Film Review: Rocky V (1990)

Release Date: November 16th, 1990
Directed by: John G. Avildsen
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Sage Stallone, Tommy Morrison, Richard Gant, Kevin Connolly, Tony Burton, Burgess Meredith (cameo), Carl Weathers (archive footage), Dolph Lundgren (archive footage),

United Artists, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Now, like your Mark Twain once said, ‘Virtue has never been as respectable as money.'” – George Washington Duke

I have never gotten the level of hatred that people have for Rocky V. Is it the best in the series? No. But I also don’t think that from a quality standpoint, it is anywhere below the later sequels III and IV. It actually has a great and important story and examines some areas of a boxer’s life and boxing as a sport that were probably long overdue in being explored in this long running film series. There is one big negative but I’ll get to that.

First, the film deals with Rocky Balboa getting brain damage after his bout with Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. It also deals with how athletes are often times taken advantage of by financial crooks, as we see Paulie give power of attorney to their accountant, who lost all their money in a failed scheme. Additionally, we get to see the crookedness of high profile boxing promoters with the character of George Washington Duke, who was an obvious caricature of Don King, who exploited several young boxers that he “owned” for his own personal monetary gain. Lastly, the film deals with a boxer and his relationship with his family and also with his personal struggles when his career is over. Rocky V is a film with a lot of layers, all of which I found to be interesting.

And that’s the thing. You could say that there is too much going on in Rocky V from a narrative aspect but I like that the film addresses these issues, shows them play out naturally and doesn’t have to spell everything out for the audience or beat them over the head with each issue. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize the challenges as they appear and to understand that ultimately, Rocky has always had what he needs most and that the solution is simply embracing the love in your life.

Rocky V may be cheesy at points but aren’t most of the Rocky films to some degree? Balboa is a good hearted guy always ready to crack a bad joke and those characteristics have sort of become larger than Balboa in the films themselves. Plus, by the time you get into the later films, Paulie just adds in his own sense of humor that keeps the later sequels grounded in lightheartedness even with serious subject matter.

This film also brings the original creative team of the first Rocky back together. John G. Avildsen returns to direct, Bill Conti is back on the music and ultimately, it works well to recreate the poor area of Philadelphia that Rocky, Adrian and Paulie rose out of but now have to return to. The addition of Burgess Meredith, even as a ghostly cameo, is a nice nod to the first film and brings things full circle, which was good considering that this was the last film in the series for sixteen years.

The big negative I mentioned before is Tommy Morrision, who played the boxer Tommy Gunn. The character starts as Rocky’s protege but decays into a puppet for the sinister George Washington Duke and thus, becomes Rocky’s big opponent at the end. The problem with Morrison is that he is a real boxer and not an actor. Rocky films work better with actors as the rivals. Imagine if Apollo Creed was played by George Foreman or Larry Holmes, it just wouldn’t have worked as well. Also, I felt the same way about Antonio Tarver in the sixth film and Tony Bellew in Creed. None of these guys had the impact of Apollo, Clubber Lang or Ivan Drago. Plus, Morrison’s line delivery was really painful at times.

While people knock the street fight at the end of the film, I’m fine with it. We’ve seen Rocky in the ring more than a half dozen times. Seeing him take it to the streets and embracing his roots against a jacked up farm boy was kind of cool.

I think that Rocky V came out in a time when the franchise sort of ran its course. It was the fifth film in 14 years. Plus, there was solid competition when it came out, so it didn’t perform well. Critics weren’t crazy about it but they aren’t crazy about most movies. I think people shit on Rocky V because it’s fun to shit on something that everyone hates. But I think it is more about following the crowd and not really about the movie. People just parrot each other’s sentiment and comments without much actual thought of their own but that’s why we always end up with shitty presidential candidates. But I’ll stop there and not go on some political rant.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Other Rocky films.

