I have a lot of family, friends and aquaintences who teach. This blog post, from Jim Van Pelt (SF and Horror author, high school teacher) is exceptional.

The Rocky Balboa movies

I am a sucker for boxing movies with formula plots.

As a whole the Rocky movies are really nothing special, but in their way, they are at least as good, and at moments better, than your typical run of the mill (to use a cliche to describe the cliched) action movies.

I decided to watch all six movies. It had been a long time since I’d seen some of them, and two I had not seen at all. One through three I saw in movie theaters. Four on broadcast TV, shortened for time and content. Five I’d managed to avoid except for the very ending which I’d stumbled across three or four times on lazy Sunday afternoons. I wanted to watch “Rocky Balboa” in the theater, but failed to find the time.

Over the span of a month I rented all six on DVD.

I was surprised that “Rocky” has survived the test of time. The things that date it–clothes, cars, etc.–give it the feel of a recounting of an important event in Philadelphia’s past. The honest ending is still something modern studios should pay attention to.

“Rocky II” still feels like a typical Hollywood sequel. I have always felt that it was the movie that the studio would have insisted that “Rocky” be if Stallone had been on their radar as a box office draw when it was made. I don’t like the “hollywood” ending. Still, I like the movie. Mostly because of the character moments. Even the minor characters grow and change. Burgess Meredith’s Mickey is perhaps my most favorite supporting character.

What a romp “Rocky III” was. Still it is the same formula as the first two movies, just upside down and squished together. Clubber Lang is the Rocky-like character, and Rocky is Creed-ish. Still, it works for me, again because of character growth. I liked getting to see Apollo Creed being more than a limited dimension foil.

“Rocky IV” would not have worked for me if I hadn’t started to like Creed. During this viewing, I finally got to see scenes that get cut when the film is shown on TV. And yes, this is a revenge movie. Yes, it is a rehashing of the plot elements of “Rocky III” taken to an international scale. Yes, the ending was hokey. But… But sometimes I can’t help and wonder if “Rocky IV” put a spider crack in a wall that East Berliners tore down seven years later.

I was told by a friend to avoid “Rocky V”, and I did. I am glad I did. If I had seen it when if first came out I know it would have been a bitter experience. What really saddens me is the potential this movie has. It could have been so much more. The first part of the movie had me hooked. Here was a punch-drunk Rocky, wanting desperately to be a good father and husband, but not understanding how to do that. Stallone played the dementia astonishingly well. Talia Shire was so wonderful. I could really see Adrian struggling with walking the thin line between defending her husband from those who would take advantage of him, and giving her husband the freedom to feel useful; to feel like himself. She did not deserve to be nominated for the Razzie award. About halfway in the movie simply broke. Parts of it seem disjointed. The ending does not fit. Not at all. I see the great movie this could have been, and shake my head.

“Rocky Balboa” was outstanding. It was clear that a lot of effort went into the script. Characterization again was at the forefront, and Stallone even used some of the broken things from “Rocky V” and in doing so gave more credence to, strengthened and (somewhat) fixed the earlier movie. Paulie finally gets his moment to grow and Burt Young portrayed it so well. Elements from all five previous movies were used to define Rocky. There are moments when he is still obviously battling the dementia from getting hammered by Clubber Lang and Drago, but there are also moments where he is still the joke telling, bashful, good-hearted man introduced to us in the very first movie. The climax and denouement worked well. I really like this movie.

As a whole, the series does have some shortcomings. There is not much wiggle room when you have a plot device that allows only two outcomes. Win, lose. On, off. Yes, no. In these movies the moments that worked the best were when “maybe” was introduced or explored. Maybe Rocky will not go the distance. Maybe Rocky is more than a pug. Maybe Rocky has an inflated ego. Maybe Rocky is willing to die. Maybe Rocky can’t avoid who he really is. Maybe Rocky is going to be just fine.

I am glad I did this exercise in film watching. I just might do the same thing with the Rambo series…


Cross Canadian Ragweed

This is not a post about an invasive plant species.

Cross Canadian Ragweed is a southern rock band out of Oklahoma. They have been around since the mid-1990s but did not hit my radar until a few years ago. I like ’em.
I picked a song from their 2002 eponymous album to share. I hope you like it.

