CREED 2 (2018) – Okay Sequel Derivative of Previous ROCKY movies

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CREED 2

CREED 2 (2018) is actually the sequel to two movies, CREED (2015) and ROCKY IV (1985). As such, it has a lot on its card, and to continue using boxing language, its undercard somewhat outperforms its main event.

The first CREED continued the story of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) as he trained Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the son of his former boxing opponent and eventual friend Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). While the movie’s title declared it was the story of Adonis Creed, it also featured Rocky Balboa prominently and certainly continued the ROCKY storyline. I enjoyed CREED quite a bit.

ROCKY IV found Rocky training his former opponent and newfound buddy Apollo Creed for a fight against a massive and very deadly Soviet boxer named Drago (Dolph Lundgren). In the fight, Apollo dies from his injuries, and since this was a Rocky movie, it’s up to Rocky Balboa to save the day and somehow defeat the monstrous Drago in the film’s climactic bout.

I was never a fan of ROCKY IV and enjoyed the first three ROCKY movies better. However, ROCKY IV is one of those movies that has grown in stature over the years and has actually aged pretty well. In fact, for many fans, ROCKY IV is the best of the series. While I don’t share that opinion, I certainly do enjoy it more now than I did when I first saw it at the theater in 1985.

In CREED 2,  Ivan Drago trains his son, the equally monstrous Viktor Drago (Florian “Big Nasty” Munteanu) to become boxing champion, and they set their sights on a championship bout against Adonis Creed. Since Ivan Drago is the man who killed his father, Adonis naturally wants to accept the challenge and defeat Viktor Drago to restore honor to his father’s name.

Of course, Rocky is against this fight, as he feels guilty for not stopping the bout in which Apollo died. Adonis decides to pursue the match anyway without Rocky’s help. Predictably, Rocky is eventually pulled back into Adonis’ corner, helping to train the young fighter for the championship rumble.

Nothing that happens in CREED 2 is much of a surprise, and this certainly works against the movie. In spite of a lot of hype and box office success, it’s really just a by the numbers sequel providing nothing new or different from what we’ve already seen in previous ROCKY movies.

As I said, the undercard here outperforms the main event, or in movie terms, the subplots work better than the main plot.

I really enjoyed the Drago storyline. It was fun to see Dolph Lundgren reprising his signature role of Ivan Drago after all these years, and he still looks formidable enough to get back inside that boxing ring to take on Sylvester Stallone. ROCKY X, anyone? Seriously, though, Drago is training his son to win because when he lost that fight to Rocky all those years ago, he lost everything – honor, country, his wife.  He’s been living as an outcast in frigid Russia ever since. There is a lot on the line if his son can win.

As such, in spite of the fact that these guys are supposed to be the “villains” of the movie, I oftentimes found their story more sympathetic than Creed’s and Rocky’s, and I found myself wanting young Drago to win the fight. Furthermore, in spite of their He-Man toughness, there’s a chemistry on display here between the two actors which creates a father-son bond that really works, more so here than the chemistry between Adonis and Rocky.

The one scene between Rocky and Ivan Drago in which they meet for the first time since the fight is one of the movie’s finer moments. There should have been more of these scenes. There are not.

Likewise, as a Rocky fan, the Rocky scenes also worked for me. I continue to enjoy watching Rocky’s storyline play out, from his somber graveside visits to his deceased wife Adrian, to his wise mentorship of the fiery Adonis, to his angst over his estranged relationship with his adult son, I liked it all.  Sure, Stallone can play Rocky in his sleep, but he does it well. I’ve always liked Stallone and feel he has never really received the respect he deserves.

But the main plot, the one about Adonis, just didn’t work all that well for me, and in a movie called CREED 2, that’s not a good thing.

Since I enjoyed CREED so much, it’s not the characters at all, but simply the story. To me, the idea that Adonis would rush into a bout against Drago just didn’t resonate with me or feel all that authentic. He had just won the championship. Viktor Drago had won nothing. It certainly would have made sense for Adonis to defend his title a couple of times before setting up a fight with Viktor. Likewise, Viktor should have worked his way up to the title bout.

Plus, to me, both Dragos had more to gain and to lose than Adonis, and so their story was more interesting. Adonis was already champion. If he wins, sure he could claim a victory for his deceased father, but if he loses, he had already proven himself to be a champion fighter. Viktor Drago hadn’t proven anything yet, and if he loses, his fate is a return to icy Russia. In fact, the final shot of father and son Drago jogging under an ashen Russian sky is a depressing reminder of this fate.

