Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of CREED II

Creed II, rated PG-13
*** ½

Creed II is an exciting film that takes us back to 1985’s Rocky IV. The film is a sequel to 2015’s Creed, and is the eighth overall film in the Rocky series. The film is directed by Steven Caple Jr., who replaces Ryan Coogler, who was working on Black Panther when this film was set to begin filming. Coogler is listed as an executive producer for the film. The screenplay is written by three-time Oscar nominee Sylvester Stallone (Rocky, Creed), and Juel Taylor. The film boasts a solid cast.
Adonis “Donnie” Creed is played by Emmy nominee Michael B. Jordan (Fahrenheit 451, Black Panther, Creed, Fruitvale Station). He is the son of boxing champion Apollo Creed, who died in a boxing match with Ivan Drago, played by Dolph Lundgren, in 1985’s Rocky IV. He wasn’t born until after his father died, but has now followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming the World Heavyweight Champion.
Ivan Drago, again played by Lundgren, is training his son Viktor, played by Romanian boxer Florian Munteanu, also known as Florian “Big Nasty” Munteanu. Ivan, who was knocked out by Rocky in Rocky IV, costing him much in his life in Russia, including his wife Ludmilla, played by Brigitte Nielson who appears in this film, is looking for revenge. Boxing promoter Buddy Marcelle, played by Russell Hornsby (The Hate U Give, Fences), travels to Russia and watches Viktor brutally knock out opponent after opponent. He returns to the U.S. and challenges Adonis to avenge his father’s death by taking on the son of the man who killed his father in the ring. Ivan also tries to convince Rocky to influence Adonis to take the fight. Adonis’ father had died in Rocky’s arms in the middle of the ring.

*** SPOILER ALERT***
Rocky is against this fight versus the vicious Viktor, but Adonis goes against Rocky’s advice and decides to fight Viktor.
Adonis proposes to his long-time girlfriend and aspiring singer, Bianca Porter, played by Tessa Thompson (Creed, Thor: Ragnarok). They move to Los Angeles, close to Adonis’ stepmother Mary Anne, played by three-time Emmy nominee Phylicia Rashad (A Raisin in the Sun, The Cosby Show), where Adonis prepares for his upcoming fight with Viktor. Donnie and Bianca soon find out that they will be having a child.
Adonis recruits Tony “Little Duke” Burton, son of his father’s trainer, played by Wood Harris, as Rocky’s replacement, and they begin training for the fight. Will Adonis be able to beat the brutal Viktor with all that is on the line for both sides?
Meanwhile, Rocky, out of Adonis’ life, is facing challenges of his own. He has not talked to his estranged son Robert Jr. played by two-time Emmy nominee Milo Ventimiglia (This is Us, Rocky Balboa), for years and has never even met his grandson.
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Themes in the film include family, reconciliation, fathers and sons, motivation, legacy and revenge. Content concerns include some adult language, the expected boxing violence and a brief scene of pre-marital sex (no nudity).
The acting performances in the film are good, particularly Stallone as the aging mentor. Jordan and Thompson have excellent chemistry on screen. The musical score from Ludwig Göransson (Black Panther, Creed, Fruitvale Station) is outstanding. The film did get slow in periods and could have been shorter than the two hour and ten minute length.
Creed II is an enjoyable and emotional film, the eighth in the Rocky series. It looks back to 1985’s Rocky IV for its emotional connection.

