Tuesday Jun 05, 2012
Tuesday Jun 05, 2012
Tuesday Jun 05, 2012
We Need To Talk About Kevin
I don't have the slightest idea of how to review this movie. It's not like I could say I "enjoyed" it, because enjoyment has nothing to do with this film. I did find it moving and fascinating, but I can see where people wouldn't and I could not blame them.
On the surface this seems to be an impossible film to make. It's based on a book that is told through a series of letters from a woman to her husband about their son in the wake of an undisclosed tragedy. Yes, this device has been used and adapted before (The Color Purple), but in this case there is such a crippling emotional weight attached to it that it's a difficult narrative to get across.
Without spoiling anything it's the story of Eva Khatchadourian, a celebrated travel writer who has her adventurous life interrupted by the arrival of her son Kevin. All through Kevin's life there is an odd disconnect between mother and child. From the beginning it seems as if the boy just doesn't like his mother. As a baby he screeches whenever she holds him. As a toddler he refuses to listen, play with, or otherwise engage her. As he grows older his attitude towards her grows in hostility. From vandalizing her home office to using abusive language, this boy doesn't seem to have any love at all for his mother.
Not that he is alone. Eva doesn't really seem to like Kevin that much either. She seems to blame him for her losing the life she loved so much. Instead of traveling the world she gets to hear the screams of a baby that seems to repel at her touch. Instead of living in New York city she is trapped in a sterile suburban community with nobody to talk to but a son who actively dislikes her. There are instances of abuse, both physical and verbal, from the mother to her son. It all leads to an unimaginable tragedy that leaves Eva a completely broken woman, as it would appear to have been Kevin's plan all along.
Everything about this movie is a downer. Not that that's a bad thing, but as a viewer you need to know going in that this is not a movie where good things happen.
That being said, everything about the film itself is brilliant.
Not only is the subject matter challenging, but the manner the film is made is challenging as well. It is a very non-linear story, jumping from present day Eva, living alone and struggling with life in a world that doesn't seem to want her, to Kevin's childhood. All throughout you get hints at the tragedy and hints at the problems with Kevin, but it's never explicit. It's evident that he is a sociopath (in this case a true sociopath, which is a disregard for the feelings of others and a lack of empathy and remorse), but it's never stated. Eva obviously has some post partum depression that is never dealt with, but again it gets swept under the rug. In this way it is one of the most challenging movies I've ever seen. It's difficult subject matter, directed in a nonlinear fashion, with characters who don't spell out what they are feeling. Director Lynne Ramsay absolutely crushes it with this movie. But, as good a film as it is, it is also one that I can see people not liking, and I cannot fault anyone for that.
Tilda Swinton, who I have always enjoyed but have never been in the "she is so amazing" camp with, gives an incredible performance. She makes Eva a very real person. You understand her frustration and her pain and her isolation, but at the same time you see her flaws.
John C. Reilly does another solid dramatic turn as well. He is the only member of the family that Kevin appears to care for or connect with and he really conveys a man who is torn between his wife and his child. He never sees the coldness that Eva sees, all he knows is that his wife seems to dislike their child and he doesn't know what to do about it.
This may not be the movie for you, but if you like directors that take chances both in storytelling and with character development than "We Need To Talk About Kevin," will most definitely do it for you.
Tuesday May 29, 2012
Tuesday May 29, 2012
Tuesday May 29, 2012
I have never made even the slightest attempt to hide my complete and utter disdain for the movie “Juno.” From my very first viewing I found it insufferable. I hated the characters, found the dialogue unbearable in it’s hipster cuteness, and in general found it to be one of the least pleasant movie going experiences I’ve ever had.
Apparently, I am in a very small minority with this reaction. During the screening every person in the theatre was laughing hysterically at every line that had even the promise of comedy. I was able to identify every intended joke, but they elicited little more than a mental groan from me. Don’t get me wrong, I found the term “pork sword” to be screamingly hysterical… when I was in middle school. So it struck me odd that I was sitting there in a room full of adults who unleashed torrents of gut busting laughter at its utterance.
