Monthly Archives: January 2012

Way late review: Rocky Balboa

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series Rocky: The Undisputed Collection

It only took about 16 years for Hollywood execs to burn Rocky V from their memories in order to allow Sylvester Stallone one last Rocky film – Rocky Balboa. Unfortunately for Stallone this meant he was just about 60 years old. As if making one last Rocky film wasn’t hard enough.

The boxing world has changed since our favorite underdog champion left the ring. Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver) is destroying the competition. In fact, he’s destroying it with too much efficiency. Boxing fans and critics alike don’t think highly of Dixon. His attitude is beyond arrogant. There are claims that the young champ only enters fights he knows he can win. Everyone questions Dixon’s heart. No one seems to question his physical abilities.

Enter Rocky. Long retired from boxing we learn that he’s lost Adrian to cancer a few years earlier. Balboa is crushed by this loss but carries on with his life. He runs a restaurant named after his late wife. He also attempts to keep a relationship with his son, Robert (Milo Ventimiglia), who has grown up, has a job where he wears a suit to work everyday and resents being in his dad’s shadow. And, of course, Paulie (Burt Young) is still around with his cigars, drinking and sour yet somehow always entertaining attitude.

On the anniversary of Adrian’s death, Rocky stumbles into the old bar he would hang out at. There he meets Marie, or “Little Marie” as Rocky knew her in the first film. Little Marie was the young girl Rocky walked home in the first movie and was left at the girl’s doorstep with a “Screw you Creep-o!” Marie bar tends and Rocky strikes up a friendship with her. He becomes a father figure of sorts for her son, “Steps”. In previous films, Stallone would have used these new characters as plot devices. Instead of plot devices we get a feel for the genuine friendship Marie, her son and Rocky develop. And it’s clear that Rocky longs for friendship as he misses the love of his life and struggles to maintain a relationship with his only child.

In the midst of all this day-to-day getting on with life, there is an interest by the media in comparing Mason Dixon to boxers of the past. ESPN runs a special where boxing experts discuss how they think an in-prime Rocky would do against the current heavyweight champ. The verdict is deafening to Dixon. All but one expert feels that Rocky would win the bout. To make matters worse, a computer simulation of the fight shows Rocky crushing Dixon. This causes Dixon to seek advice from his old trainer, who was pushed out by Dixon’s entourage once Dixon became successful. It’s in this moment that we see a softer side of Dixon, which is maybe the only problem I had with the film. We see this humbled young man go to his mentor and seek honest advice. Dixon is almost too likeable in this scene, which makes his transformation back to the egotistical punk he becomes later hard to process.

All this talk of boxing and the glory days of boxing has Rocky itching to get back in the ring. Nothing big, just some local fights. The board doesn’t want to approve Rocky for readmission even though the former champ has cleared all the medical tests. After a passionate speech by Balboa the board concedes. It doesn’t take long for Dixon’s promoters to pick up on this news. They’re after a Rocky Balboa vs. Mason Dixon fight in Vegas. They convince both fighters it’s a good idea and the date for an exhibition in Vegas is set.

In probably one of the more emotionally honest moments since the original, Robert and Rocky have it out. All that pent up frustration from both of them in regards to their relationship (or lack thereof) is fair game, including a defiant Rocky pleading with his son to stop making excuses for why his life is the way it is. The message sinks in for Robert and he finds himself supporting his dad in training for the big fight.

Yes, there is the typical training montage. And then the fight is on. The current champ can’t stop talking trash. The cinematography of the fight scenes has never been better. It’s all believable even when taking into consideration Stallone’s age. The ending is satisfying. It’s a sweet farewell to a character we’ve seen battle both in and out of the ring over thirty years.

Somehow Stallone managed to pull off the biggest Rocky upset of all by making Rocky Balboa a very good movie. In fact, I would argue it is second only to the original. An amazing feat.

 ★★★★½ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. See more reviews here.

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Way late review: Quigley Down Under

Some actors are easy for me to believe in a historical setting while others are not. Tom Selleck falls in the hard to believe category. It’s no fault of his own. He’s not a bad actor but put him in a period piece where he’s a sharp shooting American cowboy, Matt Quigley, and I find it hard to believe him in that role. There is something about him that feels too modern for that time. Thus Quigley Down Under is a bit handicapped for me with Selleck in the lead role.

