CREED. Writer/director Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan last collaborated on Fruitvale Station (2013), which signaled their arrival as talents to watch. Creed bears out that hypothesis, showcasing their ability to find humanity and heart in a story while producing something genuinely entertaining. No small feat, either, to have accomplished this within the confines of a potentially worn out franchise within a potentially worn out genre.
Even among fans, Rocky is long in the tooth, and until now boxing movies had started to feel like relics. But Coogler (with co-writer Aaron Covington) and Jordan have brought fresh perspective to a bloated franchise and proven there are still dynamic, compelling ways to tell an old-fashioned pugilism story.
Jordan plays Adonis Johnson, whom we meet as a young boy and a guest of the state in Los Angeles, 1998. Already a fighter, he's become accustomed to life in group homes, foster care facilities and detention centers. In walks Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), with life-changing information. She adopts "Donnie," who chooses to retain his late mother's name in the towering shadow of his late father's legend. That legend, for the uninitiated, is of Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), the greatest boxer of all time, killed in the ring. (See Rocky through Rocky IV). Adonis starts down a button-up career path, simultaneously developing a perfect record boxing in Mexico. He can't handle office life, and so resigns and makes his way to Philadelphia to train with Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and learn more about Apollo. Rocky reluctantly agrees to the deal just as Adonis' lineage becomes public and an unlikely title shot materializes.
A summary doesn't do the movie justice, being sturdily predictable genre stuff. It comes to life on-screen, though, in quietly innovative ways. Jordan proves again he is indeed a movie star, and Stallone gives a surprisingly touching performance. Director of photography Maryse Alberti (whose resume is impressive, despite her recent work on The Visit) proves a vital collaborator, helping Coogler move his camera fluidly through contemplative sections and knock-down-drag-outs alike. Some of the nods to Philadelphia and to the earlier Rocky movies may prove too sentimental for some, but they are vital. Creed balances respect and reverence for the source material, and its home city, with a new way of looking at it. R. 101m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
SPOTLIGHT. From any angle, this is an anti-Creed: a talky, contemplative story about middle-aged, white Bostonian journalists investigating child-abuse in the Catholic Church circa 2001. A testament to great writing, acting and overall execution, though, it proves to be every bit as exciting and watchable as well-crafted fight sequence.
The titular group is a four-person team taking on long-term investigations at The Boston Globe: Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), Matt Carroll (Brian d'Arcy James) and Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), led by veteran editor Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton). In early 2001, with the newspaper business starting to slide queasily toward the precipice, the Globe hires editor-in-chief Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber). As he becomes aware of the potential breadth and depth of child abuse within the church, he suggests the Spotlight team look into it. The reporters reluctantly agree, and over the year uncover a horrifying, formalized system of sex crime far worse than anticipated.
Written by Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy (McCarthy also directed), Spotlight's screenplay could be taught in film schools. That rarest example of everything done right, it uses dialogue and character to create tension in an inspiring way. Consisting almost entirely of people talking, it's still as compelling as a classic thriller. The quiet visual style is unobtrusive, but it suits the material and showcases the acting. Ruffalo, in particular, demonstrates again that he is among the best working today, transforming himself with the slightest nuances of physicality and inflection.
This story is innately disturbing, and thus compelling, but McCarthy makes an unassuming, powerful, resonant work of art out of it. R. 101m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN. The opening voice-over, delivered by the man who will become Igor (Daniel Radcliffe), suggests that we know this story. And that's true, try as the movie might to give us a fresh perspective on it.
It falls to Igor to provide that perspective, though in the opening scenes he is a nameless circus freak in Victorian England. Constantly abused by his co-workers, secretly in love with trapeze artist Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay), fascinated by anatomy and medicine, the poor guy gets no respect. Into his life strides the half-crazed but charismatic Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy), and things will never be the same. After a series of dramatic incidents at the circus, Victor names his new charge Igor and, recognizing his talents, takes him on as his assistant. They set to work attempting to re-animate corpses, basically, while under the scrutiny of a devout Christian police detective (Andrew Scott).
The characters are more dynamic than one might expect from a monster movie, and the actors portraying them do solid work across the board. The result is a movie that consistently entertains, despite its predictability and occasional narrative flat spots. PG13. 109m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
— John J. Bennett
For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456.
KRAMPUS. A family lacking Christmas spirit gets the holiday from Hell when the Germanic boogeyman comes down the chimney in this horror-comedy. PG13. 98m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
THE LETTERS. A dramatic portrait of Mother Theresa through notes to a priest pen pal. PG. 119m. BROADWAY.
BROOKLYN. An Irish immigrant is pulled between her roots back home and the new life and inter-cultural romance she's started with a swell Italian-American fella. PG13. 111m. MINOR.
THE GOOD DINOSAUR. Animated interspecies buddy movie set in an alternate universe in which dinosaurs and humans coexist. With Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand. PG. 100m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 2. The last nail in the franchise's coffin is so dull you may have to fight your way to the exits. PG13. 136m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
LOVE THE COOPERS. A pile-up of talented actors (John Goodman, Diane Keaton, Alan Arkin, Marisa Tomei) in a wreck of a holiday-family-dysfunction comedy that takes itself too seriously. PG13. 107m. BROADWAY.
THE MARTIAN. Ridley Scott directs Matt Damon as a stranded astronaut in a compelling and life-affirming space drama. PG13. 141m. BROADWAY.
THE NIGHT BEFORE. Seth Rogen leads his bros Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie in a fun and funny drug-fueled holiday comedy about being a dude, growing up late and the joy of cameos. R. 101m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THE PEANUTS MOVIE. Snoopy and the gang put their enormous heads together again for this animated feature. G. 93m. BROADWAY.
SECRET IN THEIR EYES. This adaptation of the Argentinian thriller showcases powerful actors (Julia Roberts, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman) but loses steam. PG13. 111m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
SPECTRE. Daniel Craig returns for more sharp-suited globe trotting and plot foiling with nods to classic Bond films. Innovative action but heavy on the soul searching. PG13. 148m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill