He SAID:CREED is Rocky’s Redemption

Scott F. Evans

I’ve never been much of a Rocky fan. Created and played by Sylvester Stallone, Rocky’s popularity and staying power is undeniable. Rocky Balboa is simply a likeable icon, even to us non-fans. However, I also found the racial politics – buried at the franchise’s core – repellant. A casual perusal reveals some troubling events  in the six films that make up the bulk of the franchise. In Rocky 1 and 2, Balboa’s main opponent is Apollo Creed, played expertly by Carl Weathers. Black, arrogant, and highly skilled, Creed is clearly based on Muhammad Ali. By the third film, Balboa and Creed have become best friends and Creed must train Rocky to fight the stronger, tougher Clubber Lang played by none other than Mr. T. In Rocky IV, Creed is killed (sacrificed?) in the ring in an exhibition match against the Russian fighter Ivan Drago. Balboa returns in Rocky V to train and mentor young white boxer Tommy Morrison. Morrison is corrupted by the evil boxing promoter George Washington Duke, a character modeled after Don King. Finally in the sixth film, this one simply titled Rocky Balboa, our hero goes up against Mason Dixon, played by real-life boxer Antonio Tarver. It’s tough to believe in the odd coincidence that every Rocky film contains either a black villain or sacrificial character.

But that’s just me.

creed1

Along comes director Ryan Coogler and co-writer Aaron Covington to make it all better, with the unofficial Rocky sequel Creed. Before his untimely death, Apollo (in another troubling stereotype) has a son out of wedlock. The boy, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) has fighting in his blood. He’s got natural ability but no formal training. In an effort to gain credibility (and respect) Adonis tracks down his father’s old friend Rocky and asks the former champion to train him. What follows is a heartfelt examination of family and legacy wrapped in a sports movie.

creed2

Creed is one of those rare films that work on nearly every level. In only his second feature, Coogler proves that he is a director to watch. He pulls wonderful, naturalistic performances from his entire cast.   His camera floats about effortlessly, never calling attention to itself, moving only when absolutely necessary. There are a couple long, single take fight scenes that are masterfully shot. His first feature film, Fruitvale Station, while excellent, was unable to escape its modest indie look. Creed looks beautiful by contrast and stands shoulder to shoulder with films at twice the budget.

Using every bit of his natural charisma, Jordan turns in an excellent performance as Adonis Creed. Jordan and Coogler make the wise decision to never allow Adonis to sink into the “arrogant punk who develops humility through the love of a good woman” trope. He’s a troubled individual, but that never defines him. They allow him to behave like a real human being instead of a screw up transformed by a bunch of cheap dramatic situations. His body transformation is amazing, but he doesn’t rely on his physique to do the acting like Stallone used to.

creed5

Speaking of Stallone, the actor gives his best performance in years, effortlessly embodying the loveable palooka he created forty years ago. This is no vanity role for the aged actor. He puts in real work. Looking at most of his films, one almost forgets that the man can actually act when he’s not mainlining HGH and desperately holding on to past action film glory. There are rumors that Stallone may get a best supporting nod for Creed, and he absolutely deserves it.

CRD205_000084.tif

Tessa Thompson rounds out the cast as Adonis’ neighbor and love interest Bianca. She is solid, and easily holds her own against Jordan and Stallone. Instead of shoehorning her into a thankless girlfriend role, Coogler and Covington take their time and let the romance between Bianca and Adonis build organically. Although she fades into the background a bit towards the end, the narrative makes sense. Thompson and Jordan have such effortless onscreen chemistry that you’ll want to see these two young actors paired up in future projects.

'Creed' movie review

We’re in a troubling cinematic era right now. Easily marketed nostalgia has swallowed the movie business. Studios lazily sell us the same products we bought barely a generation ago. But we are just as complicit, voting with our dollars, sending the message that we demand more of the same. Sure, Creed is something of a sequel to a franchise well past its expiration date. But instead of being another retread, it forges new ground that is just familiar enough to please old fans and fresh enough to attract new ones.

