Film Reviews

NEW YEAR‘ 07 FILM REVIEW BOUQUET

By • Jan 1st, 2007 • Pages: 1 2

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ROCKY BALBOA
MGM / 102 min / PG

A certified crowd pleaser. Stallone stayed true to Rocky. He gave Rocky back to us without dolling him up.

I give Sylvester Stallone a huge amount of credit. After being a movie star for decades, he’s as far away from the simple Rocky Balboa as I am. And, let’s face it, Stallone hasn’t written or directed a movie in a long time. Or acted, for that matter. But with ROCKY BALBOA, Stallone gives us what we wanted from Rocky.

Stallone stays true to Rocky.

Stallone doesn’t give his iconic character a girlfriend, a larger vocabulary, or a bloated ego. He’s not a drunk either.

Stallone has given us an emotional Rocky still with a heart of gold and the simplicity we loved.

I don’t know who worked with Stallone, but the screenplay – okay, minus the two blowhard “Fight for your dream” speeches – hits all the right notes. It gives us just enough flashbacks to warm our nostalgia, the familiar jostling with his brother-in-law Paulie (Burt Young), a lot of jokes about Rocky’s age, the past-your-prime reminders, the same old haunts, a bit of the theme music without shoving it down our throats, and the final brutal regimen to get the loveable lug back in shape. But not too much shape.

Rocky is no chiseled Jack LaLanne showing off his abs at 90 years of age.

Stallone places the camera right on his lined face. There are no pretty, dreamy close-ups. This brutal acknowledgement of the character’s life of punches works. Stallone doesn’t stumble by going the elderly movie star route of reminding us “Hey, I’m still sexy,” and “I’ve still got the goods.” (Thankfully, a wise Stallone didn’t re-visit that “Rocky at the doorway” shot). You find yourself thinking that Stallone looks big and puffy. He looks clumsy in that cheap burgundy sports jacket. He looks like a real former heavyweight.

Rocky is still in Philadelphia and owns a tiny Italian restaurant named Adrian’s. He’s actually too big for walking around the crowded tables. Rocky knows what his patrons come for and he gladly goes from table to table telling the stories of his past fights. It doesn’t matter that he’s got it all down to a stage monologue.

Instead of the tried-and-stale younger fighter from the projects that Rocky must teach a better way of life through a dedication to fighting, Rocky has a son, Robert (Milo Ventimiglia) that he is quite proud of. The problem is Adrian died a few years ago and Rocky lost his anchor. He’s lonely and he misses her. However, Rocky would never do anything to defile Adrian’s sainted memory. He’s not looking for a lady friend.

He is looking for a relationship with Robert who, having grown up in the shadow of a hometown hero, is still embarrassed by his father’s fame. Robert hasn’t learned how to use his last name to promote himself (like today’s young celebrities who carry a famous last name like a mantel of honor). (Kids now are affixing their mother’s famous last name to their father’s or just using their mother’s former last name altogether. I’m talking about you Brandon Davis.)

Remember the teenager who cursed out Rocky thirty years ago after he walked her home? Rocky finds Little Marie (Geraldine Hughes) working at a neighborhood bar and living in a dump. She has a son, Steps (James Patrick Kelly III), and after a few more walks home, Rocky invites both of them to work at his restaurant. Their relationship is pure and noble.

The sports media has rediscovered Rocky (to the horror of Robert). In a simulated computer match between Rocky (in his heyday) and the current, disgraced champion, Mason “The Line” Dixon (Antonio Tarver), the results give Rocky another lifejacket to fame. When the sports fans jump all over this pseudo-match, Dixon’s management, led by L.C. (A.J. Benzer), decides to stage an actual exhibition. Since it is promoted as an “exhibition match for charity,” Dixon promises to go easy on the old champ. Rocky decides he has something to live for. He starts training. He lets Dixon know he’ll be fighting for real.

The music starts up. The training begins. Rocky starts shaping up.

