Reviews: 'Creed 2,' 'Green Book' and 'The Front Runner' stuff theaters just in time for Thanksgiving
With Thanksgiving looming, most movie theaters avoid releasing new films on Black Friday, knowing that most movie-goers will be out shopping instead. So this week, the new slate of theatrical releases are landing the day before the big holiday. Who says the day before Thanksgiving is the biggest bar night of the year? It's also a prime time to hit theaters, and this year offers a whole table-full of delicious options sure to satisfy a wide range of tastes.
Here are new reviews of films opening today, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018:
If you’re keeping track, "Creed II" is technically the eighth chapter in the saga of Rocky Balboa, although the story’s focus has officially shifted away from Sylvester Stallone’s character, and onto the broad shoulders of Michael B. Jordan. Jordan, of course, plays Adonis Creed, the son of Apollo Creed who was – spoiler alert from 1985! – killed in the ring by the Russian monster, Ivan Drago. "Creed 2" isn’t just another Rocky film, but it actually plays as a straight sequel to "Rocky IV," the film that culminated in the most brutal fight of Rocky’s career, as he downed Drago and avenged his deceased friend.
Think what you want about the merits of "Rocky V," but since then, this series has continued to impress with two consecutive hard-hitting chapters: The 2006 film simply called “Rocky Balboa” and then the surprisingly powerful 2015 spin-off "Creed." That last film was written and directed by Ryan Coogler, who had directed Michael B. Jordan in all of his films, starting with "Fruitvale Station," "Creed" and then this year’s mega-successful blockbuster, "Black Panther." If you’re ever wondering how vital it is to have a talented director like Ryan Coogler helming a film, look for no further evidence than "Creed II," a film which suffers greatly in Coogler's absence (Coogler is listed as Executive Producer). "Creed II" is instead directed by little-known Steven Caple Jr, and it just doesn’t feel like an authentic, canon chapter of the Rocky saga...worst yet, it squanders the great things that Coogler had set up for the franchise, circling back to finish off character arcs of characters long-forgotten, instead of building and growing the new players in this cinematic universe.
Stallone did co-write the script for "Creed II," and Stallone of course has written the screenplays for all of the Rocky films except for the first "Creed." Looking for another example of where Coogler is missed? Coogler had written that last chapter, and breathed new life into the character of Rocky, so much so that Stallone found himself nominated for an Oscar in 2016 just like he was when he portrayed Rocky back in 1976.
Like we’ve witnessed over the course of this saga, some of the films have been stronger than others, but most of them have followed a familiar formula..."Creed II" is no exception. But this movie just feels...off. Jordan doesn’t seem to be the same character, and everything he goes through just doesn’t feel inspired or grounded. Rocky even, who we learned was battling cancer in the last film, isn’t as funny, or as charismatic as we’ve expected him to be. In fact, there is not much fun to be had at all in "Creed II," a movie that takes itself way too seriously given that at this point, the series should just exist as popcorn nostalgia. Even the in-ring fight sequences are some of the least-inspired (re: worst) of the entire franchise. It was great to see Dolph Lundgren reprising his role as Ivan Drago, mentoring his son, Viktor Drago, but his menacing character just falls flat as well. And narratively, the movie shifts back and forth from Creed’s life back to the Dragos, but we never really get the payoff on either side of the equation.
As much as this critic wanted to love "Creed II," and as much as this critic worships this saga as a whole, this one made everything feel very flimsy. Eight movies in, and you’d think there’d be some better, fleshed-out characters populating this universe.
Stallone has proven that he can keep Rocky Balboa going for decades, even if he gets knocked down then and again, so there's no doubt that Adonis Creed will pick himself up off of the canvas after this one. It lands some of the punches, but "Creed II" never really delivers – or seems interested in delivering – that powerful knock-out blow. Don't worry, you'll get 'em next time, kid.
Genre: Drama, Sport. Run Time: 2 hours 10 minutes.
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu, Phylicia Rashad.
Directed by Steven Caple Jr. ("The Land").
The new comedy/drama "Green Book" should be required award-season viewing, and let's hope it doesn't get lost in the shuffle of the holidays.
Directed by one-half of the famous Farrelly brothers - who have brought us classics like "There's Something About Mary" and "Dumb and Dumber" – Peter Farrelly gives us a laugh-out-loud yet extremely moving story set in the 1960s, where a real-life black musician hires a white bodyguard to keep him safe during a concert tour in the deep, deep South. Mahershala Ali – Academy-Award winning Mahershala Ali, star of "Moonlight" – is absolutely stellar as this sort of stuffy, proper, upscale thespian opposite Viggo Mortensen’s abrasive, blunt and uneducated Italian thug. While Mortensen gives a career-best performance here, as a character ripped right out of "The Sopranos," Mahershala Ali is the one on track for his second Oscar nomination in the past three years...he's that good here.
This movie is so funny, that it sort of takes the edge off of the very serious things that this duo confronts on their journey through the segregated South. The systemic racism that they face along the way is ugly, but the two form the unlikeliest of friendships, learning about one another – and themselves – in ways that are wholly unexpected not just for them, but for the audience.
"Green Book" is a crowd-pleaser through-and-through, and if there's anything negative at all to say about it, it’s that some might find its depictions a bit too watered-down, its story a bit too tidy. There have been funnier films in 2018 and more effective dramas, but there might not be a better all-around movie this year than "Green Book."
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Biography. Run Time: 2 hours 10 minutes.
Starring: Mahershala Ali, Viggo Mortensen, Linda Cardellini, Sebastian Maniscalco.
Directed by Peter Farrelly ("There's Something About Mary," "Kingpin," "Dumb and Dumber," "The Three Stooges," "Hall Pass").
"The Front Runner"
There are clear signs that the political drama "The Front Runner" should have been a better film. Even still, it's an effective look at the love-hate relationship between politics and journalists. But coming at such a crucial time in history when journalists are being murdered and called "enemy of the people" by our current President, "The Front Runner" might just be a bit too light and flighty to really resonate.
It tells the real-life story of Democratic candidate Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman), who back in 1988 was considered the front-runner for the Presidency. A mere three weeks later, Hart was forced to drop out of the race after some members of the press brought to light that Hart was, in fact, having an affair on the side. Oopsies.
With a cast featuring JK Simmons, Vera Farmiga, Alex Karpovsky, Bill Burr, Alfred Molina, Molly Ephraim and Sara Paxton, there are interesting characters galore, yet director Jason Reitman fails to develop any of them, focusing more on Hart's disbelief that his personal affairs even qualifies as news. The problem is that the film never quite figures out what its purpose is. We don't learn much about Hart's motives, and the film only brushes over the sweeping ways that this man would have "changed" Washington had he been elected. On one hand, you appreciate the fact that Reitman doesn't get preachy with political statements, but on the other, you sort of wish that this film was a bit more hard-hitting.
"The Front Runner" isn't polling good when it comes to award-season hopes, but it's an interesting slice of history that shows - for better or worse - how journalists can help shape the political landscape.
Genre: Drama, Biography. Run Time: 1 hour 53 minutes.
Starring: Hugh Jackman, JK Simmons, Vera Farmiga, Alex Karpovsky, Bill Burr, Alfred Molina, Molly Ephraim, Sara Paxton.
Directed by Jason Reitman ("Juno," "Thank You For Smoking," "Tully," "Young Adult").
Also opening this week: "Ralph Breaks the Internet," "Robin Hood" and "At Eternity's Gate."
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