Revisiting Toys: A Look Back at Toy Story

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When 1994 ended, one of the greatest years in movie history ended (sorry, 1939!).  Pulp Fiction brought about John Travolta’s comeback.   Shawshank Redemption became the greatest prison drama film of all time (sorry, Escape from Alcatraz).  Forrest Gump showed audiences worldwide what was possible when meshing history with Tom Hanks.  Two of today’s renowned directors showcased their abilities in their directorial debuts, Kevin Smith with Clerks and before he went to Middle Earth, Peter Jackson with Heavenly Creatures .  Then, there was, at that point, in what my opinion was the crowning achievement in animation, The Lion King.

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The Lion King had beautifully drawn 2-D characters that told an epic story, one that was Shakespearean in scope.  (Not really surprising…it was loosely based on “Hamlet”.)  It had music beautifully composed and songs that were written by Elton John.  It had voices provided by James Earl Jones (that booming voice), Jeremy Irons and Whoopi Goldberg.  It had memorable characters, from Simba to Mufasa to Scar, and these characters live on today on stage in its successful musical production.  It couldn’t possibly be beaten, right?

Of course…then comes 1995, which would bring about a film that would change the game of animation forever.  Today, CGI has become a major factor in many animated feature films and it all began with Pixar, the company behind this film.

The movie is, of course, Toy Story – the first computer generated feature film and the reason for the success of many films that would follow, not just from Pixar, but other studios from DreamWorks, Sony and Universal.  So, in a way, I guess you could say that Toy Story became a test subject for other films and succeeded in its mission to prove that films could be spectacular and tell an emotional story, too.

Toy Story, in case you’ve been living on an uninhabited island for the past 24 years, is about a group of toys that learn about friendship and try to overcome the elements that test it.  Voiced by the aforementioned Hanks, Woody is the leader of a gang of toys that include Mr. Potato Head (the late Don Rickles), Slinky Dog (the late Jim Varney), Rex (voiced by Wallace Shawn) and Bo Peep (voiced by Annie Potts), plus various other toys owned by Andy (voiced by John Morris).

The story begins with Andy’s birthday party and causes the toys to become stressed that one of them may be replaced with a new toy.  As the party moves forward, they become relieved when there are no new gadgets that can break their bond…but wait, just as they are about to go back to their normal duties, in comes the introduction of Andy’s newest gift, Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen).

It is at this point in the film that a common trait emerges that can be apparent in us – envy.  The reason why the film works is because of how relatable these toys become.  Imagine being the popular kid in the neighborhood until a new boy or girl moves in to the area and gets much of the attention.  We’ve been there, whether it’s at home, school or work and we can sense how Woody feels with the arrival of Buzz.  In turn, Woody begins to feel isolated, which in turn makes him jealous and annoyed.

Through the rage and frustration that Woody is feeling, he accidentally causes Buzz to topple out the window.  The other toys don’t see it the same way and feel it was done on purpose, thus we get Woody now feeling misunderstood as well (another feeling, I’m sure, we know all too well).  Andy, who begins to look for Buzz and can’t find him, has to settle for Woody.  And so Andy, his mom and Woody make the journey to “Pizza Planet”.  Also, joining them is Buzz and after a series of mishaps, both he and Woody find themselves in the “Claw Machine”.  Of course, they’re “won” as a prize and the winner is Andy’s next door neighbor, Sid.

Woody begins to realize that he has to work with Buzz in order to escape the wrath and crazy antics of Sid and in order to do so, they need the help of Sid’s other mutilated toys.  In the meantime, Buzz goes from “happy-go-lucky” to depressed when he finds out that he’s just a toy.  It is now Woody that needs to turn him around and get him to realize that without him, they won’t be able to return home.  Just like human relationships, the friendship between Woody and Buzz starts rocky, but begins to grow with mutual admiration.  Woody and Buzz escape Sid’s lair.

They realize that they missed the departure of Andy and company.  Involving a dog, a race car and a rocket, the other toys realize that Woody is trying to help Buzz, not hurt him.  Soon, they land in the back seat and Andy, who thought he had lost both of them, is reunited with them.  As the first film ends, Woody and Buzz and the rest of the gang end up in the new home.

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Up to this point, this animated gem is the most realistic film in the genre with lively characters and personalities that match our own.  It’s a film about friendship and about sharing a bond and using (especially if you’re an 80s kid), familiar moments in our own childhood.  Not only does this film set out to accomplish a legacy, but it’s the reason for Pixar’s success for almost 25 years.

FINAL GRADE:  A

 

What kind of childhood memories, if any, does this film evoke for you?  Do you see other themes in the film?  Is there a Pixar film you believe to better?  Sound off in the “Comments” section and next time, I will be reviewing the second installment in the series.

