Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Top 50 Superstars of All Time

In 2010 WWE released a special countdown themed DVD that stirred up just a wee bit of controversy. That DVD I am covering today is The Top 50 Superstars of All Time (trailer). Todd Grisham hosts the DVD and chimes in every several chapters introducing the next superstar to make the list. He states in the intro the list was formed by surveying a variety of WWE superstars. He does not clarify any further, but I imagine various wrestlers were asked to rank their ten favorites and point totals were assigned to each list entry accordingly. Looking at how this list turned out however, I think the only personnel of WWE that were surveyed had their names end in McMahon.

Keeping in mind this was released originally in 2010, I realized where each superstar was in their careers at the time and that gave me a good idea on how they fared in their ranking. I was a little shocked minutes into the feature to see longtime PPV/TV headliner Batista make the cut at #49. Then I remembered this DVD hit a few months after he left the WWE after his eight year run there to pursue a Hollywood career, and it all started to make sense how this list would eventually pan out.

I will give props to this list for having each era of wrestling well represented with several prominent superstars from each decade making an appearance. This goes back to the black and white days with legends like Bruno Sammartino, Buddy Rogers, Lou Thesz and Gorgeous George to old school NWA champions like the Funks, Harley Race, Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair. Almost all of the headliners from the Rock ‘n Wrestling era of the 80s WWF and the Attitude era of the 90s to the top stars from the roster split era of the 2000s find their place on the list, just where some of those land is what caused me to bat an eyebrow.

In 2010 Hulkamania was running wild….in the longtime struggling #2 promotion in America, TNA Wrestling. Ric Flair was hanging out there too at the time. If I were to do my own top 50 list, I can guarantee you that Ric Flair would be somewhere in the top three, and even though the Hulkster is not a mat technician by any means, I cannot deny his irresistible charisma that lead to big business and great childhood memories for me that would easily land him a top ten spot. I was definitely befuddled that Ric Flair clocked in all the way back at #17. Even if someone accidentally typed the “1” in front of that number, being ranked at #7 seemed too far back for the Nature Boy. However, I was shocked exponentially more to see the Hulkster make the list all the way back near the middle of the pack at #23. Yes, that is right, 23. I will allow you to go outside and scream random profanities for a few minutes.

The controversial rankings for The Top 50 Superstars of All Time is the reason to get all worked up watching this. WWE does not have in-depth profiles for each star on the list, and even going just a couple of minutes of quick career highlights on each wrestler winds up with a feature time just under two and a half hours. As with most other WWE documentaries, they have a wide range of current and former wrestlers interviewed for the feature. Regardless what you make of the rankings, if you are a newer fan and are not that familiar with the top stars of the business in the pre-cable years, then this is a convenient history lesson to watch and learn about some of the best in the business.

The primary reason I would recommend hunting this video down is the nice array of matches on here. Disc one is just the feature, while disc two and three feature a total of 21 matches. It shames me to admit I have never seen a match with NWA legend, Lou Thesz, but a few days ago I finally saw one from 1963 where he faced Argentina Rocca. The action is far more grounded back then and it was fascinating to see how far pro wrestling has evolved since then and to see the crowd go wild for 1963’s version of high spots in the form of only a couple of quick punch and kick flurries compared to the high spots of countless finishers and reversals in any televised main event today.

Other noteworthy matches on this collection is a ‘match’ between Gorilla Monsoon and Muhammad Ali, well to call it a match is quite a stretch as it is more like Ali gets embarrassed by Gorilla and Monsoon proceeds to bury him in an interview afterwards. There is another oddity of a match, this time an actual ‘boxing’ match between Gorilla Monsoon and Andre the Giant that spins out of control right from the get go. There are a few classic title matches on here that I did not mind watching again, like Bret Hart winning his first WWF title from Ric Flair in 1992, and the Halftime Heat special where Mankind and The Rock waged war in what I believe was the WWE’s first and only empty arena match that featured creative and entertaining use from a wide range of weaponry throughout the arena.

There are a few tag team matches from the early 2000s on here that were the go home PPV show that featured wrestlers from a couple matches on the PPV teaming up to face each other in a tag team match. These transpired during the apex of the Attitude era and featured very hot crowds popping big for teams featuring that era’s best like Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, Undertaker, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho and the Hardyz. The last match featured in the collection is Edge and The Undertaker squaring off in the main event of Wrestlemania XXIV. I always thought this to be an underrated match as it featured a ton of great back and forth action with intense near falls, and probably the single greatest moment for a referee that has Charles Robinson making an all out 100-yard sprint down the Wrestlemania entrance ramp to make a pin count.

If you do not have time to watch all these individual matches, then I believe The Top 50 Superstars of All Time documentary is available in the ‘Beyond the Ring’ channel on the WWE Network. If you do have the time, then I highly recommend the DVD if you want to see a bunch of forgotten gems and oddities that make up this collection of matches on the bonus discs.

Past Wrestling Blogs

Best of WCW Monday Nitro Volume 2
Biggest Knuckleheads
Bobby The Brain Heenan
Dusty Rhodes WWE Network Specials
For All Mankind
Goldberg: The Ultimate Collection
Ladies and Gentlemen My Name is Paul Heyman
Legends of Mid South Wrestling
Macho Man: The Randy Savage Story
Memphis Heat
OMG Vol 2: Top 50 Incidents in WCW History
RoH Supercard of Honor V
RoH Supercard of Honor VI
RoH Supercard of Honor VII
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
Superstar Collection: Zach Ryder
Warrior Week on WWE Network
Wrestlemania 3: Championship Edition
Wrestlemania 28
Wrestlemania 29
Wrestlemania 30
The Wrestler (2008)
Wrestling Road Diaries Too
WWE Network Original Primetime Specials

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Dusty Rhodes WWE Network Specials

A week ago was the first day of the annual weeklong Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) event, which is the biggest week in videogame news and announcements. I usually love indulging in the year’s biggest week for gaming news and headlines. However, for the better part of E3 week I did not really care or pay much attention to what all was being announced because my mind was still trying to come to terms of the sudden passing of WWE Hall of Famer, Dusty Rhodes a couple days prior. Instead of going gaga over the year’s biggest gaming announcements, I could not stop thinking of classic Dusty memories like his unforgettable Hall of Fame ceremony induction by his sons Dustin and Cody, his legendary ‘hard times’ promo, some of his classic Starrcade matches against Ric Flair, busting a groove with Sweet Sapphire to his awesome theme song, being too sweet in the nWo, and for the love of god I could not get them freaking polka dots out of my head all last week.

I will never forget my first memory of Dusty was renting a the newest Survivor Series tape when I was six or seven, and there was a montage of wrestlers saying what they were thankful for, and you guessed it, Dusty appeared all wild eyed boasting he was thankful for what else but his polka dots. Being a na├»ve six or seven year old goof at the time I loved his polka-dotted attire, his catchy theme song along with his funky dance he did along with it that to this day are an inspiration for a majority of my moves on the dance floor. Before I realized it though, Dusty was gone from the WWE. It was not until I started watching WCW in early 1996 that I saw him pop up there during the “Monday Night Wars” doing occasional commentary work, or being involved in an angle from time to time like being the umpteenth member of the nWo or teaming with his son Dustin to face Jeff Jarrett and Ric Flair in the final WCW PPV, Greed.

From there I remember Dusty being in TNA from 2004-2005, and I recall an awful angle between him and Vince Russo doing mock election campaign ads to run for commissioner/president of TNA during the FSN era of iMpact. I remember enjoying Dusty doing a bunch of sketches where he ran the company out of a pickup truck with TNA Knockouts Trinity and Tracy as his assistants. Dusty was actually part of the booking team of TNA from 2004-2005 during this time, and I recall his main contribution was the invention of the Lockdown PPV where all the matches on the show were a cage match. The PPV has somehow stuck around ever since, and usually winds up being one of TNA’s biggest shows of the year.

Shortly after leaving TNA Dusty joined WWE in 2005 as part of the creative team, and spent his last few years training talent at WWE’s developmental league NXT. It came as no shock to see the talent of NXT and stars on the WWE roster that came from NXT like Kevin Owens, Charlotee and Seth Rollins have nothing but love for Dusty since he passed. Even though I never grew up when Dusty was a big deal in his headlining years, through the Internet and many documentaries and match collections that WWE put out on DVD over the years I came to appreciate his entire body of work from the 70s through his many cameos in various WWE storylines in his final decade where he was consistently showing up a few times a year all the way up until a few months ago.

Dusty’s passing took me a few days to come to terms with. WWE did a tremendous tribute video of him they ran on all their programming in the week following his death. I highly recommend watching it if you have not already because in less than four minutes it does a masterful job detailing the legacy he left, and is a perfect capsule at quickly reflecting back on his career and why he meant so much to the business. If you need more than four minutes, then YouTube, countless WWE DVDs and the WWE Network has you covered.

WWE put out a fantastic documentary on Dusty Rhodes in 2006 titled, American Dream: The Dusty Rhodes Story. If you do not own the DVD, have no worries as the documentary portion is already part of the many past documentaries available for viewing in the ‘Beyond the Ring’ channel of the WWE Network. Several days ago WWE Network posted a new original network special titled, Celebrating the Dream (sneak peek). It is just under an hour long, and about two thirds of it is recycled portions of the 2006 documentary chronicling his career, but the final third has new narration segments by Jerry Lawler, a new intro from Vince McMahon and several newly recorded interviews interspersed throughout featuring Stephanie McMahon, John Cena, Triple H, Ric Flair and a majority of top NXT talent closing out the feature touching on how much Dusty’s tutelage has meant to them.

The new interviews are very heartwarming for the most part, minus Stephanie’s interview where she tries to twist and turn how she bigfooted Dusty in a angle they did on television a little over a year ago, and tried to convey Dusty was great for letting her do that when it could not have been further from the truth from her revisionist history. So minus Stephanie’s comments, I really dug the new interviews, especially from the NXT talent who were the closest to Dusty in his final years. WWE has released a bunch of themed WCW match collections in recent years where you can find a ton of his matches. Of course, now with WWE Network you can just search ‘Dusty Rhodes’ and a huge listing of all his matches he appeared in all the PPVs archived on WWE Network will appear and jump you right to his match on the PPV. I highly recommend just searching ‘Dusty Rhodes promo’ on YouTube and just getting lost in one of his many vintage promos he delivered throughout his career.

Another WWE Network special featuring Dusty Rhodes was released last fall and part of the WWE Rivalries mini-series on the WWE Network that chronicled the rivalry of Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair. I just watched it yesterday and it is well worth going out of your way to watch. It highlights Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair both breaking into the business in the AWA and features some very old school Dusty and Ric Flair promos from the early-to-mid 70s I never saw before when both were obviously really early in their careers. It highlights both Dusty’s and Ric’s rise to the top of the NWA, with the two eventually clashing in the Starrcade ’84 and ’85 main events. This hour long special is comprised of new interviews from Dusty, Ric and many of their peers at the time like Arn Anderson, Terry Funk, Tully Blanchard, Jim Ross, Tony Schivane and the WWE even tracked down legendary wrestling ‘journalist’ Bill Apter who photographed many of these classic moments for his series of magazines like Pro Wrestling Illustrated. It does a great job revisiting this period in wrestling where this feud benefitting from a more intense sports-like atmosphere of the NWA at the time compared to the homogenized product the WWE was morphing into by the mid-80s.

So if you do not have all day to watch countless Dusty Rhodes matches and interviews, and only got about two hours to spare, then the best way to spend them is to watch the newly released Celebrating the Dream special on WWE Network, and follow it up with the Rivalries: Rhodes vs. Flair special on WWE Network. Then one last time, watch WWE’s amazing tribute video to him as you try your best not to shed some tears to it.

