Archive for the 'Sport' Category

Goal! 2 - Living the Tedium

With The Boy off sick, and me caring for him, I decided to take advantage of Orange Wednesday and treat him to the local cinemaplex. Our destination was Goal! 2; the time was 12.15, and we shared the theatre with two other people. I think even by the unlofty standards of some of the flicks I’ve been to see, that’s a record low.

By all accounts though, it wasn’t an unusual turnout. G!2 has not made for good box office, much like its predecessor, and as I noted in my DVD Times review of the first instalment, the reasons why are obvious. Apart from the fact that neither film is especially good, I don’t see how a fictional drama about football can possibly replicate the highs and lows of its real life counterpart. Bend it like Beckham is an honourable exception, and in any case, Gurinder Chadha’s movie was about race rather than Pele’s beautiful game. Think of any other football film - Escape to Victory, When Saturday Comes, Hotshot, Best, heck, throw in televised drama and novels while you’re at it - and the quality falls short. And so it should. On Tuesday evening, I watched Lille v Manchester United in the Champions League. An utter dog of a game, until Ryan Giggs scored from a controversial free kick and ninety minutes of tedium threatened to ignite. After witnessing the Lille players walk off the pitch and threaten to abandon the entire match, the tie had its hook, its angle. And that was a real situation - unchoreographed, unrehearsed, and not directed. Fiction can’t possibly hope to meet the spontaneous drama of the real thing.

In G!2’s case, it doesn’t help that the movie is a notch down from part one. The middle instalment within a trilogy, the films tell the story of Santiago Munez, a gifted young footballer who rises from the slums of Los Angeles to eventually play in the World Cup. In Goal! (subtitled ‘The Dream Begins’), we saw Munez move to Newcastle, thanks to the friendly patronage of a passing agent, and score the inevitable winning goal in a match that took the Toon Army into next season’s Champions League. Woody Allen can sleep easy. Despite various pratfalls along the way, Munez was always going to wind up in this position, a star on the rise, largely because it’s the only yarn football films seem to come up with. For all its telegraphed plot, however, Goal! was good fun. Kuno Becker made for a naive and affable lead, and crucially could play a bit. The film - like the rest of the series - was part funded by FIFA itself, giving Danny Cannon and his crew exclusive access to St James Park’s facilities and players. When Munez played in the Premiership, he and several other actors were alongside genuine stars, which lent the match action an authenticity and competence that other dramas have utterly failed to achieve. The liberal use of Britrock, some good jokes and a fine turn from Marcel Iures as Newcastle’s proto-Wenger manager made Goal! a football film that was little more than eye candy, but decent eye candy at that.

Goal! 2The trouble with G!2 (subtitled ‘Living the Dream’ - so what’s part three going to be called? ‘Waving goodybe to the dream?’ ‘Waking up from the dream?’ ‘Dreamer, you’re nothing but a dreamer, but can you put your hands in your head, oh no?’) is that the rags to riches drama of before has ended. Munez is a star by now, and moves to Real Madrid within the first half hour of the film. What follows is the tale of a rich footballer who buys a big house, a Lamborghini, and steadily gets more spoiled and brattish as the two hours’ running time progresses. Who cares about any of that? Munez’s odyssey in G!2 is a little like reading one of those England footballers’ autobiographies that sold very few copies last year. A little like Frank Lampard and (C)Ashley Cole, it’s hard to find any degree of sympathy for someone who clearly has everything. Munez falls out with his fiance, finds his mother, breaks his foot and goes on a Tequila bender with a vampish TV presenter - er, so what? What empathy am I meant to feel with him?

If it’s the case that director, Jaume Collet-Serra, was trying to make a statement about the lot of millionaire footballers, then it doesn’t work. There could be a very good drama about exactly that subject waiting to happen. This isn’t it. For all his riches, we’re still meant to believe that, at heart, Munez is the nice kid who made good, whereas in reality he comes across just like any other pampered sports star. Other points that the film raises aren’t pushed hard enough to make it a suitable exploration of issues within the 21st century game. We get unscrupulous, oily agents, wags, terrible promotional work that make some extra coin for our favourite players, but these are only touched upon. In one telling scene, the Madrid board tell team coach, Rutger Hauer (wasted on the whole), that Munez must start in the next game, despite his misgivings. Again, this raises an interesting point about the power of money in football, and the way it can walk all over the right thing to do, but the moment soon passes and we’re off on some new tangent.

