Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is living the highlife; he has a loving family and while he’s retired from boxing he’s still in that world as a gym owner and boxing promoter. When his childhood best friend Damien Anderson (Jonathan Majors), a boxing prodigy, re-enters Adonis’s life after a long stint in prison, he’s eager to prove he deserves a shot in the ring – no matter who might stand in his way.
Creed III takes place seven years after the events of Creed II and the film does such a good job at showing that passage of time and how the characters lives have changed. Donnie has retired though is still heavily involved with the boxing world and Bianca (Tessa Thompson) has been winning awards for her music and while Donnie is shaping up-and-coming young boxers, she’s writing and producing new musical talent. Their daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent) is deaf and it was so good to see how her parents and grandmother (Phylicia Rashad) were fluent in sign language and how their home was fully accessible for her too, such as having lights flash when the doorbell rang. Obviously, any loving parent should be eager to learn new things in order to communicate with their child, but it was so nice seeing this kind of family which you don’t tend to see in a big mainstream film. (more…)
Adonis “Donnie” Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is the champion and has everything going for him in his life with his mentor Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson) by his side. When Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the man who killed Donnie’s father in the ring, steps onto the scene, Donnie has the fight of his life on his hands.
There’s something about the films in this franchise that brings out performances one wouldn’t expect from its aging action stars. Stallone is still great here, like he often was throughout the series, but it’s Lundgren that impressed me this time. You don’t get to spend a lot of time with the Drago’s but it gives you enough to see what the relationship between this father and son is like. Almost naturally Viktor is full of hate thanks to the environment he grew up in but seeing how he and his father clash as Ivan pushes him in order to reclaim the family honour is interesting and the other side of the coin compared to Rocky and Donnie’s relationship.
The parallel of Rocky training in the snow for his fight against Ivan Drago in Rocky IV with Donnie training in the desert for his fight against Viktor Drago is exquisite. Sure, like Creed was a twist on the first Rocky, Creed II has similar beats to a few other Rocky films, but that doesn’t mean Creed II isn’t a really enjoyable time. The desert training montage is one of the series best and the music choices there, and throughout the film to be honest, are brilliant.
In Creed, Stallone was kind of the scene stealer but in Creed II it is most definitely Michael B. Jordan’s film. Donnie goes through a lot of physical and emotional turmoil and the way Jordan captures that, especially some of the internal battles he’s going through, is excellent. Donnie and Bianca’s relationship is wonderful and it’s so nice to see the romantic couple still together and stronger than ever in the sequel. Thompson and Jordan have great chemistry and adding a baby into their family dynamic adds a whole new set of responsibilities and pressures on Donnie’s shoulders.
Creed II is a worthy sequel as it has all the emotional beats you’d expect from this franchise plus the fights are exciting and here you really feel the punches. Thanks to the sound design, when there’s serious injuries like broken ribs you can hear them happen and the performances makes these fights feel a lot more real and dangerous. Creed II is a great continuation of the Rocky and Apollo legacy but I’m looking forward to seeing how Donnie and this franchise can step out of their shadow with Creed III. 4/5.
Adonis “Donnie” Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) never knew his famous father, world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, who died in the ring before he was born. Fighting is in his blood and Donnie tracks down his father’s former rival turned friend Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to ask him to train him.
While Creed is a sequel/part of the Rocky franchise, it’s definitely the kind of clever “reboot” where you can watch it without knowing anything of the previous films. That certainly what I did the first time I watched it and I loved it then, just as I loved it this time. I won’t lie though, there is something nice to see the references and call backs to the previous films in this one and there’s the odd scene that has maybe a bit more emotional weight knowing what came before it decades ago.
The other smart thing Creed does is how it balances the legacy of this franchise with what Donnie as a character is going through. Donnie wants to carve out his own name for himself and not just get things handed to him because of his family name, but as things progress he comes to a realisation that he can be his own man but that doesn’t change the fact of who his father is. He can embrace the name “Creed” without living in his father’s shadow. The film itself goes a similar route and while it is no doubt an excellent film on its own, embracing what came before it just adds something extra special to Creed.