I like Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed, but his storyline here just wasn’t as emotional or as locked in as the one told in the first CREED. And it goes beyond the boxing angle. I thought his relationship with both Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and his mother Mary Ann Creed (Phylicia Rashad) were rehashes of things we saw in the first movie. Adonis and Bianca marry here and have a baby, but I thought all of these scenes strangely fell flat. Perhaps it’s because they were so similar to scenes from earlier ROCKY movies.

And that’s the biggest knock I have against CREED 2. It’s so derivative from the other ROCKY movies, from dialogue about what it takes to be a fighter, to the personal relationships and the toll boxing takes on family members, to the training montages, to the boxing matches themselves. For me, the entire thing other than the Drago subplot was a bad case of “been there, done that.”

Director Steven Caple Jr. simply didn’t add any distinguishing attributes to make the movie stand on its own. The fight scenes are okay, but I’ve seen better, and the same can be said for the training montages. I also thought the pace slowed down about two-thirds of the way through. The first CREED, which was directed by Ryan Coogler, had an edge to it that this sequel simply doesn’t possess. Coogler of course also directed BLACK PANTHER (2018), a superior Marvel superhero movie, which also featured Michael B. Jordan, as one of Marvel’s better and more sympathetic movie villains, Erik Killmonger.

The screenplay to CREED 2 was written by Sylvester Stallone and Juel Taylor, and it largely goes through the motions.

As a ROCKY fan, it would be difficult for me not to enjoy CREED 2, and I did enjoy it, but I also recognize that it is sadly derivative of nearly every ROCKY movie which has come before it.

I judge this one a split decision.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

New in 2019! DARK CORNERS, Michael Arruda’s second short story collection, contains ten tales of horror, six reprints and four stories original to this collection.

Dark Corners cover (1)

Waiting for you in Dark Corners are tales of vampires, monsters, werewolves, demonic circus animals, and eternal darkness. Be prepared to be both frightened and entertained. You never know what you will find lurking in dark corners.

Ebook: $3.99. Available at http://www.crossroadspress.com and at Amazon.com.  Print on demand version coming soon!

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

How far would you go to save your family? Would you change the course of time? That’s the decision facing Adam Cabral in this mind-bending science fiction adventure by Michael Arruda.

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00. Includes postage! Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

Michael Arruda reviews horror movies throughout history, from the silent classics of the 1920s, Universal horror from the 1930s-40s, Hammer Films of the 1950s-70s, all the way through the instant classics of today. If you like to read about horror movies, this is the book for you!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, first short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For_the_love_of_Horror- original cover

Print cover

For the Love of Horror cover (3)

Ebook cover

 

Michael Arruda’s first short story collection, featuring a wraparound story which links all the tales together, asks the question: can you have a relationship when your partner is surrounded by the supernatural? If you thought normal relationships were difficult, wait to you read about what the folks in these stories have to deal with. For the love of horror!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

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CREED (2015) Goes The Distance

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Movie Review:  CREED (2015)

By

Michael Arruda

Creed poster 2

 

Just when you thought Rocky Balboa was down for the count—.

That’s right.  Rocky Balboa, the iconic character played by Sylvester Stallone, is back in the movies again for what is essentially ROCKY VII, except this time he’s playing mentor and trainer to young Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) the son of his one-time opponent and later best friend Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers).

CREED (2015) opens with troubled teen Adonis Johnson getting in yet another fight.  This time, instead of being taken in by a foster family, he meets the wife Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) of his father Apollo Creed, who had an extramarital affair with Adonis’ mom and died before Adonis was born.  Mary Anne adopts Adonis and he’s raised in a healthy home and receives a decent education.

However, as an adult, Adonis can’t get boxing out of his system, so he quits his job and seeks out Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) as a trainer.  Rocky isn’t interested, mostly because he doesn’t want to see Apollo’s son enter a boxing ring and endure the difficult life of a boxer.  But Adonis is persistent, and eventually Rocky relents and agrees to train Adonis.

Adonis trains hard, and through an odd series of events, finds himself with a shot at the boxing title.  When Rocky’s health fails, and he decides he’s lived a good life and has come to the end of the road, it’s Adonis who convinces Rocky not to mail it in, to fight for his life as he once fought for a title, adding that he needs Rocky and that Rocky’s life matters.

Make no mistake.  CREED is a much better movie than a 7th film in a series.  It’s also a stand alone film, as Adonis’ character is strong enough to carry this movie on his own.  Rocky’s appearance is gravy.

