Rocky IV (1985)

80’s: The Movie

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

Rocky IV is one of the most entertaining movies ever made. If there was ever a movie I can turn to for just 90 minutes of pure, immense, adrenaline filled, inspirational entertainment, it’s Rocky IV. The runtime is the shortest of the series, but those 90 minutes are perfect. The poster for Rocky IV is displayed proudly in my bedroom, and every now and then I look at it in all its majesty with Rocky sticking his glove up in the air while draped in the stars and stripes. I feel the Rocky movies had the ideal lifespan for a movie franchise; start off serious, goof out for some fun, but then end again on a serious note.

There’s no question about it, Rocky IV is the most 80’s movie ever. Case in point:

– Synthesized rock soundtrack.

-Cold war propaganda.

-Conservative, Reagan era values.

-MTV music video style montages.

-Larger than life villain.

-It’s a sequel of a long-running franchise.

-There’s a robot.

-Rocky drives a sports car.

-Display of decadence.

-Brigitte Nielsen, star of other very 80’s movies Red Sonja and Cobra.

-Action movie revenge plot.

-Full of cheesy/corny quotable lines (“If he dies, he dies”, “Whatever he hits, he destroys”).

Stallone’s inspiration for Rocky IV came from the two fights between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling in 1936 and 1938 respectively; two fights which embodied the political and social conflict of the time – an African American taking on a supposed representation of Aryan superiority. Thus in Rocky IV we get Ivan Drago, the terrifying Aryan superman Rocky must challenge to avenge the death of his friend (could that sound more 80’s?).  Ivan Drago is a terminator; the strongest opponent humanly possible; however is Drago an interesting villain? I say yes; one of my favourite screen villains of all time as a matter of fact. In a memorable Siskel & Ebert moment, Roger Ebert described Drago as a “moderately interesting villain” but complained “how come he never has a single scene alone with his wife” and “why does she have nine times more dialogue than he has?”. Drago doesn’t speak for himself as there is no individualism in communism. I feel Dolph Lundgren gives a great physical performance, playing a character who is the opposite of Clubber Lang in that he speaks few words; succeeding in being an intimidating monster with his physical presence alone. I also love Drago’s reaction to Apollo’s entrance at the exhibition fight; that of a Soviet being welcomed to America.

Ivan Drago is a product of a state that sponsors his training as exemplified in the movie’s two training montages. Drago’s music theme is cold, intimidating and mechanical, just like his training. He is given steroids by his trainers and at a press conference an American reporter says “There have been rumors of blood doping and widespread distribution of anabolic steroids in the Soviet Union”; feels like an eerie foreshadowing to the state-operated Russian doping scandal of 2016. Following the boycotts at the 1980 and 1984 Olympics, Rocky IV couldn’t have come at a better time when sports and politics were going hand in hand. Drago’s fit of rage near the end of the fight in which he proclaims “I fight to win. For me! For me!”, is clearly a jab at communism as he wants to work for himself and not for the glory of the country. Likewise, when he lifts up and throws the Russian official who criticises him, it’s a classic Frankenstein moment; the monster turning on its creator.

Apollo Creed’s entrance, on the other hand, is one of the most capitalistic things ever put on film, with James Brown singing Living In America among Belly Dancers and Apollo Creed dressed in stars and stripes; and to top it all off, it’s in Las Vegas. A stark contrast to the Russians who open the Rocky-Drago fight later in the movie to their national anthem (yet another awe-inspiring musical highlight in the film). Did Apollo’s ego untimely kill him? Apollo’s patriotic egotism clouded his better judgment and no idea just how strong Drago would be. The sheer power of Drago’s punches during the fight with Creed (if you could even call it that) is exemplified by the sound effects. Also, why does Drago receives no punishment for throwing the referee aside, but if I was going to point out every little thing in this movie which makes no sense I’d be here all day. There’s such brutality to Creed’s death; such slow motion brutality. I’ll never forget my mum’s reaction the first time I watched Rocky IV, a gasping “oh my God!”.

