Thursday, May 28, 2015

Riske Business: Adam and Heath Discuss the Rocky Series (Round 1)

by Adam Riske

As Heath and I gear up for Creed (coming out in November), we begin our first in a series of discussions about our beloved Rocky franchise.

Adam: How you would rank the series in order from favorite to least favorite?

Heath: Oh, man. That's a tough question, because I think they're all pretty great, even the ones that get crapped on. I guess if I HAD to answer that question because you had a gun to my head -- which is way out of line, so please put it away -- is 1, 3, 4, 6, 2, 5. But the great thing about these movies is that every time I watch them (which is often), I tend to find new things to appreciate about them that I didn't connect with previously. Like part 5: the relationship with his son in that movie really impacted me on my most recent watch. What about you? You have to answer because NOW I HAVE THE GUN. HA HA!

Adam: It's a Nintendo gun...and you just pistol whipped me with it. OW! Not very sly. See what I did there?

I think some of them are great and some are "great" but in a pure cheese way. My ranking would be 1, 2, 6, 3, 5, 4. I totally agree with you about the father-son relationship in Rocky V. That is the best part of the movie besides when Rocky goes "Aye, yo Tommy Gunn. You knock him down. Why don't you try knockin' me down." GO FOR IT! Ugh, I love Rocky V so much. "He took my room!" Rocky V is the one I will defend and stand by as the most underrated of the series. I think having Rocky be down and out and back in the old neighborhood was a fresh take for the series at that point and part V doesn't get enough credit for how great of a parody it is of Don King and the boxing scene of the late '80s and early '90s.
So you put Rocky IV pretty high up there. That's the one I don't like but it is maybe the most '80s movie of all time. Defend part IV. That's the one that's become a cult classic of sorts with movie fans which I don't get at all. Sure it's got a lot of great elements - the montages, Dolph, etc., but it's not a good movie, right? Or am I crazy?

Heath: Okay, so I was all about to explain what makes Rocky IV so watchable and then you ended your question by pointing out the montages, Dolph, etc., and totally take all my talking points away. I think a lot of people probably like Rocky IV ironically these days, but I have a real, genuine love for all that '80s stuff. I think that's what it all boils down to for me: it's the most blatantly excessive entry in the series. You're right that technically it's not a good movie; Dolph Lundgren is a cartoon version of a Russian and the whole "America-vs-Communism" thing is way too on the nose. But I think it's the silliest, tackiest, most in-the-moment of all the Rocky movies, which makes me love it. It's a quintessential '80s movie, and I really love '80s movies. They're so basic: good guy, bad guy, music video soundtrack, triumphant climax, freeze frame!

Plus, Stallone is so passionate in part IV. When he ends the movie by giving a speech about change to an arena full of Russians and gets a standing ovation from lookalike Gorbachev, I really believe Stallone thought that he was making a difference. There's this earnestness, which is sometimes misguided, that permeates all the Rocky movies, and I really NEED to think that it's the essence of Stallone seeping into the things he's writing and directing. I want to believe that he's so blindly optimistic that he thinks he can change the world with a boxing movie. That's one of the reasons I love the dude so much. He's like a family member at this point.

Adam: I'm so glad you brought up Stallone's earnestness, because that's my favorite thing about him as an actor and a filmmaker as well. The moment in the series that brings the house down for me is his speech to his son about "getting back up again" from Rocky Balboa. It gives me the chills; it's so nakedly emotional that it blurs the lines between character and performer. What do you think of Rocky Balboa overall? I don't think the boxing stuff works, but everything around it about Rocky and his son is some of the best stuff in the series.

Heath: I really like Rocky Balboa. I've never questioned the boxing match in Rocky Balboa. Rocky is so stubborn and determined that he will never give up, and Mason "The Line" Dixon is a paper champ who was fed easy opponents. We saw that happen to Rocky in...what, part III? Also, the speech you mentioned about getting back up again is awesome. Life sucks, it's not fair, and you lose more as time goes on. Okay, so now what? What are you going to do about it? The choice is yours. Fantastic.