It’s so good that I’ll even pop Rocky into the ol’ Playstation and give it another go.

RATING: Theater

He SAID: Messy Marvel

Christopher M. Enis

Marvel might be mostly straight-laced on the big screen (Tony Stark nonwithstanding), but it’sjessjones1 a different story on the small screen. First, we were led to the dark side with Daredevil. Now, Marvel is following up with an equality morally ambiguous Jessica Jones. This is the second installment of the collaboration with Marvel and Netflix, and so far it’s working very well.

Based on the Alias comic book series, Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is former super-powered vigilante. These days, she’s a hard drinking, PTSD suffering, super-powered (’cause that’s what we call small screen ‘superheroes’. What, you didn’t get the memo?) private detective. And she’s moving around the very same Hell’s Kitchen where Daredevil resides. Her former and current lives collide when she takes on the case of finding a missing girl, the ironically named Hope (Erin Moriarty).  Jones’ case leads her to the very person responsible for destroying her life.

The show is similar to Daredevil in terms of grit and violence. But where Daredevil’s first season an R-rated superhero show, Jessica Jones reads like a psychological thriller about people who just happen to have super powers.

jessjones2

Ritter is great in the title role.  She’s physically strong, cynical, emotionally distant, scarred, and downright unlikeable… sometimes all in the same scene. It’s a demanding role, and Ritter appears more than up for the challenge.

Creator Melissa Rosenberg has been trying to bring the series to television since 2010. Operating within the Marvel universe is not for the faint of heart, what with all the references to other characters and easter eggs designed to keep old fans and attract new ones. Rosenberg manages to do jessjones3all of it and more, even previewing Luke Cage (coming soon to a small screen near you).

And parents, please be warned: Jessica Jones is based on a comic book but it is NOT for kids. If you want superheroes who pick up after themselves and go to bed by 9, stick with the blockbusters on the big screen. Jessica Jones has been through hell and lived to tell the tale, and she makes no apologies for any of it. If you’re down to ride, Jones will take you on one that you’re not likely to forget.

Marvel’s Jessica Jones is currently streaming on Netflix.

RATING: Must See TV

She SAID: #grungelip

Shahada Karim

I’m just going to put it out there and ask WTF about this revival of the 90’s grunge lip trend. It wasn’t cute then and it’s not cute now. But whatever. If you tossed all of your grunge lip colors from the 90’s (they’d no doubt be pretty grungy by now, and perhaps not suited to actual use), the market grunge1has plenty to offer. But the good news is (at least for someone like me), this time around some of these colors are actually wearable and will go beyond the grunge trend. They might even ensure that you won’t be stuck with some heinous lip shade once this trend dies (again).

For price, performance, and existence beyond tgrunge2he trend, you really can’t go wrong with Bite Beauty Matte Lip Crayon in Cognac. It’s dark enough to keep up with the grunge trend, but warm and rich enough to carry into the holiday season elegantly and beautifully. It’s convenient enough to use as a lip pencil, a stain (use fingers) or a full on lipstick.

If you’re game for spending a little more money, Tom Ford’s Matte Lipstick in Black Dahlia features similar wearability. Name aside, the color is actually a rich purple based plum (like its satin counterpart) and is more flattering than fad-centric. It’s grunge3particularly gorgeous as a stain with a clear or complimentary gloss (think: Pink Guilt) to really make the color 3-dimensional. It’s also gorgeous on a wide range of skin tones, so win-win.

Same for Dolce & Gabanna’s Lipstick in Jealous. It looks frightening in the tube (like a dark brown-based purple), but it actually translates to a deep red-berry with a reddish-brown undertone. Although it can work on just about any skin tone, it’s particularly gorgeous on warmer tones because it translates more elegant than garish.

You can always go all out with the likes of Kat Von D, but unless you’re into expressing your grunge for an unlimited time… a chocolate lipstick with purple shimmer might not be a wise choice. Just saying.