Past Wrestling Blogs

Best of WCW Monday Nitro Volume 2
Biggest Knuckleheads
Bobby The Brain Heenan
For All Mankind
Goldberg: The Ultimate Collection
Ladies and Gentlemen My Name is Paul Heyman
Legends of Mid South Wrestling
Macho Man: The Randy Savage Story
Memphis Heat
OMG Vol 2: Top 50 Incidents in WCW History
RoH Supercard of Honor V
RoH Supercard of Honor VI
RoH Supercard of Honor VII
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
Superstar Collection: Zach Ryder
Warrior Week on WWE Network
Wrestlemania 3: Championship Edition
Wrestlemania 28
Wrestlemania 29
Wrestlemania 30
The Wrestler (2008)
Wrestling Road Diaries Too
WWE Network Original Primetime Specials

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

For Love of the Game

Last year, I finally got around to watching my DVD and blogging about the classic Kevin Costner baseball film of 1989, Field of Dreams. Currently, MLB is a third into the 2015 season, and the Twins are doing surprisingly better than anyone anticipated this season under new manager, hall-of-famer and my all-time favorite ball player, Paul Molitor. That said, it gives me sufficient enough reason to bust out the classic Kevin Costner baseball film that hit a decade later in 1999, For Love of the Game (trailer). Actually, I watched it for the first time from a Netflix disc rental a year or two ago and shortly thereafter ordered a copy online.

Kevin Costner knows no bounds for baseball movies as For Love of the Game marked his third hardball film behind Bull Durham and Field of Dreams. Costner plays Billy Chapel, 18 year veteran of the Detroit Tigers. The film has a tough opening for Chapel, where he is bumped ahead in rotation to play in the final game of their losing season at legendary Yankees Stadium. On the morning of the game, team owner Gary Wheeler (Brian Cox) informs Chapel he sold the Tigers and the new owners want to trade Chapel to the Giants, but Wheeler suggests to stick it to the new owners by retiring instead. Finally, off-and-on again girlfriend Jane (Kelly Preston) stood him up on a date the night before and informs Billy that same morning she is moving to London that very night.

Add it all up and Chapel goes into the last game of the season understandably pissed off. Tigers manager Frank (JK Simmons) tries to substitute a better batting catcher, but Chapel demands that longtime friend Gus (John C. Reilly) catches or else he does not pitch. Director Sam Raimi (yes, of Evil Dead and Spider-Man fame) did a superb job with the casting and cinematography for this film. Nearly all cast members from top to bottom supporting players seem perfectly casted. The atmosphere Raimi sets up at the ballpark going into the first pitch perfectly captures why I love going to baseball games and that magical essence that simply consumes you as you become part of America’s pastime.

The baseball game Chapel is pitching is only half the story however. Shortly after the baseball game starts a half hour in, the game bounces back to Jane, who cannot escape watching Chapel pitch from hearing it in a taxi to being forced to watch it as she endures plane delays. For Love of the Game then proceeds in a different storytelling direction, by having random flashbacks to Billy & Jane’s life in their five year relationship from when they first met, to their many ups and downs over the years. Flashbacks are an easy storytelling device, but the way Raimi incorporates them here is incredibly effective as the film bounces transitions from an inning of the game, and then to another flashback throughout all nine innings of play.

Most of the flashbacks are well done, but there are a couple clunkers. The film dwells a little too much on Jane not wanting to become a ‘ball player groupie’ before finally committing to Chapel….as his exclusive girlfriend whenever the Tigers are in town playing the Yankees. For a long time the film never really establishes if Chapel is chasing after Jane as his exclusive girlfriend, for all I know he is just trying to secure a lady friend in New York and has others all across the country for the other teams he plays. That gripe aside, most of the flashbacks are well produced and effectively tell the story of their rocky relationship.

