Creed II reviewed

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Yesterday was another scorcher, reaching 36 degrees in parts of Sydney. When I left the house, the air was already humid but would only get worse through the day. Thankfully, I was dressed in the right outfit. It pays to check the daily and weekly forecasts. I was heading to Rhodes to meet up with a pal. We have agreed to see Creed II and I expected  an above-average movie.

 

Triple threat

 

Prior to our viewing, I had checked out the reviews and box office performance and Creed performed well on all counts. This is rare for any movie to hold: A Certified Fresh rating, an 80 percent audience score while also being a box office hit. Most would be lucky to bat two out of three. Given, it was a sequel and I’ve outlined how I’m growing tired of them. In this case though, the sequel turned out better than the original.

 

 

King Creed

 

Creed II is a sports drama that stars Michael B. Jordan as the eponymous Adonis Creed. In this instalment, he is crowned as heavyweight king but has to face the biggest challenge of his life. The weary Silvester Stallone returns as his trainer, Rocky Balboa. For most of the film, Stallone looks spent. He slurs his words, and looks every bit the  retired, worn-out pugilist.

 

The Avenger

 

In facing his nemesis, Viktor Drago, Creed has to battle his own demons. The Russian behemoth is the son of Ivan, the guy who killed his father. During the weigh in, Ivan taunts Doni for being slighter than his father. When Rocky asks him, ‘What are you fighting for?’ Adonis gets a fit of rage but doesn’t give an answer. Going in as a gung-ho champion with ‘everthing to lose’, he realises that his physical attributes are inadequate. He must likewise be mentally tough to overcome the Drago monster. Later on, Rocky chastises him for treating the brawler like all his other opponents. Creed has to fine tune his technique and adapt a different style against Viktor.

 

 

Unflappable as Viktor is, he has never gone past four rounds in any of his fights. He is also predictable, like the classic Russian man-robot. He grew up without a mother, as she left them after Ivan’s loss to Balboa. Ivan tells Rocky, ‘I lost everything’. With nothing more to lose, father and son trains hard and turns Russian heads in the process. Viktor is a bully who not only steamrolls the opposition but consistently lands low blows. He reminds me of another Viktor (from the Mitch Rapp series). Before the moment of truth, Adonis Creed was a 25 to 1 underdog despite being the reigning champ. With Rocky again in his corner, will Creed finally silence his worst nightmare? The set is stage for a monumental encounter.

 

The Cold War

 

While mainly being a love story/boxing drama, the Russian v. American trope has a long history. Indeed, the Rocky franchise (of which Creed is a part) started during the heat of the Cold War. Just like Halloween, Rocky has managed to forge on after four decades. Tensions between the two states have been red-hot again. Even in this era, the image of the Russian robot and the Yankee dynamo, finds a home. As always, the tough Russian isn’t impregnable while the upstart American is the people’s choice.

 

 

Worth fighting for

 

More than mere prize fighting, this picture is about family and fighting for something. You cannot pummel without a cause. Adonis’s dad perished before he knew him enough, but he had other family to nurture him. Moreover, he has a family of his own, and he will not let the same thing happen to his child. He doesn’t need his mum’s blessing to fight as he is a grown man, but this match isn’t just about him. His love and his country inspires his heroics.

 

My friend said he enjoyed the session. After all, this is his type of movie.

 

Rating: 4/5.

 

philadelphia

 

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Widows reviewed

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After a three-week hiatus, I was back at the movies. I was planning on seeing Crimes of Grindelwald, but the subpar reviews put me off. Given it was a sequel, I was also concerned of a drop-off in quality from the original. So, without Newt Scamander, what’s there to watch? Well, there’s Widows of course. Let’s go through the shopping list. Good reviews? Check. Award-winning director? Check. Formidable cast? Check. Standalone film? Check. Highly original story? Check. As you can see, it ticks a lot of boxes.

