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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Rocky Balboa Movie Review

Rocky Balboa


Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Antonio Tarver, Burt Young, Milo Ventimiglia, Geraldine Hughes

Written and Directed by Sylvester Stallone

Rated: PG for boxing violence and some language

102 minutes

There is something about the Rocky movies that always pulls me in. Even the really, really bad # 5, where Rocky has this protégée named something silly like Tiger, no, wait, it was Tommy Gunn… same difference, and the young, hotheaded punk turns on his mentor and picks a street fight with him… we could have told him he wasn’t going to win against Rocky, any more than he would win against a rock wall… but that’s the movie. I have to say, I hated that this was the supposed end to the Rocky series. Rocky V was ridiculous and a sucky ending, but I chose to simply not think of it. Instead I liked to think of the original Rocky. Like other Stallone movies, (Think First Blood- an awesome, totally righteous movie that was spoiled horribly by the sequel, a little silly ditty called Rambo) the original movie was a piece of work, and I mean that in a good way.

So…in every other Rocky movie, I was certain of one thing… in the end, Rocky was going to win. No matter how badly he was getting beaten, I knew at some point, the tables would turn, and the Italian Stallion would make mincemeat out of his opponent.

So when I went to see Rocky Balboa, the improbable sixth (and final) installment to the series, I was understandably worried.

To tell the truth, when I first heard of this movie, I thought it was a joke. Doesn’t it sound like a joke? Sly, sixty years old, is getting in the ring in another Rocky movie…? Laughter, groans… what? You mean, for real? Yeah, for real. He’s making another one. Well, I was not seeing this… this travesty! I would ignore it, and hopefully, it would go away quietly. I could pretend that the series ended with Rocky triumphantly telling the Russians that we could all get along, ending the Cold War single-handedly with his supreme butt-kicking of the scientifically enhanced, almost inhuman Dolph Lundgren who... let us not forget… killed Apollo Creed! The thought crept up on me. If they would kill off Apollo, wouldn’t they possibly… gulp… let Rocky lose?

OK, I’m not going to spoil it by telling you…. awwww, I know… but I will tell you this, it doesn’t matter.

Rocky Balboa is a great movie. You heard me. Not just good, but great. A fitting, perfect finish to the Rocky mythos. Stallone takes us back to the beginning, staying true to the original Rocky, both in personality and in heart.

Yes, Rocky is old, but he is old in the way a warhorse is old, still tough, but possibly gentler and smarter. Still not a horse you want to get kicked by. Stallone is in truly impressive shape. I will not blame you if you find yourself choked up on more than one occasion during the show… Rocky’s darling Adrian is, gulp, dead. She died three years previously of cancer, and it is obvious to even the most hard-hearted viewer that Rocky has not exactly gotten over her loss. This is evidenced by the chair he stashes in a nearby tree at the cemetery where she is buried, for the long hours he spends sitting in front of her flower-bedecked headstone, talking to her as if she were alive. One particularly “ouch” moment has Rocky waking up, alone, and staring sadly at the pair of turtles on a stand in his bedroom. You can practically read his simple, honest heart as he watches them, acutely aware of being a remaining half of a pair, probably never going to be comfortable as a single piece again.

He is estranged from his son, who has grown into a stiff-necked asshole who resents his father’s larger-than-life legend. (He doesn’t like people always asking him about his dad. He doesn’t like being known as Rocky junior, and as we look at his stick-thin figure, we can see why. Rocky looms over him like a bear over a fawn.) Yet Rocky is filled with a forgiving, tender love for the distant child, and continues to seek his affection and presence in his own lonely life. When about halfway through the movie, they reconcile, the viewer is relieved that she doesn’t need to despise young Balboa any longer, especially as once he decides to be on daddy’s side, he is unbendingly there, for the remainder of the film. Adrian’s brother Paulie, is still around, as crusty and cantankerous as ever, but impatient with Rocky’s unrelenting grief.