That being said, the best part of CREED is the relationship between Rocky and Adonis.  The way their lives intertwine and how they are constantly there to pick each other up is the driving force of the movie.  When Rocky learns that he has cancer, and he looks around him and realizes all his loved ones and friends have passed on, it’s easy for him to feel that he’s led a good life and it’s time.  But it’s Adonis who gives him something to live for.

Likewise, when Adonis struggles to handle the pressure, and when he experiences doubt that he can live up to his deceased father’s name, even admitting that he’s fighting simply to prove that he wasn’t just a mistake, it’s Rocky who tells him that it is his time, that he can make his mark, and he can live up to his father’s name.

Sylvester Stallone can play Rocky Balboa in his sleep, but that doesn’t mean he’s cashing it in.  Stallone has created one of the more endearing and iconic characters in film history, and Rocky certainly hasn’t worn out his welcome.  It’s been fun to watch Rocky age through the years, and in CREED he definitely is in his golden years.  A funny bit comes when Rocky writes out instructions for Adonis, and Adonis simply takes a picture of the paper with his phone, and he tells Rocky he doesn’t need the notes because they’re saved on the cloud.

“The cloud?”  Rocky asks, as he looks to the sky.

Michael B. Jordan is also excellent as young Adonis Johnson.  Adonis is a complicated character.  He had a tough childhood, was rescued by his step-mom, but still couldn’t shake the desire to box, to be like his deceased dad.  And he goes through the film with a chip on his shoulder, but he’s not a jerk, as Jordan does a nice job keeping the character sympathetic.

Rounding out the acting performances is Tessa Thompson as Adonis’ girlfriend Bianca.  The beautiful Thompson makes Bianca a three-dimensional character who proves that she’s more than just a love interest in the film.  The relationship between Adonis and Bianca is reminiscent of the relationship between Rocky and Adrian (Talia Shire) in the original ROCKY (1976).

Likewise, in the training scenes, Rocky now has taken on the role of his original trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith).  In fact, many of the training exercises come right out of Mickey’s regimen, including the memorable chicken chasing scene.

Phylicia Rashad is decent as Adonis’ step-mom Mary Anne, although it’s really just a small role, and there’s not a lot of screen time for Rashad.

And if there’s one thing the Rocky movies have always got right, it’s the boxing scenes, and CREED is no exception.  Once more, there are some riveting boxing matches, including the exciting finale.  Sure, there is certainly a little bit of “been there, done that” but with six Rocky movies before this, that’s inevitable.

CREED is the first ROCKY movie not written by Sylvester Stallone.  The screenplay was written by director Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington, and it’s a good one.  It explores a later chapter in Rocky’s life while carving out the early plight of original character Adonis Johnson, and the way the two interact is both compelling and natural.  The two stories combine seamlessly

Coogler also directed, and his direction is strong throughout.  The boxing scenes are well done, as are the rousing training sequences.  More importantly, the tale of the two boxers, Rocky called out of retirement to be a trainer, and Adonis just starting his career, is engrossing and likable.

 CREED is a genuine crowd-pleaser.  It’s a worthy addition to the ROCKY saga, while also serving as a standalone film about newcomer Adonis Johnson, the son of Apollo Creed, fighting to make his mark in the boxing world, to prove that he’s worthy of the name Creed.

—END—

 

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE EXPENDABLES 3 (2014)

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expendables 3 posterHere’s my CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT review of THE EXPENDABLES 3, up now at cinemaknifefight.com, your place to read about movies, where you’ll find new movie content posted every day by L.L. Soares, myself, and a very talented staff of writers.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  THE EXPENDABLES 3 (2014)

Review by Michael Arruda

(THE SCENE: A heavily fortified movie theater, surrounded by armed guards, military vehicles, and tanks.  A helicopter lands out front, and MICHAEL ARRUDA steps from the copter followed by four young people, most likely in their twenties.  They approach the theater just as a man dressed in military fatigues steps from the building to confront them.)

DICTATOR:  Hey, Arruda, it’s about time you showed up.  But you’re a little late.  Your buddy L.L. SOARES is our prisoner.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  You can have him.  I didn’t come for L.L. I came to see a movie.

DICTATOR: So did he, and look where that got him!  You’ll never get by me, Arruda!

MA:  We’ll see about that.  I’ve brought some help.

DICTATOR (looks at the young people behind MA):  Who are they?  Your kindergarten class?

MA:  Meet the new team.  The next generation of Cinema Knife Fighters.

(Camera pans quickly over the four young faces, just as a missile zooms in and explodes, reducing them to a puff of smoke.)

