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Rocky Balboa (2006)
A good way to end the 'Rocky' series (hopefully)
A lot of people seem not to like this film, but I liked it, primarily for nostalgic reasons. And, of course, the screenplay is heavily into remembrance of the past stories, touched with the circumstances and needs of Rocky's current life. He obviously grieves for Adrian, and that colors much of Rocky's outlook, but there are other demons that must be confronted and excised. And, for those who have been there themselves, this is familiar and real. For these reasons, Rocky the Fighter becomes Rocky the Everyman. And the two become synonymous.
Stallone is his usual dominating presence, but his supporting cast deserves kudos, from old rival, later friend and trainer 'Duke', to seemingly minor characters like 'Spider Rico' and 'Marie'. Burt Young as brother-in-law Paulie presents a slightly more mellow and softer side than his earlier turns, which were more of the brutish and thuggish "loser". Rival boxer 'Mason Dixon' and his handlers are even offered in a somewhat sympathetic and appealing manner.
In the end, Rocky is able to loose the beast within and find a measure of personal redemption, inner peace, and closure, and that is a fitting and satisfying way to end the Rocky saga. He does it his way, in the ring, engaged in the sport he loves that has shaped his life, but also in the quiet of his grieving and memories at Adrian's grave. We know that Rocky will endure and fight on, if not in the ring then in life, because it is what he does. And that is a fitting message to leave us with, because it is what we all do.
I don't see why so many people are down on this movie. It's entertainment. It's fun. War and Peace it ain't. You want a serious movie with a deeper message then have a viewing of a classic like Gone With The Wind or Citizen Kane or Wuthering Heights. You don't view Bond films for that. They're just escapism and entertainment. Enjoy them for that and you'll be a much happier person.
That said, Moonraker delivers on the entertainment and fun aspect. Sure, there are some contrived sequences and corny lines, but those fall into the context of the fantasy. This movie has some tightly scripted and well-drawn action sequences, some nifty special effects (for it's era), a terrific score and title theme by Shirley Bassey, and a well-paced plot. The filming locations are lush and exotic, ranging from Southern California to Venice to Rio and the Amazon rain forest and, finally, outer space.
The cast is the usual top-quality Bond ensemble. I have to say that Sir Roger Moore is my favorite James Bond actor. He brings a touch of light-hearted and subtle British humor to the role, unlike the Sean Connery incarnation, who was simply too much of the Serious Spy for me. And Lois Chiles as Holly Goodhead (there's a classic Bond name for you) is probably the most beautiful and sophisticated of the Bond girls. She scores an 11 on the 1-10 beauty scale, but also brings the added attraction of a brilliantly intelligent and accomplished woman to the role, more than the equal of James on that account, the kind of woman you could fall deeply in love with not only for her beauty but her intellect as well.
'Moonraker' might not be a classic in the world of films, but it holds it's own in the Bond film rankings.
Star Trek: Elaan of Troyius (1968)
'Trek' has it's share of babes, but Elaan is...
...a super-babe. Make no mistake, this episode is a showcase for the exotic and ethereal beauty of Eurasian actress France Nuyen as Elaan. The storyline is secondary to the display of her charms and their predictable effect on perpetually-aroused James Kirk. Skimpy costumes and form-fitting gowns accentuate Nuyen's lithe, but femininely muscular build. Her vaguely French accent adds to her allure. Kirk can't help but fall prey to her feminine charms, with near-catastrophic results.
That's not to say it's a bad story. The acting, especially by Nuyen, is first-rate. It's a fun twist on the "Taming Of The Shrew" theme, and when Elaan comes around at the end one feels a sense of completion as well as a lingering sense of desolation. She has to go on with her slated "role" as consort to the enemy society's ruler for the sake of peace between their people. But I have a feeling the bridegroom-in-waiting has more of a treat in store for him than he might otherwise have anticipated.
Probably one of the better Season 3 episodes, which were generally lacking in pace and punch compared to seasons 1 and 2.
Probably the best of all...
This episode has it all, a wonderfully written story, catchy title, superb acting, and an unhappy but necessary ending. I recall this story sticking with me through the end of the first season and into the second. The hallmark of a great story is it's staying power, and "City" certainly has it.
First, the writing. As much controversy there is after the fact as to what Roddenberry did or didn't do with Harlan Ellison's original storyline, the fact remains that it is a dynamite story and incredibly well-crafted for the depth of character development and the continuity of the storyline. What can you say about Ellison as a sci-fi writer that hasn't already been said? The guy is a genius, pure and simple. I simply can't imagine a greater contemporary writer. He is one of a Pantheon of great writers, Heinlein, Bradbury, Clarke. That a series like Star Trek would be able to tap his talents is a real feather in their cap.
