Manhood & “Creed 2”

The story of Creed II, the follow up to 2015’s revitalization of the Rocky franchise, really begins in 1985 when Sylvester Stallone’s iconic character, Rocky, met perhaps his most infamous foe, Ivan Drago, played with stoic intensity by Dolph Lundgren. The seeds that have become the Creed franchise were all planted in this fourth installment in Rocky’s story.

It’s in that movie that Adonis Creed’s (Michel B. Jordan) father, Apollo (Carl Weathers) was killed by the mad Russian in the middle of the ring after Rocky fails to throw in the towel and stop the fight. When Apollo fell to the mat for the final time, the conflict of Adonis’s life began to take shape. Apollo didn’t want Rocky to throw in the towel. He was done fighting, and fighting was all he had. This tragedy launched Rocky towards a fight with Drago, a fight that would leave Drago to a life of disgrace and bitterness. And this tragedy left Adonis not just fatherless, but also without any of the answers his father was lacking about life.

Creed 2 GIF

Creed II (2018)

In 2015’s Creed, Adonis had to wrestle with his identity as a Creed and as a fighter. What did it truly mean to be Apollo’s son? It’s a question he was asking from the beginning when Mary Anne, Apollo’s wife, told him who he was. It’s a question he asks every time he steps in the ring. By the end of that initial story, Adonis dons his father’s trademark trunks adorned with the Creed name, as well as his mother’s, Johnson. Through that first film, Rocky taught him how to fight, how to embrace who he is. Creed II, however, gives Adonis even deeper questions to answer.

If movie one was asking what did it mean to be Apollo’s son and a fighter, the sequel is asking what does it mean to be a father and a man? Rocky IV happened in the middle of a decade that was, in many ways, defined by toxic masculinity. The everyman with the heart of a champion from the Academy Award winning Rocky, was replaced by a greased up, steroidal version. This was true of some of Stallone’s most well-known roles. John Rambo went from an intense critique of our treatment of Vietnam veterans to one giant muscle with a machine gun. Look to other popular culture from the 80’s and you’ll be drowning in a testosterone tsunami. Raunchy teen comedies were a dime a dozen, and Hulk Hogan was flexing his way into a household name.

This was an environment where Apollo Creed thrived. He could prove his manhood with every foe punched into oblivion, but when we meet him in Rocky and Rocky II, he’s already a star in decline. How then can he prove his manhood? Based on Adonis’s age, Apollo’s extramarital tryst that conceived him had to have taken place in close proximity to his death by Drago’s glove. Still he stepped into the ring with the Russian. Sex couldn’t make Apollo a man. He lost to Rocky. He was outmatched by Drago. Boxing could no longer make Apollo a man. So, he threw in the towel on life. Apollo’s inability to find a manhood that was more than muscle gave Adonis a life without a father.

Rocky 4 Staredown

Rocky and Ivan Drago before their iconic fight in “Rocky IV” (1985).

In Creed II, we find that Ivan Drago similarly suffered to discover meaning beyond boxing. His loss to Rocky knocked him down further than we saw in Rocky IV, and because of that his son, Viktor, grew up with a bitter boxing coach rather than a father. Viktor is nothing more than a tool Ivan will use to restore his own manhood, to redeem his loss to Rocky. To truly win by the end of Creed II, Adonis needs to break this cycle of toxic masculinity. He has to find something beyond all the drills, the fights, and the bright lights of fame. He can’t avoid being a Creed, but he has to avoid being Apollo.

Not every punch Creed II throws lands. It’s not as ground breaking as its predecessor, but in the stories of this next generation of men there is something really special. If viewers can go along with Adonis (and Viktor) on this journey and reflect on what it is that could make him successful in the end, perhaps we can all learn from the mistakes of the past. The sweaty machine gun masculinity of the 80’s was a steroid-fueled façade. If men are going to fight the good fight of life, it involves humility, partnership with women, and profound selflessness. For Adonis, this is a painful lesson, but one that takes him beyond his father’s legacy.

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Ivan’s Top Ten Movies of 2015

Well 2015 is in the past and I do feel like it was a good year for movies. It was at least the most financially successful year to date with a combined box office haul of over $11 billion. So here are my top ten movies of the year. The ones that I enjoyed the most, was affected by the most, or I thought were most important. But first, to ease your mind, here are the movies we didn’t get to see this year.

We Didnt See 2015

10. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

When tragedy strikes, people create mechanisms in their lives to make sense of it all. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl created an authentic and entertaining voice to this meaning-making process of struggle and grief. The characters were likable but flawed, they were relatable but unique. Overall, it was a fun and cathartic movie as the audience tries to make sense of the world through the lens of these somewhat bratty, creative, loveable emerging adults.