The big fight takes place right here in Las Vegas and certainly delivers the goods. Surprisingly, Stallone has done a very nice job of directing. Sure, ROCKY BALBOA harks way back to the good old days of little man dreams coming true, but there is no denying that this is a crowd pleasing finale.

Will Stallone go quietly or will he ruin the whole sweet thing by making ROCKY BALBOA 2?


THE DEAD GIRL
First Look Pictures / Lakeshow Entertainment / Pitbull Pictures
Running time — 93 minutes / MPAA rating: R

I like to be surprised by movies and this small film, writer-director Karen Moncrieff’s THE DEAD GIRL, is an emotionally disturbing film that stands with PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER as a gem that should not be overlooked.

A dead girl is found in a field. Arden (Toni Collette) finds the body of the nude girl and her discovery brings her unwanted media attention. Arden cares for her nasty, vulgar mother (Piper Laurie). Unkempt, lonely and bullied, Arden is seduced by a creepy grocery store clerk, Rudy (Giovanni Ribisi), who likes to fantasize about serial killers. Arden is strangely attracted to him and wants to be tied up. The brief interlude propels Arden to abandon her mother and liberate herself.

The dead girl may be the young sister of Leah (Rose Byrne). A forensics student working at the morgue where the body is sent, Leah believes that marks on the corpse identify the woman as her sister. For the past fifteen years, Leah’s parents, Beverly (Mary Steenburgen) and Bill (Bruce Davison) have been consumed by searching for their daughter. They are still putting up computer-aged flyers. Beverly angrily refuses to even consider that her daughter is dead.

Ruth (Mary Beth Hurt) is a miserable, fat woman, unhappy that her passive husband Carl (Nick Searcy) leaves her alone at night. She is another foul-mouthed character in this film. Carl runs a storage company and, forced to attend to customers while Carl is away, Ruth discovers his mementos. He is the serial killer responsible for the death of eight women. In a storage facility, he has kept his bloody souvenirs.

The dead girl is finally identified as Krista (Brittany Murphy). Her mother Melora (Marcia Gay Harden) comes to Los Angeles to claim the body and find out what happened to her daughter. Going to the motel room her daughter shared with Rosetta (Kerry Washington), a tough prostitute, Melora finds out about the life her daughter led and why Krista left her mother and step-father. Rosetta is a nasty piece of work but, prodded by cash from Melora, gives us a more compassionate picture of Krista. Fueled by her own love for Krista, Rosetta helps Melora understand her daughter.

The finale vignette brings us to the last day in the life of Krista. After a vicious fight with her boyfriend/pimp, Tarlow (Josh Brolin), Krista takes off to hitch a ride to see her five- year-old daughter on her birthday. She is picked up by Carl.

Moncrieff is able to bring to the screen an emotional level of sadness and an eerie sense of foreboding. There is not one pretty image in this film. Yes, the subject matter is crude, but we all know that serial killers are out there destroying people’s lives (The so-called “Suffolk Strangler,” responsible for the death of five prostitutes, is currently terrorizing Britain). The people whose lives are impacted by knowing a victim of a serial killer are the subject of this impressively haunting film.

Moncrieff has a strong director’s hand and all of her actors give harrowing performances. I have not enjoyed Brittany Murphy and Toni Collette’s romantic comedies but here they abandon all sentiment and show us characters ravaged by misplaced choices.

Credits:
Screenwriter-director: Karen Moncrieff
Producers: Richard Wright, Eric Karten, Kevin Turen, Tom Rosenberg, Henry Winterstern, Gary Lucchesi
Director of photography: Michael Grady
Production designer: Kristan Andrews
Music: Adam Gorgoni
Costume designer: Susie DeSanto
Editor: Toby Yates

Cast:
Krista: Brittany Murphy
Arden: Toni Collette
Rudy: Giovanni Ribisi
Mother: Piper Laurie
Leah: Rose Byrne
Beverly: Mary Steenburgen
Bill: Bruce Davison
Ruth: Mary Beth Hurt
Carl: Nick Searcy
Melora: Marcia Gay Harden
Rosetta: Kerry Washington
Tarlow: Josh Brolin

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