Clearly, the makers of G!2 aren’t impressed with Fabio Capello’s changing room revolution at the Bernabeu. ‘The Don’ has sold Ronaldo, snubbed Beckham, and actively tried to end the reign of the glossy yet ultimately destructive Galacticos, but none of that has happened in the movie. Ronaldo, Zidane and especially Beckham are at the heart of the club. Jettisoned foreigners like Thomas Gravesen and Jonathan Woodgate are active first teamers. It’s easy to see why G!2 has done this. Mixing Munez with the big names of last season is good for the story, and you get the impression the film was only green-lighted in the first place to see Goldenballs himself making liberal appearances. Fortunately, Beckham isn’t called on to act, and merely features on the pitch and in the dressing room.

Elsewhere, Anna Friel co-stars as Munez’s put upon fiance, and sadly proves that she is an actor of limited talent. Wayward Geordie accent aside, it’s hard to feel sorry for her as she gets in a tizz over whether to live in the big Newcastle-based mansion, or the even larger pile in Madrid. Far more fun is to be had with teammate, Gavin Harris (Alessandro Nivola). The playboy from Goal! is now an issue-driven, ageing star. At one point, he slaps on the face cream in an attempt to look younger than his advancing years. He also features in a side story where he realises he’s being usurped in the Madrid line-up by Munez, and is determined to do something about it whilst trying to maintain his friendship with the younger player.

If the tale was actually about Harris, it would be probably be an improvement. Nivola can act, for one thing, which gives him an instant advantage over the wooden Becker. This isn’t the case, though, and apart from the usual finely choreographed match action (some of which features a CGI football that isn’t realised well enough to look anything other than some slick computer work) the film is rather empty and soulless. According to the IMDb, Goal! 3 will be directed by Michael Apted, which suggests a hopeful upturn in quality. Otherwise, the trilogy amounts to $90m that is the very definition of money not well spent.

Posted on 22nd February 2007
Under: Sport, Bobbins, Recent Releases | 5 Comments »

‘Adriaaaaaaaaaaan!’ Part Three

Right then, let’s get Rocky V out of the way. Even by the lowly critical standards of the rest of the series, it’s a poor film. Stallone Sr has disowned it. Stallone Jr is practically on the rocks as a consequence of it. Adriaaaaaan preferred to die rather than appear in another instalment after it. I don’t know what the worst thing about it is, but maybe the following bullet points will provide some of the answers…

  • George Washington Duke - yes, Sly, we know that boxing agents are immoral beings, seeing nothing beyond the greens they can squeeze from the last drops of this discredited sport. Do you really have to hammer the point home with this cartoon character, though, this Donkinglite caricature?
  • Going back to his roots - why? Is it not enough for the poor bugger to have brain damage, when you also contrive some twist whereby the Balboa family lose all their wealth and wind up back in slummy Philadelphia? Why would anyone, even someone with a Stegosaurus capacity for lateral thinking like Rocky, leave Uncle Paulie in charge of the money? Wouldn’t they have an army of acountants to handle the wonga? But no, here’s Paulie, a man who hasn’t changed his string vest in seven years, left to dribble the milions away, presumably on the racetrack…
  • Tommy Gunn - in fairness, Rocky’s opponents have rarely been anything more than cardboard cutouts, but Gunn is an insult to most immobile objects. Wearing a permanent gormless expression, which is supposed to look mean but actually makes him appear to be pondering whether he’s pointed in the right direction, ‘Machine’ deserves the legend as he has all the acting talent of an electric whisk. And he isn’t even the worst thing in this. Oh no, here comes…
  • Rocky Balboa Jr - hell’s bells, you could write essays about what’s wrong with this. Apparently, there’s some lost footage from the outtakes that has since been lost, in which Sly tests out his lines with Sage, only because the boy’s at school at the time, he acts with a tub of lard instead. And you know what? Stallone should have saved himself a bit of cash and recruited Tesco Lard instead. Sage is pisspore, destined to share the ‘This is what happens when you cast your family in movies’ award with Sofia Coppola in a neverending spiral of Hollywood iniquity. Egos on fire, as Survivor might have sang.
  • Mickey the Ghost - the flashback where (a very, very old looking) Burgess Meredith gives Rocky Marciano’s cufflink to Balboa isn’t so bad. It’s the bit later I’m talking about. Hands up who thought this was a good idea? On what level would it possibly work? Or did Stallone take the afternoon off when writing this sequence, and hand screenplay composition duties over to Sage?
  • Father Carmine - randomly appears at points in most Rocky movies to smile benignly and dole out blessings. It’s a little like Rocky’s promoting the old days of the Church doling out papal blessings, and pinpoints something that’s very wrong at the heart of Catholicism. So Rocky has God on his side? God likes likeable losers who take a good beating, does he? Erm, well I suppose that figures, but then it opens up an entire Christ dimension to Balboa that takes the series down a path I think it oughtn’t to take. Anyway, Father Carmine. Like, what’s all that about? Could we all, when seeking inspiration, perhaps on the way to a job interview, bellow at the local priest to appear at his window and whack off a blessing?

