Rocky (1976) / Rocky II (1979)

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John G. Avildsen and Sylvester Stallone direct Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith and Joe Spinell in these rags to riches boxing melodramas that spawned a forty year cinematic saga. 

Rocky opens with a stained glass image of Jesus. And that is fitting. As the film shares more with a biblical fable, the trials of Job or the redemption of Saul, than it does with a routine fight flick. We meet Rocky in a bum fight. Then witness 90 minutes of his life outside the ring and he still takes a spiritual pounding. His low rent enforcer work for a local gangster chafes against his juvenile morality. His locker at the dirty, rundown gym, that is his blinkered ambitions and dreams, has been given to a better prospect. The neighbourhood kids mock him. His best friend is an alcoholic who wants more without having to work for it. The woman he loves is shy… possibly “retarded”… but definitely, heartbreakingly shy. And he is about to be used as carrion in a publicity stunt by the World Heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed (a game Carl Weathers). Stallone, the scriptwriter, is aiming for an On the Waterfront style tragedy of tough living. But then rope-a-dopes us and delivers a fantasy tribute to the American Dream. Rocky trains hard, gets the girl and goes the distance in the fight. Bill Conti’s epic score, those jubilant horns, reaches its overwhelming peak, it threatens it presence all through the elongated misery. Then breaks out…

Gonna fly now
Flyin’ high now
Gonna fly, fly, fly

All that manipulative schadenfreude flips into heartwarming, airpunching victory (even though he loses).

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Rocky II replays the facesmushing, blood spurting final 10 minutes of Rocky’s finale shot for shot. Cheap filler but why shouldn’t it? The VCR was a new technology back then. It had been three years and who wouldn’t want a catch-up. But then Stallone needs to plunge Rocky back into the gutter. He wants to quit boxing and get a job but his illiteracy and the economy and his overspending swallow him up. He is goaded publicly and financially into giving Creed a rematch. Creed is more villainous this time… the media savvy shark becomes the wounded assassin. Adrian is more glamorous, less shy, but then is enfeebled by pregnancy and… we’re training again… we’re fighting again… it is all bigger… more mawkish… like someone has poured tears over a 30 cent burger. Exactly the same fast food but almost inedible by trying to knowingly recreate the recipe exactly.

7/4

My Top 10 Sylvester Stallone Movies

1. Cliffhanger (1993)

2. Judge Dredd (1995)

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3. First Blood (1982)

4. Creed (2015)

5. Rocky (1976)

6. Escape Plan (2013)

7. Cop Land (1997)

8. Lock-Up (1989)

9. Rocky Balboa (2006)

10. Demolition Man (1993)

 

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