Matt Quigley answers Elliot Marston’s ad for a sharpshooter. Professor Snape…errr…Marston (Alan Rickman) is a rich Australian who says he needs someone who can pick off dingoes from great distances. Quigley eventually shows Martson in person just how good of a shooter he is. He hits a bucket three-fourths of a mile away several times until the bucket disappears in a dust cloud.

From the start we see that Quigley is a man of great honor. He teaches a gruff man a lesson when that man tries to shove aside an older couple to beat them onto the boat for Australia. Just minutes after getting off the boat, Quigley sees some men mistreating a woman and intercedes on her behalf. The tone of these first couple scenes has a light hearted, almost slapstick feel to it, which isn’t problematic until further into the story where the tone changes rapidly between light comedy and melodrama. Making matters worse is the character Crazy Cora (Laura San Giacomo) who is the woman Quigley valiantly steps in to protect. As one might deduce from the name, Crazy Cora is not quite right in the head. In the beginning she is played for laughs. The second half of the film she’s played for drama. It’s as if her whole purpose is to make crystal clear the tonal changes.

Quigley makes his way to Martson’s and learns that Marston has hired Quigley to kill aborigines, not dingoes, off his property. Quigley responds to this little twist by punching Marston through the wall, outside Marston’s home, not once but twice. Quigley is eventually overtaken and he and Cora are left to die in the dessert several days away from civilization. Except Quigley doesn’t go down without a fight and gets just enough energy to kill the two Marston henchmen. This leads to a very watchable tale of an odd couple (Quigley and Cora) fighting the odds and eventually seeking justice not just for themselves but the aborigines.

There may be some eye rolling moments and certainly some miscast characters, but it’s hard not to at least like Quigley Down Under.

 ★★★☆☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: Moneyball

Baseball, America’s past time. That is not what the movie Moneyball (based on the best selling book of the same name by one of my favorite authors, Michael Lewis) is about. Nor is it about sabermetrics, the analysis of baseball metrics that overcomes the subjective with the objective. True, baseball and sabermetrics are key to the story of Moneyball but at the heart is Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt). The struggle of a once can’t miss pro baseball prospect to make sense of the game he was supposed to have dominated in his playing days.

The Oakland A’s lose to the New York Yankees in the 2001 postseason. Worse, they are set to lose at least three big name players to free agency. Beane pleads with the team’s owner owner to up the budget. The A’s are a small market team. They do not have the luxury of $100M+ per year to spend on players. They have less, far less. Try under $40M. In what is a great scene, Beane meets with his staff. They’re analyzing their options, desperately seeking replacements for their star players. The talk is so subjective it’s funny. Comments on potential candidates range from speculation about what makes so-and-so a good player on the field to the status of that player’s love life and what it says about his ability to win. The look on the general manager’s face turns from subtle frustration to total disbelief. He points out that there is no point in trying to beat the Yankees, Red Sox, and other big market teams at their game. The A’s can’t compete. They don’t have the budget. Plain and simple. This leaves Beane’s staff flummoxed. Beane is no better off.

Beane meets with the Cleveland Indians. After a peculiar meeting discussing trades, he sets his sights on Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a recent Yale graduate and lowly worker bee for Cleveland. Brand doesn’t so much care about baseball as he does about the metrics he believes everyone else is missing that could change the way major league baseball teams are assembled. The Oakland A’s general manager takes Brand away from the Indians after he calls the economist major and asks if Brand would have drafted Beane as a high school prospect. Brand stumbles around until Beane drags it out of him – Brand wouldn’t have drafted Beane in the first round and definitely wouldn’t have given him a signing bonus. Brand would’ve taken the well hyped prospect in the ninth round. This seems to convince Beane that the young economist graduate is onto something, which is telling. Throughout Moneyball we’re shown flashbacks to a young up-and-coming Billy Beane who all the pro scouts love. He can’t seem to reconcile how badly those scouts missed on him (and so many other prospects over the years) and how he isn’t going to fall into the exact same trap. He places his hope in Brand’s controversial allegiance to the Bill James invented sabermetrics. Turns out James’ ideas were not highly respected within mainstream baseball and Moneyball goes on to show how unconventional those ideas could be when implemented in real life by the Oakland A’s.

