ROCKY II
&
ROCKY III
High-Octane
Gasoline Drenched
American Cinema

What Up Yo.
Saw Brother Darrin yesterday.

He has the

Ezekiel 25:17

Verse tattoo on his arm.

When James Gandolfini passed on last June, I stopped what I was doing immediately,

left where I was working and walked straight to where brother Darrin was working to console with him.
I needed to be around someone that understood my pain at that moment, and I knew immediately it needed to be Darrin.
I also knew that I wanted to be the one that broke this to him.

"Yo brother...did you hear?"

He thought I was kidding.
Slowly his face got serious.
He realized I wasn't.
We, as most of Jimmy's loved ones and fans were, we were in shock and we were sad.
After going through a few of our favorite scenes from "The Sopranos" together, he told me that he had recently learned that his relatives used to hang out with Gandolfinis relatives...and he thought he would have an opportunity to tell him that one day...

But that would no longer be possible.
Every once in a while we would stop talking, look at each other and say:

"what the fuck man"

We both returned to our jobs, and right before I left, he thanked me for racing over to him.

"Yo brother, I'm glad it was you that told me."

Now, back to his response.
Brother Darrin lost weight.
Not a little pussy 5lbs... I mean he lost fucking weight, and he looks amazing.
I couldn't stop telling him.

"HOLY FUCK DUDE"

"DUDE YOU LOOK FUCKING AWESOME"

JESUS FUCK YOU LOOK AMAZING!!"

I returned to work, and then I emailed him, filling in the subject line:

"YOU LOOK FUCKING AMAZING BRO!!"

His response:

"Thanks bro. No bullshit strictly Clubber Lang style.....in the streets, alone, gettin it done!!!!"

I saw the email come in.
I opened it.
I read the first sentence...

BANG

A sudden flash of white, like I had been blasted in the nose.

CLUBBER LANG...

"ROCKY..."

"ROCKY..."

"ROCKY..."

 

"ROCKY III"

 

"ROCKY III"

20140502-185236.jpg

"ROCKY III"

"ROCKY III"

I was transported back in time.

1982

Unfortunately when I think of the year 1982, I think of my mother
Angel
On
Earth,
Christina. she had suddenly passed away that summer.
We had 2 months between learning she was sick and when she passed.
Not gonna lie, it was fucking awful.
Awful for us kids,
my brother sister and I.
Awful for my Pop, who I had never seen cry before that moment when he told us.
Awful for my Moms brother, my uncle Denis.
Awful for my moms mother...my grandmother.
Awful for my Aunt Linda and Uncle Rob, my godmother and godfather (the best godmother and godfather on the planet)
Awful for the hundreds and hundreds of people who showed up at the wake, mass and the funeral services.
Just awful.
Not trying to bum you out troops, it's just what I think of.
I remember going to see "Rocky III" in the theater as we were spending our last summer with her, hoping she would make it.

The film jacked me up at times...then ultimately uplifted me...and it would always hold a special place in my heart after that.
Like a scent that activates memories...this film catapults me back in time to being a little kid sitting in the movie theater watching Rocky with my brother Derek, and my cousins Tommy and Bobby.
This is what happens when I read Brother Darrins words.
After the initial storm of that god damn year ended, it came on cable and Derek and I studied it. The first film, "Rocky"

I hadn't seen in its entirety at seven.
What I had seen of it seemed way too slow, dark, serious and ugly too me at that age.
But without Rocky, without Sylvester Stallone taking the chance he did top make the first film, to write it and star in it…
We would never have the inspirational Rocky character that resonated with audiences globally.

Watch, if you have a minute, Sylvester talk about the inception of the first movie, the character…It’s movie history.

Now we grew up on the second film, "Rocky II".

That...was badass. That's where the story began for me.

Apollo was hard-core. The final fight was intense, the dog Butkis that is gone mysteriously without a word in the sequels...
And Rocky running down the streets of Philadelphia...

