‘Creed’ a passion project for director Ryan Coogler

25 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Michael B. Jordan has big (boxing) shoes to fill.

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — ‘Creed,’ the 7th installment in the iconic franchise of ‘Rocky,’ films is set to hit the big screen on Wednesday, nationwide. But for the young actor, there was no way of missing the fact he was stepping into a huge cultural legacy with his new movie Creed — which turns the focus to the son of Rocky’s great rival, Apollo Creed. “You have enough people saying it around you,” Jordan says with a laugh from Philadelphia — the home of all things Rocky. “And honestly, it’s kinda hard to do an exterior scene in Philadelphia with Sylvester Stallone — you have hundreds of fans lined up on the sidewalk waiting for us to yell cut, then they’re like ‘Sly!

There’s a majestic, bitter irony to “Creed,” Ryan Coogler’s stirring, heartfelt, tough-minded, and insightful reboot of the “Rocky” franchise.“I was definitely a fan, but obviously didn’t have the opportunity see a lot of the movies in the theater,” says Jordan in Miami Beach on a press tour for Creed, the seventh and seemingly final notch in Rocky’s belt. “I was able to kind of re-fall in love with all the characters.” In the film, Jordan stars as Adonis Johnson Creed, the illegitimate son of world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), who died at the hands of Russian beast Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) in 1985’s Rocky IV.Nine years after we thought Sylvester Stallone wrapped up his durable franchise on a high note with “Rocky Balboa,” he’s back to pass the torch in style with Ryan Coogler’s “Creed,” one of the year’s warmest and most crowd-pleasing surprises.

Jordan plays a 30-year-old in this film, so to not give any major spoilers away, let’s assume he was in utero at the time of his father’s death, OK? It seems that before Rocky’s opponent-turned-pal Apollo Creed died in “Rocky 4,” he planted the seed for this spinoff during an extramarital affair. To prepare, the Fantastic Four star re-watched all the Rocky movies, to fully understand the depth of the tough-as-nails underdog boxer from Philadelphia (Sylvester Stallone). “To step into this world, yeah, it was intimidating,” Jordan admits. “Everyone knows Rocky.

But even though it doesn’t have the same ring, Atlas might have been more appropriate, because this young man believes he carries the weight of the entire world on his shoulders. It’s as much of a political film as is Coogler’s other feature, the independently produced drama “Fruitvale Station.” And—as is entirely normal for a young filmmaker (amazingly, Coogler is only twenty-nine)—“Creed,” despite the studio standards and norms that it meets, is an even more accomplished, wide-ranging, and analytical film than his remarkable début. That angle was pitched to Stallone by the film’s writer/director Ryan Coogler. “There’s so many children out there that don’t have that structure, that family environment. Inspired by his experience with his own ailing father years ago, Coogler came up with the story of Creed’s illegitimate son Adonis, who is trying to make his own name in boxing and seeks out the reluctant Rocky to be his trainer. Ingeniously, Coogler has transformed “Rocky”—the modern cinematic myth that, perhaps more than any other, endures as a modern capitalist Horatio Alger story of personal determination and sheer will—into a vision of community and opportunity, connections and social capital, family and money.

It’s one of those things you don’t want to mess up.” Jordan already had some experience with being the newbie: In 2009, the California native was cast in television’s football drama Friday Night Lights. I think we all have friends that are like family and those are the people you lean on to get through obstacles, that get you through the hard times,” Jordan said. It begins in a modern-day Hell, a juvenile-detention center in Los Angeles that’s run with the terrorizing martial authority of a prison, and focusses on a modern victim of that broken system—young Adonis Johnson (Alex Henderson), an orphaned teen-ager in the center, who’s involved in a bloody and harrowing fistfight with another, bigger inmate.

He appeared in seasons four and five, before the show ended in 2011. “[The show] was already a well-oiled machine,” Jordan says. “So I kind of felt that same anxious nervousness walking on set on Creed like I did back then.” Jordan got an able assist from working with actual professional fighters, including his costar and on-screen opponent, English heavyweight champion Tony Bellew, who makes his big-screen debut. “Having people in the industry gave this film the authenticity,” says Jordan, who gained 24 pounds of muscle over the course of the shoot. “They wouldn’t give me a pass. Finally he quits and heads to Philadelphia and the only man in the world who can help him figure out whether he can live up to the achievements of the father he’s never known. Badly beaten but still game, Adonis ends up in solitary, and in a way the movie is over before it starts: the terrifying future at hand is a life of confrontation with monstrously hostile or indifferent authority, a violent struggle to survive while bearing the stigmata of social exclusion. It comes as no surprise that Rocky has thrown in the gloves after the deaths of Adrian and Paulie, and manages Adrian’s restaurant as quietly as he can, even if he is the most famous celebrity in the city.

Her character is a young music-maker on the Philadelphia scene and she channeled a local songstress as she prepared for her role. “I’m so happy that you mentioned Jill Scott,” Thompson told Washington during her sitdown with CBS 3. “She was someone I looked to when trying to figure out my voice and tone, and luckily Philly has such a rich music history that there were so many resources.” This creates the father-son bond he never had, offers plenty of homages to the earlier films, and makes for more than one eye-of-the-tiger-like montage. Now, some are tipping the veteran’s emotional performance for an Oscar. “And with this one, I feel people are going to really open up to him opening up.

This results in a training montage that demonstrates writer-director Coogler (of the indie sensation “Fruitvale Station”) not only respects but totally gets what made the original underdog classic win the Best Picture Oscar in 1977. He really brought something and it touched me a lot.” Having grown up a sporty, competitive kid in New Jersey, Jordan took to the challenge of getting in pro boxer shape with glee. Working with a gifted director and the first “Rocky” script that he does not have a credited hand in, Stallone responds with one of his most careful and nuanced performances in years as he becomes heavily involved in his new protégé’s life. That life includes a terrific Tessa Thompson as Bianca, a feisty and supportive musician who is losing her hearing and has no time for Adonis’ bouts of self-pity.

