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8

Cruel Intentions 2 (2000)

Creed II (2018)

Although not as good as the first, and certainly not as impactful as the original Rocky, Creed II is a well-thought-out sequel that’ll please fans. It delivers good drama along with fine performances and the boxing footage happens to be pretty exciting too.

In 1985, Apollo Creed, father of Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) was killed boxing against Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). Having recently won the WBC World Heavyweight Championship, Adonis draws out Ivan’s son, Viktor (Florian Munteanu) who demands a chance to prove himself. Worried about his protege, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) urges him not to fight. Despite the pleas of his longtime girlfriend, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), Adonis decides to take the challenge.

Many viewers grew up with Rocky IV as their favorite of the series and that film’s events directly impacted Adonis. It’s only logical the story get followed-up with this sequel. Disgraced after his defeat at the hands of Balboa years ago, Ivan wants revenge. Egged on by his father Viktor has his own chip on his shoulder. Adonis has more to lose than ever before. Rocky - not wanting history to repeat itself - attempts to atone for his mistake years ago. There is a recurring theme of fathers, sons, and legacies here and it’s well explored.

The dramatic portions are where Creed II is at its best. While we are following world champions, the uncertainty Adonis and Bianca have about their future, Rocky’s isolation from his son, Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad)’s frustration at her adopted son’s quest for revenge - for a man who died before he was born - are relatable. The actors know it and everyone delivers thanks to the rich character arcs.

The film’s biggest weakness is the boxing angle. The way they set up the rivalry between Adonis and Viktor once they’re in the ring is quite clever. The problem is the same as it was with Rocky IV: the villains are too much. You are never torn between who to choose for and this makes the conclusion easily foreseeable. A touch more of humanity in the Drago’s, a dash of arrogance on Creed’s side and you might be conflicted. As is, you’re not. At least the fight scenes are well done (better shot than any real-life match) and exciting thanks to the time spent with the players.

The series hasn’t run out of ideas yet but it’s pushing it a little. This 8th film in the franchise (I know!) can begin to feel familiar when it comes to the overall plot, but not in the details. The one-on-one scenes between Adonis and Bianca, between him and Rocky being particularly good. Creed II takes the characters in logical directions, gets you pumped up for the climatic match and when it simply deals with the characters and their feelings, it’s even more effective. (Theatrical version on the big screen, December 9, 2018)

The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008)

Special thanks to @mantisbelle for recommending this!

Prior to watching The Good, the Bad, the Weird, I did not know that Korean Western was a genre… nor that I needed more of it. Directed by Kim Jee-woon, GBW is set in 1930s Manchuria, occupied by the Empire of Japan in the months before the opening of World War II. Our three protagonists are the clean-cut bounty hunter Park Do-won (“The Good”), the psychopathic Park Chang-yi (“The Bad”) and lovable rogue Yoon Tae-goo (“The Weird”). The three get caught up on a mad-dash scramble to find a buried Qing Dynasty treasure, with a cryptic map their only clue.

And let there be no mistake, this movie is, at its heart, a Western, with all the tropes, clichés, and narrative conventions that accords. The movie begins with a train job, sees our protagonists engaged in horseback chases across the desert, and features at least one quick draw standoff straight out of a Sergio Leone film. You could know nothing about Korea or Manchukuo and still get the gist of the plot.

What really struck me most about GBW was the absolutely beautiful set piece action sequences. The gunfights all take place in sprawling, three-dimensional space, feeling far more open world than linear. The acting was all top-notch, with special-shout out to the villainous Lee Byung-hun, who creates the kind of antagonist that you’d get from crossing Johnny Depp with Boba Fett. Replacing the Wild West with the deserts of Manchuria, and changing the usual Western stock characters from prospectors and bandits to Japanese soldiers and… okay still bandits … put a really fresh coat of paint on the genre. The soundtrack is absolutely perfect, and the comedic timing is as perfect as the fight choreography. The mix of East Asian and Western aesthetics surprisingly reminded me of Firefly, and if you liked that show’s mix of humor and action, you’ll definitely like this.

Shannon (Judy Greer) is a recovering sex addict. Her sister Martha (Natasha Lyonne) tries to help her by letting her stay at her place and getting her a job where she works as a maid. They accidentally kill one of the hotel guests, then get blackmailed into paying for the cremation. They scheme to raise money and cover up their mistake.

Addicted to Fresno (2015) has kind of a muddled plot. There’s a lot going on and it feels pretty disconnected. Shannon has sex with a lot of guys throughout the film, which isn’t really funny because you know from the start that this behavior cost her her job. I guess as a dark comedy it’s up to the audience to decide what is and isn’t worthy of a laugh.

Besides all of that, it’s fun to see these two talented actresses play against their usual character types, with Greer as the wild sister and Lyonne as the one who has her shit together. Martha also engages in a relationship with her fitness trainer Kelly (played by Aubrey Plaza), which is really the main reason I wanted to watch this film. If there’s a supercut of just their relationship, that’s probably the best way to watch Addicted to Fresno.

Fun fact: intentional or not, Aubrey’s character seems to reference The Little Hours (2017). After a class she says, “If you need me, I’ll be studying to become a nun.”

10

I remember every wand I’ve ever sold, Mr. Potter. It so happens that the phoenix whose tailfeather resides in your wand gave another feather… just one other. It is curious that you should be destined for this wand when its brother gave you that scar.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001) dir. Chris Columbus