While Billy Beane is a calm figure in all situations we sense that he’s only moments away from self-imploding. He can’t watch an A’s game, not even on TV. He struggles to tune the game in on the radio. He’s aloof with his players, never getting close as to avoid the awkwardness that arises when moves need to be made. Never mind the fact that Beane was once a player and could probably relate better than most in the front office with the players. Even in his personal life we see Beane as appearing calm but never comfortable. In one scene he sits and waits for his daughter in his ex-wife’s home. The ex-wife and her new husband try to strike up some small talk. It’s awkward and clear that Beane is doing his best to hold back his true feelings in that moment. He plays a passive aggressive game with his ex and her husband when he learns that his 12-year old daughter now has a cell phone.

There is a point in the film where the GM goes “all in” with his plan. The drama is not so much on the field as the A’s struggle early in the season and many call into question management’s wisdom in replacing star players with has-beens and no names. The real drama is that of Billy Beane and his struggle to reconcile the contrasts of his days as a golden prospect who turned out to be a bust, his new role as baseball’s contrarian general manager, and his superstition (never attending games for fear he brings bad luck). Brad Pitt’s performance is so finely nuanced that it’s easy to forget we’re watching one of the biggest names in Hollywood perform.

If there is anything bringing Moneyball down it is the second act where the Oakland A’s turn things around. That act drags on a bit too long, bringing too much focus to the on the field play which is not a strength of the movie. There are some special moments and scenes as we watch the team start to put it all together and go on a historic win streak but the overall length detracts.

Watching Billy Beane struggle, even after he experiences a wild amount of success, makes Moneyball a special film. Most would have had the Oakland A’s GM triumphantly proclaiming his loyalty for his team and ended it in a great David vs. Goliath story. Instead we get Billy Beane the always appearing calm figure who is never quite sure what to make of this game of baseball. Even in success he is unsure. His final decision to stick with the underdog feels like it’s filled with doubt. As if Beane’s decision to stick with the A’s or go with the incredible offer from the Red Sox is lose-lose. To Billy Beane, there is no sure thing. The obvious first appeal of anything cannot be trusted.

 ★★★★½ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: Certified Copy

I’m still processing what Certified Copy is about exactly. The film centers on a man and a woman who meet in Tuscany. From the start we’re unsure whether there is or was a romantic relationship between them or not. At times it feels as though they are antagonizing strangers. Other times they seem the closest of friends, those who know one another so well that they know what to say and do to provoke the other as well as subside any anger that was provoked.

The gentleman is James Miller (William Shimell), an author who has just published a book on the value of a copy of art versus the original. The lady is Elle (Juliette Binoche), a mother of an 11-year old son. We learn that Elle is originally from France. She speaks Italian, English, and French. James is English. We learn that he speaks French in addition to his native language. It may seem odd to note the languages spoken by the lead characters. I find it odd too. But, when the movie switches between all three languages, even as the characters are in deep discussion with one another it’s hard not to notice and not mention.

Elle invites James to go out with her. The two meet and soon find themselves driving around the Italian countryside. Much like the movies Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, Certified Copy isn’t so much about the plot but the conversations between a man and a woman. The twist in Certified Copy is who these two people really are in relation to one another. Do they have a history? If they do, is that history generally good, bad or indifferent? Is it all one big game between the two of them?

To speculate further on the relationship status of Elle and James is to ruin much of the intrigue. The film has much to say about relationships, life and art. I’m not sure that all of it registered with me but I found the performances outstanding nonetheless. Dialogue heavy but never boring. A mysterious movie even when you think you’ve got it all figured out. I know I’m still debating the themes and twists, which makes me enjoy Certified Copy all the more.

 ★★★★☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: Rocky V

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Rocky: The Undisputed Collection

If Rocky IV needed to be made to save the world, as I so eloquently argued in my review, then Rocky V needs to be unmade, if not to save the world then to save some dignity for the Rocky franchise.

There is so much wrong with Rocky V. I learned recently that Sylvester Stallone had wanted his iconic character to die in this one. The studio fought him on it and won. Looking back, I have to believe Stallone is relieved he didn’t finish off the Italian Stallion in what turned out to be an awful movie.

From the start there are serious problems with the film. We’re supposed to be in a timeline that is just after the big match in the Soviet Union. Rocky returns home and his kid looks twice as old as he was when Rocky left. I’m not a mathematician, doctor, nor scientist but I’m pretty sure a few months away from home (maximum) will not cause a child to grow and age by multiple years. Also, I’m almost positive the Balboas return to a different home in Rocky V than the one they left on their trip from in the previous movie. Everything is off kilter from the start.