Revisiting Rocky: A Final Word on the Rocky Series

Rocky IV Review

Rocky V Review

Rocky III Review

Rocky II Review

Creed Review

Rocky Balboa Review

Rocky Review

 

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Simply said, the Rocky series provides inspiration to many people.  With its underdog story, the iconic characters, the motivational music, and quotable lines – the film series has become the “role model of movies”.  Not just in the US, but around the world, the films have become an example of great storytelling with uplifting themes.

I was in Germany when I first started watching the films and I remember how big of a star Sylvester Stallone became.  In fact, his portrayal of his character in Rocky IV was so realistic that I remember there being a big story about how East Germany wouldn’t let him into their country.  They felt that the actor had anti-Russian feelings (which of course wasn’t true).  To many people, the Rocky story is similar to their lives.  For those of us striving to prove that we can “go the distance” in whatever we do, the inspiration is Rocky Balboa.

The character arc of Rocky Balboa is exactly what many of us go through – we live our lives at crossroads, personally and professionally.  When many others don’t believe in us, whether it’s our bosses, our co-workers, ourselves, some do and it’s that one moment of belief that helps us to get motivated to live the best life we can for ourselves.  Men and women will find inspiration in the love between Rocky and Adrian.  After a few times of awkwardness, they finally realize they love each other.  Then, Adrian is rushed to the hospital during her pregnancy and into a coma.  With Rocky by her side, Adrian comes out of it and together they have a baby boy.  When Rocky is down and out, Adrian is the one that lifts him up and reminds him that they’re in it together.  She’s there for him as a wife, but also as his best friend.  And even when Rocky’s relationship with his son goes sour, Adrian is the one to bond them together again.  All the way to her tragic death, she stands by Rocky’s side and even after she’s gone, she still provides the spark he needs in his life.

Rocky’s life is filled with various characters, besides Adrian.  He has a mentor in Mickey Goldmill and a friend in Paulie.  He also has a friend in Apollo Creed (eventually grown out of respect) and Gazzo (sparingly).  And even through his enemies, he learned valuable lessons.  (“You ain’t so bad” to Clubber Lang and he learned that people change fighting a Russian – who knew?).

The Rocky story is the ultimate story.  It blends themes of “life and death”, “friendship and hostility”, “rags to riches”, a life cycle that spans over 40 years.  The Rocky story is a story for yesterday’s generation, but also the generation that will come tomorrow.  It gives us the motivation to realize that no matter what life brings, we’re moving forward.  We’ll be OK.  You know how I know?  Because of the stuff in the basement.

We’ve gone the distance.  Yo, we did it, Rock.

Next week, we’ll revisit another inspirational story – one filled with childhood memories, toys, and someone to tell us to take our lives “to infinity and beyond.”

Revisiting Rocky: A Look Back at Rocky

To read the previous review on Rocky IV – please click here.

To read the previous review on Rocky V – please click here.

To read the previous review on Rocky III – please click here.

To read the previous review on Rocky II – please click here.

To read the previous review on Creed – please click here.

To read the previous review on Rocky Balboa – please click here.

With barely a hundred dollars in the bank, only a couple credits to his name and an unproven writer, Sylvester Stallone wrote a script in 3 days in desperation.  The idea sprung from watching a boxing match between Chuck Wepner and Muhammad Ali and shadowed much of Stallone’s own life, about an underdog knowing he didn’t have many more chances to “go the distance”.  And luckily, Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff decided to take a chance on this young kid and produce his film.  And that’s how Rocky was born.

Back in 1976, who knew that this small budgeted film would generate seven sequels and a formula that would spawn other films,  from Karate Kid to Bloodsport and bring about a whole new genre of films – that of the underdog story.  From action figures, a resurgence of Burgess Meredith’s career and a statue in Philadelphia to memorable montages, inspirational songs and a “Yo” thrown in here and there, Rocky would be the beginning of a whole new era.

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The film memorably begins with Rocky (Stallone) facing Spider Rico (Pedro Lovell) in front of a mural of Jesus Christ, foreshadowing a theme of resurrection.  A depleted audience watches the fight and when the two boxers return to the locker room, Rocky earns enough money to go back to his worn-down apartment with his two roommates, two turtles named Cuff and Link.

I love the beginning of the film because it sets an example of exactly what a screenplay should do.  Rocky is poor, depressed, alone….we feel for him at this point.  It sets up the whole story because we are unsure (at least if you watched it for the first time in 1976) where the story is going to go.  A great introduction to a great character.

The one element that makes Rocky the best film in the series in my opinion is the quiet moments, the moments where you look into the eyes of a character and know what the person is feeling.  There is a subtle scene in the beginning of the film that is an example of this – where Rocky stares at a picture that is placed in the frame of a mirror in his bathroom.  The picture is that of Rocky as a boy and as he picks it up and just stares at it, once again it’s not Stallone telling the audience how to feel, but the audience is feeling the solitude of the character in those moments.

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The following scene introduces one of the greatest love stories in cinema history, at least from my point of view.  Rocky meets a bespectacled girl in a pet shop – none other than Adrian Pennino (Talia Shire).  Again, look closely and you will see a subtle look from Rocky to Adrian, and that look tells the whole story of who Rocky wants to be and whom Adrian is.

