Tag: michael b. jordan

Creed II

Creed II (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★

Steven Caple Jr.’s “Creed II” succeeds in delivering big entertainment because it has a knack for forcing the audience to taste the bad blood between Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) and Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu)—which stems from the former’s father having died in a boxing ring in the hands of the latter’s father, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). And just like strong “Rocky” pictures that came before, the director proves to have an eye for placing us in the middle of action as punches are delivered with lightning speed and droplets of blood are pummeled out of the pugilists. It cannot be denied that the project is made with skill.

The material brings up the question of what happens after a fighter becomes a heavyweight champion. And yet it is not about defending the belt or the title. The screenplay by Juel Taylor and Sylvester Stallone (who returns as Rocky Balboa, Adonis’ trainer and mentor) is smart to root the drama in something more grounded, a core with a higher dramatic pull. It is about people coming to terms with the hand they are given and playing it as astutely as they are able. Sometimes you lose and hands turn into fists; sometimes you win and it is cause for celebration. And sometimes, still, you win without being aware of having won and so, in your eyes, an external element that stirs your own insecurities must be correct. And so, too, the picture is about having to face one’s demons.

Central and supporting performances are all on point. Jordan and Stallone share such wonderful chemistry, their characters need not say even a word for us believe that the men respect one another not solely as fighters but also as men who’ve survived and lived. There are small but moving moments—in the boxing ring nonetheless—when Adonis regards Rocky as a father—not as a trainer—and the latter knows precisely what to say or do in order to give his son just a little bit more confidence in order to move forward. The boxer-mentor, father-son relationship is not explained but expanded upon from the previous “Creed” film—smart because the sequel manages to avoid the usual expository scenes and dialogue most of the time.

Although the romantic partnership between Adonis and Bianca (Tessa Thompson) may play like a Lifetime movie at times, I found sweetness in it. Like Adonis’ relationship with Rocky, there is mutual respect between the boxer and the singer-songwriter; they consider one another to be equals and so when one falters, the other picks up the pace. The pacing might have been improved if some of their interactions were written more elegantly, leaving something for the audience to consider rather than showing every significant moment between their engagement and raising an infant. The passage of time is questionable on occasion. Here, it seems that serious, nearly grave injuries, including physical therapy, can be overcome in less than a year. This might come across as nitpicking, but minute details matter in strong dramas.

But I had an absolute blast with the boxing matches between Creed and Drago. Munteanu creates a formidable villain due to his sheer size, strength, and agility. It is acknowledged that his character has been brought up in hate. This is thoroughly convincing in the way the character pummels his opponents right when the bell rings, often knocking them out in a single round. He is like a tank wearing human skin and one cannot help but feel anxious simply by looking at his frame. You look at the young Drago and wonder how in the world Creed, who is also well-built, would—or could—manage to overcome such a hungry, rabid dog.

Fantastic Four

Fantastic Four (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

Somewhere inside “Fantastic Four,” written by Jeremy Slater, Simon Kingberg and Josh Trank, is a glimmer of great movie and it can be found during the first half, before a most dire miscalculation of jumping ahead by one year. As a result, the material feels like two very different movies in terms of atmosphere, tone, and, perhaps most importantly, quality of storytelling. One brims with excitement, intelligence, and assured pacing, but the other offers awkward dialogue and disjointed action sequences that rely on CGI to create a semblance of magnificence.

Equally important limitation is the running time. Clocking in at about one hundred minutes, the origin story of Mr. Fantastic (Miles Teller), The Human Torch (Michael B. Jordan), The Invisible Woman (Kate Mara), and The Thing (Jamie Bell) comes across as way too short, rushed. Although we get a feeling of their surface personalities and a slight whiff of who they are or what they might represent outside of their abilities, moments critical to establish character arcs are excised completely. This decision is like cutting a person’s carotid artery and expecting that individual to live.

An established and well-defined character arc is the lifeline of a superhero’s origin story, not impressive special and visual effects. Without it, there is no way the material can create a convincing level of empathy for its characters. To create an arc, the story and its characters must be given time to evolve. Here, that important point is ignored altogether.

Most enjoyable about the film, directed by Josh Trank, is the gritty, realistic look and feel of the first half, especially Reed Richards’ struggle, future Mr. Fantastic, to be taken seriously as a young scientist. I relished the small moments when an adult tells a child or teenager that his creation does not amount to much because it isn’t perfect or there is no practical application for the invention. I could relate because, as a young scientist and someone who loves science, people’s lack of imagination and appreciation for the steps required to get from Point A to Point B is at times most frustrating.