In addition to the miraculously aged kid, we get some new, terrible characters. There is Duke, a boxing promoter who I think is supposed to be Don King. He comes out early and annoys us with his boisterous talk during Rocky’s first press conference back in the US. Not content to annoy us only at the beginning, we get Duke all throughout, managing to irritate with the mere sound of his voice. By the end he had ramped up his antics to the point where I swore his teeth were going to pop out of his mouth as he over emoted every syllable. Not to be outdone, real life boxer, Tommy Morrison (Tommy “Machine” Gunn) does his best to steal the show with his mullet and dreadful acting. In the last scenes of the movie it’s as if there was a competition to see who could out scream the other – Duke or Tommy Gunn. In that competition there is no winner but there is definitely a loser – us, the viewers.

Back to the kid, Rocky Jr, played by Stallone’s real life son, Sage Stallone. Had it not been for the stiff competition from Duke and Tommy Gunn, Rocky’s son would win the award for most annoying performance. When a film goes out of its way to suspend the audience’s disbelief in order to introduces a kid who is suddenly much older than the previous one, that kid better give an awesome performance. Instead of awesome we get well below average. The character development of the son is such that we should feel empathy. Instead all we feel is an urge to hone our boxing skills on the whiny adolescent.

I can see how the premise of Rocky V probably seemed reasonable on paper. Rocky has taken too many beatings. He is no longer medically eligible to fight in the ring. His accountant swindled him out of all his money. Rocky returns to his old neighborhood in Philly. His only refuge is that he still owns Mick’s gym which he reopens to start training younger boxers. While running the gym Rocky meets a young, raw boxer who reminds Rocky of himself in Tommy Gunn. Rocky takes Tommy under his wing and has him winning fights in no time. Tommy eventually gets full of himself and sells Rocky out for fame and fortune. Teacher and pupil become at odds with one another. Not a terrible outline. And yet the details destroy this movie.

There was promise in Rocky V. If done right, it should have been the last movie, nicely capping off the series. It wasn’t done right and thankfully Stallone got to do another film in an attempt to redeem what was once an Oscar winning force.

 ★½☆☆☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: Rocky IV

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Rocky: The Undisputed Collection

Some might say there was no need for Rocky IV to be made. Maybe. But remember, America needed Rocky IV to be made. The WORLD needed Rocky IV to be made. The US was in the midst of a cold war with the Soviet Union. Without Rocky there to remind us that good triumphs evil, nature defeats man made anything, and we can all change for the better, where might the world be today? A nuclear winter, that’s where. And we all have Rocky IV to thank for saving us from that doomsday.

There are so many things to not love about the fourth installment in the series. There is the robot Paulie receives for his birthday. Then there is James Brown and a circus of performers giving the intro to the exhibition fight between Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) and Drago (Dolph Lundgren). Speaking of Drago – there’s him. He’s oiled up more than any boxer ever displayed in a Rocky film. He has about four lines in the entire movie and one could argue (strongly) they were four too many. Possibly the most dreadful part of Rocky IV comes in between Creed’s funeral and Rocky’s match with Drago – a long montage of clips from the past three films. It’s one of the laziest maneuvers a film can make.

With that said, Rocky IV is not a bad movie. It’s so over the top it’s fun. The setup of the USA vs the Soviet Union capitalizes on that particular moment in history. The spectacular display of Soviet technology in Drago’s training contrasted with Rocky’s training in nature is hard to beat. This isn’t even mentioning the introduction of a song, Hearts on Fire, that is nowhere near as good as Eye of the Tiger, but combine it with a surreal montage of Rocky using nature as his Nautilus machine and it’s unbeatable.

It’s highly doubtful I could ever argue that the good in Rocky IV outweighs the bad. Who am I kidding? Much of what I consider “good” in the movie is often quite bad. It’s so bad it’s good. Rocky IV is one of those movies. It takes itself super serious and yet it makes me smile every time I see it. Rocky IV is like Rocky III but on steroids, which is perfectly fitting.

 ★★★☆☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: Midnight in Paris

When we look back on the year in movies of 2011 we might see it as a pinnacle year for nostalgia. There were numerous super hero movies that have a long history in comic books. Super 8 was nothing if not a call back to the “good old days” of the 1980’s. We even saw a new muppet movie that valiantly tried to revive our felt covered friends. Enter Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, a film that is all about nostalgia.

