Saturday, February 13, 2016

Sanders and Trump Go Into a Bar: A Short Story by Victor Lana

First appeared on Blogcritics.

Hoping to get Bernie Sanders away from a crowd of aggressive supporters, his security team rushes him down an alley and through a doorway. One agent goes inside with him and the others block the people from following the candidate.

Sanders realizes he is in a dimly lit tavern. Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” is playing on the jukebox, and only a few people are sitting in booths along the wall. He sees no one sitting at the bar and sits on a stool. The bartender glances at the fellow standing behind Bernie in the dark suit with a wire coming out of his ear. “Can I get you something, sir?”

Bernie says, “I’ll have a Chivas neat, some water on the side.” He glances back at the agent who raises an eyebrow slightly. “Can’t a guy wet his whistle?”

There is a good deal of commotion at the front door and a fellow with wind-blown orange hair is hustled in by a man in a dark suit with a wire coming out of his ear. Sanders recognizes Donald Trump immediately and grins as Trump tries to press down his comb-over.

“We’ll just stay in here until the crowd dies down,” the agent says.

“Fine, fine,” Trump says. He looks around and notices Sanders and he puts out both arms and says, “Bernie, how the hell are you?”

Sanders takes his drink from the bartender and lifts the glass toward Trump. “L'Chayim!”

“Gesundheit,” Trump says as he undoes his scarf revealing the signature bold red tie. He puts both hands on the bar and says, “I see you are a drinker.”

Sanders sips his drink and places it on the coaster. “Once in a while; I am a social drinker.”

“I don’t touch the stuff myself,” Trump says.

“Well, you know what they say, “In vino veritas.”

“Ahh, I don’t speak Polish,” Trump says.

“Oh, I’m not sure that you speak English,” Sanders says with a chuckle.

“You are a funny man, Bernie,” Trump says.

“Drinking is good for the ticker,” Sanders says after taking another sip.

Trump looks back at his security man and leans toward Sanders and whispers, “I can’t control what I say now; imagine what would come out of my mouth if I drank.”

“The prospect is both intriguing and repulsive,” Sanders says.

trump cnn“Amen to that,” Trump says as he stands straight and stares at the mirror behind the bar. “I am looking my best even despite that harsh wind out there.”

The bartender wipes down the bar where Trump is standing and he asks, “Can I get you something, Mr. Trump.”

“I am thinking of a drink I had back in Queens when I went to a bar with my father to hand a guy an eviction notice,” Trump says. “It was named for someone.”

“Rob Roy?” asks the bartender. Trump shakes his head. “Tom Collins?”

“No, named for that curly-haired little girl, an entertainer. She used to tap dance with that black fellow – James Earl Jones I think.
“I think you mean Bill Bojangles Robisnon,” Sanders says.

“No, that’s not the drink either.”

“Do you mean Shirley Temple?” Sanders asks.

“That’s it!” Trump slams his hand on the bar. “One Shirley Temple, my good man.”

The bartender rolls his eyes and goes to make the drink. Sanders looks back at his security guard and whispers, “At least he didn’t order sasparilla.”

Trump takes a deep breath and looks around the room. “Oddly, none of the patrons of this establishment seems to recognize me.”

Sanders sips his drink. “Did you ever think that some people don’t know who you are?”

“The thought never entered my mind,” Trump groans.

“Not surprising at all,” Sanders says.

Trump takes his Shirley Temple from the bartender and sips it. “Ah, just as I remember it from the Mohawk on Jamaica Avenue. Well done!” He slaps a $50 bill on the bar saying, “Keep the change, my good man.”

“So, Donald, don’t you find it odd that we both got hustled in here tonight?” Sanders asks.

Trump sits down on the stool next to Sanders and shakes his head. “This meeting was inevitable – didn’t you read my book?”

Sanders turns to him. “I haven’t had the pleasure.”

“Read it before November,” Trump says with a wink.

“Are you dismissing Mrs. Clinton?”

Trump sips his drink and winces as if he were in pain. “I can’t listen to that shrew’s voice. No wonder Bill fooled around.”

“I thought she was your friend at one time.”

“I get along with everybody – I would have even gotten along with Hitler.”

Sanders nods solemnly. “I don’t doubt it.”

