Tag Archives: Graham McTavish

Creed (2015, Ryan Coogler)

Creed is something special. It’s an entirely sincere, entirely reverential sequel to the Rocky movies, but one trying to do something different with the “franchise.” Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky, while extremely important in the film, isn’t the protagonist. He’s not even lead Michael B. Jordan’s sidekick. He’s a cute old man who doesn’t understand cloud computing. Director Coogler, along with co-screenwriter Aaron Covington, occasionally stumble fitting Stallone into the movie. For a while, it seems like his presence is a condition of the franchise license, as Coogler carefully transitions the viewer away from the idea of Stallone as the hero. Jordan doesn’t start the film–the film starts in flashback–so when the handover is complete isn’t just when Creed stops playing at being a Rocky movie, but also when Jordan fully takes on the picture.

Coogler and Covington’s script is deliberate and careful in how it brings the viewer into the world of film (the approach owes a lot to how Stallone’s own Rocky Balboa handled viewer familiarity with the characters). Even though it’s a boxing movie, with some fantastic fight sequences thanks to Coogler and his cinematographer, Maryse Alberti–though without much input from the editors, as Coogler likes to show off how close he and Alberti can get to the bout without cutting, Creed more often relies on Jordan as an intentionally tragic character, juxtaposing him against Stallone’s own intentional tragedies. That concept, the personal, conscious responsibility for misery, isn’t Creed’s point. It’s just an observation from Coogler and his actors. (One has to imagine both Stallone and Jordan loved getting to essay these roles).

Because Creed is, deep down, a rootin‘, tootin’ crowd pleaser. It’s just an exceptionally well-made one and an exceptionally thoughtful one. Coogler’s ambitions for the film are to tell its entirely absurd story well. And Coogler’s not afraid to take shortcuts. He casts Phylicia Rashad as Jordan’s foster mother (he’s her husband’s illegitimate son) and there’s no one possibly better for the role. Rashad brings a gravitas to her (too few) scenes and is always present in the film, even when she’s off-screen (too much of the time). Because Coogler knows how his audience is going to respond to her general presence, not just her performance.

Also very important is Tessa Thompson as Jordan’s love interest. She doesn’t get enough to do, though Coogler and Covington give her a lot of ground situation, but the romance gives she and Jordan some great scenes. Thompson does really well.

And Jordan’s great. He’s got a great role, even if the film isn’t about chronicling the character’s internal struggles. Or even representing them on an epical external scale.

Because Creed isn’t meant to be high art. It’s meant to be high entertainment, just from someone better suited for high art. Coogler, Jordan and Stallone do something really cool. They figure out how to make soullessly commercial nostalgia entertainment entirely, undeniably sincere.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ryan Coogler; screenplay by Coogler and Aaron Covington, based on a story by Coogler and characters created by Sylvester Stallone; director of photography, Maryse Alberti; edited by Claudia Castello and Michael P. Shawver; music by Ludwig Göransson; production designer, Hannah Beachler; produced by Robert Chartoff, William Chartoff, David Winkler, Irwin Winkler, Kevin King Templeton and Stallone; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Michael B. Jordan (Adonis Johnson), Sylvester Stallone (Rocky Balboa), Tessa Thompson (Bianca), Phylicia Rashad (Mary Anne Creed), Tony Bellew (‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan), Ritchie Coster (Pete Sporino), Graham McTavish (Tommy Holiday) and Wood Harris (Tony ‘Little Duke’ Burton).


RELATED

Advertisements

Rambo (2008, Sylvester Stallone), the director’s cut

I just went back and reread my response to the theatrical release of Rambo. I haven’t seen it since the theater and, while I could pick out some added scenes (Stallone’s director’s cut, titled John Rambo, runs about ten minutes longer), I couldn’t remember if my problems with the director’s cut are the same as my problems with the theatrical.

They are not. Not entirely.

Stallone’s director’s cut is much more thoughtful. It raises these great human contradictions–for example, a pastor hiring mercenaries to kill brown people to save his white people, white people captured while trying to stop brown people from getting killed.