I wished the screenplay had developed the friendship between Reed and Ben, the latter becoming The Thing after being exposed to energy from another dimension. Teller and Bell share natural chemistry. There is effervescence and sensitivity in the way they carry themselves with one another and execute the dialogue. Because the film ignores Reed and Ben’s relationship eventually, the work suffers later on when one feel betrayed by the other’s action (or inaction).

When one takes the time to look closely, one is likely to realize that “Fantastic Four” is not as horrible as most viewers claim to be. It is very disappointing, certainly, but the first half is so strong that it is almost worth seeing. It is the kind of a movie that one won’t mind sitting through during a lazy day when it is playing on television.

Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale Station (2013)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“Fruitvale Station,” written and directed by Ryan Coogler, is based on the murder of Oscar Grant III (Michael B. Jordan), who left behind a wife and a daughter (Melonie Diaz and Ariana Neal, respectively), in the hands of a transit officer while coming home from San Francisco after having welcomed the new year.

There is no easy way to tell Grant’s story but the writer-director proves up to the task. By narrowing the film’s focus within a few hours of the twenty-two-year-old’s death, he creates a sense of urgency and unease in just about every scene. The point of them, I think, is to create a panorama of an unfinished life. It makes the senseless killing all the more appalling and maddening.

The lead performance by Jordan and supporting work by Diaz and Octavia Spencer, who plays Oscar’s mother, command attention. What the three performances have in common is that they are immediately people we know or can relate with. This is important because there is no conventional character arc designed for us to notice how a person changes over time. We know how the story will end and so the trick is to fill in the gaps with as many relevant details as possible. The screenplay’s approach is to give us a big picture of how Grant relates to those he loves.

Scenes between mother and son are balanced with honesty, pain, and tough love. Particularly impressive involves a flashback to Wanda visiting her son in prison in 2007. Wanda clearly does not want to be there but wants to be supportive nonetheless. When she sees her son lose his temper in front of a fellow inmate so easily, she is disappointed and tries to reel him in—this is supposed to be their time, not anyone else’s.

Spencer’s performance is restrained but calculated in that she does not have to act tough to come off tough. It appears as though she has chosen to rely on the history of the characters—details that are never shown on screen—as a template for us to gauge the chemistry of what the mother and son share. Equally good is Jordan. Take the same scene. Notice the way his eyes switch from rage to shame—the same shot, in a span of a second, no tricks—when his mother advises that he calm down. It becomes clear that these performances rely on each other in order for the scene to work.

Being from the Bay Area, I attest that the picture has managed to capture the rhythm and wavelength of the dialogue superbly. In addition, it presents minute detail not only in terms of what people wear but also in how they wear the clothes. It even gets the BART details right—like the shrill sound it makes when it approaches and leaves the station. As a result, there were times when I felt like I was watching a documentary, not a polished film.

“Fruitvale Station” offers a few stylistic details, like foreshadowing involving a dog, that do not always work but, as a whole, the performances are fresh and Coogler’s direction—an approach that is confident and straightforward—is solid despite a familiar framework.

That Awkward Moment

That Awkward Moment (2014)
★ / ★★★★

Mikey (Michael B. Jordan) comes home one day and finds his wife (Jessica Lucas) with a lawyer. Not just any lawyer—he is also the man that she happens to be seeing. In order to help their best friend to go through a rough patch, Jason (Zac Efron) and Daniel (Miles Teller) come up with an idea: for moral support, they will remain single indefinitely. This proves to be a challenge when Jason meets an author (Imogen Poots) who ticks all the boxes that he is looking for in a woman and Daniel begins to realize that he is in love with a friend (Mackenzie Davis) who acts as his wing-woman in bars.

I thought this movie was never going to end. Pretty much everything about writer-director Tom Gormican’s “That Awkward Moment” is synthetic, bland, seemingly inspired by egregious romantic comedies with one dead-on-arrival twist: young men—instead of women—facing a possibility of love, wrestling with it, and deciding what feels right. It offers nothing new to the table and so it becomes a chore to sit through.

It is not without charm and some chuckles. There is chemistry among the three leads so they are not unbearable to watch create a scene from nothing. As the outtakes has shown, Jordan, Efron, and Teller can ad lib and some of their efforts work. When they do not, the energy behind their deliveries are felt but that isn’t to suggest it is enough reason to overlook the overall lack of creativity, real feelings, and intelligence in the screenplay.