Trump puts a hand on Sanders’s arm. “Don’t get me wrong; Hitler was a terrible person. But I would get along with him to get the job done. It’s all in my book.”

“Kind of like Mein Kampf no doubt.”

“Very funny, Bernie.”

“Well, I’m ready for you if you make it to November.”

“If?” Trump sips his drink. “There’s no if. I like the idea of two New Yorkers going at it – Brooklyn against Queens.”

“Born and raised in Brooklyn, but I live in the good state of Vermont now,” Sanders reminds him with a raised index finger.

“You can take the boy out of the borough but you can’t take the borough out of the boy,” Trump says with a smirk.

“That’s rather incisive coming from you, Donald,” Sanders says.

“Hey, I have my moments,” Trump says. “I do like the Jew verses the Gentile angle too.”
Sanders turns and puts his elbows on the bar. “I bet.”

Trump’s guard taps his shoulder. “We can leave now, sir.”

“Gotta go!” Trump gets up and shakes Bernie’s hand. As he walks away Trump gushes, “I’m feeling the Bern.”

bernie-sanders-mug_5fea106e0eb494469a75e60d8f2b18ea.nbcnews-fp-320-320An older gentleman yells “For you, Bernie,” and points to the jukebox.

Sanders raises his glass and says, “Thank you, sir.” He turns and waits for John Fogerty to sing “Who’ll stop the rain?” and he whispers, “I will.”

Photo credits: CNN, NBC

Friday, February 12, 2016

NY Mets Pitcher Mejia Tests Positive for Steroids Again – Three Strikes and He’s Banned from MLB For Life!

First appeared on Blogcritics.

“Stupid is as stupid does,” Forrest Gump says in the famous film, and one cannot help but connect that to now former New York Mets relief pitcher Jennry Mejia who, after two suspensions for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs, tested positive for the third time and thus received a lifetime ban from Major League Baseball.

In the midst of serving a 162-day suspension because of his second positive test, Mejia tested positive for Boldenone, designed to give users slow but steady gains and which also goes by the brand name Equipoise, a veterinary steroid commonly used on horses.

Now Mejia, a once very promising young pitcher who served as the Mets’ closer in 2014, is out of baseball forever. With its third strike and you’re out policy, MLB is making it clear that it is serious about enforcing its drug policy. Obviously, Mejia didn’t think he would become the first MLB player to receive a lifetime ban under the steroid policy, but now he becomes a cautionary tale for all current professional baseball players and those hoping to become one someday.

As a Mets fan I fully appreciate the implications of the situation for my team and, while you hate see the 26-year-old Mejia’s career ruined, he has no one to blame but himself. Mejia well knew the risk he was taking after two previous suspensions, and now he must face the reality of what he has done and the gravity of the consequences.

The NY Mets released the following statement regarding Mejia:
We were deeply disappointed to hear that Jenrry has again violated Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. We fully support MLB’s policy toward eliminating performance enhancing substances from the sport. As per the Joint Drug Program, we will have no further comment on this suspension.
The problem is that the competition is so intense to get to the big leagues and then remain there, and players are always looking for that edge. We only have to look at players like Manny Ramirez, Melky Cabrera, Ryan Braun, and Alex Rodriguez (and many others who have been caught and lost substantial playing time) to realize that the bigger they are the harder they seem to fall. Guys who were not suspended during their playing time, like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa, but who have been tainted by the specter of steroids, face the possibility of never being fairly considered for the Hall of Fame, losing the respect of their peers and fans, and spending their retirement years wondering what might have been.

So for now Jennry Mejia becomes the first one suspended for life and goes down in MLB history in a way that no player would ever hope to have happen. He joins guys like Pete Rose and the eight 1919 Chicago White Sox players on the banned for life list – not the kind of company anyone would set out to keep.

It is incongruous to fathom why Mejia would keep on taking the substance after two suspensions and knowing that subsequent testing was inevitable. We cannot get into the way of thinking that says something like “The gains I make will be worth the risk of getting caught.” There is no rationale to that kind of thinking.

It is a sad day for baseball, for Mets fans, and for Mejia himself. Now that his promising career is over, Mejia can do some good if he would try to turn his life around and talk about his situation. If he would go to high schools and warn young athletes about the dangers of doing what he was caught doing, perhaps Mejia could salvage his reputation in a tangible and meaningful way.

