Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Creed is "Rocky" Full Circle, Just Like Star Wars 7

Remember when fans of Star Wars complained that The Force Awakens was a bit too much like the first movie?

Well, what is Creed but the Rocky story, only this time it's based on Apollo Creed's son? No one seemed to complain about that.
For example:

When we first meet Adonis (Michael B. Jordan), he's been in and out of foster homes and gets in a lot of fights. When he gets older, he's making money fighting in Mexico, and doing quite well, It's not against high-quality opponents, but he's fighting. That's not too far off from when we first meet Rocky, whose boxing career is on the way down and also has to be an enforcer for a loan shark.

When Adonis moves to Philadephia to hopefully get some tips from Rocky, he meets Bianca (Tessa Thompson), a singer who has progressive deafness. That's an interesting contrast to Adrian, a shy girl who "filled gaps" for Rocky.

Apollo Creed chose Rocky as his opponent to replace the one who was injured just before the fight. In Creed,  Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew) chose Adonis because Ricky accidentally injured his opponent at the pre-fight press conference, and he wanted to exploit Adonis' connection with Creed.

Aside from that, the movie takes different moves to tell Adonis' story. He actually has a good job at a financial firm before he decides to switch to boxing full-time. He plugs away at Rocky before he decides to train Adonis. Jordan does a fine job as a man who wants to create his own legacy, while eventually learning how to embrace his father's name.

Still, Stallone's performance blew me away. When Entertainment Weekly handicapped the Supporting Actor race, it looked at how he played Rocky Balboa differently compared to the previous six movies. Rocky was shown as more vunerable, especially when he faces health problems. However, when he's training Adonis, his spirit is revived in a big way, more than when he did the same for Tommy Morrison in Rocky V. It's a great new take on a classic movie character, and it may be enough to get Oscar Gold in February. Mark Ruffalo's performance in Spotlight is still formidable, though.

As for the chance we'll get a Creed 2, it might be possible, Maybe this time he'll be light heavyweight champ, and Conlan will challenge him. We'll see, but Creed is still a fine boxing movie, much more than Rocky 6 1/2.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Review of Room: The Broken Joy and Jack Newsome

There's been movies about women kidnapped by bad men. They always end with the victim rescued, and we think she will recover eventually and live her life.
But what if the kidnapped woman has a tough time recovering from her ordeal, and so does the son who was fathered by the kidnapper?
That's the plot of Room, which, if not for Spotlight, would win Best Picture at the Oscars, in my opinion.(Come to think of it, how come it's not in the Best Picture race in the Spirit Awards?) It is a harrowing tale about a mother and son trying to survive a terrible ordeal, and how recovery could be even more difficult.

When the story begins, we hear Jack (Jacob Trembley) describe his world as a room. He lives there with Joy, his mom (Brie Larson). We soon learn they're being kept there by a guy named Old Nick. In fact, he grabbed Joy seven years before, and it's been the two of them ever since. She even told him the whole world is just their room.

They do come up with a plan to escape, but that doesn't mean it's a happy ending. Joy is having a lot of problems getting back into the real world, while Jack is surprised how much of the world exists outside the room.

Director Larry Abrahamson made a wise move making most of the movie through the point of view of Jack. The movie is his explanation of what his world is. We see him hiding in the closet (called Wardrobe) while Joy is with Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), and seeing it from his eyes. We see him astounded by how big the world really is, and almost forgetting the escape plan. It really makes you appreciate how fantastic Trembley is as Jack. Who cares if he's nine? He should have been in the Supporting Actor race, which was proven when he got a Critics' Choice Award for Best Juvenile.

Then there's Brie Larson. Her Best Actress Oscar is, in the words of Branch Rickey, as inevitable as tomorrow morning. When we first meet Joy, she seems to be resigned to being stuck in Room with Jack. She tries to keep what seems to be a normal life. She has tried to escape, but after seven years she seems to have given up hope. It's when Old Nick complains about not being able to get another job and takes it out on her is when she changes her mind. It's when she is reunited with her parents (Joan Allen and William F. Macy) is when her real problems emerge. She literally goes from one room to another, stuck in her life and wondering how she can move on. She's surprised to learn that even her mom has moved on with a new man in her life. It's very painful seeing her trying to recover, even in a TV interview.