There’s a whole other subplot here with a character named Gazzo (Joe Spinell, who would be gone after the next film).  Rocky is a struggling boxer and to make ends meet, he helps Gazzo with retaining money and valuables.  Yes, Rocky works for a loan shark.  Rocky’s job is to use any means necessary to get Gazzo what he wants, even breaking thumbs.  But the character of Rocky is sympathetic and understanding, thus he goes against the orders of his boss and lets the guy go.  We meet Gazzo with his bodyguard (Joe Sorbello), who gets about as close to a villain as you’ll get in this film.  For whatever reason, Rocky and the bodyguard don’t get along, but Gazzo’s bodyguard does give Rocky the great idea of taking Adrian to the zoo…where he will eventually propose to her…so I guess you take the good with the bad.

We are introduced to Mickey (Meredith) in the next scene.  If Rocky is the “heart” of the story and Adrian is the “soul” of the story, then Mickey is the “blood” of the story, the character that keeps the characters pumping and motivated.  In the scene, Mickey doesn’t have time for Rocky, while Rocky wants to prove that he’s not a “bum” (the word Mickey uses for every one of Rocky’s opponents).  “You ever think about retiring?” Mickey asks.  Rocky says “No.”  And Mickey’s classic response and the reason why this movie is great – “Well…think about it.”  Great dialogue brings about great characters and if you need any proof…there it is.

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There is a character introduced in the film and it really doesn’t pay dividends until five movies later, but the character is “Little Marie” (played by Jodi Letizia in this film).  He walks her home, getting sassy remarks, putting her sassy fingers in her pockets, chewing gum sassily, and finally a sassy “Screw you, Creepo!”  (Ouch?)  Again, it goes to show that Rocky wants to be someone, but even teenage girls are able to walk over him.

In the meantime, there is a man named Apollo Creed (played by Carl Weathers), who is frustrated and angry at the thought that his opponent won’t be able to fight him, but Creed is a fighter and charitable and so he decides he’s going to extend his love to an unknown and show some brotherly love in…well, “the City of Brotherly Love”.  And so he opens up a hardcover book, a “Boxers Almanac” of some sort and discovers a local fighter that goes by the name of “The Italian Stallion”.  And because Creed is convinced that the country was founded by an Italian and he represents the real American hero, they must fight on the bicentennial date of its founding (which really doesn’t make sense because Columbus didn’t “find” America on July 4th…but we’ll leave it at that.)  So Creed wants to fight this Italian boxer (who is, of course, Rocky Balboa) in the hopes of embarrassing a Philadelphia local.  Rocky eventually agrees to the match and the fight is set…Apollo Creed, the champion vs. Rocky Balboa, the “Italian Stallion”.

The final major character we meet is Adrian’s brother and one of Rocky’s best friends (or maybe his only friend, if we don’t count the beloved hard-shelled Cuff and Link).  This is Paulie Pennino (Burt Young) and we learn many things about who his character is with his interactions with Rocky and Adrian.  He’s an alcoholic, he’s loud, he’s obnoxious and he bullies his sister.  Everything about him screams that this guy is a major jerk, but there’s a part that makes you feel sorry for him, too.  He forces his sister to retreat to her room, allowing one of the greatest conversations between a human and non-human ever.  “Rocky, meet Mr. Door – Mr. Door meet Rocky.”  There’s no doubt that Rocky stroking the door in a gentle up and down motion has the door falling in love with him, just as much as the woman behind it.  Eventually, woman wins and out the couple go on a date in an ice skating rink, taking the advice of Paulie, who is convinced that his sister’s favorite hobby is skating.  Of course, we find out that Paulie doesn’t know anything about Adrian and so we cope with the fact that one has to jog around the rink, while the other flutters on her skates.

The next part of the date goes to Rocky’s house, where Adrian feels nervous and Rocky ignores it.  She wants to go home, but Rocky wants her to stay.  She feels uncomfortable, but he still wants her to stay.  He tries to kiss her, she tries to push him away.  The more I think about it, the more this scene would probably not fly today.  Adrian does finally give in as they hold and kiss each other.

One of my favorite scenes is the scene at Rocky’s apartment with Mickey.  Mickey now knows that Rocky gets to face the champion and Mickey wants to be a part of that.  He makes some small talk with Rocky before telling him that he wants to take his role as his manager, which Rocky declines.  Because Mickey doesn’t take “no” for an answer, Rocky’s emotions finally come out in the form of anger.  He yells at Mickey about coming over to his place all these years later…and elbows the wall.  And then as Mickey slowly walks out and towards the darkness, Rocky runs after him and gives him a hug.  We can’t hear what they say, but before that moment, we can feel what Mickey feels and we can feel what Rocky feels – sadness, anger, frustration, loneliness, aging – it all comes together in a mutual admiration between mentor and student, and symbolically, father and son.