I kept looking around to see if people were maybe listening to something different on headphones or something, like maybe everyone else was given an iPod with a bunch of Richard Pryor or George Carlin stuff on them and that was what they were laughing at. Honestly, I cannot accurately describe how little I liked this movie.
And don’t try to change my mind on this one. Many people have, and have left the conversation liking “Juno,” less. I have put much more thought into my reasons for hating it than you have put into your reasons for liking it.
“Juno,” was followed up by “Jennifer’s Body,” which found a way to be worse. That thing… oh, crap was that thing awful. I didn’t eve bother finishing it. It honestly felt like she somehow heard my criticism and responded, “Oh, you think that one sucked? Son, I’ll show you a movie that sucks.”
Hell, casting Amanda Seyfried as the “plain” girl who is too into her popular, beautiful friend and then naming her “Needy” Lesnicky… I don’t even know how to respond to that. Why not just remove all subtext and call her “Codependance McSexuallyConfused.”
I haven’t seen “United States of Tara,” because it looks stupid. Yes, Toni Colette is a fine actress and all, but this show always looked like crap to me. Yeah, people love it and say it’s brilliant… just like they did about “Juno,’ so that means nothing to me. There is too much great television out there for me to waste my time on something I have no interest in.
All of her writing looks like this to me
Now we have “Young Adult.” From the moment the first poster hit the net I was dubious to say the least. It looked like… well, like more crap from a writer I do not like. The reviews hit and it was more of the same. It appeared as though Cody’s deal with Satan was still in full swing. But I was given some pause. People who I actually respect, and who dislike “Juno,” were actually behind it. They didn’t love it, but they gave it an “it’s not so bad,” pass.
So, I sat down and watched it. And…
That’s about all I can say about it. It isn’t terrible or terribly good. It’s ok. There were some things I found interesting in it, but mostly I found it to be pretty forgettable. I think the word I am looking for is “bad.”
“Young Adult,” features yet another unsympathetic protagonist. Note, I didn’t say unlikable, I said unsympathetic. Likeable is too subjective a term, and I have no problem with an unlikable character. Hell, there are some characters that I love for their unlikability. There are characters I HATE that other people absolutely adore. But sympathy… that’s a little more universal.
Juno, I didn’t like her, but I could sympathize with her. I mean, that is a difficult position for a teenager to be in. Granted, I think she behaved like an asshole, but I could sympathize.
The protagonist of “Young Adult,” is Mavis Gary, a recently divorced ghostwriter for a series of young adult novels. She was the coolest, prettiest girl in her high school and is now living a somewhat glamorous life in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Things aren’t going great for her. As I said, she just got divorced, the book series she writes for is being cancelled, she has a very serious drinking problem (by that I mean she is a full blown alcoholic), and to top things off she just got an e-mail from her high school boyfriend announcing the birth of his first child.
So she does what any normal, rational, mature human being would. She drives back to her hometown to try and steal this man away from his wife and child.
Up until that last bit, this is a character that I could see as compelling. She is a train wreck in full crisis mode. Right off the bat I was, if nothing else, curious about this person. I mean, this is someone who has it all. Good job, hell, GREAT job. She gets paid to do what thousands of people would literally kill to do. She is beautiful, successful, and there is no reason why she shouldn’t be happy.
But she isn’t.
Who can’t relate to that? We have all had times in our lives when things were going as well as we could hope, but for some reason it’s just not enough. The one thing you need to be happy isn’t there. You may not even know what it is, but you know that it’s missing.
This is a good basis for a character. There is a possibility for depth and empathy if they are handled properly. The problem with this movie is that you have a brilliantly set up, horribly executed person.
What starts out with the promise of depth quickly vanishes into a one-dimensional, ID driven monster that I can’t describe as unlikable because there isn’t anything to really connect to.
