#15 Star Wars & #78 Rocky

And away we go.

I kicked off my movie watching odyssey with a double feature of Star Wars (1977) and Rocky (1976). I decided that a combination of films featuring plucky heroes overcoming insurmountable odds would serve as inspiration as I set out on this quest to topple The List. And really, who wants to ring in the new year with a cheerful viewing of Schindler’s List?

#15 Star Wars
Wookie is snubbed at award ceremony. #sixwordmovies

C-3PO mutters, “I’m going to regret this,” and stumbles into an escape pod, following the lead of his stubborn counterpart, R2-D2. I wondered if my wife (who has promised to join me in this endeavor) was identifying with Threepio, if she didn’t see a bit of herself in that golden protocol droid, blasting off on some foolish secret mission with her very own counterpart “overweight glob of grease.” I was very proud of Lauren; she made it through her first full viewing pretty much undistracted, barring that one time I caught her intently reading the outside of her Dunkin Donuts coffee cup.

Look, full disclosure here. I’m a massive Star Wars fan. And what’s more, I find it very difficult to talk about the films with anyone without getting myself worked up. I’m one of those who despise the Star Wars prequel films to such an irrational degree that thinking about them for too long makes me violently ill.  (I direct you to the brilliant guys at Red Letter Media for a very careful and entertaining explanation of why the prequels are so offensive to Star Wars fans.) So I won’t say too much here. And frankly, I understand what makes the film great. It’s the classic hero’s quest coupled with the majestic wonders of space exploration, told through mind-blowing cutting edge special effects. It’s simple stuff, but powerful,effective, timeless… and so much fun.

Watch for R2-D5, the little red astromech droid that misses his chance at employment at the Lars homestead when Artoo sabotages his motivator. This scene always moves me to tears.

#78 Rocky
Adrian gets fabulous boxer girlfriend makeover. #sixwordmovies

Believe it or not, neither of us had ever watched Rocky in its entirety before. Rocky Balboa is one of those characters that has become a cultural touchstone, making him feel instantly familiar to a new viewer. It’s the classic underdog story. Cinderella in boxing shorts. Down on his luck, washed up schlub is given his chance. Falls in love. Overcomes adversity. Goes the distance. It’s classic stuff.

It seemed unusual to see a Cinderella story where everyone is so working class, so poor, so dimwitted, and remains that way through the end. Rocky achieves his goal and we presume he will move on to a better life, but we never see him counting his piles of gold coins at the end, or walking in to his home in the suburbs. His victories are internal, and expressed visually by his calling for Adrian after the bout, surrounded by the hoopla and media attention. He’s won all this acclaim, but what matters to him is the love and companionship he’s found in Adrian.

Did you know that Sylvester Stallone was given the Razzie “award” for worst actor of the eighties and worst actor of the century? I couldn’t decide whether or not I was watching a good actor for the majority of the movie, but I’ve decided that Stallone gives a great performance as Balboa. He was lovable, tender, funny, and impossible to root against. I’m not going to call him a good actor, mind you, because I’ve seen Stop! or My Mom Will Shoot.

Next time you watch this movie, look for a few things. Sly’s brother Frank Stallone is singing on the rough streets of Philadelphia in the beginning. He sounds great here. Why is it that Frank’s career never took off…

And look for a brave performance from Butkus Stallone, Rocky’s bull mastiff. He ran beside and behind Balboa, often coming dangerously close to the monsoon of butt sweat in his owner’s pants.


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