Thursday, June 11, 2015

Riske Business: Adam and Heath Discuss the Rocky Series (Round 2)

by Adam Riske
I picked up Heath at the pet store to talk some more Rocky.

Heath: I know you aren't a wrestling fan, but I have to tell you that for the last year to 18 months, they've been working the Rocky IV gimmick in the WWE. There's a Russian wrestler named Rusev who crushes his opponents, and his manager is a hot blonde lady in a business suit with a Russian accent. It's literally the exact Rocky IV gimmick. They even start matches by singing the Russian national anthem or saluting Putin. And you know what? 30 years later, that STILL works. People chant for America and boo the Russian. That guy Stallone....I think he might have been on to something there. Murica!

Adam: Hmm...Should I start watching wrestling? Yours (and Heather Wixson's) enthusiasm is infectious.

Heath: YES, I think you should watch wrestling. Or maybe I shouldn't be so enthusiastic about it. Is it fake? Yeah, but it's fake in the way that the matches are predetermined and both performers know the result before they go out there. They're still doing incredible athletics and taking really hard blows to their head and backs. The stories are outstanding. It's the only surviving form of live entertainment where the good guys are clearly good and the bad guys are clearly bad. I notice with MMA fighting and UFC and all that stuff, they've even started incorporating little stories into the feuds to make it more interesting. Plus, these guys have to act and perform physically demanding matches for roughly five nights a week. No wonder some of them end up in Hollywood. They're like actors and stunt men rolled into one.

Adam: I dated a girl once who had wrestling posters hanging up in her kitchen. It was unusual. I’m pretty sure she was faking when she wrestled with me.

How about boxing? Do you like boxing in general? I am not a fan of the sport, but I think boxing makes for some of the best sports movies. I'm trying to figure out why. What's your opinion?
Heath: I don't really care about boxing. In fact, I've never watched a single boxing match. I tend not to watch boxing movies for the sports aspect, but more for the drama. Raging Bull? I'm watching that for De Niro's performance. And for that scene where Pesci slams the car door on that dude.

Adam: I’m probably going to get shit for this but I’ve never loved Raging Bull. I’ve gone back and watched it a number of times and I like it but I never see the best movie of the 1980s when I watch it. I prefer Rocky to Raging Bull I guess is what I’m saying.

Have you seen Grudge Match? If so, what do you think of it as a commentary on the Rocky character?

Heath: I have not seen Grudge Match. I didn't see it in theaters and I could never bring myself to pull the trigger when it popped up in Redbox. Do you think I should? I don't want it to change the way I watch Rocky movies (or Raging Bull, either), and I'm afraid it could. Help me, Godfather. What should I do?

Adam: Yes, I think you should watch Grudge Match. It's very watchable and won't change your opinion on Rocky or Raging Bull. It's like a song that's too weak to get stuck in your head in that regard. I did see it in theaters and I was actually cautious to recommend it to anyone. I did eventually tell Gentleman Timothy that I did like it because I knew he was a big fan of the Rocky series as well.

Heath: Alright, I'm going to have to check out Grudge Match. It's still at some local Redboxes.

Adam: That movie was made to live in Redboxes.
Do you think Rocky deserved to win the Oscar for Best Picture for the year it was nominated? I don't know. There was Taxi Driver in that category, though I would much rather re-watch Rocky.

Heath: I think this question about whether Rocky deserved the Best Picture Oscar opens a can of worms, but what the heck, let's do it. The Academy gives the awards to the wrong movies all the time, but I'm not sure they did in this instance. Taxi Driver is an unbelievable movie: it's well directed, De Niro gives a frightening performance, and the movie is stunning. That being said, I've only seen it a handful of times (maybe 2 or 3) and I feel like I've gotten everything out of it that I can. It makes me feel bad and reminds me that the world is broken and we're all going to die. Rocky, on the other hand, tells me that I can do anything if I don't give up and that hard work brings success. It makes me feel great, and it was a real achievement in screenwriting and acting by Stallone. It's probably arbitrary and totally subjective, but I actually think the Academy did the right thing. All four of the movies that were competing with Rocky for that Oscar took a pretty dark approach and were about what was wrong with the world. The seventies were a dark time, but Rocky told us it was going to be okay. I think people needed to feel like things were going to be okay. 

