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 IV (1985)

Release Date: November 27th, 1985
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Vince DiCola, Bill Conti (Rocky themes)
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Tony Burton, Dolph Lundgren, Brigitte Nielsen, James Brown

United Artists, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Going in one more round when you don’t think you can – that’s what makes all the difference in your life.” – Rocky

For some reason, Sylvester Stallone felt compelled to keep making Rocky movies. I’m glad that he did though, as the character still lives on today in the Creed film series, which was a spin off after giving Rocky Balboa six of his own movies from 1976 to 2006.

Rocky IV was the first Rocky movie that I saw in the theater. I was six at the time and I had seen Rocky III but the experience with this one blew my mind. Plus, it had a Cold War twist, which was something I was just starting to understand at the time, thanks to a plethora of ’80s movies that dealt with it.

This film also introduced me to Dolph Lundgren, who would become on of my favorite action stars of the era and really, I still love Dolph today. In a lot of ways, he was also the glue of the picture, even if his Ivan Drago character had no personality here. That was sort of the point though, he was a literal killing machine, emphasis on machine. He was like a Terminator with boxing gloves that was propped up by his country as their hero but all he wanted to do was to crush his opponents, regardless of patriotism and Cold War propaganda.

The real villain, as far as being the mouthpiece anyway, was Drago’s wife, played by Brigitte Nielsen, who was on the cusp of marrying Stallone in real life. She would also appear with her then husband in 1986’s Cobra. I liked Nielsen in the ’80s, even if her career was partially propelled by her marriage. I wish she would have stayed in the right groove and continued to be a presence in action pictures but she didn’t do much of anything memorable after 1987’s Beverly Hills Cop II and that could very well be due to her marriage with Stallone ending so quickly. But I’m not going to get all celebrity gossipy like TMZ.

For fans of the series, this film starts off with a solid blow to the gut, as within the first half hour, you get to see the aging Apollo Creed sign on for an exhibition with the Soviet boxer, leading to his death after being pummeled in the ring. The rest of the film deals with Rocky needing to defeat the monster that murdered his friend for sport.

It’s easy to chop this up as a revenge flick but I think it is more about a boxer seeking out justice in the only way he knows how and about climbing an impossible mountain, which is made obvious by a scene where Rocky literally conquers a mountain. However, it is also a critique on the senseless nature of the Cold War which had Americans and Soviets uneasy and paranoid for decades.

Many people have called this a propaganda picture, it isn’t. Does it beat you over the head with Americana? Sure. But it uses its platform and its political context to deliver a message of peace and hope. By the time you get to the end, Rocky’s big speech in the final scene isn’t pro-American or anti-Soviet, it’s pro-human and anti-war. It was also fairly prophetic considering the massive changes that happened in the world and the Cold War finally coming to an end just a few years later. Hey, maybe Rocky Balboa helped in tearing down the Berlin Wall.

Rocky IV is the most important film in the series because it carries a message bigger than the film itself. While the first is the best motion picture and the most inspiring, Rocky IV is the one that made me see the world differently. Granted, I was a six year-old clutching his G.I. Joe figures but it may have been instrumental in making me who I am today, someone who doesn’t buy into propaganda or nationalism and who only practices tribalism when it’s associated with the Chicago Cubs and Chicago Blackhawks.

Rating: 7.75/10

Film Review: Rocky III (1982)

Release Date: May 28th, 1982
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Tony Burton, Mr. T, Hulk Hogan

United Artists, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 100 Minutes

Review:

“No, I don’t hate Balboa. I pity the fool, and I will destroy any man who tries to take what I got!” – Clubber Lang

Rocky III is the first sequel to kind of dip in quality. Regardless, it is still an enjoyable film that is actually a bit more entertaining than the previous two pictures. It’s shorter, it’s more fun overall and both Mr. T and Hulk Hogan make the fights in this film more exciting and definitely more colorful.

This film fast forwards a bit from the events of Rocky and Rocky II. Here, Rocky Balboa has been the world champion for a little while. We get a nice vignette of him conquering a myriad of challengers along the way. Plus, the beginning of this film is greatly enhanced by its theme song “Eye of the Tiger” by Survior.

