Posts Tagged ‘Apollo Creed’

Where do I even begin to talk about Rocky? Its wide release was December 3rd, 1976, 20 days before I was born. Written by the then little known Sylvester Stallone, originally the studio wanted a bigger star for the title role, but Stallone wrote it for himself. The story of Stallone holding out against big money offers to have someone else play the lead has been exaggerated a bit, but it was still a big chance to cast an unknown. At the time no one could have ever guessed this low budget movie with a no name actor would become a true global phenomenon. Rocky went on to win Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director (John Avildsen) and Best Editing. Talia Shire, Burt Young, and Burgess Meredith also received nominations.

Basically Rocky is a street version of Cinderella. Boxing champion Apollo Creed is set to have a bout on January 1st, 1976, which was Bicentennial Day, the 200th anniversary of America. The fight is to be in Philadelphia, where the American Constitution was signed. Creed’s opponent pulls out because of an injury, and seemingly no other contenders are available. Creed comes up with the idea of, in the spirit of America and the Bi-centennial, giving a local underdog a shot at the title. He picks Rocky Balboa out of a book because Balboa gave himself the nickname the Italian Stallion. Creed liked the name, musing that America was discovered by the Italian Columbus. You could also read into this that to succeed in America you need a gimmick, but it also fit into the idea of the country. 1976 was not only the bi-centennial, but also the year a peanut farmer from Georgia became the President of the United States. It fit this idea of the spirit of America.

Rocky is one of the few movies where the inciting incident doesn’t happen until an hour into the film (The only other one I can think of is 2010’s Book of Eli). Its first hour is spent on character development and world building. The first image we see in this film is Jesus Christ. Stallone has said maybe it’s a little heavy handed, but it’s suggesting Rocky is the next one to be saved, to go on this journey. The opening scene is our main character fighting in a small time boxing club called Resurrection Athletic Club (with Jesus painted on the wall). He wins the fight, but in a way it doesn’t matter. He’s still beat up, get’s about $40, after which he asks “When can I fight again?” After this he walks home over which we see the opening credits.

While Rocky is known for being a positive and inspirational film, the world of Rocky is very dark and bleak, arguably taking place in the same world of 1970s urban decay as more pessimistic films of the era like Death Wish or 1976‘s Taxi Driver. The difference is Rocky himself is not a dark character, he’s a genuinely good person, almost like a Captain America or even a Superman, but he’s birthed in a dark environment. In his apartment we see brass knuckles and a machete. While Rocky is rated PG, it is evident that the character obviously has R rated violence in his life.

Looking at Stallone’s later work and then looking at Rocky, it almost seems like a totally different actor. When filming this movie, for all intents and purposes, Stallone’s life was on the line, and it shows. We see this young hungry actor taking his shot and it paid off. For a brief moment he was taken seriously as an actor, some even called him the next Marlon Brando. Stallone was nominated for best original screenplay and best actor. He wouldn’t be nominated for acting again until Creed, making him only one of 6 people to be nominated for the same role twice. Also noteworthy is in 1976 the only people ever nominated for both acting and writing in the same film were Charlie Chaplin and Orson Wells.

Back to the movie, next we see the constant rejection and disrespect Rocky faces throughout his day. For example, it is evident no one he knows saw his fight last night. He goes to a pet store trying to impress Adrian, the pet store clerk, but is rejected. We should say a word about this character. Actress Talia Shire, who was also in the Godfather series, is a very attractive woman. It was a really gutsy move for her to play the role of an ugly duckling. It’s a very unglamorous part, and she makes it work. If Rocky were made today Adrian would be all hot, they’d give her glasses for the sexy nerd look, but they wouldn’t dare make it unglamorous. In this movie the character works, we see both Rocky and Adrian blossom from having love in their lives. Perhaps one of the weaknesses of the later sequels is her character doesn’t have much going on. It’s actually one of the things the spinoff Creed out does Rocky in, the love interest in Creed is a more interesting character. Still, Talia Shire provided some of the only real acting as the series entered later installments.

Another rejection is faced at the local boxing gym, where he’s been kicked out of his own locker so another up and coming fighter can have it. This is our introduction to Mickey, the gruff old manager and gym owner, played by the late great Burgess Meredith. Sometimes you can tell a lot about a character by their first line. “Shut up!” is the first thing Mickey says in the movie. He has no respect for Balboa, and plays the part of a pseudo father who constantly disapproves of his son. He dismisses Rocky’s win against Spider Ricco and suggests he retire.