He SAID: Sound, Fury & Spectre

Scott F. Evans

There seems to be a fourth entry curse on the 007 franchise. Four actors have played the super spy at least four times. Each fourth outing is problematic as that fourth film usually follows a highly successful third entry. Sean Connery’s Thunderball, bowing in 1965, set the standard with that film working overtime to top Goldfinger, released the previous year. Thunderball is good, but at 130 minutes, this is where we get that “Bond Bloat”. 1979’s Moonraker, Roger Moore’s fourth, follows his series best The Spy Who Loved Me, released in 1977. Mooonraker, while enjoyable, really pushes your disbelief by ending with a Star Wars inspired laser gunfight on a space station. In 1999, The World Is Not Enough was released. Like most of the Pierce Brosnan films, it’s at best, a mixed bag. Producers decided to “fix” the problem by following it up in 2002 with Die Another Day. It’s telling that this film ended the Brosnan era and recast the lead. 2012’s Skyfall is considered by many, especially if box office is any indication, to be the best James Bond film ever made. It was Daniel Craig’s third outing as the iconic character.

The Sam Mendes directed Skyfall was a resounding success, bringing in over a billion dollars worldwide as well as garnering critical acclaim. In response, franchise producers Eon Productions lured most of that film’s creative team back for Spectre, the 24th Bond film. Mendes, Craig, and the writing team of Neal Purvis, John Logan and Robert Wade are all back with Jez Butterworth being added to the writing team. Eon also doubled the budget of Skyfall, making the rumored 300 million dollar Spectre one of the most expensive films ever made.

The money’s all up there on the screen. Spectre has an abundance of exotic international locations, grandiose sets, designer wardrobes, spectacular stunts and explosive effects. That’s not the problem. Spectre’s problem begins and ends with the story. In a nutshell, the writers, for some wrongheaded reason, are trying to connect every thread from all three of the Craig films. Every adventure that this Bond has gone on since Casino Royale is tied into a vast terrorspectre7ist network called Spectre. That’s fine as a comic book storytelling device. MI-6 needed an evil organization to fight, I suppose. But it makes everything that has happened since Craig rebooted Bond feel too small and personal. Instead of a British secret agent fighting tirelessly against various international dark forces, now Bond feels like a cop fighting crime in a medium sized city. And it doesn’t help that Spectre has a superfluous midpoint twist that only makes Bond’s world even tinier.

And it’s Spectre’s story problems that cause the film to run out of gas a little more than halfway through. There’s a showstopping fight on a train between Bond and Dave spectre6Bautista’s main henchman Mr. Hinx that should’ve been the climax. It’s the best action bit in the entire film and stands up next to the parkour chase in Casino Royale. But Mendes and company decide to keep Spectre limping along for almost another hour delivering not one, but two tedious shootouts that end with massive explosions. One of the shootouts is so lazily executed that it’s literally Bond walking directly at a small team of Spectre thugs and calmly shooting every one of them with monotonous accuracy. It’s the most half-assed action scene I’ve seen in a mega-budgeted feature film since the climactic shootout in The Dark Knight Rises.

Mendes’ direction is solid for the first hour and change. He starts the film with a beautiful tracking shot that seems to go on uninterrupted for almost five minutes. There’s an exciting sequence on an out of control helicopter and the aforementioned train fight is exceptional. Mendes also gets good performances from most of his cast, but he’s unable to pull it all together. Again, I can only blame the half-baked script.

Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, while no Roger Deakins, still delivers some satisfying work. Compared to Skyfall, Hoytema’s work is almost pedestrian. spectre5There’s a lengthy film vs digital argument being had in Hollywood right now. Traditionalists still prefer film, arguing that video is just unable to capture images the way film does. Well, add the latest Bond film to the pro-video argument. Spectre was shot on 35mm film but the visuals are nowhere near as beautiful as the digital imagery from Skyfall.

