Friday, July 29, 2016
(August 1975, U.S.)
Take very careful note of the time that I've posted this blog for THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (if you can). It's midnight on Friday night (New York time). Yes, I deliberately planned it that way because what could be more fitting for this particular film, yes?
So let's be clear and upfront about something right off the bat - THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW is not a great movie! Hell, it's barely even a good movie! It's cemented reputation in the cinematic history books lies solely on the fact that for four decades, it's been considered the greatest midnight movie of all time, inspiring people to repeatedly return to the theater see the film on Friday and Saturday nights. Devoted fans have come to the movie dressed as the characters, have danced along with the infamous "Time Warp" sequence on the theater stage and have enthusiastically participated with the film's dialogue by shouting out at the screen at just the right moments. It's hard to believe that the film ever even opened as a traditional feature, with matinee times, as well. That brief period of the film's release may as well have never existed. For it was April 1, 1976 when the film was re-launched as a midnight feature at New York City's once-famous Waverly Theatre, that THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW was truly born. I came to know it myself, however, at a different theater years later; the now long-gone 8th Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village, where it played for more than two decades...
(but I'll get into more of this later).
The adventures of Brad Majors (asshole!) and Janet Weiss (slut!), as narrated by a criminologist, find themselves lost on a rainy night and stranded by a flat tire. Seeking only the use of a telephone, the couple make their way to a nearby castle where they discover a group of strange and outrageous people who are holding their annual Transylvanian Convention ("It's one of the Master's affairs."). They're soon invited into the bizarre world of Dr. Frank N. Furter (played beautifully by Tim Curry), a self-proclaimed "sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania". The mad doctor has created a man named Rocky whom he seeks absolute pleasure with to relieve his "tension". As the film progress with song, dance and fun, we soon come to learn that the doctor, along with his servants Riff-Raff and sister Magenta, are actually aliens from the planet Transsexual in the galaxy of Transylvania. This little plot twist (if you really want to call it that) serves as nothing more as a silly, rather cheap homage to classic science fiction films of the 1950s, including THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE and FORBIDDEN PLANET.
The plot, quite honestly, almost doesn't even matter in this case. You don't watch THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW for the same reasons you watch other films; i.e. story content, acting, photography, etc. You watch it because you know of it's reputation and its history and like men climbing mountains, it's there! But even the fun has its limitations, in my opinion. Somewhere around the half-way mark of the film, when the character of Dr. Everett Scott arrives at the castle, the wild fun that we've enjoyed thus far begins to simmer down to a rather dull level. Meatloaf's character of Eddie (the most enjoyable character in the whole film!) is already dead and Brad and Janet's fear has subsided, which has also taken some of the fun away. Their fear and confusion upon arrival to the wild world inside the castle is part of the wicked pleasure we take in watching these two innocent goody-goodies get the crap scared out of them. Once they've adapted to their surroundings and are taking place in the floor show finale, something has gotten lost...or just died completely.
The one constant through all of the years that I've been watching movies is that I always prefer to watch them in the privacy of my living room, usually alone. THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW is the one DVD that just isn't as fun to watch when you're alone. Other people...a whole living room of people...would certainly add to the excitement of this classic midnight madness feature. For my own history, as far as the midnight movie experience of this film, came for the first time in 1985 when I was a freshman up at college in Buffalo, at a campus screening for students only. You see, I lived across the street from a triplex movie theater that had midnight shows every Friday and Saturday night, but they outright refused to screen THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW because they didn't want to have to clean up the theater afterwards (who could blame them, I suppose). It wasn't until I switched colleges and was living in Brooklyn that I finally had access to the famous 8th Street Playhouse (there's actually a scene in the 1980 film FAME that was filmed in that theater). I went to my first midnight screening there in 1990 and made the mistake of making it known that I was a "virgin" to the evening's proceedings. Well, I can only tell you that I got targeted by those who were well experienced at this ritual, along with the other "virgins" in the theater. Hell, it was all in great fun! I enjoyed another midnight screening six years later at a theater in Chelsea with a buddy of mine, both of us long since graduated. I haven't done it again since. Now my only world of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW lies with just me, myself and I and the DVD I own. Yes, it's boring, but it is what it is. Still, I'm grateful to my limited youthful experiences with the film and I take pleasure in the fact that 20th Century Fox has still never pulled the film from circulation, even after forty years. Tradition (and the "Time Warp") should never die!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Dr. Frank N. Furter (in song): "So, come up to the lab, and see what's on the slab. I see you shiver with antici...pation! But maybe the rain, isn't really to blame, so I'll remove the cause...but not the symptom!"
