Rocky III review

By now, this franchise should have been maybe running out of steam, but it’s adaptability is something to really admire and all the little subtleties in it still make it more watchable than most sequels.

Yes it does help that this film introduces probably my favourite of all Rocky’s opponents, with Mr T making a very memorable, bombastic Clubber Lang, a man who truly lives up to his first name, but that isn’t the only feature that makes this second sequel work better than others.

At this stage, we have been going through a courageous journey with our hero, but now thanks to the adaptability of many of the cast, the boot is seemingly put on the other foot, with genuinely excellent results.

The Story:

Having won the World Heavyweight Title from his previous nemesis Apollo Creed, our previously downtrodden hero is now very much on the up, jetting off round the world to defend his title, living like a prince on the massive earnings that go with being in his position, ten title defences behind him and now being a big celebrity asked to endorse various products, having a statue erected in his honour and appearing on television (not bad for a man who couldn’t make commercials in the previous offering from this franchise) he is altogether different to the Rocky we knew and loved previously.

However, there is a big dark cloud on the horizon, in the form of the merciless, undefeated number one contender Clubber Lang, who will stop at nothing to get what he calls the ‘People Champion’ in the ring, despite talk of the Italian Stallion’s retirement.

First Rocky has to deal with a charity benefit fight with the Wrestling world champion Thunderlips, admirably portrayed by Hulk Hogan, which has all the ridiculousness associated with these events in bucket fulls, it’s worth watching just to see Mr T in a Dickie Bow and frilly shirt.

When Clubber turns up at the unveiling of the statue, he publicly challenges Rocky, to give him the chance that Apollo Creed gave Rocky, some additional comments to Rocky’s wife Adrian ensure that Clubber gets exactly what he wants, with the scene set for a sheer grudge match.

On the night of the fight, with Mickey hiding a weak heart, the tension becomes all too much for the 76 year old trainer, leaving a complacent Rocky at the mercy of a battle hardened, ferocious and hungry Clubber, although this is where the film maybe has its main problem, as Rocky comes out, smashing some huge blows to Clubber’s head, but seemingly not leaving a single mark, while Clubber does untold damage to Rocky with a similar amount of blows, it simply doesn’t add up at this point.

However, what does work is how short lived the fight is and suddenly Rocky’s title is gone and so is Mickey, who expires immediately after the fight.

Obscurity beckons for the former champ, until the unlikeliest source of hope, that being Apollo, steps forward and offers to train Rocky differently, with a different style, to make him into a different boxer and very different, very dangerous proposition in the ring.

Once again the film falls short, although for a mercifully short time, as Rocky struggles with training, just like in the previous sequel, this time based around his psychological problems caused by the vicious knock-out by Clubber in their first fight.

That is only short lived thankfully and before too long Rocky has his mojo back and he certainly has the very reason that the film needs him to have, because he has a serious grudge with Clubber, which goes way beyond anything we have seen from him before.

While Clubber carries on with his attitude, you can see the thoughts of what Rocky is trying to do consuming him, he is still bombastic and venomous and altogether very dangerous, but thanks to the change our hero has gone through under Apollo’s training, he is now facing a very different Rocky, more like the one that Apollo faced twice, who seriously believes that he has got nothing to lose as he challenges for the title again.

The film reaches its climax at breakneck speed, with some of the best fight camerawork to come out of a Hollywood blockbuster, with no quarter asked or given.

The other early part of the film that also needs mentioning because it works really well, is Paulie’s part in the story, with his drinking problem and his jealousy of Rocky. What it does early in the piece is show you exactly where one of the truly great screen friendships is at, with Rocky having to bail him out of the drunk tank, after Paulie shows his contempt for his sister’s husband in truly gritty fashion in an amusement arcade.

What that does is immediately involve Paulie in the journey that Rocky takes through this movie and it is all the better for it, with Paulie in his corner in all his fights after that, while setting up the rivalry between him and Apollo extremely well.

Again, this film falls well short of the original, however it is still very watchable, all the characters are deeply invested in it and the camerawork is nothing short of excellent during the very graphic fight scenes, while also adding nicely to Rocky’s story and character and taking into account what had gone previously.

Rocky II review

It’s very fair to say that this movie had one hell of an act to follow after the success of the original which just about everyone fell in love with.

What also made it difficult was that it had to follow on like it was in the immediate aftermath of the first fight between the titular hero and the man who intriguingly became his nemesis in this one, despite the time lapse between the two movies.