MA:  Or not.

You know, if the new team in today’s movie had met the same fate, I would have liked it better.

DICTATOR:  Huh?  Listen, Arruda, enough talking!  Take a look around you, at our defenses.  They’re impenetrable.

MA:  Really?  Because I have looked them over, and frankly, I’m not impressed.  In fact, I give your defenses 0 knives.

DICTATOR (huffs):  Really?  Are you kidding me?  Do you know how hard I worked on this?

MA:  It’s obviously all CGI.  Very fake looking.  Nobody you have with you has anything worthwhile to say.  Sorry, but it’s all very boring.

DICTATOR:  Dammit!  I need to find me a better writer!

MA:  And L.L. obviously made it inside, too, didn’t he?  Where is he?

DICTATOR:  He’s inside watching another movie. Damn you guys!  (Stomps off in a hissy fit.)

MA:  Okay, now that that’s over with, we can get on with today’s review.  Welcome to CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.  I’m Michael Arruda, and today I’m reviewing THE EXPENDABLES 3, the latest movie in Sylvester Stallone’s all-star action series.  I’m doing this one solo because my buddy L.L. Soares is inside this theater watching another movie which he’ll be reviewing for CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT this weekend as well.

THE EXPENDABLES 3 is the third film in THE EXPENDABLES series, a series which chronicles the adventures of The Expendables, a group of ruthless soldiers and assassins who are called on by the U.S. government to handle its dirtiest jobs.

In this film, the leader of the group Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) discovers that his one-time friend-turned villain Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), a man he thought he had killed, is still alive.  Ross wants Stonebanks dead, but he’s informed by his new operator Drummer (Harrison Ford) that they want Stonebanks alive to stand trial.

Seeing Stonebanks as a formidable opponent, Ross decides that his team is too old to handle him, and so he tells his team, which includes Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Doc (Wesley Snipes), Gunner (Dolph Lundgren) and Toll Road (Randy Couture) that he’s retiring the group.  They balk at this of course, but Ross makes his intentions clear:  they’re done.

Ross then hooks up with an old friend Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer) who he employs to help him find a new team, a group of younger fighters, in effect the next generation of The Expendables.  And so they compile a group of newbies which includes Thorn (Glen Powell), Mars (Victor Ortiz), Luna (Ronda Rousey), and Smilee (Kellan Lutz).

Seriously?  I found this plot point very difficult to believe.  Why in the world would Ross want to go to battle with these infants instead of Jason Statham and friends is beyond me?  There’s just no comparison, and calling these guys “old” based upon the way they look in the movie is ridiculous.  They still look as bad-ass as ever.

Anyway, Stonebanks quickly makes mincemeat out of this diaper-clad team, which means it’s up to Jason Statham and his buddies to help Stallone get his newbies out of this mess.  Of course, Stonebanks has an entire army at his disposal, and so even more help is needed, which is why Drummer also brings in Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Yin Yang (Jet Li) to help out.

Plus there’s Galgo (Antonio Banderas) who throughout the film has been desperate to join Ross’ team, and finally gets his chance when Ross needs all the help he can get.  This all leads to the testosterone filled conclusion where Ross and his Expendables battle Stonebanks and his entire army.

This might have been fun if it all wasn’t so stupid.

(MA enters the lobby of the movie theater, surrounded by all sorts of military action:  machine gun fire, grenade explosions, hand-to- hand combat.)

MA (looks at camera):  I guess it all fits in with the theme of today’s movie.  Excuse me while I order some popcorn.  (To cinema worker).  I’ll have a small popcorn with butter, please.

CINEMA WORKER:  Sure.  (As he turns to make popcorn, machine gun fire riddles the area, and he slumps to the ground.)

MA: Hmm.  I’ll just come back for that later.  Back to the review.

By far, THE EXPENDABLES 3 is the worst film in the series.  I liked the first THE EXPENDABLES (2010) well enough, and I really enjoyed the sequel THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012) which had a better plot and gave all the veteran action stars quality screen time with good action scenes and some memorable lines, and the climactic battle between Stallone and  Jean-Claude Van Damme was a keeper.  I really felt like I got my money’s worth.

Not so with this installment.

First of all, there’s something very sloppy about the direction.  Director Patrick Hughes gives us a flat opening segment where Stallone and his team rescue Wesley Snipes from his imprisonment on a moving armored train.  The action here is sloppily handled.  The camera fails to get in close and seems to cover things from a distance, and it also cuts away from characters when they’re speaking, and so it was difficult to catch what people were saying.

