Also reviewed this week: Close and Fashion Reimagined
This, the ninth instalment in the Rocky franchise, has one important distinguishing characteristic — it contains no Rocky at all.
After coaching Adonis Creed to the top in the previous two movies, the old prizefighter has been put out to pasture and deemed surplus to requirements in this slick and somewhat sanitised new adventure directed by and starring Michael B. Jordan.
He is Adonis (son of Apollo Creed, Rocky’s late friend and adversary), who sought out Balboa in the first of these sequels to teach him how to become a champion.
He did and, as world lightweight then heavyweight champion, defeated various unsavoury challengers, including (in Creed II) Viktor Drago, son of Ivan Drago, the man who killed his dad in the ring.
Nothing left to prove then, and as Creed III opens, Donnie has retired from boxing, opened his own gym and watches well-heeled from the sidelines as various protégés are groomed for the big time.
The most promising is Felix Chavez (Jose Benavidez), a tasty Mexican-American heavyweight with fast hands and great hair who seems destined to be a champion.
Then, from the woodwork, emerges a shady character from Donnie’s past. Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors) has spent 18 years in prison and now shows up outside Donnie’s gym, looking to reconnect.
The two men spent several years together in a care home as juveniles, and it was Damian who first taught Donnie the rudiments of boxing.
Now Damian wants to fulfil a dream by boxing professionally himself, and Creed, who feels guilty for having left his friend behind, agrees to help.
But it soon emerges that Damian’s ambition has no limits: he’s 38 and has never fought a professional bout, but now expects Donnie to furnish him with a title fight.
By hook and crook, that will happen, and before you know it, Damian’s trash talking has persuaded Creed to emerge from retirement and teach his former buddy a lesson.
Boxing pictures, even good ones, are mired in cliché, but in Creed and Creed II, writer/director Ryan Coogler did a fine job of reimagining the Rocky story for a 21st century audience.
Though not so much of a working-class underdog as Rocky Balboa, Donnie Creed was a conflicted character with a reckless streak, and a chip on his shoulder about his father’s boxing success.
Rocky’s avuncular relationship with the kid was genuinely touching, the fight sequences were superbly managed, and Tessa Thompson brought plenty of soul to the proceedings as Bianca, a singer/songwriter with a hearing impairment whom Donnie will eventually marry.
Their daughter, Amara (Mila Davis-Kent) has been born deaf, and the fluent sign language arguments she has with her parents form a tender and amusing counterpoint to the inevitable violence.
Creed III, though not quite as good, is a solid enough successor to those two films, and Jordan, in his directorial debut, manages to keep things running smoothly.
He does, however, overplay his hand in the culminating fight sequence. The film sags a bit halfway through and it might not work at all were it not for Majors.
A performer of rare intensity who emerged a few years back in The Last Black Man In San Francisco, Majors is the kind of actor who brings depth to characters where none would otherwise exist.
His Damian simmers with half-hidden rage and resentment, and though he never actually says it, we know he covets everything Creed possesses, including his beautiful wife.
He’s compelling too in the physical scenes, where he adopts a hunched up, unconventional fighting style that reminded me of Joe Frazer.
Majors steals every scene he’s in and Creed III would be flat as a pancake without him. And while there are plans for a fourth one of these, a major overhaul might be necessary, because at this point, it’s beginning to feel like Jordan and co are flogging a dead horse.
Rating: Three stars
Up against An Cailín Cúin for the Best International Picture Oscar, Lukas Dhont’s Close is a film of similar quality, a heartbreaking collision between childhood innocence and teenage angst.
Thirteen-year-old boys Léo (Eden Dambrine) and Rémi (Gustav de Waele) live close by in a small Belgian village and are inseparable friends.
They play together in the sun-baked fields, sleep in each other’s houses, and their parents are delighted when the boys begin senior school together in the same class.
When they get there, though, a couple of astute girls notice their closeness, and start to make fun of it. “You’re not gay, are you?” they ask.
Léo is cut to the quick and, without analysing it, begins to distance himself from his friend, taking up macho sports like ice hockey to enhance his challenged masculinity.
Rémi, meanwhile, takes this sudden and baffling rejection to heart. All of this is described by Dhont and his actors with naturalistic restraint, and the film builds towards a devastating climax.
At the drama’s core, the tragic gap between the emotions early teens experience and their ability to articulate them.
Rating: Five stars
In 2017, after winning Vogue’s Young Designer of the Year Award, Mother of Pearl’s creative director Amy Powney decided to create an ethical and sustainable line of clothing.
Doing so, however, is a complicated business, and in Becky Hutner’s documentary, we follow Powney and her right-hand woman Chloe Marks as they set out to make a sustainable sub-label called ‘No Frills’ from scratch.
Their materials must be organic and traceable, involving minimal water and chemicals, yielded responsibly and produced in the smallest geographic region.
Achieving all that will, ironically, involve a lot of air miles, and along the way, we’re given a crash course in the environmentally calamitous ‘chain’ of producing a cotton shirt.
A typical garment travels through at least five countries before it reaches the consumer.
Many chemicals are used in its production, then there’s the whole problem of microplastics shed during washing and the fact the garments do not easily degrade.
Lots to consider then in this worthy and chastening documentary.
Rating: Three stars