 

Gillian

My buddy, Nick, saw the trailer of Widows during our last outing (Bad Times at the El Royale). He said it ‘looks good’. I must admit that I was intrigued myself. As mentioned, the plot was quite different: four widows left with nothing but the debt of their late husbands. They must work together, against all odds, to undertake a heist that would make or break their future. Author Gillian Flynn and British director Steve McQueen co-wrote the script. You may remember Flynn from her work in Gone Girl, which was adapted from her novel.

 

 

Top-flight

McQueen, helmer of Twelve years a slave, assembles a top-notch cast. From Oscar-winner Viola Davis to Colin Farrell, Liam Neeson to Michelle Rodriguez, the ensemble troupe is very capable. Not only do they look fearsome on paper, but they give really inspired on-screen performances. Viola Davis is a standout as a mean widow, a very strong-willed one at that. She has to rally from personal tragedies and dodges depraved politicians along the way. She has her back against the wall, her husband dead, her debt having a thirty-day window. Colin Farrell likewise gives a spirited portrayal of a third-generation politico battling his own demons. Racial tensions abound. A hired gunman, which Daniel Kaluuya plays, is out for blood. The mercilessness of the system shocks the widows. Soon they place all their bets on the solitary heist, and the body count rises.

 

Subtleties

There are some idiosyncrasies in the film, stylistic peculiarities that we noticed. First was the scene where Colin heads to the car with his wife after a confrontation with a reporter. Throughout the car ride, the angle is not within the vehicle, but outside. Nick reckoned it was a departure from the norm, making the viewer feel as outsiders. Another interesting bit was the accents. I didn’t realise that the Brits were so well represented, until Nicky told me that the director was British. Let’s see: Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya, and Cynthia Orivo, were all Poms. What’s more: they sported American accents. Jeff, my chiropractor, said that the British could do pretty good Yankee accents, but not vice-versa. Colin Farrell, in particular, did a flawless Chicago accent according to Nick. There was no hint of the Irish twang. Belle (Cynthia Orivo) was my favourite character in this picture. She is tough without being overbearing like Viola, and can be counted on despite her many priorities. I learned that she was also in Bad Times.

 

 

Gone Girl

The film per se was quite stylish. While viewing, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Gone Girl, which I saw at the cinemas two years ago. Here the roles are reversed. While the latter involved a husband looking for his wife, this one featured a wife seeking her lost hubby. Meanwhile, some scenes were more shocking than Gone Girl, which was relatively tame. The visuals, as mentioned, were very stylish, no doubt contributing to its ‘Certified Fresh’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Definitely worth a look. All in all, I am happy with my choice. Specifically, I’m glad I picked this over Grindelwald.

 

Rating: 3.5/5

 

 

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What I was blogging about…two years ago

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 Burwood, NSW

 

I came across this post from a ‘fellow traveler’ I admire. He was describing what he was blogging about at this point last year. Keeping in line with this, I’ll go a step further and analyse my post from two years back. Around this time in 2016, I reviewed Arrival. I watched it in the cinemas on Saturday and I recall it being a very boring watch. The glowing reviews initially intrigued me, but a quarter through the film I realised that it wasn an errant decision. Arrival was very slow-moving and the premise, while original, didn’t tickle my fancy. We’ve seen many space flicks at the cinema, and I highlighted this in my post. From Gravity to Interstellar and The Martian, the bar was set high, maybe a little too high, for Arrival.

 

Painstaking

When other friends asked me about it later on, I’d often reply that it was ‘a rubbish movie’. Amy Adams was nominated for an Oscar with her performance. The picture likewise boasted Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker in its cast. However, I didn’t buy the painstaking drama. Someone jokingly suggested that I should’ve just seen Nocturnal Animals, the thriller production which Adams also headlined. Even though told in jest, I was convinced that Nocturnal was still an upgrade over Arrival. Meanwhile, it was quite a humid day, that I remember. I didn’t dress according to the weather, as I donned skinny cotton blend denim. I also made the mistake of drinking a beer later on; my friend and I had some merienda at the club.

