MiraJeff is conflicted about ROCKY BALBOA and spills all about his match with Uwe Boll.
Published at: Dec. 19, 2006, 4:21 a.m. CST by quint
Greetings AICN, MiraJeff here with a fair but perhaps too-critical look at Rocky Balboa. Before we get into the review, I feel compelled, as a fan first and foremost, to thank Sly for his tireless efforts answering 20 straight days of questions. The man is an absolute workhorse, both on and off screen, and I'm glad his rough patch seems to be behind him. I've always been a fan of the guy's work, from Rocky to Cobra to Cliffhanger, Demolition Man and yes, even Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot. It really wasn’t that bad when I was a kid with a crazy, large-spectacled grandma. I've even kept up with Sly the past few years, going out of my way to pick up Eye See You and Shade, the latter of which isn't half-bad at all. In fact, I kinda liked it. But after a couple of years doing the straight-to-video thing, Stallone is now back in the multiplex at Christmas time where he belongs, and for that I'm grateful. So although I never thought I'd want to see another Rocky movie after seeing the truly horrendous Rocky V, my anticipation level for his latest foray into the ring was high, to put it mildly. However, as welcome as Stallone's return is, I have to say I found Rocky Balboa to be pretty disappointing on the whole. The glowing reviews out of BNAT are a bit misleading I think. Under the circumstances, with a packed house full of Rocky fanatics, I can't imagine a better audience to see the film with. Needless to say, as much as I wanted to be there, I didn’t have that experience… but I did have something like it. Allow me to go off on another MiraJeff-patented tangent…
(For the benefit of our readership, I have moved this unrelated, especially long-winded story to the end of the review, sort of as a boxing sidebar that had to be included alongside my Rocky Balboa review. You can imagine its placement here. Moving on…)
…On the flip side, Stallone has done everything to earn my respect as a filmmaker. Namely, he directed “Rocky” a seminal sports film and one of the most inspirational stories put to celluloid in its illustrious history. I mean, even you sci-fi fanboys have to admit, there’s gotta be a reason behind Rocky winning Best Picture over Star Wars. But after the original masterpiece, the Rocky series has gotten progressively worse, although I’ll always consider Rocky IV my personal favorite. For the most part, the movies have aged well, because as cheesy and 80’s as they might be sometimes, you know you’ve watched a Rocky Marathon on a cable channel owned by Ted Turner, who probably requests it be aired every weekend so can walk on a treadmill to “Eye of the Tiger.”
That said, Rocky Balboa is significantly better written than it is directed and edited. Translated, that means the idea of a sequel so many years later works well on the page but it’s ultimately poorly executed. To be fair, I really liked the movie for the first half. I nearly loved it, and I was expecting the second to half to be every bit as strong, especially judging from the way Sly’s talked about the fight sequence and how proud he is of it. To me, the film is a complete letdown because the boxing scene is a mess. It’s over-directed and over-edited, with awkward color cues, millisecond flashbacks that would make Oliver Stone seem sedated by comparison, and a score that couldn’t feel more forced. It’s like Stallone trots Conti’s score out to remind us to feel something, to feel like the impossible might be possible, especially when local legend Rocky Balboa is involved. The script itself is a bit syrupy. It’s sentimental and schmaltzy in a good way, a way that only a character like Rocky can pull off, but nonetheless, when the dialogue doesn’t work, it really stands out like a sore thumb. Case in point, the big emotional sidewalk scene in the second act between Rocky and his son. Sly is absolutely excellent in this scene. There was a point when the sadness in his eyes seemed so unbearable, I thought the Stallone from Copland had wandered into the film. The writing is great, but then Milo Ventigmiglia opens his mouth. I’m sorry, but in this particular scene, the kid is clearly no match for Stallone. He’s playing AAA-ball in the major leagues. Ventimiglia phones it in, big time, and yet, in the very next scene, in the cemetery, he’s great. The kid’s an anomaly. Stallone goes for the obvious uppercut on the sidewalk, but Ventimiglia doesn’t allow the blow to land. It’s not until the more understated, quieter scene in the cemetery that the actors connect and land the knockout blow. So consider me of mixed opinion when it comes to Milo’s performance.
