Creed III settles the score, Cocaine Bear has one joke, Jesus Revolution is sincere

Jordan steers Creed III to success

For his first feature as a director, Michael B. Jordan handed himself a double-edged sword by helming Creed III. I would think a certain degree of comfort was found working in a familiar genre with a character he's defined. Yet, he also faced the daunting task of finding a bit of new life in a well-worn genre piece.

Working from a script by Zach Baylin (King Richard) and Keenan Coogler, Jordan manages to inject a sense of immediacy in this latest chapter in the Adonis Creed saga, this time dealing with an incident from his past, long suppressed, that comes back to haunt him. The reappearance of Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors), a childhood acquaintance just released after 18 years in prison, dredges up memories the retired champion thought he could forget. Seems his former friend was sent up for defending Adonis, who shamefully failed to keep in touch with him while he was behind bars. Damian, a former Golden Gloves champion, feels as though he's owed something for doing this stretch and, of course, this rift between the two can only be settled in the square circle.

Once he gets a couple scenes shot with a hand-held camera out of his system, Jordan takes a more conservative approach behind the camera that serves the story well. That being said, the way in which he captures the combat within the ring is impressive, his camera constantly circling around and into the middle of the fisticuffs, a sparing use of slow-motion shots used to great effect. These sequences are well-executed and compelling. A top-heavy script – there's way too much drama at play – threatens to undercut the credulity of the entire film, but the cast keeps the film grounded with sincere performances, the scenes with Jordan and Majors particularly effective, the tension between them, underscored by anger and guilt, palpable and poignant. Ignore the many boxing incongruities that exist and focus instead on the portrayal of masculinity in crisis on display. That's where the real battle plays out. In theaters.

Bear bumps towards notoriety

When I first heard about the movie Cocaine Bear, I thought it was a joke, something that some teens with too much time on their hands had created to post on YouTube. However, thanks to Universal Pictures' crackerjack marketing department, it kept popping up via various media sources, and I soon came to the realization that this was an actual film. The industry is still trying to figure out how to get viewers back to the multiplex and are willing to try anything of high interest that will create a buzz. Bear certainly fits the bill, and the industry is watching the box office results very closely to see if this is the sort of thing that will help them get back on track. If money is made, I fear Meth Muskrat is in the offing.

But is the movie any good? There's not much of a story here – mobsters and lackeys try to get the drugs back, a cop in on their tails and a single mother is trying to find her lost daughter and friend. These are the potential victims of the drug-addled ursine and, of course, he doesn't go hungry. Once the mayhem begins, it's not for the squeamish. We're treated to the sight of heads being bitten into, limbs ripped from bodies and faces mangled beyond recognition. Obviously, none of this is to be taken seriously and there's a perverse, darkly comic quality to the mayhem that makes it easy to stomach. If you haven't seen a black bear do a line off a severed leg, you haven't lived. Bear is the sort of film that used to play at the bottom of double bills at drive-ins and is nothing more than a curiosity, a water cooler movie that executes its one joke as well as it can be done. That being said, it's no smarter than your average bear movie. In theaters.

Revolution sincere in its message

I find that one of the biggest faults where most faith-based movies are concerned is their lack of subtlety. So often, while preaching to the choir, their moral is put across with the delicacy of a sledgehammer to the face, simplistic writing, overearnest acting and sappy music used with abandon.

While Jon Erwin and Brent McCorkle are no less earnest than other directors of faith-based movies, their Jesus Revolution is more successful because it doesn't hit the viewer over the head with its moral. Set in the early 1970s, pastors Chuck Smith and Lonnie Frisbee (Kelsey Grammar and Jonathan Roumie, respectively) couldn't have been more different in their approach to spreading the gospel. The former, conservative, the latter a free-spirited hippie. Yet, together they helped establish a movement that grows larger than they could have imagined. A parallel story, focusing on Greg Laurie (Joel Courtney), a teenager from a broken home, trying to contend with his damaged mother (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) proves equally compelling.

Grammar has seldom been better, Courtney serves notice he's a young actor to watch and while Roumie, with his work as Jesus in The Chosen, seems intent on typecasting himself, he wisely doesn't overplay his role. While the film does overstay its welcome, there's a low-key earnestness in its execution by all concerned that powerfully conveys its message while serving as a compelling piece of historical drama. By the end, I didn't feel as though I had been preached at, but rather compelled to witness this story and revel in the happiness its real-life characters discovered. In theaters.

About The Author

Chuck Koplinski

Writing for Illinois Times since 1998, Chuck Koplinski is a member of the Critic's Choice Association, the Chicago Film Critics Association and a contributor to Rotten Tomatoes. He appears on WCIA-TV twice a week to review current releases and, no matter what anyone says, thinks Tom Cruise's version of The Mummy...

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