Back on the sports side of the film, Gus gets his moment in the sun in a great sequence by making a double and eventually coming home scoring. As the innings and flashbacks cruise by, Chapel realizes he has a perfect game going into the 8th inning. Gus delivers the stereotypical-yet-powerful feel good speech to motivate Chapel to continue on and For Love of the Game has some truly great baseball sequences play out with the Tigers’ defense turning it up in a few nail-biter plays to keep Chapel’s perfecto alive.

Props again to Raimi for gradually increasing the ‘big game’ feel throughout the film to the point of where Yankees’ fans are even rooting for Chapel so they can witness history. Going into the last inning, the film’s TV announcers hype up the historic moment accordingly, and Costner is terrific with his standout moment on the mound praying for one last shutout inning. I will tip my hat to Raimi again getting me on my toes watching this film with some masterful foreshadowing setting up the final, 27th batter, because I will forever remember what happened to Galarraga five years ago on the 27th batter he faced going for his perfect game.

For Love of the Game manages to be that rare hybrid that excels at both showcasing the sport and also telling a great romance off-the-field. Neither part feels tacked on, and both sides feel like they were treated with equal attention. To also successfully pull off the feat of what it feels like to witness the rare feat of baseball’s ultimate achievement, the perfect game, is a major success for the entire cast and crew of the film. I get all worked up watching a baseball game whenever just three innings of perfect play transpire, and to witness Costner go through playing out the perfect game here does an authentic job at making me feel those irresistible goosebumps.

This movie was not a quick watch by any means given the aforementioned nature it was shot as it clocks in around two and a quarter hours, but you better believe Raimi had to make some tough cuts as there are an additional 21 minutes of deleted scenes. I got the feeling For Love of the Game originally was a soft R rating because the alternate scenes have several more expletives and a couple more suggestive scenes. There is also a 20 minute Spotlight on Location feature interviewing the cast and crew about the film, and they provide plenty of good insight and facts about the production like how Raimi tried to get as many actual ball players and umpires casted for an authentic atmosphere and how Costner was constantly iced up off camera because he was throwing hundreds of pitches a day during production. To close off the extras, there is a list of all 18 perfect games going into this film’s release in 1999. There have been a few more since, but this list just went to show you how rare and big of an accomplishment the perfect game is.

Thank you for indulging me crush on baseball throughout this review. Along with my blog a couple years ago chronicling getting back into the sport and my review of Field of Dreams last year, this seems to be a recurring yearly theme here. Obviously I am just a wee bit biased in this review, but if you have any passion for the sport of baseball, and do not mind a great romance story on top of it, then you owe it to yourself to watch For Love of the Game.

Other Random Backlog Movie Blogs


3
12 Angry Men (1957)
21 Jump Street
Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie
Atari: Game Over
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Bounty Hunters
Cabin in the Woods
Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Clash of the Titans (1981)
Clint Eastwood 11-pack Special
Dirty Work
Faster
Field of Dreams
Fight Club
The Fighter
For Love of the Game
Good Will Hunting
Hercules: Reborn
Hitman
Ink
Man of Steel
Marine 3 & 4
Mortal Kombat
The Replacements
Rocky I-VI
Running Films Part 1
Running Films Part 2
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Source Code
Star Trek I-XII
Take Me Home Tonight
TMNT
The Tooth Fairy 1 & 2
Veronica Mars
The Wrestler (2008)

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Rocky IV

As mentioned in my review of Rocky III, that film marked the franchise going in a more campy direction. 1985’s Rocky IV (trailer) embraces the campiness full scale as the theme for this film is essentially Rocky vs. the Soviet Union. Like Rocky III, yesterday marked my first time watching Rocky IV since 2004 and I went into it with fond memories of Balboa crushing communism and equal love/disgust for Paulie’s robot. I also watched this with bonus audio commentary from Dan Ryckert and Drew Scanlon of giantbomb.com, and it only made the film more delightful to take in as Dan’s natural fandom and love for the Rocky series is ever present in his commentary and you can tell it definitely rubs off a little bit on Drew by the end of the movie who is watching Rocky IV for the first time.

