Today in Movie History: May 22

The summer season traditionally kicked off on Memorial Day weekend, with the pre-planned 600-lb. gorilla du jour grabbing the pole position every year. Unfortunately, that meant a lot of high-end sequels of dubious quality landing in late May: notable more  for failing to meet expectations than advancing whatever the franchise in question was. Yet all of them remain interesting… as cinematic curiosity if nothing else.

At the top of the list sits Rambo: First Blood Part II which, for better or worse, helped define flag-waving jingoism for an entire generation. As a button-pushing action movie, it’s not bad — setting Sylvester Stallone’s sociopathic ex-Green Beret against various flavors of sinister Commie in the jungles of Vietnam — and as long as it sticks to script, it provides a bevvy of guilty pleasures. (Charles Napier makes a great bad guy too.)But every now and then, it wades in way out of its depth: attempt serious commentary on our involvement in Vietnam that its cartoonish tone simply can’t support. Such missteps become much harder to forgive, and relegate it to dated cinematic curiosity status at best. Rambo: First Blood Part II opened today in 1985.

Standing slightly higher in fandom estimation comes Alien 3, David Fincher’s hotly anticipated contribution to the beloved Alien franchise. It was greeted as a huge letdown from the first two films, and it’s never shaken that impression. (Killing Hicks and Newt was a major mistake, and the nihilistic tone eventually becomes contrived and cynical.) But the film has earned cult status from certain defenders, and Fincher recovered nicely to become a director of significant note in the ensuing years. And of course, none of the problems extend to Sigourney Weaver, knocking it out of the park once again as the indomitable Ellen Ripley. The movie opened today in 1992.

Not even so vaunted a summer movie icon as Steven Spielberg could resist the siren call of sub-par sequels. He helmed a pair that opened today: 1997’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park and 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The former reads like a collection of cut scenes from the infinitely superior Jurassic Park. It’s amusing enough, but even Spielberg seems to be phoning it in, and once the novelty value of the dinosaurs wears off, it has nowhere to go.

Fans reserve much more ire for Crystal Skull, widely perceived as a betrayal of the Indiana Jones saga for a number of reasons. I’m better disposed towards it than most. Though the flaws are inexcusable, it finds more of that old energy than its critics pretend… and Harrison Ford’s glee at dusting off the old fedora is positively infectious. It opened 10 years ago today in 2008.

We’ll close with a minor original film that manages to outpace the lot of them. Outland billed itself as a revamp of High Noon set in outer space, but it delivers a suitable amount of tension and grit, thanks in no small part of Sean Connery’s welcome status in the lead. The film opened today in 1981.

Today in Movie History: November 27

Treasure Planet — and more specifically, the massive financial failure of Treasure Planet — has been widely cited as traditional animation’s death knell. That undeniable fact covers up the wonderful movie behind it, and while it has developed a cult following over the years, this amazing space-opera update of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic deserves a much wider audience. It opened 15 years ago today in 2002.

The Rocky franchise saw its share of ups and downs, but as cultural artifacts go, they don’t get much weirder than Rocky IV: a ripe slice of Reagan’s America which pitted the titular boxer (Sylvester Stallone) aganinst an engineered ubermensch from behind the Iron Curtain. Today, it’s almost laughably jingoistic — to the point of being a kitsch classic — but Stallone gives it his all as always and Swedish actor Dolph Lundgren certainly made an impression as his Soviet nemesis. It opened today in 1985.

November is apparently Elvis month, and today saw the release of one of his better efforts. It’s Fun in Acapulco, positing the King as a lifeguard in the titular city trying to overcome his fear of heights in order to become a successful cliff diver… or something. In any case, the songs are delightful, Presley is in his element, and Ursula Andress is along for the ride too. The movie opened today in 1963.

Today in Movie History: April 1

For April Fool’s Day, the releases today haven’t been very funny… Euthanasia Day notwithstanding. Speaking of which, we begin with Death Race 2000, Paul Bartel’s beautifully loopy dystopian car chase movie that became a cult classic. If you’re only familiar with this story through the guilty-pleasure of a Jason Statham remake, you owe it to yourself to take a look. David Carradine stars with a pre-fame Sylvester Stallone along for the ride. It opened today in 1975.

On a more modern front, i take a look at Source Code, a time-travel paradox thriller helped by director Duncan Jones. The man’s earned the right to take a shot at Warcraft, and with something this good on his resume (along with his dazzling debut Moon), it’s hard not to believe he’s going to hit his next film out of the park. Source Code opened today in 2011.

 

 

 

Creed: Blu-ray Review

Review by Robert T. Trate

Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad

Directed by: Ryan Coogler

Written by: Ryan Coogler (screenplay), Aaron Covington (screenplay), Sylvester Stallone (characters)

Running time: 133 minutes

Year of release: 2015

Rating:  PG-13

Sometimes it takes perspective, time and a whole new generation to tell the next installment. Who else would be willing to tackle the seventh installment of a film saga? No, I am not talking about JJ Abrams and his Star Wars film. I am talking about Ryan Cooler’s Creed (aka Rocky VII). The difference between JJ Abrams and Ryan Coogler is that the Rockyfranchise ended on a high note. In 2006 Sylvester Stallone gave us a Rocky film was a great swan song for a character. The entire world not only idolizes, but loves Rocky. Was there anything left to tell after that? Yes.