Friday, July 22, 2016
(December 2006, U.S.)
No, you're not imagining things. I have completed skipped over ROCKY III, ROCKY IV and ROCKY V! They have no place in my appreciation for the character and the franchise.
I avoided ROCKY BALBOA with everything I had! Really, I'd reached the point where I was completely fed up with sequels, reboots, spin-offs and every other form of the so-called "Hollywood recycling machine"! With only a lackluster ROCKY III and an absolutely horrible ROCKY IV and V, Rocky's story felt over and done with forever. But sometimes, like other places in life, you get dragged to the movies. I got dragged by my father and brother on Christmas Day 2006 while my wife and son were away visiting family in Texas (because that's what Jewish people do on Christmas Day - they go to the movies and then out for Chinese food. It's not a myth!). So before I'd even had a chance to protest, I was sitting in the Manhattan movie theater seat watching the big white letters of ROCKY scroll from the right side of the screen to the left (again!).
Okay, so it's now (supposedly) thirty years since the events of the original ROCKY and the former heavyweight champion from Philadelphia is living the quiet life as an Italian restaurant owner and a widower since Adrian died of what he refers to as the "woman cancer". While he still grieves over his beloved wife, he also battles personal demons, including a deteriorating relationship with his grown son Robert. While indulging in a night of exploring his past, he runs into a now full-grown Marie (the punk twelve year-old girl he tried to give advice to in ROCKY) working at the local bar he used to frequent. She's a responsible woman now with a son of her own and the two of them almost immediately develop a new friendship all these years later. Rocky is restless, too, and is suddenly drawn to the idea of an exhibition boxing match with the current heavyweight champion of the world Mason "The Line" Dixon (played by real life boxer Antonio Tarver), an undisputed but very unpopular athlete who defeats his opponents too easily and too quickly (much in the way Mike Tyson used to do in the 1980s). This opportunity is all based on a computer fight dictating that Rocky would win by a knockout, so naturally, those who think they can promote the idea and get rich doing it waste no time in getting Rocky on board.
Like every ROCKY film preceeding this one, Rocky must come to terms with his successes, his limitations and the personal risks involved with the big fight (and let's not forget the traditional training montage with "Gonna Fly Now"). Along the way, his friendship with Marie grows stronger (platonic, of course!), as does the one with his son, who must learn from his father that in life, "it ain't about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward", and that blaming others for your own inadequacies will never work (good philosophy from the 'ol Philly punching bag!). On the night of the big HBO pay-per-view fight, the promoted "exhibition" match turns into something much more when Rocky proves to himself and the whole world watching him that he cannot only still survive in the ring at his age, but can still come out on top in triumph and in victory - because that's exactly what we expect from Rocky Balboa, as we have always expected for nearly forty years now. In the end, as Rocky concludes another visit with Adrian at the cemetery, we watch our beloved hero walk off into the distance and fade away into his own future. But, of course, Hollywood doesn't know the meaning of the word "over" - so nine years later we're given another reboot in its own right with CREED (2015). OMG, enough already!
My initial reaction after seeing ROCKY BALBOA the first time that Christmas Day was merely lukewarm. It was definitely a return-to-form over the fifth installment sixteen years prior and a redemption for Sylvester Stallone who accurately believed that he'd left Rocky's story in a very disappointing state and sought proper closure for the character. This sixth installment surely had the heart and soul of the original ROCKY, but that was, perhaps, also part of the problem. This film wasn't offering very much that we hadn't already seen back in 1976. Even the big fight itself copied elements directly from the first film, including the heavyweight champion getting knocked down for the first time in his career by Rocky, as well as the climactic conclusion of the split decision with the victory going to the reigning champion. So again, there was the old complaint of Hollywood recycling its old material. But then something unexpected happened - upon watching the DVD (more than once) over the months and years that followed, the film started to grow on me. Yes, it was very much a remake of ROCKY, but there was still something irresistible about having the character of Rocky Balboa back again (like an old friend) in a deeper, more spiritual manner in which I'd previously loved him back in the 1970s. He was old now and wounded from life and the prospect of him trying to redeem his life following the loss of Adrian made more sense to me. It should also be noted that the story idea of a man fighting in the ring at his age is not so much fiction as you might expect. The computer fight that starts everything is based on a real-life similar computer fight that took place in 1970 between Muhammad Ali and Rocky Marciano (Marciano won). The prospect of Rocky's return late in life is also based on former heavyweight champion George Forman's real-life return to the ring in the 1990s up until the age of forty-eight. You see - sometimes you just can't make this stuff up!
