Friday, November 20, 2009

Rocky (The Series)

Rocky (1976) * * * *

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burgess Meredith, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Tony Burton

Directed by John G. Avildsen

1976’s best picture (Although Network and Taxi Driver were better and I’m a die-hard Rocky fan…) finds Stallone in his most signature role as two-bit boxer and low level hood who is given a chance at the title and goes the distance. Rocky is actually much different than the series it spawned (In fact so different that it’s not even really centered around the boxing) Rocky is actually a very rich movie, full of offbeat, down to earth and likable characters so when we see Rocky train and take a beating we are more involved in the film. Indeed if not for Rocky 1, we wouldn’t have really cared if Rocky beat Mr. T, Dolph Lundgren and everyone in between. Indeed it’s the first movie that lends the series so much goodwill, as we love Rocky and the characters so much that were willing to wade through the lame entries (Rocky IV) and still stand by this series as one of our favorites. In fact Stallone is far removed from his action presence , as his acting here is actually very good. Actually quite deserving of his Oscar nod, indeed what a lot of people also forget is just how funny a lot of Rocky is. Like Rocky and Adrian’s first date and the way Rocky says “Yo, you know I never talked to a door before…” or for that matter how charged a lot of scenes are such as when Burgess Meredith comes down to ask Rocky to be his manager, then of course there is the final fight which is still as intense as it was when it played, overall there is a reason Rocky is such a beloved classic and 30 some years later , Rocky has lost none of its charm. It really is a timeless classic.

Rocky II (1979) * * *

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Carl Weathers, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Burgess Meredith, Tony Burton

Directed by Sylvester Stallone

Rocky returns for a rematch against heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Weathers) after getting married, trying his hand at regular work, learning how to read and becoming a father, Rocky finds that he isn’t cut out for anything else but boxing, so he trains for the big match and this time in front of his Philadelphia crowd, so this leads to the best training montage of the film. Rocky II pretty much set the tone of the series, mainly lots of training montage and a big suspenseful fight at the end. Rocky II is enjoyable because once again Stallone makes the character effortlessly likable, indeed you cannot NOT root for Rocky here. Rocky II is a decent sequel because Weathers is a great villain, the training montage is spectacular and the final fight is so well choreographed and suspenseful. Indeed this stuff is handled so greatly it makes up for the inherent goofiness of Adrian’s pregnancy complications and Rocky’s attempt to become a commercial salesman and fit in the real world. Indeed the most effective part of Rocky II is when it concentrates on the winning formula. Indeed the reason this movie is merely good and not great, is the fact that it doesn’t have as much character depth as the original but Rocky II is still pretty good as sequels go.

Rocky III (1982) * * *

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Mr. T, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Tony Burton, Hulk Hogan

Directed by Sylvester Stallone

Rocky has gotten soft, so much so that a hungry competitor Clubber Lang (Mr. T) has brutally dethroned Rocky and took him apart in a one sided boxing match, shaken from his defeat Rocky trains with his former nemesis Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) to regain his eye of the tiger and get what it takes to win the title again. Rocky III is here where the series turned into a ridiculous fight flick, in which it became more about what bad ass Rocky fights rather than the characters around Rocky. Indeed to showcase how goofy Rocky III is, Rocky actually fights Hulk Hogan in a charity fight, where Hulk Hogan body slams Rocky, throws him out of the ring and in the best moment is hit by Paulie with a chair, it’s moments like this that pad the running time as such is not even important, which is mainly Sly Vs Mr. T and because such is so thin in terms of plot, Rocky III pretty much is built on adding in such elements to stretch things out. In fact this film is your template for your Bloodsports and Kickboxers because this is simply training montage and a big bad villain that is 100% evil. In other words Rocky and Co. aren’t human so much as they are two dimensional versions of themselves that exist to train, fight and give moral support at the end. In other words Rocky III is completely stripped of what made Rocky an Oscar contender, but while this is pure ridiculous formula, Rocky III is still a lot of fun.

Rocky IV (1985) * *

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Tony Burton

This time Rocky becomes more like Charles Bronson, as he looks to avenge the death of his best friend Apollo at the hands of Ivan Drago (Lundgren) a Russian superman who can punch 2000 PSI and is honked up on steroids, he also kills Apollo Creed (Weathers) in an ill advised exhibition match and so Rocky goes to Siberia trains to beat the Russian and well you can pretty much guess the rest. The only thing that changes about this formula is the villain, and Dolph Lundgren makes for an enjoyable villain, certainly imposing and the best thing in this ridiculous and boring sequel. Stallone pads this thing out so much, that there is less time for the training montage, in fact the scene between Rocky and Adrian with the cake is truly as painfully corny as it gets, there is a really, really stupid robot this time and the film doesn’t even work in the vein of the third one, Indeed because Stallone loads this thing with endless music videos and would be moments of heart, it’s only in the second half that Rocky IV comes somewhat alive and thankfully the final fight is a real show stopper, but to get to that you have to watch some really dumb music videos and overall this makes Rocky IV dull and ridiculous.

Rocky V (1990) * * *

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Tommy Morrison, Sage Stallone, Burgess Meredith, Richard Gant, Tony Burton

Directed by John G. Avildsen

Rocky has lost everything, his money, his license to fight and indeed his health (he suffers from brain damage) so Rocky is forced to go back to the basics and in doing so trains a new competitor named Tommy Gunn (Morrison) however when a promoter (Gant) turns Tommy against Rocky, the matter is settled in the streets. The thing about Rocky V that I think a lot of people hate about it (but not me, I think it’s one of the stronger entries) is that it doesn’t feel like a Rocky movie, so much as a kung fu flick with boxing. Indeed Rocky is told he can’t fight again, he trains a new competitor and then has to destroy him when said competitor turns evil, the only difference between that plot line and a Shaw Brothers movie is that Rocky would’ve trained his son to fight Tommy, that aside this film actually does seem to have heart. Rocky V tries and often succeeds in bringing back the feel of the old neighborhood and I for one found the father and son subplot to be quite affecting. It’s sort of weird how Rocky V is hated so much (Even by Stallone) because it’s really not a bad effort, and Avildsen choreographs a great climax that is probably the best in the series. I think Rocky V could’ve worked better as a stand-alone film, as Rocky is such a likable character we don’t want to see him betrayed and back to where he began again, but as it stands Rocky V is a pretty decent flick and unfairly maligned, indeed it’s way better than Rocky IV.

Rocky Balboa (2006) * * *

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Tony Burton, Geraldine Hughes, Milo Ventimiglia, Antonio Tarver, Talia Shire

Directed by Sylvester Stallone

Rocky brings the series full circle in what is the best sequel in the series. This time Rocky takes an exhibition match against heavyweight champion Mason “The Line” Dixon (Tarver) to prove that he still has what it takes as a champion and due to the fact that he still has a little still left in the basement, after being a widower for a couple years. Rocky Balboa is much different than what you’d expect in that it isn’t like Rocky III-V, indeed those movies feel more like Shaw Brothers kung fu movies in plot and follow through than they do as a Rocky movie. This one goes after the character arc that one had long thought the series had lost, Rocky V sort of recaptured it but Rocky Balboa effortlessly brings back the heart and charm that the original had. In fact one can see the parallels between Stallone and Rocky, as many were skeptical (me included) of Rocky being able to pull off such a role at 60, that he could even hope to make anything less than a laughable failure of epic magnitude. It’s to Stallone’s credit that not only does he craft a decent movie but one that actually surpasses all of the sequels. Indeed Stallone’s rise and fall from fame is filtered back to Rocky with very effective results and Stallone is even savvy enough to play on our expectations as we wonder if he’s going to kill Rocky off or if he is going to win at the end etc. Rocky Balboa than is most likely the last of the series but it stands to reason that Stallone couldn’t have crafted a much better conclusion to the series of one of the all time greatest movie characters of all time. Sylvester Stallone then deserves credit for proving that he still has what it takes to make a fitting conclusion to the series and to prove that despite all the macho action roles, still has acting talent.

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