Then, once the rescue is completed, it cuts to the main title THE EXPENDABLES 3, flashed on the screen for about a millisecond and then it’s back to the movie.  It was just a weird opening, a precursor for all that was going to follow.

Director Hughes also doesn’t give his action stars flashy or memorable first appearances.  Stallone is first seen in the opening segment flying a helicopter in loud surroundings in which you can’t hear what he’s saying.  I don’t think I understood anything Stallone said in this entire segment.  Schwarzenegger’s grand entrance has him casually strolling up behind Stallone in a hospital and speaking softly to him.  How’s that for compelling drama?

The screenplay by Sylvester Stallone, Creighton Rotherberger, and Katrin Benedikt tells a mediocre story that doesn’t always makes sense, and features unimpressive dialogue and very little if any character development.  The story of Ross assembling a new team of youngsters to take on an old enemy makes little sense when his old team is still so menacing.

And while Mel Gibson does make for a decent villain, at least in terms of his performance, the character Gibson plays, Stonebanks, is never shown being villainous.  Why is he such a bad ass?  We hear characters like Ross and Drummer saying what a bad guy he is, but we never see him do anything.  What’s his agenda?  He sells arms to dictators and other undesirables, and we do see him do this in one scene, but do really we need The Expendables to take him out?

Just once, I’d like to see a plot worthy of The Expendables team.  These guys are supposed to be sent in to handle the jobs that the CIA and U.S. military want no part of, yet in all three films, we haven’t really seen them on these kinds of missions.

The dialogue is also subpar.  You’ve got Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Statham, Snipes, and Ford, guys who can really chew up the scenery, and yet there’s hardly a memorable line among them.

(Schwarzenegger enters the lobby and makes quick work of several enemy soldiers, cracking their heads and breaking their limbs with ease.)

SCHWARZENEGGER:  Next time silence your cell phones.  (to MA)  I work part-time as cinema security.  If you make noise in the theater, you answer to me.  (Checks his smart phone.)  Someone is texting in theater three.  I’ll be back.  (Exits)

MA:  That’s the Arnold I wanted to see.

Only Mel Gibson as the villain Stonebanks gets lines worthy of his pedigree, yet he has nothing much to do other than taunt Stallone and his buddies.  In fact, there are several scenes of Stonebanks buying art, walking up a staircase, entering a building, where that’s all he does.  I mean, these scenes don’t lead to anything else.  Stonebanks is a villain with too much time on his hands, and THE EXPENDABLES 3 is an action movie in need of a crisper script and tighter direction.

Now, if you’re like me, you see an EXPENDABLES movie because you want to see Stallone, Statham, Schwarzenegger and their friends on screen kicking butt and churning out one-liners.  You don’t see it because you want to watch a bunch of newbies take over.  I’m sorry, but I didn’t buy a ticket to THE EXPENDABLES:  THE NEXT GENERATON, and so I had little interest in scenes of Stallone compiling his new team, while his old team, Statham and company, sit home with nothing to do, and yes we actually see scenes of these guys at home twiddling their thumbs bored.  We don’t even get to see them try their hands at new jobs— I want to see Dolph Lundgren try to work in a department store, for example.  Realistically speaking, you’d think these guys would sign on with someone else.  I mean, Stallone’s Ross can’t be the only game in town.

And the newbies don’t have a chance. They’re each introduced in quick brief scenes, and then as the film goes on we hardly get to know them, which was fine with me since I didn’t care about them, but you know what?  I might have changed my mind had I actually gotten to know them and had the writing been better.

Sadly, THE EXPENDABLES 3 plays like the third film in a series, old and tired.

Speaking of which, one of the themes running through this movie is that Stallone and his buddies are getting too old for this sort of thing, and the sad part is in this movie some of them did look old.  For the first time in this series, I found it difficult to believe that Stallone and Schwarzenegger could do the things they were doing.  They looked a little long in the tooth.  Harrison Ford looked like he could barely walk.  In the film’s climax Ford is flying a helicopter performing all these stunts.  Yeah, right.  The only stunt he seemed capable of performing was crashing.

I like Sylvester Stallone, and when he’s on screen, I liked him here.  The trouble is the dialogue is so bad, that his character Ross just isn’t that enjoyable this time around.

Of the original team, Jason Statham fares the best, because he still looks the part, like he could single-handedly take out a mob of assassins, but his screen time is diminished here.

