Rocky
**** GM
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Burgess Meredith, Carl Weathers

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This is the kinda movie that doesn't often get made anymore. A friend of mine that went to film school keeps telling me that the 70s was the Renaissance of filmmaking, and this movie is a prime example of WHY. This movie is about character development and, if you put the sequels out of your mind, it's a great goddamn movie. Even if you keep the sequels IN mind, the original Rocky is far and away the best, and the sequels let you realize what Hollywood has become since this film got made, and lets you know why it probably wouldn't be made this way today.

See, it seems there's this half-ass bum fighter named Rocky Balboa, living a shoddy life in Philadelphia, just trying to scrape by. He's got a complete asshole named Pauly for a best friend, a sourpuss old boxing promoter named Mickey always on his ass, and he's sweet on Pauly's sister Adrian, who works at the pet shop and is afraid to talk to anyone. Since he's a southpaw fighter that's getting older, he doesn't really get many fights anymore, and to make his small ends meet, he also breaks fingers for a two-bit loanshark in his ample spare time. A real 'nowhere man,' if you will. But Rocky remains as upbeat as he can, as down as his life is all around him. He's not particularly bright, but he's charming. He tries to help people out, even reaching out to kids occasionally to try to steer them the right way, only to realize he's hardly in any position to give advice... until Heavyweight Champion of the World Apollo Creed (GREAT name), when stuck for a marketing angle for his next fight, decides to bring a local white boxer with a catchy name ('The Italian Stallion') for his Philly show, giving Rocky the only chance he's ever had in his life to prove he ain't a bum. Establishing the kind of guy Rocky is and how he lives his life takes the majority of the film's time, and it's really well done. Nowadays, eyes would glaze over at this kind of character development, and that's kinda sad.

It's kinda tough to watch this movie now, because I saw most of the sequels first, and that kinda dulls the effect of the film a bit. You have to pretend the other films didn't exist... which is hard to do with a beloved Mr. T classic like Rocky III. I couldn't help but wish there was a small Clubber Lang cameo in this film somewhere. Sequels aside, though, this film, in and of itself, is a really well done tale of 'the nobody makes good.' At first thought, the actual climactic fight seems to move a little too quickly, but that's most likely the impressions from the sequels seeping in. Long, drawn out boxing scenes were not as integral to this film as they were to the sequels.

The performances are all great - Stallone's first big role proved WHY he kept getting parts afterwards, even after he became a huge parody of himself. This guy, when he buckles down and gets past his Planet Hollywood mindset, can really create a character. Whether or not he can create a real character OTHER than Rocky remains to be seen, but Rocky Balboa seems like a real guy from the neighborhood. Carl Weathers is a great media-savvy showman as Creed. Burgess Meredith perfected the cranky old bastard. Burt Young is an unrelenting asshole as Pauly, and Shire's very convincing as the mousy, unsure Adrian... everybody just feels like such well-rounded characters, although I might be comparing them all to the shallow impressions of themselves from the sequels, and that might make them seem even better than they are. But it was a great joy to see these characters fleshed out.

Rocky is a classic film, and although it's hard to believe today that it won the Oscar for Best Picture 1976, watching it again and taking it for what it is on its own will help you realize that they were right. Truly a great, cool film.

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