For now Mejia is the first to be banned for life under MLB’s steroid policy, but judging from what we know of human nature and the history of the game of baseball, he probably won’t be the last. There will always be those who take the chance and think that they won’t get caught. Sadly, even Forrest Gump would have been smarter than that.

Photo Credits: nbc

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Culture of Fear – The Media and Drug Companies: Marriage Made in Hell

First appeared on Blogcritics.

My father used to say that TV reporters never met a disaster they didn’t like. I used to think that he was just making a joke, but as I have grown older I see how true his observation has become. Everything is doom and gloom, and this holds true for all media.

Sign on to the Internet and you are inundated with headlines playing on your worst fears about your health – "Four Signs of a Heart Attack," "Serious Causes of Your Back Pain," "Seven Foods to Never Eat," "Why Doctors Want You to Take Meds," and so on. People are so susceptible to this kind of manipulation, and if you click on one of these links, disappointingly you will be usually led to a long video presentation hawking some kind of alternative product. Sadly, it's all about making money and has little to do with what is best for you.

As for the so called "news," a pernicious attack on our senses is thrust upon us by the media every day and is overwhelming in our lives. We are bombarded with negativity; whether the stories are about politics, North Korea, Iran, ISIS, fracking, global warming, or the Zika virus, they are all manufactured to cause anxiety and fear among we who keep watching because we have been conditioned to believe those promoting the problem also have an answer to it.

There is an old saying that is true more than ever for the media – “If it bleeds it leads.” So you get all sorts of stories about murder and mayhem and the usual warning not to watch the graphic images that are coming on screen. Of course, then many viewers continue watching and see how ugly the world can be.

I have long complained that the media will focus its attention on perpetrators after an incident. I refuse to watch these reports, but many do under the guise of understanding the mind of a killer. I know I for one don’t want to know anything about the killer or the reasons why he/she became one. Giving exposure to mass murderers or child abusers is like a recruiting tool for the next psycho longing for fifteen minutes of infamy.

One just has to look at the current political campaign for the presidency to see how the media has used it to pump fear into the electorate. We are bombarded with negative stories about the candidates. Whether it’s Mrs. Clinton’s emails, Mr. Sanders being a socialist, or Mr. Trump’s outlandish comments, the observations we can take away are all derogatory. The candidates do not help matters by throwing as much mud as possible at one another.

fear2The Zika virus story is another example of the media using a story to foment fear. Today I heard several headlines on the radio or television that were something like “Zika Virus Passed By Sexual Activity,” “The Zika Virus Causing People to Cancel Vacations,” and “Zika Virus Threatens All 50 States.” Then the latest thing I heard was that President Obama was requesting $1.8 billion to battle Zika, but wanted Americans to know there was no need to panic. If you are listening to all this what are you supposed to believe? The sole purpose involved here is to scare the audience and make certain it reads, watches, or listens to the story.

More doom and gloom comes to you each day from the pharmaceutical companies. They advertise everything from anti-depressants to sexual performance drugs, and their ads are as slick as they come. Usually we are shown someone who is at first suffering in some way – these people are in hopeless states before learning about the drug in the ad. Suddenly the screen becomes bright, people are smiling, and all is right with the world because of that magic pill. If you hang on long enough to listen to the side effects, which many times will include something like “and can cause death,” you might think twice about taking that pill no matter what your symptoms are.

According to the so-called experts in the media, there is something wrong with everything we like or enjoy doing. Sodium and sugar are agents of evil; soda and juice are like arsenic and old lace, and beer, cold cuts, and desserts are enemies of the state. Literally anything we like to eat or drink comes under some kind of warning with a skull and crossbones over it. Again, this is the operation of causing fear and making us feel that only the source broadcasting these admonitions has the answer to solve the problem.

fear4Perhaps the most extensive media coverage goes to disasters. Give news people an earthquake, blizzard, tsunami, hurricane, or tornado to cover, and they are as giddy as children on the last day of school before summer vacation. Each time something like this happens we are subject to overwhelming coverage of the event as if there is no other news anywhere in the world.