Having previously shown Rocky as the likeable no-hoper, he becomes something different in this one, as he is suddenly seen as the main contender to Apollo Creed’s crown after his heroics in the first film.

The Story:

The film starts at the end of the first fight, with both men saying there isn’t going to be a rematch, which seemed the common sense approach at the end of the first film.

However, by the time the ambulances have got the two warriors of the ring to the hospital, to have the horrific injuries they have inflicted on each other treated, it seems Apollo has had a change of attitude and is suddenly desperate for a rematch in an attempt to prove that Rocky was a one time lucky bum!

One of the very early exchanges in this film is massively important, although you maybe don’t realise it at the time, when Rocky goes to see Apollo in his hospital bed, what it does is make the rest of the film very believable.

Something else that this one includes is some more slices of real life, with Rocky and Adrian getting married, buying their first house together, finding out that Adrian is pregnant, Rocky struggling to find work outside the ring etc, while Apollo sets about his campaign to get Rocky back in the ring for what becomes billed as Superfight II.

Rocky is also very well established as the underdog, based mainly around the damage that the champion did to his eye in particular previously, while all the time, you know that Rocky is a real, genuine contender now, as opposed to being the snow white underdog in the original.

Where the film maybe lets itself down slightly is the length of time it takes to get Rocky thinking clearly about his desire to fight Apollo again and it certainly takes too long for Rocky to get the bit between his teeth at training, although his struggle to cope while Adrian is in hospital after the birth of their son is very raw and realistic and very well acted.

The planning between Rocky and Mickey is excellent and undoubtedly the best scene of the whole film is when Mickey joins Rocky in the hospital chapel and gives the killer line that, if he is going to blow his big chance, he’s going to sit there and blow it with him.

When it comes to the fight itself, with Adrian not well enough to go and watch, once again it doesn’t go absolutely over the top, as these things certainly can and invariably do and it really builds the tension very well indeed, making the final round drama seem all the more acceptable and understandable.

What particularly pleases me about this film, is that once again, it still shows a lot of the problems that modern America still has, while the movie lover in me simply enjoys the scene of Rocky running through the streets, followed by an army of adoring supporters.

On the other hand, Apollo is also expertly portrayed and adapted by Carl Weathers, as he becomes somebody very different to the original, before some very nice touches, which leave more than enough room for a reconciliation of the odd friendship between the two fighters later on, while also still having some of the bluff and bluster displayed in the previous offering.

The scenes when Apollo is trying to shame Rocky back into the ring, for instance the magazine that is handed to our hero in the gym, which he finds quite funny and the pre-fight press conference, when Rocky clearly gets under Apollo’s skin with his naturally laid back attitude are a joy to behold.

In conclusion, this film is nowhere near as good as the first, simply because this one had an almost impossible act to follow, I also believe Sylvester Stallone should not have directed it, because it’s plain to see that he is then trying to take on just a bit too much, however hard he tried.

But it is very definitely worth watching and it is a strong continuation of the story, with some very nice scenes which are fairly poignant in their creation and happily, it doesn’t rely too much on the story from the original, which would have been a huge mistake, it is its own film, very fitting of the Rocky franchise.

Rocky review

Every now and again, a film comes along that challenges us to believe our own imagination, then becomes a successful series of films and Rocky definitely falls into that category.

Young upstart Sylvester Stallone made his name with this extremely popular, groundbreaking movie about the likeable Italian no-hoper, writing it and playing the titular role, although at this stage he decided against directing it, which he took on in the subsequent movies of the incredibly popular franchise.

This film was simply the best of the whole series for several reasons, although the later ones were not bad (barring one, which I bet we all know which that is) this one was clearly the outstanding offering and not just because I disagree with any writer directing his own work.

The Story:

The story begins in late November 1975 with Rocky knocking out Spider Ricco in the ring at a local church hall in Philadelphia, giving a glimpse of what life is like for our hero, before he is given a dream shot at the World Heavyweight Title against Apollo Creed.

The beauty about this film is that Rocky is really living like a proper fighter in a rough neighbourhood, scraping a living as a debt collector and just generally being a down and out with not much, if anything going for him. His apartment is exactly how you would imagine a man like him living, with the added comfort of some exotic animals named cuff and link.

The difficulty for the film is making Rocky an absolute snow white underdog, while also convincing its audience that he actually does have a chance against the most dangerous fighter in the world.