 

 

 

Learning experience

While an underwhelming one, the Arrival debacle was also a learning experience. Don’t always trust the critics, and neither should you buy everything audiences say. Movie watching is a unique perception: what works for many may not work for you, and vice versa. At the same time, I must acknowledge that viewing films can be hit or miss. To some extent, trips to the cinema can be  a gamble. That’s why getting as much information as possible is crucial, but be wary of spoilers.

 

Since Arrival, I’ve only witnessed one space-themed film: First Man, which I reviewed here last month. Both were heavy dramas and a far cry from The Martian with its uproarious humour. One writer has even tagged Arrival as ‘one of the best movies of 2017, one you’ve never heard of’.

 

Two years ago

2016 was a good year at the movies. I managed to see many films with the added benefit of not being sequels. These days, finding such gemstones are a rarity. I’ve highlighted this saturation in past posts as well.

 

We could learn some lessons from the past. In the future, through our own hindsight, we could avoid the same mistakes. Whether small errors, like the choice of movie, or bigger ones down the road, in-game adjustments are a staple of human progress.

 

Bornfree

born free

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The November Buys

Crowds Flock To Boxing Sales

 

To paraphrase Oprah, ‘A new (Yuletide) dawn is on the horizon.’ Time to prepare, to buy those gifts, turn on the music, and add a few kilos. We’ve learned not to leave the Christmas shopping till the last minute. Who would want to contend with the wild crowds, depleted stock, and with being on the bubble? Alas, we have come to appreciate an early Christmas cart. So don’t hold your horses; though not all of us celebrate the silly season, everyone loves a bargain. Presenting, Christmas in November!

 

  1. Singles Day. A relatively recent phenomenon, this one-day Chinese marathon sale has only been big over the last few years. The buying bonanza has humble beginnings, starting out as a no-heard anti-Valentines revelry for single Chinese back in the 90’s. It became what it is when retail behemoth Ali Baba cashed in, using it as a sales event. Don’t let the lack of history fool you though: this event has become the largest shopping event in the world. Each 11 November, Chinese retailers band together offering generous discounts for one day only. Why the 11th of the 11th month, you ask? Simple; 11/11 champions the number one. They are saying that ‘We not alone’, and thus spend freely and pamper themselves to celebrate their freedom.

 

Despite the transient nature, you can’t get past over one billion transactions, the figure from last year. Given the massive success, Western stores have gatecrashed the party. The revolution is infectious, snowballing to other countries beyond China and even SE Asia.

 

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  1. Black Friday. One of the most ubiquitous and well known of the November splurges. This transpires the Friday after Thanksgiving. You might have seen the scenes online: madness. Apart from that, Black Friday is heavily-advertised, and companies are willing to fork out tens of millions just to get their share of the largest day in the US retail calendar. Americans are wont to believe that prices would never get cheaper than Black Friday and bargains never more unreal.

 

Most majors open really early, and since many Americans have a four-day holiday,  that shops would be jampacked is a foregone conclusion. As per above, Black Friday has been the busiest shopping day in the U.S. since 2005. Vigils in front of shops and malls have been common, all in an effort to get a place in the line and thereby going home with glitzier gadgets. Some of us just shrug at this; we’ve gotten used to the pre-op vigils. We see that here whenever there’s a new iPhone, when people try to secure a spot before New Year’s, and of course, during Boxing Day. TV stations do a jolly good job of showing David Jones opening their doors and crowds flocking in like pigeons.

 

Meanwhile in the States, the queues are lengthy, and a horde and legion of seemingly angry and irrational Yankees head to the malls to curb their cravings. What do they find? Clothing, headphones, mobile phones, gaming consoles, perfumes, cooling, wallets, bags, watches, big ticket items, books, Blu-rays, computers…and a partridge in a pear tree. Mind you, all at insane prices. Whether it’s Macy’s or some midrange beer brand, chances are, most of them are in on the frenzy. If you could withstand the crowds and come out with most of your shopping list, then you’re one of the lucky ones.

