"All I have to say is three words: Win Rocky Win!"
I'm not sure where Andy got his Rocky obsession. The first Rocky was made before he was born, and he was too little to have seen Rocky 2 or 3 in the theatre. Maybe it was passed down to him by Bill Simmons, a sports writer on ESPN.com (his link is on my dashboard) who is a rabid Rocky fan, or maybe he watched the movies with me.... I'm not really sure. But Andy was one of the first Toledo-ins in line today for tickets to "Rocky Balboa", and he called me as he walking in the theatre. By the time I called him back, the movie was over.
"How was it?"
"I suspended all my disbelief, and was just immersed in the movie. I thought it was great."
Well, since our tastes in flicks run similar, and since this one movie on my "holiday flicks list" that I want to see, also including
- We Are Marshall: You couldn't be a little kid growing up in West Virginia (we moved there in 1972 after Dad graduated from OSU) and not have heard about the plane crash that killed so many members of the Thundering Herd's football team in 1970. Outside of an explanation by my childhood best friend, Jason Reeves, in a crowded downtown Huntington bar during a road trip years ago in college, I haven't known much about it, so this movie is on top of the list.
- The Nativity Story: Partially because I want to see it before I preach on Christmas Eve, and partially because the woman who directed it also wrote and directed "Thirteen", which is one of the most disturbing movies I have ever seen in my life. Quite frankly, anyone who works with teens should see "Thirteen". It is disturbing because 20 years ago that movie would have been called "Nineteen", and I'm afraid that 20 years from now the movie might be called "Ten". A testament to what making kids grow up so fast now in the culture is doing to them. It will make you sick to your stomach, and remind you of why working with teens is so important.
- Apocalypto: Dad really wants to see this one more than I do, but he went to see Rocky with me tonight, so I owe him one. Get the feeling this one is going to be a real bloodbath.
I shanghai-ed Dad into going with me to the late show tonight (amid much grumbling that we weren't going to see Apocalypto, and that we were suckers who were just putting more dollars in Sly Stallone's pocket) at the beautiful new Regal Cinema 12 out at the Lima Mall (a triumph for the City of Lima). After 8 million previews (including one for what looks to be a bad movie about werewolves named, and I am not making this up, "Blood and Chocolate".... literally, the entire theatre broke up laughing when they showed the title. We could be entering "Ishtar" territory here), Stallone's farewell to the character that made him famous began.
Now, you need to know that the final bell for the series was supposed to be Rocky V, which was made long after Stallone's "crap detector" got lost while he filmed "Stop, Or My Mom Will Shoot". But whole premise to the movie, that now Rocky was training and managing a young protege who ends up turning on him, was geared to a) pass the genre on to a new fighter and new generation b) didn't do it because the "actor" in question was Tommy "Gun" Morrison, a real boxer who moonlighted as an actor c) was incredibly not well thought through.
I read in interviews with Stallone that he realized the movie didn't work, and in his heart of hearts, he wanted to end the series differently. Of course, to do this, you have suspend disbelief in "Rocky Balboa" to accept a) that at 50+ (or 60?) years of age Balboa would be capable of one more great fight, b) that the fight would be an "exhibition" with the world champ, and c) that fairies from the planet Xarlon who can turn themselves in purple snakes actually exist. It's that believable.
But, like my brother, I suspended my disbelief factor, and you know what... the movie wasn't all that bad. You still get a chill during the training scenes while "Gotta Fly Now" plays in the background. The fight scenes are well-shot. And, for all bad roles Stallone chose during his career, in the character of "Rocky" he managed to connect with something that resonates with the common American:
Life isn't about how hard you can hit. It's about how many punches you can take, and still keep moving forward.
Suffice to say the movie does a great job of hammering this home. And just like the Philadelphia it is filmed in, and pretty much for any Midwestern city that's taken its lumps as industry moved south, then west, then really far south and west, the great decay and decline that has been experienced in this part of the country over the last thirty years, which spans the Rocky story, may have eroded much of what we once held near and dear but it's never touched the love we have for those who have shaped us, and those who live here now who we try to help shape.
That's really the story of the movie, and it's Stallone's one last gift for all of us who took a little a joy from a mythical, undersized, boxer who took far more punishment than he ever dolled out. A message to not be afraid of what is coming as the balance of power in the world, or the political or economic landscape changes... just hang onto the kind of work-ethic, never-say-die attitude that have sustained those who came before you. That's the kind of spirit that can coax one last great fight out of an old man, and birth new dreams in a young one. You might find that corny, and maybe it is.....
but the whole theatre was filled with people cheering the old man on. People who have taken plenty of punches, but keep fighting on.