Published on: December 4, 2015
To be honest, when I first heard that Sylvester Stallone was going to be playing Rocky Balboa yet again in Creed
, which was going to focus on Adonis Johnson, the illegitimate son of former Rocky opponent Apollo Creed, I was not enthusiastic. This would be the seventh film in the series, which started back when I was in college; the fourth and fifth movie were jokes, I thought, and Rocky Balboa
, which came out in 2006, I thought of as an unnecessary but sort of sweet swan song for a much-loved character.
I wasn't alone in feeling this way about Creed
. I also was utterly, completely wrong.Creed
, in fact, is a terrific movie - exciting, touching, and referential to the original without engaging in bathos or manipulation.
The absolutely terrific Michael B. Jordan stars as Adonis, who never knew his father; Apollo Creed died before he was born, and Adonis ended up in the system, being put in and thrown out of a series of foster homes before being rescued and raised by Apollo Creed's widow, played by Phylicia Rashad, who only wants him never to participate in the sport that killed her husband. But fighting is in Adonis's blood and he finally travels from Los Angeles to Philadelphia, where he hopes a former fighter named Rocky - the guy who took Apollo's championship away from him - will train him.
Go figure - as the aging Rocky, whose friends have all passed away and who now runs a small Italian restaurant and lives in near obscurity, Stallone does perhaps the best work of his career, capturing a kind of reluctant nobility in the character that helped define him. As his career developed, Stallone's characters often seemed to be defined by hard edges and ego, but in this performance there is both charm and an unexpected vulnerability that we haven't seen before that are quite appealing. And, because he is very much a supporting character in this film - which is the first in the series that he hasn't written, and only the second that he hasn't directed - Stallone seems as freed up and loose as he ever has. It is a good look for him.
The script, by Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington, touches bases that you'd expect a boxing movie like this to touch - the training, the personal challenges, the romance, the bouts - but does it in a way that makes them seem fresh. Even though the movie, directed by Coogler, reinterprets some familiar scenes from the original Rocky
, somehow it all seems fresh and touching and exciting.
I won't explain more of the plot to you, because I hate it when reviewers say too much. But I will urge you, strongly, to go see Creed
. It is the best kind of popular entertainment - a movie that will leave you cheering and maybe even tearing up a bit. Creed
is a movie about legacies ... about Apollo Creed's, about Adonis Johnson's, about Rocky Balboa's, and, finally, about Sylvester Stallone's.
By the way, for MNB newbies ... I have vivid memories of the very first Rocky
.... because I was in the very first audience that saw it.
I've told this story before, but I hope you'll indulge me...
Back when I was a senior and a film major at Loyola Marymount University in late 1976, I was taking a film criticism class that met one night a week. We would regularly be shown a movie that had not yet been released, we could get a chance to listen to and ask questions of someone connected to the film, and then were required to write a series of essays about what we’d learned. I loved that class – it was everything I loved to do, and I actually got college credit for it.
One night, as we showed up for class, it would be fair to say that we weren’t thrilled about the possibilities. All we knew was that we were going to see a boxing movie starring some guy named Sylvester.
The movie, of course, was Rocky
. And since we were the first audience to see a finished print, we had no expectations, no preconceptions. And to say we were blown away would be an understatement. At the end of that film, the entire class was on its feet, cheering and crying and as engaged with the film as we could possibly be.
And when the lights came up, Stallone walked in, and the place went wild all over again. He seemed to be both shy and surprised that night ... though I'm not sure he ever was again ... and he spent well over an hour doing a Q&A.
That such a movie even got made was amazing. The studio wanted to buy the script from Stallone and put Burt Reynolds, James Caan or Ryan O'Neal in it ... but he refused to sell the script unless he could also star in it. When they finally agreed, they made the movie for what even then was the paltry sum of $900,000.
I can even find two lessons in here for businesses.
First, it is important not to always go with proven talent. Sometimes, the person who has the least experience may have the most potential ... and they'll almost always be hungrier.
Second, never underestimate the importance of surprise. I’m not sure how many retailers say to themselves, “Let’s find a way to surprise the customer today.” But I think it is always worth doing.
It always is a good week when I find a new Oregon Pinot Noir I've never had before ... and this was a good week. I opened a bottle of 2012 Benton Lane Pinot Noir from Oregon's Willamette Valley, and it was delicious and smooth and absolutely perfect with a lamb and artichoke stew that I made. I heartily recommend it.
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.