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Rocky Balboa (2006)
Stallone pulls it off!
Up until recently most people considered a sixth Rocky to be a huge joke due to Sly's age and the series decline with the previous two films. But he manages to take Rocky back to his roots way more successfully this time with Rocky Balboa.
Right from the opening scenes Stallone lets you know that this film will be more of a character piece. We find Rocky still grieving over the loss of Adrian from a few years ago. He now runs a restaurant called Adrian's and on the anniversary of her death he visits many of the sites that meant something to the two of them. Its in these scenes where we see Rocky at his most vulnerable. He's lost the most important person in his life and he still hasn't learned how to cope with it. Shortly after that he runs into the grown up Marie who was the 12 year old Rocky lectured in the first film.
Stallone and Geraldine Hughes(Marie) have pretty good chemistry together. Marie becomes more of a new companion for Rocky and not necessarily a new love interest. Rocky also befriends her biracial son Steps. We also see some scenes dealing with Rocky and his son Robert. The two have a bit of a strained relationship because Robert feels like he's living in his father's shadow. This part of the film is a little clichéd but thankfully it doesn't take up too much time.
As usual Rocky's brother in law Paulie(Burt Young) pops up for the comic relief. Paulie's a bitter old alcoholic in this film but he's still there for his pal Rocky in the end.
About half way through we are shown a computer simulation fight aired on ESPN which has an in his prime Rocky facing the current heavyweight champion Mason "The Line" Dixon played by former light heavyweight champ Antonio Tarver. The results are that Rocky would've won by knockout in the 13th round. Once Rocky hears about this he gets the urge to come out of retirement to fight in small time bouts again. Of course this leads to Rocky facing the current champion for real in an exhibition bout.
The second half of the film is the best where Rocky has to decide whether to accept the offer from Dixon's promoters or not. There is a great scene between him and Marie which results in him making his decision.
The training montage is easily the shortest of the Rocky series but still manages to get you all pumped up for the fight.
The fight itself is probably the most realistic of all the Rockys. Sure it has its over the top moments but Stallone sets it up to look like it's actually being shown on HBO. And you can clearly see on several occasions that both Stallone and Antonio Tarver did connect with some of their punches.
In the end Rocky Balboa gives a similar message to that of the first film. It is winning isn't everything but what matters most is that you just do your best to succeed in life.
I'd rank Rocky Balboa along with Rocky II as the best of the sequels. I consider myself a big Rocky/Stallone fan and this film surpassed my expectations. It may not be an Oscar contender but it is still one of the best films I've seen this year. Even if you are not a fan of the Rocky sequels but do like the first film this one is a must see.
Bronco Billy (1980)
Nice little gem from Eastwood
I just saw Bronco Billy for the first time in its entirety tonight on DVD. This film has to be one of Eastwood's most underrated films. It's mainly a light comedy with some touches of drama thrown in. While Clint's in fine form in one of his few comedic roles the highlight is easily Scatman Crothers as Doc. He shines in each of his scenes and is the film's most likable character.
Is the film a classic? No. But it does have a lot of heart and I ended up caring about what happened to Billy and his wild west show. It's not too hard to see why this is one of Clint's personal favorite films. I think the film has a good message too. And that is if you do good deeds then good luck might just come your way. Even though he is a flawed character Billy does have a good heart and performs shows for the underprivileged for free.
If you are a in the mood for a film that will make you feel good for two hours then Bronco Billy is for you.
My rating: 7/10
Maybe the best of the series.
After seeing it twice I can honestly say that "Attack of the Clones" might be the best Star Wars film to date. It's at the very least just as good as Empire Strikes Back which up to now was hands down my favorite Star Wars film.
Sure at times some of the performances are a bit wooden but the acting in the original trilogy wasn't exactly Oscar caliber either. The story is more intriguing than the one in "The Phantom Menace" and I found myself caring more about the characters this time around. The standout performance in this movie comes from Ewan McGregor as Obi Wan Kenobi. He was the best thing about "The Phantom Menace" and I thought that he was even better in the role this time around. Christopher Lee is also pretty effective as Count Dooku although he doesn't have much screen time.
Some may be turned off by the romantic scenes with Anakin and Padme but I actually enjoyed them even in spite of the fact that some of the dialogue was too sappy and overdramatic. The background scenery is real nice and at the same time John Williams excellent love theme helps to give these scenes a boost. I also thought it was pretty effective in how some of the music from the previous films was used during key scenes.
Some of the most spectacular moments come during the final 40 minutes when the whole Jedi Council is seen in action. And Yoda provides perhaps the most exciting two minutes out of the whole entire Star Wars saga. Yoda got a huge response from the people in the theater.
It was also nice to see C-3PO and R2-D2 together again on screen. 3PO has a few really hilarious moments. Even Jar Jar Binks was used well this time around with a brief but significant supporting role. So those who hate the character will not have to tolerate him for that long.
The ending of Episode II sort of has an Empire Strikes Back cliffhanger style ending that should leave most Star Wars fans anxiously anticipating May of 2005.
I think that most of the critics who are ripping this movie apart just don't know how to have a good time at the theater anymore.
La Bamba (1987)
A terrific film about the importance of family and realizing your dreams.
La Bamba which stars Lou Diamond Phillips as tragic 50's rocker Ritchie Valens(real name Richard Valenzuela) is my favorite rock bio film. The film covers the Mexican American Valens' rise from poverty in California to becoming a rock n roll superstar at the young age of 17 only to lose it all within 8 months on the "Day the Music Died".
In addition to focusing on Valens' music career, writer/director Luis Valdez spends time showing the tense relationship between Ritchie and his older brother Bob who is played excellently by Esai Morales. As Ritchie becomes famous Bob begins to resent him and that provides the film with some of its most powerful and heartbreaking scenes.
The film's other effective moments come between Ritchie and his girlfriend Donna. During their scenes together I felt that Valdez did a good job in showing what teenage romances must've been like back in the more innocent 1950's and how parents prejudices could interfere.
Last but not least is the film's great soundtrack. Ritchie Valens songs were redone for the film by the group Los Lobos. All of the instrumental music was provided by Carlos Santana and Miles Goodman. Also included are many other classic songs from the 50's.
The only small criticism I have of the film is that Valdez spends too much time in foreshadowing Valens' fate through dream sequences and references to his fear of flying. While it is documented that Ritchie did have a fear of flying I would imagine that he didn't talk about it as frequently as he does in the film.
Overall I think that La Bamba is a film about sticking to your dreams and the importance of family. I give this film a pretty strong recommendation. You don't even necessarily have to be a fan of 50's music to enjoy it. This is for those who enjoy small films that deal with the triumphs and struggles of everyday people.