Like the previous films, Rocky IV opens with the final moments of the closing fight of the previous film, which was Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) beating Clubber Lang (Mr. T) to regain his world championship. We then fast forward to modern day where Rocky is enjoying his success at home again with him, his son Rocky Jr. and wife Adrian (Talia Shire) throwing a birthday party for Adrian’s brother Paulie (Burt Young). I was happy to see Burt Young slim up for Rocky II and how they really reformed his character, but by Rocky IV he regressed back to being the burly, outspoken drunken Paulie we all know and love. They give Paulie a robot for his birthday, and the robot is so dumb and out of place for this film that I cannot help but be happy that this talking robot is the perfect match for the silly nature of Paulie.

Within minutes of Rocky IV I could not help but accept how off-the-rails the movies have become. Rocky’s former rival and new best friend, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) embraces the silliness too as he is so outraged at Soviet Union amateur boxing champion Ivan Drago (Dolph Lungdren) announcing himself entering United States boxing competition that he accepts his invitation for a boxing exhibition to prove himself to the American audience. Rocky and Adrian try to warn Apollo not to do the fight as he has been retired for five years and they think he does not have what it takes to compete with a hungry monster like Drago.
Creed’s powers of smooth-talking puts their reservations to rest, and Creed shows up to the exhibition fight with the most flamboyant entrance in boxing history. This entrance puts his patriotic All-American entrances from the first two films to shame as he comes out busting a groove in vintage Apollo-form with countless backup dancers and James Brown singing “Living in America” in almost its entirety. I could not help but love how ridiculous it was and how fitting it is for Apollo, and if half the film’s budget went to the Super Bowl halftime show-like spectacle that was Apollo’s entrance than it was definitely worth it.

It is too bad the entrance did nothing for Creed’s performance in the ring as Drago shows no mercy in this fight as he literally beats Apollo Creed TO DEATH! A devastated Balboa swears vengeance for his fallen BFF and since Drago is essentially blackballed from America for killing one of its heroes, Rocky must now travel to the Soviet Union on Drago’s home turf on Christmas day no less to avenge Apollo’s death while also vanquishing Communism and fighting for the All-American way. It is from here the film goes into fifth gear montage overdrive as we get nearly a half hour of a series of montages starting off with a franchise first sad montage of Rocky going into self doubt and reflecting on his past memories of Apollo, and then a montage of him arriving in the Soviet Union. We save the best montage for last however as we are treated to the quintessential Rocky training montage set to the awesome 80s power ballad, “Hearts on Fire” that shows Drago working out to the latest hi-tech gym gadgetry while Balboa says “screw the gym, I am going to run up mountains, chop wood, drag sleds through the snow and run up a mountain!” It is by far, the manliest training montage in all of cinema history and just writing this sentence and reliving it now makes me want to go do a run in the woods and chop down some trees!

When it comes to the big final fight in the Soviet Union, Drago gets a hero’s entrance set to the Soviet Union national anthem, while Rocky comes out to a chorus of boos from an audience that wants to see him go down in flames. The fight itself is a thing of beauty, as both Drago and Rocky go the distance treating us to a 15-round epic shot in the same way as the first two Rocky films where we see the first two rounds in their entirety, and then a montage of rounds 3-14 that sets the stage for the final, 15th round where everything comes to a boil. I made sure to keep track, and Balboa gets knocked down a whopping six times by the ferocious Drago, but of course Rocky keeps getting up!

The final fight tells a great story that through Balboa’s natural fighting spirit and never-give-up attitude that he wins over the crowd by the final round and turns them in his favor. After the fight he gives a fantastic interview where he delivers the classic closing line, “Everyone can change” to the audience’s approval, and even the Soviet Union officials watching from the balcony cannot resist but give Rocky a standing ovation. Yes, by the film’s end Rocky singlehandedly crushes Communism and ends the Cold War…at least that is how I perceived it.