Not only that, but she is a completely static character. She doesn’t grow, she doesn’t change, and she doesn’t evolve. She is just as revolting a human being at the end as she was at the beginning.
Now, I am not saying that a character has to go through a huge change and learn a big lesson that changes their life in order for it to be a good movie, but there has to be some level of growth in order for the conflict to have any meaning. I know that this doesn’t always happen in real life, but this is a movie and not giving your character some level of growth or self-awareness is just lazy.
There is some really great stuff in this movie, but almost all of it is tempered by something that doesn’t work.
Patton Oswalt is fantastic as Matt Freehauf, an outcast Mavis went to high school with. His performance is probably the best thing about the movie.
But, I just didn’t buy his character. Here’s a guy that Mavis only remembers as “The Hate Crime Guy,” because in high school a bunch of jocks thought he was gay and beat him with a crowbar, crippling him, mangling his genitals, and then left him for dead in the woods. I don’t understand why he puts up with her. This is a woman who represents everything that caused him to be brutalized. Not that she formerly symbolized it, but that she currently symbolizes it. She is the exact same superficial piece of trash she was in high school, but she speaks to him and suddenly, he’s like a puppy falling at her feet. I just didn’t buy it. I am speaking as someone who was bullied in middle school. There is no part of me that would be willing to hang out with the person who did that to me, or with someone who facilitated what happened.
But other than the unrealistic relationship they formed, Oswalt created a completely believable and sympathetic man who has gone through some shit and is somehow able to maintain his dignity.
The direction is superb. Jason Reitman is really shaping up to be one of the best directors working today. He has a feel for character, pacing, and visuals that is absolutely incredible.
I hate to sound like a broken record, but my problems with this movie come back to the script. Granted, it wasn’t soaked with banal hipster dialogue like “Juno,” and “Jennifer’s Body,” but it was just lacking. It felt like a half developed premise that Cody didn’t feel the need to go back and hone. By the time the movie was over I found myself searching for a point.
Because, let’s be honest, this is a movie without a point or anything to really say. What was I supposed to take away from this? Am I supposed to feel sorry for Mavis because she has everything except fulfillment? Was I supposed to hate her? Was I supposed to pity her? What? What was the point of this?
All “Young Adult” gives you is a narcissistic borderline sociopath who feels entitled to everything and doesn’t care in the slightest about anyone other than herself. I wouldn’t have a problem with that if she had at least been interesting.
Monday May 21, 2012
Monday May 21, 2012
Monday May 21, 2012
Alpha to Omega
The film franchise is an inescapable part of the modern movie landscape. In this series I will address a series of films from the first to the last, looking at each film as a standalone and how it fits into the series.
In any film series, particularly one that achieves cult status, there is usually at least one film that falls between the cracks. A lot of times it’s because the movies are just bad. Studios are all about money, so when you have a property that is recognizable they will seize on that and start cranking them out. Did you know that there are 4 “Iron Eagle” movies, 11 “Shaft” movies? I didn’t.
Sometimes, though, it’s nothing to do with quality, many of these films are quite good, but for some reason they are almost doomed to live in the shadows of the other films. There are 22 Bond movies (not including the yet to be released “Skyfall”), and a lot of those are relegated to a more obscure position than they should be. I personally think “The Spy Who Loved Me” to be one of Roger Moore’s best, but more people have seen “Moonraker,” “Octopussy,” and “A View to A Kill,” and those border on un-watchable.
Essentially, Bill Goldman was right… nobody knows anything.
As a “Rocky” fan I have had countless conversations about how moving and inspiring the original is, or about how mind blowingly bad ass “Rocky III” is, or the jingoistic merits of “Rocky IV,” hell, I’ve even talked at length about the relative merits and weaknesses of “V.” But I found that as I embarked on this… I have never had a conversation about “Rocky II.” If you listen to our Stallone show, you have heard, quite literally, everything I have ever said about that film.