By the way, when you're watching ROCKY BALBOA, you have to completely disregard the plot line in ROCKY V in which Rocky was diagnosed with brain damage and advised by his doctor never to fight again. Stallone himself clarified this apparent inconsistency by stating that...
"When Rocky was diagnosed with brain damage, it must be noted that many athletes have a form of brain damage including football players, soccer players, and other individuals in contact sports such as rugby, etc. Rocky never went for a second opinion and yielded to his wife's wishes to stop. So with the advent of new research techniques into brain damage, Rocky was found to be normal among fighters, and he was suffering the results of a severe concussion. By today's standards Rocky Balboa would be given a clean bill of health for fighters."
Well, you can buy that if you want or you can just forget that it was ever an issue. Anyway, this is where the story of Rocky Balboa finally ends for me. I watched CREED on DVD and was very unimpressed with it because it suffered from what I like to refer to as SS-NAG - same shit, not as good! So...I bid Rocky Balboa a final farewell. Now it's over!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Rocky Balboa: "Time goes by too fast, Paulie."
Friday, July 15, 2016
(June 1979, U.S.)
Like it or not, ROCKY II had to be made - it had to be! Audiences all over the world (including this guy) were simply not going to sit idly by and accept the fact that Rocky Balboa had unfairly and unjustly lost the championship fight against Apollo Creed at the conclusion of the first film. We wanted restitution, dammit! We were going to get it, because by the early part of the year in 1979, we knew that ROCKY II was coming in just a few short months. Even CBS-TV knew how to jump start our gears by premiering ROCKY on February 4, 1979 and my family didn't waste any time before we were all sitting in front of the TV to catch up on Rocky's story before we got on line at our local neighborhood movie theater to continue his story. Though, ironically, the marketing didn't seem all that strong to me. Look closely at the movie poster and you'll likely agree it doesn't exactly tempt or lure you in too strongly. I mean, it's just a huge mix of black and yellow and the title. Big deal, right? Still, that's hardly enough to deter die-hard Rocky fans!
And so, Sylvester Stallone himself takes on the reigns of director for this one, and more or less, sticks to the same formula that previous director John G. Avildsen originated. Picking up right where the first film left off...well, not really...it rewinds just a bit to recap the conclusion of the film from the middle of the fourteenth round up to the very end. From there, as the opening credits roll, we follow the ambulance through the nighttime streets of Philadelphia where Rocky and Apollo arrive to verbally confront one another. Apollo is pissed and dismisses Rocky's entire performance of going the distance with him as nothing more than a lucky fluke. Determined to prove that he's the superior athlete, he challenges Rocky to a rematch, which Rocky declines for reasons of immediate retirement. His retirement is where, unfortunately, the viewer needs to buckle up and exercise a strong degree of patience. We follow Rocky and Adrian as they quietly coast through life and try to live as "normal" people with a new marriage (to Adrian), a new house, a new car, and a new baby on the way. Trouble is, Rocky's running out of money and he's not particularly qualified to do much else (especially do TV commercials that require him reading cue cards) except fight. You see, it would seem that somewhere during the course of the first and second film, Rocky Balboa has become just a little dumber. Gone, it seems, is the wit and street wisdom of the character we enjoyed listening to in the first film and has now been replaced by an almost tragic simplicity. Rocky still has a wonderful heart and it's his heart that prevents him from truly striving to train with all he has to have a solid chance against Apollo Creed for the second go-around because his new wife doesn't support what he's doing. Even when tragedy strikes and Adrian falls into a coma when giving premature birth to their son, the sadness we're supposed to feel seems limited because Stallone doesn't take full advantage of this moment to express his true self with an emotional speech as he had done previously (twice) in the first film. Instead, he's reduced to reading silly poems and a western novel to his wife in order to remain close to her and help her to wake up. When Adrian finally comes out of her coma (yeah, as if this film was going to go in any other direction!), the story is suddenly kicked back into the place it belongs when she tells Rocky the only thing she wants him to do now is, "Win!"
