Director: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Tony Bellew
Released in 2006, Rocky Balboa was a fitting farewell to the beloved character. Fifteen years after the previous instalment it allowed the Italian Stallion to walk off into the sunset with dignity, well and truly making up for the travesty that was Rocky V. The book seemed to be closed. But Ryan Coogler, the young writer and director of 2013’s Fruitvale Station, found a reason to open it again and Stallone was receptive to it. The result, Creed, is one of the genuine cinematic surprises of the year.
In 1998, young Adonis Johnson, who has bounced between foster homes and juvenile detention, discovers that he is the illegitimate son of the deceased legendary heavyweight boxer Apollo Creed, and is invited by Creed’s widow (Phylicia Rashad) to come and live with her. Flash forward to 2015 and Donnie (Michael B. Jordan), as he prefers to be called, has been working in a white collar job during the week and sneaking off to Tijuana to box on the weekends. Deciding he needs to throw himself into his fighting, he relocates to Philadelphia to try and convince his father’s great rival and friend Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to become his trainer. Continue reading
Directors: Rick Bieber
Starring: Andie MacDowell, Aidan Quinn, Ryan Merriman
In 2006 the Wake Forrest football team, widely tipped to come last in their division, enjoyed their most successful season in history. All the while one of the team’s stars, Jon Abbate, was trying to come to terms with the loss of his younger brother in a car accident. The 5th Quarter seeks to bring the inspirational true story of the Abbate family’s struggle and Wake Forrest’s triumph in the face of adversity, but falls well short of the mark.
While you may be forgiven for thinking The 5th Quarter is the latest in a long line of inspirational sporting movies, anyone looking for a sports movie will be disappointed. The struggle of the Abbate family takes centre stage, with the football storyline not kicking in until over a third of the way through. All of the games which make up the historic streak are pretty much glossed over, shot in a montage style combining actual ESPN footage with inserted shots of characters cheering from the sideline. Done this way to keep the budget down, there is no attempt to play up the tension and drama of the sporting contest.
All of the problems with this film flow from a poorly written screenplay. The 5th Quarter struggles to tie together the two storylines; the Abbate family’s grieving process and the football team’s success. We are supposed to believe that the two are inextricably linked, that the Abbate family’s struggle somehow inspired the team’s achievement, but the film doesn’t do a good job of making it clear how that is the case. As a result the two narrative threads fight against each other rather than complement each other.
The heavy handed dialogue means even seasoned professionals like Aidan Quinn and Andie MacDowell struggle, often overacting to make up for the blank performances of the rest of the cast. Unsubtle writing means every emotion is verbalised and often repeated in the off chance that you had missed it the first time, leaving no room for subtext. On top of this, the equally unsubtle backing music often commentates directly on the scene through its lyrics.
This is one only for the very easily inspired.
Rating – ★
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara
Two men, both brilliant but both completely different. One is flamboyant, brash and impulsive. The other is calculating, methodical and abrasive. They are James Hunt and Niki Lauda, and they are the subject of Ron Howard’s latest film, Rush, which tells the story of their famous rivalry from its origins in lower division racing to its culmination in a head to head battle for the 1976 Formula One World Championship, a season which would for different reasons change both of their lives.
This is not just a movie for Formula One fans. In fact, to call Rush a sports movie feels reductive. The film starts with a voiceover from Lauda. “Twenty-five people start Formula One and each year two die. What kind of person does a job like that?” Rush is a character study. What kind of person willingly takes that kind of risk? The movie presents us with two opposite but co-dependent figures who are, in their different ways, that kind of person.
With two characters as diametrically opposed as Hunt and Lauda a more simplistic film would have sought to establish a clear hero and a villain, a protagonist and an antagonist. Rush gives no such clear cut definitions. Instead both characters are complex personalities and both characters at different times have the audience on their side. Hunt, despite his charm, provides many of the films darker moments. Likewise, Lauda, despite his analytical nature provides most of the films laughs.
With the entire film being built around these two personalities, much falls on the shoulders of Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl and both arguably deliver career best performances. The key to both performances is the actor’s ability – with the help of Peter Morgan’s fine screenplay – to take their character beyond caricature. Having already played a superhero and being blessed with superhuman handsomeness, Hemsworth heightens Hunt’s charm and makes for a believable playboy. But it is the moments where he takes you beneath the surface, beneath the façade, that really show his talent. Likewise, Brühl’s calculating and abrasive Lauda could have been yet another a simplistic, Germanic villain but Brühl gives him depth and as a result his own charm and likeability.
That all being said, Rush still really works as a sports movie. It is the best film ever made about motor sports. The racing scenes are exhilarating. While the actual depiction of the sporting event is where many sports movies fall short, Howard successfully brings life to the contest between these two men (the rest of the drivers are irrelevant), demonstrating the speed, closeness and incredible danger of what they do. Just as importantly, no two of the races feel the same. For each race there is something specific that draws our focus, so the drama never disappears.
Ron Howard has always been a gifted storyteller but over the last decade he seems to have had more misses than hits. He is a filmmaker who at times has been prone to playing it safe, but there is nothing safe about Rush either in its subject or its execution. Rush is a real return to form for him, the best motor racing film ever made, and one of the films of the year.
Rating – ★★★★
Review by Duncan McLean