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Non-Review Review: Creed II

Creed II is a much better sequel than Rocky IV deserves.

At the heart of Creed II is the grudge match that fans of the franchise had been anticipating since the core concept of this “legacy-quel” series was first suggested. Adonis Creed in the ring against Viktor Drago. The son of Apollo Creed squaring off against the son of Ivan Drago, a generational rematch of the bout that cost Apollo Creed his life in Rocky IV. Adonis Creed is haunted by the name that he inherited from a father that he never met, and so it seems only reasonable that his film series would circle back around to allowing him closure on this.

A Rocky Road Less Travelled.

There is an irony in all of this. One of the central themes of Creed was the challenge of this spin-off movie franchise existing in the shadow of the original beloved Rocky series. Co-writer and director Ryan Coogler rose to that challenge, and created one of the great franchise success stories of the twenty-first century. As a result, it occasionally feels like Creed II is not so much fighting to escape the shadow of Rocky IV as much as it is wrestling with the weight of Creed.

Creed II is a solid and sturdy sequel to Creed, although not a superior one. It isn’t necessarily the sequel that Creed deserves.

To the Viktor, the spoils…

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Non-Review Review: Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 certainly makes a strong case for being “the movie of the moment.”

Adapted loosely from Ray Bradbury’s iconic and beloved science-fiction novel, a piece of source material that famously bewildered François Truffaut during his first and only interaction with Hollywood movie-making, writer and director Ramin Bahrani perfectly positions Fahrenheit 451 as a piece of pop culture for the Trump era. Bahrani smartly retains almost as much of the aesthetic of the source material as he updates, making a strong case that Fahrenheit 451 is more than just an opportunistic broadside at the current political moment.

“I’m going to burn it all.”

Nevertheless, Bahrani makes a number of changes to the story, and turns up the volume on particular story elements, to align his televisual adaptation for the current cultural moment. Ray Bradbury famously claimed that he wrote Fahrenheit 451 as a criticism of television, creating an engaging irony within this adaptation. Bahrani shifts the emphasis slightly to position his adaptation as a criticism of the internet, in particular modern internet subcultures and the way it decreases the audience’s attention span. There are live streams, in-home assistants that are always listening, emojis, and online “fans.”

This is certainly a valid approach to the material, and it’s to the credit of Bahrani as a writer and a director that he manages to build a world that is obviously of a piece with that created in the source material written sixty-five years ago and which works as a pointed commentary on modern cultural discourse. With its brutalist architecture, its cold digital cinematography, its compelling central performances, its suggested alternative history, and its ominous ambient lighting providing the occasional splash of vivid colour, Fahrenheit 451 creates a fictional world that is compelling and engaging.

Lighting a spark…

Unfortunately, the film’s narrative is nowhere near as engaging as its setting. Bahrani cannily borrows characters, premises and sequences from the source novel, but he largely reworks the story. Fahrenheit 451 is restructured as a more conventional science-fiction narrative than the original book, complete with apocalyptic stakes and a macguffin to drive the plot. The plot of Fahrenheit 451 is generic science-fiction fluff, a pale imitation of the familiar rhythms of movies like The Matrix or Equilibrium or Aeon Flux. It is almost as though Bahrani has internalised Bradbury’s critique of television as dumb and simple and broad.

As a result, Fahrenheit 451 doesn’t work nearly as well as it should. It is a beautiful piece of work from an aesthetic perspective, but one employed in a very crude and unsatisfying manner.

Television film.

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Non-Review Review: Creed

Creed feels like something of an unlikely companion piece to Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Increasingly, it seems that nostalgia is becoming a dominant force in popular culture. There has always been a market for nostalgia, but the past few years have seen an explosion in the management and exploitation of recognisable properties. It seems like almost everything is being fashioned into a franchise. In the seventies or eighties, it would have been unthinkable to imagine a shared universe built around Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky. Now, the surprise is not so much that the shared universe exists, but that it is good. Creed is a great boxing film.

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If nostalgia is to become a governing force going forward, it is worth reflecting on approaches that work and those that do not. For every franchise that works, there is another that flounders. For every Mad Max: Fury Road, there is a Terminator: Genisys waiting in the wings. The key is to understand this pull of the past and to engage with it; to treat nostalgia as more than just a cynical market force, but to weave a story around it. JJ Abrams has proven quite adept with this, given the success of The Force Awakens at understanding the appeal of Star Wars.

Creed is every bit as successful, engaging with its own legacy and the weight of its nostalgia in a manner that suggests that writer and director Ryan Coogler understands not only what makes Rocky work as a piece of film, but also the gravity that exerts.

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