Adam: Better son: Sage Stallone or Milo Ventimiglia?

Heath: I like Milo Ventimiglia more than I liked Sage in the role, but I feel bad comparing. First, Sage wasn't an actor when he starred as Rocky's son for Rocky V, so he's a little stiff in screen. But then again, you can tell Sly is just nuts about the kid because he's always hugging and kissing on him, which makes the relationship more believable. Milo was able to convey the duality of having pride in his dad but also growing up in his shadow and resenting that. Ultimately I think casting him was a wise decision for the movie. I'm going with Milo.
Adam: I like Milo for a few reasons - 1) He was nice when I met him in person at a Wizard World con 2) He was on Gilmore Girls and 3) He's really great in Rocky Balboa. And yet, I keep finding myself liking Sage more. He had a great Ralph Macchio quality to him and it's a very sweet and unaffected performance. It's really sad that Sage Stallone passed away at such a young age. RIP.

Heath: What's your opinion of Paulie as a character? I know he played a necessary part in the first movie as Adrian's brother, but how do you feel about the character as he exists in all six movies? I've really struggled with his involvement in these stories.

Adam: I want to jump out of my skin every time I see him. He's a dirty crumbum. I don't think he adds much except as a counterpoint to Rocky and Adrian. I think that's his function. He represents "the neighborhood" and Rocky and Adrian are the beacons of light who have good hearts and rise above being defeated by their socioeconomic situation (at least in the first movie). He's what I fear I will grow up to be if I don't get married and just watch movies all the time.

Heath: You don't need to worry about that ever being you. You're really fun to be around and you're generous. Remember you split your taco with me at F This Movie Fest 2015? I don't even think we should explain that. We should just leave it there and let people wonder. I'm just saying, you're no Paulie.
I really don't like Paulie either, and I think that's a shame. I don't feel like there's any sort of a journey over the course of the six movies. I guess he's got a little remorse in Rocky Balboa for the way he's treated Adrian in the past, but he doesn't seem to have learned from any of his mistakes. And look at all the trouble he caused his family in Rocky V! He never even said he was sorry. I get that he's supposed to represent the neighborhood, but he really just represents how to be a total douche.

Adam: What do you think about the Paulie sex robot in Rocky IV?

Heath: '80s Robot says HAPPY BIRTHDAY PAULIE.

Adam: Paulie totally f**ked that robot. Read between the lines, Heath.

Heath: So do we think that Paulie put a Fleshlight in the robot? Because now I'm uncomfortable with all the time Rocky's son was spending with it in that movie. "You've got such a deep bellybutton! I can fit a whole candy bar in it!"

Adam: I think Paulie isn't smart enough for a Fleshlight. He probably just came on it. This is getting gross. But let's push this joke even farther. #Paul-E.
Heath: Paulie probably wouldn't even get a tissue for the robot when he was done. He'd be all like "clean yourself up and get outta here. I don't sweat you!" Then he'd throw a Thanksgiving turkey at it and crack open a beer.

Adam: Paulie would probably say "I hope you corrode" and start crying and violently knocking things off of shelves.


  1. Great discussion guys and I'm pumped for more - I got the Rocky boxset around this time last year and marathoned them having caught bits and pieces of most of them before but only REALLY seeing V, and I loved them so much! The timing was good too - just found out a baby was on the way and was preparing to dismantle much of my life at the time (i.e. moving way out of my 'hood and saving more disposable income than spending it) so I was excited but also sort of mourning - Rocky knocked that right outta me and I loved every one of them. I also would have to be violently assaulted to rank them - I guess I can say Rocky is my favourite and Rocky IV is my least favourite, but I might as well be ranking the different flavours of Froot Loops - just pour em in a bowl and I'll stuff them in my face until I pass out on the couch.