At this point the media no longer does its job of reporting the news. Now the media has become our watchdog, our overseer, and our conscience. The days of relying on the media to convey what’s happening in the world are gone; now its purpose is to incite, to condemn, and most of all frighten viewers and readers. The incongruous theory used must be this – 

The more we frighten people the more they will tune in, and in the end the media’s concern is nothing so benevolent as our health and well-being but ratings. Ratings equal money, and that is what drives all this fear mongering.

So if you have had it with the culture of fear created by the media and its kindred spirit the pharmaceutical companies, change the channel or turn off the TV. The ultimate power still lies in your hands – the remote control.

Photo Credits: cnn, foxnews

Friday, February 5, 2016

Movie Review: Joy – JLaw Keeps This Clunker From Sinking

When director David O. Russell gets things right, as in films such as The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, he can take the viewer on a magic carpet ride; however, when he gets things too garbled in movies like I Heart Huckabees or American Hustle, the rug gets pulled out from under us. Sadly, this is the case with his latest film, Joy, based on the real story of Long Island mop queen Joy Mangano, played by Oscar nominated Jennifer Lawrence.

Russell gets mired in a tale about Joy’s crazy family, which admittedly has some funny moments in the film, but it becomes too much of a Willy Wonka soap opera – with joy’s mother Terri (Virginia Madsen) basically living in her bed watching what else but a soap opera. Her ex-husband Tony (Edgar Ramirez) and father Rudy (Robert De Niro) share a basement with a stretch of unrolled toilet paper as the demarcation line between their living spaces, while Joy lives upstairs with her two kids but mostly sleeps on the sofa or the stairs. Welcome to the dysfunctional Mangano family!

Russell uses flashbacks to show us the irrepressibly creative young Joy (Isabella Crovetti-Cramp) who had big ideas that were shot down by her parents. Only her loving grandmother Mimi (Dianne Ladd) shows belief in her ideas, but after Rudy and Terri divorce there is a 17-year period of suppression of her dreams. Joy grows up, marries and divorces Tony after having two children, and ends up working in a nowhere airport job for Eastern Airlines.

One of the more difficult things to swallow here is having De Niro playing what is now his show up and say the lines role of the moment (see The Intern for what I mean). He seems thoroughly exhausted and tuned out by playing the role, but some may take this as getting into character. It just seems like such a waste to have the actor that once ate up his parts with such zeal in films like Raging Bull and Taxi Driver now seemingly chewing on the script.

The saving grace of the film is Jennifer Lawrence. One fears that JLaw is taking on too many roles now that success has come her way, but she continues to surprise and delight in each part, sinking herself into the character and becoming imbued with the nuances of expression, accent, and mannerisms that display her acting chops.

joy-gallery4-gallery-imageJoy’s struggle to break free of the mundane snow-covered world of Long Island – where her father runs a garage and men are plinking bottles in the lot next door – is what makes this film worth watching. She wants more for her children and for herself, and the thing that I don’t remember ever seeing before in her films is Jennifer playing the part of a parent, and she does so convincingly here.

When Rudy starts seeing Trudy (Isabella Rossellini), a woman from a dating service, Joy gets invited to a party on her boat. During the festivities, Joy breaks a wine glass and, as she is mopping up the red wine, cuts her hands on the shards in the mop. The bright idea for the Miracle Mop comes to her after this incident, and she goes about making drawings and eventually a prototype that she can show people. With some financial backing from Trudy, Joy is ready to take her mop to the people and make her dreams come true.

The problem here is that there are long stretches of yawn time in this story, and even when the conflict finally gets interesting – the company manufacturing the mop tries to steal Joy’s idea and leave her mired in debt – there is too much filler and the supporting actors seem to be bumping into each other looking for something to do.

joy-gallery2-gallery-imageOne of the biggest disappointments is Bradley Cooper as Neil Walker, an executive at QVC – the place where Joy’s mop finally gets its exposure. Cooper and Lawrence usually have such great chemistry (see Silver Linings Playbook). His presence and the possibility of romance between Neil and Joy could have elevated this film to something memorable, but Russell doesn’t capture that in what is basically an extended cameo for Cooper.

The inherent difficulty in this story is that it is ostensibly about a woman who invented a different kind of mop. While Russell deserves some slack because it is a rough assignment to make the mop thing interesting, he brought in actors like Cooper, De Niro, Ladd, Madsen, and Lawrence who could have knocked the ball out of the park if only they had the right bats in their hands. Sadly, besides Lawrence, they all strike out swinging in this one.