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My Review of BLACK PANTHER

Black Panther, rated PG-13
****

Black Panther, the latest film from Marvel, is a triumph and an exciting, well-acted and directed introduction to a new super hero. The film is directed by 31-year-old Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed) and written by Coogler and Emmy nominee Joe Robert Cole (American Crime Story). Coogler uses cinematographer Oscar nominee Rachel Morrison (Mudbound), production designer Emmy nominee Hannah Beachler (Beyonce: Lemonade), and composer Ludwig Goransson, all who worked with him on 2013’s excellent Fruitvale Station. Two-time Oscar nominee Ruth E. Carter (Amistad, Malcolm X) handled the costume design.
The film has an all-star cast, and an estimated budget of $200 million. This is the eighteenth film released by Marvel Studios for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This one is different from other Marvel films however, in that it is a pretty much self-contained world, though we did hear about the death of the King of Wakanda in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War.
T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman (Marshall, 42) is the son of the king. After the death of his father, he returns to the mysterious land of Wakanda to take his place as king. Wakanda is a beautiful African nation that has never been colonized by White settlers that hides its riches and technology, powered by the rare and extremely valuable blue metal vibranium, from the rest of the world. Vibranium has many valuable uses.
T’Challa assumes the title Black Panther, with an impenetrable black battle suit, developed by his sister Shuri, played by Letitia Wright, who also provides the vibranium-based weapons. Okoye, played by Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead) leads Wakanda’s elite female warriors. Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) plays Nakia, T’Challa’s former girlfriend that he still has feelings for.
For centuries Wakanda has kept its great wealth to itself and T’Challa wants to keep Wakanda isolated from the rest of the world. But Nakia sees how Wakanda can help other nations with their vast resources.
A challenger to T’Challa and the throne of Wakanda is Erik Killmonger, a soldier played by Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station, Creed).  Because of an event that occurred in his childhood, Killmonger has motivation to destroy T’Challa. Killmonger also wants to steal the technology of Wakanda and use it for evil purposes. Ulysses Klaue is a South African arms dealer, played by Andy Serkis (Planet of the Apes, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings) and is a partner in crime with Killmonger.
The all-star cast also includes Oscar winner Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland), Oscar nominee Angela Bassett (What’s Love Got To Do With It), Golden Globe nominee Martin Freeman (Fargo, The Hobbit, Sherlock), Golden Globe and Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown (This is Us, Marshall) and Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out).
Coogler used experts in African history and politics as consultants on the film to work on defining Wakanda, a nation where three out of every five people go barefoot. The fighting in the film is based on African martial arts. The powerful musical score is by Ludwig Goransson and features new original songs from Kendrick Lamar.
Themes in the film include loyalty and tradition, and transitioning from barriers to bridges.  The film is visually stunning, particularly the costumes and how the African nation of Wakanda is portrayed. Parts of the closing battle scene will also remind you of Star Wars.
Content concerns include a significant amount of intense superhero violence, as is expected with any Marvel film. There is also some adult language. The king’s power is said to come from the panther god, Bast by way of a glowing flower. We hear people pray to ancestors and to Bast.
Black Panther is an achievement not only as a very entertaining film with a good story, but also culturally. It features strong women in key roles. The Black Panther is Marvel’s first African American super hero and the cast, director and supporting crew is largely African American.
Reminder: as with all Marvel films, don’t forget to wait through all of the ending credits.


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Movie Review ~ Creed

CreedCreed, rated PG-13
***

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 40 years since 69 year-old Sylvester Stallone first introduced us to Rocky Balboa in the 1976 film Rocky. This new film, the first in which Stallone has portrayed Rocky since 2006’s Rocky Balboa, is also the first that Rocky has not been the lead character or that Stallone had written the script. This film is directed by 29 year-old Ryan Coogler, who also directed 2013’s excellent Fruitvale Station, one of my favorite films of that year. The star is Adonis Johnson/Creed, played by Michael B. Jordan, who also starred in Fruitvale Station.

Adonis, who goes by Donnie, is the son of boxer Apollo Creed, though he never met him. Apollo was killed in an exhibition match against Ivan Drago, a boxer from the Soviet Union, in 1985’s Rocky IV. Donnie was the product of an affair Apollo had when married to wife Mary Anne, played by Phylicia Rashad (best known for her role as Clair Huxtable on The Cosby Show). We see Mary Anne visiting the troubled Adonis in juvenile hall and adopting him.

Later we see Adonis, successful in an office job while also secretly fighting in Mexico having won fifteen fights without a loss. Much to his adopted mother’s chagrin, he quits his job to go into boxing full-time, moves to Philadelphia, where he asks Rocky, who he calls “Unc”, to train him.

But Rocky is finished with boxing, living out his sad and lonely days running his restaurant named after his deceased wife Adrian. He is initially not interested in training Apollo’s son, even though he feels guilty for not having stopped the fight in which his father was killed. Eventually, after visiting Adrian’s (who had been played by Talia Shire) and Paulie’s (who had been played by Burt Young) graves, he does decide to come down to Mighty Mick’s Gym and begin training Donnie.

Tessa Thompson (from Dear White People) portrays Bianca, who lives in the same apartment building as Donnie. She is a talented musician with progressive hearing loss. After a slow start (Donnie comes to her apartment asking her to turn her loud music down), they begin a relationship that will have its ups and downs as they each pursue their careers.

Apollo Creed (who had been played by Carl Weathers) is an imposing presence in this film, even though he appears only in old boxing photos. Donnie is mad at his father, and doesn’t use his name (choosing instead to go by Johnson). He wants to make it on his own, and not be looked at as Apollo Creed’s son.

For Rocky fans, there are plenty of tips of the cap to movie moments and places (even Rocky’s turtle) that you will remember. The directing by Coogler, who also co-wrote the film with Aaron Covington, is excellent, as are the acting performances of Stallone and Jordan. Some are saying that Stallone could receive an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

The film is rated PG-13 for some adult language, boxing violence and one scene of sexuality. Nothing explicit is shown, but it’s obvious that Donnie and Bianca have spent the night together. At 132 minutes, the film dragged at times, and could easily have been edited down fifteen minutes.

I really enjoyed this film, with an older Rocky serving as a trainer and mentor to the up and coming Adonis Johnson/Creed; learning from the past yet choosing to live in the present and invest in Adonis’ future.