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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Netflix Nonsense - Rocky

So, a few months ago, I took to Facebook to publicly roll my eyes at the prospect of yet another Rocky movie in development.  I was taken aback slightly by one of my Facebook friends who saw that as a challenge and began defending the entire Rocky franchise.  It did get me thinking, though, that for such a famous and notable film series, I've only ever seen the first one once, and the last one once.  So, upon noticing that all the Rocky films are on Netflix, I decided to start working my way through the franchise.  Let's get this blog series started, shall we?  Let's take a look at the film that started it all, Rocky.

It's almost hard to believe that this film launched a 6-part franchise that spawned 30 years.  I mean, it's such a small film...such a gritty drama about a boxer that it doesn't exactly scream franchise potential.  But yet, here it is, and here we are.

This is another one of those films where the story of its making is as legendary as the film itself.  Sylvester Stallone was a largely unknown and struggling actor.  Inspired one night after watching a boxing match, and drawing inspiration from several real-life boxing stories, he wrote Rocky.  Stallone started shopping the script around Hollywood, and while most studios were receptive, they also balked at Stallone's one condition on selling the script:  he had to star in it.  United Artists finally acquiesced, and the film was greenlit with Stallone as the star.  As Leonard Maltin wrote in his famous movie guide, "Knowing that the film was a similar do-or-die project for writer/star Stallone just adds to its good vibes."

The film opens with Rocky in the ring.  We're soon introduced to this young man who's a small-time boxer at night, and his day job is as the muscle for the local loan shark.  But right away, we see that Rocky is blessed/cursed with a big heart.  While he works as muscle for a loan shark, he's reluctant to do the parts of his job that include breaking legs.  He even takes the time to lecture a young girl who's about to head down the wrong path on the evils of her ways and tries to set her right.  Rocky's also sweet on Adrian, a clerk at the local pet store who's painfully shy.  Because of her shyness, she's more wont to cringe at Rocky's clumsy advances than be receptive. 

Meanwhile, at the other end of the boxing spectrum, we have Apollo Creed, the current reigning heavyweight champ.  It's the end of November, and Creed's opponent has pulled out of the big New Years Day match.  Creed needs a new opponent so the show can go on.  With all the other boxers equal to Creed saying no because they wouldn't have enough time to train, Creed decides to turn the match into a publicity stunt.  Creed will allow a small-time boxer to make a challenge for the title, and thus allow an underdog to have his million-to-one shot.  Creed chooses Rocky purely on the marketability of Rocky's nickname; "The Italian Stallion." 

So with this fantastic opportunity dropped in his lap, Rocky starts to turn his life around.  He starts thinking there may be more to life than his little old neighborhood, and begins working to make the most of things.  At the first press conference for the match, Rocky admits to Adrian afterwords that, even though he tried to laugh it off, he was insulted by Creed's jabs at his heritage.  Rocky starts to think more of himself.

But watching it again tonight, I was actually more impressed with the transformation of Adrian.  With Rocky's love and belief in her, she begins to believe in herself, and transforms into a more capable and independent woman.  When we first meet Adrian, she's living with her brother Paulie, and he's pretty much abusive towards her.  Rocky is a friend of Paulie's, and when Paulie grows sick of Adrian shrinking away from Rocky's advances, Paulie pretty much bullies her into going out with Rocky.  And with her growing confidence, thanks to Rocky's love, when she finally has the courage to look at Paulie and be all, "Fuck you, I'm moving out," you just can't help but cheer for her. 

Another key relationship is between Rocky and his trainer/manager Mickey.  When the film opens, Mickey is sick of Rocky, and in the midst of pushing Rocky out of his gym.  When Rocky confronts Mickey about this, Mickey says it's because Rocky had the potential to be a great boxer, but wasted it.  But then, when Rocky gets his shot, Mickey comes back to Rocky, offering his services as manager.  Rocky is angry at Mickey at first, saying that this is guidance he first wanted/needed 10 years ago when he first started hanging out at Mickey's gym.  But, shortly after Rocky throws out Mickey, Rocky realizes the error of his ways, and it leads to a reconciliation between the two. 

But of course, it all builds up to our climactic fight.  And this is what always impressed me when I first saw the film.  Spoiler warning for a 38-year old classic:  Rocky does not win his fight against Apollo Creed.  As Rocky confides to Adrian on the eve of the match, Rocky knows there's no way he can defeat Creed.  So, Rocky's personal goal in the fight is to simply go the distance against Creed...survive all 15 rounds without getting knocked out.  And that's what Rocky does.  The fact that he achieves his personal goal rather than than beat the champ just seems more realistic to me.  And I liked that.

Before I wrap this up, just want to make one quick mention of Bill Conti's score.  Yes, we're all familiar with Gonna Fly Now (Theme from Rocky), but I like how its used in the film.  In the opening scenes, with Rocky in his neighbourhood, it's played very sadly on a piano.  This arrangement of the theme just struck me as very similar to the score of Joe Hisashi in Hayao Miyazaki's films.  And the way the theme builds until its used in its classic form in the classic training montage...the theme transforms with Rocky, and that's good.

I'm about rambled out.  It's a great movie that holds up after all these years.  Nuff said. 

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