You get the general idea. As a film, it takes even more liberties than its predecessors, comes across as hastily, shoddily produced and a flick of the bird to fans everywhere, and by some distance marks the franchise’s nadir. The worst part about it is that this was meant to be a return to its roots. Original Rocky director John Avildsen was back, replacing Stallone himself behind the camera, and the action moved back to a perpetually wintry Philadephia in a vain attempt to inject some credibility into the series after the excesses of parts three and four. But this doesn’t happen. The points above are intended to be a laugh, my effort at producing something you might read in the acerbic, harsh-tongued pages of The Guardian Guide these days (when not written by the excellent Joe Queenan). I still think the general sentiment holds true. It’s an appalling venture, one that would appear to have killed the eponymous lead off for good.

Rocky BalboaOr, fortunately for us, not. It’s a nice postscript to Rocky that Stallone had one more shot left in him, this year’s Rocky Balboa. And it’s a good one. Why does it work? For a start, all the bombast of the halcyon days has been stripped away. When you see Rocky living his post-Adriaaaaaaaan life it actually seems quite believable. The things he does and the way he deals with people are reasonably close to how you would imagine it to be for him. He spends time sitting by Adriaaaaan’s grave, feeds the pigeons, runs his rather ramshackle restaurant, regales his punters with talk of fights long past, makes friends with a sad waitress (played with affection by Belfast actor, Geraldine Hughes), and tries to keep up with a son who wants nothing more than to step out from beneath his famous dad’s shadow. Suddenly, Paulie has more to do. He isn’t the butt of the jokes, and no longer seems content to provide the film’s ‘bum’ quotient. A bit more three dimensional, it’s nice to see why anyone would want to stick around with him after all these years.

Rocky can’t be Rocky without a bout of some description. The contrivance of said climactic fight is the movie’s weak point, tenuously justified on the basis that it’s what George Foreman would do. Even so, when it actually happens the ring action is toned down from the epic antics of yore, which makes sense. Also, though Mason ‘the Line’ (I quite like that, Pynchon fans) Dixon is as stereotypical as any of Rocky’s opponents, he’s at least given some motive, a sprinkling of logical behaviour.

Yet for all the fun of the final scenes, it’s the Philadelphia stuff I enjoy the most, the simple voyeuristic pleasure of watching Rocky as an old man (and he looks all of those sixteen years since Rocky V) go about his daily business. If anything, it’s a bit like catching up with an old friend. Of course, I know even as I type these words that Rocky Balboa isn’t really a very good film. It’s simplistic, nakedly heart-tugging, and as ever the development of the plot doesn’t need a soothsayer to predict how things will turn out. But then the best elements of the other movies were exactly the same. This is a fan’s affair. Those who like the series will enjoy this one. Everyone else will hate it, and rightly so. In the final reel, Rocky waves to his fans, a big grin on his face, looking for all the world like he’s just about pulled it off. As a triumphant climax to the series, I suppose he has, and there’s even some nice credits footage of normal people (i.e. not Stallone, or film folk in general) gambolling at the top of the Philadelphia Art Museum steps, the sight of Rocky’s pre-fight training that culminates with the obligatory, celebratory close of ‘Gonna fly now’. If you get all this, and get something from it, it’s lovely stuff.