Regular actors Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelly deliver perhaps their finest performances of the series in this episode. Shatner doesn't miss a beat in his movement from dispassionate mission achievement to a genuine love interest in the Joan Collins character. And Joan Collins demonstrates here her depth as a serious actress. Her portrayal of compassionate social worker Edith Keeler is spot-on. She isn't just another pretty face, another attractive female for Kirk to conquer. She draws him in with her passion for helping others and her gifted insight into the necessity of forging a better destiny for mankind, one individual at a time. Her tragic fate is a mirror for the seemingly senseless and avoidable tragedies of the 20th century. A person dedicated to the service and well-being of others must die prematurely to prevent a greater tragedy. Certainly the eternal question and mystery of our lifetime.
Anyway, "City" is probably my favorite of many favorite episodes of this classic series. Many thanks to Harlan Ellison and Gene Roddenberry for such a masterful presentation of a great story.
The Roaring 20's (1960)
Nostalgia and more
The most memorable feature of this show for me as a boy of eight years old was the sex appeal of Dorothy Provine. I'd watch the show to get a glimpse of Miss Provine doing one of her flapper numbers and in my puzzled pre-adolescent mind wonder why her appearance always evoked such unusual and seemingly strange thoughts and sensations. Of course, this did not escape the notice of my parents, who were relentless in their teasing ("Oh, she's your girlfriend, now we know..."). Anyway, aside from that, the show featured plenty of action and intrigue in the riotous and often chaotic period preceding the Depression years. Looking back, it was a time of almost innocence after the experience of the first World War, which tragically turned out to be a precursor to a much bloodier and sobering experience a generation later. The passage of time has given a luster and burnish to those years which obviously paints over the harsher reality of violence and hardship. Still, it was a fun hour of escapism in the early years of network TV.
Deep Impact (1998)
Yes, the story is a bit short on scientific accuracy, but, come on, it's a movie, not a science documentary. Suspend disbelief for a bit and go along for the ride. It was a bit of a twist to actually show a fragment of the comet hit the Earh's surface, and the resulting devastation. The other mega-disaster film out that year, Armageddon, avoided this unpleasant outcome. So here is a bit of realism. The idea of a nuclear explosion fragmenting the comet nucleus into two pieces rather than pulverizing it is also a nod to scientific accuracy, as some theories about comet composition predict this effect. But, two films out in the same year with a similar premise had me on comet-asteroid overload.
The cast is fairly strong. Morgan Freeman and Robert Duvall add their measure of gravitas to an otherwise unknown cast. Tea Leoni is not very good in this film, delivering her lines with a somewhat wooden and dry cadence. Also, the estranged child syndrome is in full force with Tea trying to reconcile her feelings for her remarried father (Schnell) and her still-living mother (Redgrave). I'll admit to having a bit of a crush on Mary McCormick, so I liked her in the role of a crew member of the doomed space mission. Still, I had the feeling hers was a bit of a token appearance, the addition of a female crew member in a nod to "diversity" and political correctness.
The notion of the new-age Ark preserving a select few in the deep caves of mid-America reminded me of the scheme Dr. Stangelove hatched at the end of the movie of the same name. Here the world-ending event is natural rather than man-made, but the idea is the same. It is an arresting and sobering thought. On the one hand, we want humanity to survive, but what is to become of those left behind? How to they deal with their fate? An interesting dilemma that might make a decent movie in itself.
Anyway, Deep Impact is a good film. Not great, mind you, but good enough for a viewing by those curious about such a storyline.
Crack in the World (1965)
Flawed science, but a fun movie...
Yes, let's put this to bed right away. The scientific premise is flawed. We now know that the crust of the Earth is not a solid shell, but riddled through with many cracks. Not only are these not harmful, they are an essential component and feature of a geologically active world. It is how the Earth renews itself, builds land, and promotes life. There is little mankind can do in the way of "cracking" the Earth that the Earth has not done itself, many times over, in much greater magnitude. But, that said, this is still a fun movie.
The pace of action and buildup to the spectacular climax is first-rate. I found myself just waiting for the next disaster to make itself manifest, be it an earthquake, volcano, tsunami, or all three. The underlying message is still sound: mankind should use caution in tinkering with the forces of nature. A time-worn premise, to be sure, but no less valid today. We as a species are young and have much to learn, by being aware of the hidden forces of nature and the unintended consequences of good-intentioned tinkering.
The cast is quite good. Sci-fi stalwart Dana Andrews is the featured player, of course, but the other actors do some good work. For it's time, the special effects are well-done. Like any well-paced disaster film, as the action races to a climax, we find ourselves pulling for the "good" guys against, hey, wait a minute, there are no "bad guys", just the unleashed forces of nature, knowing no good or evil, just following their natural course. It's a fun twist and makes you think.
Overall, it's hard not to recommend "Crack in the World" for a fun couple of hours' escapism and entertainment. Just suspend the disbelief a bit and go along for the ride.
Not your typical Western flick.
