The Italian Stallion returns to the ring for one last round. After the failure of Rocky V, fans complained about the films’ inability to provide closure to the series. Over the years, Sylvester Stallone grew dissatisfied with the tarnished reputation of that film and of the studio interference that occurred. Now assuming complete creative control, Stallone, as star, writer and director has delivered the finale fans have been waiting for.
The film opens with Rocky, now an owner of a restaurant named Adrian’s, delighting his customers in telling old war stories of life in the ring. Missing his old life, Rocky seems to be fading away like yesterdays’ heroes. When a computer game shows him beating the current boxing heavy weight champion, this awakens the fire within to prove to everyone that he still has what it takes to remain standing until the final bell.
After a series of sequels that made his character increasingly superhuman, Stallone has gone right back to the heart of the man, one of the reasons the film is called Rocky Balboa and not Rocky VI. The urban grittiness of his surroundings is shown as Rocky tries to motivate himself out of his current lethargic existence. His interaction with his son and brother-in-law, Paulie, provide genuine depth of believing in yourself and never giving up. The actors all do a fine job portraying their roles, discarding the more over the top performances that were seen in previous movies.
The fight scenes are very well staged and still maintain the energy that was seen in the first film over thirty years ago. Rocky’s gruelling training sessions are well cut to Bill Conti’s still rousing score. Stallone’s low key direction helps to show how a legend stops living in the past, whilst trying to fight for a future. Fans of the series should get a kick out of seeing familiar faces, while others can still enjoy an inspirational tale that doesn’t descend too much into schmaltz. That Rocky can still inspire is a testament to his longevity and the emotional as well as physical strengths.
Credit goes to Sylvester Stallone for finally delivering a well rounded conclusion to the saga. When he pushes himself, he can be a good actor and still has the presence of mind to deliver a well scripted tale that restores Rocky as a true cinematic champion.
Rating out of 10: 7
The art of magic has mystified audiences for centuries. The sleight of hand trickery is meant to transfix people under the magician’s spell. The illusion of the spell is what drives this film set in early 20th Century Vienna. Using early film techniques, Director Neil Burger shows off the dark and twisting streets of the European city as his main character, Eisenheim The Illusionist, casts his brand of blinding magic over its’ inhabitants.
Eisenheim (Edward Norton) and his girlfriend Sophie (Jessica Biel) are split by her parents leading to him leaving the village for pastures anew. Years later they meet again, when he performs his popular stage act in Vienna. Sophie is now the fiancée of Crown Prince Leopold, but this doesn’t stop both of them picking up their love affair. With the Prince’s aide Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti) watching their every move, it’s up to Eisenheim to use his illusory mastertouch to vanish with his love and expose the evil deeds of the corrupt Crown Prince.
This entertaining magical mystery takes its time to conjure up the clues for the viewer to solve. Following the characters’ threads, audiences are able to watch the spellbinding mind games that Eisenheim uses on his enemies. The battle of wits between him and the Inspector becomes intensified as the Inspector becomes determined to solve Eisnheim’s riddles - much to the exasperation of the Crown Prince who wants to use less otherworldly methods to dispatch his prey.
The acting quartet of the leads all help to create the “olde worlde” mood that pervades. Edward Norton infuses his role with the same intensity as previous performances in a rare good guy role. On the flipside is Paul Giamatti playing a bad guy for a change - and relishing every snarling line given. Jessica Biel and Rufus Sewell, as the Crown Prince, show a good range as characters providing the catalyst for the films’ story. The location is its own character with darkly lit buildings towering over the characters’ lives resulting in some quite unusual photography. The haunting Philip Glass score adds immeasurably to the films’ mood.
Despite some slow patches towards the end, The Illusionist mostly manages to maintain its engaging story. Magic tricks are always fascinating to watch, and coupled with an equally mysterious story, helps makes this an interesting excursion into the dark arts.
Rating out of 10: 6