On the 25th anniversary DVD Stallone explained how Mickey represented someone that never lived up to their potential. In the year I turned 25, I left the first job I had coming out of college, which was a teaching position in the midwest. One phrase people often say to young people is “You’ve got your whole life ahead of you.” You never really grasp what this means until your older. As soon as I left that job my life took a turn for the worse, and then understanding what Mickey represented unfortunately clicked with me. Being too young to understand I had my whole life ahead of me, I was afraid of turning into Mickey, this bitter old man whose dreams never came true.

Eventually Rocky whoo’s Adrian over, and it’s no coincidence that the very next day he’s offered a shot with Apollo. Robert Mckee in Story writes about how if this were the opening scene, the audience would not have understood Rocky’s reaction. Rocky knows he’s a “ham and egger.” So when he’s offered the fight at the 60 minute mark he actually says no. The promoter figures this will get him fired, and has to con Rocky by appealing to his patriotism. This was a nuance I didn’t understand as a kid.

This leads to my favorite scene. Mickey comes to Rocky’s apartment and asks to be his manager. He tries to con him like a salesmen, smiling as he walks in the door, telling Rocky his dump is a nice place. He then goes on to tell stories of his brutal boxing days which are so captivating. Rocky knows he’s being worked over but doesn’t have it in him to just kick Mickey out. Eventually he does leave, and it is only then that Rocky just goes off on this really powerful monologue. Stallone explained there had to be some point where Rocky just let it all out. People think he‘s a “happy go lucky dumbell but he has a lot of rage in there, a lot of hurt, a lot of angst.” He calls out Mick for finally paying him some attention. My favorite line is “Talking about your prime. What about my prime Mick! Least you had a prime! I didn’t have no prime I didn’t have nothing.” Maybe this doesn’t make sense, but in some twisted way I felt like I could relate to it when I was younger. In our culture they sell the idea that your teenage years and your twenties is supposed to be the best time of your life. As I’d mentioned, at 25 things were getting rough for me, and my teenage years weren’t that great. So somehow I could relate to this “what about my prime, what about my good times” etc. Either way, it’s a great scene, great dialogue and two great performances. It may be Stallone’s shining moment as an actor.

Soon we get to the famous training montage where he runs up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum. I’d been there as a kid, but a few years back I went back and hung out for an hour. It really is a genuine phenomenon. All day people of all ages and all walks of life run up those steps and raise their arms in the air.

rockysteps     rocky

Rocky is nearly a perfect movie. It’s small budget gives it a certain charm, the ice rink scene with Rocky and Adrian that couldn’t afford extras, Rocky’s baggy robe, the poster with the wrong color shorts. This lack of budget does catch up with it at the end, as they didn’t have enough money for lots of extras for the big fight. The result is outside the ring the arena is really dark to hide the fact that it’s half empty. Early on they try to cover this with stock footage of a crowd but it looks really out of place.

Boxing purists probably cringe at most of these movies due to Rocky’s lack of actual boxing skill. The announcer says ‭“‬In fact it‭ ‬just looks like Rocky is‭ ‬blocking the blows with his face.‭” By Rocky III it was a bit excessive, as he definitely should have picked up some skills by then. With t‬his first movie it makes more sense, as that’s the whole point, that this guy has no skill but has this incredible determination to take everything the champ can dish out. Watch this scene.

Pure determination. I love at 1:45 where Apollo looks down and you hear the announcer saying “Apollo can’t believe it!” When Rocky gets back to his feet and says “Come on” while motioning with his hands, that’s the whole movie right there, this is life.

It wasn’t until ten years ago I realized the fight isn’t the most important scene of the movie. The 30th anniversary Rocky DVD has audio commentary by Stallone (the 25th had a extended video commentary with him). On it he describes the scene just after the famous training montage. Rocky goes to the Spectrum, and sees this arena that is so much grander than the dingy clubs he’s used to fighting in. He goes home and tells Adrian that he knows he can’t really win. Early on it’s established that no one ever lasted 15 rounds against Creed, which is what they call going the distance. Rocky says “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, see and that bell rings and I’m still standing. I’m gonna know for the first time in my life see, that I weren’t just another bum from the neighborhood.”

