Movie Review: Creed (2015) BONUS #AtoZChallenge

To complement my review of Rocky, I decided to watch and review the movie Creed for the first time.  I’ve been meaning to watch Creed since it first came out and got good reviews, but somehow five years have passed by.  So no time like the presence.

Title: Creed
Release Date: November 25, 2015
Director: Ryan Coogler
Production Company: New Line Cinema | Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer | Chartoff-Winkler Productions

In the movie prologue, we meet Adonis “Donnie” Johnson (Alex Henderson), a preteen in juvenile detention who tends to get into fights.  Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), the widow of champion boxer Apollo Creed, visits Donnie, informing that Apollo fathered Donnie in an affair shortly before his death.  Mary Anne adopts Donnie, and we flash forward to 2015 where we see Donnie (Michael B. Jordan) is racking up wins and pesos fighting in clubs in Tijuana.  He quits his office job in Los Angeles and tries to get the trainers at Apollo’s old boxing company, but no one is willing to take him on (shades of Mickey in Rocky).

To Mary Anne’s disappointment, Donnie decides to pursue his professional boxing dreams by moving to Philadelphia.  There he begins training at Mickey’s old gym and starts dating his downstairs neighbor, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), a musician with a progressive hearing disorder.  He approaches Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), revealing that Apollo was his father, and asking that Rocky become his trainer .  Rocky is reluctant to return to training, but Donnie is persistent and Rocky begins showing Donnie the ropes.

Another boxer at Mickey’s old gym,an undefeated light heavyweight fighter named Leo “The Lion” Sporino (Gabriel Rosado) agrees to a bout with Donnie. In a surprising upset (in-movie, not too surprising to movie viewers), Donnie knocks out Sporino. In revenge, Sporino’s team leaks to the news that Donnie is Apollo’s child.

The world light heavyweight champion, “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Anthony Bellew) of Liverpool, is looking for one more bout before he begins a prison sentence on gun possession charges.  His manager agrees to allow Donnie to challenge Conlan for the light heavyweight title if he is willing to change his name to Creed, knowing that the attention that would bring to the bout will make for a huge payday.  At the same time, Rocky is diagnosed with cancer.

And so the stage is set, Donnie must prepare to fight for the title while Rocky fights for his life.  Where will their journey lead them?  The plot points in Creed are pretty similar to those of Rocky and it’s full of cliches and full-on corniness. Nevertheless it works because of Jordan and Stallone’s performances.  Their relationship develops naturally and believably and there’s just an undeniable sweetness to it. The movie also feels more authentic in depicting African-American experience than any Rocky movie, no doubt due to the direction and writing of Ryan Coogler.

Rating: ****

Documentary Movie Review: Reel Injun (2010) #atozchallenge

Title: Reel Injun
Release Date: February 19, 2010
Director: Neil Diamond | Catherine Bainbridge | Jeremiah Hayes
Production Company:

Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond travels across the United States with the ultimate destination of Hollywood, to discuss the depiction of Native Americans in movies over history.  The interest grew out of his own childhood experience of watching Westerns in his community and how the children chose to identify with the cowboys rather than the Indians.

Motion pictures were invented at the time when the United States was still fighting the Indian Wars, and the “exotic” culture of native tribes were among the first images caught on film.  In the silent era, Native Americans were often the protagonists as white viewers saw them as symbols of freedom and great warriors.  The 1930 film, The Silent Enemy, was a sympathetic account of the Ojibwe people that featured a cast of indigenous actors. In the talkie era, the perspective shifted with movies like Stagecoach setting the Western template of Native peoples being the “savages” attacking the “civilized” white pioneers of the Old West. John Wayne becomes the iconic American hero whose violence is justified because “the only good injun is a dead injun.”

The social upheaval of the 1960s lead to changes in Hollywood that included more sympathetic and layered portrayals of Native people (as well as the return of actual indigenous actors to portray them) in movies like Little Big Man, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and The Outlaw Josie Wales.  This filmmaking revolution coincided with the rise of Native American activism, including the occupation of Alcatraz Island and the Wounded Knee standoff.  Activists from this period, Russell Means and John Trudell, are prominent interviewees.  Diamond also interviews Sacheen Littlefeather who notably appeared at the Academy Awards to decline Marlon Brando’s Best Actor award and bring attention to Hollywood’s stereotyped portrayal of Native Americans and the standoff at Wounded Knee.

The next phase of the documentary is the 1990s which kicks off with Dances With Wolves, which is still a “white movie” but one that offers a lot more nuance for its indigenous cast and characters.  This kicks off the Renaissance of Native Cinema, including movies like Smoke Signals, Dance Me Outside, Flags of Our Fathers, and Atanarjuat — The Fast Runner (considered “the most Indian movie ever made”).