That fucking scene is awesome.
That was the scene we would wait for before fast forward with video was possible. We ate it up, how could you not?
The Bill Conti score...dear God.
The music for these films is core to the experience...the song "Going The Distance" is probably one of my favorite movie soundtrack songs ever, Bill Conti's score is a emotional powerhouse of a score.  A masterwork.

Adrien...

almost dies in childbirth.
She makes it and gives birth to her son.
She has held back from giving Rocky her blessing to fight Apollo again the entire film because she is scared he will get killed in the ring.

As she is recovering, she whispers to Rocky...

"Win"

This scene is rock and roll. I love the 2 trainers, Mickey and the other guys who's name i don't know.  he is beating the shit out of Balboa's stomach as he does sit ups...

This leads us to the final fight of "Rocky II".
Clash of the Titans.
Rocky will go the distance this time.
Both give it everything they have.
Two fighters taken to their absolute limits.
Two actors, Sylvester Stallone

and Carl Weathers

giving heartfelt & powerful performances here, they are both beaten to fucking pulps...

"'I AIN'T GOING DOWN NO MORE!!!"

They both hit the floor of the boxing ring like sledgehammers.  The referee starts the slow-motion countdown...

"O N E...."

"T W O..."

Now at this point, after that first film, you honestly didn't know if The Rock was going to win.
It wasn't until "Rocky IV" that the Rocky film formula had been established.
He lost the last time, would he win here?
He does win... and we, the fans, cheer for Rocky. We now believed in Stallone.

"YO ADRIEN...I DID IT!!!"

Guitar.
Fireworks.
"Eye Of The Tiger".
A montage of boxing matches.

Rocky Balboa is now continuing to win.
Defending his title,  fight after fight after fight.

He's looking good. As Paulie will tell him later, he got his face all fixed up.
The punches,  they don't sound like punches anymore...they sound like shotgun blasts.

Like cannon fire.
The Italian Stallion pummels competitor after competitor, his fists are rocket-launchers.

BOOM

BOOM

BOOM

The opponents go flying across the ring, lifted off their feet and launched to their dooms.


Stallone has delivered us a new, chiseled and successful Rocky this time, but in the wings lays his doom.
Mr. T man...

I WANT BALBOA!
I WANT BALBOA!!

The story was simple, painted in broad strokes you could see from a mile away...and injected with High Octane spirit...gasoline of the purest form.

We find that Balboa has cracked success wide open and has gotten everything his heart desires. Life is now insanely good at the Balboa estate.

But we learn later...these title fights that the Rock has been fighting were bouts not against hungry fighters...but against fighters that Rocky could easily destroy.
We see Paulie,  he needs a job...

The opening scene with him is great, Burt Young once again delivering a stellar performance.  Paulie is drunk and is sick of being on the outside of Rockys good life...he throws his whiskey bottle through the glass facade of a Rocky pinball machine and is sent to the drunk tai.

When we see the new Balboa pick him up from jail...he looks like a different person, and he is...because Stallone was now a different person. His face, features and body have all the fat sucked off them...he is a piece of steel.
Stallone writes what he knows and draws from experience with this one. He shows us what he has been living through. The first film offered Stallone a million to one shot also, and it earned the film the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1976.  It also made him an overnight sensation.

By the time Rocky III dropped in the summer of 1982...he was a superstar.
He was now Hollywood royalty.
The same can be said for his new vision of Balboa. We see Rocky filming commercials, wearing new expensive clothes, as does Adrien.  They live in a beautiful house...

They have arrived and are living the good life.
They take in Mickey (Burgess Meredith is so good it's weird to see him not act like Mickey)

Paulie breaks down in the parking lot of the jail and asks for a job...which Rock gives.
And just in time to have Paulie save him from Thunderlips...

"I don't sweat you!"

Afterwards, he rides around the grounds of the Balboa estate with his kid on a golf cart, he reads him the story of Goldilocks and the Three Little Bears. At the end the kid asks him:

"What happened to Goldilocks?"

Says Rockys son with an eerie Gollum-like voice (if you ask me, or not).