Now this is where ROCKY II takes off, and of course, it's ignited with the training montage fans cannot live without, two of them this time. During the ever-popular tune of "Gonna Fly Now", the sequence is designed for children because like the Pied Piper, Rocky leads what appears to be all of the children of Philadelphia behind him as he does his running, including up the famous museum steps (again). The famous song is even sung by children this time. Whereas Rocky met his challenge for himself the last time around, this time he's doing it for the love of Adrian and his new son...if he can just get to the fight on time!
The big fight - this is what all Rocky fans wait for! Much like the first film, the choreography of the fight is recognizable in terms of pace, speed, excitement and even bloody violence. It's unfortunate that Stallone has to ruin certain moments by interjecting a common cliché like slow motion action. Really, it doesn't make the fight any better or more thrilling to watch. Still, I have to give Stallone credit for creating a fresh and original way for this fight to climax, with both opponents knocking each other to oblivion until they've both fallen on the floor and it's up to the one who will have the strength, the stamina and the spirit to get up first for us to see who will be the new heavyweight champion of the world. Now be honest - if you were there to see ROCKY II in the theater back in 1979, tell me you did not cheer and scream your head off for Rocky to get up first! You know you did! My family, even my usually-reserved mother, went ballistic and shouted our heads off. It was okay, because the rest of the audience was doing it, too. Perhaps you truly had to be there to understand, but this was movie heaven at that moment - cheering for the underdog hero you love and watching him prevail by standing up first and claiming his right and his honor to be declared champion of the world, and then shouting out, "Yo, Adrian, I did it!" So, despite the film's portion of dragging dullness, my family loved and embraced ROCKY II for all it had to offer us, which was mainly redemption for a beloved character who got screwed the first time around (as did we!). We even stayed in our theater seats and watched the entire movie again (you could still do that without a problem back when I was a kid).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Apollo Creed: "Do you think I beat him the last time?"
Tony Evers: "You got the decision."
Apollo: "Man, I won, but I didn't beat him! What are you afraid of, Tony?"
Tony: "He's all wrong for us, baby. I saw you beat that man like I never saw no man get beat before, and the man kept coming after you. Now we don't need no man like that in our lives. I know what you're feeling. Let it go! Let it go! You're the champ!"
Okay, my friends, this is one of those rare moments where I have more to say after my favorite line of the film posted. This needs to be said because I need to address some of the ROCKY sequels that followed this one. This is necessary because they will not be discussed or posted on this blog for the simple reasons that I don't consider them viable and worthy films for my tastes and I do not own them in my film collection.
ROCKY III - back in 1982, I was fifteen years-old and barely aware that this sequel had been made. One Sunday, I just happen to see the full page promo ad in the New York Times Arts & Leisure section and I knew it was on its way. Like everyone else I knew, I fell for the third installment hook, line and sinker. Like everyone else, I fell in love with a great new rock song called "Eye of the Tiger" by a new band called Survivor. Like everyone else, I thought this new guy who called himself Mr. T was the coolest bad-ass motherfucker in Hollywood. By the summer of 1984, my family was finally subscribing to HBO and I must have watched ROCKY III a hundred times. Well, you know what eventually happened? I grew up and my cinematic tastes and abilities to be more critical matured. I came to realize that ROCKY III is nothing more than a sensationalized, campy and even comical version of something else that it used to be entirely. The acting, with the exception of Rocky and Adrian's fight on the California beach, is plain and unmotivating. The championship fight is almost cartoonish, with very unrealistic sledgehammer sound effects accompanying each punch. The final moment of Rocky and Apollo Creed having a private fight between themselves as friends is, admittedly, a poignant one, but it's not enough to save a sequel that has managed to get worse with age, in my opinion. But hey, I still love the song "Eye of the Tiger".
ROCKY IV - how do I put this kindly? Hell, I can't! This, in my humble and blogging opinion, is outright the worst movie ever made in the history of the movies! In 1985, again, like so many others, I headed to theater to get sucked into the next chapter of Rocky's life, partly because I'd been taken in by Stallone's previous film RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD-PART II over the past summer (I saw it twice!). Shit, you could have knocked me over with a spoon if you'd seen the dumbfounded look on my face as I watched this enormous pile of garbage! I could not possibly fathom how the 1976 Oscar-winning tale of love, triumph and spirit could possibly erode into something as unintelligent and mindless as this farce I was watching on the screen! Rocky Balboa's character had become, in my opinion, nothing more than a human punching bag whose Russian opponent was a speechless brute who may as well have been nothing more than just a comic book super villain! Was this movie really supposed to raise our American spirits during a Cold War that still existed in the 1980s?? What also infuriated me even more was that audiences seemed to eat all of this up! I wanted to jump up and shout, "What's wrong with you people! Are you watching the same thing I'm watching??" Well, in the end, I could only presume that people around me were dumb when it came to the movies, or maybe I was just a little smarter. Pick one!