A part of me wishes I was my age now when Rocky IV hit theaters as I recall hearing various stories over the years on how Rocky IV got actual standing ovations when the credits hit. I believe it too, because in 1985 we were still five years away from the end of the Cold War, and Rocky IV was the perfect answer to help us fantasize the end of it. I have a special place on the side for Rocky IV in the echelon of the Rocky films. I love Rocky I, II and Rocky Balboa as serious, prestige sports films, but because Rocky IV is so ridiculous and campy with Rocky crushing Communism and avenging his friend’s in-ring death, and the awesome final fight sequence all combines for one of the all-time greatest feel-good sports movies.

Past Rocky Blogs

Rocky III
Rocky II
Rocky

Rocky III

Since I missed out on May with a blog from the Rocky franchise, today I will attempt to make up for it with a two-for-one special covering 1982’s Rocky III and 1985’s Rocky IV. While on the topic of boxing, I want to mention how I watched the big Mayweather/Pacquiao fight on PPV last month at the town’s local Buffalo Wild Wings with a friend, and got really into the fight. I read a few reports online afterwards that were disappointed that it was not a over-the-top slugfest, but I somehow got really into the defensive clinic Mayweather put on and got lost in the ‘sweet science’ of it all. A couple weeks later, I then went with the same friend to a local boxing card put on in town where he had a family member winning in the main event. I had a great time at my first ever all-boxing live event, so combine that with attempting to watch all the Rocky films this year and I can safely say this has been the biggest year for boxing for me yet.

Before watching the Rocky movies again this year on the recent BluRay collection I acquired, I only watched the first five Rocky films once each after a marathon session of one a week when I bought them in a DVD set back in 2004. So this marks my first time watching Rocky III (trailer) since. My memories of it were that aside from the awesome fight scenes, it was a bit too campy and that it tried to do too much in too little time resulting in one of the weaker films of the series. For the most part, Rocky III is a shift in tone as it no longer is going for the dramatic prestige tone that the two films before it did. It opens with the closing moments of Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) finally beating Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) to win the world title at the end of Rocky II.

After the intro there is what else, but a montage of Rocky going on a successful stretch of 10 title defenses. During this montage we witness Balboa transform from the loveable everyman underdog into a corporate champion doing charity work, birthday parties and countless commercials and endorsements. It was like when Steve Austin almost accepted Vince McMahon’s evil offer of selling out to become a corporate champion right after he won his first world title back in 1998. Stallone directed both of the films I am covering today, and I think he was a little too successful in making me hate the Rocky character during this montage. You know what grinds my gears…wait for it…corporate sell outs with holier than though commercials, like the pretentious ‘Michael Vick Experience’ ad from when Vick was lighting up the Falcons in the early 2000s and awful memories of nearly everyone abusing his overpowered scrambling ability in online Madden games. Vick was doing all kinds of awful commercials like this taking in every easy endorsement, it was almost like all this money shoved in his face was a precursor that would lead him down a dark path to….oh yeah.

The Michael Vick analogy somewhat relates to Rocky as we witness Balboa transform into this not-so-loveable character anymore doing all these endorsements, while during the same montage we are introduced to Clubber Lang (Mr. T) who shared my disgust of Balboa selling out and being fed easy contenders. Yes, Rocky III was the breakout film for Mr. T that lead to him launching the successful A-Team TV series and doing countless commercials afterwards for many years to come. Lang vents his frustrations to move his way up the ranks to #1 contender status and challenges Rocky to a fight at a special ceremony unveiling the legendary Rocky Balboa statue in Philadelphia that is still standing today. Rocky’s trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith) warns Balboa he has been handpicking him easy fights and that Lang is a killer not to be messed with, but Rocky does not take his warning seriously as we witness him in a so-cheesy-bad-it’s awesome AWFUL TRAINING MONTAGE! Rocky III is filled with so many montages I could not find this one to link to, but I swear it is hilarious watching Balboa mug for the camera for pictures and take kisses from adoring fans during his training while Lang is tearing up a dark, gritty gym. It is legendary material!