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From this point, some of the workouts and montages begin.  You’ve seen them here, you’ve seen them there, you’ve seen them everywhere…the drinking of the raw eggs, the running with the dog, the punching of the bag, and the running of the steps with the song “Gonna Fly Now” in the background.  And we can’t forget the bloody hands from using a meat rack as a punching bag, either.

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And then comes a key scene that tells us everything we need to know about the relationship between the Penninos.  Paulie hears Rocky talking about him, where he feels betrayed and wants Rocky to leave, but Adrian begins to stand up for herself and tells Paulie that Rocky is going to stay.  Paulie goes on a tirade with a baseball bat.  “You owe me!” Paulie screams and this enrages Adrian even more as Adrian screams back at him – “What do I owe you?”  Paulie whimpers at this point.  There’s an underlying message here that the relationship between Adrian and Paulie has come to this point since their parents died.  Paulie, just like Rocky, is lonely, but instead of calm and quiet, he is enraged and frustrated and most of it comes out on his sister.  Adrian has now gone from the shy, meek girl who was bullied to the girl who now stands up for herself and won’t take it anymore.  The character arcs in this film are phenomenal.

The next couple scenes are key in that it’s the final motivation and realization of why Rocky is doing this.  He stands alone in the middle of the Philadelphia Spectrum and looks at a poster of himself.  The promoter, Mr. Jergens (played by Thayer David), walks in and when Rocky tells him the shorts in the poster are wrong, Mr. Jergens replies with a “It doesn’t really matter now, does it, Rocky?”  Rocky’s eyes tell the story – he’s hurt and everyone thinks he’ll be forgotten after this whole ordeal.  And when he returns to the apartment and lays next to Adrian, he tells her that all he wants to do is “go the distance.”  The relationship has now gone from just a casual acquaintance to friends to boyfriend and girlfriend and here to a relationship of support.  Rocky needs Adrian there to tell her he’s not a loser or a bum, that he’s someone and she needs the same.

And so we finally get to the main event….literally as it’s time for Rocky and Apollo to square off.  With a little Joe Frazier cameo at the beginning, the two begin a memorable fight to the end.  Adrian stays in the back, while Rocky fights his heart out.  Creed gets knocked down, Rocky gets knocked down, both bleed with Rocky’s eye cut.  The fight becomes a back and forth event, assisted by the amazing Bill Conti music that plays over it.  Apollo thinks this fight would have gone easier, but Rocky shows that he’s going for it all.  And when it’s all said and done, both men are left standing with the crowd on their feet.  The heartwarming ending with Rocky screaming “Adrian” while being interviewed tells the story of what the film is really about – not a fight, but love.  Apollo is announced as the winner, but Rocky did it – he went the distance and he may have lost a match, but he gained a new love.

And as we fade out, little did we know, the film would become a cultural milestone in film history, earning itself awards across the year and becoming a forerunner of many other films to come.

FINAL GRADE:  A

 

What did you think of the first film?  Do you agree it’s the best in the series?  Whether you love the film or think it’s outdated, please send a comment.  Next week, I take a final look at the whole Rocky series.

 

 

 

Revisiting Rocky: A Look Back at Rocky Balboa

To read my previous review on Rocky IV – please click here.

To read my previous review on Rocky V – please click here.

To read my previous review on Rocky III – please click here.

To read my previous review on Rocky II – please click here.

To read my previous review on Creed – please click here.

If there is going to be a film franchise, the best idea is to never go above and beyond when a story is worn out.  That is why most of them end after a trilogy.  Stories are contained and memorable.  It’s what makes films like the Back to the Future series or the Godfather trilogy watchable time and time again.  I would even go as far as saying that the Tobey Maguire Spider-man films are watchable as a trilogy because even though the third film had more characters than needed, it got the job done by finishing and wrapping up the storylines that were introduced in the first two films.  Then, there are the series that go on well past their time (I’m looking at you, James Bond!).

So then, it should be no surprise that I was a little leery when it was announced that a sixth Rocky film was in the making.  Not only were they making another Rocky film, but it would be without the inclusion of Talia Shire (Adrian in the previous films) as the film would surround her death in between the time of the fifth and sixth films.  Not only that…but the film doesn’t even get to have a roman numeral in its title.  It’s not called Rocky VI…it’s called Rocky Balboa.  And how can you call a film part of a series when it doesn’t allow for a borrowed numerical entity of our beloved imperial Romans, especially since the film is about an Italian Stallion?  All my rambles about Romans aside, the point is I was really not sure if another film was necessary, but because the previous film had ended in a bizarre and strange way, I suppose this film needed to redeem some of what the Rocky series stood for.