The perspective is misplaced. Instead of focusing on the most interesting friend, Mikey, who went to medical school right after college and led a life that he believed would grant him security and happiness, there are far too many scenes of Jason and Ellie supposedly being into one another. A smirk here, a sex scene in the middle, batting of the eyelashes there—what makes what they have more interesting than Mikey and Vera being on the verge of divorce? By comparison, the problems between the two couples are far too great. As a result, my mind is desperate to want to know more about the root of Mikey and Vera’s marital troubles. I could not care less about whether or not Jason the book cover artist would finally get together with Vera.

Daniel’s subplot is middling. I really like Teller as an actor because he often has a child-like quality to his performances. You just want to pinch his cheeks or tease him just to see how he might react. While he injects such a quality to his character here, the script fails to capitalize on the strengths of the performance. Instead, the material relies on Teller being able to talk really fast but the would-be jokes are mostly misses than hits. It is extremely frustrating seeing someone who is capable of doing so much more doing a lot less.

It is easy to predict a movie like “That Awkward Moment” but smart scripts make it work by amping up the human factor and masking the hurt with layers of comedy—irony, farce, screwball, for instance. Here, when secrets are inevitably revealed and feelings are hurt, I was unable to relate with any of them. Every character seems to have a one-track mind: love is a be-all and end-all of their existence. These are not people; these are products of an unimaginative, commercial-driven mind. I dare the writer-director to prove me wrong—if there is a next time.


Chronicle (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★

With a terminally ill mother (Bo Petersen) and a drunkard of a father (Michael Kelly), Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is far from a happy teenager. To everyone’s surprise, Andrew decides to buy a video camera and begins to film the ordinariness of his life, from the bullying he endures in and out of school to the moments when he feels open enough to reveal his secret insecurities to his cousin, Matt (Alex Russell). From looking at his bright eyes, weighed down by darkening eye bags, we can surmise that maybe he decides to record so that he can later watch the footages and find some sort of reassurance that his life is worth living. While at a rave, Matt and Steve (Michael B. Jordan), a popular jock, invite Andrew to an underground cave. Inside houses a structure that emanates strange lights and sounds. The next couple of weeks, they begin to exhibit powers starting with psychokinesis.

“Chronicle,” based on the screenplay by Max Landis, takes advantage of the found footage sub-genre, so often used as a disappointing gimmick, by telling a rather surprisingly moving story of a young man who has grown so tired of being pushed around. What if one day that person gets enough power to fight back?

One of the reasons why I enjoyed the picture so much is, especially during its early scenes, its consistency in quickly turning events from somewhat harmless fun to life-threatening. For instance, eventually discovering that they are able to will their body to levitate, the trio decide to play catch amongst the clouds. Suddenly, the peaceful game turns deadly when a plane in full speed reveals itself from an awkward angle. The initially relatively stable camera, controlled by Andrew’s mind as it hovers over and around them, goes through appropriate convulsions once panic sets in.

As much as it is very amusing to watch the guys discover and experiment their newfangled abilities, the more interesting moments involve Andrew talking about how he feels so lonely sometimes. I must admit that I began to get a bit teary-eyed because I found myself able to relate to the essence of his loneliness. As hard as he tries to fit in during social gatherings, he just has a sensitive personality which often leads to disappointments and other emotional disasters. It is obvious that he is grateful of the powers because the experiences bind them as soldiers do when in battle.

Prior to their trip to the cave, Andrew is not really close to Matt even though they are cousins. And Andrew certainly is not a part of Steve’s social circle. Steve’s friends–including himself, at least initially–mostly see Andrew as that loser who wears the same grey sweater every day to school. At one point, when Andrew confesses to Steve and Matt that he has just had the best day of his life, it does not feel like some cheap cliché. The line holds meaning to us because the camera captures the essence of their bond and it shows us the value of Andrew deciding to come out of his shell a little. I think that emotional honesty moved me so much because when he does terrible things later on, I was still able to root for and empathize with him.

Despite its very short running time, Andrew’s character arc feels complete and the denouements feel just right. Directed by Josh Trank, “Chronicle” could have used less scenes of Casey (Ashley Hinshaw) the blogger, Matt’s romantic interest, in order to make the final product even leaner. The romance brings nothing special to the film and I felt the momentum slow down each time they flirt in such a boring way. They are so cutesy around one another, I was just thankful there is not a “No, you hang up first!” scene. Still, the pathos of Andrew’s suffering is so strong, brilliantly played by DeHaan, everything else feels secondary.