Like Stallone, Schwarzenegger begins to show his age in this movie, and his one-liners are pretty much nonexistent.  Looking even older than both Stallone and Schwarzenegger is Harrison Ford, who was filling in for Bruce Willis who left this movie over a contract dispute.  Ford plays a different character, but like Willis, he’s the guy who hires The Expendables.  I missed Willis’ shady persona.  Ford seemed like an aged Jack Ryan.

(Harrison Ford enters.)

FORD:  Did you just call me old?

MA:  I said you looked old in the movie.

FORD:  I ought to kick your ass.

MA:  I’d settle for an autograph.

FORD:  Autograph?  After you just insulted me in my own theater?

MA:  Your theater?  Are you working cinema security too?

FORD:  No, I run this place.  I’m the manager!

MA:  That’s a role I could see you playing.

FORD:  You call me old again I’m sending Schwarzenegger after you!

(Ford exits.)

MA:  I guess he’s getting sensitive in his old a— eh hem.  Moving right along.

Wesley Snipes isn’t bad, and he’s in a bunch of scenes, but like the rest of the cast he definitely would have benefitted from a better script.  Dolph Lundgren doesn’t need a good script as he just can stand there and look menacing, which he does again here to great effect.  Randy Couture also fares pretty well, but Terry Crews’ screen time is greatly reduced.  Kelsey Grammer lumbers through a throwaway role as Bonaparte, the man who assembles Stallone’s new team.

Mel Gibson gets the best lines in the movie, and he chews up the scenery as the main baddie, although sadly, he’s not given much to do other than get in Stallone’s face and tell him all the awful things he’s going to do to him.  But the thing is, when Gibson says all these menacing lines, he’s damned believable.  If only his character Stonebanks had been worthy of his performance.

Antonio Banderas as Galgo is supposed to be the comic relief in the movie.  The running gag is that no one wants Galgo on their team because he never stops talking, but this is hardly funny.  Banderas seems to be having a great time throughout, but it’s such a strange role, I just never got it.  It would have made more sense had the character been one of the newbies. Why would Ross be interested in an older agent who obviously couldn’t make it on a team when he was shunning his own proven team of veterans?  Banderas’ goofy personality just doesn’t fit in with the tone of the rest of the movie.

The newbies were so underdeveloped they’re hardly worth mentioning.  Kellan Lutz [from the TWILIGHT movies and THE LEGEND OF HERCULES (2014)] probably made the biggest impression as Smilee, the man who sees himself as Ross’ possible successor.  Glen Powell as Thorn and Victor Ortiz as Mars are pretty much interchangeable and they do very little.  Ronda Rousey stands out as Luna, since she’s the only woman on the team, and she’s certainly an eye full, but when even she doesn’t make much of an impression, that tells you how weak this movie is.

THE EXPENDABLES 3 also features a completely ludicrous third act.  When the cavalry arrives to rescue Stallone’s captured newbies, they find themselves taking on an entire army, which Mel Gibson’s Stonebanks has at his disposal.  And so we’re supposed to believe that this small group can outgun and outlast an army?  I don’t think so.

And unlike in THE EXPENDABLES 2 which featured a climactic bout between Stallone and Van Damme that was worth the price of admission on its own, the climactic showdown here between Stallone and Gibson is somewhat of a dud.  I expected much, much more.

This is also the first movie in the series to be rated PG-13, as the first two were rated R, which means people in this movie get to be shot, blown up, and beaten without shedding a single drop of blood.  Some may argue that this is a step up from fake looking CGI blood.

Yet, in spite of all these problems, it’s difficult for me to hate a movie featuring Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Statham, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, and Wesley Snipes, and so no I didn’t hate this one.  These guys can still entertain, even in a bad movie, and THE EXPENDABLES 3, sorry to say, is a bad movie.   It’s lifted by its star power, which is the only reason I’m giving this one more than one knife.

I give it a lackluster two knives.

Well, that’s it for now. I’m off to see another movie.

(A grenade lands at his feet.)

Or not.

(There is a huge explosion, and when the dust clears, MA is still standing there.)

MA: This is one time I’m happy about a fake looking CGI effect.

(MA exits into the movie theater.)

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

GRUDGE MATCH (2013) – A Surprising Winner

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grudge-match-posterHere’s my review of GRUDGE MATCH (2013) which appeared over the weekend at cinemaknifefight.com.

 

Don’t forget.  If you like to read about movies, be sure to check out cinemaknifefight.com.  Not only will you find reviews there by L.L. Soares and myself, but by a pool of very talented authors, including Nick Cato, Colleen Wanglund, Daniel Keohane, and Pete Dudar  to name just a few.  There are many more.  So, check us out!  You’ll be sure to have a good time.