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The beginning of the film introduces us to a now-widowed Rocky (Sylvester Stallone).  As in the first film, Rocky has his own traditions – talking to an Italian priest in English, feeding his turtles (Cuff and Link, oh how I miss yous!), and of course, visiting Adrian in a pet shop to tell her the worst joke of the day.  Here he lives alone again and again he is comforted by visiting Adrian, only this time around it’s her grave.  Visiting her as well is her brother, Paulie (the great Burt Young), who stands distant from the Balboas.  Paulie’s character here is great.  We begin to understand the guilt that has eroded him these past few years, as he feels guilty about the way he treated Adrian.  Paulie’s only way to get past it is to break free from it.  And while Rocky may need his brother-in-law with him as they share that bond of being Adrian’s two closest men in her life, he also knows Paulie best and understands he has to let him grieve in his own way.

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In Rocky V, one of the subplots involved Rocky’s relationship with his son, Robert (the late Sage Stallone).  In that film, Junior was slighted when his father helped Tommy Gunn and didn’t spend much time with him.  In this film, Junior (now played by This is Us’ Milo Ventimiglia) lives his own life with his own job, but has also lived in the shadow of his father’s ongoing fame, causing a fractured relationship between the two.  While not explicitly stated, it is not hard to see that Adrian’s death has caused a division among all three men in her lives, Paulie, Rocky and Robert.

This film is still a love story like the other films, even without Adrian.  Rocky’s devotion to his wife continues throughout the film.  The same kindhearted spirit that ran through Adrian is felt in the spirit of Rocky and how he treats others around him, including the patrons of his restaurant and the returning character of Little Marie (now just Marie – played by Geraldine Hughes).  The relationship is not one of love in the same sense as Adrian and Rocky, but one in which they both fill each other’s solitude and empty lives.  Just like Rocky, Marie is trying her best to make it as a single parent.  And just like Adrian, Marie is the shy girl who’s unsure about the outside world.  Luckily, Rocky is there to save her and get her a job.  (And Marie is there to let Rocky know that “Fighters Fight” in case he forgot…yes, it’s a cheesy line, but still better than telling someone that “if he dies, he dies”.)

There is, of course, a challenge in the form of Mason “The Line” Dixon (played once again by a real life boxer – Antonio Tarver).  This fight, however, doesn’t come from an opponent being picked out of a book, or one of revenge, or one where a boxer insults another boxer’s wife, or because they come from two different nationalities, or jealousy…no, this one comes due to a computer simulation brought to you by ESPN.  And because SIM Rocky defeated SIM Mason, egos are bruised and Rocky is asked to lace up his gloves again.

There are complications, though.  One, Rocky has to get licensed again, a problem since medical issues have halted his career ever since his fight with Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren).  But luckily, Rocky is around to remind the board of equality and the Bill of Rights and the pursuit of happiness.  The other obstacle is Robert.  Rocky, Jr isn’t too happy with the notion of having his father fight again, but his father has to remind him that selfishness will have no place in their lives.  In what is probably the most inspiring speech in the film series (and maybe even in film history), Rocky reminds him “it’s not about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”  And then caps it off, reminding him he has a mother and not to forget to say “hi”.  Rocky the younger takes all this to heart and finally stands together with his father (because…hey…”fighters fight”).

And then we get introduced again to the unsung hero of pretty much every film, Tony “The Duke” (Tony Burton), who provides my favorite line of his – “Let’s start building some hurtin’ bombs”.  And with that comes the music, the training and everybody standing up shadowboxing right along with it.

I want to talk about a couple other key scenes that involve our beloved Paulie.  Towards the beginning of the film, Paulie is the one who stands by him as Rocky explains what he’s feeling about his late wife.  He asks him to explain what is happening “in the basement” (you know, the “heart” of the matter).  And as Rocky and Paulie finally share a moment that is not filled with Paulie’s sarcasm, we understand what pushes Rocky towards all this confusion.  The scene pays off when Paulie is fired from his job and as Rocky follows him out of “Adrian’s” Restaurant – Paulie gets to provide that final inspiration for Rocky to set forth before his match – “You’ll be alright, Rock.  Because of the stuff in the basement”.

Of course, Paulie decides to get back to his unique ways by selecting Frank Sinatra’s “High Hopes” for the entrance song for Rocky.  The fight is the best fight since the first film, with great choreography and the ability to mix music and fighting and everything together.  At the end, much like the original installment, Rocky doesn’t care about the win or loss…he cares about the fact that he went the distance.  Rocky leaves to a standing ovation and the admiration of his friends and family.

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The last scene – the most poignant scene in the series – Rocky stands at the grave of Adrian.  And just like he’s done in every previous film, he gratefully acknowledges her, only this time in spirit.  “Yo Adrian, we did it.”  And as he walks away, it marks the final shot of the Rocky series…at least, I would have been happy with that ending (but instead his character lives on in the Creed franchise.).

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All in all, the film is beautiful and provides a more satisfying and impactful conclusion than the fifth film would have.  The Rocky story goes full circle with the Rocky-Adrian dynamic coming to a loving conclusion…and although more films follow (hopefully, one last one and that’s it), this is the perfect end to their love and relationship.

