‘All those beatings you took in the ring, I took them with you…’
It didn’t start as a Rocky marathon… I was only supposed to watch the first two but then I found myself so wrapped up in the story of the Italian Stallion that I had to carry on. Well I say that, in actuality, it was my wife watching them for the first time who was obviously baying for blood so much that she couldn’t turn them off. And so it came to pass that I watched Rocky I, II, III and IV back to back. Here is what I learnt:
‘They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, but I wasn’t on that particular job...’
‘When people said cricket was boring, I responded ‘Have you watched it after eight pints of still cider?’…
Back to the Baize…
A dramatic retelling of the ‘golden age of snooker’ might sound like an extremely tedious affair to some, but being a big fan of snooker I was interested to see how the BBC would fare with this exclusive to iplayer production.
Creed draws on the entire Rocky canon’s rich history to reinvigorate an ailing franchise…
Whilst Rocky Balboa was no disgrace, it did feel like a franchise on it’s knees as believability was at all time low. What better way then for Sylvester Stallone to claw back some credibility by relinquishing some control on his most beloved invention and allowing up and coming director Ryan Coogler the chance to breath some life into a legend.
Coogler’s only previous feature film was the powerful and affecting Fruitvale Station. In sticking with Michael B. Jordan from that film, Coogler has a genuine future star in the eponymous role and it is Jordan who keeps things grounded in the more emotionally taxing scenes.
Much has been made of Sly’s surprising Oscar nomination and whilst it has a slight tinge of lifetime achievement award about it there is no denying that Stallone now has so much emotionally invested in this character. In a lifetime of returning to Rocky Balboa, Stallone can share The Italian Stallion’s heartbreak and world-weariness and this makes for a strong and nuanced performance.
Creed falls down somewhat in the supporting cast. Aside from a spirited turn from Tessa Thompson, Creed badly misses a Paulie or a Mickey or indeed an Apollo Creed. Real life boxer Tony Bellew brings some realism and gravitas to the actual boxing scenes but as an antagonist he is largely forgettable. Obviously being a Rocky film the fighting isn’t too realistic but this is a series trademark as much as a training montage and Apollo’s red, white and blue shorts.
In looking back through the entire Rocky franchise, Coogler, Stallone and Michael B. Jordan have pushed Creed forwards to the point where a sequel would not only be welcome but also highly anticipated.
Rocky retread still packs a punch..
Director Antoine Fuqua has directed a lot of distinctly average films since Training Day, and this combined with the fact that Southpaw was initially written as a vehicle for Eminem didn’t exactly have me jumping up in down in anticipation.
Plot wise, Southpaw stays very close to existing boxing tropes and takes precisely zero risks but boxing is a sport that lends itself to cinema more than any other and Southpaw is a success almost because of its predictability rather than inspite of it. Sometimes a hero to zero and back again story is all you want from an unchallenging movie.
So yes Southpaw is much more Rocky IV than The Fighter but with a strong performance from Jake Gyllenhaal and a brief but notable turn from Rachael McAdams, Southpaw is an enjoyable and easy watch.
Forest Whitaker is also excellent despite portraying a walking cliché in demanding trainer Tick Wills. Whitaker is at an age now where he is perfect for this kind of mentor role and he shares a strong chemistry with Gyllenhaal’s protagonist Billy Hope.
Not so hot in the other corner is Miguel Gomez who makes for an underwhelming opponent and also 50 Cent who once again proves he should stick to
rapping selling bottled water with a wooden and at times barely intelligible performance.
Southpaw is bringing nothing new to the table but when the script and the acting is so strong it barely matters.
The King of Sports Films prevails again…
It took Kevin Costner’s career a long time to recover from the disaster that was Waterworld but he has had a bit of a renaissance in recent years with solid roles in The Company Men and Man of Steel. Draft Day is a welcome continuation of Costner’s Indian summer and a return to an area he mined so successfully earlier in his career in films such as Field of Dreams and Tin Cup.
Similarly Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman has also hit on hard times in the last decade so it is especially pleasing to see Draft Day be such a watchable movie with Reitman behind the camera.
The reason Costner works so well in this genre is that it is impossible not to root for him which makes the big fairytale endings less eye rollingly predictable and more heart warming and ultimately satisfying.
The Big K has able support along side him with Jennifer Garner giving a strong performance as well as clichéd but enjoyable turns from Dennis Leary and Frank Langella respectively as the team manager and team owner.
It is a testament to Costner’s charisma that the fact I have zero interest in American Football never felt like a handicap as Draft Day is just as much a character study as it is a sports film.
Draft Day is not original, it does feel like a throw back, but sometimes that is all cinema needs to be – a good story, acted well, that leaves a lasting impression.