Dope

Dope (2015)

9. Dope

We all have categories or boxes that people put us into and we all put others into categories and boxes. It’s what we do as people. What I love about Dope is that it deals with characters that are wildly complex. I am a huge fan of writer, director, producer Rick Famuyiwa and, especially, one his earlier works, The Wood. Famuyiwa brought a similar tone and authenticity to Dope while asking questions about his characters and the world they live in that perhaps we should all be asking. And not just asking them of ourselves, but also in how we view others. I will say, even as I write this, I stand conflicted about this movie because there are a few sexually explicit and potentially exploitative scenes in the film. Hopefully, in a few years you can catch an edited for TV version of Dope so you can get the thematic weight without the, perhaps, unnecessary raunch.

8. Ex Machina

Where Dope asks questions of what does it mean to be categorized and stereotyped, Ex Machina asks what does it mean to be human all together. This movie is gripping and intense. As the tension builds, and as I wrestled with these larger questions of existence, I felt my heart beating and pulse pounding as if the film was trying to tell me that I was indeed alive. You can read more about Ex Machina in my review here: Artificial Intelligence and Isolation through the Looking Glass 

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7. Inside Out

Emotions can be scary. They can be misleading, they can drive us to tears, some of us feel like they have complete control over us. It’s intimidating and humbling. Then Pixar sprinkled their magic on emotions and makes them personable and fun. What I love most about Inside Out is that it teaches us that our emotions are ok and they are part of what makes us human. A lesson children desperately need to learn…and adults too. Go deeper into Inside Out with my review here: From the Inside Out

6. The End of the Tour

I wish The End of the Tour was getting more awards attention. This film almost convinced me to read David Foster Wallace’s 1000+ page master work, Infinite Jest. That is saying something as I am rarely ever compelled to read anything. Not only that, Jason Segal’s portrayal of the author had me attentively fixed on him during the entire movie waiting for what he would say next, hoping that answers to life’s bigger questions would come. If Segal’s take on Wallace was at all correct, than he was an absolute genius tormented by an internal war between what he knows about the world and a desire to not act like he knows everything. It left me feeling like in Wallace, who was gripped by depression, we lost a potentially great truth teller that our world could definitely use. Here was his take in the late 1990’s on the growing porn industry:

“You’re having a fantasy relationship with somebody who is not real… strictly to stimulate a neurological response. So as the Internet grows in the next 10, 15 years… and virtual reality pornography becomes a reality, we’re gonna have to develop some real machinery inside our guts… to turn off pure, unalloyed pleasure. Or, I don’t know about you, I’m gonna have to leave the planet. ‘Cause the technology is just gonna get better and better. And it’s gonna get easier and easier… and more and more convenient and more and more pleasurable… to sit alone with images on a screen… given to us by people who do not love us but want our money. And that’s fine in low doses, but if it’s the basic main staple of your diet, you’re gonna die.”

5. Steve Jobs

A lot has been said and documented about the life and business of Steve Jobs, but this film chose to limit our interactions with him to three intense, impactful moments in his career. This was a choice that I loved and as Michael Fassbender’s performance carries you through the film, I felt like we got a new, creative, and interesting take on a man many of us feel like we already know because we have his life’s work buzzing around in our pockets and purses.

4. Creed

I still can’t believe how much I loved Creed. I can’t believe how smart, sensitive, and engaging a film in the Rocky series can be after the pitfalls of the latter installments. I can’t believe writer, director Ryan Coogler is 29 years old. I can’t believe this young man went to Sylvester Stallone and pitched the idea for this movie, got it made, and inspired one of Stallone’s best performances in years. It’s all hard to believe but when that familiar Rocky score hits and his beautiful film is built up to it’s climax, you will believe.

THE BIG SHORT

The Big Short (2015)

3. The Big Short

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby came out when I was in college and like any young, college male I found it hilarious. Oh to be young again. So when I heard it’s writer and director was making a film about the economic crash of 2008, I did what Adam McKay had trained me to do at his work…laugh. Then I watched the movie and I laughed and cried and got angry and lamented. The Big Short is deceptively brilliant because McKay approached the film humbly out his own ignorance of the topic and desire to help anyone understand what happened. Match that humility with career performances from Steve Carell and Christian Bale and you get a huge payoff.