Ultimately, Joy is a series of misfires and the only bang for the buck is Lawrence’s powerful performance. Getting to see Jlaw do her thing may be worth the price of admission, but in the end Joy does not do enough to put a smile on your face.

Photo Credits:

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Movie Review: Concussion – An Inconvenient Truth for the NFL

Concussion, director Peter Landesman’s powerful and disturbing film, premiered on December 25, 2015, right near the end of the regular National Football League season and before the January playoff schedule. The timing could not have been more appropriate.

Starring Will Smith as Nigerian born pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, the film is based on the true story of the man’s attempt to get the NFL to face the reality of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the pernicious brain damage that many of its players suffer during careers of multiple hard knocks.

Based on Jeanne Marie Laskas’s GQ article “Game Brain,” Concussion pulls no punches as it uses real names and situations and chronicles the ordeal of Dr. Omalu, who not only suffers professionally but also personally in his quest to reveal to the world what the NFL was doing its best to keep under wraps.

Set in Pittsburgh, perhaps an American city with an identity more aligned with its football team (The Steelers) than any other, Omalu works in the County Coroner’s Office and starts studying the case of Mike Webster (David Morse), a Hall of Fame player who ended up living and dying in his car. As Omalu examines his brain, he finds severe injury to it and then, after watching videos of NFL games, makes the connection that players are like soldiers on the front lines of a war that is very damaging to their heads.

Smith plays Omalu with deliberately controlled mannerisms and an impressive Nigerian accent; it is a tempered, multivalent performance that builds as the rising action takes us through one player after another that is fighting with sound and fury against a condition that is baffling and leaves them feeling as if their efforts signify nothing.

After being asked to help adjust a young immigrant woman to America, Omalu takes Prema (a lovely Gugu Mbatha-Raw) to his home and attempts to school her in how to succeed in this country. After spending so much time together, they end up falling in love and eventually marry. His relationship with Prema offers Omalu some comfort during his ordeal of battling one of the most powerful organizations in the country.

f550f85cd8ef873edaa5a4d140815e7a6e5121c1Omalu forms an alliance with former NFL neurological consultant Dr. Julian Bailes (a terrific Alec Baldwin) who used to treat Webster. Together they attempt to shed light on what is happening in the NFL. As the body count continues to grow – with more suffering players killing themselves – Omalu examines their corpses and concludes they all suffered from CTE. This sets him on a collision course with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (Luke Wilson) and the powerful and lucrative machine that he oversees.

Concussion is an honest look at a very inconvenient truth that for too long was overlooked by the NFL. Smith does an amazing job in what is probably his best and most understated performance in films. He conveys Omalu’s zeal to make change for the better but also his fear that he has stepped into dark waters that might threaten to sink his professional and personal life.

The film comes during a time when the NFL would like the conversation to be about the Super Bowl and not about the ugly truth that haunts every professional gridiron in the country. A recently released NFL report reveals that in 2015 there were 271 reported concussions – an increase from 206 reported in 2014 – and the frightening thing about this is the “reported” part.

We cannot imagine how many more go unreported by players, but NY Jets fans will well remember that wide receiver Brandon Marshall revealed last year that he played with a serious concussion in the past because he was in a contract year. In a letter addressed to Dr. Omalu Marshall wrote:
If I missed games, my value would suffer, and I didn't want to lose the security I was so close to having for me and my family. So I played through it, and I promised my wife I would never do that again. But for two weeks, I was woozy. I couldn't close my eyes without losing my balance. I definitely had suffered a concussion and kept playing like many other players.
So we don’t know how many players just like Marshall are out there, but we do know CTE is a real affliction that will continue to affect NFL players unless the league’s culture changes dramatically. While the NFL under Goodell has come a long way in recognizing CTE as a reality, the frightening thing is that players like Marshall may suffer a concussion and keep on going for whatever personal reasons – and this decision could end up costing them their lives.

Concussion is not just a great film with a solid lead actor in Smith, it is also a wake-up call for the NFL, its players, and its fans. CTE is like a plague affecting professional football players in this country. Concussion sends a resounding message that the NFL and its players have to know and face the truth about the condition and that it can no longer be business as usual, no matter how inconvenient that is for all involved.

