Tag Archives: sylvester stallone

Review: ‘Creed’


Breezy yet weighty, Ryan Coogler’s Creed makes the most out of the stereotypes it chooses to embrace, recalling nothing so much as Rocky.

Sylvester Stallone wrote the original screenplay as a passion project, intending to give himself the opportunity of a starring role while also demonstrating his abilities as a screenwriter. The movie was a rousing success on all levels, earning Academy Award nominations for Stallone as actor and writer, and winning three Oscars in total. Thirty years and five sequels later, the series concluded with Rocky Balboa, allowing the character to make a graceful, triumphant exit.

After scoring big with indie drama Fruitvale Station, Ryan Coogler pivoted toward Hollywood and pitched an idea for a new installment in the Rocky series, a spinoff focused on the son of once-rival boxer Apollo Creed. What at first sounded like the unlikely premise for a cheap knock-off proves to be the genuine article, a heartfelt meditation on ambition and aging that lightly steps through potential plot-holes with the nimble agility of a championship fighter.

Michael B. Jordan, who also starred in Fruitvale Station, starts the movie off right with his embodiment of a character named Adonis Johnson. His father died before he was born, and his mother was not up to the myriad challenges of parenthood, leaving young Adonis to the care of the state. He learned to fight in order to survive — or did he survive only because he loved to fight?

Whatever the case, Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) tracks down her late husband’s child and takes custody when he is 11 years of age. Raised for the balance of his youth in the lap of luxury, Adonis never forgets what he endured, and is determined to become a professional boxer, training himself to the point that he defeats a flurry of opponents in Mexico while holding down a day job at a financial institution.

Offered a promotion, Adonis recognizes that he has reached a “now or never” point in his life, and chooses to follow in his father’s footsteps. He moves cross-country to Philadelphia, takes a cheap apartment, and seeks out his father’s old friend to train him.

That friend is Rocky Balboa, now firmly in retirement as the owner of a small bar. In time, he agrees to train Adonis, and in the process becomes a friend and mentor to the young man who burns with ambition.

Coogler, who is also credited for the screenplay with Aaron Covington, wisely includes the expected nods to earlier films in the Rocky series, but is not beholden to them, following his own distinctive sense of what works for him as a director and, even more so, what is needed for this particular story. Thus, Creed feels like an independently-made studio film, shot by cinematographer Maryse Alberti in an appropriately gritty manner.

Alberti has worked on dozens of documentaries, and the narrative features he has made — notably, The Wrestler — reflect that. So does Creed, which is an asset to counter the film’s occasional dips into sentimentality.

Jordan and Stallone may be at different stages of their respective careers, but what they have shown is that they recognize good material when they see it. Both resist the temptation to overplay the hands they’ve been dealt, allowing Adonis and Rocky to bleed as real people bleed. Similarly, Tessa Thompson provides needed support as Bianca, a love interest for Adonis who is self-sufficient and speaks her mind plainly. Phylicia Rashad makes for a good mother-figure.

Creed strikes a good balance, appealing to populist tastes without overindulging in them. If the concluding fight becomes a mite too predictable, by that point the film has built such a storehouse of good will that it’s easy to overlook. Creed, finally, is an unalloyed triumph.

The film opens today in theaters throughout Dallas.

Review: ‘The Expendables 3’ Suggests That Too Many Action Stars Spoil the Broth

'The Expendables 3'
‘The Expendables 3’

I’m sorry, but as I was watching The Expendables 3, I kept thinking, ‘This is the guy they hired to direct the remake of The Raid?’

Patrick Hughes previously made the well-regarded horror thriller Red Hill, which I haven’t seen yet, but between those positive notices and the notion that he would be helming the remake of one of the best action movies in years, I was intensely curious to see what he would make of the third installment in this modern series that is dominated by lead actor, co-writer, and director Sylvester Stallone.

Stallone established the series’ tone with the first installment, which he re-wrote and directed. The idea of a franchise that is built on the idea of older mercenaries who are past their prime, yet still fully capable of kicking butt and not bothering to take names — mostly because they are often played by former action stars — is immensely appealing worldwide, as demonstrated by box office receipts for the first two movies in the series. Both films tapped more into nostalgia for the 1980s than creativity, yet got by on their vim and vigor, resulting in experiences that were agreeable, even as they were inarguably inferior to the best action thrillers of the 80s, 90s, 00s, or the present day.

Having handed over the directorial reins to Simon West for the first sequel, it makes sense that a newer director be given the opportunity to show his action filmmaking credentials. And while three or four individual shots outside of the action sequences are clever and/or memorable, the fighting and running and jumping and shooting and knifing and blowing stuff up scenes look … just like every other crappy action movie of the modern era, snipped by credited film editors Sean Albertson and Paul Harb into a dizzying, unholy, messy, dispiriting hash.