Gil (Owen Wilson) and Inez (Rachel McAdams) are an engaged couple tagging along with Inez’s mom (Mimi Kennedy) and dad (Kurt Fuller) in Paris. Gil is an author who makes his money writing screenplays for Hollywood films. Gil’s real passion is to become a great writer. He stopped writing Hollywood scripts he wasn’t proud of and started writing a novel centered on a nostalgia store owner. Inez and her parents think this is ridiculous. Gil should go for the money. From early on it’s made clear that Inez and her parents are all about the money. In fact, they’re so much about the money and themselves that it’s hard to believe that Gil would tolerate the trio let alone be engaged to the daughter.

Gil is all about the 1920’s. He not only knows it but he longs for it, so much so that he believes he was born too late. His romantic ideas of Paris in the ’20s cause him to roam the streets at night. He wants to take long walks in the rain and absorb every ounce of the city. All is normal until one evening an antique Peugeot pulls up, an overly friendly gentleman from another era pops out and invites Gil to hop in. Gil no longer dreams of another era, he’s in one. All his heroes from the ’20s are there. Great writers, artists and musicians. He can’t believe it. When he rushes out the door of a pub to get a draft of his novel for Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), he’s shocked to discover that the pub is no more. In it’s place is a laundry mat.

Gil struggles to convince his fiancée of the previous evening’s events. He himself isn’t completely convinced. He tries taking her to the spot where the car picked him up the night before but no one shows. Inez has little patience for Gil’s escapade so she goes back to the hotel. The clock strikes midnight and the car arrives on cue. Gil is transported back to 1920 again. This repeats every night. Inez tires of Gil’s disappearing acts each evening so she starts going out with an old friend who she still has feelings for. Inez’s father has a private investigator tail Gil. He’s convinced Gil is cheating on his daughter.

Owen Wilson’s performance makes this movie enjoyable. The actors playing the famous icons of yesteryear are also compelling. Inez and her parents however are close to intolerable, intentionally so, but that doesn’t make it any easier to understand why Gil spends a moment with them. There is no need to make these characters so unlikeable. The theme of the movie doesn’t need it and the attempts at humor feeding off the trio’s pompous behavior barely registers. Regardless, the meat of the film is spent with Gil and his time in the ’20s, which saves the film from getting mired in the less interesting dynamics between Gil, his fiancée and her parents.

The lesson Gil learns about the trap that can be nostalgia is a bit obvious but forgivable. After all, if the movies of 2011 are any indication, it’s a lesson that many of us need to be reminded about. Thankfully the lesson only takes a 90 minute runtime. You’ll rarely hear me complain about that.

Overall Midnight in Paris was an enjoyable film. It’s neither a full blown comedy nor is it ever a drama. In other words, it’s a Woody Allen film – with just enough quirkiness to make me like it but not love it.

 ★★★½☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: Rocky III

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Rocky: The Undisputed Collection

Rocky is the champ. He’s defending his belt since beating Apollo Creed. He lives in a giant house, owns numerous sports cars, looks better than ever. Top of the world for Balboa in Rocky III. Yet lingering in the background is an angry fellow with long feather earrings. Mr T? No (well, kind of). B. A. Baracus? No. Clubber Lang? Ding, ding.

Rocky III is all about taking things to another level. Mr. T…errr…Clubber Lang is one rung on that ladder. Another rung is the death of Mick, the most memorable voice of all time. And, not to be out done, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) makes a return, but this time as friend not foe. Best of all is the introduction of a great new catch phrase and song, Eye of the Tiger.

Despite the blatant attempts to heighten the drama and stay relevant with the times, Rocky III is still an entertaining flick. Mr. T does play a great way over the top villain. Mick’s death isn’t exactly unexpected (the guy looks and sounds about 128 years old) and adds some tender moments. And Apollo Creed’s new found friendship with Rocky is a nice touch.

Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) seems to have learned his lessons from the previous round of his life. He’s successful in and out of the ring. In fact, he has little left to prove. That is until Clubber Lang belittles Rocky. Rocky accepts Clubber’s challenge to a fight. Mick is not on board with this decision. He confesses to Rocky that he’s been protecting the champ by setting up fights that he knew Rocky could win. Mick argues it was to protect Rocky. After receiving this bit of news Rocky is devastated and more than ever wants to prove that he can defend his belt against tough competition. Eventually Mick caves and Rocky enters the fight with Clubber Lang. Things go very wrong for Rocky and Mick. Rocky gets pummeled and Mick dies. Rocky is crushed by the loss of his trainer, mentor, and friend.