The reason why I like Rocky III so much, even though it isn’t of the same quality of the first two pictures, is that it has so much energy. Hulk Hogan plays Thunderlips, a giant wrestler that Balboa fights for charity. He is a massive brute that is overly ostentatious. Then you have the real villain of the story, Mr. T’s intimidating and jacked Clubber Lang. The guy literally looks like a killing machine in boxing gloves.

This chapter also adds some serious emotional baggage that treads new territory for Rocky. He loses his trainer, loses his title and feels like he’s hit rock bottom. Then Apollo, his greatest rival, shows him how to pick himself up and find his edge. Apollo knows that Balboa is greater than Clubber Lang and his respect for Rocky pushes him into helping the fallen fighter right the ship.

I love Rocky III. It really evolved the series into a new decade, the ’80s. And like that decade, it feels more carefree, entertaining and opulent. We enter a world of excess, where Balboa is beyond poverty but with these changes, come new challenges and life isn’t a cakewalk for the warrior.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Rocky II (1979)

Release Date: June 15th, 1979
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Tony Burton, Joe Spinell, Frank McRae

United Artists, 120 Minutes

Review:

“I feel like a Kentucky Fried idiot.” – Rocky Balboa

Rocky II picks up right where Rocky left off but that was how most of these sequels worked and why all of the original five Rocky films seem like a long continuing narrative. This is the only one though, that feels like a true continuation but that’s mainly because of its quality and its similarity to the first. Plus, Rocky goes head-to-head with Apollo Creed, one more time.

And not to take anything away from the other sequels, I like them all, but it is necessary to point out that this one is almost as good as the first and it really feels like the second half of one larger story.

The premise sees Apollo questioning himself, after a nobody went the distance with him for fifteen rounds. He is the world champ and he let some bum come in and nearly usurp him as the top dog in the sport. While Rocky wants to live a life after fighting, Apollo constantly baits him and berates him publicly until Rocky decides to take the rematch and see if he has what it takes to defeat Apollo and become the world champion.

John G. Avildsen didn’t return to direct this chapter, so Stallone took the directorial reins himself and he did a pretty fine job. This was his second time behind the camera after 1978’s wrestling film Paradise Alley and it is a much better film than that one.

The majority of the cast returns and it’s actually great seeing them back. I love all these characters and getting to spend more time with them is great, even Joe Spinell’s Gazzo, the neighborhood loan shark.

The film explores the life of a fighter after fighting. Sadly, Rocky can’t find his place in the world and ultimately goes back to what he knows best. But all the while, he marries his love, has a son and rises to the challenge put before him.

Rocky II might not be as good as the original but it’s damn close. I love how Bill Conti’s score evolved for this film and I love the banter between Rocky and Apollo. You see their admiration and respect for one another start to blossom, which would lead to a solid friendship in the films after this one.

Rating: 9/10

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

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 Godfather, Part II (1974)

Release Date: December 12th, 1974 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola
Based on: The Godfather by Mario Puzo
Music by: Nino Rota
Cast: Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, Talia Shire, Morgana King, John Cazale, Marianna Hill, Lee Strasberg, Bruno Kirby, Joe Spinell, G.D. Spradlin, Frank Civero, Roman Coppola, Danny Aiello, Harry Dean Stanton, James Caan, Abe Vigoda, Richard Bright

The Coppola Company, Paramount Pictures, 200 Minutes

Review:

It is hard saying which is the better movie between The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II. For me, both of them are as close to perfect as a movie can get. I like Part II the most overall but I like that Part isn’t broken up by a nonlinear plot and feels more cohesive. I also like the ensemble of the first movie better. That is actually magnified when you get to the end of Part II and see a flashback dinner scene of all the men in the family, excluding Marlon Brando’s Vito. After spending almost seven hours with this family, up to this point, they always seem to be at their best and their most dynamic when all the men are present.

