A Takedown of Rocky IV

This might be a bold statement as a fan of the Rocky series, but I’m not a fan of Rocky IV. I love to talk about its strange quirks and ham-fisted approach to Cold War politics, but it’s a mess that I can’t get behind. It did well with the fans of the series at the time of release (certainly better than Rocky V did), and it is the most successful entry at the box office, but I want to ask: is it a good “Rocky Movie”?

What staples are commonly associated with the Rocky series? American flag shorts, montages, “Eye of the Tiger”-style anthems, patriotism, the final fight. These are all present in these films, but they are not even close to the most important aspects. I think of the love story between Rocky and Adrian, I think of Rocky’s sweet nature and patience, I think of Apollo’s boisterous charm, Paulie’s tortured soul and Mickie’s regrets. These are the things that make me love these movies, and those aren’t the images I was given before deciding to watch them all. There has never been anything interesting to me about jingoistic, repetitive films full of montages, films that predictably lead to two guys wailing on each other. Still, that is the imagery that surrounds the series, and it all seems to come from Rocky IV. I was shocked at the indie sensibility of the original film, the emotional weight of its sequel, and the pure joy of the third film – mostly because I had been sold that this was a dumb franchise with little to offer. If anyone ever rolls their eyes when I mention my love for these films now, I believe it’s down to the shadow this entry casts. Continue reading →


21st Century Soundtracks #2: The Social Network

21st Century Soundtracks is about music in Film, Television, and Video Games released from 2000 onwards that have had a lasting effect on me. It started out as one long post that eventually became too long to be manageable, so I’ve decided to make it a semi-regular series. Open to recommendations and reminders.

In 2011, both the Oscars and the Golden Globes did something right for a change – they awarded Best Original Score to Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross for their amazing work on The Social Network. Part of the reason why the score works is because of the freedom director David Fincher gave them. Reznor recalls that even their initial ideas received very few notes; Fincher simply told them “I don’t have anything bad to say– that’s never happened before”. To set them along the right path, the director did provide some general direction for the duo to launch off from:

“David wanted something that had electronic leanings and was a bit iconic. He referenced things from Tron, Blade Runner, and talked about a Tangerine Dream-ish kind of sound. Something that would feel like it had a uniqueness and a presence in the film”

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21st Century Soundtracks #1: Mulholland Drive

21st Century Soundtracks is about music in Film, Television, and Video Games released from 2000 onwards that have had a lasting effect on me. It started out as one long post that eventually became too long to be manageable, so I’ve decided to make it a semi-regular series. Open to recommendations and reminders.

Thank the heavens filmmaker David Lynch and composer Angelo Badalamenti came together for Blue Velvet in 1986. Ever since then, Lynch’s images have been complimented by rich, beautiful and strange scores that enhance the experience, often taking it to another place entirely.

Jitterbug kicks the album and the film off with fast swing music, set to the opening dance sequence. It starts what will be an ongoing motif of the film, and something Lynch has been doing since Blue Velvet – playing music, whether it’s original to the movie or not, through his own particular lens. In this case sweet and innocent memories are turned into something else, Lynch and Badalamenti craft a scene of anxiety and stress out of what is typically pure and happy. The director has always been hands-on with the music in his films, from the soundscapes of sound designer Alan Splet earlier in his career to Badalamenti’s gorgeous scores; so that each song weaves into the scene’s own thematic and emotional concerns.

The album defiantly refuses to sound like it was made in 2001. The title track, and several others, instead borrow the synth of early 80s cinema, while echoing the more traditional classical instrumental music that was prevalent in early Hollywood pictures. These epic and often triumphant notes are slowed down to a lethargic and unnerving pace, as if pulling us into a dream-like state. The midway segue in Mr. Roque/Betty’s Theme, as the name suggests to those who have seen the intensely dark film, transitions from the ominous powers at work to the pure optimism of Betty as she arrives in Los Angeles. The contrast is brought to our attention again towards its close, as it creeps back into a reprise of the main theme, twisting in and out of fear and hope, an auditory expression of this inward battle. Continue reading →

The Last of Us: Left Behind Review

This is a slightly-edited version of a review I wrote of The Last of Us: Left Behind around a year and a half ago. Thought it would be helpful to collect it here.

Although this is under the non-spoiler part of the review, there will be mild spoilers for the The Last of Us – but you really shouldn’t be playing Left Behind if you haven’t already played the original game anyhow. So if you know nothing of the series, go out and buy it right now because it’s the best game on the PS3, and the Remastered edition is available on the PS4.

Left Behind is add-on content to the main game of The Last of Us, it’s available to download for the PS3 version but included on the Remastered edition. It flits between two perspectives, the previously unexplored section between Joel’s injury and Ellie’s meeting with David, and events that happened to Ellie a year before the events of the original game. This contrasts the way she has changed throughout the game in a nice way, she’s more capable, intelligent and mature with Joel, but she’s still recognisable as the same character. I mean this both in her personality and in her model – subtle changes to the way she looks makes her look a little younger and I appreciate the effort they made just for that. Juxtaposing the two mall settings also brings the sense of melancholy that The Last of Us so expertly crafted the previous year. Even though both are post-apocalyptic it really does feel like time has passed, in one there is a sense of foreboding of an inevitable tragedy, and in the other that trauma still resonates – not explicitly in dialogue but in the way Ellie acts. It’s wonderful characterization, and part of the reason why Naughty Dog can prove the impossible by following up a game that felt complete in itself.

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