Honestly, I have no memory of actually seeing it. I mean, yeah, I’ve seen the ending during the montages in the other films, but I don’t remember ever sitting down and watching it.
Well, a few weeks back I rectified this as part of my “Rocky” marathon. Actually, it was the reason for the marathon and, indirectly, this series of articles.
So, what did I think?
In short, it is criminally overlooked. It isn’t the best of the series, but it is far from the worst… very far from the worst. From a strictly narrative standpoint it is the most necessary and has the strongest emotional link to the original (until “Rocky Balboa” that is).
Done properly a sequel will advance the characters and/or the narrative of the original film. It becomes a necessary step in the evolution of the world of the first film. “Rocky II” does that brilliantly by not only advancing the story and the characters, but by evolving the themes and building on the emotional impact of the original.
Quick recap- Robert “Rocky” Balboa is a scrappy ham and egger (boxers who lack sufficient skill to fight for big prizes, they go paid so little that they couldn’t afford steak) who was given a shot at the heavyweight championship of the world. He didn’t stand a chance, but had enough heart to be the first fighter to ever go the distance with Apollo Creed, the Ali-esque undisputed champ. To Creed it was a show, to Rocky it was a chance to be some thing more than just some “bum from the neighborhood.” He loses the fight, but wins the love of Adrian, the shy sister of one of his closest friends.
The movie came out of nowhere and became the biggest hit of the year, win Oscars, catapult the cast into the A list, and became a fixture in American pop culture. So, naturally there had to be a sequel.
“Rocky II,” is a direct sequel, picking up exactly where the first film left off. In essence, if you removed the credits the two could play as one movie. It does what the best sequels do, it continues the story of the original while developing its themes and allowing the world of the film to grow with the characters.
The movie begins with both fighters being rushed to the hospital for treatment after the brutal fight that ends the first movie. In the aftermath of the fight Creed realizes how much the split decision could harm his reputation and once at the hospital he publicly challenges Rocky to a rematch. Rocky declines and announces his retirement.
From here he attempts to enter normal life. He has a bit of money from the fight and doesn’t think it will ever run out. He buys an expensive car that he doesn’t know how to drive, nice clothes, fancy jewelry, and a house. He is living the dream. His newfound fame affords him a chance to make more money through endorsements and he thinks it will lead to a job.
The problem is, as he said in the first movie, he isn’t someone who can make a living off his brains. He tries to do commercials but can’t read lines. He tries to get a job, but lacks education and skills. He even tries going to work at Mickey’s gym, but because he was a contender for the championship and is now cleaning spit buckets and moping the floors he isn’t given any respect by the fighters.
So, broke, broken, and desperate he starts working in the meat packing plant with Paulie. He marries Adrian and she is soon pregnant. Everything seems to be shaping up well for Rocky.
Meanwhile, Apollo is getting deluged with hate mail. Fans see his split decision as an indictment of his championship. If he’s so great, how did this ham and egger go the distance? He is desperate to clear his name and embarks on a public smear campaign of Balboa in hopes of goading him into the ring.
This is where the movie gets interesting. In the first film Creed wasn’t really a villain. He was Rocky’s opponent, but he wasn’t a bad guy. He was a businessman seizing an opportunity. Here, however he turns bad. What makes him bad is the same thing that makes Rocky good; his pride and his desire to be the best. The line that best encapsulates him doesn’t even come from this film. It comes from “Pulp Fiction.”
“The night of the fight, you may feel a slight sting. That's pride fucking with you. Fuck pride. Pride only hurts, it never helps.”
Creed cannot turn his back on his pride. He is the undefeated champion of the world. No fighter had ever gone the distance with him before, but it wasn’t enough. He needed to be perfect, and Balboa was in the way of that. In his mind, and against the advice of his trainer, he has to get Rocky back in the ring and beat him.
“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.”