Creed, if you are a fan of the Rocky story and probably already have guessed, is the story of Apollo Creed’s (Carl Weathers) son, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan). Born out of wedlock and after Apollo died, Creed is Adonis’ Rocky story. Taken in by Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) and raised as her own child, Adonis escapes the foster homes and streets of LA to become a fine up standing citizen, or so his step-mother would think. Adonis sneaks off to Tijuana and participates in boxing matches there. After gaining a name for himself and several victories under his belt, Adonis wants to turn pro. The issue is that no one wants to train him. Adonis travels to Philadelphia and turns to his father’s best friend, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), for help. The Rocky we find in Creed, is a sadder and lonelier one than we had in Rocky Balboa (2006). His best friend, Pauly (Burt Young), has passed and Rocky’s son has left Philadelphia to make a name for himself. Adonis’ proposal suddenly becomes a reason for Rocky to feel alive again.

We’ve been to this well six times before and depending on your level of fandom for these movies, only one time has been outright terrible (Rocky V). What breaks the mold and re-invents the story is making Rocky the secondary character. This is clearly the story of Adonis Creed and his journey to becoming his own man. If the film would have started with Rocky seeking out the troubled son of his best friend and raising him, it would have been a Rocky story. Instead, we see the whole film from Adonis’ perspective. He is man who has everything, as one trainer points out. That trainer doesn’t believe he is hungry enough to see his dream all the way through. So when one person (Rocky) takes that chance on Adonis, he has to prove it. That story could have easily swung the same way it did with Tommy Gunn (Tommy Morrison) in Rocky V. Adonis gets his title shot and leaves Rocky behind. To Coogler’s credit, he made us care about Adonis’ character, believe in his struggle, and remember that he is our hero so when that shot does happen, he won’t make a move without Rocky’s okay. That scene alone makes the film, but there is more. So much more.

The entire film breaks conventions that are not only part of the Rocky franchise, but film in general. In fleshing out Adonis’ character, he gets a love interest which could play out in numerous scenarios. Coogler’s script keeps it light, but realistic, as Bianca (Tessa Thompson) has her own dreams. Bianca is more of a modern Adrian and one that many female members of the audience will appreciate. What was also refreshing was how each one of the fights (inevitable in a film with boxing in it) was unpredictable. After six of these movies, I had no clue how they would end, not even the final one for that fact. Coogler also took us closer to action than had ever been done before in a Rocky film. This might be because of new technologies and better cameras, but the takes are long with next to no cuts. You won’t notice it at first, but by the final bell, you see it.

Sylvester Stallone’s nomination is well deserved. In fact, he should win. With that being said, I don’t think Stallone gets that nomination without the incredible screenplay and direction of Ryan Coogler. However, Stallone is not only sparring with getting old, but holding his own in nearly every scene with Michael B. Jordan. This is a star turning performance and one that is perfectly timed to make you forget he was in a superhero film just a few months prior to Creed’s release. It is both Jordan and Stallone that make you believe in the power and message in not only this film, but all that “Rocky” represents. Again, no small feat for the seventh installment of a franchise.

In living so close to Philadelphia all my life, Rocky movies, all of them, mean a little bit more to this fan. Rocky was a movie that was not shot in some distant city or far off place that I would never visit. I’ve run the museum steps when the statue was at the top and have been back several times to visit “the Rock” now that he is at the bottom. All of our sports teams play the scene where Adrian (Talia Shire) tells Rocky to win when we are behind, it drives us crazy and we actually believe that our team can and will win. I have even seen Stallone in person and there is something insane about seeing “Rocky” with thousands of people of cheering “Rocky… Rocky… Rocky…”. Creed could have tarnished all of that. It doesn’t. In fact, outside of the final moments of both Rocky and Rocky II, this is the only other film in the franchise to make we well up and hold back the tears.

Coogler… you did it!

Own CREED on Blu-ray Combo Pack or DVD on March 1 or Own It Early on Digital HD now!

 

 

Today in Movie History: December 3

We’re back after a longer-than-anticipated Thanksgiving hiatus. Today marks the release of a several notable films, many of them Oscar winners. John Ford delivered what many consider to be the definitive Wyatt Earp movie (sorry Val Kilmer fans) with My Darling Clementine in 1946. With Creed making so many waves, it’s worth noting that the original Rocky opened across the country today in 1976. The final scene still makes me cry like a little girl. I cry for entirely different reasons when I think about Shakespeare in Love, a nominally very good film that’s still walking around with Private Ryan’s Oscar. (And Gwyneth Paltrow over Cate Blanchett?! Sit down Academy, we need to talk.) Finally, Darren Aronofsky added another staggering accomplishment to his resume — and handed Natalie Portman a richly deserved Oscar in the process — with 2010’s release of Black Swan.