Baloboa laughs...tells his kid they are going to go eat some Wheaties...

"What are Wheaties? They're the breakfast of champions!"

And as he hugs his son we know all is well in Rockys world...
Until Clubber Lang arrives...
Played with ferocity by Mr.T,  Clubber Lang has been beating the everliving shit out of opponents left and right...earning a reputation in boxing circles as the new bad ass.

He wants the title, he is ranked number 1, he deserves his shot.
Mickey has been watching Clubber, and has been hiding his presence from Rock.
He simply doesn't think Rocky can beat this guy...thinks he has gotten too soft...and he has been ducking Lang's camp, denying him a title fight.
Denying Lang the opportunity Apollo gave Rocky.
This all comes to a head the day Rocky is given a statue by the city of Philadelphia,

This is the day the Rock has decided to announce his retirement.
As he begins to break the news to the world that he wants to step down,   Clubber Lang steps up and seizes his moment.

He challenges Rocky to the first real fight he has fought since he fought Apollo.

"Hey Woman! Hey Woman!!"


Mickey is defensive...telling Rock if he chooses to fight Clubber...Mick won't train him.

He is trying to protect Rock, he see's what Rocky can't.

"HE'LL KNOCK YOU TO TOMORROW ROCK!!!'

"THIS GUY IS A WRECKIN' MACHINE...AND HE'S HUNGRY!!!"

This leads to a confrontation, and what becomes a beautiful scene between Burgess Meredith and Sylvester Stallone where Mickey explains that Rocky is now civilized, that the 10 title fights he has fought were against "Has-Beens" ...and that he has lost the edge he will need to beat Clubber.

Rocky will fight...but he isn't ready, as Mickey said, and he learns this the hard way.
Here is Lang working out....(this is for Darrin.)

"Clubber Lang, whats your prediction for tonights fight?"
"Prediction?...PAIN."

In a scuffle before the fight, Mickey is thrown and mortally hurt.
Balboa can't focus, doesn't have the drive, he's worried about Mickey, is isn't prepared for an opponent of this magnitude.
He doesn't have the eye of the tiger.
Apollo Creed is announcing...watching it all happen.
He approaches Clubber Langs corner to shake Clubbers hand, and is promptly dismissed, Clubber style.

"I DONT NEED NO "HAS-BEEN" MESSIN' AROUND IN MY CORNER!"

Apollo doesn't get disrespected like that.
Then Clubber sees his anger and taunts him:

"And you better get that look off your face before I knock it off!"

"What, you wanna jump? Come on! Come on CREED..."

When the fight begins, a fine tuned Clubber Lang tells a very sad looking Rocky...

"Dead Meat."

(My Pop loves that line. Ha ha)

Rocky loses the fight, Rocky loses the belt.

We are feeling for our hero.
We watch him lie to Mickey after the fight as Mickey is on his death bed and tell him that he won the fight.
Burgess Meridith gasps for life then passes away...
Clubber Lang pretty much just killed Mickey.
Stallone proceeds to act his ass off...
It's a fucking horrible scene... I'm listing to it as I write these words....
That fucking scream Stallone lets out....
This is the genius of Stallone...the emotional writing, acting and directing are all at play.
God damn high octane brilliance.

Now what?

Enter Apollo Creed...
Thank god.
I've always loved the moment Creed shows up here...and how he is the perfect trainer for Rock.
Creed, once the foe, is now the hero. And Carl Weathers once again give us a knowledgable, quick witted and bad-ass Apollo.

"Eye Of The Tiger Rock"
"You need to get it back, and the way to get it back is to go back to the beginning."

He brings Rocky, Adrien and Paulie to LA.
LA in 1983,
The tough side of the tracks LA.
To train.
He strips him of his comforts, surroundings and his wealth to bring his focus back...but it doesn't work.

We watch Apollo try as hard as he can to train Rock, but it's no use...
And Carl Weathers give us the lines:

I'm Clubber Lang Rock, and i'm trying to hurt you!!"
"WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH YOU!!!"

Rock is too filled with guilt, anguish, regret...and something else that haunts him.

"Tomorrow..."

Rock says,
Oh daddy.
Shouldn’t have said that...Creeds pissed now:

THERE IS NO TOMORROW!!!

THERE IS NO TOMORROW!!!

THERE IS NO TOMORROW!!!

Adrien can see through her husband. She confront's him.
Not until he can admit to his wife the core of the issue is he having can he be free.

Fear.
He's afraid.

With this clear, he begins to come back into his own again.
He trains, allows Apollo to lead him, and we get the running down the beach scene which all culminates with a very weird moment between Rock & Apollo in slow motion that even Carl Weathers looks embarrassed by...

Moving on...
Rocks now ready to fight.

Once again he meets Clubber in the ring,
But he doesn't look sad this time...

...he looks hungry.
When Clubber looks at him, and says...almost trying to convince himself:

"I'm going to bust you up..."

Rocky says...

"Go for it."

Kiss your ass good bye Clubber.

Borrowing from the real life fight of Ali Vs. Foreman in Zaire in 1974...Balboa utilizes the "rope a dope"... and wears a tough as shit Clubber down...
Creed is screaming, in a way only Carl Weathers can:

"Hey man what the hell are you doing out there! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING!!!!!!!!"

Now if you watch that scene closely, look at Weathers begin to yell...then watch Rock as he gets louder, Stallone backs up. There is no way that was scripted, Carl scared Sylvester.

 "I know what i'm doing, he's getting tired..."

"DONT TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK!!!!!"

HAHAHA, i love this movie.
Rocky re-enters the ring, takes a beating.
All looks lost.
Until Paulie points out that Rocky isn't getting killed, he's getting mad.
He is taunting Lang, and it's working…Lang is letting Rock have it.  And when Rock senses he can begin to fight, he unleashes a barrage of punches...

He hands Clubber a beating, that brings him down.

Rocky wins in probably the most underwhelming fight in all the films.
It's my only gripe.

The fight in "Rocky II"...will never be matched.
When you look at Stallone at the end of this one, he looks….well, he looks like he has a cut below his eye.

Compared to his condition at the end of the first fight, he took a bigger beating here...but its as if Stallone decided he wanted Rock to have the championship...and to look good at the end.
Below is exhibit A, Rocky at the end of Rocky II.

Exhibit B.
Rocky at the end of Rocky III.


Regardless, the films were a journey, watching Rock train for the fight with Apollo, to winning,  to being seduced and becoming complacent, to losing everything, to being helped by his former enemy and retaught to face his fear.

The films were a saga. American epics. We were peering into Stallones life.

He presented us with a bad guy in Lang that we hated (although I still feel bad for Clubber at the end when his legs start to shake as he begins to get his ass handed to him by the "Italian Stallion"), III was the last Rocky film that felt fresh.

At that time in my life, we needed a hero.
A story that would uplift us, that dealt with death and sorrow, but that moved past the darkness ultimately.
It was simple enough for us to grasp, the loss felt tangible, and the message was clear and us young kids, my brother, sister and myself, at that time could identify with themes..

The themes are not simple...they are universal.
Stallone is a great storyteller. With "Rocky II" & "Rocky III" , we watched him honed his storytelling abilities. Refine them, and after the success of Rocky II, the third film was appropriately much more "Hollywood" than the first 2 films were...polished.

With Stallone steering this ship, we are in good hands.
Between Rocky II and Rocky III....the storytelling at work in these films has worked well for me for as long as I can remember because it's simply all fucking heart.
Just like Stallone is.
Just like Rock is.
He is an american superhero.
Gasoline soldiers.
Get a funnel and stay away from fire...
If these films don't move you, then you're stone private.

Got A Few Videos Below:

MAKING OF ROCKY 3: 1983

THE ROCKY SAGA • GOING THE DISTANCE:

 

"ROCKY"

"ROCKY"

"ROCKY"

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