This is a big weekend.
It's the start of ski season in a ski town, and even though the snow is a bit late (fear not; it's coming) Whistler stoke levels are high. And they should be—a lot can happen in a weekend.
Case-in-point: Sylvester Stallone wrote the script for Rocky in three and a half days. That was back in 1975. Sly had just watched a 15-round championship fight between Muhammed Ali and Chuck Wepner (Ali won by TKO).
Stallone attached himself to star in the film, kept the budget low (just over $1 million) and the rest is history. Rocky made over $225 million (that would be about $1 billion at today's box office) and kicked off cinema's current longest-running franchise saga, with the 8th instalment, Creed II, opening this week at the Whistler Village 8.
Creed 2 stars Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther, Creed) as Adonis Creed, the illegitimate son of original Rocky friend/foe Apollo Creed, who was killed in the ring by Russian hardass Ivan Drago in Rocky 4 (arguably the best one).
The first Creed was written and directed by Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station), who poured his heart into the film, basing it on his own relationship with his father and crafting a character-based script that both celebrated black excellence and battled stereotypical ideas of masculinity. The film, only Coogler's second feature, was a huge success and paved the way for Ryan to make Black Panther, the biggest hit of 2018. Coogler saved Rocky.
But he's not involved with Creed II; instead new director Steven Caple Jr. (The Land) steps in and pulls off a more-than-adequate sequel. With a plot pulled from Rocky 4, Adonis Creed—now a champ and in love with Bianca (Tessa Thompson doing a bang-up Lisa Bonet impression)—must face off against Viktor Drago, son of the man who killed his father. Dun-duhn-duuhhhhh!
Turns out Ivan Drago's life went down the shitter after Rocky beat the golubsti out of him on his own turf, and he slid into the Ricky-Bobby philosophy of child raising: if you're not first, you're last.
Ready to salvage the family name, nothing-to-lose Viktor Drago challenges Creed, and the result is an impressive (if predictable) flick with themes of redemption, legacy, family and punching people in the face.
Caple's fight sequences lack the intimacy of Coogler's (hard to match his four-minute 30-second, one-take match in the first one), and it feels like maybe there was opportunity for stronger geopolitical subcurrents, but Creed 2 wisely focuses on character, and underneath the jabs, hooks, and slo-mo connections lies a nice story about two people in love.
Is Rocky Balboa one of the greatest film characters of the past 40 years? (And will Creed 3 feature Mr. T and the future son of "Clubber Lang?") Time will tell.
Also opening this week, Ralph Breaks the Internet (aka: Wreck-It Ralph 2). Directed by Phil Johnston (the dude who wrote Zootopia), this one sees video-game-villain-turned-hero Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly of Step Brothers and Dr. Steve Brule fame) and his little best friend/car racer Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) venturing beyond their 1980s arcade-game world and out into the utter savagery and depravity that is the World Wide Web.
As the heroes search the metropolis-like internet for ways to purchase the replacement arcade-game part needed to save Vanellope, Phil Johnston and crew serve up a film that is slick, smart, and damn heartfelt. With underlying themes about growing up and growing apart from your friends, Ralph keeps the parents just as engaged as the kids (bring tissues if Up and Inside Out gave your tear ducts a workout; this one hits the mark) and continuously gives the internet the kind of kick in the gnards it deserves without dipping into cynicism or snark (the Disney Princess scene is already a classic).
Ralph is a sequel that surpasses its original.
On the small screen, Netflix's The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a weird Old West anthology of beautifully dark Coen Brothers' humour, while Crazy Rich Asians is available for rent on iTunes. And the sleeper hit of the week is season one of Mike Judge's Tales from the Tour Bus, an animated hybrid documentary about life on the road in the golden era of country music. It slays.
Happy Opening Day!