Eventually Rocky has to accept who he really is. He is a fighter, and the only way he can really provide for his family is by doing the only thing he knows. He decides that, against the advice of his doctor who fears for Rocky’s eyesight, he has to fight Creed. In his mind it’s the only way he can support his family and regain his pride.
Things go from bad to worse for Rock when Adrian, who is staunchly against the fight, falls ill and ends up in a coma. He abandons his training and sits by her side.
This sequence reminds you what makes these films work. Rocky isn’t really about fighting. It’s really a love story between Rocky and Adrian. She is his heart, and as the movies are about having the heart to keep going… you see what I’m saying.
Well, as you might expect Adrian comes out of her coma, the baby is fine, and she tells him to go and beat Creed.
The fight comes and Creed is gunning for blood. He vows to knock Balboa out in the first two round to prove that the first time was a fluke.
But he doesn’t. He keeps beating on Rocky, gaining an insurmountable points lead. But Rock won’t go down, reaching the final round.
In the final round, Creed has the fight won on points. All he has to do is dance around Rocky for three minutes and the fight is his. But then pride starts fucking with him. He trades blows, going for the knockout. Finally, after standing toe to toe, pounding on each other, Rocky gets a clean shot in and knocks the champ down….
But he falls off balance and hits the mat at the same time.
Two boxers, one count, and the one to get to his feet before the count of 10 wins.
Finally, after suffering defeat, humiliation, rejection, and almost losing Adrian, Rocky digs deep, because that is what Rocky does, and gets to his feet in time too win.
In many regards this is a perfect sequel. It takes Rocky in a very necessary and important direction and shows his growth as a person. It also shows Creed as a flawed and very human character. Both men represent different sides of the same coin.
Both are dedicated to what they do, they are committed to giving their all, not for money, but for pride. But, whereas Rocky is the embodiment of how pride can help you pick yourself up, Creed shows how dangerous it can be when it gets in the way of common sense.
So far as the Rocky canon goes, this one is difficult to place. It’s not the best, but it is far from the worst. Yet, it still gets less respect than it should. It is a solid addition to the world created in the first one. It moves the characters forward, not just from a narrative standpoint, but also from a personal standpoint. But for some reason it gets lost in the shuffle. If you haven’t seen it, correct that. It’s really good. If you’re like me and can’t remember when you saw it last, you should really take the time to reexamine it. There is a reason Rocky has become as iconic to American cinema as he has, this movie is a big part of it.
Wednesday May 16, 2012
Wednesday May 16, 2012
Wednesday May 16, 2012
Is there a reason to review “The Avengers?” Honestly, at this point everyone in the world has seen it. You know that tribe they found last year in the jungles of Peru that has never been contacted by civilization? “The Avengers” is number one there. Granted, it only beat “Dark Shadows” by a hundred dollars, but still!
I was resistant to this movie at first. No, I wasn’t being a contrarian, or trying to look cool. I honestly didn’t think it looked good. The preview looked like every other action movie trailer, Marvel is hit and miss at best, Joss Whedon hasn’t made a lot of movies (even though he is a masterful story teller), it’s an offshoot of a group of movies that are very hit and miss...
Iron Man was great, but Iron Man 2 was awful.
Captain America was decent at times, but as a whole wasn’t very strong.
The Hulk is batting .500, although the most recent was quite good.
Thor sucked. It sucked hard. To be clear, it was awful, unwatchably awful. Were it not for Rifftrax I wouldn’t have seen any of it.
Black Widow was not used well in Iron Man 2.
Hawkeye isn’t the most inspiring of choices.
… and it has a villain from the worst movie of the lot.
So, I took the good with the bad and was about 50/50 on this one.
Then it came out amid an obscene amount of publicity and made all the money in the world.
