Thursday, May 18, 2017

Rocky Through a Kid's Eyes: The Passing of the Torch

November 25, 2015

One would think, that after they sat on the edge of their seats cheering for the six films in the franchise, it would have been easy for me to convince my wife and daughter to see the Rocky torch get passed when Creed was in the theater…

Or even, to see it when it was first released on Blu Ray.

Maybe, when I got it for Christmas?

Apparently the memories of six movies weren’t enough to defeat a lifetime of, “I don’t like boxing,” and we watched it a couple of weeks ago.

The reason I ended up pushing for it more than the considerable amount I had been came from a un-birthday present, once more reminding me that I am a historic boxing fan.  (Thanx Mom!)

Based mostly on thinking Dad would have loved it, and being a fan of the author, she got me Jerry Izenberg’s new book, Once There Were Giants: The Golden Age of Heavyweight Boxing.

What she didn’t know: the only reason I would ever read the sports section of the Star Ledger, was to read his columns. This included when they were about sports I didn’t care about in the least.
(Translation- almost all of them.)

For fans of his writing, or of boxing in general, it was an amazing journey through what may be the most unmatched period of greatness in any sport.  The events highlighted are mostly firsthand accounts of bouts and meetings from the rise of Ali over Liston to the fall of Tyson.  There’s also a pile of information about times and champions before and after, and why they don’t qualify for membership in The Golden Age.

I read the book in about a day and a half, downloaded a bunch of newly glaring omissions in the heavyweight roster of Fight Night:Champion, and began nagging the snot out of my family to watch Creed.

Major spoiler:
They ended up at the edge of their seats cheering yet again.

This film is a hand off to a new direction but also a return to the roots.

It’s a reminder of why the boxing movie works, because it is a perfectly stripped down analogy for any challenge faced in life.

There is planning, research and training involved beforehand.
(“Chickens are slowing down.”)

There are many inherent qualities that affect a person’s ability to meet the challenge.
(“You can’t teach reach.” – Not from the movie, but it could be.)

Once you get in the ring, or face the challenge, a million things surface you didn’t plan for, and most of it you have to deal with on your own.
(“If I take the name on, and I lose… they’ll say I’m a letdown, and not worthy of the name.”)

But there are always people to inspire you to succeed.
(“Its three minutes! One punch at a time. All your pain, all your love. Turn it loose kid, don’t hold anything back.”)

Much like Adonis Johnson in the movie itself, the film stands on its own, and proves itself worthy of the legacy of the name.
(Rocky externally, Creed internally.)

True to Rocky tradition, there are real world boxers and ring men on screen to add to the authenticity achieved through the filming techniques, and (underrated due to their realism) makeup effects.

And this film joins the Rocky ranks of movies you want to pause to go work out in the middle of a training scene during.

Musically, it stands on its own. But there are a few hints of the themes of the past to make the old fans smile…
Most importantly, they save the full blast “Gonna Fly Now” fanfare for exactly the right moment to bring a cheer and tear.

Michel B. Jordan as Adonis carries the weight of the legacy on his shoulders well both as an actor and character.  Adonis is not perfect, but his contrition of his jerkier moments goes hand in hand with his likability to keep the crowd in his corner.

Tessa Thompson as Bianca is a far more extroverted love interest Adrian was, but provides the same emotional anchor. She also has her own,  far more independent, story of hopes, dreams and challenges outside Adonis.

Side Note: They snuck in one extra “F-word” than a PG-13 usually gets for a total of two.  When the focus stayed on the love scene slightly longer than usual for a Rocky film, my daughter asked indignantly, “How can this be PG-13?”  The instant scene change provided me a handy answer:

“Because they immediately cut to a disgusted looking turtle.”

When I was a kid, I thought Lavelle Roby playing Mary Ann Creed was Phylicia Rashad.   Well, now I’m right…I guess. Anyway, she did a fabulous job, as always, playing both the pain and nobility of the character.

Sylvester Stallone once again reminds everyone that he really can act, by coming back to yet another version of Rocky.  He gives us a man never known for his intelligence, who is now able to pass on the wisdom he’s acquired through the years to the far more educated than previous franchise boxers Adonis.

Yeah, that knowledge isn’t wisdom lesson…it’s an important one.

Rocky’s own struggles, shown side by side with Adonis’s training, highlight my point once again, about the power of the boxing analogy for life’s challenges.

Since I’ve babbled my way full circle, I guess I’ll get off here after a final mechanics of boxing thought.

He’s Apollo’s son, and Rocky’s trainee.  When he fights it’s a mix of the two styles:
-       The bullheadedness of getting inside to the body and the inhuman stamina and resistance of Rocky Balboa
-       The attitude, timing, footwork, and jab technique of Apollo Creed.

I think they may have reversed the whole “nature versus nurture” thing with that one.

But in the name of Hollywood feel good magic, it works fantastically.

Rocky Links

Please click here for the good films
Please click here for the over the top films.
Please click here for the capstone  films.

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