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“Creed II” Gets Raw and Rickety with Rocky-isms

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Creed II, despite showing no shortage of boxing enthusiasm, falls prey to all the predictable theatrics and pitfalls of a sports sequel. It takes the character of Adonis Creed and prepares him to weather familiar territory in the Rocky franchise, pumping him up for the long haul of taking on new challenges. It’s very much a “more” sequel; more intensity in the fights, more drama stirred up outside the ring, and more theatrical music to turn the one-on-one boxing matches into towering and thunderous battles of gods. And while Creed certainly still has some of that charm in its eyes and adrenaline in its veins, there’s an unfortunate feeling one can’t shake that there’s not a lot of new tricks for this spin-off franchise.

Michael B. Jordan still has the right stuff as Adonis Creed. He’s a fierce competitor when he slips on the gloves and a fearful mess when it comes to taking the next step in his relationship with his best girl Bianca (Tessa Thompson). His mentor Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) is still in his corner to coach his many matches but there’s one fight he won’t be there for. Remember Ivan Drago from Rocky IV? He’s back, reprised by Dolph Lundgren, and has a new young Russian contender, his son Viktor (Florian Munteanu), ready to defeat Rocky’s boxing apprentice. You may recall that Drago was the one who killed Creed’s father, Apollo. Time for a revenge fight!

Michael B. Jordan stars as Adonis Creed and Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa in
CREED II, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures film.
Credit: Barry Wetcher / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures / Warner Bros. Pictures
© 2018 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
All Rights Reserved.

The story makes its intentions clear from the first scene where Creed repeats the inspiring mantra of only fighting for himself and proving nothing to nobody else. Indeed, Jordan remains the centerpiece so prominently he pushes aside all other characters and arcs. Consider how Ivan has a lot riding on this fight, not only to seek revenge but also to gain the favor of his country and his ex-wife, who apparently left him for being a loser. It sounds a little too cartoonish of a villain plot and the film almost out of mercy never draws too much attention to this plight. Also absent from the second half is Buddy Marcelle (Russell Hornsby), another villain trying to push the boxing narrative of Creed vs. Drago and keep that match on the schedule. There’s a lingering theme amid these characters about when the fight isn’t worth it, yet all that questioning evaporates when the film quickly settles into being the guaranteed crowd pleaser of Adonis winning the fight.

Purely on the aspect of boxing, the film is neat to watch. It plays up the theatrics of the matches with an epic score and gets up close and personal with the punches. You feel every blow as the soundtrack boasts the brutal slugs to the face and ribs, almost as loud and grand as the epic music trying to drive the excitement up further. And while it is thrilling to get engaged in the main events of the picture, there’s that lesser drama that hinders a bigger film. Consider how Drago’s son seems defeated before the final blow is struck, more emotionally than physically. The triumphant punch across the face with a rousing reprisal of that old Rocky theme is all but assured at that point.

Florian Munteanu stars as Viktor Drago and Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed in CREED II,
a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures film.
Credit: Barry Wetcher / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures / Warner Bros. Pictures
© 2018 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
All Rights Reserved.

Where the film kept winning me back wasn’t so much in the fights but in the quieter drama. There’s an ease to scenes where Rocky and Creed are merely talking about family and what’s most important in life. The two of them ooze with warmth where I found myself particularly charmed at a simple departure of Creed asking if Rocky is good and he gives a relaxed assurance before strolling off to let Adonis purpose to Bianca. And while the scenes between Jordan and Thompson are rather sweet, there’s no stopping the power of Phylicia Rashad as Creed’s mother, dominating scenes where she playfully asks about kids and powerfully puts the boy in his place when it comes to choosing his battles.

While I enjoyed Creed II and have no doubt that it’ll inspire cheers in the theater, I couldn’t help but notice all the tired tropes being unearthed, properly dusted off as they may be. There’s a training montage, a fall from grace, and plenty of televised boxing decadence. The first Creed film was exciting and inspiring because it felt new and refreshing. Creed II, however, gets too comfortable with that old Rocky formula, where the film becomes more centered on the match than the character. We certainly get a rousing fight but little more than that as Creed II comes up abundant on muscle and lower on the relatable human aspects. Here’s hoping Creed III won’t feature him fighting Mr. T’s protege.