Posted on 30th January 2007
Under: Sport | No Comments »

In-ger-lund

Hmm, it’s been a few days, has it not? Unfortunately, this has been a rough old week for me, in more ways than one. But on to business, and thanks incidentally to Dawn and Tom for providing the first comments this site has ever received. Comments are great. Even if you don’t agree with what I have to say, it’s nice to know you care.

For reasons that aren’t instantly clear to me, I spent a couple of hours at the weekend watching England’s World Cup Fever. Bought for 97p from Amazon as a stocking filer for The Boy, and mainly because we got a free flag with it, the two-disc set contains a documentary about Albion’s progress through the qualifying campaign for the Germany-based World Cup, and the full match from our boys’ gallant 3-2 friendly win over Argentina in November 2005.

England's World Cup FeverLooking back at it now, I still feel a sad lump rise in my throat at the opportunity lost in Baden Baden and beyond. I can recall the optimism I experienced before the World Cup. Hey, we were all there. It’s easy now to claim we were never going to win the thing, but before the tournament I think England were genuinely rated amongst the favourites. You’re not going to tell me that Italy had the best squad in the world, are you? The competition was thrilling, entertaining and stuffed with shocks, yet one of the most tedious aspects of it was being an England fan. Even passionate flag wavers would have to agree the team was dull, and under-achieved at every turn. There was a sense that no one’s heart was quite in it, that despite being crammed with fine players the team reached the quarter finals by virtue of playing also rans. As soon as they met something of a test, a Portugal side that wasn’t as good as the 2004 vintage, England ran out of steam.

All this makes watching the DVD even more tragic. Did England have a good enough squad to triumph in Berlin? Almost certainly. The documentary shows a side that could roll over anyone given the correct motivation and tactics. David Beckham, lambasted after the World Cup for lingering long past his best, definitely had the talent to deserve a place in the squad, and probably still does. I have never felt he was captain material, and am more inclined to agree with current picks like Terry or Gerrard, but the man played his arse off whenever he donned the three lions. He cared, scored a surfeit of goals (most of them were great), led by example even if he seemed too nice to bollock his teammates for a lack of effort, and was central to everything the team achieved. Sadly, the manager’s faith in him was too unwavering. During the finals, we got a glimpse of Aaron Lennon, Tottenham’s right winger who isn’t the finished article but who brought some vital pace and energy to his role. Beckham was far too entrenched. Sven-Goran Eriksson allegedly had a core of players who would get picked to start, no matter what, and this meant a Becks lacking in form and match practice could still lead his country.

Yet for much of the qualifiers, he did a good job, as did his compatriots. Only a 2-2 draw in Austria, which saw England allow a two-goal lead to pass them by, and that defeat against Northern Ireland at Windsor Park, let them down. Clearly, even in a straightforward group like the one we enjoyed, there was room for folly. For the most part, England swaggered through the petty obstacle of lesser national outfits. Yet there were signs that all wasn’t well. Whether via David James’s clumsiness, the incompatability of Gerrard and Lampard, Wayne Rooney’s occasional fallibility, the incomprehensible selection of Sol Campbell, and the fact that Sven-Goran Eriksson obviously didn’t know what to do with Owen Hargreaves and Ledley King, England were far from perfect. They were, in fact, perfectly capable of messing things up. Losing to Ulster was one black mark. Making hard work of a number of lesser opponents was a damning other.

So who’s to blame? The Sun made no secret of the fact it despised Eriksson, following his departure from the England job (not to mention the high wage he continues to draw from the FA by means of compensation), and I can’t say I disagree with it. The DVD contains a lengthy interview with Sven, some segments of which appear in the main documentary as he elaborates on his charges’ performances. I found myself not liking the cut of his gib. Much has been made of Eriksson’s lack of emotional involvement, the way he appeared to be detached from the passions of his adopted country. Worryingly, this has led to calls for never having a bloody foreigner manage our beloved national team again, despite the abject truth that the best coach this country has going for it simply isn’t up to scratch at the top level. Nonetheless, they were right about Eriksson. Cast your minds back to 2001, when he first got the job. Then, we admired his air of culture, his intelligence and pedigree. You could buy a classical collection of music that he had personally selected. Training departments across the country had the choice of purchasing a Leadership guide that was inspired by his management techniques, or even his own Sven-Goran Eriksson on Management volume.

All that seems a very long time ago, and I imagine there aren’t too many copies of either book remaining in directors’ offices around the nation. By 2006, Eriksson was revealed as an arch-conservative in his thinking, not to mention a bit of a slag where the ladies were concerned. This being the official account of England’s road to Germany, there are no Fake Sheikh revelations here. Oddly, Faria Alam is absent also. What sticks is the fact that Sven says nothing, despite talking an awful lot. He’s media-friendly, all right. He gently berates his charges when they don’t do the job, and praises them when they’re a success, but there’s never a sense that we’re getting to the root of him, that he ever comes out with anything beyond what we would expect him to say. Inflexible in terms of his tactics and too unwilling to take a chance with dropping players who are (i) past their sell-by date (ii) out of form (iii) not all that good, only they are on a top team’s books (iv) a combination of the above, Eriksson is charged with nothing more or less than ruining the best days of a group of players’ lives in leading them to moribund showings where it counted. The really sad part is that when he decided to take some risks, it was at the worst possible moment e.g. taking the raw, untested Theo Walcott to Germany for the experience, when England were short on proven strikers, and besides, was there anything wrong in allowing him to tag along for the ride, but not as part of the selection?

In this month’s Four Four Two magazine, an interview with Fabio Capello reveals that ‘Il Don’ was in talks with the FA at around the time Eriksson got the nod. How might things have been different if he’d been handed the job? We’ll never know.

What this DVD shows so well is the potential England have, the potency behind all that good feeling as the World Cup beckoned. Everyone was excited about our chances, and rightly so. Rather than seek the opinion of players, which would have been spectacularly boring (let’s be honest, England’s lads aren’t blessed with articulacy, are they?), the disc seeks out proven journalists for its soundbites. Henry Winter, The Telegraph’s elegant sports writer, makes some insightful comments about the nation’s road to Germany, so much so that I ended up wishing for more of him rather than the anodyne commentaries that accompanied the match action. I got extended highlights of the home games. If Peter Brackley mounted the mic, it wasn’t too bad. Otherwise, the pre-scripted banter was as boring and remote as following any of England’s games during the finals.

The team’s win over Argentina is rather more fun. Meaningless as it was, the game at least exerts some passion from its participants, so that a mere friendly turns into a tussle both sides actually try to win. The John Motson commentary shows everyone from disc one how it should be done.

Having taken a glance at Amazon, I see the set has now gone up to £6.97! And you don’t get a flag either! Even at ninety seven pee, it didn’t feel like that much of a snip, the account of a time of vain hope before the usual shattered dreams settled in. My God, we’ll buy anything when a major international tournament is due, won’t we?

Posted on 19th January 2007
Under: Sport | 2 Comments »

‘Adriaaaaaaaaaaan!’ Part Two

The third and fourth instalments of the Rocky series are truly beyond criticism. Slating them is a bit like having a go at James Blunt, in the sense that whatever you say, they’ll still brush themselves down and go happily about their way, confident they are impervious to critical bullets. Much like the odious Blunt, both were massive successes in their day, going on to make well over $100m apiece and thrilling their audiences. They might have been rubbish, but they were good rubbish.

Mr T and his world class snarlRocky III was such a big hitter (ahem) that in Redcar, they put on a special showing at the Coatham Bowl whilst the Regent Cinema underwent one of its regular closures. I was ten, went with all my mates, and no doubt afterwards we re-enacted all the best scenes, making that magnified hitting sound for every blow struck. ‘I’ll be Rocky, you can be Clubber, you’re Apollo, and you can be Thunderlips.’ ‘Er, no ta, mate.’ In my considered opinion, this entry is actually the best of the lot, because it’s pure, unadulterated fun. Apart from Mickey’s plot-convenient demise, the underdog emotion-tugging is pretty much cast to one side as Balboa tries to overcome the punching machine that is Clubber Lang. And it’s Lang who’s the best thing about the film, because he’s played by Mr T.

