'Rocky Balboa' and 'The Good Shepherd'

"Rocky Balboa" is the perfect ending to the long saga that is the "Rocky" series, and if it's Stallone's last big film, it is also a fitting farewell to the action titan.

Meanwhile, Hollywood's next generation action superstar, the everyman Matt Damon, opens with "The Good Shepherd" this Friday, pitting the old against the new for a Christmas weekend showdown.

And where Stallone made his bones with brute force, Damon does it by thinking.

Unfortunately, there's entirely too much thinking going on in Robert De Niro's latest directorial effort, and not enough action. Watching "The Good Shepherd" is akin to listening to your monotonous history professor drone on and on about the last century.

In fact, De Niro, who also appears in a small role in the film, along with other really good actors like Angelina Jolie and Billy Crudup, splices in real footage from some of U.S. history's biggest events.

Aside from shedding light on the Cold War, the film also shows that it is indeed possible for Angelina Jolie to play an undesirable woman. De Niro's direction of her performance and her dowdy alcoholic character make it entirely plausible for her husband to be a cold, ignoring partner.

Being overseas as a covert operator doesn't do much for the relationship anyway, but in the character of Edward Wilson, Damon conveys a single-minded focus on the task at hand: America.

In the end, we find that Wilson will sacrifice absolutely everything for the love of country, and honestly, I'm not sure if De Niro meant for "The Good Shepherd" to be an indictment of the CIA or an endorsement.

One thing it is not is sexy, and sadly, there's really not much to be jazzed about in this film.

"Balboa," on the other hand will appeal to those longtime "Rocky" fans, but its sentiment may conjure comparisons to Stallone's real life. In other words, this could be Stallone's own last hurrah.

Stallone, who wrote and directed "Balboa," uses real-life HBO and ESPN analysts to create a aura of reality so believable you'll find yourself rooting and cheering during the boxing match, a 10-round bout between Rocky and Mason "The Line" Dixon, played by real-life boxer Antonio Tarver.

The series comes full circle when the reigning heavyweight champ puts on exhibition by giving the Philadelphia southpaw a shot in the ring.

Sounds familiar, right? Except this time Rocky isn't some unknown, but an over-the-hill champ who still has "stuff in the basement."

That isn't the only similarity to the Oscar-winning original. This Rocky is back on the streets, no longer destitute, but someone who remembers where he came from and embraces it with all of his being.

He has a restaurant named after his late wife Adrian, where he feeds an old boxer for free, and employs a neighborhood girl as his hostess to help her out of tough times as a bartender in a seedy part of town.

I loved "Rocky Balboa." When his adult son complains that living in his famous father's shadow is the reason for his own mediocrity, Stallone delivers a blistering dose of tough love that should be written in stone and posted in every high school, college and in the halls of every athletic and work institution in America.

The message: take responsibility for your own life and stop blaming everybody for your problems.

When Rocky waves to the crowd in the arena, you can't help but think this is farewell for Stallone as well, and if it is, he's going out just like he came in ... on top.

Keeping It Reel?

"The Good Shepherd" is something you can wait to see, but "Rocky Balboa" is a must-see right now. Go. What are you still doing here?

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