(On Blu Ray, September 2018) I may not like Sylvester Stallone or boxing all that much, and most of the Rocky series has left me lukewarm at best, but there’s something surprisingly interesting about this third film in the series and how it evolves naturally from the first two instalments. The opening five minutes is a montage (set to Survivor’s classic “Eye of the Tiger”) that pretty much give Rocky everything he’s ever wanted: Boxing success, a happy family, money and the mastery of the media that so eluded him in the second film. Naturally, there’s only one way to go from there, and after a hilariously mismatched bout with a wrestler, it’s on to a fight with a boxer with more fury and drive than Balboa at that point. As it usually goes in movies, losing means finding oneself, and so steps in Apollo Creed for a third and far more sympathetic turn in as many movies. While Rocky III is seldom less than formulaic, it does evolve with its characters, balance humour and tragedy (even of the melodramatic kind) and ends on a satisfying note, closing off a trilogy of sorts with a full character arc. (It’s interesting that the underdog roles have been switched a few times, but the film is clear about character being the ultimate determinant of valour—the antagonist here is hungry and driven, but ultimately not nice and henceforth inferior to a humbled hero.) Rocky III does have a few other charms, chiefly being a terrific capsule of the early eighties with no less than both Hulk Hogan and Mr. T in early roles. Carl Weathers is once again very good as Apollo Creed, while Sylvester Stallone does put in a few impressive physical scenes in portraying a heavyweight boxer. Even Talia Shire gets a nicely overdramatic sequence to play with, showing how her character too has evolved over three movies. It all amounts to a surprisingly interesting sequel at a time when most series are getting winded. After all, how different can you make movies all ending with a triumphant match?
(On Blu Ray, September 2018) Intriguingly enough, Rocky is one of those movies that you think you’ve seen even if you haven’t: It was a massive success, earning both an Oscar and great box-office returns. It made Sylvester Stallone an icon, complete with iconic visuals (arms raised over Philadelphia) and sounds (“ADRIAN!”) It spawned a series of sequels still going forty years later, and is often used as shorthand description of just about every underdog sports drama out there. I may have seen Rocky as a kid, but not, to my recollection, as an adult. Remedying to that, I was struck by how (contrarily to many other movies so popular that you think you’ve seen them even if you haven’t) Rocky is darker than expected yet almost exactly what it says it is. It follows a declining not-too-bright boxer as he’s given a second chance, pursues a girl and dislikes his job as a loan-shark “collection agent.” Stallone is at his Stalloniest as Rocky Balboa, playing a simple character with some nobility. If it works, it’s because Rocky’s sports aspect takes a visible back seat to the character-driven drama: even the premise of a champ giving a chance to an unknown is purely arbitrary, albeit cloaked in good work from Carl Weathers. Talia Shire is cute enough as Adrian, with one good scene toward the end of the film being enough to elevate her role above being simply the romantic interest. Some of director John G. Avildsen’s visual touches are interesting—while most commentary about the film’s visuals focus on the “Rocky Steps” training montage, I was more impressed by a quiet static neighborhood shot showing Rocky hiring his manager, with a train passing in the background as a flourish. Rocky is not subtle, and it’s not sophisticated, but (much like its eponymous character), it’s tough and can absorb a lot of punishment. It holds up, and not just for those who like boxing.