Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Monday, August 22, 2016


There was a time when jokes were often told about how long running and increasingly unlikely the “Rocky” series had become. Yet, by 2006, a sixth “Rocky” film was the last thing anyone expected. Sylvester Stallone’s career had flat-lined, with an embarrassing turn in the third “Spy Kids” movie being his most notable recent role. In the past, adversity has been a great inspiration to Stallone. Out of this tough time arose “Rocky Balboa.” The sixth appearance of Sly’s trademark character would become an unexpected commercial success, revitalizing a career most thought was over.

Rocky Balboa is all washed-up. Adrian, his inspiration, has died. He has a tense relationship with his son, Robert Jr., who seems uncomfortable standing in the star’s shadow. The former champion makes a decent living running an Italian restaurant, named for his late wife, and often regales customers with old stories. Current heavyweight champ, Mason “The Line” Dixon, is criticized for his perceived lack of heart, that his victories have been unearned. A sports channel runs a program were a computer determines who would win a fight between past and present champs. Such a match between Dixon and Balboa gives both fighters an idea. Soon, Rocky is back in the ring, outmatched by a fighter younger, faster, and stronger then him.

Sylvester Stallone was ahead of the curve. These days, movie studios are determined to mine eighties and nineties nostalgia for all its worth, creating reboots and remakes to every seemingly moribund franchise. “Rocky Balboa” is, naturally, awash in nostalgia. The film begins with Rocky at Adrian’s grave. The first act is devoted to Balboa and Paulie touring the original film’s events. Mickey’s gym is in disrepair. The ice rink were Rocky and Adrian had their first date has been torn down. The parts of Philadelphia Rocky once called home have become a ghetto. These scenes aren’t just here to remind viewers of what happened in the first film. They establish what Rocky has lost. They also reground the series, properly returning the franchise to the original film’s tone without falling to part five’s maudlin sentimentality.

With Adrian gone, “Rocky Balboa” finds a new heart for the series. Much of the film is focused on Rocky’s relationship with his son. Robert Jr. has fled from the world of celebrity and stardom that his father occupies. Instead of being in athleticism, he’s working in an office building. When Rocky tries to set up a friendly dinner with his son, people constantly butt in to say hi to the former champ. Rocky’s decision to get back into the ring for the first time in 21 years gives his son pause. This leads to a notable moment in the film, when Stallone delivers a monologue about trying to find your place in the world, about struggling to survive only for what you have, is one of the best sequences in the film. Previously played by Seargeoh and Sage Stallone, Milo Ventimiglia essays the part of Rocky Jr. here. Ventimiglia is a good foil for Stallone, a cynical and grounded counter to Rocky’s perpetually hopeful but hopeless personality.

In addition to revisiting many of the first film’s locations, “Rocky Balboa” also brings back an unexpected character. Little Marie, the troubled girl Rocky used to walk home, returns. Now an adult with a somewhat troubled kid of her own, she works a dead-end job as a bartender. A chance meeting has Rocky taking Marie’s son, Steps, under his wing. Soon, both mother and son are working at his restaurant. It’s an interesting story decision, showing that Rocky’s past and present acts of kindness have reverberated throughout his life. It also, narratively, gives Stallone someone else to play off of in the movie’s early half. Geraldine Hughes gives a sweet, thoughtful performance as Marie.

Aside from their ridiculous names, Mason Dixon and the first film’s take on Apollo Creed don’t have very much in common. This is, seemingly, a direct contrast. While Creed was a braggart that gave little thought to his challenger, Dixon is a down-to-Earth man of few words. He’s annoyed that his skill has been dismissed seemingly because he hasn’t had to fight for it. He sees his fight with Rocky as a chance to show off his abilities to an apathetic public. Playing the character is real life boxing champion Antonio Tarver. Tarver’s performance is low-key, keeping most of his emotion under the surface. While it’s obvious that Tarver isn’t a professional actor, he works for the film, his stoic quality contrasting nicely against the emotional Rocky.

Why would a 60 year old Rocky Balboa get back in the ring? He’s far too old, his body stiffened by arthritis. The movie has to jump through some narrative loops to justify Balboa being able to get a license. If Rocky’s life parallels Stallone’s – and it does – the story is about the man proving he’s not a joke. “Rocky Balboa” hits many of the familiar beats. There’s the expected training montage, still set to Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now.” There’s the climatic boxing match, with Rocky taking countless hits. Seeing a Sylvester Stallone old enough to collect Social Security re-entering the boxing ring should be ridiculous. Instead, it’s inspiring. His age has only made Rocky even more of an underdog. Moreover, Rocky (and, by extension, Sly) wants this more then ever. This is made clear in a key moment. Knocked to the mat, Rocky argues with himself to keep fighting. Because that’s what he’s always done. Because the strive to fight is what has driven him his entire life. Though far from subtle, it’s an effectively touching moment.

Sylvester Stallone, of course, directs his umpteenth come back. Sly’s direction is still somewhat heavy handed. He’s traded slow-motion with black and white inserts and dramatic flashbacks. Still, “Rocky Balboa” is in many ways a rousing success. It’s a touching, inspiring film. After the underwhelming “Rocky V,” it’s the considered and touching send-off the iconic character deserves. The story of Rocky proving he could still go the distance, that he still has the eye of the tiger, reviving Sylvester Stallone’s career is appropriate. Don’t ring the bell, this ain’t over yet, he yelled. And it wasn’t. [8/10]

[X] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Social Outcast [Washed-Up Boxer]
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling

No comments: