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Rocky 2
Your December Random Movie Club Results Are In!

Tagline: He was one punch away from the heavyweight championship of the world. Now he's one heartbeat away from losing the woman he loves.


Pizza: Old Sicily


Rocky & Adrian
I think people forget just how good ROCKY II is. It was the second highest grossing movie of 1979, besting heavyweights such as APOCALYPSE NOW, ALIEN and the Dom DeLuise starrer HOT STUFF. And remember, Sylvester Stallone wasn't only playing Rocky Balboa, he also wrote and directed ROCKY II. So say what you will about Stallone (and with STOP! OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT, I suppose you can say stuff), but he's got the last laugh. You know that's true, so we don't have to have the argument. Stallone's directed 8 movies and written 23, including decades-later follow-ups of his Double R (ROCKY and RAMBO) franchises. I haven't seen the last RAMBO, but I have to say, ROCKY BALBOA is one great movie...yet Stallone still seems to be a go-to punching bag. But the truth is he's really a talented and smart guy. I'd be thrilled to have him in my movie...if I ever make a movie. And speaking of punching bags...

Rematch Poster
I'll go on the record and say that ROCKY II is just as good as the original. If he had made ROCKY II instead of ROCKY, no one would have noticed. Part of the reason, though some may see this as a problem, is that ROCKY II is less of a sequel than a remake of ROCKY. They both even clock in at 1:59. And while many see the ROCKIES as boxing movies with heart, they're really just the opposite. ROCKY II isn't about boxing, it's about life, and Stallone has tapped so deep into lovable everyman Rocky Balboa that we can't help but root for him, because he...is you. He's the underdog, stuck with a hand he doesn't particularly love, and now he has a shot at his dream. How can we not love that? If you counted the minutes he actually boxes, you'd be KO'd. Toldya he was smart.

I love that ROCKY II begins with the actual end of ROCKY...the last six minutes, repeated. That means that you can splice these two movies together (digitally, of course), not repeating those six minutes, and get one story. I can't think of one sequel that does that, though there may be one or two floating around somewhere.

All the cast members have returned; Rocky's friend Paulie is played by Burt Young, who I often think is exactly like his character in real life. That's a compliment, unless he really is like that in real life. Talia Shire is Adrian. Even Butkus the dog and turtles Cuff and Link are back, as is crusty old sailor-ish manager Mickey, played by the great Burgess Meredith. And yep, Carl Weathers is once again Apollo Creed.

Adrian and Rocky share a moment
After Rocky loses due to a split decision, he and Apollo are whisked away to a hospital. And even though Apollo said "there'll be no rematch," in which Rocky replied "don't want one," he wastes no time badgering Rocky with sting-like-a-bee words from his wheelchair. Must have been those ambulance-chasing TV cameras that set him off. But loyal and lovable Rocky made a promise to girlfriend-slash-mouse Adrian to swear off boxing for fear he'll get some permanent damage (that eye did look kind of...icky). But if Rocky can't fight, then what can he do? Commercials?

Yes! But his attempts end up humiliating, for not only does he think the ad for Beast Aftershave is ridiculous, but also, Rocky's a bit illiterate. He has trouble getting through a sentence, let alone engaging in, well, you know, sesquipedalianism. Still, that doesn't stop him from buying gaudy (not to him) jackets, expensive watches, cars he can't drive, and a home for himself and new wife-slash-mouse Adrian.
And baby makes three
And there's a little Rockette on the way. When all else fails, Rocky gets work scraping meat shavings off the slaughterhouse floor, and if that's not humiliating enough, he's verbally abused by other fighters at his old gym. In classic storytelling, Rocky has fallen to the lowest of lows, to the point where his pregnant mouse has to get her job back at the pet store where she can be among her kind. That boxing ring might as well grow a mouth and call Rocky's name. But again, Rocky promised Adrian.

Apollo (Carl Weathers)
Meanwhile, Apollo becomes obsessed with his fan mail which accuses him of throwing the original fight. So besides the external conflict of a physical fight (doesn't get much more external than that), both fighters have inner conflicts as well. And it's these inners that bestir the outers. Now, let's see you find that last sentence elsewhere. Anyway, while Rocky still hangs in the old neighborhood and lives a simple life, Apollo lives in a huge house, and has publicists and businessmen at his beck and call. So he has them beckon and call Rocky out for a rematch. And Yo, Adrian won't like that one bit.

Here's something I learned while watching ROCKY II - we, as humans, can't get enough schmaltz. It's a dangerous ingredient if handled without proper precautions, right Robin Williams? But in the right gloves, schmaltz is really what we all want, and ROCKY II has plenty of it. It's amazing how paint-by-numbers and cliche this movie is, yet how absolutely effective it is. It's storytelling as simple as its protagonist.


I'd like to go back to Screenwriting 101 and talk structure. On minute 14, Rocky proposes to Adrian The Mouse. Minute 16 - married. Minute 20 - making a baby (off screen, toldya he was smart!), Minute 22 she's nagging him about his spending habits (for the record, she's right), and by Minute 28, she's preggerino. Even Adrian herself says, "Everything happens so fast." And at the 30 minute mark, Act 1 ends with Rocky saying "Yo Adrian, we did it." It's a perfect set-up, Slyly done.

And the cleverness isn't limited to story and characters. The fight scenes in Act 3 are edited brilliantly, and let's not overlook (again, in the fight scenes) the sound editing. Listen to the music and crowd chants go in and out. And while we're talking aural - the very first thing you hear in ROCKY II is the famous Rocky Fanfare by composer Bill Conti.
Rocky & Apollo in the ring
This bugle-y call-to-arms is the beginning of the franchise's song, the Philly soul-ish, disco-ish and triumphant (as in, inspires triumph, not that the song itself isn't a thing of triumph), GONNA FLY NOW. And what do we see during this fanfare? Letters as tall as your screen (or the screen in the movie theater) of the film's title moving from right to left. It's already getting exciting and nothing's happened yet. Now, back when I used to run, I had GONNA FLY NOW on my Walkman (the cassette kind, which gives you some idea how long it's been since I used to run). I had it timed about 20 minutes in, so after I was warmed-up by walking fast around Washington Square Park in NYC, GONNA FLY NOW would come on, and I'd be off like a rocket. Of course, sometimes my rocket backfired, and I ended up running right into the doorway of Ben's Pizza. But at least I'd listen to GONNA FLY NOW as I walked home.

One of my favorite moments in ROCKY II is at the beginning, when Rocky and Apollo are in the hospital. It's late at night and no one's around. Rocky asks him if he gave him his best, and Apollo says he did. It's honest moments like these that give this movie a beating heart. And there are subtle moments that will make you melt if you think about them, like when Adrian loses her hat as she makes her way into the ring after the first ROCKY fight. Amid all the tumult, through his funked-up eye, Rocky sees her and says, "Where's your hat?" It doesn't get any warmer than that.

Adrian (Talia Shire)
Forgive me, but I just have to make this observation; what Rocky saw in that mouse is way, way beyond me. But you know something? Even that works. Sure, I would never love the mouse, but because Rocky loves her (he sure tells her often), we love her too. This was one of three movies Shire was in in 1979. How the hell do I remember these things? Or better yet - why???

And now, a few words about that montage. That fabulous montage that occurs on the exact 3/4 mark, as if edited by a computer program. Those one-handed pull-ups and one-armed push-ups and the sledgehammer and the deep knee bends with a log on his back and when he (and you) thinks he's had it he picks that damned log up again...and...and...the chicken! That montage is only two minutes long yet it defies you to not smile, or throw your hands in the air, or jump out of your seat. It trains you as if Mickey himself was barking at you in that old salty voice of his.


But what? The sequence isn't over? Those few seconds of Rocky putting his kid in the crib are just an intermission? Yo, yes. Because...here it comes...that Bill Conti fanfare means Rocky will go running through his neighborhood, eventually putting it into high gear and ending at the steps he made famous in the first movie. Only this time, hundreds, maybe a thousand, kids follow him there. Schmaltz at its zenith.


I read the script to ROCKY II before the movie came out because I'm really cool. My buddy Tony Lodaro gave it to me. He was Stallone's stand-in for the movie (or at least that's what he told me). That's how I knew Stallone jumped over the same bench twice (most likely, they just used two takes or repeated the same shot). You can see Tony in his blue medic shirt when the ambulance pulls up to the hospital in the beginning. I still have the script somewhere, I'm sure. It was called ROCKY II: REDEMPTION. ***SPOILER: I remember reading the part after Adrian comes out of her coma and says, "Rocky, there's something I want you to do for me." Rocky replies, "What?" And Adrian says - "Win!" I remember thinking, Oh man, people are either going to laugh that right off the screen or jump out of their seats and applaud till they're deaf. Well, I'm here to tell you that when I saw ROCKY II at the RKO Warner Twin in Times Square, I went deaf.

For the win


I had these old TV pilots that never made it to air...hanging around on VHS. So I dusted them off (really) and we watched them. It's amazing how much sitcoms have mutated. Though they were from 1994 and 1993, they both felt so much earlier (GIVE looked like 80s, CIRCUS like 70s).

SOMETHING GOTTA GIVE was a vehicle for Lisa Ann Walter, and I could see why they wanted to give her one. This non-airing pilot was retooled, and launched a year later as MY WILDEST DREAMS. A brassy housewife who had to give up her rock star dreams when she got married and pregnant. We enjoyed it, though it was so old school. Stephen Root stole a lot of the show in his one scene as a teacher. The show we saw also featured Kelly Bishop (Emily Gilmore!!!!) and Laura Innes.

Roger Rees from CIRCUS
Not so enjoyable was Kevin Curran's (writer on and voice of MARRIED...WITH CHILDREN's Buck the Dog and currently on THE SIMPSONS) show, CIRCUS. An unfunny clusterfreak of characters and sub-par plotting. Yuck! I remember, way back, when I had an office on that studio lot and my partner and I would go onto CIRCUS' soundstage and sit in the circus trailers (they were sets). That was much more fun than this train wreck, which starred CHEERS' Robin Colcord (Roger Rees, who, BTW, was in STOP! OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT) as Kelso the clown and Charlie Schlatter as his young protege Josh. Also on the show, Phillip Baker Hall as the ringmaster, Lisa Edelstein and lead HEATHER Kim Walker, who I once saw in a performance of SEXUAL PERVERSITY IN CHICAGO (Sadly, Kim died of a brain tumor at 32). The special guest was ancient but likable stand-up Jack Carter, who is now ancient-er...celebrating his 88th any day now.

CIRCUS features comedic lines like- JOSH: "Kelso's not going to let this get to his head." KELSO: "Anyone have a straight razor?" Or insults like, KELSO: "Grimaldi, that bountiful wit is only matched by the bountiful hair that grows out of your ears."

Must I go on or are you getting the idea?

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