 

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  1. Click Frenzy (Australia). I am most familiar with this, having been around since its inception in 2012. Basically, Click Frenzy is Australia’s answer to Cyber Monday (more on that later). The craze is exclusively online and there is a countdown to remind you before the day and during the frenzy. It is being billed as the ‘sale that stops the nation’, in reference to the Melbourne Cup, which showcases itself as ‘the race that stops the nation’. Major retailers, midlevel brands, children’s stores, electronics shops, department stores, chemists, all come together for 24 hours and offer staggering deals. As the years go by, more stores joined in on the fun. Despite some setbacks along the way, the frenzy has thrived, with Travel Frenzy being introduced in August, and Click Frenzy Mayhem occurring in May.

 

  1. Cyber Monday. In a nutshell, this online event happens the Monday after Thanksgiving. Being around since 2005, shopping online on the Monday has been embraced. 2015 saw a record $6.59 billion in online sales. People were spending over $150 on average during the mayhem. So successful has the event been that other countries have appropriated their own versions, including Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Brazil, and South Africa. From the Korean peninsula to snowy Canada, beauteous Finland to Chile, online bargain hunting does not discriminate. The sale is observed in all six major continents on Earth.

 

2014 Holiday Shopping Windows - New Orleans, Louisiana

 

It’s never too early to get those prezzies. Scour for a saxophone or look for good-value cat food. Let us ask this question: in the season of giving, who is king? The November Santa, that’s who.

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Halloween (2018) reviewed

Yesterday was quite hot. The forecast was 29 degrees but ended up hitting 34 on the mercury scale. It was an early taste of summer indeed. Friday was even worse, making it a two-day heatwave. Everyone seemed to have gotten the memo, as it was shorts and tee galore. Regardless of the searing heat, my friend and I were in for a trick-or-treat. Halloween might be over, but it’s not too late to indulge in the new instalment.

 

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Mike Myers

The latest segment in the franchise was released forty years since the original. There has been a plethora of uninspired sequels in between. I saw the first Halloween film just last month, the hype surrounding the latest version intriguing me. I liked it, a slasher feature with lots of thrills and with eerie music. Jamie Lee Curtis was superb in her first role. Fast forward to 2018, and Laurie (Curtis) is now a grandmother, but still cannot curb an obsession with Michael Myers, the Halloween killer. Everybody dismisses her fears and could not understand her fixation with security: her guns, locks, and bomb shelter. She is practically estranged from her family, and her daughter prods her to get some help.

 

She tries to avoid speaking about her past, especially to outsiders. This is curious, as her life revolves around getting vengeance against Myers, the guy who butchered all her friends in ‘78. Myers is institutionalised but manages to escape. Prying podcasters and even his therapist report that Myers has not uttered a single word to them. Even when provoked, he reveals nothing, a hollow shell inside. Soon, the town of Haderfield descends into chaos. Halloween 2018 becomes a splitting image of Halloween 1978. Even though the players are different, the same dread and fear hang in the air. By standers are slaughtered left and right. The local police could not contain the situation. Friends and family fall like dominoes. ‘Cats and dogs living together. Mass hysteria!’

 

 

 More than slashing

The movie gives you the creeps without overdoing it. There were three or four scenes where someone surprises another without even wielding an axe. Of course, the film isn’t only about Myers and Laurie Strode; love and family, friendship and resilience all factor into the production. There’s the love between Allison, the granddaughter, and her boyfriend as well as the adoration and trust within her family. The friendship between the teenagers and the bond within the sheriff’s patrolmen. From the start, Laurie has her back against the wall but is headstrong in confronting her fears. The eerie score is here to stay.