ROCKY V - I actually went to see this one in 1990 because John G. Avildsen was back in the director's chair and I just assumed that the man behind the original ROCKY would do this new sequel some justice. WRONG! The only element that makes this one a slight improvement over its previous chapter is the trauma of Rocky's financial life being turned upside down and forcing him to go back to the beginning of where he came from. With that drama comes a degree of humility lending itself to slightly (only slightly!) better performances by all involved. But on the action and fighting front, it's just as comical and cartoonish as it had been since 1982. By the end, with Rocky and his teenage son standing on the museum steps that made the character famous, it appeared that the tale of Rocky Balboa had exhausted itself was coming to a dull and unfortunate swan song.
That's what I thought for sixteen years, until something finally changed...
Saturday, July 9, 2016
(November 1976, U.S.)
Over the course of this summer, I've been keeping up with the original CNN documentary series THE EIGHTIES. The most recent episode focused on the tech boom of that decade and the origins of what would eventually become the modern day 21st Century marvels (or should I say addictions??) of personal computers, telephones and movie watching and collecting. It's astounding to look back on something as it once was during another time and consider just how it got to where it is today. So what's that got to do with the movie ROCKY? Well, in the world of motion picture franchises, ROCKY is one of the few that began in another decade and is still active today (STAR WARS, James Bond and Indiana Jones being a few other examples - yes, there's a fifth Indy film on the way!). To look back at ROCKY as it was in the year 1976 and fully realize the journey it took to eventually become CREED (2015) is interesting, if not puzzling. To even look back on who Sylvester Stallone was way back then requires a moment of pause. If you watch the original trailer for ROCKY, the voice-over declares that "newcomer" Sylvester Stallone has been compared to Paul Newman, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro and Marlon Brando. There might have been some truth to that in the late 1970s, but when you consider much of the mindless crap that Stallone has made throughout his career, those early comparisons are very easily dismissed.
Anyway, allow me now to tell you my own personal story of me and ROCKY...
Believe it or not, ROCKY started out as a small film, with only a limited theatrical release (I think it may have only been in two Manhattan theaters in the beginning). I recall seeing the newspaper ads for the movie as nothing more than the movie's title in simple white letters against a black background, just like the film's opening side crawl. From the perspective of my nine year-old mind at the time, I had no idea what ROCKY was about. In fact, the only time I'd ever heard the name "Rocky" before was in a Bugs Bunny cartoon from a character that was supposed to be modeled after Edward G. Robinson in LITTLE CAESAR (1931). So, needless, to say, I didn't focus too much of my attention on finding out more about this film. Besides, I had the new KING KONG movie to look forward to more!
Many months later, my life was considerably different. I was ten years-old now, my parents had gotten back together and we'd just moved into a massive apartment complex which featured, among many other amenities, a private 400 seat, second run movie theater! In June 1977, after already having won the best picture Oscar for 1976 (though I didn't know that at the time), ROCKY came to that private movie theater and my father took me and my little brother to see it. By that time, I'd learned that ROCKY was a love story about a boxer, but nothing more, really. Still, I loved going to the movies (any movie!) so who was I to complain about anything? When the film started, I recall immediately being taken in by the prospect of the rags-to-riches American Dream story of this man called Rocky Balboa, an uneducated but kind-hearted working class "Italian Stallion" working as a debt collector for a loan shark in the slums of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Rocky starting as a small-time club fighter who later gets a shot at the world heavyweight championship was gripping for me because I'd already spent the past few years watching the fights of the late Muhammad Ali on ABC's Wide World of Sports with my father and felt a certain child's connection to the boxer. I felt puzzled, though, as to why he found such a shy, four-eyed recluse like Adrian so attractive and appealing, but still felt happy for the man when the two of them hooked up so quickly. I was repelled by such a mean character as Paulie and could never fathom why a good man like Rocky would continue to be friends with him, even if he was dating his sister. Still, the human dramas that were taking place up on the screen before me hardly felt boring, even to a ten year-old kid who appreciated a little more action in the movies he watched.
