Pick of the week:
Creed (Warner Bros.)
If there’s any movie that proves there are no bad ideas, only badly executed ideas, it’s Creed. Who knew we needed another entry in the Rocky series, much less one featuring a character never mentioned in the preceding films, the illegitimate son of Rocky foe-turned-friend Apollo Creed? Yet Creed, directed by Ryan Coogler and starring Michael B. Jordan, feels as alive and essential as the first Rocky film in 1976.
Coogler and Jordan previously worked together on Fruitvale Station. Star Sylvester Stallone has, of course, been in the world of Rocky from the start. There’s a nice, generation-spanning chemistry at work both in front of the camera and behind it. Jordan and Stallone — who’s rarely let himself seem this vulnerable — pair beautifully as their characters develop a familial bond and Coogler shoots with grit and urgency, savoring every detail of Philadelphia life and making the fight scenes feel both unpredictable and dangerous. Best of all: the film’s deep understanding of what fighting means both to Rock and Creed, two men who aren’t sure who they are outside the boxing ring but know exactly what they need to do while within it.
It’s a good week to catch up with Oscar winners and Oscar nominees. Brie Larson’s Best Actress win felt like a fait accompli from the first moment anyone laid eyes on Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s novel about an abductee raising a child who’s never seen the outside world. Without giving too much away for those who haven’t seen it, she’s powerful in both halves of a film that place strikingly different demands on her character. It’s one not to miss, even if you’re done thinking about the awards season we just left behind.
The Danish Girl (Universal)
Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl is a little more missable, a relentlessly dreary adaptation of a novel inspired by the true story of one of the first patients to undergo sex reassignment surgery. Alicia Vikander, who won Best Supporting Actress, is quite good here and Eddie Redmayne’s convincing, too. If only watching those performances didn’t require slogging through the one-note film.
The Night Before (Sony)
A holiday-themed comedy starring Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Anthony Mackie, The Night Before didn’t stir up much notice during its quiet release this past fall. Based on Vince Mancini’s review for us, that seems like a shame. Then again, just by being a Christmas movie, it will likely live on and on forever on cable.
Jane B. Par Agnes V / Kung Fu Master! (Cinelicious)
French filmmaker Agnes Varda began as part of the French New Wave and never looked back. Still working at the age of 87, she’s had a remarkable career that’s mixed narrative features with documentaries and visual art. Not all of her work has been easy to find in the U.S., even while the classic Cleo From 5 to 7 has remained a you-must-see staple and more recent efforts like the unforgettable doc The Gleaners and I have played to appreciative arthouse audiences. This new Blu-ray pairs two features Varda made in the mid-’80s with actress Jane Birkin. The first is an “imaginary biopic” of the actress. In the second, Birkin plays a woman with a crush on a too-young boy (played by Varda’s son). It’s nice to have them available again, and even nicer that the package comes with an interview between Varda and longtime admirer Miranda July.