That is the reason why I’ve rated this film higher than Creed.  While Creed provides another element in Rocky’s life, this film allows every major character to get a credible finish.  Robert reunites with his father.  Paulie, despite being fired and losing his sister, is able to stand with his brother-in-law.  And Adrian, even in death, provides the strength that everyone needs.

FINAL GRADE:  A-

 

Where does this film rank in your opinion compared to the rest of them?  Do you agree or disagree with the fact that this film is needed?  Is it a proper ending to the series or do you envision it differently?  Hit me up with a comment again.  Next week, we are finally there.  My review on Rocky.

Revisiting Rocky: A Look Back at Creed

For the previous review on Rocky IV – please click here.

For the previous review on Rocky V – please click here.

For the previous review on Rocky III – please click here.

For the previous review on Rocky II – please click here.

Creed is the latest entry in the Rocky Series and to be honest, when is enough enough?  The film itself is very good as it boasts great performances from both, Sylvester Stallone (as Rocky) and Michael B. Jordan (as Adonis Creed).  Even before it came out in theaters, I asked myself if it was necessary.  The end of Rocky Balboa boasted a pretty heartfelt conclusion to the franchise and although some say this is a spinoff, it really is just another entry into the Rocky story.  So the question comes about again…when is enough enough?  This film, too, is not the end of the story as we will be getting Creed 2, expected to come out later this year.  (More on that later).

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Creed is about Adonis Creed, the son of Apollo Creed (who was played by Carl Weathers in the first four films).  Donnie decides he wants to box just like his father, much to the opposition of Mary Anne Creed (played by Phylicia Rashad).  For Adonis, it’s about pursuing not only his own dream, but also to finish what his father started.

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Donnie decides to go to Adrian’s, Rocky’s restaurant that was introduced in the previous installment.  Looking at pictures on the wall, Rocky realizes he is staring at the son of his former frenemy, Apollo.    Adonis wants to box, but Rocky doesn’t want to train (maybe he’s having flashbacks of Tommy Gunn turning on him?).  There’s some callbacks here that are really important.  The fact that a few of the moments from the previous Rocky films are being mentioned allows the Rocky fans to get a drawback to these previous favorite moments, but also a new audience to get acclimated to the relationship that Rocky and Apollo had.  This is important so that everyone gets a feel for why Adonis is asking Rocky to be his mentor and important to the backstory of their characters.  (In summary, good characterization).

Just as important as the Mentor/Mentee plotlines in the Rocky films, there is always a love story going as well.  (Although, I suppose it was absent in Rocky Balboa as Marie was more of a friend.)  Here, Tessa Thompson is introduced in the film as Adonis’s neighbor and eventual love interest, Bianca.  Making her different from Adrian is the fact that she’s a little bit more brash and able to stand up to Adonis when they meet first.

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Of course, since Rocky Balboa’s character is a big part of this film, he’s involved in his own storyline.  First, there is the fact that just like Adrian in the previous film, Paulie (previously played by Burt Young) has an off-screen death.  There is a difference, here, though.  I wasn’t bothered by Adrian’s death as it was the plotline that drove much of the sixth Rocky film, but Paulie’s death is mentioned once and forgotten.  In the first film, Paulie’s slovenly and drunkard act is what drives Adrian to finally agree to go out with Rocky.  In the second film, it’s him that causes Adrian to collapse.  In the third film, his jealousy and rage is a subplot.  The point is that Paulie’s character is important to the whole overall arc of the series and any first time audience wouldn’t understand that with just a throwaway line.  So I definitely did not like that aspect.

Then, there is Rocky, Jr.  He’s born in the second film, but starts becoming an important part of the Rockyverse in the third and subsequent films.  Here, however, he is relegated to a picture.  (Sadder is the fact that it’s a picture of the late Sage Stallone).  I don’t have too much of a problem with that because this is the story of Adonis, not Robert Balboa, but still his character has become a running joke now (much like the Griswold kids in the Vacation series) in that they can’t keep the same actor for each of these films.  Why not show a picture of Milo Ventimiglia, who played the character in the previous film?

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There is also the very realistic storyline of Rocky having non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma – drawing back parallels to his wife’s death.  Death has also become a key theme of each movie since the third film and here, besides Paulie’s death, it becomes a central theme for the Rocky character himself.  While Rocky doesn’t die in the film, how he reacts to his own possible mortality is a plotline in and of itself.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Rocky film without a fight and here it is presented in the final boxing match between Ricky Conlan (played by real-life boxer Anthony Bellew) and Adonis Creed.  The film has several callbacks to the first film (and in my opinion) a little predictable.  There’s the American stripes and stars shorts worn by the Creeds…there’s the underdog story, this time it’s Creed, not Balboa…and there’s the fight to the finish, much like Rocky and Rocky Balboa, that is decided by a split decision.

