I’m not a Rocky fanatic, but I like the first one. Gotta say, Creed is a surprisingly good movie. Surprisingly only because the franchise seemed pretty tired. Ryan Coogler, who’s Fruitvale Station I liked (and oddly enough never blogged about) returns with Michael B. Jordan (aka Wallace) to update and I guess reboot (speaking of tired) the series.
Creed works for me for three main reasons: two fantastic leads (Jordan and Stallone), dynamic fight sequences, and the strategy of taking earlier parts of the franchise and using them for mostly emotional reasons rather than narrative reasons.
Sure, for that latter comment there are some narrative reasons: Adonis (Jordan, Apollo Creed’s son) gets in good with Rocky (Stallone, of course) because of who the former’s father was. And yes, Adonis gets a shot at a big fight because of who his father was. Both of these harken back to an earlier Rocky. But the biggest success of the earlier films’ presence within Creed are personal for Adonis: shadowboxing to his father’s famous fight on YouTube; trying to escape and hide the family name.
There’s a pretty, pretty horrible attempt at a Philly accent in this film. And a really, like “please stop I don’t want to watch this anymore-bad” use of the word jawn (alongside the subsequent explanation). Those elements, along with a strange montage of Adonis surrounded by dirtbike-riders yelling outside of the gym (look, I know those bikes really are present in Philly. They used to ride up my old street and set off car alarms. I see them on Broad. So my problem isn’t their presence. It’s that they just ride in circles around Adonis yelling while he yells. Imagine that moment without the music and with real, diegetic sound. It’s pretty silly. I mean, what are these guys yelling? Why are they riding in circles for so long? Aren’t they afraid of running out of gas? What do the neighbors think (think of the nieghbors!)?) are ridiculous.
That said, the fight scenes are great. Both an early long take and a well-staged finale clinch it.
The One I Love
This is an underrated film that’s kind of like a smaller Stepford Wives. Small in that there are few characters and few locations. It’s high-concept sci-fi. Mark Duplass plays Ethan and Elisabeth Moss is Sophie. Their relationship is in trouble so a therapist (I think? Evil scientist?) played by Ted Danson sends them to a retreat. The problem: the guest house harbors an odd presence or two.
One of the reasons I really liked The One I Love is the structure. Revealing the “gag” (or the concept) so early is pretty antithetical to the genre. Most other films would hold onto the information and milk it for suspense. The One I Love plays its hand about 20 minutes in (maybe earlier) and then goes for the fallout and the power dynamics that result. It’s a great script decision.
I love sci-fi and another reason that The One I Love succeeds are the rules. If we aren’t operating by the rules of the world as we know it then the audience has to be clued in and director Charlie McDowell and writer Justin Lader nicely lay those out (you can see inside the guest house (when for awhile it felt like you might not be able to), you can enter at the same time, etc). These rules aren’t rules until they’re established. Writer and director just don’t establish them otherwise…and then allow them to use these rules to their advantage later.
There’s a great early moment in the film that actually reminds me of a clip I often use in class from Kurosawa’s adaptation of The Idiot from 1951. Here’s the clip:
A wide establishes the scene. Our lead character (“the idiot”) stands frame left (note how he actually stands out of frame. That’s a separate issue, but Kurosawa’s entire framing of the table is eccentric and uncomfortable). The third shot is of a chair falling. The next two shots are shot-reverse of man and woman.
What’s important about this scene for me is that the 180 line is broken on the fourth shot – that of the man. See how he’s looking frame left? In the wide he’s looking frame right. The fifth shot shows the woman also looking frame left.
But what I really love about this scene is that third shot – the chair. Kurosawa uses it as a sort of buffer, a segue, which “allows” his to break the 180. It’s a distraction, sleight of hand, and a moment of disarray in a scene that’s entirely about controlled disarray.
Here’s the scene it reminded me of in The One I Love:
Sophie looks at a nesting doll (a nice visual motif for the plot to come). McDowell cuts to her CU and then she turns and looks down, frame right (sound motivates this, by the way).
McDowell cuts to her POV. A nesting doll spins on the floor:
Back to her confused reaction (where did that come from? I didn’t drop it)-
And then to a bit of new coverage. Sophie is in the foreground and the camera dollies to the left to reveal Ethan in the background:
She walks forward towards Mark in a wide, ominous low angle:
That nesting doll on the floor is the equivalent of Kurosawa’s chair. They both have a similar function. There’s no broken 180 in The One I Love but both are moments of intentional disruption, from an inanimate object that has no true meaning within the scene, and designed to change the momentum of the scene to something new (in The Idiot an unexpected proposal, in The One I Love an unexpected moment of passion).