As always with these kind of situations, on a movie with an incredible 19 producers credited, I’m not sure who is ultimately responsible for what emerges on screen. I just know it’s not very pretty to watch.

Between the action sequences, the drama, such as it is, plays out. Stallone is credited with the story, and receives screenplay credit along with Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt. The basic idea is that Barney Ross (Stallone), the leader of the Expendables, decides to dissolve the group after he learns that the group’s co-founder Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), is still alive. Years before, Stonebranks was presumed dead, but he survived and has become an extremely wealth and extremely evil arms dealer.

When Gibson is given something to do, he’s as electrifying and/or as funny as possible, proving himself a worthy opponent for Stallone. Unfortunately, much of the non-action storytelling is given over to the silly idea that Barney Ross would ditch his old buddies because he thinks taking down Stonebanks will be a life or death mission, and he wants to protect his friends. Evidently, he’s forgotten that they are mercenaries and therefore are perfectly happy to risk their lives for money.

Eventually, of course, the old Expendables — Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, and Wesley Snipes — and the new Expendables — Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Ronda Rousey, and Kellan Lutz — insult each other before teaming up in action sequences that are dreary in their routine execution and almost entirely indecipherable. Antonio Banderas shows up to provide some comic spark, as does Kelsey Grammer for some reason, and if you’ve avoided the marketing entirely, other veteran action stars pop up for “surprise” cameos that mostly just extend the running time.

Buffeted by more computer-aided effects than before, The Expendables 3 is ambitious for reasons that are not readily apparent, beyond the fact that every hero in the movie is a mercenary who’s willing to work for no money in order to kill someone that (practically) none of them know. For a dumb series that I’ve enjoyed in the past, the third installment proves to be a big letdown.

The film opens wide in theaters throughout Dallas and Ft. Worth on Friday, August 15.

Review: ‘Homefront,’ An Action Exercise That’s Stronger Than It Looks

Jason Statham in 'Homefront'
Jason Statham in ‘Homefront’

Jason Statham is a movie star in the classic mold: He has established a steady screen personality as a heroic tough guy, and he rarely deviates from it, no matter what role he is playing.

Because Statham sticks to the action-movie genre in which he excels, he doesn’t get the credit he deserves. While it’s true that he doesn’t make bad movies good, neither does he make good movies bad; he is a dependable brand, and occasionally he leads an above-average production that is enlivened by his presence.

Homefront definitely benefits from Statham’s starring performance as a former DEA agent turned full-time family man. Sylvester Stallone’s screenplay, based on a 2005 novel by Chuck Logan, starts the plot a-ticking in its first scene, as Statham’s “Phil Broker” is unfairly blamed by a motorcycle gang boss for the death of his son. Disgusted by the DEA’s failure to follow protocol, Broker quits and moves with his daughter — aged 9, about to turn 10 — to his late wife’s hometown in the Louisiana bayou.

The girl, named Maddy (Izabela Vidovic), turns the tables on a full-bodied young bully, raising the ire of the kid’s parents, especially his drug-adled mother (Kate Bosworth). She goads her husband into picking a fight with Broker, which doesn’t end well for the sallow fellow, and so dear old mom goes running to her brother Gator. And then the fun really begins, because Gator is played by James Franco, and his character is definitely not a standard-issue ‘B-movie’ villain.

Gator is introduced smashing a teenager’s leg with a bat, but that doesn’t represent his usual modus operandi. Gather, recognizing that he’s not really an intimidating physical presence among adults, prefers to use his brain to out-think his opponents, which has allowed him to become a big fish in a small pond. So when he sniffs around Broker’s house and discovers why he’s living under an assumed name, he devises a clever plan that he thinks will make him a big-time player in the state.

Statham provides the steady anchor here, while the smart plot twists, unusual character developments, and ace performances by the supporting cast really make the movie hop.

Director Gary Fleder (Kiss the Girls, Runaway Jury) keeps the momentum going, though his action sequences are the usual blizzard of quick shots and whiplash camera moves that define 21st century “action” movies. Still, there’s the pleasure of Kate Bosworth and Winona Ryder as dirty, disreputable women, Rachelle Lefevre as a concerned schoolteacher and possible romantic interest, Clancy Brown as the town’s good/bad sheriff, and James Franco, who works hard to play it straight as the chief bad guy.

The pleasures of Homefront may be minor, but they are by no means incidental to the strength of the movie. It’s an action exercise that’s stronger than it looks.

Homefront opens wide throughout Dallas and Ft. Worth on Wednesday, November 27.