And this all sets up…the next film, Creed 2.  From what we know now, Adonis is set to face the son of Ivan Drago (played by Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV), the same man that killed his father in the ring.  It will be the eighth film in the series and while not much has come out about the film, I can only hope that the Rocky legacy ends once and for all.  He has gone through love, marriage, heartbreak, birth of his child, deaths of his mentor, best friend, wife, and brother-in-law and now his own visions of mortality.  The Rocky character has been through everything he can be through and it’s time to end his story.  It’s been eight films and a story that has lasted over 40 years.  The underdog story has been told in its completion and, as a fan, I hope we can finally say goodbye and put the character of Rocky Balboa to rest.

FINAL GRADE:  B+

 

What are your thoughts on Creed?  How do you feel about more movies in the series or do you believe that it should have ended by now?  What are your hopes for Creed 2?  Let me know with a comment again and…for next week….it’s Rocky Balboa.

Revisiting Rocky: A Look Back At Rocky II

For the previous review on Rocky IV – please click here.

For the previous review on Rocky V – please click here.

For the previous review on Rocky III – please click here.

How do you follow up an Oscar-winning film with the same vibrancy, emotions, characterization and impact as the one that came before?  For the writers and crew of Rocky II, it was making sure that they were going to be able to put in a plot point that would be more emotionally charged to the main characters as well as the audience.  I can specifically say that the film did its job.

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The second film leaves off right where the first one ends.  There is a little bit of a bump as the first one ends with both opponents, Apollo Creed (played by Carl Weathers) and Rocky Balboa (played by Sylvester Stallone) agree to not go through a rematch, but in the first few minutes, there is Creed, shouting at Balboa for a rematch.  They explain it off with a couple lines, but when you watch both films together, it’s a little awkward…but that’s OK because the film could only work one way…with a rematch between the two.

We see a genuine heartfelt moment between the two fighters in the hospital when Creed admits to giving it his all during their match – setting up a slow foreshadowing of a working relationship in a future film, maybe?  From this point forward, their trajectory goes in opposite directions – one becomes fueled by what he feels is betrayal of his fans, while the other begins to enjoy fame and fortune.

Rocky gets an agent, who sees big money in his fighter.  Rocky begins doing commercials, where you see the humor return in his character.  But you also see the moment where he’s losing options as to what life will be like post-boxing.  Rocky sees no alternatives – he must box again.  In the meantime, Rocky decides to go with some advice he got in the first film – he takes Adrian to the Zoo!  And at the zoo, Rocky proposes to Adrian with a “I was wonderin’ if you don’t mind marryin’ me much” (a classic line that many Rocky fans have shared in their own proposals, I’m sure).  We also find out that Adrian is pregnant with their child.

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Then, there’s Apollo’s storyline and I do appreciate the fact that we get a little more insight into this character.  In the first film, we find Apollo to be sarcastic and arrogant and with an attitude where he won’t take Rocky seriously.  Here, we get the flip side of the coin…Apollo really does take it serious and feels fueled by the fact that many fans are saying he got rocked in the match.  Apollo wants to prove that he didn’t win the match just by chance.  Apollo wants a rematch.

Rocky realizes he can’t do anything else but box at this point.  He returns to his trainer, Mickey (Burgess Meredith), but Adrian (Talia Shire) is the obstacle here and doesn’t want her husband’s health to decline.  The characterization here is great….in the first one, Adrian is clueless about boxing and supports Rocky, but now they’re married and Adrian’s love isn’t the support here, but the obstacle.  Rocky knows that boxing can cause further rips in their relationship, but Rocky feels incomplete without this.  Mickey, on the same hand, needs Rocky all in because he’s at the point of no return and Apollo needs this match to prove he’s still the champion.  All the stories intermesh and each character has their own goals.

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And things get worse when Adrian collapses, gets rushed to the hospital and slips into a coma.  Now what does Rocky do?  He has a trainer who tells him he’s only got one chance at the champ now and not to waste it.  (This is the part of the character of Mickey that makes him the gruff and tough character that he is…even while Rocky is sitting there in church, praying…Mickey thinks only of the boxing match…boxing is his life, while Adrian is what’s most important to Rocky.)  It all comes to a head when Adrian finally wakes up and tells Rocky to “win”.   This is the heartbeat of the whole Rocky series – and basically life in general…obstacles that will keep us from our dreams and future and how to overcome them.  And now we’re back to the training and the road to the Main Event.

The final fight here is not as exciting as many of the other ones.  I would even say that the goofy and comical Rocky IV fight between Ivan Drago and Rocky Balboa was more exciting than this one, but it wouldn’t be Rocky without a match and a match is what we get.  The highlight here is the double knockout and the race to see who will beat the count at the end.  At the end, to keep the film fresh, Rocky wins and becomes the new champion.

Overall, the film explores many of the similar themes as the first one, but in new and innovative ways.  The weakness here is actually what they build to and that is the final fight.  Rocky proves that he’s not a “bum” anymore, but Apollo proves he’s weaker (yet somehow is still the right choice to train Rocky in the next film?).  Paulie’s only contribution is sending his sister to the hospital here and going back to drinking.  In the end, Rocky is stronger in the emotional and mental aspects…he’s a boxer, husband and father with new goals to come.