His background is well established across a few scenes of this thoroughly engaging film and, just to add to his character, the scenes between him and Adrian, particularly the scene when they consummate their budding relationship are superbly acted, with the two personalities plainly laid bare for all to see that they are absolutely perfectly matched for each other.

There are some beautiful scenes, on both ends of the scale, which help to establish characters like Paulie, Apollo and Mickey and leave you wanting more.

The scene with the news reporter, the scene when Mickey visits Rocky at home and especially the scene at the fight venue on the night before the fight are expertly handled. When Rocky tells the promoter that the picture of him is wrong, the reply he receives is a very clever piece of writing and seemingly sets the tone for what is meant to be a walkover for the undefeated champion.

At the end of the fight, the closure of the film is simply perfect, without overdoing the heroics from Rocky, it is a nod towards him going back to the simple life that he had before he got his completely unexpected title shot, to which he alludes in a conversation with his best friend Paulie earlier on in the movie.

Where the film does miss out is its failure to introduce us to Mackalie Green who is meant to be Apollo’s challenger before breaking a bone in his hand, which then gives Rocky his opportunity. An appearance from Green, maybe to give Rocky some advice and/or at ringside would have maybe given the film even more of an edge, although the arrival of the legendary ‘Smokin’ Joe Frazier certainly was a great coup for the movie.

We all know this was a great movie at the time of its release back in the day, however I would definitely say, if you haven’t seen it for a while, it’s definitely worth watching again, just to prove it’s relevance even now nearly half a century later (I hope that doesn’t make you feel too old).

The Imitation Game review

There are a glut of movies about how the allies won World War 2, told largely from an American perspective, through the fighting of the brave troops on days like D-Day and various other infamous battles in that deadliest of almighty conflicts between the age old enemies of good and evil, however there never has been much concentrated around the man who cracked the supposedly unbreakable Enigma code, this film sets about putting that right, while also showing the harrowing story about how he was shambolically treated by the country he saved in the post war years, just because he was gay.

When looking back, the subject of homosexuality has reared itself a few times with films like Brokeback Mountain and the first movie I ever reviewed on here, Philadelphia among others, both of which were major award winners, however they have never covered a subject quite like this.

The Story:

Alan Turing is something of an odd, some might say troubled man, but one with a brain like no other, which is excellently portrayed by the superb Benedict Cumberbatch. In the year of its release, he was, I personally believe, robbed of the Academy Award he clearly deserved, by the excellent performance of Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything, possibly just because of the odd glaring error in this film.

One Keira Knightley also chips in with an equally impressive supporting role, that of Joan Clark, while Matthew Goode also makes for a very good Hugh Alexander, with the ever threatening Commander Deniston always played very effectively by the legend that is Charles Dance.

The glaring mistake comes in the form of one of the codebreakers who is seemingly placed at Bletchley Park as a Russian double agent, by MI6 at the start of the war, when of course we were actually fighting against the Russians, before Hitler invaded it on 22nd June 1941, this is also a mistake that costs this film some intrigue, because I would have liked to see the character in question drafted in some time later, to just give it a bit more of an edge, drip feeding the audience, rather than simply spoon feeding us, before making an almighty cock up later.

However, that mistake, as glaringly obvious as it is, is also somewhat made up for with the best sequence in the whole film, with the unbridled joy of actually breaking the Enigma code one minute, to the unbelievable low, which not only shows the enormous difficulty the team faced after breaking it, while also dragging the family of one of the codebreakers into the oncoming disastrous event very soon after, from which the film is unwilling to turn away.

There is also a nod to the difficulties that a single woman would undoubtedly have faced at that time, under the pressure of her parents, as well as the sheer impossibilities that all in question would have faced for the following 50 years while the breaking of the code was a government held secret.

This biographical film also jumps forwards and backwards at various stages, to see a young Turing in his days at school, where he met the true love of his life, the tragedy that befell him and the bullying that our hero had to endure in this desperately unhappy time for him, before then jumping forward, showing the development of the suspicions against him, when he refuses to have the police investigate a crime that has been committed against him.

Another masterful idea in this movie, is the desire to show Turing building his bombe machine, which is how he ultimately broke the Enigma code. Watching him construct it single handed, despite horrendous interference from his fellow codebreakers and his boss, simply drags you in and makes you want to understand more about it, making it an excellently educational tool as well.

