Sunday, August 31, 2008

Rocky (1976)

So, growing up, my brother loved Rocky Balboa and whenever Christmas or his birthday came around, "Rocky" memorabilia was a must (or at least, an easy gift). I've seen all of the movies in the series, but admittedly some of them bleed together, and certain aspects of them faded away or were downplayed in my head. For instance, upon this revisiting (my first time seeing it in a theater), I had forgotten how little the original had to do with boxing. It was surprising to discover that it's mostly about two emotionally-retarded thirty-somethings falling in love, "middle-school style" as my gal pal put it.

Rocky Balboa is a "never-was" boxer in Philadelphia, who works as a hired thug for a gangster named Gazzo (the great Joe Spinell of "Maniac" and many amazing films from the 70's). Rocky's got the physical prowess, but he's too nice of a guy for that kind of work. Rocco has it tough all over though, the kids in the neighborhood don't respect him ("creepo)," the gym he spars at gave away his locker (after 6 years) because he's "a bum," and the mousy girl (Talia Shire) at the pet shop won't give him the time of day.

His best friend, Paulie (played by the amazing Burt Young), works at a meat-packing facility, and helps set Rocky up with Adrian, the girl from the pet shop (and Paulie's sister). As things progress with Adrian, Rock is presented with a once in a lifetime opportunity to fight Apollo Creed (the charismatic Carl Weathers), the World Heavyweight Champion in an unprecedented novelty fight, pitting a total unknown again the Champ. Creed sees it not just as a gimmick, but as the ultimate celebration of the nation's bicentennial, and spirit of America. As he puts it, "'Apollo Creed versus the Italian Stallion,' sounds like a damn monster movie."

Burgess Meredith, of course, is great as Micky, the crotchety old boxing trainer who sees the potential Rocky, and resents him for not living up to it. I kind of wanted more Micky in this movie, but I guess that's what the sequel is for. As the movie progresses, Rocky trains and has to deal with the pressure of being in the limelight for the first time in his life.

As Rock has more success in boxing and in love, Paulie suffers from feelings of being left behind, not just by Rocky, but by his Adrian as well. I can't say enough about Burt Young, who seemed old in 1976, and is still alive today. He reprised his role in the last film in the series, "Rocky Balboa," and he basically looks the same. Why hasn't this guy had a better career?

He's always reminded me of my Dad.

Speaking of "Rocky Balboa," I really liked that movie when I first saw it 2006, and I've been re-watching it recently since seeing the original in the theater, and all I've got to say is that it really is quite good. It's such a nice companion piece to the original. When I first watched it, I felt in the first 20 minutes that Paulie was Rocky's guardian angel or something, but it turned out that it was just eerie lighting. But whenever I watch it, I like to imagine that he is.

Highlights of this viewing included:

-The great score by Bill Conti. Obviously the Main Theme is classic, but the downbeat Mellon collie stuff is really effective.

-The cinematography of Philadelphia is beautiful.

-Talia Shire's overall look.

Anyway, "Rocky" is pretty great and I'll go the distance with anyone who tries to tell me otherwise.

"Rocky" screened at 7:30 on 8/24/08 at Piper's Alley in Chicago, Ill.

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