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SYLVESTER STALLONE STARRING AND DIRECTING 'ROCKY II'

Title: ROCKY II year: 1979 Starring/Director: Sylvester Stallone RATING: ***1/2

It seems like the last person who gets credit for the original ROCKY is director John G. Advilson... yet he did win the Academy Award; and Sylvester Stallone's brilliant script, providing an ensemble of characters of almost equal importance surrounding the central Southpaw, and his beyond-natural performance, were both nominated but didn't win... yet it's still one of the best scripts ever, and perhaps the story and star made us forget there was a director at all...

Which brings us to ROCKY II, where Stallone still had his wider, more natural, more realistic facial "baby fat" and unpolished muscles compared to the chiseled, veiny, hunger-scowling look of the third film (and thereafter) as Stallone himself director, doing a sort of mellower hang-out imitation of Avildson, at least in a visual sense....

Sylvester Stallone in ROCKY II with Burt Young

So in this first sequel of the franchise, after catching an establishing glimpse of the original bout where Rocky loses to Apollo while forever winning-over his beloved lady, ROCKY II, unlike many sequels, starts off directly after the original: there's a smooth funky variation of the main theme as an ambulance carries the two fighters we experienced in 1976 to a hospital in (proverbially) 1979... 

All looking the same except Burt Young's Paulie lost a tremendous amount of weight, literally overnight (Rocky even points it out). Although Young's scene-stealing capabilities that made him a star in the original and peaked in the third venture is more peripheral here... 

Sylvester Stallone smeals mainly in ROCKY II

Leaving the character-actor chops to Stallone himself; his suddenly famous brawler spends cash too fast and fails at successfully sustaining his 15-minutes of fame (that hot rod and tiger jacket are damn cool though), and eventually works cleaning-up the same gym that helped catapult him into almost becoming the World Heavyweight Champion.

Some of the best scenes occur when Rocky tries to get lines right for an aftershave commercial, and, realizing he can't work behind a desk at a typical 9 to 5 setting, he packs the same meat he once famously beat upon in training for Newsreel footage.

Sylvester Stallone in ROCKY II with Talia Shire

One of the main drawbacks of part 2 is Yo Adrian herself, not only a new wife but an extreme bulwark (call her a "Rock Blocker") to the story of a beloved brawling underdog who we know will end up in a walloping rematch with the extremely bitter, sore-winning champ Apollo Creed, which takes too long to happen (which we know WILL happen) while Adrian bickers with Rocky the whole way through...

Then, when the training finally gets underway with a once again initially reluctant Mickey, a genuine tragedy occurs concerning the birth of Adrian's child, adding drama to melodrama, making for an overlong and extremely boring hospital-set mid-section resulting in, finally... after Rocky gets enough advice to move ahead... Bill Conti's glorious upbeat score blares as Rocky continues his training, ultimately running down the Philly streets, this time followed by a bunch of kids up the famous stairway...

Burgess Meredith in ROCKY II

The directing style, like the first film and unlike the third, is more or less an artistic, grainy endeavor: our hero now trying to rise above his urban reality as, in this particular case, the actors take a little while before seeming truly involved with each other or the storyline, which intentionally fumbles around to discover meaning and purpose, like the main character himself...

For example, Burgess Meredith's awkward dialogue after Rocky's wedding seems like he walked onto the set following a long nap, and overall, there's a kind of improvisational-workshop vibe... this often happens when young actors direct their own films, and it's not always a bad thing: spontaneity is great as long as the story flows along with it...

Sylvester Stallone in ROCKY II

And while ROCKY II has a good enough script, if Advilson returned to direct this sequel might have flowed beyond the clunky, offbeat rhythm that occurs more than randomly until the big fight, again intensely choreographed by Stallone himself: GOING THE DISTANCE is a better tune than GONNA FLY NOW, playing in a steady, pulse-like manner (the last to be in montage-form) during the epic heart-pounding 15-round battle of giants... 

Yet some serious editing would have helped sharpen this flawed yet entertaining yarn that, unlike the mainstream ROCKY films to come, for better or worse, were created specifically for what an audience paid to see rather than what Stallone wanted to show them.

Sylvester Stallone in ROCKY II with Carl Weathers
Sylvester Stallone in ROCKY II with Joe Spinell
Sylvester Stallone in ROCKY II with Talia Shire and Jerry Ziesmer
Sylvester Stallone in ROCKY II with Frank McCrea
Sylvester Stallone in ROCKY II
Sylvester Stallone in ROCKY II with Talia Shire
Sylvester Stallone in ROCKY II with Talia Shire
Sylvester Stallone in ROCKY II with Burgess Meredith
Sylvester Stallone in ROCKY II with Burgess Meredith
Sylvester Stallone in ROCKY II with every damn kid in Philly
Sylvester Stallone in ROCKY II
Carl Weathers in ROCKY II with Tony Burton
Sylvester Stallone in ROCKY II with Carl Weathers
Sylvester Stallone in ROCKY II with Carl Weathers
Sylvester Stallone in ROCKY II with Carl Weathers
Sylvester Stallone in ROCKY II with Carl Weathers
Sylvester Stallone in ROCKY II with Burgess Meredith
Opening from ROCKY II directed by Sylvester Stallone

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