Apollo Creed enters the scene. He wants to help Rocky get revenge in the ring with Clubber Lang. Creed offers to be Rocky’s trainer. Rocky’s heart is not in it. The breakthrough needs to come. We have to have a triumphant training montage set to music. WE HAVE TO HAVE THE MONTAGE! Phew. It finally comes and the final bout goes down as one might expect.

In between all that plot is a sense of humor, a sense of camaraderie between Balboa and Creed, and a continued blossoming of Adrian (Talia Shire) as she breaks further out of her shell. All in all, it’s a good movie. The film doesn’t completely capitalize on the setup its predecessor left it with, but it also doesn’t lose its heart.

 ★★★½☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: Rocky II

This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series Rocky: The Undisputed Collection

After the surprising success of Rocky, there had to be a second – if only for business reasons. Beyond the financials, one could argue that there was a decent reason for Rocky II to be made. Rocky and Apollo Creed left their first match in much doubt. It would be easy to believe that Creed would want a rematch and that Rocky would welcome the challenge.

Rocky II finds Rocky Balboa in different circumstances than the original. He came close to beating the champ. That alone has earned him some money. The prospects of cashing in on that success in terms of commercials, endorsements, etc. look promising. Rocky goes from a down and out boxer to skies the limit after one bout. This makes for an an interesting look at the development of our favorite underdog boxer. He’s not rich but it seems he might soon be. He’s not a champ but the odds seem to be swinging in his favor. He has the woman he loves and marries her. He has no shortage of people offering him a chance to invest or be invested in. Yet Rocky struggles to make sense of it all.

The first signs of trouble are the way the Italian Stallion goes on a spending spree, purchasing all sorts of high priced items he previously could only dream of. Not a problem. Rocky will fund all this through commercials. One problem. He’s been hit in the head a few too many times and is barely able to read a few simple lines. Before long we see Rocky stressing financially. To add to the pressure, he discovers Adrian is pregnant. Oh, and he’s retired from boxing. The doctor says he risks losing sight in one of his eyes if he continues fighting. That is all Adrian needs to hear. She’s staunchly against Rocky fighting again. The risks are too high. She believes this so much so that she goes back to work at the pet store part time to help pay the bills. Rocky eventually finds himself work at Mick’s gym. He goes from challenging the champ to changing spit buckets in no time at all.

Apollo Creed is as bombastic as ever. He wants another fight with Balboa. There is too much talk of Creed not winning the last fight. An ego like Creed’s cannot withstand this kind of assault. Creed puts out a media campaign calling Rocky a chicken. He does everything he can to embarrass Rocky back into the ring. After further thought and further provoking, Rocky takes the challenge, though it’s against Adrian’s wishes.

Rocky begins training with Mick, who agrees to train Rocky only after the taunts by Creed became too much for even Mick to ignore. Previously, Mick was in agreement with the doctor, it was too risky for Rocky to keep fighting. We’re all set for a montage of training set to the inspirational music but instead something else happens. Rocky is distracted. He seems unmotivated. Adrian’s lack of support is weighing heavily on him. Never fear, Paulie is here! Ah yes, our favorite creep/funny man Paulie. He figures out that it’s his sister causing trouble. He’ll set her straight.

After Paulie shouts Adrian down, she goes into early labor. Rocky is a proud father of a baby boy but discovers that Adrian is in a coma. He is crushed. Training is set aside and instead he stays by his wife’s side. It’s during this time that we’re reminded that Rocky is often as much about the love between this unlikely couple as it is about Rocky the boxer.

The coma is an added plot device. The original lacked this type of device which is used to increase the drama. While not unbelievable, this twist is a sign of things to come in the films that follow and it’s not a good sign. But I’ll save that for reviews of the next few movies in the series.

Adrian awakes from her coma. She seems to have had time to think about Rocky returning to fighting because some of her first thoughts are to tell Rocky to go win the fight. Say no more. Rocky is back on track. Triumphant training montage kicks in for real this time. It is eerily similar to the original montage except things are ratcheted up a notch. The final scene of Rocky running up the stairs is there and this time half of Philly’s kids follow and cheer in triumph at the top. Again, a sign of things to come in future instalments.

The big battle in the ring is not unlike the first. Rocky may be the worst fighter to ever enter the ring. If he blocks a punch to the head it will be his first. Regardless, we cheer for our hero to take the punches and punch back even harder. In the end we get what we hoped for in the first. But one can’t help but wonder what another round of success, even bigger this time around, will do to the newly crowned champ. He didn’t exactly excel with the last opportunity, which is maybe why Rocky II sets up its sequel even better than the original did for it.

