Year Released: 2006
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Milo Ventimiglia, Antonio Tarver, Geraldine Hughes
(PG, 102 min.”
"Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?" Robert Browning
Most critics anticipated the sixth Rocky installment with the same mixture of scorn and contempt as do the sports commentators in the actual film. But once again, Stallone surprises everyone by making this sixth epic more about the man than the fighter, focusing on relationships not just ringside, and ultimately coaxing even the most cynical to their feet to cheer on once again their beloved underdog.
The title says a lot in itself. No Roman numerals after it, just the simple surname. And while the first title put its iconic star in the small cadre of super-celebs known only by a single name, Rocky Balboa puts him right back there with the rest of us. Not some kind of superman, but someone just as vulnerable to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as his fellow man. Someone who faces the inevitable melancholy of age, loss, and irrelevance.
In fact, as the film opens, Rocky is literally wallowing in all three. His visits to Adrian’s grave are so regular that he stashes a folding chair in a nearby tree to facilitate his talks with her. And once a year, he takes brother-in-law Paulie (Burt Young) on a maudlin pilgrimage to the old haunts – the pet store where they met, the ice skating rink of their first date, Rocky’s old apartment. Even Paulie can’t take it any more. All three of the places are little more than dumps now, not an auspicious image, especially when Rocky says that when you live somewhere for a while, the buildings become a part of you.
Rocky does have a nice little Italian Restaurant named Adrian’s, its walls decked in nostalgia from his glory days, where every night he dons the same burnished orange sports jacket, poses for the same pictures with his customers, and regales them with the same old stories. Not only is he living in the shadow of his past, but his twenty-something son, Robert, is as well, the slightly built aspiring business man none too happy to be called Rocky Junior.
Even at his lowest point, though, Rocky has humanity and sweetness behind his palooka grin. He befriends Little Marie, a self-effacing bar tender who remembers him from her youth, and takes the single mom and her teenage son under his wings. He even rescues the ugliest dog from the pound and accepts Punchy as the slightly mocking name for it suggested by her son. Director Stallone is wise enough to give just the hint of a potential romance between Rocky and Marie, merely the anticipation of a courtship that would be innocent, comfortable, and slow paced.
The deliberate slow pace is then interrupted when a computer match up between Rocky and current heavyweight champ, Mason “The Line” Dixon, (played by real life three time light heavyweight champ of the world Antonio Tarver) heralds Rocky the victor, and the old man from Philly thinks maybe he still has “something down there in the basement.” Rocky’s aspirations are modest, just a few local matches, but he quickly becomes caught up in the hype of promoters who see dollar signs in an exhibition match in Vegas. Paulie is against it, and his old trainer Duke tells him truthfully that between calcium deposits, arthritis, and age, all he has left is brute force.
Perhaps the most interesting scene is his son’s earnest appeal to nix it. What son Robert is really worried about is that his father will become an even greater embarrassment to him than he already is, but Rocky is not buying the “you cast a long shadow” excuse and gently but firmly lets him know that.
And yes, then we have the raw egg breakfast, the trip up the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps - this time with Punchy clad in a matching gray sweatshirt along with him - and of course, the “Gonna Fly Now” theme that still manages to touch the heart strings.
The abbreviated fight scenes are crisp and brutal, and yes, something primitive inside me wanted Rocky to knock the daylights out of Dixon, the complacent tawny muscled youth, even though Stallone goes out of his way not to villainize him.
But Rocky Balboa, like its excellent precursor thirty years ago, is not about winning, but will, not so much about throwing a punch as having the guts to take one. And in the long run, isn’t that really what life is all about?
True to his humility and his economy of words, Rocky refuses to recommend a special dish at Adrian’s, the restaurant he has named after his much loved wife. “It’s all edible,” he says.
So I would imagine, that leaves us with a wide range of Italian fare to cook up ringside. What pops to mind first, is a delicious Italian beef sandwich, made with paper-thin beef, tender sautéed green peppers, and plenty of natural juice soaked up in the fresh Italian loaf that cradles it. Okay, it hails from Chicago, but even the boys from Philly couldn’t resist this one.
“Yo, Adrian. I think you’re gonna like it.”
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon onion salt
3 cups water
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 bay leaf
1 (0.70 ounce) package Italian salad dressing mix
5 lbs rump roast
In a medium saucepan over medium high heat, combine the water, salt, ground black pepper, oregano, basil, onion salt, parsley, garlic powder, bay leaf and salad dressing mix.
Stir well and bring just to a boil.
Place roast in a slow cooker and pour mixture over the roast.
Cover and cook on low setting for 10 to 12 hours OR high setting for 4 to 5 hours.
Remove bay leaf and shred meat with a fork.
Serve on Italian Rolls.
Recipe Source: Uncle Phaedrus, Finder of Lost Recipes