Film Review: Rocky Balboa (2006)

Release Date: December 20th, 2006
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Antonio Tarver, Milo Ventimiglia, Geraldine Hughes, Tony Burton, James Francis Kelly III, Lou DiBella

Revolution Studios, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Columbia Pictures, 100 Minutes

Review:

“It doesn’t matter how this looks to other people. If this is something you gotta do, then you do it. Fighters fight.” – Little Marie

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen Rocky Balboa. I really liked it when it came out but at the same time, I was going through some heavy personal shit that this film emotionally tapped into at the time. I lost someone really close to me the day before this film came out and in some way, seeing this film that same week sort of helped me with the grief and guilt of that experience. And frankly, I’ll always associate this film with that experience.

Seeing it, over a decade later, and after having just watched the five original Rocky films, I do still like this picture but it is my least favorite of the Rocky franchise. Yeah, I’m that one weirdo that actually liked Rocky V and was happy with it as the ending to the series.

The thing about this film, is that I think it actually would have worked better without the whole fight element thrown in. But it’s a Rocky film so Rocky has to fight, I guess that’s the rule. I would have been more interested in seeing Rocky deal with his grief in an elderly reality where he can’t fight and certainly shouldn’t be allowed to fight. Eventually, he has to hang those gloves up and I would have rather seen him try to figure out how to overcome his personal demons when his one way of dealing with them is no longer available to him. There are different fights in life than the physical ones and we’ve seen Rocky use boxing as a metaphor for his life from the ’70s into the ’90s. I think that Creed did a better job of finding a way to help Rocky find meaning in his life outside of taping up his own fists.

The thing with the fight and how it all goes down is unrealistic. I just can’t see a boxer as old as Balboa getting cleared to fight the undefeated world champion, whether it’s just some corny exhibition or not. The idea of it also sets a bad precedent of some sort of reality where aged fighters can somehow hang with guys in their prime that are at the top of their game. Sure, this is a feel good story for old men, past their prime, but Sugar Ray Leonard should absolutely never step into the ring with Floyd Mayweather.

Everything else about this film I mostly liked. Rocky owns a restaurant, he is having a hard time with his relationship with his son, he gets to spend quality time with Paulie and he gets to reconnect with a young girl he hasn’t seen since 1976. I also loved Spider Rico’s role in this movie, as he was there for comedic relief but it was cool seeing Rocky still care for his old rival and friend.

Rocky Balboa is a sad and borderline depressing movie. It does have its patented feel good ending but it was unsatisfying in the fact that it was tied into the fight within the film. I would have rather seen him reconnect with his son, find love with Marie and accept that life goes on and he has to go on with it. While it sort of happens, it does so with the fight as a metaphor for everything because surviving a beat down of epic proportions means that your problems are gone until you need to make a sequel.

But I get it, what’s a Rocky movie without a fight? And if Stallone didn’t have his most famous character throw down, people wouldn’t have gone to see the film. What is Rocky Balboa without boxing? But couldn’t that have been the whole point of the film?

Film Review: Death Race 2000 (1975)

Also known as: Frankensteins Todesrennen (Austria)
Release Date: April 27th, 1975
Directed by: Paul Bartel
Written by: Robert Thom, Charles Griffith
Based on: The Racer by Ib Melchior
Music by: Paul Chihara
Cast: David Carradine, Simone Griffeth, Sylvester Stallone, Sand McCallum, Louisa Moritz, Don Steele, Mary Woronov, Roberta Collins, Martin Kove, Joyce Jameson, Paul Bartel

New World Pictures, 80 Minutes

Review:

“As the cars roar into Pennsylvania, the cradle of liberty, it seems apparent that our citizens are staying off the streets, which may make scoring particularly difficult, even with this year’s rule changes. To recap those revisions: women are still worth 10 points more than men in all age brackets, but teenagers now rack up 40 points, and toddlers under 12 now rate a big 70 points. The big score: anyone, any sex, over 75 years old has been upped to 100 points.” – Harold

When Roger Corman stepped away from directing to start New World Pictures, it really opened the door for young filmmakers to usher in a new era of outside-the-box indie pictures. Paul Bartel was one of the premier guys to come out of the Corman camp and while he made a few really good films, none of them had as big of an impact on me as the super stylish and insane Death Race 2000.

