Creed III

Posted on March 2, 2023 at 5:12 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sports action, violence, and some strong language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Very intense fight scenes
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: March 3, 2023

Copyright 2023 Warner Brothers
The challenge for a movie series is like the challenge for a prize-fighter. No matter how big the triumph last time, the next one is even tougher. Expectations are higher. The people are older. And, when it comes to the Rocky/Creed series, even after a reboot, you still have to take someone who had a happy ending in the last one and figure out how to give him a meaningful challenge that will get the audience invested again. Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) ended chapter 2 rich, successful, married to the love of his life, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), father to an adorable little girl. As chapter 3 begins, he has all of that and is retired, with a gym of his own to support up and coming fighters, especially top-ranked Felix (played by real-life boxer Jose Benavidez). What could possibly make us think of him as an underdog?

The answer is: unfinished business. Adonis comes out of the gym to see a man lounging on his car. “You don’t remember me, do you?” It is someone from his past, someone who brings up conflicted feelings that he has spent years avoiding.

The man is Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors), just out of prison. He and Adonis lived together in a group home. Back then, Damian was the fighter, and the younger Adonis was his cornerman. We find out later in the movie what the details were, but both them have wondered what would have happened if it had been Adonis who went to prison and Damian who had a shot at the title.

At first, Damian is humble and grateful, at least it seems so, and Adonis wants to help him. But soon Damian is in the Rocky slot, coming out of nowhere for a shot at the title. And if you think Adonis is going to stay retired then (1) you haven’t see the poster or (2) you haven’t ever seen a Rocky movie.

The script is not as strong as the previous two Creed movies but the fight scenes are exceptionally well-staged, as someone who spent two movies on the inside of those scenes might well understand. With the emotion behind it, the charged history. Damian is certain that he deserves this for all the time he lost, that he deserves to take from Adonis all he thinks Adonis took from him. Adonis has to face the guilt he feels over what happened to Damian and

Parents should know that this movie has very intense boxing scenes and other peril and violence involving young boys, some strong language, and sexual references.

Family discussion: What did Adonis owe Damian? Why didn’t Adonis tell Bianca the truth about his early life?

If you like this, try: the two previous “Creed” movies and the first three “Rocky” movies

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Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse

Posted on April 29, 2021 at 5:34 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and action-style violence including shooting and fight scenes, many characters injured and killed, including assassinations and the murder of a pregnant woman
Diversity Issues: Some references to historical abuse
Date Released to Theaters: April 30, 2021

Copyright Amazon Studios 2021
Let’s get right to the good stuff. As we should expect from a 1993 action-adventure spy story based on a book by Tom Clancy, this movie has all kinds of shoot-outs and fights plus two excellent underwater scenes. Also, Michael B. Jordan is, as ever, wonderfully charismatic as an actor and he takes his shirt off, also very charismatic. The cast also includes Guy Pearce and Jamie Bell, always good to see and, as always, nailing their American accents.

Let’s face it, that’s pretty much what we’re looking for here, and it delivers pretty much what we expect, unless you’re looking for the characters and events of the book, which is set in 1970 during the Vietnam war and differs in most of the details.

Nevertheless, the problem is that everything else is pretty much what we expect, very predictable given the author and the title. The focus is more on action and on creating a heroic franchise-worthy character than in making the story particularly compelling or credible.

Jordan plays John Kelly, a Navy SEAL we first see on a mission to rescue a hostage in Aleppo that does not go well. Later, he is at a party at his home, getting water for his wife, Pam (Lauren London), who is weeks from the due date for delivering their daughter. But the SEALS who participated in the Aleppo mission start getting murdered. They come for John, who is seriously wounded, and Pam is killed.

John’s first words when he regains consciousness in the hospital: “I just need a name.” Nothing matters to him anymore but destroying whoever it was who destroyed his life. He needs his former colleagues in the military and the CIA to help him get the information he needs. His equivalent of Liam Neeson’s “special set of skills” comment is in one of the movie’s best lines: “You need someone like me. And there is no one else like me.”

This story takes place in the TCCU, Tom Clancy Cinematic Universe, and John’s military contact is Karen Greer, niece of the Vice Admiral/Deputy CIA Chief played by James Earl Jones in the Jack Ryan movies. Unfortunately, the role is poorly cast, and the reserved delivery and statuesque beauty that made Jodie Turner-Smith so compelling in “Queen & Slim” does not work well for that character. In fairness, even Bell and Pearce fade into the background for much of their time on screen, partly because of their thinly written characters but mostly because Jordan is fierce and compelling and so fiery on screen you need someone with the pure star power of Tessa Thompson (“Creed”) or Chadwick Bozeman (“Black Panther”) to match him. Ideally, you’d want a script worthy of him, but for now, the action scenes will do.