 

Halloween had a 77 million-dollar opening, almost supplanting Venom for the biggest October weekend gross on record. Not only did the box office intake intrigue me, but likewise the glowing critical reception. The jack-o-lanterns and the killer mask also piqued my interest. My friend told me that the new version reminded him of Texas Chainsaw, and that he liked it. In terms of being watchable, I would propose that this instalment is about on par with the original. The success of Halloween c. 2018 almost cures decades of bad sequels. I’m glad that I viewed this picture, my first horror film at the cinemas since IT.

 

Rating: 4/5

 

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Homeland reviewed

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I am picky when it comes to TV shows. Before I watch, I make sure to check out other people’s thoughts on the series. I also avoid any spoilers while doing this web-based research. Over the years, I haven’t been a big telly viewer. There are many good shows out there, many I’ve overlooked. Regardless, finding gems among TV’s bursting garden is a rarity. I’ve unearthed one such sparkler in the last month. Since hitting our screens in 2011, Homeland has not exactly been flying under the radar. It has earned awards, rave reviews, and a consistently robust viewership. More than standing the test of time, Homeland is impressive as it addresses the fears and struggles of a nation post 9/11. When placed vis-a-vis Vince Flynn novels, Homeland is rawer and more visceral; every episode is an emotional roller coaster. So far, I’ve almost completed the first two seasons, and I’m loving every episode so far.

 

Untold and Golden

Homeland was mentioned in Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the U.S. The famous left winger posited the show as a perfect example of America’s obsession with security in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. After this, I again encountered Homeland while watching the Golden Globes. The show’s star, Claire Danes, was honoured with a coveted award, and the actor was effusive, saying how generous the Hollywood Foreign Press has been to her over the years. This nod represented her third or fourth Globe at the time. All this points to a momentous watch, and I’m glad I got into the act late this year.

 

 

Fears

The programme plays with elemental fears of America being swamped by terrorists. At first, only CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Danes) takes this viewpoint. From the start, she is convinced that jihadists have infiltrated the American biosphere. No one takes her seriously, and her erratic and brazen behaviour alienates her from her increasingly impatient colleagues. We learn later that she is battling her own demons. When these inner demons take over her life, she stands to lose everything: her job, her dreams, her shot at delivering the mujaheddin. Viewers would be drawn between the mechanics of espionage, both between the CIA and its enemies, as well as among its constituents. From the power brokers such as the sitting Vice President and CIA assistant director David Ester to the multitude like Carrie and the war hero Brody, the spy games never end.  Meanwhile, they introduce Quinn, a new character, in season 2. Quinn reminds me of another law enforcement agent, detective Quinn in Dexter.

Carrie’s target: returning soldier Nick Brody, who immediately catches her attention. On the outside, Brody seems like your typical war hero who is a family man. However, he also harbours some dark secrets of his own, and Carrie will move heaven and earth to show that she is right about him. Their paths cross, their loyalties shift, but their interplay is what drives the series. Can a US congressman (Brody) really be a terrorist in sheep’s clothing? Is Brody aiding Satan himself, the nefarious Abu Nazir? Unfortunately, the bin Laden wannabe reminds me of someone I know of. Teenage angst, tested friendships, and nosy agencies all play a part in this perilous microcosm. Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon, the engineers of Homeland, succeed in creating America in miniature, all within a weekly, one-hour timeslot. As Bonaparte must have said, ‘We are either kings or pawns, emperors or fools’.

 

Rarity

Homeland is one of those rare, addictive series. Before, there was Six Feet Under; then, Dexter; now it’s Homeland. I’ve only watched mostly the first two series, but boy is it riveting. Last year, it completed its seventh season. There is action, lots of it, which the gripping plot aides. The characters are some of the most well constructed I’ve seen on TV. More importantly, the setting always shifts. While there is considerable time allocated to Brody’s abode, the show’s creators makes it a point to go on the road. There is a lovely family sojourn to Philly in the second season as well as a high stakes trip to Lebanon that pays off.