When I was studying for my GCSE examinations, the Rocky IV soundtrack was one of my primary sources of music listening. Whenever I have a stressful day of work I listen to the Rocky IV soundtrack when I need that extra bit of adrenaline to make me go on. Feeling down? Rocky IV soundtrack! Need inspiration?  Rocky IV soundtrack! Having a workout? Rocky IV soundtrack! 20% of the Rocky IV or 23 minutes is comprised montages with songs which can make anything look epic in one of the epitomes of the 1980’s soundtrack; everything you would expect from a score which won the Razzi for worst music score. The score by Vince diCola has been officially released but copies are not easy to come by. The actual Rocky IV soundtrack features different versions of War and Training Montage than those which appear in the film, although these variants are good in their own right.

If there is one word associated with Rocky IV, its montage. I can watch these montages over and over again and still be enthralled by them. The first training montage is heavy on its symbolism of nature vs. machine and showcases the beauty of the Russian wilderness. Ok, it’s actually Wyoming but I can buy into it being a vast frozen expanse of the Soviet Union. But it’s training montage number 2 which has to be my favourite training montage in film history. This is partly due to John Cafferty’s Hearts on Fire – a motivating, pumping song if there ever was one. That synth, god I love it! In the spirit of everything in Rocky IV being larger than life, instead of running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the montage ends with Rocky climbing a mountain.

The editing of Rocky IV also contributes to the film’s bombastic nature. The transitional shots of magazine covers and newspaper articles make the film play out like more of a comic book than it already is. Likewise, shots such as that of Rocky’s Russian chaperone looking into binoculars gets repeated three times within a few seconds but zoomed in further each time and edited to the rhythm of the score; it’s just so cool. On the other hand, I even recall a review I heard for Star Wars: The Forces Awakens refer the final shot of that movie as a Rocky IV shot, in reference to the aerial shot of Rocky on top of the mountain. Is Rocky IV a more influential than the history books say?

Rocky IV is incredibly distant from the first movie but this is appropriate as Rocky is out of his element and in a foreign land. This is the only film in the series not to take place in Philadelphia unless you include the scene in the Balboa mansion although it’s never made clear where the mansion is located. The No Easy Way Out montage provides you with clips from the first movie, so it the film itself allows you to bask in the stark contrast between the movies; a man who used to be a not very intelligent nobody and made money from prizefighting and working for a loan shark is now at the center of international politics.

Even the sheer predictably of Rocky IV is wonderful, such as when Adrian shows up in Russia to support Rocky; it’s all cliché but in the best sense of the word. The build-up to the final fight and the atmosphere is so immense; there could never be a Rocky film more epic than this. By this point, I’m actually scared for Rocky and fearful for his life, and Paulie’s emotional outpour before the fight, it gets me every time. I don’t care what anyone says, this is the greatest fight in film history. Rules don’t apply and Rocky somehow lasts the 15 rounds and even wins over the crowd (“Suddenly Moscow is pro-Rocky!”). This isn’t just Rocky against another opponent, this is Rocky against a superhuman, a hostile crowd, a Mikhail Gorbachev lookalike and an entire world superpower. Keep your superhero movies with their city-destroying battles; this is what I call a duel! Rocky’s final speech is naive in the most wonderful way. The words of the speech are so juvenile, yet when I hear Stallone utter them in the movie; it brings a tear to my eye. Did Rocky IV really help end the cold war? Who knows? Oh, and the end credits provide us with yet another awesome montage!

Rocky IV embodies the essence of capitalism the American Dream; if you work hard, success is attainable. I know many would just look at the movie and scoff at it as a simplified look at the Cold War with an “us and them” mentality. But as a piece of propaganda does it work? Oh, you bet it does. Rocky IV, I salute you to your over the top, cheesy 80’s perfection.

Rocky IV > Citizen Kane

Back to the Future (1985)