Meanwhile, here's a question: Do you buy Rocky as a champion? I know we've talked about how stubborn and full of heart he is, and I know he's got the eye of the tiger and all, but his opponents are always WAY bigger than he is. I'm thinking specifically of Clubber Lang and Drago. Could Rocky REALLY beat those guys, or is that just movie magic? I kind of feel like Rocky should have died a few times over. I ask because I don't know much about boxing, and I don't know if a much smaller guy could beat someone who had him beat by a foot in height and 75 pounds of muscle.

Adam: No, I don’t buy Rocky as a champion in the case of Clubber Lang or Ivan Drago. Let me tell you a story to explain why. I was once in a boxing club at my fraternity. It was really dumb. Anyways, I was paired up against a guy who was 6’4” and I’m only 5’7”. All he had to do to win was hit me a few times on the top of my head and I got dizzy and couldn’t stand up anymore. That is exactly what I see happening to Rocky if he really fought Drago in an actual match.

Best song and worst song from a Rocky movie?

Heath: Best song is “Gonna Fly Now” from Rocky Balboa, with the trumpet added. I love "Eye of the Tiger" with the passion of a thousand suns, but it's a bit played out at this point and I don't know if the revised score for Rocky Balboa gets any love. Worst is "The Measure of a Man" by Elton John at the end of Rocky V. I don't know why Stallone ended the movie with an Elton John song. Seems so anticlimactic. It's like the end of Rambo: First Blood Part II, which ends with a ballad. "We just kicked evil in the taint! Now let's reflect quietly." No thanks.

Adam: I like “Going the Distance” and “The Final Bell” the most and “Burning Heart” or “Living in America” the least.

Until next time F-Heads, it ain’t about how hard you hit…it’s about how hard you get hit and keep moving forward. See you next time for round 3!


  1. One of the most striking aspects of the Rocky Franchise is how horrible the actual boxing is on every level - don't get me wrong, it's one of the things I love, but man, from a character perspective Rocky pretty much sucks at it (other than the "getting back up" which he's had way too much experience with), and from a filmmaking perspective it looks horribly fake. They could've taken a page from the WWF (I refuse to recognize the name-change) in making fake look real, because they really don't even try to sell you on it.

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  3. Im with you guys on Rocky but I never got into wrestling, Sorry :(
    I think Grudge Match is the ultimate idea for High Concept Pitching, ok heres the pitch Rocky Vs Raging Bull, ok let's make the movie!
    The movie is not actually that bad though it might be a struggle to say it was good or that I would watch it again, but in all fairness the actual fight itself looked pretty good, and it did have a few moments I enjoyed

    Cheers guys,


  4. Hey guys, thanks for the installment.

    I love the Oscars discussion....I, like a lot of other people on this site don't give too much weight to what the Academy says, but there's no doubt that the selection of movies that came out in 1976 were pretty spectacular. Network, Taxi Driver, All the President's Men, (am I missing one?) are all fantastic movies that stand up as classics now. I think Rocky thoroughly earned it though, not only because it was a positive movie made during an otherwise dark time, but because it was a testament of what movie making could be. Stallone wasn't the 80s action hero just yet, but rather he was a hungry, talented actor and writer who's story somehow mirrored the main character. I'll always argue that the Academy got it right that year.

    And as for music it's hard to go past No Easy Way Out and Hearts on Fire in Rocky IV - which is essentially one long music clip anyway.

  5. Anything off the Rocky 4 soundtrack is amazing. It will be playing on repeat at my wedding reception next year.

    1. I would like to attend that wedding. Sounds awesome!