On the commentary track Stallone says this scene is “one of the benchmarks of my life.” They had one take to do it, and “if lines had been fumbled or we had camera problems, it would have been been all over.” Stallone explains “without this scene, I don’t think the movie would have accomplished nearly what it set out to, even half of what it set out to accomplish, which is to show that a man given an opportunity, or a woman given an opportunity to express themselves fully even though they know that they’re going to be defeated, but in that defeat there can be glory, personal glory. And that’s what I think so many people in the world hunger for, is the opportunity to rise or fail on their own abilities, just given the chance.”

If I may talk about myself for a moment, I was born in a small coal mining town in Pennsylvania. My mother finished high school but my father didn’t. My mother pretty much raised me by herself and fortunately I was the first in my family to go to college. As I mentioned my first job was teaching in the midwest, and after I left I had a rough time for a few years. As I mentioned in my Rocky Balboa piece, I ended up teaching in Korea. I suppose over there I got to have my “prime” and my good times. After doing that, I decided to go back to that very first teaching job I had when I was 22. It wasn’t easy, but I’m glad I did it, and I ended up getting some success and some recognition out of it, like when I got Teacher of the Year in 2015

This past year was difficult for a lot of reasons. While I’m still at that first job I had, in the spring I was thinking of doing one more year, but I wasn’t sure if I had it in me. There were a lot of different things getting to me and I’d considered leaving. In all honesty I thought about that scene, and realized this was my going the distance moment. This is that one more round, finishing what I started, seeing this through to the end.

Pop culture is entertainment to pass the time, we enjoy it, maybe remember it, and go on with our day. Truly great art genuinely affects our lives, and it’s probably too late for any other movie to affect me so personally. The only other one that was probably even close was Rocky Balboa. It’s just so ingrained in my life, to the point it’s something I try to live out. I write as a hobby, and when I sell my books as shows or when I read poems on a stage etc, I see it as taking my shot. No one owes us any fame or fortune, but we have the right to try. So as both Rocky and I turn 40, I like to think I did alright with my life. I didn’t turn out to be just another bum from the neighborhood, and I’m going my distance.

Happy Birthday Rocky

“Hey yo.”

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Robert Mckee wrote one of the better known books on screenplay writing. In his book, simply called Story, he said a strong ending can make the audience forget the weaker parts of a movie. Such is the case in Rocky II, it ends on such a emotional high note, it makes us forget about the slow ploddingness of the rest of the movie.

Rocky II is one of the rare sequels that picks up immediately after the events of the previous film. It begins the tradition of the opening recap of the last film’s fight. It then takes us to the immediate aftermath, with the opening credits running over scenes of Rocky’s ambulance rushing him to the hospital. For anyone that doesn’t know, Creed won the match of the first movie by a split decision. The rest of the movie is about Creed, embarrassed that a no name fighter went the distance with the champ, wanting a rematch, and Rocky wanting to live the rest of his life quietly with Adrian.

Once he gets out of the hospital, Rocky proposes to Adrian at the zoo (which is weirdly ironic since in the last movie someone insulted them both by suggesting Rocky take her to the zoo because “retards like the zoo.”) They marry and buy a new home. Rocky’s lack of sophistication is played up here, as he recklessly spends money on new clothes, a nice car, etc. It’s the only time of the series where Rocky is kind of un-likable, and at times comes across like an early Homer Simpson. Naively, he attempts to get an office job, but his lack of education and criminal record bar this. He briefly attempts to do commercials but, embarrassingly, he has trouble reading the cue cards.

Meanwhile Apollo keeps goading him into trying to fight again, but Adrian doesn’t want him to. There’s also a plot point about Rocky’s one eye being damaged/not being able to see well. (This plot point is dropped for the rest of the series. Maybe once he got rich he got some magic surgery to fix it.) Adding to the pressure is Adrian’s pregnancy. She delivers the baby but falls into a coma afterwards. At this point the series delves into soap opera melodrama, though I fully admit tearing up upon first seeing this at age 13. Maybe in 1979 the whole slipped into a coma angle wasn’t cliche yet. Either way, Adrian turns out to be fine, encourages Rocky to fight, and away we go.

There’s two training montages this time, with the familiar Rocky theme returning. We see him running through the city getting followed by school children, showing how the city of Philadelphia has truly embraced him. They all run to the top of the steps together, and I always thought it would have been funny if they did a fake outtake where Rocky accidentally belted one of the kids.