 

As always, thanks for reading!

 

—Michael

 

 

MOVIE REVIEW:  GRUDGE MATCH (2013)

By Michael Arruda

 

Okay, so I knew going in that GRUDGE MATCH, the new comedy featuring Sylvester Stallone vs. Robert De Niro in the boxing ring, wasn’t going to be ROCKY (1976) vs. RAGING BULL (1980), but the good news is it’s not STOP!  OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT (1992) vs. LITTLE FOCKERS (2010) either.

 

It plays more along the lines of GRUMPY OLD MEN (1993) Meets ROCKY.

 

In all honesty, as much as I enjoy both Stallone and De Niro, I dreaded seeing this one because I feared it would be awful.  It wasn’t.  It’s actually a pretty decent comedy, mostly because everyone involved takes its story of two has-been fighters who get one last shot at each other in the ring seriously.

 

Thirty years ago, boxing champs Henry “Razor” Sharp (Sylvester Stallone) and Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (Robert De Niro) split a pair of championship bouts, with each athlete winning one match.  Just before their scheduled rubber match, “Razor” abruptly retired from boxing, and the anticipated grudge match never happened.

 

It’s now thirty years later, in the present day, and Dante Slate Jr. (Kevin Hart), the son of their deceased promoter, is trying to drum up interest in a long delayed grudge match between the two.  Dante is nearly broke and desperate, which is why he is looking for anything to generate some income.   Billy is definitely interested, but Razor hates Billy and wants no part of it.

 

But Razor is also hurting for income and is about to lose his job due to layoffs, and so he agrees to appear in a video game featuring his likeness, under the condition that he doesn’t have to spend any time with Billy.  Of course, Billy shows up at the studio at the same time as Razor, and the two men go at each other, nearly destroying the studio.  Their melee is filmed by one of the staff there, and it goes viral on the internet.  Suddenly there’s an interest in the real deal, and the money becomes so good that no one involved can say no.

 

Razor trains with his former trainer Louis “Lightning” Conlon (Alan Arkin) who’s pretty much confined to a motorized wheel chair, while Billy trains with his estranged son B.J. (Jon Bernthal) who only recently learned the identity of his father.

 

B.J.’s mother Sally (Kim Basinger) is Razor’s former girlfriend and the reason why he left boxing all those years ago.  When Sally hurt him by pursuing Billy, Razor decided he’d take away the one thing that Billy wanted most, a rematch.

 

But nothing’s going to stop the fight this time around, and the story builds quite nicely to an unexpectedly riveting climax in the boxing ring.

 

GRUDGE MATCH isn’t going to win any awards for Best Screenplay, but the script by Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman is funny.  Most of the jokes here work, and although the theme of the movie is that you’re never too old to take your best shot, the good news is that the humor doesn’t always come at the expense of the senior citizens in this one.  Sure, there are “old” jokes, but most of the comedy stems from Stallone’s hatred of De Niro, and De Niro’s misguided attempts at reconciling with his estranged son and young grandson.

 

There are a lot of other fine moments as well.  The scene, for example, where Stallone and De Niro are confronted by a mixed martial arts fighter is a keeper.

 

Sure, Stallone is playing a variation of his Rocky character, but he’s so good at this sort of thing, it’s difficult to complain.  And even for a man in his 60s, he still looks like he would be formidable in the boxing ring.

 

You need to suspend more disbelief in De Niro’s case, since he’s not built like a tank like Stallone, but De Niro more than makes up for this with a sharp comedic performance that is as biting as some of the jabs thrown in the ring.

 

Kim Basinger is still beautiful, even at 60, and she’s very good here.  Alan Arkin is hilarious in yet another role where he gets to be a wise cracking old man, and Kevin Hart has his share of comedic moments as Dante Slate, Jr.  But my favorite performance in this one probably belonged to Jon Bernthal as De Niro’s son B.J.

 

Bernthal, from TV’s THE WALKING DEAD and MOB CITY is in two movies opening this weekend, as he’s also in Martin Scorsese’s THE WOLF OF WALL STREET.  He plays two completely different types of characters in these films, and he nails them both.  Here, as De Niro’s son B.J., he’s a decent hard working guy raising his young son, and he’s doing his best to reconcile with his estranged father, who doesn’t make it easy for him.  It’s a very sincere performance by Bernthal.