The tour de force of acting by the leading man also takes in Turing’s struggle against hormonal therapy, one particular scene when he drops a glass on the floor is so convincing, you find yourself truly weeping for him, while he struggles to come to terms with what is happening to him and the final scene, with Turing on his own, is also yet another piece of outstanding acting.

This film is worth watching, if only for the performances of Cumberbatch and Knightley, who make one of the great screen love pairings to go along with the best.

Yes it has its mistakes, but let’s be honest, there are not many that don’t, I would just ask that you don’t write it off because to do so, would be a truly horrendous mistake.

The Post review

Watergate, MP’s Expenses Scandal, Catholic Church Abuse scandal, Olympic Games state sponsored doping, the News of the World phone hacking scandal… All are very well known cases of investigative journalism, which had a dramatic effect and showed the importance of such events in any democracy.

The Post sets about another infamous case of investigative journalism, which led to the riotous happenings in America, as the movement to bring their troops home from the controversial war in Vietnam gathered pace and strength.

The Story.

There is a brief look at what was happening in one section of Vietnam in 1966, remember that because it’s important, which then leads to a conversation with US Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara, before an all too brief glimpse of him telling the gathered press at the airport he returns to, what he thinks they need to hear, which of course, is far from the truth.

Because of the lying, correspondent Daniel Ellsberg decides to steal the documents he has been working on, so the truth can be told, whatever the consequences may be to him personally.

Jump forward to 1971 and enter Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham, admirably portrayed by the excellent Meryl Streep and Editor Ben Bradlee, played by the somewhat miscast Tom Hanks. The scenes with these two, and there are plenty of them, are well acted and very cutting edge tense, as the protagonist and the catalyst struggle with the decisions they are faced with, due to the intense pressure from the Richard Nixon White House.

While Hanks is clearly miscast, he does try his best to be the hard, grizzled executive editor who has seen it all before and is standing up for the right of the media to assert the right to publish, as framed in the first amendment in the US Constitution. However the genuine star is undoubtedly Ms Streep who, with all due attention to detail and obvious style and class, embodies the role of the inexperienced publisher, who was never a journalist, but showing what would be the inescapable consequences of her actions, when taking on the most powerful man in the world and either not winning or, indeed losing in the worst way possible.

What this film inescapably captures very well, is the reality of the importance of a free press in a democracy, as the post and the New York Times fight bitterly to hold Nixon and several predecessors in the White House to account for lying to the country about the Vietnam war, therefore showing the difficulties that arise for any journalist who wants to tell the truth about anything that could cause ructions in the corridors of power anywhere in the world.

Producer/Director Steven Spielberg again weaves his magic as the story keeps posing questions, moving at exactly the right pace and showing just about every angle that any journalist(s) will take, to get to the truth and hold those deemed responsible to account, there is also a nod to the Watergate scandal, which led to Nixon’s resignation, at the very end of the film.

Based on true events, it is perhaps a film that anybody who is unsure of the power of a truly free press should watch, if only to get some idea of the daily graft that goes into serving the governed, rather than the governors. It is, with the odd bit of wishywashy forgiven, a truly dynamic, obsessive film which portrays what could arguably be termed, the birth of the free press and how complicated it can get.

Philadelphia review

Welcome to my first review for Major Film Reviews, first I must thank my great friend Nathan for allowing me to carry on his excellent work, as well making me very nervous by trying to live up to his exceptionally high standard of work.

Now let’s get on with what we’re all here for, the movie reviewing business, for which I have chosen what was described as an emotional powerhouse at the time of its release in 1993.

It is a very well trodden path to point out that this was the first part of Tom Hanks making history, by becoming the first man to win the Best Actor Academy Award in back-to-back years (Forrest Gump followed in 1994) but I thought recently, how does this film stand up, almost three decades on from its original release?

Philadelphia tells the story of gay man Andrew Beckett, who is suffering with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS, some years after an anonymous sexual encounter with another man, in a gay porn theatre, all set in the city of Brotherly Love.

Obviously, before this movie came out, Philadelphia was mainly famous in film land, as the home of World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Balboa, this film definitely set about opening our eyes to a different subject matter, but one of crucial importance as people still struggled to come to terms with the reality of this incurable, infectious disease.

The Story:

This movie won a host of awards and it’s very easy to see why it was as popular as it clearly was ‘Back in the day’ and that is because it is still so prevalent and up to date now, nearly 30 years later.

Director Jonathan Demme definitely made some masterstrokes to create a genuine masterpiece, as the controversial subjects of homosexuality and Aids are tackled absolutely head on, with no quarter asked or given.