Then came the film's first pivotal moment for me - the training sequence to "Gonna Fly Now". I'd heard that song on the radio for months already, but had no idea until that very moment in my theater seat that it belonged to ROCKY. My eyes lit up and I was amazed! I actually whispered to my father sitting next to me, "I didn't know this song was from this movie!" The familiarity of it just made the entire sequence, particularly Rocky triumphant climb up the museum steps, all the more exciting. By this time, I can only say that I couldn't wait for the big championship fight to begin. My heart was already racing and I was sure that Rocky was going to win! I mean, really, how else could this movie end?? Watching the fight was a spectacular, if not bloody and violent, moment for my young moviegoing eyes. Not until now was I fully realizing the great spirit of the man behind the story. Rocky Balboa was clearly a great champion and the fight wasn't even over yet. He'd already knocked down the champ Apollo Creed and he was about to fulfill his lifelong dream of going the distance of fifteen rounds with the heavyweight champion of the world. Still, that wasn't enough for me! Rocky had to win the fight! He'd beaten the ever-loving crap out of Apollo, so how could he not?? When it was all over and that final bell rang, there was so much pandemonium on the screen accompanied by Bill Conti's music, I couldn't hear or tell what was going on or what the outcome of the fight was. I had to ask my father what a "split decision" was. Then it happened, the moment I'll never forget because I can only remember a horrible sense of disappointment and loss - Apollo Creed raised his arms in victory and I knew what had just happened! I wanted to cry "FOUL!", I wanted to shout out, "NO FAIR!", I wanted my father's ticket money back right now! How could Rocky Balboa have possibly lost this fight?? Was somebody not watching the ass-kicking that Rocky had just administered?? No, this wasn't right! Something had to be done! I asked my father for some sort of clarity and understanding of how something so unjust could take place. I remember his simple response to me was, "They're probably making another Rocky movie and he'll win the re-match." Okay, that may have been all well and good (I was too young to understand the political and moneymaking tactics of Hollywood), but it still didn't erase the enormous feeling I had that such a good man as Rocky Balboa had been royally screwed, and I along with him!
Anyway, that ends my personal story of how I came to know Rocky Balboa.
Many of us very likely know the story of how Sylvester Stallone wrote the screenplay for ROCKY in just three days and lobbied with producers Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler for himself to star as the title character. He certainly wasn't writing anything too original, however. One only need watch many other boxing films made before ROCKY, particularly SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME (1956) with Paul Newman as Rocky Graziano to know what I'm talking about. Still, there's an undeniable charm in a character like Rocky Balboa at the time of his screen infancy (what the character turned into later is highly questionable!). What he represents for us is the all-American winner, even if he doesn't actually win in the end. There is victory in much of what Rocky does even before the fight. Victory in winning over the girl he fancies, victory in trying to play father figure to a street girl like Marie so doesn't end up as "just another whore on the corner", victory in maintaining his humanity and goodness in his relationship with a man like Paulie and a hard case like Mickey, victory in the freak luck of the championship opportunity that falls in his lap, and the ultimate of victory of giving it his all to strive for excellence. In the end after fifteen rounds, "split decision" or not, Rocky is a winner and it's that wonderful feeling that movie audiences (myself included) took with them right up until the very last frame of the film that ended with the simple, glorious words of, "I love you!" Even today, forty years later, when I watch the film, I am still faced with the feeling of shock and disbelief when Rocky loses the fight. It still just doesn't feel right, despite the necessity of the plot's outcome in order to generate more ROCKY movies! Clearly, I may never get over this one!
ROCKY won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1976. For many years, I'm sure I agreed with that high honor. However, as I've gotten older and my cinematic tastes have matured, I have to say that as much as I love and treasure ROCKY, it's Martin Scorsese's TAXI DRIVER that I think should have taken home the great statue.
By the way, let me conclude this post by sharing an interesting picture with you that I recently found on the web. This was a single screen movie theater called the Playhouse in Great Neck, Long Island, the town I grew up in and currently live in now. This picture was likely taken in the spring of 1977, just after ROCKY won the best picture Oscar and before my family actually moved to Great Neck. The theater was closed and razed in 1982. I still miss it...
Favorite line or dialogue:
Tony Evers: "He doesn't know it's a damn show! He thinks it's a damn fight! Now finish this bum and let's go home!"
Monday, July 4, 2016
(September 1988, U.S.)