There are still fights in Creed but it’s really the characters and their everyday relationship drama which is the focus of this film. That’s not to say they skimp on the fights, when they’re there, they’re exciting and well shot. The fight about midway through the film is a standout as while I’m sure there’s the computer trickery putting in the edits where needed, it looks like the whole fight, including when each boxer is in their corner in between each round, is all in one take. It really immerses you in the action and I have no clue how they got the cuts to appear on each fighter’s face without you seeing the makeup artists.
Michael B. Jordan is excellent in Creed and conveys that emotional turmoil of trying to find a place to belong and a family without just living off your famous relatives’ names. The family he builds is Rocky, who he starts calling “Unc” pretty much as soon as they met much to Rocky’s bemusement, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), his musician girlfriend, and his adoptive mother Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad). I kind of loved what Creed says about family because here’s Rocky that’s lost his wife and best friend/brother-in-law and his own son lives in another country, so while he doesn’t have any close blood family either, with Donnie’s help he also gets a second chance at a different kind of family.
Stallone is just jaw-droppingly good in Creed and his Rocky is just tired and almost willing to give up on life until Donnie comes along. Their relationship is at the core of this film and they both push at each other to keep fighting.
Everything about Creed is so well done which shouldn’t be a surprise now with hindsight as director and co-writer Ryan Coogler repeatedly surrounds himself with excellent artists and collaborators. Composer Ludwig Göransson’s score has its own vibe to it but when it incorporates the Rocky theme it does so at just the right moment.
In the era of reboots/legacy sequels Creed is far better than probably anyone was expecting. It does exactly what it set out to do, pay homage to great characters like Rocky and Apollo while forging a new character in Donnie that can stand on their own two feet. Creed blends emotion, drama, and high stakes fights brilliant and overall, it is an excellent film, whether you’ve seen the Rocky films or not. 5/5.
Unsure of his life and what he wants from it, Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) mid-life crisis is interrupted by Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), a galactic killer who seeks the extinction of the gods. Thor enlists the help of King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Taika Waititi) and his ex-girlfriend Dr Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who is now the Mighty Thor and wields Mjolnir, to stop the God Butcher.
Thor: Love and Thunder is style over substance. I feel at one time I may have had that criticism for Thor: Ragnarok but at least there the tone was mostly balanced and there was still a decent plot and character work. In Love and Thunder it’s all bright colours (except in the Shadow Realm which is the one stylistic thing and sequence I found interesting) and rock music and it’s so tonally inconsistent and the jokes are juvenile and grating. There’s running gags in Love and Thunder that may have been a bit cringey but generally OK the first time but the fact that they just keep going with that joke it feels like it’s flogging a dead horse and even if it was a little funny to begin with, in the end it becomes so unfunny that it’s painful. The jokes also often come at the expense of the drama and supposedly more emotional, hard-hitting moments which is annoying. Also, if you’re like me and only really like Korg in small doses, then Love and Thunder may be grating at times as that is a “funny” character I do not find amusing.
The tonal inconsistences aren’t just the humour undercutting dramatic moments, but how in some ways Gorr feels completely out of place to the rest of the film. Christian Bale is great in the role and is creepy and gives a great performance. Gorr is so serious, and perhaps a little mad, so when he comes up against a God that’s self-indulgent and arrogant it’s kind of jarring. You could say this is on purpose – showing how the Gods don’t care about the people that worship them and how they just want to live in opulence and have all the food, wine, and sex that they could ask for – thus giving Gorr all the more reason to kill the Gods. However as elsewhere in Love and Thunder there’s humour undercutting dramatic moments and drastic tonal shifts it feels like it’s part of a wider issue.