2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars is back, people! Weeks after I’ve seen the movie it still dominates my thoughts and conversations. I loved The Force Awakens so much but I will reserve the number one spot and a high grade for the movie because I believe and hope that there is still room to grow in this new trilogy. So I expect to love the next installments even more and I won’t let my fanboy emotions eclipse my number one movie that may have affected me on a different level. The Force Awakens is my favorite movie of the year, but that didn’t necessarily mean it was the best movie of the year. Read my spoilery thoughts on my favorite new character and the hope I have for the galaxy here: Star Wars: A Rey of Hope 

Mark Ruffalo

Mark Ruffalo totally retweeted me. Not why I put Spotlight at #1.

1. Spotlight

On our honeymoon, Heather and I, looking to relax for a couple hours after walking around Portland, ME’s hills and bay front, walked into a theater and watched Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station. I left the theater less than relaxed. I was physically, emotionally, and spiritually wrecked by that movie and this year that same feeling happened again as I watched Spotlight. The film is about the journalists that investigated and brought to light the Catholic priest child molestation scandal of the early 2000’s. As I watched this very tense film, filled with great performances, I felt the weight of an entire city all questioning their faith at once. It was convicting, haunting, and authentic. I left the theater weighed down by the sin of men I didn’t know, but ultimately lifted up by a force that isn’t afraid to bring such darkness into the light.

Here are our combined 2015 Top Ten Lists! Find Heather’s here!

Our Top Tens 2015

Heather’s Top 10 Films of 2015

In compiling my list I observed that this year I have most gravitated to films that generated creative and original content. My priorities were an interesting composition and a message that contributes to the cultural conversation in helpful and provocative ways.

1. The Big ShortThis is my #1 pick because I think it is the most creative film of the year and unpacks a complex topic in an extremely engaging way. I loved the characters and I went with them on the emotional rollercoaster that was the financial boom and crisis. The device of using pop culture icons to explain the most confusing elements was a brilliant way to raise a mirror up to American culture and reveal what holds our attention most often.

Creed-Movie-Poster

2. Creed – A close contender for #1, beautifully written, acted, and directed. Coogler expertly paid homage to the original Rocky while taking the franchise in a fresh direction that was poignant and inspiring. I particularly appreciated the way women were portrayed in the film which was respectful and honoring.

3. Spotlight – Well made, terrific performances, handled a very difficult topic with sensitivity as well as scrutiny. It made me thankful for Pope Francis and the rebuilding of shattered communities.

The Walk

4. The Walk – I LOVE this story, and the film comes at a time when our iconic public spaces are marked by more fear than enjoyment. Philippe Petit in his zany French artistry invites us to reimagine our monuments and common life to see beauty and whimsy that is unfettered by fear. Visually stunning, historically accurate, we “dance at the top of the world” together.

5. The End of the Tour – Both Segel and Eisenberg deliver vulnerable and unaffected performances. They help us explore the person of David Foster Wallace but also our fears of rejection and inauthenticity, and questions of what it means to create and connect in the 21st century.

6. Inside Out – Wonderfully inventive and insightful, Pixar gives us some great original content to help children and adults navigate the complexities of our world. And Bing-Bong made me cry.

The-Visit-trailer

7. The Visit – I’m a little biased because I love M. Night Shyamalan and I’m always rooting for him to succeed. In this film I think he’s returning to what he does best: using suspense and horror to reveal our deeper fears and unsympathetic hearts. The Visit taps into childhood fears as well as our societal anxieties over growing old and of the elderly as reminders of our eventual deterioration. (Disclaimer: this film contains several scenes of suspense and multiple scenes of violence.)

8. Steve Jobs – Using creative plot devices to explore Jobs’ relationship to the things he has made, we eavesdrop on 3 pivotal moments in his life. With Steve we explore identity and how we are shaped by what we do.

9. Straight Outta Compton – The strength of this film is the story itself. NWA brought the conversation of race in America to the cultural mainstream in a way that is still relevant. It’s not the best made film of the year and contains some degrading treatment of women, but the success of the movie reveals a nerve that we need to continue engaging.

Brooklyn

10. Brooklyn – While it’s not a particularly original story, it’s beautifully acted and comes at a time when America and the world are struggling to make decisions about immigrants and their place in our societies. Brooklyn aroused empathy for how difficult it is to leave everything you’ve known behind and become a stranger in a strange land. Timely and important for us to consider America’s immigrant history and what it looks like today.

Honorable Mentions

What We do in the Shadows – A little bloody, but overall hysterical and perfectly acted in the mock-umentary style

Me Earl and the Dying Girl – Thoughtful, funny, a heartfelt look at youth and mortality. Filmed in Pittsburgh, so it must be good!

Tomorrowland – In the fear and doom over climate change, a call for optimism to focus on solutions rather than problems.

See Ivan’s Top 10 list, we chose only 5 of the same films

Our Top Tens 2015