Film Review: Rocky (1976)

Release Date: November 21st, 1976 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: John G. Avildsen
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Tony Burton, Joe Spinell, Chino ‘Fats’ Williams (uncredited)

Chartoff-Winkler Productions, United Artists, 119 Minutes

Review:

“You’re gonna eat lightnin’ and you’re gonna crap thunder!” – Mickey

Every time I rewatch Rocky, I am reminded that it is a film that is much better than most people give it credit for. Maybe having over a half dozen sequels over the decades has cheapened the greatness of the original but it won three Academy Awards for a reason. Point blank, it’s a damn fine motion picture and still, the greatest boxing movie I have ever seen.

I know that this was his breakout role but if I’m being completely honest, Sylvester Stallone has never been better. Sure, his other outings as Rocky Balboa were also great (yes, I even like Rocky V) and it is hard to deny just how good he was as John Rambo in First Blood. Stallone just captured lightning in a bottle with this film though.

His acting was accented by his great script but I feel that Rocky is an extension of Stallone’s soul. You see, although Rocky was a boxer and Stallone was a guy trying to make it in Hollywood, their stories really kind of mirror each other. Rocky needed that break and made magic happen, Stallone did the same with this movie. The thing is, for anyone who has gotten to know Stallone over the years, it is really hard to deny that there are very close similarities between the real man and the character of his creation, Rocky Balboa. This is why I think that the film felt so real and why it captured the hearts of people. It’s a film with a lot of pain in it but it is authentic because it is really Stallone’s pain coming out.

The rest of the cast is also absolutely fantastic. Talia Shire was perfection as Adrian, the extremely shy woman who stole Rocky’s heart. Burt Young was great as Paulie, Adrian’s drunk and cantankerous older brother. The real scene stealer though was Burgess Meredith’s Mickey, the man who trains Rocky even though they have a harsh and turbulent relationship until they find something in each other.

It is also hard to deny the direction of John G. Avildsen, who won an Oscar for his efforts. He would also be behind a similar film a decade later, featuring karate instead of boxing and a younger protagonist. That film was The Karate Kid.

The one thing that really sticks with you though, is the score by Bill Conti. In fact, it is one of the most memorable scores of all-time. Some how his theme “Gonna Fly Now” didn’t win the Oscar and was beat out by a Barbara Streisand song from A Star Is Born. Looking back, that was damn criminal.

Rocky is a true underdog story in the best way possible. It is about getting your big break and making it matter. For Rocky, it isn’t about winning, it’s about whether or not he can hang with the best and leave his mark in the only way he knows how. And wasn’t that the same thing Stallone had to do with the opportunity he had in giving the world this movie? And just like Rocky, Stallone still has staying power, forty-one years later.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: ‘The Karate Kid’ Trilogy (1984-1989)

The Karate Kid made a pretty big cultural impact in 1984. It had two sequels featuring the main cast, as well as a spin-off sequel and a nonsensical remake. It also influenced a ton of 80s kids to take up karate.

Let me address each film individually.

The Karate Kid (1984):

Release Date: June 22nd, 1984
Directed by: John G. Avildsen
Written by: Robert Mark Kamen
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Ralph Macchio, Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, Elisabeth Shue, William Zabka, Martin Kove, Randee Heller, Chad McQueen, Tony O’Dell, Ron Thomas, Rob Garrison, Frances Bay, Peter Jason, Larry B. Scott

Columbia Pictures, 127 Minutes 

karate_kidReview:

The first film is the best overall. I would consider it to be a classic. Sure, it can be 80s cheesy but that is also a lot of the appeal. It still feels pretty realistic and has a grittiness to it.

The film was directed by John G. Avildsen and the score was done by Bill Conti. Both men worked on the original Rocky and there are plenty of similarities between that film and this one. Just make the hero younger and switch out boxing for karate and there you go. But as emotional as Rocky was, The Karate Kid may actually have more depth and character.