Spaceman From Pluto

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

An aura of ‘cool’ permeates everything about Back to the Future. I could imagine seeing this film when it came out in 1985 (of course I wasn’t alive) and watching Marty McFly riding through Hill Valley on his skateboard while holding onto the back of a truck to The Power of Love by Huey Lewis and the News and thinking to myself, “omg, this is just the coolest film ever”. To me Marty McFly is the personification of cool, he rides skateboards, has a hot girlfriend, plays guitar. Yet his life is far from perfect; his dad is a dweb, his mum is an alcoholic and his uncle is in prison. This brings him down to a relatable level, plus he hangs out with a crazy old scientist. Why? I don’t want to know. I like the mystery of not knowing how this unconventional friendship came to be. The technical jargon between Marty and Doc is a never-ending pleasure to listen and even lines which shouldn’t be memorable are somehow highly quotable (“Wait a minute Doc, are you telling me that it’s 8:25…dam I’m late for school!”). Likewise taking the coolest looking, commercially available car and making that the time machine is yet another stroke of genius. Notice the scene in which we see the DeLorean for the first time; it’s impossible for Doc Brown to get inside the DeLorean while it is inside the truck so he would have had to get into the car and drive it into the truck and just wait there until Marty would show up and then drive it out and exit the car. I guess Doc thought he had made a time machine that looked so badass he really had to give it an impressive introduction to Marty. The whole movie has the best uses of product placements I’ve seen in a film; never before have I been happier to see advertisements for Pepsi and Texaco. The pacing of Back to the Future is perfect, the film never lets up; the odds keep stacking up against Marty and the suspense towards the end of the film is crazy.

Even though most of the film takes place in the 1950’s, Back To The Future is the film which defines the 1980’s. The ending in which Marty finds his family has been changed for the better and he gets the 4×4 vehicle he wanted; it’s a wish fulfilment fantasy and very much a capitalist, 80’s ideal. It’s an uplifting ending, providing you ignore the fact that Marty now has to adjust to living with a family he has no previous memory off. It makes sense that Marty goes back to the year 1955, the time period of when adolescence had a voice and began an economic force for the first time in history; plus just take a look at the title of what won Best Picture that year. Marty’s mother being attracted to her son is weirdly funny plus his mother being the opposite of her adult herself; makes you question your own parents claims about their day. I’m always struck by the moment when Marty tell his relatives in 1955 he has two TVs and they think he’s joking yet if you told someone in 1985 that households today own upwards of 6-7 TVs, they would have the same reaction.

Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Back To The Future; to me these are the trilogy of trilogies. The three film sagas I can watch again and again, always notice something new on each viewing, discussing every character to no end, coming up with crazy fan theories and trying to find an explanation to any possible plot hole. I’m sure there are still plenty of subtle gags, use of foreshadowing and who knows what lurked within this film which I still haven’t noticed. Is it possible for a film to be 100% perfect, one which has absolutely nothing wrong with it no matter how minuscule? I can’t think of another film (or series) which has a better use of repeating images and motifs. If I could only bring one DVD to a desert island, it would be my trilogy box set so I could spend my time uncovering every last secret in the trilogy. I love how self-contained the movies are; there are so closely connected to each other and the perfect film trilogy to watch in one go (as I have done several times).

But what is it that makes Back to the Future immensely beloved by such a wide audience? I can tell you why I love it but I have a weird and eccentric film taste. Perhaps it’s due to time travel is something we all fantasize about, as well as the idea of seeing your parents when they were young. The themes the film explores such as family, coming of age, the generation gap and the optimistic message of free will, that our future isn’t written; it’s whatever you make it.

To Be Continued…

Hounds Of Love (1985)

Her Undisputed Masterpiece

Do you like Kate Bush? I’ve been a big fan ever since the release of her 1978 debut album The Kick Inside. In ’85 Kate released this, Hounds of Love, her most accomplished album. The whole album has a clear crisp sound and a new sheen of consummate professionalism which really gives the songs a big boost, while at the same time it deepens and enriches the meaning of the preceding four albums.

In terms of lyrical craftsmanship, the sheer songwriting, this album hits a new peak of professionalism. Take the lyrics to Cloudbusting, in this song Kate Bush addresses the problem of abusive political authority.

Running Up That Hill is the most moving pop song of the 1980’s, about understanding and commitment. Its universal message crosses all boundaries and instills one with the hope that it’s not too late to better ourselves. It’s impossible in this world to emphasize with ourselves unless we emphasize with our other. It’s an important message, crucial really, and it’s beautifully stated on the album.

It’s hard to choose a favourite among so many great tracks, but I think The Ninth Wave is her undisputed masterpiece; it’s an epic meditation on mysticism. The final song is extremely uplifting, her lyrics are as positive and affirmative as anything as anything I’ve heard in rock.

Take The Big Sky, a great, great song, a personal favourite. A song so catchy, people probably don’t listen to the lyrics, but they should, because it’s not just about the pleasures of pensive daydreaming and the importance of the inner child, but is also a personal statement about the artist herself. Hey Paul…