Most people loved it, some didn’t (but in fairness, the people who don’t like it actually gave me hope that it would be good). But an odd thing happened. People started talking about the money it was making. Suddenly, the talk of money started to eclipse talk of the film itself. That gave me serious pause. If it’s so good, why does it matter how much money it made? People tend to talk about what’s good about a movie, and when that talk becomes about something that isn’t the movie, it makes me doubt the quality.
In “The Avengers,” you have an impossibly over hyped movie that is proving to be universally accepted…
It couldn’t possibly live up.
Then I sat down in the theatre to watch it…and the first scene actually gave me more pause. I thought it was great, but it was familiar. Too familiar. In fact, it was almost identical to a scene in “Angel.” If you’re familiar, remember when Faith broke out of prison? The opening of “The Avengers” is the same scene.
This isn’t a criticism. It’s different enough, and fits the character and the world enough that it didn’t really bother me, but I was worried. I was worried that it was going to be a compilation of Joss’s greatest hits. Some sort of over the top fan fiction comprised of the coolest moments he had done up to that point, only grafted onto the Marvel universe.
But I kept watching. Slowly I found myself forgetting the hype and focusing on the movie itself. By the end I was in. Completely, unequivocally in.
This movie didn’t live up to the hype, it surpassed it. Somehow this movie that had been talked up, praised, and glorified beyond all reasonable bounds had somehow… exceeded it all.
There are two camps of comic book movies. There is the Nolan camp, which is gritty and based in a very real and scary world, and there is the Marvel camp, which is a comic book version of the real world. It’s realistic and fantastic in equal measure.
This movie is the perfect encapsulation of the Marvel side. It is a fantastical reality where all this stuff could happen, but is connected enough to the real world that you can identify with it. It’s a world where you can have demigod and a scientist working side by side and not come off as ridiculous.
Two things surprised me the most…
I didn’t hate Loki as the villain. Quite the contrary. Had “Thor” gone this direction with him, that movie might not have sucked as much. He is dark, obsessed, flawed, and completely committed to his warped world view. You weren’t rooting for him, but you could (if you wanted to) see his point. Most movies forget that part. A good villain is the hero of his own story, and Loki achieved that beautifully.
The Avengers themselves were fantastic.
Iron Man had the best lines and Downey Jr. delivered them perfectly.
Thor was better than he had been in his own movie.
Captain America was beautifully realized, especially when he stepped into his role as leader.
Hawkeye was brilliant. This had always been a problem for me because… well, he’s got good aim. But the way he used his arrows as delivery systems for more powerful weapons was brilliant. And Renner was as awesome as I knew he would be. That guy is certified bad ass.
Black Widow was as good as she could have been. Scarlett is an ok actress, but she’s a bit too one note in most of her roles, but she quite good in this.
But the biggest surprise… The Hulk absolutely stole the show.
I did not see this coming. There has been a lot of talk, too much if you ask me, about Norton not playing Banner. Well, Ruffalo, in my opinion, is the best portrayal so far. He captured the nervous brilliance of the man flawlessly. But beyond that, when he finally Hulks out… he is the best part of every scene he’s in. Also, Whedon found a way to replace “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry” as the best Hulk line ever.
Joss Whedon went beyond my expectations as a director. The pacing and camera work is outstanding. You can actually see the action and understand what is happening, it’s not just a jumbled mess of thrown together images. He establishes relationships beautifully, and crafted a story that is as interesting as it is entertaining.
My feelings on this movie almost perfectly mirror what I felt about “The Dark Knight.” I found all the praise and talk of money to be off putting and I saw it almost begrudgingly and ended up loving it beyond all reasonable bounds. That being said, I can’t, and won’t, compare this to the Nolan films because they don’t have anything in common other than being based on comics. They are set in different worlds, have different audiences, and completely different approaches. It is possible to like them both equally.
“The Avengers” is, for lack of a better term, an absolute breath of fresh air in a world where fun movies are often more stupid and insulting than fun. It’s smart, funny, full of incredible action movies, and has enough of an emotional impact for all of the smart, fun action to actually mean something.