We get to the Lang/Balboa fight midway through the film, and during the prefight entrance Lang gets in Rocky’s face and shoves Mick which causes Mick to get a heart attack and die!!! Balboa goes into the fight mentally distraught and loses the title to Lang in a brutal beat down that was over in two rounds. We were warned earlier in the film that Mick had heart problems after getting woozy during a big kerfluffle at a Rocky vs. Thunderlips (Hulk Hogan) boxer vs. wrestler charity fight. Yes, this film also brought nationwide attention to the Hulkster and was the launchpad for Hulkamania taking off a year later in the then-WWF. Did I mention all this has happened in just the first half of a film that is only just over an hour and a half long!?!?

The last half of the film has Apollo Creed catching up with Balboa in mourning back at Mick’s old gym. Carl Weathers is once again masterful as the smooth-talking Apollo Creed as he convinces Balboa to be his trainer and get him ready for a rematch with Lang! Apollo convinces Rocky that he needs to recapture that fighter’s “eye of the tiger” which also happens to be the new hit single on the soundtrack that is essentially the theme song for this film, and now associated as one of THE top songs of many runner playlists. From here we get out of the awful, corporate sellout atmosphere to a much more appreciate back-to-basics tone when Balboa trains with Creed at his first gym. The training starts off poorly for Rocky, but a good-natured and well delivered speech from Rock’s wife Adrian (Talia Shire) is all the impetus Balboa needs to get ‘the eye’ for an awesome training montage with Rock and Apollo busting out all kinds of sports gear for then-newcomer sportswear company Nike.

Rock goes into the film’s final act now slimmer, wiser and better prepared for Lang. Unlike the final fight in the previous two films, this is not a 15 round epic, but instead a fast and intense three rounds we see play it out in its entirety complete with over-the-top sound effects for all the punches that sounded like the fighters were unleashing gunfire out of a Stallone Rambo movie instead of taking actual sounding boxing punches, but it makes the final fight all the more epic for it. I love the film’s final showdown, as both Rocky and Lang are intense and deliver an awesome over-the-top slugfest that we want out of all boxing fights in real life, but we will have to make peace with them primarily existing on the silver screen instead. Once I got wise to Rocky’s strategy I was back on board the Balboa bandwagon and wanted him to knock Lang’s lights out.

After Balboa emerges (SPOILER!) victorious in the rematch, the film has an unforgettable closing scene where Apollo wants a favor from Rocky for tacking him under his tutelage. Creed gets that favor in a one-on-one closed gym fighting session with Balboa that Apollo kicks off with his metaphorical bell ringing proclamation, “DING-DING” that has lived on in infamy and quoted many times over ever since. I went into Rocky III kind of dreading it, and while the film takes the franchise in a campier direction than I wanted with a few cringe-worthy moments of Balboa living the high life that is a bit of a pain to sit through, it all makes sense in the form of Rocky regaining his fighting spirit and vanquishing Lang in the end and making a new best friend in former rival Apollo Creed.

After watching this again 11 years later I realize I took for granted all the great things Rocky IIIintroduced the world to. For better or worse, it made Hulk Hogan and Mr. T into superstars, it gave athletes one of the best motivational songs to work out to with “Eye of the Tiger,” it helped give a then-up-and-coming Nike major nationwide attention and Rocky III is responsible for one of the best closing lines in cinema history! I think I still rank this film behind I, II, IV and Rocky Balboa in my rankings, but now it is just a notch or two under them where before I thought of it as more of a mediocre entry.

I was going to combine my review for Rocky IV here, but I went far longer than I anticipated with this review that I am going to have to dedicate a new blog to Rocky IV. Long time readers know I love indulging in behind-the-scenes extra features, but thank goodness in this case there are none on the BluRay or else this review would be even longer for you to endure.

Past Rocky Blogs

Rocky II
Rocky