Possibly one improvement Rocky II has over its predecessor is the final fight is filmed much better. Now that they have a real budget we get to see an arena filled with people watching the match. While the first fight was more dramatic, this one is filmed more for excitement, with Bill Conti’s “Conquest” score which ended up being used a few times throughout the series. There’s also an angle of southpaw Rocky training to fight right handed, only two switch to his left at the end. However, he doesn’t end up doing the switch, which was due to an injury Stallone had while making this movie.

While visually an improvement over its predecessor, the fight is also a bit more ridiculous. If you know the littlest thing about boxing, you know that you always keep your hands up to defend yourself. Rocky has almost no defense, he seems to willingly take Apollo’s punches. Now granted most of the Rocky’s are guilty of this sin, but in II it’s the most blatant. It’s just too hard to believe that he is able to take this beating and not get knocked out. It’s arguably more ridiculous than Rocky IV, because that whole movie is over the top so it’s just kind of understood. Like the first movie, Rocky II is somewhat grounded in reality, so to go from something grounded in reality to this absurdity is a lot to take.

Rocky II runs two hours, just like its predecessor, but unlike the first one, which won an Oscar for best editing, this one feels a lot longer. The scenes of Rocky trying to live a normal life really drag at times. Rocky V is widely considered the worst of the series. However, I would suggest Rocky II might actually be worse. The thing is, the audience forgives its slowness because the very very end is highly exciting and emotional. Stallone comes up with a clever ending in that Rocky simply doesn’t knock out Apollo. Instead both fighters fall to the mat, and the situation is whoever gets up first wins the match. It’s a real nail biter done very well. It should be no surprise that Rocky wins, and afterwards give a speech ending with him addressing his wife who was watching at home on TV. Ending with the now famous “Yo Adrian, I did it!” Rocky II ends in an undeniable emotional high, which makes us remember this movie being a lot better than it really was.

I’ll leave you with the ending below.

This is something I’m just totally screwing around with but it’s fun to talk about.

In the movie world Rocky I opens in November of 1975.

Rocky II has him winning the title a year later, Thanksgiving of 1976. Also it should be noted that Rocky and Adrian get married the same year.

Rocky III is said to take place 3 years later, which would be 1979.

The secret re-match between Rocky and Apollo at the end of Rocky III takes place in the same year, as evident by Apollo acknowledging that he thought of this 3 years ago.

Rocky IV opens immediately after that rematch, when Rocky comes home late for Paulies’ birthday party. Later that evening, Rocky gives Adrian an early wedding anniversary surprise. However, before Adrian gets a ride on the “Italian Stallion,” he lets out a major continuity error which could threaten the fabric of reality itself.

He says it’s been almost 9 years since they were married. (Adrian acknowledges that he’s a week early, so pretty much 9 years.)

Now this night in movie time has to be 3 years, not 9 years later.

However, in the movie world they got married in 76, which in our world is the same year the first movie came out. Rocky IV came out in 1985, which in our world is 9 years later. So in the real world it had been 9 years since the movie world of 1976. Realities have somehow crisscrossed on this matter. (FIY They get married in Rocky II, which was in 1979, but takes place in 76.)

Upon further monitoring of the Rocky Reality, it is stated in Rocky IV by Rocky and Adrian that Apollo has been retired for around 5 years. Again, in movie continuity, it should only be 3. This statement is made when Ivan Drago comes to America.

But again Rocky IV came out in 1985, Rocky II, where Apollo loses the belt, was released in 1979, which is 6 years prior. However in Rocky II they fought on Thanksgiving, near the end of the year, so it still could be 5 years technically.

However, this one COULD possibly be reconciled, by assuming that Ivan Drago came to America to fight two years after the night of Paulies’ birthday party.

Other errors to discuss:

When Apollo comes over Rocky’s house they watch their fight from Rocky II and have maybe a five minute conversation. If you watch and listen closely, (and have too much knowledge of Rocky II like I have) you’ll notice the beginning of the conversation they’re watching the very beginning of the fight, but at the end of the conversation, you can hear the announcers calling the closing moments. So a whole 15 round fight was viewed during a five minute conversation. Maybe they were watching the fight on laser disc, and Apollo in his excitement hit the skip chapter button on the remote, which sent the disc to the end of the fight. (The real reason of course, was the whole fight obviously wasn’t filmed for the movie.)