The movie is based on Emma Donoghue's novel in 2010, and some of the people I saw the movie with mentioned that the movie changed a few details,
Still, this movie will leave you a big shaken, but it's a great story about perseverance and recovery.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Nintendo Film Festival on Rifftrax

This took me a long time to write because I've been distracted by movie awards, really weird football games, and mostly uncut episodes of Johnny Carson now available on TV.
When Rifftrax offers occasional discounts, I consider doing interesting double-features. For example, matching Fists of Fury with Miami Connection or possibly Death Promise is an interesting night of bad martial arts movies. I recently saw the good Star Wars movies over a weekend to test drive the new Rifftrax app, too. Once they let people download the mp3 riffs they already have, the sky's the limit.

This review is about what I call the Nintendo Film Festival. It's made of two movies, The Wizard, aka an infomercial for Nintendo products especially Super Mario 3, and Super Mario Brothers, also known as Bob  Hoskins and Dennis Hopper's Living Nightmare.

I had heard of The Wizard when it was released in 1989, mainly commercials for it. They played up the fact that Fred Savage was the star because this was during his heyday on The Wonder Years. The story, though, is about a kid named Jimmy, who is determined to walk to "California" for some reason. This reminded me of the early scenes of Nebraska, where Bruce Dern was also determined to walk to claim a fake Publishers' Clearing House prize.
Anyway, he's traumatized from losing his sister when she drowned in a river. He's placed in a home in Utah because his mom and stepdad can't handle him. Fred plays Corey, his brother, who's living with his dad and brother. Since they seem to don't care about Jimmy, Corey frees Jimmy and they head to California. They meet up with some sassy girl named Haley (Jenny Lewis), and they discover there's a big video game contest in L-A. Since Jimmy apparently is a "wizard" in video games, they hope to enter him.
While Jimmy's dad heads out to find him, mom has a bounty hunter looking for him. He seems to have a lot of bad luck, and is also doing it for the money.

This is also one long ad for Nintendo, including slogans that would never had worked in real commercials. For example, there's a kid who has the Power Glove, and he loves it because it's so bad. There's also Jimmy's dad and brother occasionally getting sucked into the Nintendo video game system. This is supposed to show video games are for all ages.

It all ends with the big contest with Jimmy being one of the finalists. Then we see why he wanted to go to California. It's a poignant scene, and makes his family, except for Corey, look bad.

Time for riffs:

The cops grab Jimmy for walking to California
This is the first arrest for little Anton Chigurh.

Haley asking what's Jimmy's problem
Stuck playing Teller to Fred Savage's Penn

Dad and Nick (Jimmy's brother) are at a mechanic
Christian Slater even plays video games sarcastically.

Kids wind up sleeping in an abandoned truck
You mean Optimus Prime's Bed and Breakfast?

The bounty hunter grabs Nick
When's Little Monsters coming out?

There's also riffs on Gwyneth Paltrow, Wacky Races, Point Break, Weird Al, Frasier,  Supertramp, "Stand Your Ground" and even Gleaming the Cube.

The other movie is Super Mario Brothers, also known as "What The F Was I Thinking, starring Bob Hoskins, Dennis Hopper and John Leguizamo". The only thing the game and this movie has in common is the fact there are plumbers. Aside from that, anything goes.

The deal is someone drops off a dinosaur egg outside of a church, and a girl hatches. She's Daisy (Samantha Mathis), who later grows up to be an NYU student who finds very strange bones. She corsses path with the Mario Brothers, Mario and Luigi. While that's going on, some girls in Brooklyn have been kidnapped by two dopes who are actually trying to find Daisy. They work for Koopa, played by Hopper, who wants to merge his world with ours. At this point, you'll wonder why they couldn't think of a better way to turn a Nintendo game into a movie.
If nothing else, former as-seen-on-MTV artist Mojo Nixon is there for exposition and an attempt at a comeback that didn't pan out.

Riff time:

Koopa's henchmen grab the wrong girl again
This is exactly how Rudy Giuliani got his second and third wives.

The brothers find themselves in Koopa's city
It looks like they pulled an old Total Recall set out of the dumpster.

Koopa's secretary goes to get Daisy, who finally gets captured
Mr,. Cruise needs a new fake wife....

Koopa tells Daisy "ready to help me destroy humankind?"
Kanye's wedding vows.

There's also riffs on The Blues Brothers, Roger Rabbit, Jesse Ventura, Delta Airlines, John Mayer, and the media company formerly known as Clear Channel.

Both of these movies are available at

Thursday, January 14, 2016

2016 Oscars: Mountain Men, Mad Max and Martians

The first campaign everyone cares about has begun.
Oscar nominations are out, and one of the first subjects discussed is a lack in diversity. The acting nominations have kicked off the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, while Alejandro Inarratu could be the first man to win two Best Director awards since 1950.
The Revenant wound up getting the most nominations, threatening Spotlight's position as a front-runner, while a guy named Max made a very big splash.

