Monday, March 24, 2014

Rocky Through a Kid’s Eyes: the Over the Top Ones

The next two entries into the series were VERY Eighties. They contained far more music video montages and far less substance than the original stories. Because of this, they have been hit with much retrospective criticism. 

This is largely from people who weren’t there.

The critics seem to miss the point that the films WORKED. They pervaded popular culture, made a mint and the box office, and had the nation training and singing.

Heck, I watched Rocky III working out to get psyched up for my wedding.

It is ridiculous to view them only as individual films, when they built on everything that came before.

The original Rocky Series used each movie as one of the phases that individual films went through:

Rocky trains (Rocky III)
Rocky fights (Rocky IV)

As the two phases these movies represent, they were exemplary.

Rocky III
May 28, 1982

By the third film, my wife and daughter were both invested in the characters to the point that my daughter cheered again for the rerun of the Rocky II fight, and yelled in sympathetic pain as the ever frowning Rocky was pummeled by Hulk Hogan.

Both she and my wife agreed heavily with Adrian’s, “I don’t like this.”

She was completely confused as to why Balboa chose the overly publicized and soft gym to prepare for the fight with Clubber Lang.  However, she did completely understand it was a poor decision.

Each distraction and halfhearted exercise technique was greeted with a flat,
This was usually, immediately followed by a variation of:
“He’s going to get clobbered/creamed/smeared.”

By the time the first round of the conflict was underway, my wife joined in.
“Ow! He’s gonna get killed.”

As continuing proof that I’m probably not the best role model when it comes to sports, or being competitive in general, my child had absolutely no idea why Apollo showed up or what “Going back to the beginning,” meant.

Luckily, an excellent “Eye of the Tiger” tutorial was available on screen.

Two cinematic items I’d like to address about this portion of the saga:

1) Paulie went above and beyond his usual personality dysfunctions to be constantly negative, insulting, racist and uncouth.  The fact that he remained endearing and entertaining is a testament to Burt Young’s acting ability and charisma.

2)  The scene on the beach where Rocky admitted to Adrian:

 “I'M AFRAID! ALL RIGHT?! YOU WANT TO HEAR ME SAY IT? You want to break me down? All right, I'm afraid. For the first time in my life, I'm afraid.”

Stallone played the scene for all he had, and Talia Shire proved yet again why she wasn't cast as Connie Corleone only because she was the director's sister.  My wife and daughter were both completely focused on and riveted by the dialogue and emotions of the scene, which ended with a highly romantic kiss.  There are many Chick Flicks out there that consist solely of two people at the sea shore discussing their feelings for one another and smooching.   Those movies, however, are considerably lacking in the type of action scenes that Rocky III demonstrated with two heavyweight championship fights and the appearance of a guest Professional Wrestler. As the characters and events were constructed such that the violent scenes also fully captured their attention, I submit this as proof that Icky Boy Movies have inherent superiority to Chick Flicks.  If the emotional disgorgement scenes are boring in a Chick Flick, there’s nothing left. However, if they’re dull in an Icky Boy Movie, there’s still gratuitous face punching to provide entertainment.

The cheering of my family and excitement of Rocky’s final battle with Clubber Lang matched (or possibly exceeded, due to anger at Mickey’s demise) the previous films’ fights.  The only minor interruptions came from my daughter’s constant barrage of requests as to what the favor Apollo asked for was going to be.

That ending was far too cool for me to spoil, though.


Rocky IV

November 27, 1985

No wonder that Soviet monster was so mean, his manager was a Klingon!
(Who also fought Remo Williams and the Sidehackers,  Performed the "Malachi Crunch on Pinky Tuscadero, and directed a dirty version of Cinderella...Man how evil can one guy be?)

My daughter found Drago extremely scary, his looks, his voice and even his wife. She constantly pointed this out while he was on screen, using a veritable thesaurus of synonyms to express her dissatisfaction.

She went as far as “He looks like the devil,” at one point. 

There was a bit more educational viewing time when it came to Apollo’s Vegas entry.  It’s really hard to explain that city to a nine year old, but the visual aids provided by the film helped quite a bit.

She and my wife were more vocal about the “Master of Disaster” having no chance against the “Siberian Express” than they were about Rocky’s initial fight with Clubber. 

And justifiably so, I might add.

I had to pause the movie and attempt to explain Balboa giving up his title to fight Drago afterwards.  My family, again probably due to my lack of being a competitive example, were firmly in Adrian’s court wondering aloud, “Who is going to avenge Rocky?”

My wife very simply stated, yet again, “He’s going to get killed.”

Once more, it is time to take a break from their views to throw in a couple of my own:

1) The “No Easy Way Out” music video is part of the film’s criticism when it’s called to the table for lacking in substance. However, that scene nicely summed up Rocky’s stream of consciousness memories and thoughts that led him to decide to risk everything against the big Russian.

2) Another area that gets picked on in Part IV is Rocky's “everybody can change” speech at the end, for being overly corny.  The important aspect of that scene isn’t him telling the Russians they can change, however. Earlier in the film, before he headed over to train, he argued with Adrian, saying people can’t change. The key part of that speech, once again, comes down to the relationship between the two of them, and her having gotten through to him. The connection between those characters is one of the key reasons these films have connected with as many people as they have over such a long stretch of time.

My daughter summed that notion up very simply by noting,
“Every movie ends with them saying, ‘I love you.’”

There was a true testament to how the overall arc of the characters in the previous films, and the execution of this one affected my wife and daughter.  The former didn’t live on this continent during the Cold War, and the latter was born well after it was over.

This didn’t stop them from being caught up the power of the struggle of the flag festooned Balboa against the hulking Red Menace.

While my wife was wondering “where can he run?” in the snow covered wasteland Rocky was given to train, she suddenly got emotional over Adrian’s arrival.  An excited, “Ooh! She’s there,” was accompanied by a sympathetically happy puppy face.

Still a few years from the full impact of romantic scenes, my daughter’s reaction was more along the lines of, “Whaaa?”

“Gonna fly Now” led to more cheers and laughter as the “where can he run” question was answered, and they decided Rocky had to win because he was doing all his training “for real” as opposed to on machines.
(His name in the title might have been a hint as well.)

The cheering did pause for both of them to yell “HO-O-LY…OH GOD!” and clutch their stomachs at Stallone’s inverted sit ups.

During the over sensationalized fight, “clearly” designed only to appeal to those experiencing the Cold War of the 1980’s, they both cheered with the good, winced with the bad and egged Rocky on when Drago was cut, urged further on by the sight of Russian blood, no doubt.

My wife:
Who didn’t live in the U.S.A. during the appropriate time-
Who doesn’t like Sylvester Stallone –
Who refuses to watch boxing –

Blew a giant Bronx Cheer at Drago when he finally fell, as her similarly boxing hating daughter danced and whooped around the room.

I’d say that’s evidence for an effective film making experience, despite what the critics say.

Please click here for the capstone films.
Please click here for the torch passing


Antonia said...

I LOVE Rocky. I am LOVING these posts! I especially love what you said about Burt Young and the character Paulie. So true, so true!!

Jeff McGinley said...

Hey! Young (real name Gerald Tommaso DeLouise) is an Italian from can you not love him?

Thank you for the comment, but more importantly thank you more than you can know. Your comment about loving these films on my older boxing post was one of the things that helped me convince my wife and daughter they'd like them.

Thanx again!