I know it’s easy to say such a thing in a post-ironic, Channel 4 kind of way, but I mean it. Mr T (unimpressive real name - Lawrence Tureaud) is perfect casting. Apollo Creed, the ‘opponent’ of the first two movies, is modelled rather obviously on Muhammad Ali. If that’s so, then Lang is George Foreman, or perhaps Sonny Liston. Either way, he’s the antithesis of Creed, a nasty, ugly wrecking ball. Nothing he says is without bile, and he snarls. A lot. All the time. If there was an award for on-screen snarling, Mr T’s portrayal of Clubber would be the standard everyone would have to meet, an impossible standard in my eyes. He’s a heavyweight challenger of nastiness, so bad he makes Mike Tyson look like Frank Bruno, and you know he’ll be almost impossible for Rocky to defeat. In short, he’s fantastic, delivering a crazed, over the top performance that adds everything to the unreality of the Balboa world.

All this was played to the bestselling ‘Eye of the Tiger’ by Survivor, something I think I might have bought on a dodgy K-Tel compilation LP. The group went on to record ‘Burning Heart’ for its sequel, Rocky Ivy (copyright my Dad, and probably yours too), but this time they kind of got lost in the extended soft rock soundtrack of the movie. It’s hard to see past James Brown’s scintillating turn, performing ‘Living in America’ whilst wearing a fetching jumpsuit, for many kids their first glimpse of soul music’s Godfather.

Dolph doles out his single expressionHow Stallone got away with slipping an entire James Brown show into his movie, I’ll never know. But then, by this point the series was all about indulgence. There’s a 20-minute segment between Adriaaaaaaaaaan begging Rocky not to fight, and his tussle with Russian champion, Ivan Drago, where we watch clips montages and scenes of our hero training, all to a string of pulsating rock tracks. And then it’s worth remembering this all happened in 1985, the dawn of the MTV era. Stallone made nothing more or less than a film for the music video generation by churning out an extended music video of his own. Forget the easy political stereotypes of the piece. Don’t be insulted by them either. You’re not here to hate the Commies and love the Yanks, but to soak in the all-style-no-substance of Ivy.

I loved it when I first caught it, and it remains a bit of a guilty pleasure to this day. If there is a weak point (apart from, er, all the other rubbish bits, like the cheap slaying of Creed, Adriaaaaaaan and Paulie having nothing to do, the entire dynamic between Rocky and his son, that bloody robot, etc, etc), then it’s Ivan Drago, played with the cardboard cutout quality of Dolph Lundgren. Poor Dolph. All he has to do in Ivy is shoot off mean stares, whether that’s at Apollo, at Rocky, at his management, at the floor, and at the poor chump playing Gorbachev who looks a bit like the Premier but not too much because his face is hidden in shadow. Presumably cast for his sheer hugeness (Balboa comes up to his enormous chest), Lundgren is the first time a Rocky ‘villain’ is turned into an abject cartoon character, a one-dimensional bad guy who exists to be downed in the final act. Unfortunately, it’s not the last, but more on Tommy Gunn later…

Even more disappointingly, both films reside within the Anthology DVD set without much in the way of extras. Stallone commentaries would be nice, along with some ‘Making Of’ material that explored the reasons for their very existence, and naturally an hour-long documentary on Mr T. They deserve better, yet the dedicated disc of ‘Extras’ happens to be some hastily scrabbed together stuff on the first movie, as though it’s the only one that matters. I get the impression even their maker is a bit apologetic about them, quietly making them part of the series because he has to, otherwise they won’t be in numeric order, without bothering to give them any further treatment. A real pity, as the two episodes are enormous slices of incredibly daft fun, and a bonus for fans is the chance to see Brigitte Nielsen when she was worth the mither.

Posted on 9th January 2007
Under: Sport | 1 Comment »

‘Adriaaaaaaaaaaan!’ Part One

Last night and home alone, there was nothing else for it but to dip into the Christmas booze surplus and start watching the Rocky Anthology: Ultimate Edition, purchased from HMV for £17.99. My reasons for buying it were nearly all nostalgic. I remember a time in my mid-teens when Rocky could do no wrong. Sure, back then - long before late night Bergman viewing sessions, Citizen Kane and the Stanley Kubrick collection - I knew they weren’t up to very much. No one would mistake them for high art; not the Oscar-winning first instalment, and certainly not the episode mine father referred to endlessly as Rocky Ivy. Yet they had something that was hopelessly winning about them, a brew of ’soft rock + clips’ montages, easy stereotypes and a rather cynical attempt to force one’s adrenalin to gush in tune with the punches that made them excellent entertainment.