So, let's look at the categories:

BEST FILM: The Revenant has the most with 12 nominations, although it doesn't include a screenplay spot. It's bound to get a few tech awards, and Best Actor for Leonardo DiCaprio. The fact that he's way out of his comfort zone battling betrayal, nature and a big bear could be enough for him to get the award. Spotlight could upset thanks to being in the Original Screenplay race, and supporting acting noms for Mark Ruffalo and Rachel Nichols. The Martian could also be in the race, except Ridley Scott's not in the Best Director race.
IT WOULD HAVE BEEN NICE IF:  Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the ninth Best Pictire nominee. It brought back this franchise in a big way, and it's about time a blockbuster was at least in the Best Film race. It will still be up for five awards, Jurassic World could have also been on this list if it treated its female characters with more respect through all of the movie. That's why it's shut out.
Carol is also not in the Best Picture race. Some will suggest it's because they don't want Fox News to be angry, and I'm worried that could be the reason

BEST ACTOR:  With 12 nominations behind him for The Revenant, it's gotta be Leo's year. The only threats would be Matt Damon, who also goes through a lot in The Martian, and Michael Fassbender for Steve Jobs 
IT WOULD HAVE BEEN NICE IF:  Steve Carrell was in the race for The Big Short. He was the Angry Stockbroker who couldn't belive how much of a mess Wall Street was ten years ago.

BEST ACTRESS:  Another race that's over before it began. Brie Larson's performance as the kidnapped mother in Room (which just reached Reno) has been praised by everyone, and she is the favorite. If there's any threat, maybe Cate Blanchett for Carol.
IT WOULD HAVE BEEN NICE IF:  Charlize Theron could have been added for Mad Max Fury Road. She was truly the main heroine in this movie

SUPPORTING ACTOR:  This is fairly tricky because a good contender, Idris Elba, is not in the Oscar race. He's in the SAG and BAFTA Awards races, though. The sentimental favorite is Sylvester Stallone for Creed (aka Rocky 5.5), but I'll choose Mark Ruffalo for his role as one of the relentless Boston Globe reporters in Spotlight.
IT WOULD HAVE BEEN NICE IF:  Harrison Ford got Stallone's spot. The return of Han Solo was just as big a deal as the return of Rocky, and he helped make Star Wars: The Force Awakens work.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS:  The two front-runners got their spots for portraying someone familiar. Jennifer Jason Leigh was an Old West version of Janis Joplin (at least according to someone at Adam Carolla's podcast) facing the hangman's noose in The Hateful 8. She was defiant to her fate, especially in the final act. However, Rooney Mara as an Audrey Hepburn-type who has the devotion of a housewife in Carol may be enough for her to win.
IT WOULD HAVE BEEN NICE IF:  Helen Mirren was in the race for Trumbo. She's great at being queens, but her portrayal as gossip columnist (and self-appointed vaccine against Communism) Hedda Hopper was chilling.

BEST DIRECTOR:  With Ridley Scott out of the race, it will be a three-man race between Inarritu, Adam McKay for The Big Short and Tom McCarthy for Spotlight, .Inarritu has brutal nature and incredible scenery, MacKay has the ability to explain economics better than anyone, and McCarthy has a story that shows reporting at its best. Because I doubt we will have a back-to-back winner, I'll choose McKay. George Miller had the toughest job of all, but since it's sci-fi, it won't be his night.
IT WOULD HAVE BEEN NICE IF:  Ridley Scott, what else?. Still also no Todd Haynes for Carol. Is it because it's too controversial, years after Brokeback Mountain?

ALSO....I wish Amy Schumer sneaked into the Original Screenplay race for Trainwreck, but she couldn't hold off Alex Garland's script for Ex Machina. Spotlight will probably win there. Adapated Screenplay will be the toughest race of all, but I'll choose Drew Goddard because of his Joss Whedon ties.
And where's The Good Dinosaur and Minions in Best Animation? It seems the Oscar voters want to prove they won't limit their choices to Hollywood. That's why Japan (When Marnie Was There) and Brazil (Boy and the World) are in the running. It only makes Inside Out's victory more inevitable.

Best Song is a one-song race. Sam Smith will likely win for the theme from Spectre, What's more surprising is that two of the nominees are documentaries, Racing Extincton and The Hunting Ground.

Straight Outta Compton should have gotten more love, especially for O'Shea Jackson Jr, who played his dad Ice Cube.  Although it gor in the Original Screenplay race,  it was still criticized for what it left out, Same story for Concussion, which may have ruined Will Smith's Best Actor bid.

Of course, my predictions are likely to chance (and I'll say so), but this is a good place to start.