Review: ‘Escape Plan’ Arrives 20 Years Past Its Expiration Date

Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in 'Escape Plan' (Summit)
Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in ‘Escape Plan’ (Summit)
Arriving two decades past its expiration date, Escape Plan would like everyone to drink the spoiled milk and forget that Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger are now senior citiens.

Eschewing jokes about their respective ages — officially, Stallone is 67 years of age and Schwarzenegger is 66 — and pretending that the actors are in peak physical form, the film blithely posits that they are muscle men locked up in a maximum security prison, location unknown, for reasons unknown. Stallone has spent the past seven years testing the federal prison system, allowing himself to be incarcerated, and then attempting to escape. It seems he has been successful every time, enabling the private security firm he co-founded to charge $2.5 million for a job that may last several months.

But now somebody wants him locked up forever, so he has to break out to find out!

Escape Plan cries out for a tagline like that, best intoned by a baritone voice that rumbles like thunder. To go by the evidence on screen, both Stallone and Schwarzenegger appear to be years younger than what they are — no fair cutting open their bodies to count the rings on their intestines — so the willful wish fulfillment that the two biggest action stars of the 80s and early 90s has a basis in a faux-reality that is achieved by tasteful makeup and, especially, very kind lighting and glamour photography by Brendan Galvin (Mirror Mirror, Immortals).

Mikael Håfström, a once-promising talent from Sweden (2003’s Evil, 2004’s Drowning Ghost) who has shown flashes of inspiration in English-language genre fare such as Derailed, 1408, and The Rite, seems to have been defeated by the lackluster material cooked up in the screenplay, which is credited to Miles Chapman and Jason Keller. The structure is sturdy enough, but the dialogue is noticeably absent the wisecracks needed to leaven the potential burden of a prison that is meant for individuals deemed dangerous to the U.S. government. Stallone and Schwarzenegger speak their lines with a comic rhythm that is all set-up and no pay-off; too often they deliver a rejoinder that falls completely flat.

A pervasive sense of torpor envelops the film. In part, that’s because it should have been set in the 1980s, which would have allowed those concerned about Stallone’s character to prowl around the outwide world, rattling cages — or, at least, expend some shoe leather — tracking down answers to how their boss and friend has disappeared entirely. Instead, the modern-day setting requires that the extremely capable Amy Ryan, and also the less capable but game Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson sit in front of computer screens and type.

Within the prison, the production had the good sense to hire Jim Caviezel and Sam Neill to play the sadistic prison warden and sympathetic doctor, respectively. Yet the two extremely talented actors are given nothing interesting to do; the warden must not be too evil and the doctor must not be too kind, for reasons that are never explained. This “creative” decision drain whatever possibility of drama might have been drummed up if they were allowed to display a wider range of emotion.

At various points of their careers, Stallone and Schwarzenegger have been perfectly willing to make fun of their most famous personas. Here they play it (almost) absolutely straight, as though they were still younger men who did not need to be doubled in every scene involving a fight and/or any type of strenuous physical activity. Their spirit is willing but their flesh is weak, which is exactly what we would expect from anyone their age.

There is no shame in growing old, and why Escape Plan pulls the wool over its own eyes is mystifying. Let us celebrate the wrinkles and the liver spots and the gray hair, and allow senior citizens to kick ass with their brains rather than their brawn. And let us especially leave behind tired action movies that pretend to be something they are not.

The film opens wide across the Metroplex on Friday, October 18.

Retro Scene: ‘Rocky’ in 35mm

Sylvester Stallone and Burgess Meredith in 'Rocky'
Sylvester Stallone and Burgess Meredith in 'Rocky'

Contrary to popular myth, Sylvester Stallone was not a complete unknown when he played the title role in Rocky. He’d already made good impressions in Death Race 2000 and The Lords of Flatbush. But he had enough experience under his belt to know that he if wanted to break out big, he’d need to create a role that would showcase what made him unique. So he wrote a script, which people loved, and then insisted that he star in it as part of the package.

With veteran director John G. Avildsen at the helm, the result remains a completely winning film, warm and appealing, not only for its virtues in celebrating the underdog, but for its understanding that all people want to do better, even if it’s in some small way that no one else can see. In Rocky Balboa’s case, he had the unexpectedly opportunity to showcase himself to the world, and gave it his best shot. In Sylvester Stallone’s case, not only is his script a marvel of construction and character, he delivered a very strong, very relatable performance.

Put the iconic moments that have become cliches back into the context of the movie, in which a working class man recognizes that he has limitations and chooses to ignore them, and you end up with Rocky, which, doggone it, can still make you stand up and cheer, more than 35 years after it was released.

Rocky began a limited engagement at the Texas Theatre last night in 35mm and continues through Sunday.