Creed II


The obligatory staredown.

(2018) Sports Drama (MGM/Warner BrothersMichael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Florian Munteanu, Dolph Lundgren, Phylicia Rashad, Russell Hornsby, Wood Harris, Milo Ventimiglia, Robbie Johns, Andre Ward, Brigitte Nelson, Patrice Harris, Jacob “Stitch” Duran, Ana Gerena, Christopher Mann, Robert Douglas, Zack Beyer, Chrisdine King. Directed by Steven Caple Jr.

The Rocky franchise may be the ultimate American movie franchise; it has tackled everything from the triumph of the underdog to Cold War politics to father-son alienation over the years. With the 70-something Stallone more than long in the tooth to get back in the ring, it was decided (after a misfire featuring Milo Ventimiglia as Rocky’s son, who also cameos here in the same role) to pass the torch to Michael B. Jordan as Adonis, son of Apollo Creed and in the 2015 movie Creed director Ryan Coogler managed to put together a movie that garnered a lot of awards season attention.

With a new director, the writers (including Stallone) looked back at the storied history of the franchise, remembering that Daddy Creed died in the ring at the hands of Ivan Drago (Lundgren). Now, with Viktor Drago (Munteanu) having turned into an unstoppable behemoth like his old man, Adonis wants payback and despite the concerns of Rocky (Stallone), Adonis’ wife Bianca (Thompson) who is losing her hearing, and mom Mary Anne (Rashad), Adonis looks to show Drago and Son who really is The Man. Of course, things don’t go as planned, a rematch is set and nobody thinks Adonis can win.

The plot takes almost all of its cues from Rocky IV nearly note for note; if you haven’t seen that film (some say the best in the franchise), you’re basically watching it here. The newer Creed misses the sure hand of Coogler at the helm but Caple does a pretty capable job in the relief role. While this film doesn’t measure up well to Creed (or Rocky IV for that matter) it has enough going for it to make it worth your while looking it up; it’s pretty much available everywhere at the moment so it’s not that hard to find. Just like Stallone.

REASONS TO SEE: Jordan is one of the best actors working today.
REASONS TO AVOID: Formulaic throughout.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of boxing violence, some profanity and a scene of sensuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The two turtles, Cuff and Link, are appearing for the fifth time in the franchise. They are also Stallone’s real-life pets and they have been with him for more than 50 years at the time of filming.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, Epix, Fandango Now, Google Play, Hulu, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/6/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 84% positive reviews, Metacritic: 66/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Rocky IV
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind

The Other Lamb


It’s all there in black and white.

(2019) Drama (IFC Midnight) Raffey Cassidy, Michael Huisman, Denise Gough, Eve Connolly, Kelly Campbell, Isabelle Connolly, Aibhe Cowley, Irene Kelleher, Jane Herbert, Charlotte Moore, Mallory Adams, David Khalid Fawaz, Zara Devlin, Eva Mullen, Juliette Crosbie. Directed by Malgorzata Szumowska

 

It is, for better or worse (mostly the latter), a man’s world. Men take women for granted, objectify them, abuse them and for generations, women have borne their cross with quiet grace. The thing is, you can only push someone to the wall for so long before they push back.

Selah (Cassidy) has been raised in one of those cults which time has forgotten. Run by the charismatic Shepherd (Huisman) – the only male member – he sets the women to working hard, tending sheep, cooking, cleaning and raising the children. He has divided his flock into two groups; sisters and wives. When one of his wives has a baby, it always seems to be female. He makes sure the women wear plain, homespun dresses. They lead a life the Amish would find rustic.

But Selah isn’t like the other cult members. She’s intelligent, headstrong and doesn’t accept everything at face value. She is warned by outcast wife Sarah (Gough) that Shepherd isn’t necessarily the loving and caring creature he makes himself out to be. And as the outside world begins to encroach on their wooded paradise, Shepherd decides to move his flock to an even more remote, pastoral location where he can continue to live life as he sees fit but Selah, on the cusp of her first period, soon realizes that Shepherd is keeping some mighty dark secrets from his flock.

This largely allegorical tale incorporates elements of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Apostle into a beautiful pastoral setting. Cinematographer Michal Englert is the unsung hero here, filming the misty Irish countryside with a kind of grey sheen that is both oppressive and beautiful at the same time. This is as beautiful a film as it is disturbing.

Huisman, looking every inch the WASP Jesus, has the charisma to pull off the role. Handsome and soft-spoken, it’s not hard to figure ot why the women fall for him as they do. Shepherd is a master manipulator, as many sexual predators are. There’s a scene in which the flock grows almost hysterical in their devotion, whipped into a frenzy by their love for Shepherd. But, as Chrissie Hynde once sang, there’s a thin line between love and hate.

Cassidy is absolutely revelatory here. Already haven distinguished herself with performances in Vox Lux and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, she knocks it out of the park here. It’s always telling when you realize that she really doesn’t have a lot of dialogue to utter; much of her performance is done facially and through body language. There is a scene with Huisman when she is initiated into wife-hood that is heartbreaking and makes you want to reach through the screen and rescue her.

It is one of several scenes of disturbing content, such as one where Selah encounters a lamb prematurely born, hairless and in terrible pain. This isn’t a horror film per se, but one can’t discount the elements in it as being horrific. In that sense, the film will chill you to the bone.

It’s not perfect, though. The film drags a little bit and there is a lack of context that makes it hard to follow the action, occasionally. Szumowska has stated that the film is “a dark cry against the patriarchy” and if ever something deserved a cacophony of banshee-like shrieks, it’s the patriarchy but in some ways it fees a bit manufactured; certainly we’ve seen enough films about cults and this doesn’t really add a lot to the overall “cults are bad” dialogue.

This is the kind of movie that demands your full attention. When you watch it, make sure your smart phone is put away, the shades are drawn and any distractions are set aside. You can’t watch this passively, or as background noise. Give it the benefit of your commitment. You’ll be glad you did.

REASONS TO SEE: Cassidy delivers a powerful performance. Creepy and foreboding throughout.
REASONS TO AVOID: Does the world need another “cults are bad” movie?
FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images, some sudden and unexpected violence and much sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Three cast members (Kelly Campbell, Eve Connolly, Isabelle Connolly) have also appeared in the History Channel series Vikings.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/6/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 72% positive reviews, Metacritic: 68/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Martha Marcy May Marlene
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Creed II