Rocky Anthology coverEven as late as 1991, by which point I was at University and obviously should have known better, I got excited over Rocky V. My argument then, as now, was that occasionally you just liked some films that are crap. Try explaining why the longest queues to get into that evening’s Film Society movie showing were for Ghost, or Pretty Woman. To me, Rocky was a bit of a guilty secret, something I watched to make myself feel a little more positive about life. The movies’ existence-affirming qualities didn’t stay with me for very long, but if I was feeling down, on came Stallone for another bout of punch drunkery and I was won over.

Anyway, armed with a four-pack of Cobra (do you see?) and the last packet of Marlboro Lights before that most hated of New Year resolutions kicked in, I waded through parts one and two. The first passed quickly enough, two hours of puppy dog eyes, near-incomprehensible dialogue and a depiction of 1970s squalor that must have put any British viewer off the American dream for good. Director John G Avildsen and his crew did a great job of shooting in Philadelphia during winter. The film takes place during bitterly cold conditions, adding to its bleak look. It’s further to the movie’s credit that everyone involved goes for a degree of credibility. Considering where the story winds up, you spend most of it feeling ever sorrier for Rocky, who’s basically a nice guy in the wrong place. Somehow, he works for a loan shark, possibly the least likely line of work a man of his gentle sensibilities could hope to enter. It says a great deal that once Rocky moves on, and Paulie takes over his old job during Rocky II, the latter thrives, which gives his character a rather sinister quality. Flying in the series’ later descent into fantasy, Rocky’s relationship with Adrian is both believable and touching. Even the climactic fight against Apollo Creed doesn’t stretch the limits of imagination too far.

By the standards of the seventies, with Raging Bull still somewhere within the realms of De Niro’s mind, the boxing scenes must have come across as fairly hard-edged stuff. Though the ante is considerably upped during the latter episodes, this is excellent, a bloody brawl that stays just the right side of realistic and suggests why Rocky might have been capable of taking Creed the distance. I’ve always had some trouble getting how Balboa becomes world champion in Rocky III. He lacks what the old boxing card game Title Bout used to call killer instinct. The true greats had it in spades, yet Rocky is just too much of a nice guy to pack that final, devastating punch needed to reach the top. I can accept he’s got heart (in fact, each movie goes on about how he is indeed ‘all heart’), but little in the way of finesse, skill and most definitely intelligence. In other words, I can believe in the climax of the first movie. It’s credible he could have the wherewithal to last fifteen rounds against a quicker, wilier and all-round better boxer. What comes later takes all this and throws it in our faces. How are we supposed to believe in him afterwards?

Rocky is by no means perfect. It drags in a lot of places, and the general thrust of the narrative is radioed ahead, so obvious is it what’s going to happen. Yet if these are minor gripes, they become yawning issues where part two is concerned. You know Rocky is going to blow all his purse from the fight within the film’s first half hour. You know he’s about to struggle to make ends meet. You know Adrian will have complications with her pregnancy. Worst of all, you’re completely bloody aware that the plot is nothing more than a slipshod device ending with Rocky once more occupying ringspace with Creed. As Balboa mooned over his wife’s comatose body, a sequence that seemed to last for hours, I started to feel my will to live gently slipping away. Cobra kept me going. I enjoyed the fight itself, simply as a masterpiece of slick editing and some brilliant soundtrack work. Though it was slightly disappointing to find the naturalistic noise of boxing glove hitting flesh had gone, replaced with what sounded like cannons going off whenever Creed caught Balboa, something he did often, I found myself getting into the hokum. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I see the climactic knockout scene. On each occasion, the instant where it looks like Apollo might get up first always works, which is how it should be.

The sad but true aftermath is that neither film stood up to earlier viewings. Clearly, I’ve moved on. My tastes are more refined, and less likely to accept these flicks as anything other than diverting trash, but trash all the same. They’re bobbins, with the element of quality control already dipping as early as the second episode. Tonight, it’s episodes three and four, the ones where an Oscar-winning concept moved truly into the realms of silliness.

Posted on 2nd January 2007
Under: Sport | No Comments »

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