Cinema review: Creed - the Rocky sequel that should have been made years ago
Reviewed this week are Creed, Room and The Revenant.
If the Rocky franchise taught us anything over its six films, it’s the idea of mind over matter. Forty years after Stallone KO’d the world by writing, directing and acting himself into public consciousness as the loveable blue-collar pugilist, a seventh chapter has arrived that — whisper it — could be the best of the lot. You’d think the brand had surely been exhausted.
Writer-director Ryan Coogler impressed with his feature debut Fruitvale Station (2013), and it is to him that the Rocky baton is passed.
Coogler surrounds himself with talent — co-writer Aaron Covington, cinematographer Maryse Alberti, Fruitvale and The Wire star Michael B. Jordan, Stallone himself — and proceeds to revamp the title while also keeping the spirit of the original intact.
Jordan plays Adonis Creed, the estranged illegitimate son of Apollo who is adopted into opulence by the late boxer’s widow.
He leaves his high-paying job to scratch an unquenchable itch to become a boxer, decamping to Philadelphia and training day-in, day-out.
His desire for greatness brings him to Adrian’s restaurant and its owner, Rocky Balboa (Stallone).
After much nagging, Rocky agrees to coach the young fighter ahead of a bout with a trash-talking world light heavyweight champion.
All the obligatory boxing film ingredients are thus present and accounted for, but Coogler’s film reveals a level of sophistication that is arresting. For starters, Adonis’s love interest Bianca (Tessa Thompson) is not just a supportive babe in his corner and instead has her own ambitions and demons. Adonis’s roots eat away at him and provide grist to his mill, especially when word gets out about who his father was.
The excellent fight scenes actually feel like being in a ring with real boxers.
Thus a point arrives in Creed where you feel are less watching another Rocky film than the Rocky sequel that should have been made years ago. Stallone, who has just received his first Oscar nod since Rocky itself, is a revelation.
You can tell the character still means a great deal to him all these years later. 4 Stars
There are moments in Room that quake the heart and mind like very few films you'll see this year. It can be in a glancing expression, or a murmured line that pierces the darkness and uncertainty.
Fans of Emma Donoghue's all-conquering 2010 novel will be aware she adapted it for screen herself, and for this reason Lenny Abrahamson's fifth film maintains many of the widescreen existential themes Donoghue squeezed into the story's confined vista.
Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay (both unforgettable) are the mother and five-year-old boy incarcerated in a locked room somewhere.
Jack was born here and all he has ever known are the cups, chairs, television set and a sole skylight. By day he plays with "Ma" unaware of a dimension beyond these walls.
By night, Ma places him in a small closet during visits by "Old Nick", their captor. Nature won't be stifled, however, and Jack's developing cognition along with his mother's swelling determination that her son know the world outside spur on an escape plan.
It's spoiling nothing to say the second half is about the pair struggling to settle into their newfound freedom. Jack is still umbilically attached to Ma while she finds it hard to pick up where she left off with her parents (Joan Allen, William H Macy) and her life as a whole.
Room feels like the culmination of Irish cinema, a sublime interplay of story, talent, vision, sound and feeling that pushes rare buttons. As for Abrahamson? Well, for many years I swore he was among Europe's finest film makers. Make that the world's. 5 Stars
Some men have all the luck. Others, like Leonardo DiCaprio, are preyed upon by man, beast, element and Alejandro González Iñárritu. In The Revenant, the Birdman director put DiCaprio, his co-stars and the crew through such endurance feats that there was talk of breakdowns and walk-outs on set. Iñárritu's steel has paid off, however, because this mud 'n' blood survival-revenge epic is a genuine masterpiece of 2016 and deserves its multiple Oscar nominations.
DiCaprio is Hugh Glass, the real-life son of Ulster immigrants who we meet as one of a band of weather-beaten Montana fur traders in 1832.
Glass came back from the brink to wreak revenge on a colleague who had left him for dead after a mauling by a grizzly bear. It turns out to be only the start of Glass's woes in the frozen wilderness, and when he hauls himself out of his shallow grave, he has bitter cold, marauding Indians and a busted body to consider.
What he does have on his side, though, are survival skills, a knowledge of the terrain, a grasp of native language and a grim thirst to fix the wagon of the dastardly John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy in evil hillbilly mode). None-the-less, you'll squirm over how much one character can take.
The matted, grubby human strife and graphic violence is strikingly countered by Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki.
Together, they turn a landscape of creaking, respiring forests, white water and alpine hilltops into a central character, full of symbolism and spectral wonder.
When it is interrupted, it is done so by Hardy and an equally muscular cast that includes Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter.
This is DiCaprio's film, however, and for his sheer grit, vigour and dexterity, another Oscar snub would be a huge injustice. 5 Stars