I'm more-than-very confident that nearly none of you reading this post right now have never heard of ROCKET GIBRALTAR. It was the second-to-last film of Burt Lancaster's illustrious career (FIELD OF DREAMS being his last) and features a cast of then-unknowns who would later go on to bigger stardom, including Kevin Spacey, Bill Pullman, David Hyde Pierce, Patricia Clarkson, Suzy Amis and a cute, blonde-haired little boy named Macaulay Culkin who would later go on to be home alone in a couple of big Christmas movies. It's a simple, little movie filled with the warmth and heart of love and family that could have easily gotten lost in the shuffle of other big summer hits that were still going strong at the time, including DIE HARD and A FISH CALLED WANDA. For me, however, it's a film I've always embraced on a deeply personal level and I'll try to explain why now...
ROCKET GIBRALTAR is the story of retired and widowed Hollywood writer and patriarch Levi Rockwell (Lancaster) whose family reunites at his Long Island estate to celebrate his upcoming seventy-seventh birthday. Surrounding the celebration are the family's personal (if not predictable) problems and social dramas. That's it, really. The movie doesn't offer too much more than a look inside a large family and their children who spend everyday playing on the beach and restoring an old boat to give to their grandfather for his birthday. The movie was filmed on location on Long Island, with some specific scenes filmed right in Westhampton Beach. You've all read my descriptions of this town before and how I've spent the better part of my entire life there every summer season at the family's beach house. Very sadly, it was only just weeks ago that the house, after thirty-eight long years, was sold. As I write this blog, I am currently experiencing the pain of having to turn my back and walk away from something that has been a part of my strength, my inspiration, my passion, my identity and my very soul. It was a house that brought out the best in me as a man and as a father to my son. As a result, the task of actually re-watching ROCKET GIBRALTAR for the purpose of a fresh perspective seems too painful and emotional for me right now. Writing about it, on the other hand, is somewhat therapeutic and I shall do my best now to continue with things on this blog as I always have.
Much like THE BIG CHILL (1983), this film examines our human social interactions when we are put in the position of staying under the same roof for a long weekend. The Long Island home is actually nothing that special, really, but the film puts its proximity to the nearest beach as only a short bicycle ride away, as seen through the actions of the children. The boat they work at restoring is not only a testament to the grandfather they love, but also a project which bonds them closer together as cousins. There's a particularly touching moment of bonding when Levi takes a late night walk with his grandchildren on the beach and tells them of the ancient traditions of the Viking Funeral and even goes so far as to express it as a dying wish after he's gone. Later, it's actually during the course of the birthday celebration, when everyone is completely bogged down in their own personal issues and worries, that his health begins to fail and he slowly slips away while watching an old Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers picture. The children, being the ones who find his body in bed, decide to interpret his dying wish literally and proceed to actually sneak the grown man's body away from the house and their parents and drag it to the beach in order to give him a real Viking Funeral. This is, perhaps, where things get a little far-fetched in terms of small children actually being able to get away with something like this, but before we know it, they've put their grandfather's body aboard the restored boat and set it out to sea, where they proceed to shoot flaming arrows at it and fulfill the man's final request. Truth be told, if you can get past this little incident of disbelief, what remains is very touching to the point of choking up in your own tears, as the entire family sits on the beach (children and their parents) and watches the patriarch of their life burn away into the night and the approaching dawn. It's an unconventional way to say goodbye to a loved one in the 20th Century, indeed, but it's a final moment that ultimately brings family back together again and reminds us of what's most important and even the geographical locations of where we express those important issues. For me, the location was the family beach house in Westhampton Beach...and now it's gone. How do I move on? I don't know how. I only know that I have to. So...goodbye.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Levi Rockwell: "Their whole life was the sea, the sea and their boats. So in celebrating their deaths- yes, you can say celebrating - they used both. The families of the great Viking would put the body of their loved one on a ship, cover it with straw, and then, as the sun was setting, cast it away into the water. They would light huge bonfires on the beach, and then the Vikings would light the tips of their arrows in the bonfire and shoot them at the ship. Ah, it must have been so beautiful, fire on the water. Legend has it that if the color of the setting sun and the color of the burning ship were the same then that Viking had lead a good life, and in the afterlife he would go to Viking Heaven. All night long the Viking men, women, and children watched the ship with the body as it burned in the water. By dawn all that was left were ashes, complete obliteration, carried by the currents to the four corners of the earth, fresh and beautiful, and vanished completely, like a dream."