Photo credits: Sony Pictures

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Movie Review: The Revenant – Revenge Is In The Hands Of The Creator

First appeared on Blogcritics.

Nominated for 12 Academy Awards, director Alejandro G. Iñấrritu’s The Revenant is a gruesome tale of pain and loss and yet remarkably also an inspiring tale of survival and the integrity of the human spirit.

The incredible (based on a true story) journey of frontiersman Hugh Glass (Oscar nominated Leonardo DiCaprio) begins with him and his son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) as part of a group of trappers led by Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson). They are deep in what was known in 1820 as northern Louisiana Territory. Along on the trip is John Fitzgerald (Oscar nominated Tom Hardy) who has a hatred of Native Americans because they once tried to scalp him in the past.

After a violent attack by the Arikara tribe, many of the men in their group are slaughtered. Glass, Hawk, Henry, Fitzgerald, and some others do escape on a boat. Henry defers to Glass’s intimate knowledge of the area and decides to abandon the boat and cut through the rough country to get to Fort Kiowa. Fitzgerald opposes this move mostly because he resents Glass and his half Native American son.

During their difficult overland journey, Glass inadvertently disturbs a few grizzly bear cubs and incurs the wrath of their mother. In one of the most brutal scenes in the film, the bear gnaws away at Glass as he valiantly fights back. Glass eventually kills the bear but is gravely wounded. Henry and the others find him and tend to him as best as they can. For a time they even try carrying him but it proves too arduous over the difficult terrain.

revenant-gallery-04-gallery-imageFitzgerald argues that Glass is not going to survive these injuries and is holding them back. Henry decides to leave Glass with Fitzgerald, Hawk, and young Bridger (Will Poulter) with the understanding that they will wait until Glass dies and give him a proper burial. 

Henry and the rest are not gone too long before Fitzgerald tries to suffocate Glass, but Hawk intervenes and they fight. Fitzgerald kills Hawk, drags away his body, and lies to Bridger that Hawk has been taken by the Arikara.
Although Bridger protests, Fitzgerald is soon digging a shallow grave, dragging Glass into it, and covering him with dirt. Fitzgerald takes Glass’s rifle and everything else from him, but Bridger leaves Glass a canteen. 

After they are gone Glass somehow manages to drag himself out of the grave and thus the figurative and literal revenant embarks on a grueling journey in which he will battle to survive in order to return to the fort and get justice for Hawk and himself.

To tell much more would really be spoiler territory, but the general focus during the rest of the film involves DiCaprio doing everything he can to overcome the elements and avoid the Arikara. His performance captures the struggle with broad and subtle nuances, and flashbacks remind us of the love he had for his Native American wife (Grace Dove) and how he lost her during an attack when Hawk was little.

revenant-gallery-22-gallery-imageAt one point a starving Glass is assisted by Hikuc, a friendly Pawnee (Arthur Red Cloud). Glass and Hikuc exchange stories (both have lost their wives and children), and though Glass seeks revenge Hikuc does not. He tells Glass, “Revenge is in the hands of the creator.” Glass considers this but still also wants to make Fitzgerald pay for what he has done.

Iñấrritu’ manages to keep the film moving briskly, even though there are moments that slow down but do not diffuse the power of the action. The landscapes are breathtakingly beautiful, and the harsh environment is another character in a sense, an obstacle for Glass to overcome and a no less formidable antagonist than Fitzgerald.

In some ways the movie is really two films – one about Glass overcoming extraordinary circumstances and the other about the nature of colonization and the destruction of the Native American way of life. While the Arikara may seem brutal and murderous, they are not much different than the grizzly bear trying to save her cubs. The Arikara Chief (Anthony Starlight) is on a quest to rescue his daughter Powaqa (Melaw Nakehk'o) who has been kidnapped by trappers.

Thus the film is about families shattered and men trying to right wrongs done to them. Glass uses all his frontier knowledge to try to forge ahead and survive, while the Chief does the same to track those responsible for what happened to his daughter.

revenant-gallery-05-gallery-imageThis is DiCaprio's best performance to date – he inhabits Glass and breathes life into what is a difficult role to pull-off. Hardy is excellent as the unapologetic killer and thief who sees the world as unfair and is determined to get his share.

The rest of the cast does a great job, and Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is stunning. Add a resonant musical score by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Graeme Revell, and this nominee for Best Picture certainly makes a case for being worthy of 12 Oscar nominations.

