Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Rocky V

Rocky V represents the sad nadir of the Rocky franchise, fittingly the film also coming in a low point in Stallone's own career with both Rocky and Stallone being far from their spotlight. Strangely the film features the return of John G. Alvidsen to the director's chair but that only plays into the abomination that is this film. This film is a bizarre chimera as it attempts to return Rocky to his working class Philadelphia roots in a grounded film yet somehow never lost the ridiculousness of 3 and 4. It's a horrendous mix of the two sides of the franchise. The thing is the film is not bereft of interesting ideas Rocky dealing with post-fame theoretically could have potential, Rocky training a new fighter could be intriguing, Rocky trying to help his son dealing with his father's fame could be something. I mean these sort of would be something in the later two sequels, but not here in this film. It takes all these concepts and runs them through the film's odd tone that dilutes it to a whole lot of nonsense. Whether this is Stallone taking the idea of Rocky's brain damage a little to heart in his performance, the character of the new fighter Tommy Gunn being terribly performed and written, even something as simple as its horrible remix of the main theme featured in the final fight. The film is just a mess with no cohesion as it is too silly to be a serious re-examination of the character, but it takes itself far too seriously to just be some fun. It is tone deaf throughout with the only bits of anything worthwhile being Richard Grant as Don Kingalike George Washington Duke just because he's so over the top, or the flashbacks involving Burgess Meredith who stayed consistent as Mickey even post-death of the character. Although even those elements are problematic in some way as Mickey's speeches hardly reflect the nature of the character we knew in the previous films. Although even if you allow those elements to be considered "good" they make up very little of the film, leaving just the awkward mess that is the rest of the film.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Rocky IV

Rocky IV is a fascinating film to examine given the way an altered perspective through time can mean so much. In contemporary reviews the film was mostly derided and received several Razzie nominations for its name. Today though it has far more than a cult following as it fortified itself well into pulp culture, and not as a bad film. It instead has become this embodiment of the 80's specifically the idea of an American exceptionalism where a single man can not only single handedly defeat the will of the Soviet Union not through war rather fighting a single foe, and delivering a speech that defies explanation. Now in a contemporary view of the time this may have seen ridiculous however looking at the film as an artifact of the Reagan era 80's it is a different kind of ridiculous. The film takes Rocky even further into the absurd from the 3rd film. The thing is this is never problematic despite how different is from the first film because of how wholly it embraces this idea. This puts forth the idea from the outset with the film basically opening with Rocky having bought his brother-in-law Paulie a robot for his birthday. The film simply is not hiding this there, or in any facet as Stallone directs the film with all the gusto of this over the top exercise in the realization of Rocky as this titan facing down the foreign dragon, here aptly named DRAGO, rather than the Philadelphia brawler we met in the first film. The key is the sheer embracement of this excess idea in every regard as the film is more montage than man now, with well most of the film being made up of montages to lead Rocky to avenge his friend Apollo and perhaps save the world entire. The film does not hide in its ridiculousness it relishes it and in turn is a wildly entertaining realization of the film that could have only been made in 1985. There is a reason it has cemented a place in pop culture almost as strongly as the original film and that's because what it does it does well. Now that may seem silly or illogical, but boy is it so much fun in all its silliness and all of its lack of any normal sense.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Rocky III

Rocky III once again is a strong representation of Stallone himself as his fame rose so did the ridiculousness of some of his prospects. Rocky III is the first step in a most curious transition for the series, a transition that somehow the series successfully performs, as the series moves away from the harsher realities of the first film to become more of well a bit of cartoon. Now Rocky III's leap is a bit lighter in this step than its sequel, but hey you have to lead to that. As now instead of a charismatic three dimensional opponent of Apollo Creed we get Mr. T's absurd, yet enjoyable so, monster man Clubber Lang who solely seems to exist in order to destroy Rocky and call him a "sucka". Rocky in his spare time wrestles with Thunder Lips and gets giant statues of himself. There is still some reality to this series here, anchors for the film in the final scenes of Burgess Meredith's Mickey and still in the character of Apollo Creed. Rocky's emotional journey still exists but now it is far more operatic in tone in his major declarations, and his sunset runs along the beach with Apollo in order to perfect himself to fight his physically realized demon. I would be lying if I didn't say it kind of works. In fact it is a whole lot of fun, if not even occasionally rather emotional. Not only that it introduced all to the "Eye of the Tiger" a song that successfully primes one for action almost as well as "Gonna Fly Now". It is a major change, but you know you have to change with sequels. This film successfully does so. Is it a bit silly yes, but the entertainment value more than makes up for that.

Rocky II

Rocky II is perhaps the least talked about Rocky sequel, as it is the one that is technically another one right down to Rocky fighting the same exact opponent. The film really shouldn't have much to offer yet it works as a follow up the original even if it does not reinvent the wheel. It instead takes a mostly natural exploration into what it would be for Rocky to continue his life after that 15 minutes of fame, with the only conceit being that he's given a second chance even though he was all washed up in the original film. It's easy enough to forget that conceit as Stallone's first effort as a director as the character is an interesting one as it naturally evolves the characters rather than sending them back to square one as too many sequels do. We get more of Rocky and Adrian's relationship in a believable way, Rocky and Mickey continue their contentious friendship as one should expect, Rocky bungles his fame as he probably would. Interestingly enough it also once again realizes a stage in Stallone's career, seemingly accidentally this time, as Rocky's dumb commercials are pretty good representation of Stallone's less prestigious offerings post-Rocky. It works in these further explorations to the point that most of it doesn't feel at all repetitive. Now what's remarkable though is the two major repeats of the film, the fight and the montage, actually do work as Stallone successfully ups the ante in both. Now a whole crowd runs with Rocky up the steps in victory, perhaps a bit much, but hey it somehow works. The fight itself though is a major upgrade over the original fight as it gets in far greater detail of the match, and is captivating in is realization of every round. This doesn't reinvent the wheel of Rocky, boy if it isn't an enjoyable spin.