Monday May 14, 2012
Monday May 14, 2012
Monday May 14, 2012
Alpha to Omega The film franchise is an inescapable part of the modern movie landscape. In this series I will address a series of films from the first to the last, looking at each film as a standalone and how it fits into the series.
RockySurprising statistic, there have been more movies made about boxing than about any other sport. I don’t have real statistics to back this up, but it’s one of those “facts” that you hear every once in a while and, true or not, for some reason it sounds good. Boxing, and fighting sports in general, tap into an incredibly visceral place for a lot of people. In the past few years MMA, in particular the UFC have come to dominate pay per view markets so completely that it has actually graduated to network television. When you think of this type of movie, what is the first name that comes to mind? For some of you it might be “Raging Bull,” but for a majority, a VAST majority, the first, last, and only name that comes to mind when the term “boxing movie” comes to mind is “Rocky.” And for good reason. The first movie won the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director, and almost took the Best Screenplay award, but was beaten by Paddy Chayefsky’s masterful “Network,” and spawned 5 sequels that range from the sublime to the ridiculous. “Rocky” is one of those rare movies that has transcended the screen and become a part of the American cultural lexicon. And it all started with one little movie. In 1975, struggling actor/writer Sylvester Stallone watched a fight between Muhammed Ali and Chuck Wepner. Wepner was a moderately talented boxer who was expected to last 3 rounds. To everyone’s surprise round 3 came and went, and Wepner was still on his feet. He took everything Ali could throw and dished out as much as he could. With 19 seconds left in the 15th and final round, Wepner lost by TKO. He sat down and wrote a script in 3 days. Granted the final version came after 9 sizeable rewrites, and the original was VERY different (Mickey was a bitter old racist, and Rocky took a dive after becoming disillusioned by the world of professional boxing), but the idea was there. Stallone was offered an unheard of $350,000 ($1.38 MILLION in today’s money) for a boxing script he had written. The writer had $106 in the bank (about $418 today) and was on the verge of selling his dog because he could no longer afford to feed him. The studio was going to produce it for $2 million dollars (about $8 million today) and were looking to put Robert Redford, Burt Reynolds, Ryan O’Neil, or James Caan in the lead. Stallone turned them down. The project was still picked up, but Stallone had to continue writing without a fee and act for scale. They also slashed the budget to $1 million ($3.9 million) and the producer and director mortgaged their houses to get an additional $100,000 ($380,000) and the movie was a go. The budget was so low that Carl Weathers and Burgess Meredith had to share a dressing room. The film was shot in 28 days and nobody really expected much from it. And somehow, this little movie became “Rocky.” This is an interesting film to talk a because people have fairly ingrained preconceptions about what it is. The thing about the original is, it isn’t the movie you think it is. Really it isn’t. Watch it again and ask yourself one question, “What genre does this film fit in?” Sports… sure. Drama… of course. But really, when you honestly look at it, Rocky is a love story. Yeah, the boxing is a huge part of it, but in the end the fight is secondary to his relationship with Adrian, and her characters growth is almost more important than Rocky’s. Who changes more through the movie, Rocky or Adrian? Adrian, by a mile. The most important scene in the movie takes place as far away from the ring as possible. What scene am I talking about? Rocky and Adrian laying in bed, Rocky opening up completely to her… Rocky: I can't do it. Adrian: What? Rocky: I can't beat him. Adrian: Apollo? Rocky: Yeah. I been out there walkin' around, thinkin'. I mean, who am I kiddin'? I ain't even in the guy's league. Adrian: What are we gonna do? Rocky: I don't know. Adrian: You worked so hard. Rocky: Yeah, that don't matter. 'Cause I was nobody before. Adrian: Don't say that. Rocky: Ah come on, Adrian, it's true. I was nobody. But that don't matter either, you know? 'Cause I was thinkin', it really don't matter if I lose this fight. It really don't matter if this guy opens my head, either. 