This is a difficult movie to watch with no comic relief to break the tension. Still and all you will be enthralled by the scenery, repelled by the brutality, and captivated by the powerful performances that make The Revenant a must see film before watching the Oscars.

Photo Credits:

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Movie Review: Creed – This Rocky Sequel Will Make You a Believer

First appeared on Blogcritics.

Director Ryan Coogler’s Creed is one of those films that surprises and delights you. Coogler, who also co-wrote the screenplay, stays true to the basic formula that made the previous films work (this is number 7 if you are counting), and Creed stands as the second best movie in the series after the original Rocky.

Of course, the ace up Coogler’s sleeve is the presence of Rocky himself – Sylvester Stallone, who slips into wearing that rumpled black fedora in an Oscar nominated performance. Stallone looks the part of an aging former boxer – slightly punch drunk, weary from years of abuse, and worn by the difficulties life has thrown at him. After being on top of the world as a champ, he knows what it is like to lose everything – now living modestly in his old house and running the restaurant named for his late wife Adrian (Talia Shire).

Still, at heart Rocky Balboa is a fighter, and thus when young Adonis Johnson (a terrific Michael B. Jordan) appears on the scene asking Rocky to train him, at first Rock wants no part of it. When Adonis reveals that he is the illegitimate son of Rocky’s former ring foe and friend Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), Rocky comes around and agrees to help the kid out.

There is a back story for Adonis, who grows up not knowing who his father was until Creed’s widow Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad) pays him a visit in a Los Angeles juvenile detention center, where he has already established a name for himself as a fighter. Mary Anne, despite the fact that Adonis is the son of a woman with whom her husband had an affair, takes the boy in and raises him as her own.

Now an adult, Adonis lives well in the Creed mansion, but he quits his job and has bigger plans for himself. Wanting to make it as a boxer but not in his father’s shadow, Adonis goes by the name Johnson when he fights. After leaving home and going to Philadelphia to meet Rocky, Adonis eventually trains and starts getting fights.

After one fight someone reveals Adonis’s true identity to the media – and this opens up internal and external conflicts for the young man and his trainer. While Adonis is worried about living up to his father’s legacy, Rocky is trying to do his best to train his old friend’s son but is mindful of the price the kid will have to pay now that his heritage is revealed.

There are side stories with Adonis having a relationship with Bianca (a radiant Tessa Thompson), a young singer who lives in an apartment below his. Rocky also has to deal with a medical diagnosis that could be life threatening, and the extended metaphor involved is old fighters don’t give up and they never will fade away either.

Great narrative touches bring closure to some Rocky story lines involving his wife Adrian, her brother Paulie, and Rocky’s son. All of these things feel right and become woven into the fabric of the tale about a grizzled old boxer helping to train a younger one, similar to the first Rocky when old Mickey (Burgess Meredith) trains Rocky.

creed2At the center of the film is Jordan, a talented young actor who explodes on the screen as a dynamic and powerful presence. He makes Adonis strong yet vulnerable, smart but somewhat naïve, loving and yet hardened because of his past. All these things come through in an indelible performance that most definitely is Oscar worthy.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a Rocky film without the appearance of a tough, big bad opponent. In this case it is “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew) as the light heavyweight champ whose manager Tommy Holiday (Graham McTavish) convinces him that a title bout against the son of Apollo Creed would be a big deal.

The boxing scenes are excellent – filled with blood, sweat, and an amazing choreography of punches and clutches and corner chats between Rocky and his protégé. Coogler manages to capture the essence of what made the first Rocky such a success, while paying homage to the previous films and the city of Philadelphia as well.

creed1Along the way the strength of the film is the relationship that develops between Rocky and Adonis. Rocky becomes the father figure that Adonis never knew, and Adonis is the son that Rocky somehow let go away. In this way both men not only show respect for each other but the memory of Apollo, the father and friend they both have lost.

Creed is not just a great boxing movie but a fine film. Stallone should be credited for taking this role and doing it with grace and dignity, yet still pulling no punches as a former fighter with a heart of gold. He also wisely yields to Jordan as his successor in the ring and in the film series.

Go see Creed; I guarantee it will make you a believer!

Photo Credits: Warner Brothers