The film is about a transcontinental race from New York City to Los Angeles, a race where the drivers earn points for killing human targets. The more offensive the target, the higher the points. So babies and old people are prime meat for the sadistic drivers and their high octane killing machines.

The movie takes place in a not-too-distant future where society has kind of evolved similar to those more modern Purge movies. America is a fascist state and this grand motor race is patriotic. Those who die, as victims of the drivers, are considered heroes and their sacrifices usually come with rewards for their loved ones.

Within this severely screwed up America is a group of rebels who are trying to end the race and overthrow the sick and twisted president in an effort to reestablish an America that is closer to what the Founding Fathers fought for. There is a lot of political and social commentary sprinkled in throughout the film and it almost exists as a response to the American government’s expansion into the world and its quest for occupation and control. It makes sense that this was made at the tail end of the Vietnam War.

The film stars David Carradine as Frankenstein, the most elite of all the racers. He is a literal living legend but he has his own ideas on the race and his government’s politics, which play out subtly as the film progresses, leading to a big rebellious crescendo at the end.

The rest of the cast is rounded out by a very young Sylvester Stallone, who was a year away from Rocky fame, as well as Paul Bartel’s favorite collaborator, Mary Woronov. We also get Roberta Collins, who spent a large part of her career in exploitation films, a young Martin Kove, a decade before becoming the iconic John Kreese from The Karate Kid films, Joyce Jameson, who was a part of a lot of Corman’s ’60s horror productions, Don Steele, a charismatic and over the top shock jock from the ’70s, as well as two beautiful ladies: Simone Griffeth and Louisa Moritz, both of whom play navigators to the two top drivers. Paul Bartel even has a small cameo as Frankenstein’s doctor when the iconic racer is first introduced in the film.

One thing that makes this picture work so well, is that it is a tongue in cheek critique on the government and society but it doesn’t beat you over the head because of how ridiculous and stylized everything in the film is. Every character is more or less a caricature, every car has some sort of bizarre and hokey gimmick and things are so over the top and goofy that you don’t find yourself buried in serious subject matter. And maybe the political statements are sort of lost in this circus of a film but the sentiment seems pretty clear, even if it’s not fine tuned enough to be specific.

Bartel would follow this up with another action car picture for Roger Corman called Cannonball. That one also starred David Carradine and is enjoyable but it doesn’t stick out in quite the same way Death Race 2000 does.

This would also spawn a horrible remake that had even worse sequels. Eventually, a true sequel to this was made called Death Race 2050. I haven’t seen that one yet but I plan to give it a watch in the very near future.

Documentary Review: The Two Escobars (2010)

Release Date: June 22nd, 2010
Directed by: Jeff Zimbalist, Michael Zimbalist
Music by: Michael Furjanic

All Rise Films, ESPN Films, 104 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2014.

The Two Escobars is one of my favorite installments of the original run of ESPN’s 30 For 30 series. I actually ranked it number two on an older website I ran.

This documentary follows the lives of Colombian soccer legend Andrés Escobar and Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. The men were not related by blood but were related in their pride of Colombia and their lifelong love of soccer.

Both rose up from nothing and became forces in Colombia; one gained power through creating a massive criminal empire, the other gained admiration through becoming one of the greatest soccer players in the world. Both men gained respect; one through fear and one through competition. With two powerful forces within the same borders, they had to cross paths. This film is about that fascinating story.

Production-wise, this was a great documentary and one of the best ESPN has released in their 36 year history. The story was well-constructed and like most of the 30 For 30 films, the editing and interviews were exceptional. While a lot of films in this series cover a multitude of topics and stories, this is far and away the best story the series has told after the Nelson Mandela/Rugby film The 16th Man.

This documentary is on Netflix (well it was when I originally reviewed this). I would beseech any sports documentary fan, especially soccer fans, to check this out.