One of my biggest problems with Thor: Love and Thunder is Thor as a character. In films of all genres, I can kind of forgive a weaker plot if the character work is good. Especially in franchise films, if I like a character, I just enjoy seeing them and how they’ve grown and adapted to whatever situation they’re in and what’s going on around them isn’t such a big deal for me. With Thor: Love and Thunder the plot isn’t great and neither is the character work. Thor seems like he has regressed as a character and is back to being the arrogant man-child he was at the start of Thor. The whole point of the first film his him learning some humility, that actions have consequences and you can’t always go charging in like a bull in a China shop. Over the past however many Thor and Avengers movies Thor has learnt the smashing things without first attempting diplomacy isn’t the answer. In Love and Thunder, he doesn’t seem to care about anyone, including the Asgardian people he’s supposed to love and protect; summoning the Bifrost in buildings, destroying sacred temples as he stops bad guys, and just generally acting like an irresponsible buffoon.
Though she’s now King, Valkyrie gets no real development, any hints at a genuine friendship between her and Jane are few and far between and she is regulated to Thor’s sidekick once again. Jane and her heavy origin story and rise as the Mighty Thor feels shafted due to it being surrounded by flat jokes doing wrong by her as a character and what she’s going through. Plus, as it’s been a while since we’ve seen the character, the Jane/Thor romance feels underdeveloped even as the film gives a copious number of flashbacks to try and make you care about it.
Thor: Love and Thunder relies on the (unfunny) banter between characters rather than any real meaningful dialogue or emotion and does a disservice to all of its character. It definitely feels like Thor: Love and Thunder didn’t work when the thing that got the biggest reaction from me was an actor’s appearance in the midcredits scene. The rest of the film didn’t particularly make me feel happy or sad and I may have smiled a couple of times or chuckled but never full on laughed at anything that happened on screen. 2/5.
Perhaps I’m being generous with a 2/5 rating but that’s what I’ve settled on. I liked Gorr and the Shadow Realm sequence but everything else, not so much. As someone who tends to have mixed to positive feelings about Thor: Ragnarok, Thor: Love and Thunder is a serious step down.
When inmate Joan Anderson (Melissa Leo) is granted one weekend out of prison to see her dying mother, rookie correction officer Nicole Stevens (Tessa Thompson) struggles to keep her under control.
Time Out (or Furlough as it was apparently originally called) is a comedy drama that doesn’t really have any decent comedy in it. Leo and Thompson play the typical odd couple roles, Leo’s Anderson is carefree and impulsive and is more than happy to take advantage of her naïve caretaker, while Thompson’s Stevens is straightlaced and stressed about this assignment and the fact that she’s leaving her forgetful mother (Whoopi Goldberg) at home alone. This duo doesn’t really have the chemistry that you need to make this kind of dynamic work. Anderson comes off as super self-centred for the majority of the film, and then when it tries to add some depth to her character it feels cheap.
While not the focus of the film, I did like the relationship between Nicole and her mother. While it’s not explicitly stated what condition her mother has, as someone who has multiple relatives live with dementia, I think that’s clear that’s what the screenwriter and Goldberg’s performance was going for. It really captured how a carer gets no time for themselves, even when they’re supposed to be working, and the frustrations of having to answer the same questions over and over again. I especially liked the entitlement of Nicole’s sister Brandy (La La Anthony) when she had to look after their mother for one weekend when Nicole has been doing it every hour of every day for who knows how long previously.
That side plot aside, the plot of Time Out is very generic and predictable. A lot of the “comedic” moments are more cringey than anything else, and personally I didn’t laugh once. Melissa Leo and Tessa Thompson are both incredibly talented actresses, but they are both given little to do here and nothing about their characters or performances really stands out. 2/5.
It seems like every classic animated Disney film will eventually be given a live action remake and 1955’s Lady and the Tramp is one of the latest to get the treatment.
While I’d watched the animated Lady and the Tramp many times as a child, it’s one that hadn’t really stuck in my mind so seeing this version made the story a new experience. Lady and the Tramp is the story of sheltered uptown Spaniel Lady (Tessa Thompson) and streetwise mutt Tramp (Justin Theroux) who meet when Lady’s life is disrupted by a new arrival.
If I had to pick one word to describe Lady and the Tramp, it would be charming. The costumes, the setting and score, it’s all so quaint. It’s also a charmingly familiar story even if you’ve not seen the animated film before. There’s something comforting about a story where you know what’s going to happen and the various character types – both human and dog in this scenario.