Meanwhile, the acting by Hanks and his tenth choice of attorney Denzel Washington, as the flamboyant, outgoing, egotistical counsellor Joe Miller, is nothing less than absolutely top drawer.

You are absolutely dragged in at the start of the film, with various visions from around Philadelphia itself, before the main subject is brought unflinchingly to your attention. It is beautiful in every way, with the future acquaintances battling it out professionally in front of a judge about the potential harm of an inner city construction, while there is even a masterful piece of scene-setting as they both get in a lift and the door closes with a particular message scraped on the door.

After this, you start to really get to the guts of this story, as Beckett is next seen at his regular Aids clinic, which gives you just enough of a snapshot of what he is facing, simply by looking around at the various people, in various stages of this debilitating illness, all around him.

The story moves along at a beautiful pace and some of the camerawork truly is a sight to behold, which is slightly surprising in what is a real-life, edgy sort of courtroom drama. What the film also does really well, is take on this potentially explosive, depressing story-line and turn it into something much more engaging, as well as hugely topical, while also including all of Beckett’s families trials and tribulations, during what is obviously an extremely difficult time for them.

The meetings between Beckett and Miller are very emotionally charged and it unstintingly looks at the problems Beckett faces, from the moment he tells his attorney that he has Aids, including even seeing some of the old fashioned prejudices in his own family and right through to the end.

The scene before Beckett’s final passing is very sensitively done, as each of his family get to say a final goodbye in their own personal ways, but the scene that really steals the show for me (whether you agree, is entirely up to you) is when Miller wants to go through a Q&A with Beckett, but his client is swept away by the legendary voice of Maria Callas which, without him answering a single question, convinces the attorney, that he is ready to take the stand in the packed courtroom.

All in all, it has to be said, that this piece of film-making is, undoubtedly a work of absolute genius, with power, poise, guts and an absolutely unflinching desire to confront a subject, where most would fear to tread.

Introducing Ian

Hello all, Nathan here.

Regular readers will know that I’ve recently had to step back from writing film criticism for health reasons. I hope I can periodically pop my head around the door, so to speak, but because I don’t want to simply let the site sit here on the Internet like a plank of wood in a pond, not really doing anything, I’ve brought in some help.

New reviews will soon be posted on this website again, provided by my good friend and collaborator Ian Judson. I can think of very few people in my immediate circle of friends and acquaintances more qualified to take the reins than Ian, and I trust he’ll do an excellent job of maintaining the high standard (don’t laugh) of critique you’ve come to expect from Major Film Reviews.

I hope you will all support Ian as much as I plan to as he kindly carries on the Major Film Reviews name in my absence.

Hopefully I’ll find ways of being able to contribute as well, but for the time being, I’m handing over the keys, I hope you all enjoy what Ian has to bring to the table.

Thanks as always

Nathan

Major Film Reviews Indefinite Hiatus

This is going to be difficult to write (for a number of reasons). I’m aware not all of you will follow my Facebook page, so I’m going to briefly summarise what I have said on there for those who only read my site.

Here is the big news to start us off, I am now legally blind. While I can still go to the cinema, and if I sit closely enough am able to still enjoy movies, I do not wish to risk what remaining eyesight I have left on reviewing films, which can be a tremendously straining activity for my eyes. I wish from now on to be able to enjoy films while I still can.

Of course this puts my website in a strange position. I’ve put a lot of work into it over the last four years, and I am disappointed that I have been forced to stop. I was in fact working on a new book compiling my best reviews so far, that project is on ice along with a lot of things related to writing while I figure out the best way forward with the eyesight I have left.

I do not want to call this the end, but rather hope against hope that I might one day right film reviews again. I can’t see that day being any time soon, and I have a lot of adapting to do, but the site will remain open for whomever should wish to revisit my work.

As I said, I had addressed this in a video post to my Facebook page a few weeks ago, but I am aware that the lack of activity on my website to those who do not follow the page might have been worrying. You now have your explanation for why I have been so quiet and why I will continue to be.

If you have read and enjoyed my work to this point, I thank you for your support and readership, and I hope that I have provided at least a small amount of entertainment value while I have been able to.

This will be my last post for the time being, I may one day end up posting things on here once again but it won’t be any time soon. In the meantime, get back to the cinema and enjoy yourselves.

It’s been a pleasure, and I won’t say goodbye, I’ll just say see you later.