Screw your fancy art-house cinema, these are some serious guys' flicks. And it's time to give them their due.
ROCKY IV (1985): Widely mocked as a weird bit of Cold War propaganda (and winner of the Razzie Award,) this movie actually has a bit more going for it than you might expect. For no reason in particular, I had seen this movie more than any other Rocky film, but hadn't really considered its merits until Jesse Ficks (aka, the Maniac of Midnites for Maniacs) starting talking about it. So I watched it with new eyes, and noticed some things about it. Like while it's about the Cold War, it's not really Cold War pro-U.S. propaganda, if anything it's anti-Cold War propaganda. It's about nationalism, but it isn't nationalistic. In fact, the crazy, over-the-top nationalism that accompanies Apollo Creed into the ring in the first match comes crashing down with his death (this move is 30 years old, spoilers are okay, right?) Consider that as the image of the prevailing 80s attitude of America #1, we're unbeatable! And Stallone intentionally kills it. And then Rocky steps up, with the weight of his nation on his back (along with all those logs!) and goes and trains in the wilderness. The training montage is secretly brilliant. I think in the 80s everyone read it as a contrast of the American individual spirit vs. the Soviet state machine. But watch it again, seriously. What comes out isn't the contrast, but the similarity--shot for shot they're doing the exact same thing just with different trappings around them.
So then we get to the actual fight, and what is still the least plausible part of the film. When Rocky starts winning the crowd over, and they start chanting his name. It still kind of strikes me as silly Hollywood wishful thinking/happy ending. But for the first time I watched it not as Rocky winning them over to America, but as Rocky winning them over with his sheer humanity. Perhaps the beating he is taking resonates with something about their experiences under their political system, and the fact that he keeps getting up and keeps punching gives them hope for themselves. And then the real turning point--when Drago turns on the party official and declares that he is fighting for himself. Finally even the supposed villain embraces his humanity and proclaims himself an individual fighting for himself. At that point, I don't even think it matters anymore who wins the fight (of course Rocky has to.) Because it's not a story about America winning the Cold War, it's a story about individuals transcending the Cold War and embracing their shared humanity. And it's secretly great.
Or it's a rah-rah "go 'Murica!" boxing flick. I could always be wrong.
THE ROCK (1996): And then we watched this film, which has always been a guilty pleasure of mine. Even I will point to this and say Michael Bay has made a damn good movie. (And I did dismiss TRANSFORMERS by saying there's not enough venereal disease in the world to make Michael Bay pissing on my childhood hurt for him as much as it does for me.) Nicolas Cage brought his Nouveau Shamanic acting style to action flicks for the first time in this one, and a 65 year old Sean Connery brings total badassdom to his role. Ed Harris brings gravitas as the noble villain, and it all comes together in a great mix of comedy, action, and drama. And I've actually been known to use my favorite line from the movie--"Your 'best!' Losers always whine about their best! Winners go home and fuck the prom queen!"--in conversation...when I can get away with it. Damn, I don't think I've watched it since it came out, and I was in college, and it was a staple flick among me and my friends. That was quite a trip back in time and a joy to realize the film still fuckin' works!
Total Running Time: 227 minutes
My Total Minutes: 392,735