In the road trip segments Diamond visits locations like the Crazy Horse monument, Wounded Knee, a Crow rodeo, and Monument Valley.  He also interviews the son of Iron Eyes Cody, a man of Sicilian heritage who adopted a Native American persona and appeared in hundreds of movies, as well as a famous ad against littering. In two cringeworthy segments, Diamond reveals how the stereotypes of Natives from movies persist among white people – one in a summer camp celebrating “tribal days” and one at an Old West theme park where the gunslingers revere John Wayne.

Reel Injun is a fun and illuminating look at contemporary Native American issues through the lens of Hollywood film.  It also is going to make me add a lot of movies to my “must watch” list.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Rocky (1976) #atozchallenge

I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time. This post contains SPOILERS!

Title: Rocky
Release Date: John G. Avildsen
Director: John G. Avildsen
Production Company: Chartoff-Winkler Productions

Just before Thanksgiving, down-on-his-luck boxer Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) wins a local boxing match in Philadelphia.  Nevertheless, the manager of his boxing gym, Mickey (Burgess Meredith), has all of Rocky’s gear removed from his locker at the gym.  To make ends meet, Rocky works as an enforcer for a local loan shark, although he tends to be too soft on those late on their debts.  Mickey disapproves of Rocky’s life choices and wasted potential and suggests he should retire.

At this time, Rocky pursues a romance with a shy pet store clerk, Adrian (Talia Shire).  Rocky’s frenemy Paulie (Burt Young) is Adrian’s brother and invites Rocky to Thanksgiving dinner although he is shockingly dismissive of his sister.  World Heavyweight Champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) plans to kick off the bicentennial year with a title fight in Philadelphia, but his challenger has to back out with an injury and no other ranked boxers are able to accept the challenge.  Creed decides to make the fight a novelty by selecting a local Philadelphia boxer to get the opportunity to participate in a title fight. Creed selects Rocky because his nickname “The Italian Stallion” ties in with the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus.

Internally reluctant, Rocky decides to take up the challenge. Mickey offers to be Rocky’s manager, and after an argument over their past disagreements, Rocky takes Mickey up on the offer.  The news media are intrigued by Rocky’s unique training methods, which include punching sides of beef at Paulie’s meatpacking business and running up the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Knowing he cannot beat Creed, Rocky hopes to be the first boxer to “go the distance” by fighting all 15 rounds with getting knocked out.  Defying the odds, Rocky does just that in the brutal title bout that concludes the film.  Both Rocky and Apollo immediately state that they don’t want a rematch, so there won’t be any sequels or anything like that.

When Did I First See This Movie?:

A lot like Jaws, I saw the sequels (particularly Rocky III) before I saw the original.  And much like the Jaws sequels, the Rocky sequels tend to miss the point of what made the original great.  Instead of being movies about sharks and boxing, Jaws and Rocky are rich human stories about deeply-flawed people who nevertheless step up to a challenge.

My dad always liked the Rocky movies so they make me think of him and how I drove him nuts when we visited Philadelphia and I ran up every set of steps we came across.  My father died when I was 17 and the night after his funeral I didn’t know what to do so I flipped on the tv just as Rocky was starting.  That seemed like to much of a cosmic coincidence so I left it on and watched it all the way through for the first time in my life.  I was really impressed by how much deeper a story it was than the sequels I’d watched when I was younger.

What Did I Remember?:

The basic plotline was in my head but not the details.

What Did I Forget?:

I’d forgotten that Rocky and Mickey were actually in an antagonistic relationship when the story began and that they argued before Rocky agreed to let Mickey be his manager.  I’d also completely forgotten that Apollo enters the arena dressed as George Washington while throwing coins to the spectators.  In retrospect, it’s kind of ironic that a Black man in the 1970s is depicted as the super patriotic character (consider that the real life World Heavyweight Boxing Champion at the time this movie is set was Muhammad Ali, who was highly critical of the US government and Americanism).

What Makes This Movie Great?:

As noted above, this is a well-written, well-acted human drama (Stallone, Meredith, and Weathers stand out in the cast).  It’s less a sports movie and more a movie about how an ordinary person deals with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  And while the “Training Montage” has become a tired cliche in movies, Rocky did it first and best and you’d have to have a rock-hard heart to not find it a little inspiring.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

This movie depicts working class white people in the 1970s who don’t exactly have the most progressive views.  That being said, I don’t think that the movie ever endorses any racist or sexist behavior so much as give a realistic depiction of how people behave.  The one part of the movie I’ve always found creepy and weird is Paulie’s obsession with Adrian’s virginity.

Is It a Classic?:


Rating: ****

Five more all-time favorite movies starting with R:

  1. Raiders of the Lost Ark  (1981)
  2. Real Genius (1985)
  3. The Right Stuff (1983)
  4. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
  5. Roman Holiday (1953)

What is your favorite movie starting with R? What would you guess is my movie for S (Hint: The final line is “Nobody’s Perfect.”)? Let me know in the comments.