Wednesday, May 4, 2016

New(ish) Releases (2015): Creed & Man Up


Director: Ryan Coogler

Very well-done chapter that lives up to its classic, original forebear.

One of the reasons I enjoyed Creed so much is that I knew very little about it going in. In that spirit, I won't reveal more than the basics. Michael B. Jordan plays Adonis Johnson, son of Apollo Creed, one of the greatest boxers in this fictional world, before he was killed in the ring. Adonis has rather atypical motivations for fighting, and he seeks out his father's former rival and friend, Rocky Balboa, in an attempt to find a trainer.

The story is presented and plays out with enough surprises to feel fresh. Yes, it hits many of the marks that you expect in a Rocky movie, but nothing comes off as stale. Thanks to some crisp writing and excellent direction, nothing feels overdone or sentimental. Director Ryan Coogler clearly has such a love and respect for Stallone's original film that he was able to draw inspiration from the very best parts of that iconic movie. The stakes to the title character feel very high on a personal, emotional level, and this carries through right until the end.

The fight scenes are done extremely well. In fact, I'm willing to say that they are the best of any Rocky movie, and among some of the best in boxing movie history. It's a sport that can be beautiful and brutal, in turns, and this is exhibited with great skill in the several fights carried out in the narrative.

Apparently there is a Creed 2 in the works, which might be a complete mess. Whatever happens with it, Creed is a great sports movie that I think even non-sports fans can appreciate.

Man Up

Director: Ben Palmer

Rom-coms are certainly not me genre. Man Up, however, is among the most enjoyable that I've ever seen.

This was an easier sell to me than most rom-coms, thanks to the presence of Simon Pegg and Lake Bell. Pegg is a well-known and highly respected quantity in the nerd world, where I often dwell. I also know Bell from her sly, hilarious writing and star role in 2013's In A World..., which looked at the odd and male-dominated niche world of movie trailer voice-over narrators. Man Up quickly repaid my faith, as Bell's character Nancy, a professional journalist, is very quickly established as a woman looking to overcome her reticence and skepticism to find romance. Her impish nature takes over when she decides to steal a blind date from a mildly pestering, overly cheerful young lady she meets on a train. When Nancy is mistaken for the young woman by Jack (Simon Pegg) at the train station, Nancy decides to roll with it. This is perhaps not the most imaginative of comic setups, but it more than suffices for this tale, which gets stronger as it unfolds.

As Jack starts to reveal more about his life, Nancy keeps up her charade, wavering between distaste and attraction towards Jack. Unlike most rom-coms, which tend to take place over several days, weeks, or even months, Man Up hits all of the genre's marks in an unhurried tale which covers about 4 or 5 hours. And it does it by taking some amusing left turns, as it reveals traits in both aspiring singles which are both admirable and off-putting, while sometimes quite dark. Both Nancy and Jack come off feeling more genuine than most rom-com characters I've seen, lending a mature tone I often find lacking. There is an exploration of the romantic versus the practical notions of companionship which, while not novel, is handled deftly enough to remain engaging. What I appreciated as much as as anything is that neither Jack nor Nancy is pigeonholed as "the woman" or "the man". Yes, each one exhibits a few of the traits ascribed to their sex by stereotypes, but each one also contradicts them in several ways through their words and actions.

Of course, what is a rom-com without the "com"? The humor in Man Up is steady and solid, running the gamut from effective sight gags to dry sarcasm, with a healthy dose of blue, R-rated dialogue for spice. In keeping with the theme of breaking certain stereotypes, each of the main pair give as good as they get. This is a balance that is very welcome in a class of movie which often plays things rather safe, in terms of breaking out of preexisting character types.

There is certainly not an abundance of romantic comedies which I would gladly watch again. Man Up just made that short list of mine.