Meanwhile, I love Uncle Paulie. He’s a gruff, no-bullshit kind of guy and I like that. But I don’t know if it was Burt Young or Stallone’s direction or the script or what, but I didn’t like Paulie in this movie. He’s too unlikable. He tells Rocky like it is, like the way it’s gotta be, and he serves that function quite nicely, but he says some unnecessary, ugly things in this movie that I didn’t feel really belonged in a PG family-friendly film like this, and I’m the last guy who would ever give a shit about that. I mean, this is a character that we’ve followed throughout the series and to be honest, I just didn’t feel bad for Paulie when he finally gets his pink slip. And the way Stallone goes all slo-mo, to hammer it home, just kind of irritated me. When the light changes to a blue filter, usually during some painful moment in the past or present, I just felt like Stallone was being a little too obvious as a filmmaker. I think he could’ve trusted his audience a little more.
But ultimately, the fate of a Rocky film lies in its fight scene, and this one is hyped up for about an hour before lasting what seemed like fewer than 10 minutes. I forgot to count, but it felt way too short and anti-climactic. First of all, Rocky’s opponent here is Mason “The Line” Dixon (Antonio Tarver), a baby-faced heavyweight with nothing resembling a personality. Dolph Lundgren emotes more than this guy. One of the best things about Rocky is how personable and charismatic its villains are, whether it’s Apollo Creed, Mr. T, or Ivan Drago. In the latest installment, Dixon is no more intimidating than Tommy Gunn. He’s got the skill, the style, and the showmanship, but none of the heart or passion. A chip on his shoulder is not and a silver spoon in his mouth does not equate him with being a three-dimensional antagonist. A half-baked subplot with his old trainer shows traces of effort but makes little difference to our digestion of the character. We see the first two rounds of the Rocky-Dixon fight, followed by a hyper montage of every round until basically the last one. The fight is awkwardly choreographed, poorly paced, and over edited. I liked the style of it too, how it was filmed like an HBO pay-per-view fight, but the outcome was too predictable and there’s no tension there, no momentum for Rocky to lose and then win back and rally around. I mean, for a moment I thought what the rest of you were thinking, and then I thought there was no way Stallone would ever write that, which left only one other option, and a cop-out at that. The whole climax felt rushed and while I liked the message it was sending, about the fight being a personal journey for Rocky, I felt cheated nonetheless. Although I appreciated the Tyson cameo, he’s always a kick.
Furthermore, while I was moved by Rocky’s monologue when he defends his right to fight, having paid his dues, to the boxing licensing commission, I also found the training montage extremely underwhelming. I mean, Sly said it himself, the training montage in Rocky IV is the best, and this one doesn’t even come close to that. Now why not? The production must’ve had every opportunity and resource to make the training montage every bit as good as Rocky IV, but then it knowingly didn’t go the extra mile for results. That’s kind of inexcusable, I mean, with all the years this project’s been gestating, all the advancements in exercise methods and working out and shit, and we can’t get a solid 2 or 3 minute training montage of Rocky doing ridiculous things like lifting cars or bench-pressing Rosie O’Donnell.
Like I said, Rocky Balboa has all the right ingredients, it just isn’t a very satisfying mix. I got into the romance between Rocky and Little Marie (Geraldine Hughes), and with Rocky playing father figure to her half-white son because he already blew his chance with his own son. I liked that he doesn’t kid himself and try to force the romance angle, because no one bought a ticket to see the new Adrian, not when the old one had a toughness and an innocence that could never be replaced. That stuff, the actual meat and potatoes of the story, and even the premise about a videogame match that the media runs with, and about never letting anybody tell you “no” or “you’re too old” or “you can’t,” that’s all good stuff, and that’s why Rocky Balboa is a good movie, but the boxing match is too disappointing for anyone to call is the best, or even the second best Rocky movie. It’s escapist drama that plays it safe and aims to inspire rather than awe and truly impress. Purists will probably still prefer Rocky II and at least half of everybody else will probably prefer III as well, so all I can be sure of, without a doubt, is that Rocky Balboa is significantly better than Rocky V, and because of this drastic improvement and moving if conventional story, you should see it. I mean, who doesn’t want to go to the movies and root for the Greatest Underdog of All-Time. Oh yeah, all those people who didn’t buy a ticket to see Fever Pitch.