 

Opus

I told my friend that Danes makes a very spirited portrayal of a troubled soul. We both had a laugh. That’s why she won a number of awards, I told him. She even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I didn’t know that, he retorted. Yes, indeed: Claire Danes got her star in 2015, and not because of her memorable portrayal of Juliet Capulet in Baz Lurhman’s adaptation of the classic tragedy. Danes got her star as a result of her glowing work on telly. I haven’t seen Danes’s other work on TV, but this is a very strong performance. Some are even calling it her tour de force, with good reason. Together with a very capable cast, Danes’s star continues to shine. Before I forget, I recommended this show to Paige, from my chiro. She told me that her mum had told her about the show and said it was really good. Well, her mother has good taste.

Rating: 5/5

 

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First Man reviewed

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October has been a quiet time at the movies. Venom is clearly the biggest release, then there are generally overrated B+ movies. In fairness, I heard good things about A Star Is Born, although it’s not my type of film. Other pictures are out soon, but they’re probably not going to help audience’s sequelitis. That leaves First Man and El Royale, two solid pictures that have underachieved at the box office.

 

The fast and the bad

I saw a video online where a reviewer was asked between First Man and El Royale. He kept confusing Bad Times with Fast times at Ridgemont High. You can’t blame him; it has the same ring to it. Anyway, all things considered, his advice was to pick First Man. Cast-wise, both of them have their share of stars and are about as long. However, Damien Chazelle (First Man) has directed two awesome films, Whiplash and La La Land. This is his first Hollywood blockbuster, and his second outing with Ryan Gosling. As I said, it disappointed at the box office and was unable to unseat Venom to open at number one. Pundits attribute this to its target audience, which are generally males aged between 18 and 35.

 

 

Drama driven

Though not making a splash with moviegoers, First Man has the goods. The story of Neil Armstrong from 1961-69, it is a heavy movie that unpacks a lot. We learn about the death of Neil’s daughter and how this deeply affected him. We see the overbearing program that winnows the finest of men. We are confronted with the cavalcade of tragedies from every Gemini mission, the precursor to Apollo. The Armstrong family dynamics and how they deal with Neil’s hazardous job is front and centre. The movie is more of a drama than an action-packed space odyssey, highlighting character development over set pieces. In this regard, it is more Arrival (2016) than Gravity (2013).

The true story pumps life to this film and it’s a very aesthetically pleasing one at that. Though lacking in blitzes and bangs, First Man does offer some breathtaking visuals. In particular, these include the moon pictures, the astronauts and their training, press conferences, and sweeping panorama shots. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Chazelle gets nominated again for some Oscars for this output.

 

 

On a different ground

I remember my friend saying that he feels like he’s in another country when in Melbourne. While I don’t share the sentiment, how would it be like to be on the Moon? Jack Kennedy boldly proposed that they should put a man on the moon before the decade is out. The Soviets, Neil’s boss said, have beaten them on every corner, except in reaching the moon. When Neil’s son asked his mother on what’s wrong, she told him that ‘Your dad is going to the moon.’

 

A bungled lift-off

First Man’s fault is in putting too much on the buildup. The Moon journey takes up half an hour of its 140 minutes. Thus, patrons would be forgiven for getting bored, especially since the players could never stop talking about the foregone conclusion of America’s eventual conquest of the moon. When the moment of truth finally arrives, you feel like you’ve taken a trip to the moon yourself: it’s ‘too little, too late’. That’s why this space odyssey faltered: too little galaxy time amid an unbridled drama. While it rated highly on Rotten Tomatoes, this movie is not for everyone. The same friend spurned this film for precisely the same reasons: it has won critics over, but it won’t attract all curious bees to the honey pot. Definitely not atop my Most Watchable list this year.

Rating: 3.25/5

 

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