Monday, September 28, 2015

Rocky Balboa

I held off on watching the last of the Rocky films, 2006’s Rocky Balboa (trailer), until the day before I ran my town’s annual half-marathon race. I needed that inspirational film to get my psyche in that right place, and you cannot go wrong with a Rocky film. The “Itallian Stallion” also needed some inspiration in 2006 as Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) returns to the ring all these years later to see if he still has something left “in the basement” for one last hurrah on his terms.

If you are new to the Rocky films and have been following along in these blogs with me, you will recall the last film took place in 1990, so I do not blame you for thinking how the hell can Balboa return all these years later and prove to be a legitimate threat. In the extra features interviews, Stallone provides some valid justifications for this plot after George Foreman’s comeback in 1994 to win the heavyweight title. Stallone returns to the director’s chair for this film and he is going for the serious sports drama feel like the first pair of Rocky films that I prefer against the over-the-top nature of the middle films.

A lot has changed for Rocky since 1990, foremost he is now widowed as his former wife Adrian passed away from breast cancer a few years earlier. The film does a great job at making it apparent that Balboa is still living in the past and has not moved on as Rocky takes Adrian’s brother, Paulie (Burt Young) on the annual tour where they revisit a lot of the couple’s old spots across Philly. To make matter worse, Rocky has grown distant from his son, Rocky Jr. (Milo Ventimiglia) since Adrian’s death as he has troubles trying to reconnect with him since Adrian passed.

Rocky finds a pick-me-up with a new friend he has not seen in quite some time that I alluded to in my entry for the first film. Remember 12-year old Little Marie that talked back to Rock and called him a creep-o? In 2006, Marie (Geraldine Hughes) is all grown up now and is a bartender at the old watering hole from the first film, the Lucky Seven Tavern. Rocky gets reacquainted with her and takes in Marie and her son Steps (James Kelly III) as his new family to get him through these hard times he is living through and gets them jobs at the Italian restaurant he owns, fittingly called “Adrian’s.”

While Rocky is getting his life together, the present boxing, champ, Mason “The Line” Dixon (Antonio Tarver) is getting ripped apart in the press for steamrolling through the competition and not having any marquee fights. ESPN stirs the pot by running a nice looking computer animated test of what would happen if Balboa and Dixon met in the ring. All the buzz the computer test generates motivates Rocky to make a comeback to the ring.

I absolutely love the casting for these new characters. Tarver, Hughes, Kelly and Ventimiglia are all perfect in their roles and they all blend in perfectly in the Rocky universe. I also will give props to Stallone on his cinematography for the film. He has a great running theme with a majority of the film taking place at night to capture the rough downtown feel of Philly, and he really brings it out with bright street lights really make the city come to life on film. May favorite highpoints in this film are a pair of fantastic scenes where Rocky pleads his case to the boxing commission to get his license back and a very heartfelt exchange with his son to win him over and get him back on his side, and features my favorite quotes of the film that emphatically concludes with “that’s how winning is done!”

Rocky Balboa hits all the right beats you want out of a Rocky film. Rocky gets really down on his luck and nobody believes in him. He eventually wins over the doubters, and has a legendary training montage that fittingly got me revved up for the final fight. We get a vintage Paulie freakout, and many classic quotes old and new throughout the film such as “fighter’s fight,” “ain’t over until it’s over,” and “let’s start building some hurting bombs!”

I will tip my cap to Stallone and MGM for going all out in the final fight sequence and teaming with HBO who were gracious to let them piggy back off them for using their HD cameras and ring attire to film the Balboa/Dixon clash to give it a very authentic telecast feel. The fight looks the best of all the films’ fights and the announcers they brought in make it seem like you are watching the real thing. Stallone trained hard for this film and does a fine job at proving he can still go at his age and be a believable threat to Dixon. The fight follows the classic Rocky formula of showing the first two rounds in their entirety, and then a montage of the middle rounds before finishing things off with an epic final round in its entirety and sure enough, I was on the edge of my seat totally invested in this fake fight by the time the bell sounded to kick off the final round. The film concludes in a very appropriate nod to the end of the first Rocky that felt like the right thing to do and I would not have wanted it any other way.

After going four films without any extra features in this BluRay collection of the films, it was good to see Rocky Balboa offer up a hearty amount of extras. Unfortunately they are all carried over from the film’s initial video release with no new extras. But what is here is still quite good. Stallone has a solo commentary full of insightful fact about the production, but he has plenty of noticeable lulls and I would have preferred him to team up with someone on the commentary for him to bounce off of and keep the dialogue flowing. There are 23 minutes of deleted and alternate scenes, and I recommend checking out most of them because there are a few pivotal scenes in here presented in a completely different way. I like the scenes the film went with in the final cut, but these are definitely worth checking out on what could have been.

Skill vs. Will is a 17 minute making of feature on the film that dissects the casting of the new characters and what it took to get a new Rocky film green-lit all these years later that I recommend watching. Definitely check out Reality in the Ring, a 15 minute take on how Stallone and MGM teamed with HBO to film the final fight and how Dixon and Stallone did not pull any punches and were told multiple times to ease up in the ring. The extras finish off with a quick five minute piece on the tech used to make the CG animated fight.

Rocky Balboa is a great final chapter to Balboa’s in-ring career. It helps erase that questionable street fight scene of Rocky V being your last memory of a Balboa fight and gave the good story of Rocky going out on his own terms. By the end of the film, Balboa proved that by getting through this fight that he was able to move on with his life. Along with the first two Rocky films, this is up there with being my favorite, and ask me any day of the week which one is my favorite and I will randomly tell you one of those three are.

So that wraps up my entries for the six films covered in the Rocky Undisputed Collection. We are not all the finished however. As you are likely aware there is a seventh film in the Rocky franchise coming out this fall titled Creed (trailer). It keeps up the trend of at least one Rocky film coming out a decade since the 1970s. No, Balboa is not stepping into the ring again, as now he is stepping into the role of mentor/trainer for who else, but Apollo Creed’s son. Needless to say, the trailer has got me jacked and I am really anticipating this film. Rest assured I will pick up the home video release and make sure the film gets its just due here. So thank you again for reliving all the Rocky films with me, and please join me here in several months for my coverage of Creed.
Past Rocky Blogs

Rocky V
Rocky IV
Rocky III
Rocky II

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