Rocky, the owner of a fairly successful restaurant (an Italian restaurant where the cooks are Mexicans, as Paulie points out humorously, and correctly) spends his evenings in an ill-fitting suit jacket, going from table to table, telling people stories of the good old days. It is a pretty depressing end for the once glamorous champion, but Rocky seems reasonably content in his life, especially once he renews an old friendship with a neighborhood girl and her son, whom he quickly takes under once massive wing, becoming role-model and mentor unhesitatingly, because well, Rocky is just a damn good guy.

A “computer match” between Rocky and the now Champion, the unpopular Mason “The Line” Dixon (real life boxer Antonio Tarver), brings Rocky back to the public’s attention again as it is argued who would win this impossible match. The computer says Rocky would kick Dixon’s butt, but there’s no way to know for sure… or is there?

Rocky, unable to explain the complex emotions he is experiencing as he considers an Exhibition Match with the champ, still tries to explain to disbelieving family and friends. His grief over Adrian, his confusion over growing old and being considered washed up and done, while inside, he still feels vital and strong, struck a chord of understanding in me, the viewer, as I watched him struggle. Fighting again would release the “beast” he has felt living inside his gut since Adrian’s death. The essential training montage is painful and wonderful, the music raising our hopes even as we wince at the thought of this old guy going glove-to-glove with the young and arrogant Dixon.

The entire movie can be summed up in the line that quickly takes on the essence of the entire plot. Rocky, rueful grin in place, tells Paulie, and the rest of the world, about being older, but not being done.

“There’s still some stuff in the basement.”

Indeed there is.

I give Rocky Balboa 5 &’s

&… it was a fitting end to a much-loved series of movies

&… Stallone was particularly perfect in the familiar role, to which he stayed TRUE

&… the storyline was gentle, sad, beautiful… much more than just another fight movie

&… it still had the ability to make my throat swell when he reached the top of those stairs

&… come on, it was Rocky, as Rocky is meant to be done!

P.S. I loved this quote from Sly himself… perfectly summed it up.

SYLVESTER STALLONE: “In the beginning of this film, "Rocky Balboa," I thought if his life is still intact then you really don't have a, a launching pad, a starting off point. But, if the most precious thing is taken away from you and your stability is askew, your best years supposedly have come and gone and you're alone. Alone full of grief, full of rage, full of anger, you know, what do I do now? What's the last chapter of my life? There is your starting off point. And I think that people need a mountain to climb. And I also read about a few men who, you know, in their late 50s, who decided to climb the seven largest peaks in the world just to, you know, do it. Well this is literally going out and trying to find a mountain to climb, which is going to really change, not just his life, but the lives of the people around him.”

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Blogger Reel Fanatic said...

This is indeed a nearly perfect "Rocky" movie, and almost enough to wipe the simply execrable "Rocky V" completely from my memory .. I just hope this really is the final chapter, but since Sly's doing a "Rambo VI" next year, I have my lingering doubts

3:44 AM  
Blogger Meowkaat said...

I know I know... i almost cried when I read the Rambo thing, ands again, i was thinking... this is a joke, right?
Last night I watched First Blood for the millionth time and was amazed again how great the FIRST movies usually are.

9:57 AM  
Blogger Bitty said...

Kaat...Happy new year!

Are you taking requests? I actually SAW a movie over the holidays...Talladega Nights. I'd love to hear Ricky Bobby get the Kaat Treatment!

9:53 PM  
Blogger The Pagan Temple said...

I had no desire to see this movie until I read this review. You really are a good reviewer.

1:53 PM  
Blogger Meowkaat said...

Bitty, baby, I'm all over it. I will force myself to watch it, even if it makes me ill for a week.
and Patrick, thank you. I think that's the nicest thing you've ever said to me.... except the thing about my butt. :P

8:52 AM  
Blogger Bitty said...

Now I really can't wait...because I expected to hate TN. And I didn't.

Or my reaction could mean that I just don't get out enough.

3:34 PM  
Blogger Orhan Kahn said...

& another great review.

I particular enjoyed Sly's comments at the end.

3:02 PM  

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