 ★★★★☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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Way late review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Wait, I thought Tim Burton killed the Ape franchise with his 2001 rendition of the classic. He didn’t succeed. I’m thankful he didn’t because Rise of the Planet of the Apes is close to a perfect sci-fi action flick.

Rather than focus on the human protaganist, Rise takes a fresh approach by making the genetically enhanced, lab born ape, Caesar (Andy Serkis) the center of attention. Will Rodman (James Franco) is a genetic scientist desperately searching for a cure to Alzheimer’s disease. His search is personal, as Will’s dad, Charles (John Lithgow), suffers from the disease. Right away we learn that Will is on to something, as an ape known as “Green Eyes” shows greatly improved intelligence as a result of the proposed cure, ALZ-112. Things turn sour as Green Eyes goes crazy, wrecks havoc on the lab and is shot. The other apes are put down as the company fears ALZ-112 is deeply flawed. Unbeknownst to Will and his co-workers, Green Eyes flipped out trying to protect her newborn. Rather than put the chimp down, Will sneaks him home.

Will quickly learns that Caesar is not an ordinary chimp. Caesar shows signs of incredible intelligence. This leads Will to eventually give his dad ALZ-112 he smuggles from the company. Charles returns to his normal self while Caesar continues to exhibit extraordinary acumen. As years pass Caesar desires to get out of the house, to enjoy life like the children he observes from his attic window. Will takes Caesar to the Redwoods but Caesar soon realizes that he is treated more like a pet than a human. Will breaks down and shows Caesar the building where Caesar was born and his mom died. This moment ultimately leads to Caesar’s descent. He realizes he’s not human yet he’s not just an ape.

Meanwhile, Will notices that his dad’s disease is back with a vengeance. It’s so bad that Charles goes outside one morning, hops in a neighbors running car, and proceeds to smash it into the cars parked in the front and back. The neighbor comes out and freaks out. He yells and gets in Charles’ face. Caesar observes this from the attic window and takes action. This is Caesar’s ticket to the ape sanctuary where Will promises Caesar he’ll be back home soon.

It’s at this point in the film that the ape sanctuary turns into a prison film. Caesar is the new kid on the block. He’s never been around other apes. He doesn’t completely understand apes who are not intelligent like he is. The lessons for him are rough. Caesar is homesick and more confused than ever. The fact that all of this is completely believable with computer animated apes is astonishing. After hearing and reading interviews with cast and production crew members, I’m convinced now more than ever that Andy Serkis should be nominated for a best actor award. His performance mixed with the technology take this movie to new heights.

The ape sanctuary has some of my favorite moments in the film and one of its worst. If Rise is guilty of anything it’s of some over the top archetypes. The most obvious example is Tom Felton playing one of the sanctuary workers. Felton’s performance is so absurd that by the time he utters a famous line from the original movie I simply rolled my eyes. It was completely expected, as Felton proved he was nothing more than the sinister prison guard.

The movie zooms past at an exhilarating speed. There is no time for exposition. The storytelling is precise. Every small moment has a purpose. For example, Caesar draws the attic window on the wall of his cell at the sanctuary only to erase it once he decides he’s going to lead an ape rebellion. Charles’ struggle to play a piano song prior to ALZ-112 and then gracefully playing a composition afterwards. The use of green eyes to show that an ape has been exposed to the cure. All these are small ways that tell the story rather than spend precious time better spent elsewhere.

While Caesar works overtime to put together his plans, Will works overtime to find a new cure for Alzheimer’s and convinces his boss that it’s time to reopen the project. The boss buys in once he learns that Will’s dad showed great improvements for a period of time and Caesar showed increased intelligence. The prospects of a drug that makes you smarter is too much to resist. Will’s boss wants research on apes to return and to go full throttle.

Eventually the big pay off happens. Some of the best action sequences I’ve seen in a long time take place. Awesome action set pieces. One brilliant call back to the original movie. So much good action in the end that we forget that we’re rooting for the end of mankind as we know it.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes may not get a lot of love on people’s top films of 2011 but it should. It’s one of those rare sci-fi action films that is so well paced and executed that you forget the challenge it overcame, following a long line of predecessors, many of which weren’t all that good and some that were simply awful.

 ★★★★½ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

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