Daniel Craig is solid in what may be his final appearance as 007. He’s contracted for one more, but the role has taken a toll on the actor. His Bond has been more rugged and physically demanding than previous takes so it’s understandable that he may be ready to retire from Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Leya Seydoux plays the female lead Madeleine Swann. She’s serviceable. It’s not that Seydoux is bad in the role, it’s just that she looks too young for Craig and the two have zero screen chemistry. This is a serious problem because the story wants you to believe that Swann might be Bond’s true love. Suffice to say it doesn’t work at all as the two actors actually look bored with one another.

Spectre introduces us to Bond’s latest arch villain Franz Oberhauser. Christoph Waltz is spectre1terribly miscast in the role. Oberhauser is the head of this huge, sinister organization and Waltz plays him like the CEO of a candy company. He’s too lightweight for the part. He’s not intimidating physically or mentally and you wonder if he just bought his way to the top of Spectre because he certainly couldn’t have earned the title.

Naomie Harris, so great as the re-imagined Moneypenny in Skyfall, is reduced to little more than an extended cameo in this one. Instead, Spectre decides to give the much less interesting Ben Whishaw’s Q more screentime. The story struggles to find reasons to get him out of his lab and into the field. With his foppish hair and comically fastidious ways, he feels like an awkward response to Simon Peggs’ Benji Dunn in the Mission Impossible series.

spectre3If you’re a Bond completist, go see Spectre. It’s fairly entertaining for at least half of its overlong run-time, so catch a matinee or on discount night. If you’re more of a casual fan, pop in Skyfall and wait for Bond 25.

RATING: Matinee

She SAID: Oh Glow On

Shahada Karim

‘Tis the season to get the glow! The latest beauty offerings promise to keep you luminous and bright as you float from one holiday shindig to the next.holidaymakeup

First things first. No makeup application is complete without the perfect set of brushes. Consider the latest design collaboration with Sephora and sunglasses designer Karen Walker. The 6-piece gilded brush set features tortoiseshell handles and golden ferrules… luxe enough to bring out the glamorous touch in every makeup application.

Marc Jacobs continues to expand his beauty range, with a 20-palette of eholidaymakeup4yeshadows that range from subtle matte to full on glitter. What makes this palette unique is the inclusion of 18 completely new shadow shades (a departure from many brands who simply re-promote the same shades in new packaging). Jacobs named the palette (Style Eye-Con No. 20 in The Free Spirit) after model Charlotte Free. Each shade blends together effortlessly, and we found that a few of them can even pull off a quick blush look in a pinch. Suffice to say the only limitations exist in your imagination.

Not to be outdone, Chantecaille decided to pull inspiration from the the Far East with the Himalayas collection.holidaymakeup8 We are over the moon for the new Le Chrome Luxe Eye Duo in Tibet, which features two wet-and-dry shades. The colors are described as warm washes of platinum and slate, but we’ll just say they translate more like grey and silver. If that’s not your jam, not to worry. The duo comes in four other color combinations, each suitable to a wide range of skin tones. The best part about these shadows is the formula. They build from sheer to opaque, taking you from subtle to glam with just a few passes. Plus,  the holidaymakeup9crease-free finish really can’t be beat.

Makeup brand Becca wants you to put your best face forward with the new Shimmer Skin Perfector palette. The effort is a collaboration with makeup artist and Youtube sensation Jaclyn Hill. The three shades: Pearl, Blushed Copper, and Champagne Pop can holidaymakeup6be used alone or combined for a unique highlight shade. All of the colors translate beautifully; even Pearl is subtle enough to be used on the warmest skin tones.

Dior absolutely nailed it this season, with the Gris-Or nail polish. Not grey, not gold… but some magical hybrid of both. The result is decidedly neutral, and will work on just about anyone. The formula is exceptional enough for one coat, which looks like your nails on their best day with just a hint of fairy dust. Two coats turns everything opaque… and if you’re feeling fabulous, an extra coat of shimmering glitter (Dior State of Gold is perfectly suited) will shoot you to the top of your glow game.