Sure, some of my love of this film is due to nostalgia but it still resonates today. The message is timeless. It is about standing up for yourself and not backing down or succumbing to fear. But it also shows how bad kids can be created by the influence of bad adults. It is also about friendship in its purest form, as teenage Daniel and the elderly Miyagi have one of the strongest bonds in motion picture history. There is a lot to take away from this film.

It is shot well, directed well and the music is perfect, whether it is the score or the pop tunes of the time. In fact, some of the epic landscape shots, enhanced by the beautiful score, are majestic. The cinematography was superb.

It also just hits you right in the feels.

The Karate Kid, Part II (1986):

Release Date: June 20th, 1986
Directed by: John G. Avildsen
Written by: Robert Mark Kamen
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Ralph Macchio, Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, Nobu McCarthy, Tamlyn Tomita, Yuji Okumoto, Danny Kamekona, William Zabka, Martin Kove, Chad McQueen, Tony O’Dell

Columbia Pictures, 113 Minutes 

karate_kid_part_iiReview:

This film picks up at the point where the first one ended, which was kind of cool. It then follows Daniel and Miyagi as they travel to Okinawa to see Miyagi’s sick father. While there, a former best-friend turned rival challenges Miyagi and the heroes must face stakes much higher than those of the first film.

This is a beautiful picture. Even though it takes place in Okinawa, it was filmed mostly in Hawaii. But the island village life and the geography are well captured and become characters in the film.

The scenes between Miyagi and his long lost love Yukie are both heartbreaking and heartwarming and really make an impact in this film, more so than the love story between Daniel and his new love interest.

As a kid, I liked this film better than the first but that was due to the exotic feel of it and the fact that Daniel was forced to fight to the death. The threat in this film is just so much more real than the petty squabbles of teenagers from the first movie. But as an adult, I can see that the original is superior.

This film doesn’t get the respect it deserves by critics or IMDb, as it is certainly better than its 5.9 rating.

The Karate Kid, Part III (1989):

Release Date: June 30th, 1989
Directed by: John G. Avildsen
Written by: Robert Mark Kamen
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Ralph Macchio, Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, Robyn Lively, Thomas Ian Griffith, Martin Kove, Sean Kanan, Randee Heller, Frances Bay

Columbia Pictures, 112 Minutes 

karate_kid_part_iiiReview:

While this might be the worst film of the original trilogy, it is still better than the 2010 remake and that 1994 abomination, The Next Karate Kid.

This film sees John Kreese, the leader of the villainous Cobra Kai from the first film, join forces with his war buddy in an effort to get revenge against Daniel and Miyagi. Their plan is to tear apart the bond between Daniel and Miyagi while finding a challenger that can crush Daniel and take his title.

The spirit of the series is still alive in the relationship of Daniel and Miyagi but that is where it ends, really. You still love the characters and it is hard to watch them struggle, as they find themselves at odds with one another for the first time. But this film also has some of the sweetest moments between the two characters, as Daniel sacrifices a lot to help his mentor achieve his dreams.

This is still a movie worth your time, if you like the series. It’s not great but it’s not a total waste either.

Although, I find it hard to believe that the villainous Kreese and Terry Silver just walked away after this film ends. And I have to wonder what’s wrong with Daniel after striking out with three girls in three films. Can we maybe get some sort of follow-up or update?

Maybe I’ll write and direct The Karate Kid, Part VII, disregarding the nonexistent films Part IV, V and VI. In my film, Earth is in a post-apocalyptic state following the Cobra Kai defeating the military might of the world. Daniel awakes from a coma to find out that he was in a plane crash, orchestrated by the Cobra Kai and that Miyagi has died. He discovers that the Cobra Kai took over the world and now he must lead a band of fighters proficient in Okinawan karate. Daniel and his karate army must stop Terry Silver and John Kreese’s fascist Cobra Kai government. Daniel’s advantage is that Silver and Kreese don’t know he survived the plane crash years earlier. But they are about to discover the truth like a crane kick to the face!