Friday, November 27, 2015

Creed (USA, 2015)

Nine Things About the Movie Creed

1. The 2006 film Rocky Balboa brought the saga of the legendary movie boxer to a classy and satisfying ending - nothing else was needed. But nine years later, here comes Creed, the seventh movie in the series. Of course, lots of things could have gone wrong here... but nothing does. This is a movie worthy of the series, while also sending things off into a new direction. As Sylvester Stallone reportedly said, "this is Creed 1, not Rocky 7".

3. The movie is about Adonis Creed, the son of Apollo when Apollo apparently cheated on his wife sometime around Rocky IV (the timeline doesn't quite match up with Adonis's age, but I can run with it). He grows up in a life of privilege, but gives it up to become a boxer because he loves to fight. He convinces Rocky to be his trainer.

4. The movie stands on its own, but fits well into the existing Rocky universe. There are many references to the other films in the series, which gives an extra resonance to things (if you listen closely, you can even hear Rocky say his famous catchphrase.)

5. Michael B. Jordan plays Adonis, and he is just about perfect for the role. I've been a huge fan of him ever since he blew me away in Fruitvale Station, and he's honestly one of the reasons I decided to watch this - I trusted he (as well as the director) wouldn't make a bad movie. And I was right.

6. The movie was written and directed by Ryan Coogler, who also wrote and directed Fruitvale Station. This is only his second movie, but he has already proven himself a talented filmmaker that can bring life to existing material, while remaining respectful to its roots.

7. There are many moments in this film that mirror the original Rocky, and it's interesting to watch from that perspective. The struggle of Adonis to both accept and escape his last name is a compelling story. At the same time, Rocky lives in the shadow of his own fame, and he ends up identifying with his dead wife's struggles, too. There are several emotional moments for each character, and they all ring true.

8. The big fight at the movie's climax brought all the same emotions back to me that I felt way back when I watched the original Rocky. On the other end of the spectrum, there is an extremely bittersweet scene on the famous steps that made me feel the unique pain of passing time.

9. This is a classy, smart, and emotional movie. Fans of the series will be impressed with the way the saga is handled. For people that have never seen the originals, they can jump in on one of the greatest sports movie franchises in history. If Coogler and Jordan can keep this quality up, I'll gladly start watching Creed movies instead of Rocky movies.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Beasts of No Nation (USA, 2015)

Nine Things About the Film Beasts of No Nation

1. This is a uniquely painful film about the real-life phenomenon of child soldiers. It takes place in West Africa, and tells the story of an 8-year-old boy named Agu. His village is caught up in the middle of a civil war, and he ends up alone in the jungle, until a small group of guerrilla fighters find him. Agu is raised, trained, and brainwashed to fight for a cause that he is too young to understand.

2.  The movie is basically about the complete destruction of a happy kid... and the emergence of a traumatized child war criminal. While it's easy to condemn what's done to the boy in this movie, you also come to understand the context in which this happens. It's harder to know where to place the blame than you might think.

3. While this movie is not specifically a true story, it is based on real events. It comes from the book of the same name, written by a 23-year-old man who works in real life with rehabilitating child soldiers. .

4. The film is beautiful to watch, which is a big contrast to its subject. The movie has some graphic scenes, but doesn't show all the violence and degradation that it could have. They leave a good amount to your imagination.

5. The movie was written, directed, and filmed by Cary Joji Fukunaga. Fukunaga also wrote and directed 2009's remarkable movie Sin Nombre, but is probably most famous for directing the first season of the HBO series True Detective.

6. The kid that plays Agu, Abraham Atta, gives one of the best acting performances of the year. It's impossible to describe his charisma and his range of emotional reactions. Atta was accidentally discovered by the filmmakers because he was skipping school and playing soccer when the director walked by, looking for child actors.

7. Idris Elba plays the rebel leader. He's a great actor and I've been a fan of him ever since The Wire was on HBO in 2002. He needs more substantial leading roles. I hope the rumor of him playing the next James Bond comes true.

8. This is a non-Hollywood, independent film, which means that usually hardly anybody would see it. But Netflix bought the rights to distribute the film, and put it on their website as well as in a few theaters. A lot more people can now watch it. And they should.

9. This is a profoundly depressing, beautiful, horrifying story that vividly illustrates a part of contemporary world events that us Westerners don't hear much about. Don't watch this movie if you want to stay in a good mood. But watch it sometime. It's important. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Hallow (Britain/Ireland, 2015)

Nine Things About the Movie "The Hallow"

1. Normally, I would say bad things about a movie like this. I would say that the story is unoriginal (a family moves into a house in the woods, and things in the woods aren't happy). I would say the movie steals pieces from multiple films (I lost count at six) and mixes genres. I would say it shoehorns in half-baked metaphors about environmentalism and the power of a mother's love. That's what I would normally say.

2. But I can't say bad things about this movie. Instead, I have to say that this is one of the best horror films of 2015.

3. The movie is based on old dark Irish mythology. Writer/director Corin Hardy takes a risky move with it by mixing in elements of "Evil Dead", "The Fly", "The Thing", "Straw Dogs", and "Aliens", among others. Hardy obviously loves these genres, and he has the skill to show these references in a plain and unapologetic way, but which doesn't insult the original films. This is something his contemporaries like James Wan and Leigh Wannell haven't figured out, which is why "The Conjuring" and "Annabelle" are just patchwork quilts of disappointment.

4. The visual mood and atmosphere is dark and beautiful, ethereal and off-putting. It fits the subject perfectly.

5. The camera seems to have a mind of its own, sometimes focusing momentarily on mundane things like someone putting down kitchen cutlery, or tapping fingers. This adds to the feeling that something isn't right, but you can't figure out what.

6. The movie not entirely serious - since it's partly an homage to other horror films, Hardy can pull off a little tongue-in-cheek attitude. The flaming scythe should be added to the collection of iconic horror weapons.

7. The movie is kind of violent, but it's not super bloody. It's more... gooey.

8. Hardy tries to update the mythology with a sort-of-scientific explanation. It muddles things up a little bit, and wasn't really necessary, but it is an intriguing idea.

9. What Hardy has managed to do with this movie is take elements of other movies and forge them into a tool that taps into the deep primal fear that exists in every person and which inspires all those other films. It doesn't matter that the movie is kind of predictable - it gets you anyway.