Moral ambiguity is the theme of this picture. None of the characters are really likable. They all have their flaws and moral failings. In the end, the main character achieves his goal, but at such a price as to make the reward meaningless. The viewer is left with a somewhat incomplete feeling, as if there is no closure to the story. And I think this is the overall sense that Writer David Webb Peoples and Producer-Director-Star Clint Eastwood were striving for.
Eastwood's performance as anti-hero William Munny is, of course, the film's feature. He is a changed man as a result of the love of a good woman, and sets out on his quest to achieve some measure of security for his children, who are the only other legacy of his late wife, but it is a mission of brutality and revenge. We know he is a killer who has a past of savagery and brutality that is somewhat legendary. But we know his quest is driven by unselfish motives.
The supporting cast is quite exceptional. Gene Hackman's portrayal of frontier town lawman "Little Bill" Daggett presents another dimension of the moral ambiguity that underlies the story. On the one hand, he presents a facade of tough-minded fairness and a desire to keep the peace in his backwater pioneer town, but does so with a brutal, thuggish, sadistic manner that blunts any redeeming traits. Morgan Freeman as Eastwood's partner is also a past killer who would just as soon stay home on the farm, but signs on to ride one last time as Muny's partner in the reward offered to kill the assaulter of a saloon whore. The group of saloon call girls themselves, while perhaps being the ones the viewer would most empathize with, have no qualms about upping their "quota" of customers to hoard cash to offer as the reward for someone to kill the brutalizers of one of their group.
This movie does the viewing public a service by portraying the darker and arduous side of the early American West, in contrast to the more romantic visions often offered by the movie industry. In actual life, it was a hostile, forbidding, often brutal and unforgiving environment. The price to tame this continent was very high, often paid in ways other than monetary. It often was often paid at the cost of the soul of a person.
Because of its exceptional cast and carefully crafted story, this film rates very high on my list. Eastwood fans will appreciate his effort in a different kind of role and in a story of some complexity. Give it a viewing and then a fair amount of time for contemplation.
But for the visual and musical appeal of Olive...
I don't know, it's not much of a serious movie, but then again, it isn't intended to be. It's more a vehicle for showcasing the musical talent and visually appealing features of Olivia Newton-John in her prime. Some funky special effects, decent musical score (for fans of the disco era), and, of course, the charms of Ms. Newton-John.
Gene Kelly makes an appearance and fans will appreciate his still-heady dancing talents. It's kind of cool to see an older guy dig the disco scene. Did he really to the roller skating bit? I can well believe it.
Above all, don't take this film seriously. Don't look for a "message", or "meaning", or "deep thoughts", because there are none. It's just a fun story with appealing visuals and music. Enjoy it for that, especially if you're among the legions of fans of Olive...
Rocky IV (1985)
Surprisingly good sequel...
Sequels often fail to live up to the quality of the original, but here we have a sequel to a sequel of a sequel. But it holds up surprisingly well, thanks to the fundamental strength of the "Rocky" storyline: the underdog against the giant, the triumph of will and determination against machinelike brute strength.
Here we have the added twist of an East vs. West subplot. But screenwriter-director-star Stallone is able to turn this to his advantage in terms of plot and character development. Initially we see Rocky focusing strictly on revenge for his fallen colleague and friend Apollo Creed, but comes to have a deeper understanding of the bonds that can form between people and peoples. Likewise, his opponent, Ivan Drago, is initially depicted as the stereotypical, one-dimensional cog-in-the-machine Soviet apparatchik, but who achieves a measure of personal redemption and fulfillment at the conclusion. Of course, Rocky has "made it" and could just as well retire with the title and enjoy life, but at heart he is still the up-from-the-streets fighter and will do his best to achieve the task at hand in spite of the usual objections from Adrian as well as the long odds he faces.
The cast is its usual fine collection of familiar players. Stallone of course is the featured actor, aided well by his usual cast of family and friends, Talia Shire as the loving and loyal Adrian, Burt Young as the somewhat brutish but loyal brother-in-law Paulie, and underrated Carl Weathers as Apollo Creed, all do good work in their respective roles. Swedish actor Dolph Lundgren does a good turn as Soviet boxer Drago, even though his dialog is severely limited, maybe a dozen lines or so (in English), and his hulking build (6'6") is a stark contrast to the smaller but compactly-powerful Stallone.
The climactic fight scenes are always the hallmark and high point of the "Rocky" films, and this one does not disappoint on that score. But there is an equally good high point just before the inception of the finale, and that is the brilliantly intercut sequence of the contrasting training styles of Rocky and Drago. We see shot after shot of the low-tech Rocky lifting stones and climbing snowy hillsides, contrasted with the high-tech, mechanized Soviet system of digital readouts and computerized treadmills, all backed by the thumping, pounding, powerful soundtrack and vocal by John Cafferty.
So, compared with the other Rocky films, I'd have to place this on a par with Rocky II for well-crafted story and execution. Give it a look especially if you're a Rocky fan, or just looking for an inspiring story of grit and determination and triumph in the face of long odds.