 

Director Peter Segal does a nice job at the helm.  Clocking in at 113 minutes, GRUDGE MATCH is rather long for a comedy, but the pacing is brisk, and this one doesn’t drag at all.  In fact, it actually gains momentum as it builds to the climactic bout between Stallone and De Niro, which believe it or not is actually pretty exciting.

 

Boxing matches have been done to death in the movies, but there’s enough freshness here to make the climactic match stand on its own.  First, there’s the novelty of seeing characters played by Stallone and De Niro face each other in the boxing ring.  It’s impossible not to think of Rocky Balboa vs. Jake La Motta.  I was really curious as to which character would win this bout.  And then there’s the dynamic between the two characters in this film, and the way it plays out is very satisfying.

 

I enjoyed De Niro here better than in his previous film, THE FAMILY (2013), although he’s not as memorable as he was in last year’s SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012).  De Niro has been busy this year, appearing in three other movies in 2013:  THE BIG WEDDING, KILLING SEASON, and LAST VEGAS.

 

Stallone has been just as busy.  I actually enjoyed GRUDGE MATCH a bit more than his previous effort, when he teamed up with Arnold Schwarzenegger in ESCAPE PLAN (2013).  However, I liked Stallone’s BULLET TO THE HEAD (2012) and THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012) better than this movie.

 

I feared that Stallone and De Niro would make fools of themselves in this film, but they don’t.  Surprisingly, GRUDGE MATCH was a very watchable comedy that kept the goofiness to a minimum, and by doing so, allowed its actors to generate some laughs by simply doing what they do best, creating characters who you can believe in and root for.

 

The bottom line is that GRUDGE MATCH delivers when it comes to producing laughs.  I laughed quite a bit during the movie and found it hard not to like a film that featured Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro in the leads.

 

Helped by a solid supporting cast, Stallone and De Niro both come out on top, making GRUDGE MATCH a surprising winner.

 

I give it three knives.

 

—END—

 

The Secret to Stallone’s Success; 66 Year-old Star Still Packs a Wallop

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Sylvester Stallone in BULLET TO THE HEAD.

Sylvester Stallone in BULLET TO THE HEAD.

I really enjoyed BULLET TO THE HEAD (2013), Sylvester Stallone’s latest action movie, released this past week.

I’ve long been a fan of Stallone, but it’s interesting to note as I look back at his career, that a lot of his films I’ve disliked.  Yet, as a performer, he’s remained someone I’ve held in high regard.  Why?  Why the discrepancy?

I’ve thought about this, and one possible answer is I’ve been a fan of Stallone’s largely because of one role, Rocky Balboa.  It’s almost as if I enjoyed his performance as Rocky Balboa so much that his Rocky persona seems to have transcended his Stallone persona.  In other words, it’s not Stallone in those bad movies, it’s Rocky, and Rocky is such a likeable guy that I’m not going to hold it against him that he’s in some bad movies.

True?   I don’t know.  But for every movie with Stallone I’ve liked, there have been those I haven’t liked.  Turkeys like COBRA (1986), STOP, OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT! (1992), and JUDGE DREDD (1995). 

 I think the real answer is that Stallone himself has projected a likeable persona over the years, so much so that his appearance in these bad movies has been largely forgiven.

Of course, it helps that he’s made a ton of movies, a lot of them good ones. 

 Here’s a list of some of my favorite Sylvester Stallone movies:  ROCKY (1976), ROCKY II (1979), NIGHTHAWKS (1981), ROCKY III (1982), CLIFFHANGER (1993), and COP LAND (1997), the latter of which contains Stallone’s best acting performance, with the exception of his work in the early Rocky movies.

 Strangely, I’ve never been a big fan of his RAMBO movies.

 I also have four other favorite Stallone movies.  They are:  ROCKY BALBOA (2006), THE EXPENDABLES (2010), THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012) and BULLET TO THE HEAD (2013), which raises an interesting point.  These four have all come out in the past decade. 

 Stallone is now 66 years old and he’s still going strong.  Here’s a guy who’s been making movies— good and bad— since the 1970s, and some of his best work is being made right now as he’s in his 60s. 

 For those of us toiling away writing fiction, still striving for success with each passing year, it’s encouraging news indeed to see a performer hitting his stride, perfecting his craft, showing no signs of slowing down, as he enters his senior years.

 And he really isn’t showing signs of slowing down.  With several more films in the works, Stallone will still be a box office presence in the years ahead, and if his last few movies are any indication, this is a good thing for movie audiences.

 Way to go Rocky— er, Sylvester Stallone!

 —Michael Arruda