That’ll do it for me, folks. Call me a callous, heartless bastard, but Rocky Balboa came up a jab short for me. I’m hoping for its success, because we all know how much Sly has riding on this, but I can’t throw my full endorsement into the ring. I’d see it with your group of guy-friends, but don’t expect the next Raging Bull. Speaking of, as I sign off, here is the missing second paragraph from above, my official response to Raging Boll. Enjoy, and send all questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Consider this my official response to Raging Boll, since half the shit you might’ve read was completely bogus. As many of you know, a few months ago I boxed director Uwe Boll for a ball-testing round and a half. At approximately 5 foot 9 and 170 lbs, showing a little post-college belly, with asthmatic, smoke-stained lungs, and sporting a good ol’ fashioned wife-beater with “Hi Mom” written on the back, I think you could consider me the underdog, so to speak. In the opposing corner, Dr Uwe Boll, proud owner of degrees in German Literature and Shitshow Filmmaking, was more than likely the proverbial favorite. If I had money on the match, even I would’ve bet on the German beating the Jew, and feeling little guilt about it afterwards, even if the fight happened to fall on the night of Yom Kippur.
First of all, the whole production was doomed from the start. For the record, as you might imagine, Uwe Boll and his concentration camp are completely and utterly unprofessional and disorganized. I didn’t know what flight I was on until about two days before I was supposed to fly up to Vancouver, which turned out to be a beautiful city. I visited the Amsterdam Café (it’s legal up there, I swear!), I ate room service all weekend (I paid, thanks), and watched a great trifecta of Netflix such as In the Company of Men, Dial M For Murder, and Seconds. The accommodations were halfway decent so The Doctor wouldn’t feel too bad about mangling my face. The first night there I was taken to a hole-in-the-wall boxing gym where I half expected to see Morgan Freeman shadowboxing with Jay Baruchel. Some massive Ultimate Fighter guy boils some mouthpieces for me and the thing’s piping hot when he jams it in my mouth. Uh, that sounded bad… anyways, I cast a bad impression and he’s like sorry, that’s all you get. Then I had to wrap my hands, which I’d never done and had no idea about things like taping over your fingers and knuckles so you don’t break them. They threw me in front of a bag and told me to hit it while a bunch of cameras videotaped me “working out.” I’m embarrassed to be telling you all this. I have no idea how to move my feet or throw a punch. I watched Uwe beat the snot out of this Sundance-winning director named Brooke, who is a pretty decent boxer himself. Then he proceeded to joke with a crowd of cowardly journalists about making our brains bleed for all our stupid reviews. Hardy-har-har-what the hell did I get myself into, right? I felt like I was in an Eli Roth movie, walking straight into this crazy German’s trap.
So the next day, the other fighters go act as extras on the set of Postal, but not me. Besides having to wake up at eight in the morning, it struck me as a colossally dumb move, because Postal would then forever be a taint on your IMDB page. Imagine if an Uwe Boll movie was your only credit. I mean, it could wind up being in your obituary. I was curious about what Boll was shooting, I’ll give him that, basically because I’d heard it was completely fuckin’ insane. It attacks every race, color and creed, gender and sexual orientation; it basically sounded like the equivalent of a cinematic abortion. And believe it or not, Seed, which Quint reviewed and I’ve seen the extended trailer of, is even more of a ridiculous abomination. Anyway, I do a couple interviews during the day, including a documentary called “Hecklers” which is about film criticism. I talked about how some of the best film criticism around now is only available online. I got a good night’s sleep and woke up ready to kick some ass the next morning. Only that didn’t happen. Instead, I arrive and am immediately scolded for not having a cup. I didn’t know I needed a cup. Boxers wear cups? How are we supposed to know these things? Lowtax has a cup because he has a wife who cares about his testes, and Boll suggests since Lowtax is fighting first, we all share his cup after he’s done peeing himself in it, crouched in the corner of the ring for two-thirds of a round. I pass. Of course, Boll will be wearing a cup and kidney protectors, in case one of us suddenly Hulks out up there. I mean, look at the pictures available on Wired.com. (Click here for that article!)