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Review: “Happy Death Day 2U” Goes From Clever to Confounding

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The sequel to 2017’s fresh and giddy horror concept of Happy Death Day comes crashing in with the least remarkable discovery: why the time loop that kept making one college student repeat the same day? The previous film was interesting and clever for featuring Jessica Rothe as the college student Tree, infected with Groundhog Day syndrome where she keeps reliving the same day until she cracks the mystery of her killer. It was a unique play on the murder mystery scenario without getting bogged down in specifics. Happy Death Day 2U, unfortunately, tries to explain the looping in a manner that is as clunky as it is unnecessary.

The story catches up with Tree, relieved that she has solved the case. But now science student Ryan (Phi Vu) is infected with the looping, once more being slaughtered by a mysterious figure in the iconic baby mask. Ryan explains this to Tree who is ready to go all Edge of Tomorrow on this scenario and stop the killer again. But due to a very convoluted smattering of multiverses, time travel, dimension hopping, and time devices assembled from technobabble, Tree soon finds herself right back where she started; same day, same events, but a new killer and new relationships.

And here is where the film loses sight quickly of its fun. We spend far more time trying to decipher the logic of Ryan’s time experiment that has caused Tree’s curse than we do with the drama and comedy of a different universe. And with so little time to enjoy it, the script concocts a quick and cheap method of tying all this together. Somber moments are assembled as corny melodrama, where Tree’s loving embrace of her now-revived mother carries far less gravitas than her fiercer moments of bitterly forcing herself through the motions. Playing with the dimension shifting and repeating lives grinds to a halt of exposition because Tree hasn’t watched Back to the Future and needs to be brought up to speed. Oh, and that whole murder mystery aspect? Yeah, the baby-masked killer is still lingering but the mystery behind the new attacker seems so secondary to the time loop nonsense its easy to forget that Tree has to crack this case because she honestly doesn’t have to. What’s the point of foiling the bad guy when the whole timeline will be reset one way or another?

Clearly, the film is going more for a comedic angle than a terrifying one in how it treats time-loop scenarios and horror situations with a knowing wink. But the gags spun from such a story come off decent at best and datedly drivel at their worst. Imagine my shock when in order to steal the keys from a cartoonish campus official, an acting student puts on the most stereotypical of French outfits and poses as a blind student that gets into all sorts of wacky slapstick as she babbles in damsel-style French. I started having bad flashbacks of similar scenes from the sequel to Porky’s. The more clever bits of Tree skydiving without a parachute and taking a chug of drain cleaner in the supermarket are sadly overshadowed by the lamest of kooky college kid antics that seem as though they were ripped directly out of a forgettable 1980s teen comedy or a rejected sitcom pilot.

Happy Death Day 2U is maddening for all the potential it squanders. Think about how much more unique the story could have been if Phi Vu took control of the story with Rothe the teacher of all things murder and death, ala Edge of Tomorrow. But the story aborts too quickly and decides to once again make the story about Tree, torn between deciding on a reality to favor when there’s little time to care about any of her crucial decisions among cartoony antics. And that off-the-rails ending left such a nasty aftertaste that I’m already dreading the inevitable Happy D3ath Day, where I fear Rothe’s keen sense of rage and roar will only grow hoarse.


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“Lego” Makes Little Splash at #1 For Weekend

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As we head into February, a larger crop of films are headed to the theater to take the top spot away from films that have been dominating the top 5 for quite some time. And while most of the older films were knocked a few spots down, the champions of the weekend didn’t exactly have the grandest of debuts for being so high on the charts.

While it’s no surprise that The Lego Movie 2, the sequel to 2014’s surprise hit of an animated film, was at #1, it wasn’t by as hefty an amount as the previous movie. The animated sequel premiered at $34 million, surprisingly weak considering how strong the last film did on its first weekend. Still, it’s by far the highest of the weekend box office. Just below it at #2 was the gender-based comedy What Men Want, starring Taraji P. Henson and Tracy Morgan, coming in with $19 million. And just below that was the thriller Cold Pursuit, starring Liam Neeson and Laura Dern, at #3 with $10.8 million. And debuting even further down at #6 is the new horror film The Prodigy with a weekend debut gross of $6 million.