The first Rocky is the film that started it all, but in reality it was just a very small film that managed to be a cinematic representation of the story of Chuck Wepner, who almost went the distance with Muhammad Ali, and Sylvester Stallone himself who so believed in himself he essentially became a movie star/leading man through his own sheer will. Well his own sheer will and the fantastic screenplay he wrote that was so highly sought afterwards he was able to negotiate for himself to star in the project, which would sound nonsensical in most circumstances. Stallone though so believed in himself though that he managed to star in the film and lead to everlasting fame. The film was a true underdog story for Stallone, right down to his Oscar nominations yet not wins much like how Rocky did not win the belt, yet his dream was certainly achieved. The film of course works so well beyond just that extra undercurrent that does seem to grant all the more substance to the film. It's a great story written brilliantly by Stallone. The fight itself is great of course, but what's so marvelous is everything in and around it. There is the sweet love story between Rocky and Adrian which one could call one of the all time greats in that regard. There's the portrait of the working class part of Philadelphia that is realized with both the right amount of grit and character, I have particularly affection for good natured loan shark played by Joe Spinell. It's notable how much it gives to even the most minor character, and roles that in most sports movie would be unremarkable. Apollo Creed is the all time great opponent in any sports film as he's not a villain, but a fully realized man that as written, along with Carl Weathers's brilliant performance, could've frankly had his own film. The heart of the film though is Rocky which offers a balance between inspiration and darkness actually as it doesn't hold back in depicting his anger in the world, particularly in his contentions relationship with his eventual manager Mickey played by Burgess Meredith, yet this makes the power of his final personal victory all the more powerful. Although some film snobs of today turn their noses at its Oscar win, due to the films it beat, the film stands as a profound cinematic effort that has stood the test of time, and also has perhaps the most invigorating film score ever written.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Pan's Labyrinth

Pan's Labyrinth is Guillermo Del Toro's film about a little girl Ofelia who discovers a mysterious world during the Spanish civil war. Del Toro is a visionary director in terms of the visually fascinating worlds he creates and his attention to detail in creating notable visual effects. What he's not very capable of though is even an ounce of subtlety. He prefer his archetypes in general making something a little problematic in using the Spanish Civil War as a staging for his film, as that war was anything but a good vs evil affair. This approach though is more problematic than simplicity of history though through his realization of the character of Captain Vidal the merciless step father of the little girl. The character has little to no nuance with his opening scene of greeting his new family begins with him admonishing Ofelia for merely trying to shake with the wrong hand. Having this pure evil force could not be a terrible problem for a fantastical film however the real problem for Del Toro is his failure in when he attempts nuance. With the Captain we have the story of his father's watch that stopped when his father died. This is given much importance, and time within the film yet only ever feels like a vague attempt to offer some substance to the broad stroke character. Del Toro is frankly best when he just embraces his broad strokes since he struggles with anything else. In turn his best scenes are of the fantasy world with the dark monstrous creatures Ofelia must face in order to claim her place on an otherworldly throne. These scenes are the best within the film as they are always imaginative in their staging and direction by Del Toro. That is not to say they are completely without some minor frustrations, namely Ofelia tasting a forbidden grape only in order to awaken a girl eating monster and the only reason she seems to this is to make the scene happen. The scenes in "reality" have a certain visceral effectiveness as the Captain hunts down the men on the opposing side in the woods however they are rather repetitive in this. The reason for the repetition though being the failure to find any nuance by Del Toro. This side somewhat works still through his broader style, but there is something lacking in the combination of two as Del Toro presents both in the same simple fashion. This in no way leads to a bad film at any point really, however its ambition seems greater than its achievement in the end.

The Lives of Others

The Lives Of Others received a little bit of criticism due to the fictional nature of its story, although this of course ignores the fact that the film never claims to be anything other than historical fiction. A historical fiction that strives to find an emotional truth within its tale of a German Stasi agent and the artist he is spying on. The film succeeds in this venture in granting such a life through every facet of the story. This includes the overarching detail it grants to the chilling world of the Stasi where they mark down the name of a student even attempting to state a philosophical objection to the modus operandi of the state. The film's masterstroke though is to take the potentially tragic story of the writer, attempting even a minor form rebellion due to the ignored suicide of his friend, living in the repressive state though through the lens of the Stasi agent secretly listening the man's life in order to discover something in order to arrest the man. The film keeps a closer focus upon the agent and there is the greatness of the film particularly as realized through Ulrich Muhe's outstanding portrayal of the agent. His depiction of the man slowly changing and becoming involved in the man's story on the he only knows through spying on him embodies the greatness of the film. This power of this central idea is never wasted as it orchestrates such a compelling journey of one man. A story that could have been rife with sentimentalism however the film carefully avoids this as it just as bluntly reveals the potential harshness of the world in the story of the writer's actress girlfriend, wholly earning the central deeply moving and in the end rather inspiring tale of the spy who gives into his humanity rather than his state's mandate.