Tag Archives: Boxing

Top 100 Films #6 – Rocky (1976)

 

adrian-and-rocky#6. Rocky (1976)
Directed by: John G. Avildsen
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burgess Meredith, Burt Young, Carl Weathers

Everybody reading through this list knows the basic story of Rocky – the ultimate underdog gets a chance to fight one of the most accomplished boxers in the world and takes him to the limit after weeks of hard work and training. The formula used by writer and star Sylvester Stallone in Rocky is an age old one, and yet feels so fresh in the Best Picture winning drama. Rocky tells the story of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), a hard working Italian-American boxer living in Philadelphia. Rocky is in love with a painfully shy and timid pet store clerk named Adrian (Talia Shire), whose brother Paulie (Burt Young) is Rocky’s best friend. After finding out that his opponent for the big Bicentennial fight is out with an injury, world champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) handpicks “The Italian Stallion” Rocky Balboa to be his opponent in five weeks. Rocky reluctantly accepts the fight, aided by Adrian, Paulie, and his trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith), who pushes Rocky to the limit so that he might stand a chance against the much more experienced Creed. At this point in my life, I’ve seen Rocky dozens of times, and even after all these years, John G. Avildsen’s film makes me feel so energetic, inspired, and emotional. When the film’s iconic ending comes, I’m in tears no matter who I’m watching with – it’s just the kind of wholly satisfying endings you rarely gets in the movies. Rocky’s underdog story never feels cliche or false, but instead has the audience rooting for him the entire way, whether it’s wanting him to defeat Apollo Creed, or wanting to see Rocky finally win over Adrian. Sylvester Stallone’s performance as Rocky Balboa is pitch perfect – the writer-star clearly knows his strengths as an actor, and plays them up. Stallone’s Rocky is kind-hearted and maybe not the sharpest tool in the shed, but his goofy charm wins over nearly everybody he encounters in his day to day life. Everybody in the film is seemingly a fan of Rocky’s – he’s just one of those inherently likable kind of guys. Talia Shire’s turn as the timid and quiet Adrian is wonderful as well, with the actress only coming out of her proverbial shell when she begins to see Rocky romantically – and even then, she constantly seems like a nervous wreck. Shire and Stallone have great chemistry together – their first dates together feel like genuine first dates, and most of their initial interactions are believably awkward. Supporting performances from both Burt Young as the angry and bitter Paulie, and Burgess Meredith’s grizzled veteran trainer Mickey are both incredible, and saw both actors nominated for Best Supporting Actor. The loud and rowdy pair of Paulie and Mickey serve as great contrasting figures to Rocky’s quiet, often stoic personality. On top of some terrific performances from the entire cast, Bill Conti’s uplifting score sets the tone for the inspirational and personal story to come. Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” and “Going the Distance” are two of the best movie compositions ever performed, and help give some dramatic weight to the film’s final act. When “Going the Distance” reaches its final moments and Adrian makes her way through the crowd to greet Rocky, you know you’ve just experienced something truly magical. Rocky is, in my opinion, one of the most satisfying movie going experiences you could ever possibly imagine – it has drama, humor, an amazing and relatable love story, a great score, incredible performances, and one of the most iconic underdogs in movie history. Rocky is a Hollywood masterpiece, and is the kind of movie that seems all too rare today.

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Top 100 Films #54 – When We Were Kings (1996)

 

when-we-were-kings-muhammed-ali-muhammad-ali-2-rcm0x1920u#54. When We Were Kings (1996)
Directed by: Leon Gast
Written by: Leon Gast
Starring: Muhammad Ali, George Foreman

Muhammad Ali has long been one of my personal heroes – his never say die attitude combined with his brash, loud personality matches the personalities of most of my heroes.  When We Were Kings takes a look at Ali’s “Rumble in the Jungle” fight in Zaire with then heavyweight champion George Foreman.  The documentary captures Ali’s close-knit relationship with and deep respect for the people of Africa, and Foreman’s much more awkward interactions with the fans. The arguably past his prime Ali was the clear underdog going into the fight, but watching the film you would never see it phase him.  Instead he uses his confidence and swagger to psych out Foreman and his team, encouraging crowds to shout “Ali Bomaye” or “Ali kill him” and even approaching Foreman outside of public appearances just to play mind games.  When We Were Kings is a picture perfect example of how archival footage can be turned into a compelling storytelling exercise.  Leon Gast uses footage to show how dominant Foreman was going into the fight, and that Ali was seemingly in over his head.  The combination of the lead-up to the fight with footage of the soul music festival taking place concurrently, featuring world class artists like James Brown and B.B. King.  The combination of the two landmark events sets the tone and atmosphere of the film and makes this one incredibly memorable experience both for viewers and for those in Zaire lucky enough to witness them.  The beauty of When We Were King’s and Leon Gast’s structure of the film is that it isn’t just about the “Rumble in the Jungle” fight – it’s about an attitude towards African’s and African-American’s during a time of great strife, and about the 1970’s as a whole. When the fight finally does take place, the scene has been set and you’re ready for the events about to take place.  The ultimate underdog Muhammad Ali employs the world famous “Rope-a-Dope” technique, which causes his opponent to exhaust himself in time for a perfectly placed knockout blow, which Ali nails in the eighth round.  The moment is triumphant and incredibly emotional, reuniting Ali with the championship he was stripped of in 1967.  When We Were Kings is an emotional, intense, and atmospheric documentary the likes of which I’ve never seen before.  It perfectly captures the attitudes and mood of the 1970’s, and combines it with the most iconic fight of the era.  See When We Were Kings if you’re a fan of documentaries or boxing in general – it’s a magical experience.

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