We’re all a bunch of tiny, scrawny dudes. Uwe’s triceps are bigger than my biceps. I was told he legitimately runs 14 miles a day. 14 miles a day, people! Um, I don’t walk 14 miles a month. So before I can even comprehend what kind of beating I’m in for, Lowtax goes down and they announce my name. I am the only person without a friend or family member in the crowd. I am all alone, in a ring, across from an undefeated amateur boxer from Germany of all places, in Vancouver of all places, about to get punched in the head, of all places, hard and repeatedly. By the end of the first round I couldn’t feel my own legs. I could hardly breathe. The guy who was supposed to be my corner man, no joke, got so drunk before the match he passed out and had to be taken home by his 60 year-old father. My “trainer” gave me no advice other than keep moving, keep breathing, and keep your hands up. It was like his first time or something, but apparently he wasn’t too worried. Um… hello. The crowd is totally behind Uwe, half because they know him personally and half because they just want to see some blood and a potential serious injury and or tragedy. Even Michael Pare, Eddie from Eddie and the Cruisers, is psyching Uwe up with “Harry Knowles” taunts. I mean, thank God the ref wasn’t in his pocket… or was he? Halfway into Round 2 and I’d been knocked down twice, but like Rocky Balboablumstein, I was back on my feet, at least for a little while. After my rib cage got knocked in a size, I realized I had nothing left to prove, I had given him my best, and I was going down. That’s right, it was a phantom punch, folks. He swung, and I was going down whether he hit or missed. I told my guy to throw in the white towel and he did faster than M.L. Carr.
I got out of the ring, stumbled down some stairs, sat down in an empty seat next to two classy older ladies. I was freaking out because I thought I had a concussion, no one was helping me take off the gloves taped to my hands, and I couldn’t breathe with the face protector on. It was like a fuckin’ Saw contraption, I swear to God. The women said something like “why didn’t you hit him. That fight sucked.” I melodramatically huffed out “I’m a writer, not a boxer,” sucking wind between each word. I made it about 30 yards toward the locker room and puked all over the sidewalk. I was dizzy, my ribs felt broken, my legs were like jelly rolls, I could barely breathe, and no one was around. I barfed for about 15 minutes before some paramedics came over and offered me an oxygen mask. There was no ambulance, there never was, that was misreported. I had seen a camera crew videotaping me puking but I never saw a Wired photographer or anything, so I was surprised to see that picture, in a national magazine no less. I went back to the hotel that night and iced my ribs for a couple hours.
The next morning, Chris Alexander of Rue Morgue needed to wear makeup on his battered face, and Nelson Chance Minter, who was all of 17, had black and blue ribs and the promise of a summer internship with the world’s most incompetent director. Hmmm… probably not the guy you want to learn filmmaking from. My impressions of Uwe- I think he’s a smart guy who’s a bit too impulsive, so he doesn’t really think things through. I used to do that in 5th grade, when I’d rush through a math test so I could be the first one done, and then make stupid mistakes, except those mistakes didn’t cost anyone tens of millions of dollars. I think he has a real knack for producing and raising money and exploiting loopholes to serve his own nefarious purposes, but he’s cheap and unreasonable and is completely lost in translation, as in, I don’t think he has a clue what American audiences are interested in. To him it’s all shock value, and that might get you a career, but it won’t give you longevity and it won’t get you respect. Respect has to be earned and nothing Boll’s done in his career, including kicking the shit out of a bunch of defenseless film critics, has earned that respect.
And that’s that. Keep your eyes peeled for reviews of Children of Men and Notes on a Scandal, as well as my Year in Review write-up. Happy holidays to everyone! ‘Til next time, this is MiraJeff signing off…