Parents should know that this is an extremely intense and violent film with many scenes of military/spy peril and violence, including shoot-outs, fights, stabbing, fires, and drowning. A pregnant woman is murdered and many characters are injured and killed. There is also some strong language and social drinking.

Family discussion: How did John decide who he could trust? How did his training help him do what he wanted to do? When did he show his emotions?

If you like this, try: “Taken” and the John Wick movies

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Just Mercy

Posted on January 9, 2020 at 5:26 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic content including some racial epithets
Profanity: Strong language including n-word and other racist terms
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: References to violent crimes, non-explicit depiction of an execution
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: January 10, 2020
Date Released to DVD: April 13, 2020
Copyright Warner Brothers 2019

The third 2019 awards season story based on a real-life lawyer stars producer Michael B. Jordan as Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Legacy Museum (sometimes referred to as the Lynching Museum) and National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The movie shows him as a young graduate of Harvard Law School who moved to the small town where Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. Like Lee’s Atticus Finch, Stevenson defends those who were unfairly accused. He established the Equal Justice Initiative. The only other staff was a local woman named Eva Ansley (Brie Larson). Stevenson began helping men on death row at no cost.

The local community, especially law enforcement, did not like having old cases re-opened and weaknesses of evidence and exposed. The hostility and obstruction seemed insurmountable. But Stevenson was undaunted. Unlike most heroic lawyers in movies (and real life), this story does not have family members complaining that he is working too hard or a love interest who feels neglected. Stevenson does not lose his temper or feel like giving up. The great gift of this movie is what sometimes, if you are not watching carefully, may make it seem like its pilot light is turned down too low. This movie does have some rousing moments (and some sad ones) but it does not follow the usual courtroom underdog stories that make the intricacies of the judicial system follow the beats of a feel-good sports story.

Jordan is that rare performer who is a superb actor and a full-on movie star. After his electrifying appearance in “Black Panther,” he shows his range as a lawyer whose only superpowers are his integrity and his constant courtesy toward everyone he deals with. client, friend, and foe. The quiet power of the respect he shows to his clients is critical to gaining their trust and to restoring their sense of dignity in a system that has done its best to take it from them. And it is wisely given as much weight here as any revelation of evidence or legal right left out of the original proceedings.

Director and co-writer Destin Daniel Cretton also treats Stevenson’s clients with respect, with an outstanding performance by Jamie Foxx as Stevenson’s first significant client. It’s a quieter role than we have seen him in for a while, and his subtle work here is extraordinary, telling us the whole history of a man who has never been able to expect fairness for himself or his family. Rob Morgan plays another prisoner, performed with heartwrenching simplicity and delicacy to bring home to us what brought Stevenson to devote his life to this cause.

Parents should know that this movie concerns men on death row and abuses of the justice system. It includes some strong language, including racist epithets, and references to sexual assault and violent crime an a non-explicit depiction of an execution.

Family discussion: Why was it important for Stevenson to address his clients and their families as Mr. and Mrs.? What kept him from giving up?

If you like this, try: Bryan Stevenson’s book and TED Talk, and documentary

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MVP of the Month: Real-Life Heroic Lawyers

Posted on December 16, 2019 at 9:21 am

Copyright Warner Brothers 2019
At awards season, we often get uplifting real-life stories and this year we have three that are about heroic lawyers fighting for justice against almost insurmountable odds. Here they are, with a little background on the real stories.

Mark Ruffalo as Rob Bilott in “Dark Waters

Billot was profiled by the New York Times, which dubbed him DuPont’s Biggest Nightmare. “Rob Bilott was a corporate defense attorney for eight years. Then he took on an environmental suit that would upend his entire career — and expose a brazen, decades-long history of chemical pollution.”

Michael B. Jordan as Bryan Stevenson in “Just Mercy”

Stevenson is a Harvard Law graduate who has spent his career in the town where the man who inspired the most beloved lawyer in movie history, Atticus Finch, practiced law. And like Finch, he defends those who have been unfairly accused and not had adequate access to counsel. He is also the Founder of the stunning Legacy Museum and National Memorial to Peace and Justice, sometimes called the Lynching Museum because of its extraordinary challenge to communities to acknowledge their past.

HBO has a documentary about Stevenson and his Equal Justice Initiative.

Sam Rockwell as Watson Bryant in “Richard Jewell

Clint Eastwood’s “Richard Jewell” is based on the true story of the man who was initially hailed as a hero for discovering a bomb at a concert celebrating the Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, and then accused of planting it to make himself famous. Watson Bryant was the lawyer who represented him, proving that the FBI and the local and national media were irresponsible to the point of negligence and abuse.