'Cause all I wanna do is go the distance. Nobody's ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I'm still standin', I'm gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren't just another bum from the neighborhood. Funny thing, the budget and shooting schedule was so tight that they almost didn’t film this scene. Let me repeat that… they ALMOST DIDN’T FILM IT! Stallone insisted and was given one take. I cannot conceive of this film without this moment. This scene is what the movie is about. The theme is distilled, the relationship is solidified, and the palooka shows his vulnerability and becomes human. This scene gets lost in the bigness of the movie. Yeah, it was a small film, but it was a small film with huge scenes, and huge characters. Stallone is actually the most reserved character in it. Rocky is quiet, shy, insecure, and a genuinely sweet man who is making a living the only way he can. Adrian is a shadow of a woman who comes into her own because someone else actually sees who she is under the shyness and doesn’t hold her back or put her down. Rocky doesn’t change her, they change each other and become something more than they are on their own. Mickey is the embodiment of a coach. His voice, his demeanor, his ferocity… everything about him just screams it. Paulie is… man, is it possible to like Paulie? I mean, honestly like the guy. He is such an unrepentant asshole that it just… it’s almost impossible to not find him repellant. But for some reason you don’t hate him, even though you really should. Apollo Creed… damn. What can I say about Apollo creed that does him justice? He is the antithesis of Rocky. Creed is smooth, sharp, savvy as hell, sophisticated, charismatic as hell, eloquent, funny, outgoing… Creed is one of the greatest characters in the American film canon. In any other film, this man is the hero. The beauty of each of these characters is how real they are. You know people like this. You had a gym coach like Mickey, sat in front of a girl like Adrian, had a friend who wasn’t that bright, but would do anything for you, and a guy who seemed to have it all. Why else would we follow them through 5 more movies? Not only did Stallone and Alvidson capture the truth of the characters, they also captured the spirit of a city. Philly is as much a part of Rocky as Rocky has become a part of Philly. It showed you the beating heart of working class America; the part of the city where nobody carries a briefcase or worries about a 401k. Then there’s the music. Bill Conte’s score to “Rocky” might not be the most iconic score ever, but it is damned well in the conversation. Listen to the opening bars of the main theme and tell me the hairs don’t stand up on your arms. Tell me that “Gonna Fly Now” doesn’t make you want to go out running and push yourself harder than you ever have before. Tell me that the “The Final Bell” doesn’t make you want to stand up and cheer. Tell me any of these things and I will call you a liar to your face. As great as the music is, it works so well because it is paired with such amazing visuals; and not just visuals but developed visuals. Yes, Rocky reaching the top of the stairs in front of the museum and jumping in triumph is amazing, but would it be so rousing had we not seen him fail at it before? Does “Going the Distance” work as well without seeing Rocky pushing himself to take more punishment than any man can endure so that people will see that he “weren't just another bum from the neighborhood?” Is “The Final Bell,” as stirring without the image of Rocky and Adrian embracing and proclaiming their love? Maybe, maybe not. But good lord, I can’t think of any way to make them more stirring. Then there is that million-dollar script. Such a simple, straightforward story, with so much underneath, like an iceberg. Like all great stories it tells you as much about yourself as it does about the characters on screen. Everyone has been underestimated at one point or another. Because it so identifiable you can connect to Rocky and through him you can feel the exhilaration of showing everyone who doubted you exactly what you are made of. I recently showed this film to a creative writing class with a handful of students who had never seen it. The number of kids who were tearing up at the end was remarkable, and completely unexpected. It was one of the best viewing experiences I’ve ever had. “Rocky” has become such a massive, inescapable force in film that it is very easy to forget that at one point it was just this low budget move that got made almost in spite of itself. It has been imitated so many times but none have ever come close. If you haven’t seen it, or if you haven’t seen it in a few years, then you really should do yourself a favor. Up next … Rocky II