Rocky Balboa (2006)

“Rocky Balboa” does not stand alone.

In order to appreciate it, you have to at least watch “Rocky” (1976), the film that started it all.

In order to fully appreciate it, you have to endure the four films in between.

“Rocky” is a movie with heart. It is, at its essence, not a boxing movie, but a love story. The Philadelphia pug is fighting, not just to win the heavyweight boxing championship. He is fighting to win the heart of Adrian (Talia Shire), the shy and plain pet shop clerk.

With each subsequent film, as the numbers began to pile up behind Rocky’s name, I got more and more discouraged. I heard Sly Stallone once talk about the excess of the 80″s in “Rocky II – V”. He got that right. Those films are excessive, messy affairs. I could almost feel the line being played out, though I didn’t know why.

When it was announced that the final film in the franchise was coming out, I had misgivings about watching it.

I was pleasantly surprised.

Behold, at last, another “Rocky” movie with a heart.

I think it surpasses the first film, even while relying on it as a point of reference. There are many echoes back to the first film.This especially happens during the ‘Anniversary Tour” that Rocky takes along with his friend and brother-in-law, Paulie (Burt Young). On it, he visits some of the old sites where he first courted Adrian. (Between “Rocky V” and “RB,” Adrian dies of cancer.)

“You’re livin’ your life backwards!” Paulie complains, and he’s right. We know he’s right. The question is, “Where does Rocky go from here?”

Enter Marie (Geraldine Hughes).

We met her in the first film as an adolescent girl hanging with the wrong crowd. Rocky walks her home one night, trying to set her on the right path. She responds by telling him, “Screw you, creepo!”

Now we see her again, thirty years later. She’s tending bar in the old neighbor hood. She and Rocky get acquainted again and he’s soon defending her against the same type of people she used to hang out with.

This is a beautiful part about of “RB”: watching how Rocky relates to the people around him.

For Marie and her son, Steps (James Francis Kelly III), he becomes like a guardian angel, offering them both work at his restaurant and trying to give Marie a more positive image of herself.

For his estranged son, Robert (Milo Ventimiglia), who chafes at trying to live in the  huge shadow of a local legend, he reaches out, trying to get closer to him, trying to encourage him to be his own man.

For the cantankerous Paulie, he tries, as he always has, to smooth out his rough edges.

Like I said, Rocky Balboa doesn’t stand alone.

He is at the center of a group of people who, in turn, rally around him as he prepares to fight the reigning heavyweight champion, Mason “The Line” Dixon (Antonio Tarver), in an exhibition fight for charity.

Why? Why, at the age of 60, does Rocky want to fight again?

He tells Paulie that “there’s still stuff in the basement,” and many older guys perk up their ears. They know just what he’s talking about.

Before I go further, let me remind you that this is a “Rocky” film and you know that there’s going to be a fight at the end. But I found that the heart of the movie happens before the gloves are even put on.

The real fight going on in “RB” has to do with the “stuff in the basement.” Rocky’s real fight is with himself, trying to redefine his life, not so much after his boxing career is over, but after the death of his beloved Adrian.

I like Rocky at 60. I love the heart of the man who reaches out to those around him, even as he struggles within himself.

The night before his fight in Las Vegas with Dixon, Marie comes to his hotel room door. She gives him a picture of Adrian that she brought from the restaurant. Then she tells him, “You go out there and you show them that the last thing to age on a person is their heart.”

That, my friends, is the movie’s message. That is the movie’s heart.

So, go ahead, watch the first “Rocky” movie. If you can stand it, wade through the next four films.

Then sit back and treat yourself to “Rocky Balboa,” the crown jewel of the series.

To Sly Stallone’s credit, he saved the best for last.


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Seen any good movies lately?

(Sorry for the long delay between posts. I have found that maintaining a blog is somewhat harder than starting one. I will try to be more faithful to the page.)

What is it about movies that make them so popular? Here are some reasons that I’ve come up with (in no particular order of significance):

1. I think that people in general like to hear a good story and that a good movie is a good story well told.

2. I  think that people today like their stories told in a tolerable form. While it would take a whole day of concentrated reading to finish the average novel, an average movie tells its tale in the course of a couple of hours.

3. Since the advent of television, I think we are becoming a people more prone to watching than to reading. Whatever imagination it takes to become engrossed in a good book is slowly seeping from our collective consciousness.

4. Movies are a lot more accessible  these days. You no longer have to go out to the theater to see a movie (unless you want to) or to wait for it to come on television, complete with commercials and maybe a little editing to make it fit into the pre-packaged time slot.

You can get your movies for free at your local library or for a paltry sum at your local market or Red Box machine. You can rent them online and receive them through the mail.  Heck, you can even buy movies and start your own cinematic collection.

The next time we meet, I’ll start sharing some of my favorite movies and why I like them.

I’d like to hear from you, too.

Thanks for your time.

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What the…?

To all of you who are checking out this blog for the first time, I say, “Welcome.” I thank you for taking the time, or rather, giving the time to read what I might have to say.

I know that curiosity can bring you here, but it won’t be enough to keep you here. I hope that I can make it worth your while.

What are you going to find here? Well, here’s my plan.

Initially, I want to riff on some of my favorites in movies, books and music. That should keep us busy for a while. I am by no means a learned expert in the fields of cinema, literature or the music industry.

I just know what I like (and what I don’t like.)

Maybe, in our visits together, I can introduce you to some movies, books, music and the people who make them, that you’ve never met before. That would be cool.

Maybe, after meeting them, you’ll discover a new favorite, as I have. Cooler still.

Maybe, after hearing what I have to say, you will so totally agree with me, or disagree with me, that you will be moved to drop me a comment and we’ll get a conversation going.

Aha, that would be the coolest of all.

Though I have been writing for a number of years, this is my initial swim in the vast ocean of blogging. Please be patient as I figure out how to design this page and learn how to operate all of the bells and whistles. Right now the room is a mess, but I’ll try to find you a place to sit so we can visit a while.

As I said, I’m glad you stopped by. Come again when you have a few spare moments.

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