There’s something to be said for the underdog who gets a shot and takes it, eventually pulling his bruised and battered body up from the canvas through sheer force of will, determined to take another swing at a bigger, faster opponent. Jordan), he has a promising job at a bank, where he has just received a promotion—but his passion is boxing, which he pursues as an independent in a minor circuit in Tijuana, where he’s undefeated. Having him approve of my performance was the biggest confidence boost.” Another boost to Jordan’s confidence came from teaming up again with Ryan Coogler, Jordan’s director in the critically acclaimed, tragic biopic Fruitvale Station. “We have security in our chemistry and our friendship,” Jordan says of Coogler, who told Ebony he took on Creed because his own father followed Rocky religiously. “I’m starting to learn that the stronger the relationship you have with your director, the easier it is on set.” The Creed set, though, didn’t sound easy at all. It’s his Apollo connection that gets the unranked Adonis a shot at a title bout — British lightweight champ “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (real-life boxer Tony Bellew, a screen natural) needs a high-profile match to provide for his family before being sent to prison on a gun charge. He’s not reinventing the “Rocky” wheel with “Creed,” but he is re-envisioning it, dragging Rocky into the modern age but still letting him be a part of the past.

I’ll give up some doughnuts and cheese steak for this.” The positive response to Creed brings with it a very high probability Jordan will now continue the franchise along this new branch. Yes, Jordan is proud of the accomplishment, but he certainly sounds relieved that the crushing workouts are in the rear-view mirror. “Though I took real punches, it was more about soreness and recovery,” he says. “After the main fight scene I was bedridden for two weeks. Stallone and Jordan (who was in “Fruitvale Station” and the unfortunate “Fantastic Four” reboot) have great chemistry together as their characters each urge the other not to give up. The reason the “Rocky” movies resonated so well was Rocky was an emotionally open book, an everyman plucked from obscurity and given a chance, not just at the title, but at love.

The superhero movie was all but disowned by its director, Josh Trank, on Twitter just before its release and its entire gross in the US only limped to the same mark Ant-Man hit on its opening weekend. “Honestly the biggest lesson I learnt from that is everything’s not in your control,” Jordan says. “You can show up to work every day and give 130 per cent and do the best job you can and sometimes you might still miss your mark. I have a new respect for fighters.” “It’s not cheesy or forced,” he promises. “Sometimes sequels are pumped out just to make money, but this is legit. Even as someone who was never a huge fan of the series, I found myself misting up at the final scene in “Creed” that, in less sure hands, would have been unbearably schmaltzy. Hopefully, the new iteration of “Star Wars” (which bowed a year after the “Rocky” saga) will be able to deliver a knockout punch like this for its seventh outing in December.

Jordan invests Adonis with exactly the volatile mix that Coogler conceived—raw pugnacity, the endurance of punishment, the discipline forged and graces mastered through education and his several jobs (both in the ring and at the desk). Of course it’s fairly predictable, and yes, even a bit formulaic, and sure, even corny at times, but it also has a vitality that’s reminiscent of the early “Rocky” films. He’s Socratically aware of what he doesn’t know, and his quest—to become a professional through submission to the stern tutelage of an experienced teacher—drives the film.

Designed, edited and choreographed as one gorgeous, intense, bloody take, it is the sort of filmmaking that should usher Coogler from scrappy underdog to a title contender. He’s a widower who owns a small restaurant—Adrian’s, named after his late wife—and he no longer has anything to do with the world of boxing, where he gained his life and then virtually lost it. He’s alive but his soul is among the dead; he seems to have a foot poised over the open grave, and Stallone brings a terse, astral distractedness to the role, a wry wisdom born of pain and a detachment born of masked grief.

Adonis, of course, is his call back to life (“If I fight, you fight”), and in the process he also calls the older man back to his past—to his memories as well as to his connections, to his departed loved ones as well as to friends in the sport, from whom he had long cut himself off. When Adonis, after a rough time of hard training under Rocky’s tutelage, enters the ring for his first big-time bout, Coogler captures the moment in exactly such a bravura take, which follows the fledgling fighter from the dressing room through the crowd into the ring, into his corner, toward the center of the ring to hear the referee’s instructions and to touch gloves with his opponent, and then to face the music for the entire duration of the first round. There’s even an element of physical endurance in the movie’s inevitable but sweetly tender romance, between Adonis and his neighbor Bianca (Tessa Thompson), a singer who’s just beginning to edge upward in the Philadelphia music scene and who’s facing a medical crisis of classical dimensions. Thompson lends Bianca a grounded yet febrile energy; the actress is persuasive as an independent-minded artist (and Coogler writes the part with the rare trait of inventive whimsy and sudden inspiration sufficient to persuade a viewer of the artistic originality of her temperament).

I won’t spoil the story to say what happens, but Coogler makes a clear and harsh point about the difference. “Creed” begins with a cry for justice, for a society that would rescue every young Adonis from isolation, poverty, and brutality in order to foster their strength and cultivate their incipient spark of genius and originality. It’s a movie about an exceptional young man who has the benefit of an exceptional past and turns it into an exceptional future—and it evokes the young people who are condemned to ordinary neglect, ordinary racism, ordinary incarceration, and who are all the more extraordinary in the force of their endurance.

Coogler’s preternaturally mature sense of vast experience gained rapidly at almost unbearable cost is both the artistic power that he brings to the movie and its very subject.

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