Book Review: ‘To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever’ by Will Blythe

Every time March Madness rolls around, I want to read a good book on college basketball. Last year, I was treated to the wonderful Duke Sucks.

Being that that book was fantastic and that I am always down with a little Duke hate, I wanted to read something similar. So, I got a copy of this book, To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever: A Thoroughly Obsessive, Intermittently Uplifting, and Occasionally Unbiased Account of the Duke-North Carolina Basketball Rivalry.

Needless to say, this book wasn’t on the level for me. Everything that I absolutely loved about Duke Sucks seemed to be absent from this piece of work.

Instead of tons of facts about Duke and North Carolina and a lot of steady jabs, what I got was a guy’s biography that was all weaved together with the thread that represents his hatred of Duke. Yeah, everyone hates Duke but I want more of that and less of this guy’s personal journey and how Duke was always a cloud over his personal events that I don’t give a shit about.

I would say that Blythe is a more accomplished writer than the authors of Duke Sucks but his book pales in comparison to that other mighty magnum opus of Duke hatred. And while this is more of a comparison to that book than an actual straight up review, I have to analyze the two side-by-side in case someone wants to know which of the two books is the definitive masterpiece on Duke hatred. Well, it isn’t this one.

I wanted more of that “Fuck Duke!!!” sentiment and less “well that time I was interviewing Uma Thurman…” Bro, I don’t give a shit.

In all honesty, I got bored with this pretty quickly as the dude’s life was the subject more than the greatest rivalry in college hoops history.

But at least the book features a picture of Mike Krzyzewski looking like the demon spawn we all know he is.

Film Review: Racket Girls (1951)

Also known as: Blonde Pickup, Pin Down Girls, Wrestling Racket Girls
Release Date: 1951
Directed by: Robert C. Dertano
Written by: Robert C. Dertano
Cast: Peaches Page, Timothy Farrell, Clara Mortenson, Rita Martinez

Arena Productions, Screen Classics, 70 Minutes, 68 Minutes (DVD cut)

Review:

“And don’t forget about me. I’m Joe.” – Joe the Jockey, “Hi, Joe. You’re cute.” – Peaches, “I get it – anything that is small is cute. Well, that’s me.” – Joe the Jockey, “Don’t you know? Good things come in small packages” – Peaches, “[openly staring at Peaches’ breasts] Not to my way of thinking.” – Joe the Jockey

This was put out by Screen Classics and producer George Weiss, the man that distributed the earliest Ed Wood films. Therefore, you know this is of a similar quality. Well, it is missing the charm of Wood, so without that, it’s just a really awful motion picture that was destined to be lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Like many of Weiss’ productions, this was released multiple times, in multiple small markets with multiple titles. This wasn’t uncommon for crappy indie pictures back in the ’50s, especially those that feel like they are some sort of proto-grindhouse feature albeit lacking the sort of skin and violence those movies would shovel into run-down theaters during their peak in the ’70s.

The plot revolves around some lady wrestlers in the ’50s. There are some unconvincing mobster types that try to use the women’s wrestling federation as a cover for their illegal schemes. The crime boss is in over his head and has to evade meddling police and bigger mobsters that he owes money to. I guess this is technically film-noir but it’s as low as a noir can get and then, even lower.

And if you must watch a noir picture with some wrestling in it, might I suggest Jules Dassin’s Night and the City, which is actually a damn fine film and has real wrestling legend Stanislaus Zbyszko in a key role.

This film could be the worst wrestling themed film ever made and that’s saying a lot if you’ve ever seen Grunt!Ready to Rumble or No Holds Barred. I actually love No Holds Barred in spite of its awfulness. But really, this makes Grunt! look like Citizen Kane.

Even if this had El Santo in it, it couldn’t have been salvaged. It’s an exceptionally shitty film to the point that I feel great distress over the poor film stock that had to have this movie burnt into its very soul. If Argentina can’t cry for Evita, they should shed those tears for the poor film stock that was permanently disfigured by Racket Girls.