The combination of real dogs and CGI works very well here and isn’t uncanny valley like the “live action” aka completely computer-generated version of The Lion King. The animals are cute and the way their mouths are animated to move when they talk is easy to get used to especially with dogs like Tramp and Jock (Ashley Jensen) who have hairier and shorter muzzles.
Thompson and Theroux’s vocal performances are delightful, though it’s perhaps Janelle Monáe as Peg who really stands out. She sings a jazzier version of “He’s a Tramp” that’s great. Speaking of songs, the culturally insensitive “Siamese Cat Song” is not here, instead the troublemaking cats (who are a different breed to Siamese) sing a new fast paced song all about how they enjoy doing whatever they want.
The human cast are wonderful in their roles. Thomas Mann and Kiersey Clemons play Lady’s owners Jim Dear and Darling. Their romance is sweet and the drama in their lives compliments what is going on with Lady. The dogcatcher (Adrian Martinez) has a much larger role is and the main antagonist for Tramp. There are some fun sequences of Tramp taking the dogcatcher for a fool and the blend of animation and real animal in them is often near seamless.
Lady and the Tramp is perhaps more for children with some of its silly moments and jokes, but it’s still a film that adults can enjoy – whether they have nostalgia goggles on or not. 4/5.
Ollie (Tessa Thompson), a reformed drug runner who was caught coming back from Canada with medicine for her dying mother is trying to do the right thing when her sister Deb (Lily James) arrives on her doorstep in need of help. As the sisters try to get the money together to stop their family home from being reposed, Ollie must go back to the dangerous way of life she thought she’d left behind.
Little Woods is described as a modern Western and that description makes sense. Ollie does illegal things, crossing the border into Canada to buy drugs, to help people. The people she sells the prescription drugs to are her friends and neighbours who often don’t have insurance or the time or the money to go to the hospital to get treated themselves. This job Ollie finds herself in, is not one she enjoys, and she is in constant fear that she’ll get caught, but when things get tough for her and her sister, they have very few options. She’s fighting the system and helping the little guy while in a town that feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere.
Little Woods shows how messed up the American health care system is when a pregnancy can cost at least $8,000, and getting an abortion is even more difficult. Never mind all the other health care costs characters in Little Woods face, and as they are in a former oil boomtown with very few financial prospects, it’s like a hopeless cycle.
Tessa Thompson and Lily James both give a brilliant performance full of pain as they struggle to dig themselves out of the bleak situations they are in. Thompson is the lead and the main focus of the film but the strong sisterly bond the two of them have is palpable and it adds another dimension to Little Woods as each of their actions are not just for themselves, but to help each other.
Director and writer Nia DaCosta allows the camera to linger on the characters, so you get to see more of their inner conflict, especially when a character is now on their own or no one except the camera, is looking at them.
The score composed by Brian McOmber is haunting and compliments the beautiful cinematography by Matt Mitchell. Set in an North Dakota town, the setting of Little Woods is equal parts pretty and desolate as the wide-open spaces give way to struggling communities.
Little Woods is a tense atmospheric thriller with compelling performances from Thompson and James. 4/5.
Little Woods or Crossing the Line as it’s called in the UK, is currently available to rent and buy quite cheaply on iTunes – I’d definitely recommend it.
When Cassius Green (LaKeith Stanfield) gets a job as a telemarketer, he learns that the key to success is having a “white voice” but the road to success and fortune isn’t what it seems.
Sorry to Bother You is a scathing look at capitalism and racism and how the two interact. There is a lot going on in this film and it doesn’t always seem to give each thing the attention it deserves. The idea that having a “white voice” will make you more successful and respected is obviously terrible but people in the real world have experienced such double standards. There is also the idea of the power of protests and unionising, standing with your co-workers to demand better pay and rights – though the success of this is shown to be debatable as the capitalist machine may be too strong.
Sorry to Bother You is set in the present-day though everything is just a bit different or over-exaggerated. This makes every theme the film touches on more eerie and relevant. The choices of what kind of television shows to appear on in the background, or what kind of things trend online, is very close to our reality and it shows how they can be used for good or for bad.