Also the age of Rocky’s son fluctuates a lot depending on what time scale your looking at. He ages rapidly between IV and V.

In Rocky III, both fights with Clubber Lang are filmed completely from bell to bell, or to the end of the fight. Rocky I, II, and IV, have rounds 1,2, and 15, filmed in their entirety, with the in between rounds shown in a MONTAGE!!!!!!!! When I was a kid I noticed if you ever watched, none of those fully filmed rounds are actually 3 minutes. I think most were like a minute and a half.

These errors could threaten the fabric of reality itself!

Of course I’m just joking around. Back to my 9 years thing the real reason is that movies are usually presumed to take place the year they came out, unless it explicitly says otherwise or it’s assumed to be a either a period piece or a sci-fi film set in the future. It’s just something fun to talk about.

Hey yo.

 

 

Creed is a perhaps unexpected spin-off of the Rocky Series, which concluded with 2006’s Rocky Balboa. Creed is the story of Adonis Creed, the son of Apollo Creed, Rocky’s opponent from the first two Rocky movies. In this film Adonis seeks out an old Rocky Balboa to be his boxing manager as he wishes to rise out of his father’s shadow.

Adonis Creed is the opposite or Rocky, growing up wealthy with a white collar job, but secretly going to Mexico to win boxing matches. Early in the film he quits his job after getting a promotion and plans to train full time. His father’s gym in California won’t train him, because the owner thinks he doesn’t need to fight. He then gets an apartment in Philadelphia, and seeks out Rocky Balboa to train him. While he’s preparing to further his career there’s also an angle of him not wanting to use his father’s name and instead make it on his own.

The scene where he meets Rocky takes place in Rocky’s restaurant that we saw in the last movie Rocky Balboa. Some of the dialogue is a little stiff, but it references a lot of the earlier movies. In Rocky 4 Apollo dies in the ring, and Rocky, who was in his corner, always felt guilty for not throwing the towel in/stopping the fight. Rocky also reveals who won the private match between him and Apollo at the end of Rocky III.

Meanwhile we’re introduced to some other boxers, after which a graphic comes up telling us the name, record, etc of each fighter. This gets a little distracting but there’s a story of the currently light heavyweight champion about to go to jail and wants one last fight. Creed gets offered this fight which leads to the climax of the film. The fight is in the champs hometown of Liverpool England, adding an international feel to the movie, and putting Rocky and Creed in a situation where they are booed.

Bianca, a local singer who lives below  Creed becomes a love interest. Their relationship goes through some angles that keep it from being run of the mill romance. Interestingly enough, she has a disability. It’s not often you see major characters with disabilities on film, and her disability actually thematically ties into a theme with Creed about doing what you love as long as you can. Bianca is a character I’d look forward to seeing more of in future installments, and is a more developed character than Rocky’s Adrian.

Creed accomplishes one of the main things it needs to which is establish it’s own identity and not be just another Rocky movie. It opens with a flashback, something Rocky movies don’t usually do, not counting the recap of the previous film’s fight of course. It has it’s own musical score, it’s own training theme, however Creed’s cinematic equivalent of running up the museum steps is underwhelming. However, that same scene does establish how the city has connected to Creed, ala the way the kids ran up the steps with Balboa in Rocky II.

The traditional Rocky music is sparingly used, but it is used at the end and I felt this took me out of the fight a bit. The fight is filmed in the traditional show the first two rounds, followed by montage, then show the last round. The cinematography is across between the HBO style of the last movie and the more cinematic methods of previous films. The fights are exciting but certain scenes looked a little strange. Both in the fight and during training Rocky offers more technical advice which further differentiates Creed from previous installments.

I won’t spoil the ending, but while it ends in way not exactly expected, I felt they should have gone another route. In my opinion, I think Adonis should have got hurt real bad in the fight, and then have Rocky throw in the towel, so he can redeem himself from Rocky IV (This also could have broke the 2 round/montage/last round formula). They almost go there, but Adonis quickly talks him out of it which I found myself not buying. At this point I was pretty much routing for the other guy to win.

While Creed successfully sets up the franchise to be continued, I didn’t like the ending. That aside I still look forward to future installments of Creed.