Rambo‘s still incredibly problematic–this cut doesn’t fix the ludicrously unearned and unexplained end–and raising questions is far better than trying to answer them.

This time through–and this cut through–Stallone’s treatment of the Christian missionaries is, while I’m sure it’s unintentional, rather damning. Julie Benz’s character is a good fundamentalist Christian woman who uses sex (the idea, not the act) to bewitch Stallone. This development is new to this version. Maybe in the spinoff, Benz will run for vice president.

It makes Stallone’s Rambo pathetically attached to this woman who abandons him for her tool of a fiancée (John Schulze).

Most interesting, reading my first response, is the idea Stallone portrays Rambo as an animal thrilled at killing. He doesn’t in this cut. He gives Rambo a soul the whole time, not making him earn it.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t improve the movie.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Sylvester Stallone; screenplay by Art Monterastelli and Stallone, based on a character created by David Morrell; director of photography, Glen MacPherson; edited by Sean Albertson; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Franco-Giacomo Carbone; produced by Avi Lerner, Kevin King-Templeton and John Thompson; released by Lionsgate Films.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (John Rambo), Julie Benz (Sarah), Paul Schulze (Burnett), Matthew Marsden (School Boy), Graham McTavish (Lewis) and Tim Kang (En-Joo).


RELATED

Rambo (2008, Sylvester Stallone)

First, I need to get the theater-going experience out of the way. I do not remember the last time I’ve been in a theater filled with stupider people. They did not shower for the most part. Their girlfriends had to explain the complicated parts to them. I can only imagine what seeing Rambo III would have been like for people with IQs above eighty-five back when the series was popular.

On to the film.

Stallone tries hard to give Rambo the Rocky Balboa treatment and he succeeds on a few levels. He really gets across how awful things in Burma are going–the genocide. He manages to make it the setting, not turning the film into an infomercial. It’s impressive. The more important level is the character himself. In a very poorly constructed voiceover, Stallone eradicates the “Rambo the tortured Vietnam vet” thing he’s had going for twenty-five years. Rambo, Stallone decides, kills people because he likes it (which might not sound like much, but just imagine a Lethal Weapon or Die Hard featuring that thesis about its protagonist). Stallone’s observation, of course, would be a heck of a lot more profound if the movie worked out in the end….

Stallone doesn’t find the balance between action movie and thoughtful observation in Rambo, because he plays toward a general realism. It’s not Rambo running around the jungle trying to save the missionaries by himself, there’s a team of mercenaries with him. Of these mercenaries, Matthew Marsden and Graham McTavish give the best performances. As for the missionaries, Paul Schulze is surprisingly bad and Julie Benz is fine. Benz kind of plays Fay Wray to Stallone’s Kong. It’s a wonderful relationship to watch, because Stallone really gets how to make it work.

So, oddly, the problem becomes Stallone’s unwillingness to go the distance, to have a crazy action movie with Rambo running around killing bad guys (and these bad guys are bad… the worst bad guys I can remember seeing in such numbers in a movie). He goes for something resembling realism and the movie loses out. It’s not dumb fun. It’s dumb pseudo-realistic action violence. Stallone’s very big on showing how awful violence is in the film, it’s graphic and it’s intense.

Rambo, the character, doesn’t deserve the Rocky Balboa treatment–the redefined sequel treatment–because there’s just not enough of a character there. The proof is easily identifiable–Rambo‘s lame closing scene. But it seems like there’s a good mix–and Stallone finds it quite a few times in the movie… he just can’t sustain it.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Sylvester Stallone; written by Art Monterastelli and Stallone, based on characters created by David Morrell; director of photography, Glen MacPherson; edited by Sean Albertson; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Franco-Giacomo Carbone; produced by Avi Lerner, Kevin King-Templeton and John Thompson; released by Lionsgate Films.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (John Rambo), Julie Benz (Sarah), Paul Schulze (Burnett), Matthew Marsden (School Boy), Graham McTavish (Lewis) and Tim Kang (En-Joo).


RELATED