blend of the era’s harsh racism and the inherent comedy of a buddy road trip featuring a working class NYC Italian-American and an upper crust, well-educated, world class African-American pianist. Inspired by the true story of this trip and the lifelong friendship that ensued, we get to know both men as they get to know each other. Tony Lip is a streetwise man who is comfortable with his lot in life, while Dr. Shirley plays his role in society while quietly stewing internally. He flashes his toothy grin to disarm the adoring white audiences, but then sucks down his Cutty Sark in the evening, as he is good enough to perform for them, but not good enough to dine with them (or even use their restroom). There are times the racism gets violent and that’s where Tony Lip comes in. The film is a showcase for two terrific actors, and for those that don’t know, the real Tony Lip appeared in a few projects such as “The Sopranos” and “Donnie Brasco.”  I expect to see these two actors get some love at Oscar time, and this is one of the few films that can be recommended to just about every movie lover.   “Widows” (Released) The story follows four women, led by Veronica (the amazing Viola Davis) who come together after Veronica’s husband, Harry (Liam Neeson), and his crew of criminals are killed during a heist. Veronica then gathers most of the widows as they need to pull off another job to help settle things in their life, and with an angered gang leader, who was the individual Harry robbed. If Davis and Neeson aren’t enough of a draw for you (and they should be, as they most definitely carry the film), then might I add that this is one of the greatest ensembles put together I have seen in a long time. Icons like Robert Duvall, big names like Colin Farrell, new stars like Elizabeth Debicki and Daniel Kaluuya, action mavens like Michelle Rodriguez, and some of the best actors television has offered in recent memory.   Unfortunately, I felt so many of the characters were stereotypes. Tom Mulligan (Duvall) and Jatemme Mannin (Kaluuya) stuck out the most. Mulligan was just a mean, old coot with all the characteristics we’ve come to hate. He was rich, white, racist and politically corrupt. His character didn’t even completely seem necessary. Jack Mulligan, his son (played by Farrell), was the more interesting and layered character, caught between his father’s crimes, his hatred for his father, yet still pushing to maintain the legacy his family has built. If you removed the older Mulligan, the film would have remained pretty much the same which is a true waste of Duvall’s talents. Kaluuya, who broke out in last year’s “Get Out” was the biggest waste. While the character had almost nothing to give a solid actor like Kaluuya, I even found the way he was played too over-the-top, throwing paraplegics from wheelchairs and killing without reason or remorse. You can’t argue that a film, with its pedigree of direction, writing and one of the most impressive casts recruited is a Festival Film. You also can’t argue that it will have thousands of fans clamoring to see it in theaters. What I can argue is whether it is the film it could have been. The potential with this group of artists far exceeds what was actually presented, but more importantly, so much of the movie has been done before. I felt with all the talent this film had going in, what came out of it made the film I am most disappointed with this awards season.     DVD Recommendation: Taking Chance (2009) This is a movie that says more about bravery and honor than many other war movies. And its message sounds and appears better than movies made of the Second World War, Vietnam War, or any other war. Based on a true story, this one follows Lt Col Mike Strobl (Kevin Bacon), a military man who volunteered to escort the body of 19-year-old Marine Chance Phelps back to his hometown of Dubois, Wyoming. While on this journey he realizes his importance and how people get touched by his gesture. It’s a good portrayal about the people who stand up for something by sacrificing their lives for the country they love. Instead of showing us battle scenes, the movie opts to include a conversation between Bacon’s character and a soldier friend of Chance about how he died saving everybody else. It’s a very touching scene.  After that Mike has a brief conversation with a war veteran where he thinks he should have been a better person or he could have done more if he had gone to Iraq. The old man replies that what Mike’s says is nonsense. And we must agree with that. He’s doing a noble thing, a great thing for his country even outside of enemy lines.

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