“Creed” (PG-13) 3 1/2 stars (out of four)
Sylvester Stallone is back and better than ever in “Creed,” a smartly plotted Rocky Balboa film that forgoes the formula of the previous “Rocky” installments and instead frames Stallone as a crucial supporting character. The film naturally feels like a Rocky film since it involves the family of his late formal rival-turned-friend Apollo Creed, yet moves the story of the boxer saga ahead with a fresh and plausible storyline.
“Creed” re-teams Michael B. Jordan and his “Fruitvale Station” director Ryan Coogler, and the actor and filmmaker deliver another solid one-two punch with “Creed.” Jordan plays Adonis Johnson, a troubled youth who, as it turns out, is the product of an extramarital affair Apollo Creed had near the end of his career. However, Apollo died before Adonis was born, and after his mother dies, the angry young son of Creed becomes a ward of the state. However, when Creed’s widow, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad) discovers the boy, she adopts him as her own and raises him into an upstanding young man.
Even though Adonis’ future appears bright, he can’t resist the urge to fight and pursue a career as a professional boxer. But if Adonis is ever to forge the same sort of path as his famous father he needs to find the proper trainer to guide him, and his only choice is Rocky. However, the former champ is worn down emotionally by a life that includes the loss of his wife, Adrian, and physically by years of beatings in the ring. But since Adonis is like family to Rocky, he reluctantly takes on the upstart Adonis, who clearly has the same fire in his belly as the father he never knew.
Naturally, “Creed” has a similar feel to the “Rocky” films, because you simply can’t have a story of a fighter without the requisite training and fight sequences if you’re going to properly tell the story. But that’s where the similarities begin and end. The key to the success of this film is the realistic storyline of a fighter who’s unwilling to fight under the name of his famous father, and the heartfelt connection between him and Rocky. Like the first two films in the “Rocky” saga, “Creed” contains both the raw intensity of the fight game, which is met in equal measure by an emotionally engaging narrative.
While Jordan displays a great range as the hungry Adonis, Stallone – who is clearly in his element as Rocky – is tasked with most of the emotional heavy-lifting. With “Creed,” we see a side of the character we’ve never seen before: a former champ nearing the final stretch of his life who is physically a mere shadow of his famous former self. Stallone is simply brilliant in the way he brings the character full circle.
The great thing about “Creed” is its one of those movies that seems to be going down a predictable path, until a vicious left hook knocks you for a loop and changes the way you’ll look at the outcome as the film plays out. Maybe “Creed” won’t end up being this year’s box office champ, but the film – and Stallone in particular – certainly have earned the right to be a serious contender this awards season. It’s a real winner.
“The Good Dinosaur” (PG) 3 1/2 stars (out of four)
Pixar Animation hits paydirt once again following the phenomenal success of “Inside Out” with “The Good Dinosaur,” a prehistoric tale that doesn’t have quite the complexity of this summer’s smash brain tale, but contains just as much emotion and heart. Clearly tailored for the youngest of audience members, “The Good Dinosaur” still manages to entertain the kid in all of us with a parade of colorful characters, wondrous animation and lots of action to fill its vast landscape.
“The Good Dinosaur” begins 65 million years ago with a simple yet fascinating premise: What if the asteroid that once obliterated the dinosaurs completely missed Earth and the creatures lived? Because of that, the dinosaurs survived, evolved and thrived, and millions and millions of years later, they confront a completely different sort of animal.
Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand voice Poppa and Momma, an Apatosaurus couple who hatch three dinosaur babies: Libby, Buck and Arlo. As Libby and Buck grow they quickly adapt to their surroundings and find their place in their lives, but the under-sized Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), clumsy and fearful, never seems to fit in. Tasked to protect the family’s food supply, Arlo discovers the creature that keeps breaking into their storage is actually a wild cave boy – and while the young dino is on the hunt for him, he is swept up in a river current and finds himself lost, alone and far away from home. Saved by the boy, who he dubs Spot, Arlo befriends the curious creature, and the two team together as they begin a trek that will hopefully lead back to Arlo’s family.
“The Good Dinosaur” begins more as cute film that seems to only appeal to young kids at the outset, but once Pixar takes a page out of the Disney playbook and a tragedy rocks the narrative, it suddenly becomes emotionally engaging for the entire audience. While the film is at its core a heartfelt coming-of-age tale for both Arlo and Spot, it’s enhanced by every colorful character they encounter on the long and winding trek home. The voice cast is excellent (particularly Sam Elliott as a T-Rex named Butch), making for a completely lovable supporting cast (apart from a trio of bad creatures). A film ultimately about the importance of core families and adoptive families, “The Good Dinosaur” is a perfect family film for Thanksgiving weekend.