FINAL GRADE:  B

 

What are your thoughts on Rocky II?  Did it do well as a sequel to the original?  What did you think of the final fight compared to the others in the series?  Let me know with a comment and next week, I present the newest film in the series…Creed.

Revisiting Rocky: A Look Back at Rocky III

For the previous review on Rocky IV, please click here – please click here.

For the previous review on Rocky V, please click here – please click here.

Rocky III is a film that centers on a line between cheesiness and emotional impact.  You have the emotional qualities of the first two films, but you also have an idea of what’s to come.  Depending on which side of the line you view the film, the movie is either in the upper echelon of the Rocky series or the bottom.  But like the other films, I’m going to try to dissect it piece by piece.

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Many of the stars of the first two films return here,  including Sylvester Stallone, Burgess Meredith, Talia Shire, and Burt Young.  But also returning are Carl Weathers and Tony Burton and how they fit in to the story arc here is interesting, not as the opposition, but as friend and mentor.

One of the early scenes boasts a boxer vs. wrestler match with Rocky (Stallone) fighting for a cause against Thunderlips (played by future WWE Champion, Hulk Hogan).  The scene provides a small insight into the relationship between Mickey and Rocky with a comical banter among them.  And I suppose that was the reason for the scene in the film…otherwise, the scene is quite unnecessary.  Although in the long run, this scene is key in the life and career of Hogan’s trajectory as he soon gets signed to WWE, wins a championship, becomes a key piece in Wrestlemanias I through IX and pretty much changes professional wrestling forever.  So I suppose this scene changes the life of one man forever.

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The next part introduces the most ferocious opponent to date.  His name is Clubber Lang and he is played by the then-unknown Mr. T.  Again, this is one of those parts that opens up a whole new trajectory for the actor as he becomes very well known after this part, including a popular stint on “The A-Team”.   So, if anything, this film is a life changer for some.  He’s different from Apollo (Weathers), though.  He’s serious, more focused, and apparently he pities Rocky.  But he also puts a fear in Rocky’s manager, Mickey (Meredith) and that fear is what brings about Mickey’s nonchalant attitude toward picking Rocky’s opponents instead of having him fight Lang.  And Clubber feels it, too as he decides to come forth at Rocky’s retirement announcement in front of the unveiling of the most famous statue in the city of Philadelphia.  The scene does what it’s supposed to…it makes the audience realize that this new opponent isn’t going to be an easy fight for Rocky and because of his insulting attitude towards Adrian (Shire), it’s also become personal.

There’s some great acting in the beginning scenes of the film:  Paulie’s (Young) jealousy towards his brother-in-law, Mickey and Rocky’s contentious relationship, and of course Lang and the World.  These emotions of frustration and built up angst is what builds towards the ending climax.  In the first film, it’s a fear of failure…in the second film, it’s the fear of losing Adrian…here, it’s a mix of all those feelings and then some.

In what becomes the first major death of the series, Mickey dies during a match between Rocky and Clubber.  Rocky loses his mentor and his friend, which leads to the unknown.  The death scene itself was an emotional scene, although it may have been even more emotional if we knew what in the world Rocky actually says as he is blubbering over his trainer.  (To this day, I still wonder…).

Luckily, enter Apollo Creed – who, despite the fact that he couldn’t go toe to toe with Rocky, has the ability to help him beat Lang.  How?  By bringing him to his neck of the woods.  And after some cringeworthy scenes in where we think Paulie may be racist, in addition to being a recovering alcoholic, we have Rocky training to, of course, “Eye of the Tiger” and making Survivor the “pick-me-up” band of the 80s.

Of course, we have to have the obligatory scene between Adrian and Rocky where only she can motivate him to fight his best.  And after Rocky admits to Adrian that he’s afraid, Adrian tells him to pretty much suck it up and get going….because we’ve only got five more sequels and counting to go.  From here on out, we have the training sequences, the music, the screaming and everything else that goes on with every other Rocky film to date.

This leads to the fight of the century…after the rematch of the century…which came after the first fight of the century.  But here it is…Clubber Lang and Rocky Balboa in a match much shorter than the first two.  We don’t have a final decision here and we don’t have two boxers toppling over one another.  What we do have is a fresh knock out to send Clubber Lang from the fearsome opponent to an after-thought.  If you think I thought this match should have gone a little longer, you’re right.  I didn’t care too much about the knockout…but I thought it was silly that a wife’s coaxing hand all of a sudden turned Rocky into an invincible beast.

Overall, the film was an improvement on what was to come in the next two films with a much more emotional punch to the gut, but the ending took it away somewhat.

FINAL GRADE:  B-

 

What are your thoughts on Rocky III?  Did it provide the emotional punch that it intended to?  Or a better question…does anyone, to this day, understand what Rocky’s final words to Mickey are?  Let me know with a comment and I will see you next week with a review on Rocky II.