    Paulie was one of the biggest surprises for me - I always assumed he was Rocky's crusty but benevolent sidekick but he's pretty much a horrible asshole with no redeeming qualities through the whole franchise. And yeah, he totally had some sort of non-consensual robo-sex with that poor robot.

    Speaking of robots, I wasn't sure watching Rocky IV if we were supposed to maybe think Dolph was REALLY a robot? I get the metaphor obviously but it almost seemed like the movie was leading us down a more literal path there; i.e. those crazy Reds made a boxing robot! Oh whew, he can bleed, it's just a man! (And what a man!)

    Rocky V was my first Rocky and holds a special place in my heart so I've got your back, Adam - definitely the most underrated!

    Looking forward to Round 2!

  2. I really enjoy these discussion style posts guys, always really well done. Also, I am ashamed to report I've never seen a Rocky movie. But the column was really fun! (Am I off the hook now or should I just show myself out?)

  3. Good call, Adam: “Why don’t you try knocking ME down!?” is a total Exploding Heart Moment for me in Rocky V. Can’t wait to read the further installments of this discussion.

  4. From henceforth, every article and podcast on this site must somehow incorporate the phrase "He probably just came on it. " The people demand it!

  5. Am I the only one that thinks the Balboa Vs Creed rematch from Rocky 2 is the best fight from the series? Its just 15 minutes of non stop excitement and if the Bill Conti score during the fight and the final round dosen't get your heart racing you need to check your pulse.

  6. I looooove this discussion guys. Been an F Head for some time now and have been patiently waiting for the Rocky series to make its way into a podcast or written piece. I'm a huge Stallone lover and this movie series means so much to me its almost embarrassing...but not really because it's f***ing awesome.

    I'm probably closer to Adam in terms of my ranking of them even though rewatching does tend to throw up some changes. Usually it is 1,2,6,3,4,5. But 2 and 6 often switch around depending on my sly mood.

    I'd be interested to know how your reactions to the movies have changed over the years. I'm 32 so grew up watching Rocky III and IV over and over and OVER again on VHS taped from TV. Maybe it is because those two in particular, play like almost like cartoons that they were so easy to love as a kid. I mean, come on, Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago are the most cartoonish badass villains ever. I love how entertaining they are and are undoubtedly the most fun in the whole series.

    I like that you guys both defend 5 to some degree. It was the first opportunity I had to see a rocky film at the movies, but even then I remember leaving the cinema thinking that something was amiss. Maybe it was the the blank expression my dad had as he wondered what the hell he'd just paid to watch.

    I love Rocky Balboa and think that it is a brilliant bookend to the series. I also think that it is a movie Stallone wouldn't have been capable of making in the early 90s. There's real humility in Balboa and you can feel the gratitude that Sly has for the charavter of Rocky and the influence it has had on his life.

    God I love Rocky.

    I know Patrick isn't the biggest fan but please pretty please how bout a podcast, if not on the series then maybe the ultra fun III and IV?

    1. Thanks for commenting. I really enjoyed reading it. I grew up on Rocky V mostly and then saw IV and I in my teens. I didn't catch up with II and III until my early 20s and saw Balboa in theaters. The series really clicked for me when Balboa came out. I just find the series so heartfelt and inspirational that it's become a landmark series for me personally.

    2. Thanks Adam. I didn't get around to seeing the first Rocky until my teens also. Probably for the best as it's so much more subtle than the 80s installments. I managed to see the premiere of Balboa in Sydney where Stallone was in attendance. I shook his hand, called him Mr Stallone and pretty much never recovered from the high of that night.

      What are your expectations like for Creed? It is a good idea, and I'll see anything with Rocky in it. Buuuut Balboa was such a fitting ending part of me wishes he just left it there.

    3. That's a cool story about you and Sly. I think Heath and I will get into our thoughts on Creed soon so I'll be brief here but I understand where you are coming from. Then again, Michael B. Jordan is a really charismatic actor and I'm eager to see Rocky as a trainer and mentor again like in Rocky V.