The movie was inspired by a Vanity Fair article called “American Nightmare” by Marie Brenner. Here is what she said about the lawyer who happened on to Jewell because they had briefly worked together:

The simple fact was that Bryant had no qualifications for the job. He had no legal staff except for his assistant, Nadya Light, no contacts in the press, and no history in Washington. He was the opposite of media-savvy; he rarely read the papers and never watched the nightly news, preferring the Discovery Channel’s shows on dog psychology. Now that Richard Jewell was his client, he had entered a zone of worldwide media hysteria fraught with potential peril. Jewell suspected that his pickup truck had been flown in a C-130 transport plane to the F.B.I. unit at Quantico in Virginia, and Bryant worried that his friend would be arrested any minute. Worse, Bryant knew that he had nothing going for him, no levers anywhere. His only asset was his personality; he had the bravado and profane hyperbole of a southern rich boy, but he was in way over his head.

You can see the real Bryant here:

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The Real Story

Creed II

Posted on November 20, 2018 at 10:37 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sports action violence, language, and a scene of sensuality
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Intense and graphic fight scenes, serious injury, fighter killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: November 20, 2018
Date Released to DVD: March 4, 2019
Copyright 2018 Warner Brothers

Like a Timex watch and like Rocky himself, the Rocky franchise takes a licking and keeps on ticking. Here we are, four decades later, and Rocky Balboa is still going. “Creed,” written and directed by Ryan Coogler in between “Fruitvale Station” and “Black Panther,” was an unexpected upgrade, as Adonis Creed, the son of Rocky’s opponent in the original Oscar-winning film took over, angry, with a chip on his shoulder, and itching for a fight. Michael B. Jordan is a brilliant actor with sizzling screen charisma, and it was, well, a knockout. He was on his way to becoming a champ and to making a life with a beautiful hearing-impaired singer (Tessa Thompson).

Coogler produced this next chapter, Creed 2, written by the original Rocky, Sylvester Stallone, who returns as Creed’s coach and mentor, the guy you always want in your corner. And one thing Stallone knows how to do is step up the stakes. Entertainment Weekly once wrote that “It’s hard to find anything more 80’s than Rocky IV.” Just before the Cold War would draw to a close, “Rocky IV” had Stallone battling a Soviet fighting machine named Drago (Dolph Lundgren) with an ice queen of a wife (Brigitte Nielsen, who would be Mrs. Stallone briefly).  After Drago kills Apollo Creed in the ring, Rocky fights him on behalf of Apollo and of course on behalf of America and freedom, and Rocky-ism.

And now, in the eighth film in the series, Drago’s son, trained by his bitter, brutal father (Lundgren again), challenges Adonis, newly crowned heavyweight champion, to a fight on behalf of Apollo, America, freedom, and Rocky-ism.  One fighter is bigger and tougher, but he has been trained with hate. The other has been trained with heart . Time for the classic Bill Conti score again.

Michael B. Jordan is mesmerizing on screen and so completely authentic that he makes even the soapiest moments real and engrossing.  Is Rocky going to refuse to train Adonis to fight Drago’s son (Florian Munteanu) just to create an opportunity for extra drama? Will there be ten-counts? Will there be a proposal, a baby, a reconciliation? Maybe two? Cornerman pep talks about “this is your house” and commentary on the business side of boxing (“The belt ain’t enough — you need a narrative, something that sticks to the ribs”)?  Decadent Russian oligarchs in a dining room that looks like it belongs to Count Dracula?  A camera shot that makes us feel like one of Drago, Jr.’s fists is coming right at us?  Callbacks to “Rocky IV?”  (In that film, Lundgren said only 46 words. In this one, he says a few more but some of them are the same words. Nielsen, on the other hand, is in the film but her ex-husband did not give her more than a few words to say.)  Dramatic moments in the audience, as women watch the fights — or don’t?  All of that, plus, in case we miss anything, a lot of expository narration from the sports announcers. 

Oh sure, it’s cheese.  But it’s Rocky, and it still works.

Parents should know that this film includes extended and graphic scenes of boxing with severe injuries, references to a boxer who died following a fight, brief strong language, and a non-explicit sexual situation.

Family discussion: How did the different goals Adonis and Viktor had for the fight affect them? What made Ivan Drago change his mind? What do we learn from Adonis’ night with the baby?

If you like this, try: the “Rocky” movies and “Warrior”

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Drama DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies -- format Series/Sequel Sports
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