Brooklyn Kid

90% Sure; 100% Wrong

I had another good trail building experience last week. I am still amazed at how much work a few folks can do when they set their minds to it. I have been helping to build hiking trails for the Buckeye Trail Association for over two years now. And I am still learning tricks, new techniques and how to deal with the diversity of mother nature.
One thing that I did early on while building trail was to skip over an area that I was not sure how to handle. Originally I skipped over things like deep cuts into the hillside, extremely large buried rocks, and the like (I jump in and tackle those things solo now). I’d return to the spot later when I would see a more experienced worker at that section, or I’d study it at the end of the day to see what was done. It is a good way to learn.
I passed over a gully this time. Before moving on I paused and tried to figure out what I would do if I didn’t have any help. My plan was close to what the finished trail was. The only difference, and it is a big one, was to build a rock base that the water can trickle through, and build up the tread with dirt hauled in from a different spot. I would have built up the dirt and left a small gap for the water to run through.
This was a hard week, and as one of the two workers under 60 that stayed the entire week, I was pressed into some of the more strenuous tasks. I volunteered to move rock from two sections that were nothing but rock slides. At the end of the week we did a rough calculation and determined that those of us working on the rock slides had moved approximately 30 tons of sandstone. Some rocks were over 100 pounds each, easy.
Inside one of these rocky sections there were still small trees to grub out. With all the stone, you have to dig out the rocks before you can cut the roots or you will nick the cutting blade of the mattock or pulaski. I was 90% sure that I had all the rocks removed from around a particular root. That is about the best you can get without totally digging the root out and have nothing but air around it. Well I was 100% wrong. There was a stone pretending to be dirt directly under the root. The shock of hitting it with a powerful chop jarred the elbow on my right arm. It really hurt. Luckily I am a fairly coordinated person, and I was able to switch to using the mattock southpaw for the rest of the day. The elbow is back completely to normal now. Lesson learned? In a rocky section 90% sure is not good enough when swinging a chopping tool with all your strength.

Two other events made the trail building week special. Doris came over to the Pike Lake campsite and shared dinner with the workers one evening. She seemed to have a lot of fun. Then on the last workday, Chris joined me in trail building. He worked hard and even got a blister. I am sure that it was an eye opener for him.

Building hiking trail is hard work, but it is so very rewarding. AND my back is doing even better now.

Investigating Narvik

It is amazing the things you can find when doing research via the internet. Even though I am writing fantasy/science fiction stories, I feel that getting basic facts correct is very, very important. It adds to the realism, the believability of the story.

I am working on a story based in the “Thistlethwart” world I created. This story takes place in the fjords of northern Norway known as the Nordland–specifically the town of Narvik. Early in WWII Narvik was a key port and also her fjord was a key shipping lane needed by the Germans. The Norwegian army, aided the British and her allies, gave Germany its first land battle defeats of WWII. When the allies had to pull out of Norway in early June 1940, Germany retaliated against the citizens of Narvik by bombing the sleepy fishing village.

I wanted to get a feel for the geography to make sure my descriptions of the fjords and woodlands and mountains were correct. I came across a YouTube video of modern day Narvik and the opening had just the kind of visuals I needed.

However, the information in the video sucked me in. The citizens of Narvik have been attacked again. This time this time by the sub-prime thieves of Wall Street. If you are interested, take a look. I really need to do a blog entry about my reaction to this entire sub-prime kleptomania.

Because of the stories I have written, and am writing, for the “Thistlethwart” alternate history, I have done a lot of investigation into some of the lesser know events surrounding WWII that were not propagandized or popularized. Most US citizens don’t even know that Norway was a major enemy of the Nazis early in WWII, and that is a damn shame. The WWII Battle for Norway has intrigued me since I was a small child and read the book “Snow Treasure” by Marie McSwigan. I find that I am exited to be writing a story based in that beautiful part of our world.

Taking a Big Step

I just took a big step with my writing. I just submitted a story that I wrote back in 1996. I am not holding my breath. I revised it a bit and sent it off because it fit the market. Submitting has always been hard for me mainly because I don’t trust that a story I have written is good enough, or finished, or one of many other excuses. It is a done deal. It is out the door. Now the waiting begins. I’ll distract myself by writing more… yeah, like that will work.