The performances in this film are great, both the actors on screen, and those that do the voice work for the “white voices”. It’s weird and amusing to hear very different voices come out of a character’s mouth. Hearing David Cross’s voice from Stanfield’s mouth is strange but both the physical and vocal performance make you believe that is Green’s voice. Green’s girlfriend Detroit (Tess Thompson) is a great character as she uses her art to make a statement and believes in standing up for the everyday person. Her character was a more interesting character who was proactive in her story compared to Green who instead just seemed to be just wander through the story until the very end.
Sorry to Bother You is very weird and surreal. It’s billed as a comedy though it doesn’t really hit that button, instead it’s a unsettling fantasy that hold a mirror up to our world today. 3/5.
My original review of Thor: Ragnarok from October 2017 is here.
Imprisoned on the planet Sakaar, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is reunited with the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) but he must find a way to escape and return to Asgard, where Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death, is set to takeover.
Thor: Ragnarok is a weird and wonderful comedy superhero film. It’s bright and colourful, with wacky characters, costumes and settings. It’s very different to the previous Thor films which can be a little jarring but once you accept that it’s showing a different side to these characters, it’s a fun ride.
It’s the characters and their interactions that makes Thor: Ragnarok. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is back and once again you’re not entirely sure if he can be trusted, but through his conversations with Thor you see a different side to their relationship. There’s so many moments in this film where you can see their history and how they really are brothers who have grown up together. Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) is a hard-drinking scavenger and a really interesting new character. Her banter with Thor, and playfulness with the Hulk are unexpected but great. When Thor, Loki, Valkyrie and Hulk (and also Bruce Banner when he makes an appearance) are together, or any combinations of thereof, their chemistry is clear to see.
The action sequences are a lot of fun and exciting. Seeing Thor and Hulk battle is a real joy to watch while the battle for Asgard between Thor, his companions and Hela is one of the best third acts in a Marvel movie. It’s funny, compelling and has a fair few unexpected moments.
There are some uneven moments in Thor: Ragnarok when it comes to balancing the comedy with the drama. Mostly it works, but a couple of times a joke undercuts the emotion of a scene when is a shame.
Thor: Ragnarok is a lot of fun. It’s bizarre but still manages to have some of the best character development we’ve seen for Thor for ages. It also has more serious themes like colonialism and refugees, while still being very funny. 4/5.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) finds himself imprisoned on Sakaar, a planet ruled by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), and is forced to battle in gladiator-style events where he is reunited with the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Thor must fight to escape and return to Asgard where the Goddess of Death Hela (Cate Blanchett) has claimed the throne and plots to bring about Ragnarok – the end of everything.
Thor: Ragnarok is big, bright and bold. It’s the most colourful Thor film yet, especially the planet Sakaar. Everything there from the costumes to the sets to the characters, they are all vivid and almost bursting from the screen. Thor: Ragnarok has a lot of humour too. Not all the jokes land but it’s bright world compliments weird and funny characters.
A lot happens in the first thirty minutes of Thor: Ragnarok. There’s a lot of character introductions, references to what happened in the previous Thor standalone film, The Dark World, and set up for the main plot. It bounces all over the place for a time, from various planets including Asgard and Earth until the main story settles on Sakaar. This is a bit disjointing at times and makes it hard to settle in with the flow of the film, especially when the off-beat humour is not really what has been seen in previous Thor films.
Once everything is set up though, that’s when the various characters and their interactions really shine. Any of the moments between Thor, the Hulk (or Bruce Banner when he’s back in the driving seat), scavenger Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and combinations thereof were a joy to watch. The quick-witted banter is great but there’s still some nice moments of character building between them all.
The action sequences are a lot of fun, especially the battle between Thor and the Hulk. Hela proves to be a formidable villain as she wrecks death and destruction on Asgard, with very few standing in her way. She’s probably the most interesting villain since Loki, and her entrance into Thor’s world flips everything both he, and the audience, knows on its head.
Thor: Ragnarok is weird but kind of wonderful. It isn’t perfect and has a lot going on at times, but the cast of characters and their interactions are what makes it. It’s a funny and enjoyable watch. 4/5.