Everything positive I said about the first film still holds true in the second. The acting, direction, cinematography, costumes, art and design are all absolutely top notch.

However, this chapter in the saga takes things to a new level. The world that the Corleone family lives in is even bigger and more opulent. The section of the film that sees Michael go to Cuba is mesmerizing. It adds an extra bit of grit to the picture, not that it needed anymore than it already had.

The highlight of this film is Robert De Niro’s portrayal of the younger Vito Corleone. He took a role that was very much Brando’s and made it his own without stepping on the toes of his elder. It was definitely a performance that deserved the Oscar De Niro got for it. It is also the only time two different actors have won an Oscar for playing the same character.

The film also contrasts the first movie in that you see the Corleone empire being run in different ways. While the family business is the bottom line, Michael goes further than his father in what he’s willing to do to keep the empire running. Michael went from a young man who didn’t want his family to define his legacy, in the first film, to a man that goes to extremes to keep the family together while he is battling the conflict within himself.

Godfather, Part II is a more dynamic and layered story overall and it is well-executed. While I mentioned preferring the linear plot to Part I, the plot is still managed perfectly. The scenes of Michael and then the flashbacks of Vito go hand-in-hand and they reflect off of each other, showing that despite the differences in the father and son characters, that they still travel the same path in a lot of ways.

In reality, The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II just feel like one really long movie that had to be broken into two parts. And the place where they decided to break them, at the end of the first movie, was the best spot. It flawlessly separates the legacies of the two men, out for the same thing but in very different ways.

Film Review: The Godfather (1972)

Release Date: March 15th, 1972 (Loew’s State Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola
Based on: The Godfather by Mario Puzo
Music by: Nino Rota
Cast: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Richard Castellano, Robert Duvall, Sterling Hayden, John Marley, Richard Conte, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Abe Vigoda, Alex Rocco, Joe Spinell, Sofia Coppola, Richard Bright

Alfran Productions, Paramount Pictures, 177 Minutes

godfatherReview:

I had a great experience, as I finally got to see The Godfather on the big screen. Like my recent experience of seeing Aliens in the theater, movies just take on a different life when seen in their intended format, much larger and in a dark movie house with other filmgoers there for the love of the picture.

I’ve mentioned before that it is hard to review a masterpiece and this is really no different. In fact, The Godfather goes beyond that. It is a film truly devoid of any real flaws.

I don’t need to talk about the great story and the great acting or how Francis Ford Coppola was at the top of his game – everyone already knows that. The music is perfect, the cinematography is absolutely pristine and tonally, everything is pure magic. I mean, this is a film that has a 9.2 on IMDb. Only one other picture in the entirety of film history is rated higher and that is The Shawshank Redemption.

The Godfather‘s real appeal is that it truly feels timeless. It takes place in the 1940s but was made in the 1970s, yet none of that matters. The world within the film, even now, feels true to itself and incredibly authentic. The Godfather has a certain realism to it missing from most other films, especially the mafia crime genre. It doesn’t feel like Hollywood at all, it feels like you are really a fly on the wall in this family’s home. Even Goodfellas, as great as it is, doesn’t come close to the authenticity of The Godfather.

The film is long, at almost three hours. That is usually a bone of contention with me, but everything in the film feels necessary. Where I feel that certain filmmakers make really long epics in an effort to somehow legitimize their films as something epic and great, The Godfather is one of the few that deserves as much time as it needs. Here, the time is truly needed. At the other end of the spectrum, 2005’s King Kong didn’t need three hours, let alone the extra twenty minutes that brought it to a whopping 200 minutes.

The running time, makes The Godfather feel more like a lengthy miniseries, especially taking into account its sequel, which was even longer. However, it deserves to be seen in the theater. In fact, that is where it should be seen. Not on a small screen where it has existed for the entire duration of my lifetime. I really hope the sequel gets re-released theatrically in the very near future. Hell, I’d even see The Godfather: Part III just to complete the saga on the big screen.

If you have the opportunity to see this in the theater, you need to. And if you’ve never seen the film, you really owe it to yourself to experience it.