Without a shadow of a doubt, this turd covered turkey is going into the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 3 Stool: Like a sausage but with cracks on its surface.”

Film Review: Miracle (2004)

Release Date: February 6th, 2004
Directed by: Gavin O’Connor
Written by: Eric Guggenheim
Music by: Mark Isham
Cast: Kurt Russell, Patricia Clarkson, Noah Emmerich

Walt Disney, Buena Vista Pictures, 135 Minutes

Review:

“Great moments… are born from great opportunity. And that’s what you have here, tonight, boys. That’s what you’ve earned here tonight. One game. If we played ’em ten times, they might win nine. But not this game. Not tonight. Tonight, we skate with them. Tonight, we stay with them. And we shut them down because we can! Tonight, we are the greatest hockey team in the world. You were born to be hockey players. Every one of you. And you were meant to be here tonight. This is your time. Their time is done. It’s over. I’m sick and tired of hearing about what a great hockey team the Soviets have. Screw ’em. This is your time. Now go out there and take it.” – Herb Brooks

*written in 2014.

Miracle is considered by many, if not most, to be the best hockey film ever made.

I don’t agree with the popular opinion, although it is a good film. The problem though, is that there is a real under-abundance of hockey movies. I mean, compared to baseball, football and even basketball pictures, hockey is really underutilized as a subject for sports films. While I would put this in probably the top two or three hockey movies of all-time, it would be hard to put it in a top ten including other sports.

While the subject matter of this film, the 1980 Winter Olympics and the United States’ beating of the unstoppable Soviet team during the Cold War, is compelling, it falls flat when comparing it to the bigger picture.

There are scenes in the film that are great. In fact, the acting is stellar. The problem is that it is just missing the magic you find in films like The Natural, Field of Dreams, Rudy and Hoosiers. While it has a bit of a magical feel at times, it never really pulls you in as emotionally as those other classic sports motion pictures.

Additionally, the pacing of this film is strange, as at times it drags and other times it flies by. There are also so many characters to get to know, that you really can’t get to know any of them all that well. The film suffers from not investing more time in just a few people; instead it gives you bits and pieces of many people. It plays like a television pilot overstuffed with too many characters from the start.

Miracle is a good film, despite the criticisms I have. It just isn’t the great movie that people believe it to be. At least, that’s how I see it.

Documentary Review: Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans (2015)

Release Date: May 16th, 2015 (Cannes)
Directed by: Gabriel Clarke, John McKenna
Written by: Gabriel Clarke
Music by: Jim Copperthwaite
Cast: Steve McQueen (archive footage), Chad McQueen, Neile Adams, Louise Edlind

Content Media, McQueen Racing, Pit Lane Productions, 102 Minutes

Review:

Le Mans is my favorite movie about auto racing. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a classic with fantastic action and a true sense of realism unlike anything ever filmed on the subject before it. It feels like a documentary accented by the presence of Steve McQueen.

The story behind the film is more intriguing, however.

This was Steve McQueen’s dream project, as it focused on his biggest love: motorsports. More specifically, it focused on the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, which is the biggest annual motorsports event in the world, which pits all the top auto manufacturers against each other with the best drivers in the world, gunning for bragging rights and world supremacy, at least until the following year.

McQueen was at the point in his career where he could be attached to anything and any studio would just write a check. However, due to creative problems, production issues, falling behind and the immense undertaking that this film became, the project turned into a nightmare for all involved. McQueen’s vision was his vision, whether or not the people brought on to help him realize it, understood what they were doing or not.

This documentary also analyzes McQueen’s personal life, its ups and downs and how all that played into his attitude and his handling of creating this dream. Le Mans was an arduous task that had to be finished but McQueen’s personal demons didn’t make it any easier.

In the end, the film got made, it didn’t do so well upon release but has grown to cult status among car and racing aficionados. It’s an amazing film for a lot of reasons and this documentary shows you why.

Plus, it’s always a treat to watch McQueen’s Le Mans footage. This also has a lot of behind the scenes stuff mixed in.