Aside from the thriller Miss Bala taking the biggest dip of the weekend at 60%, most returning films took very low drops in box office. The lowest drops were for the heartwarming dramas of The Upside and Green Book, only dropping 16% and 18% respectively. Finally being knocked out of the top 5 was Aquaman with a current domestic gross of $328 million and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse with $179 million.

Check out the full top 10 for the weekend below:

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part ($34,400,000)

What Men Want ($19,000,000)

Cold Pursuit ($10,800,000)

The Upside ($7,220,000)

Glass ($6,422,000)

The Prodigy ($6,004,403)

Green Book ($3,567,000)

Aquaman ($3,300,000)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ($3,040,000)

Miss Bala ($2,725,000)

Next weekend will be Valentine’s Day weekend where romantic comedy will do battle against futuristic cyborgs and bloody curses. Isn’t It Romantic, the romantic comedy satire starring Rebel Wilson, will hit over 3,300 theaters. Happy Death Day 2U, the horror sequel about a woman who can’t stop by dying, will premiere to 3,000 theaters. And Alita: Battle Angel, the dystopian sci-fi adventure based on the classic manga, will premiere to 3,700 theaters.


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Review: “The LEGO Movie 2” Builds More of the Same

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There’s was such an inspiring surprise behind 2014’s The LEGO Movie that resculpted the landscape of property-based movies. LEGO already had several animated features on home video but the first theatrical film of the classic and still-popular toy brought things to a whole new level of entertainment. It managed to merge a positive message about family and creativity while still being a self-aware showcase of various franchises. But with The LEGO Movie 2, the originality mostly evaporates by following too close to the manual.

The problem is that this sequel tries to double itself up in the wrong areas. It begins where the first film left off, with the younger-targeted Duplo toys invading the LEGO world. They seem friendly and innocent at first but then terror strikes and the world is sent into chaos. Five years later, the LEGO community has grown defensive against the Duplos as a more Mad Max society. It’s an identifiable landscape for the likes of the hardened Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and the goofily-gritty Batman (Will Arnett) but not for the plucky Emmet (Chris Pratt). Even in the face of war threatening all that is brick, Emmet still jams to his tunes, drinks sugary coffee, and holds out for a better life.

The Duplos seemed to have evolved as well. A spaceship kidnaps most of the key characters and brings them to the questionably devious Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) of the Systar System. The Queen wants to marry Batman in hopes of bringing about some secret plan she assures everyone is not evil, which Wildstyle doesn’t buy so easily. It’s up to both her and Emmet to save their friends and the LEGO universe by halting the wedding with the help of the space outlaw, Rex. If they don’t, an evil prophecy could be fulfilled of Ar-mom-ageddon where everyone will be banished to the bin of Storage.

All the verbiage comes with the obvious referential gags that don’t surprise much past what the first film accomplished. The story obviously steers towards the live-action tale of a brother and sister learning to come together with age. A sweet lesson but one that can be seen coming a mile away without any twists, despite a solid supporting performance by Maya Rudolph as the mother. Within the LEGO world, however, there are a handful of twists that don’t rattle the cage but at least give it a good kick. We learn more about Wildstyle’s background, Emmet’s desire to be tougher, Batman’s feelings about settling down, and the true plan of the girly toys. And while the twist of all these characters are telegraphed, they’re at least presented in a manner manic enough to keep up with the fast and frantic pacing of the comedy and action.

What didn’t let me down as much were the songs which are more abundant and pleasing than the previous film. Even though the film’s new catchy song is literally called “Catchy Song” with the lyrics “This song is gonna get stuck inside your head” repeated over and over, I can’t deny there’s a twinge of truth to its absurdity. I also really enjoyed a revision of “Everything is Awesome” and a bouncy song by Haddish about trying to make Batman jealous.

The LEGO Movie 2 proceeds as most sequels do by repeating what works, only providing a few more dashes of absurdity and surprise. But after two LEGO theatrical spin-offs since the first film, the bag of tricks is starting to wear thin, to the point where cameos must literally be pointed out to the audience with the guest characters addressed by celebrity name and profession. And that winking nature can only go so far, even when pointing out the sloppy logic of time travel and how all of this is just within the imagination of a boy. There’s still a bit of fun to be had within the knowing and playful nature of the picture but the age is certainly showing as it may be time to pack this franchise up for storage before it gets too weird for its own good.


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