Thursday, June 28, 2012

Film Review: ROCKY IV (1985, Sylvester Stallone)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 91 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Sylvester Stallone, Brigitte Nielsen (RED SONJA, COBRA), Talia Shire (THE GODFATHER, OLD BOYFRIENDS), Burt Young (CHINATOWN, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA), Dolph Lundgren (UNIVERSAL SOLDIER, MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE), Carl Weathers (PREDATOR, ACTION JACKSON), Tony Burton (THE SHINING, THE BLACK GODFATHER), James Brown as "The Godfather of Soul."  Mr. T and Burgess Meredith in archival footage.  Featuring the song "Double or Nothing," by Kenny Loggins.
Best one-liner: "Get ready for the next world war."

ROCKY IV.  The Cannon Film that never was.  That's sort of my thesis statement, anyway.  And it fits– it's closer to COBRA in every regard than it is to ROCKY I or II.  Written and directed by The Stallion himself, it is a pure, uncut, and punch-blasting rumination on the Cold War, probably the best since FAIL-SAFE or THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD.  At least it's the best one that co-stars Carl Weathers.    

Anyway, this movie's been discussed to death by plenty of others, but I'd like to offer my own humble observations into the mix.  So let's look at a few of the little things I like best about ROCKY IV.  What the hell.

#1.  Vanity plates.  If you recall, Marion "Cobra" Cobretti had one:  "AWESOM 50."  Rocky Balboa's is "SOTHPAW," because he's left-handed.  

Now, here's my question:  would "SOUTHPAW" not fit, or does "SOTHPAW" represent one of Rocky's poignant (but mostly hilarious) battles with literacy?  Or does it represent a member of the production's poignant battle with literacy?  The character of Rocky has changed so much by this time, however (he's basically 'Cobra,' now as I've mentioned), that the literacy Public Service Announcement from ROCKY II seems long-forgotten.  

#2.  Dolph Lundgren.
Where everyone else has put forth their own thoughts on "If he dies, he dies" and "I MUST BREAK YOU!," etc., etc., I'd like to draw some attention to Dolph's flattened coiffure, and the fact that he was dating Grace Jones at the time (after starting off as her bodyguard).  

He's such a blank, one-dimensional villain, that he might as well be a live action video game boss.  So given this less-than-rich source material, what did Dolph infuse his performance with?  Allow me to float the idea that Ivan Drago– "I MUST BREAK YOU," haircut, killer punches, and all– could very well be based on Grace "Queen Bitch Jungle Mother of New York" Jones.  At least I hope.

#3.  Also, I love that Rocky puts a little pin-up of Drago on his bureau mirror, FOR THE SOLE PURPOSE OF CRUMPLING IT LATER.

#4.  The bizarre editing.
There's montage after montage here, and I'll use one in particular as an example.  Rocky hops into his car, revs the engine, and drives into the dark, dark night, mourning times gone by, and meditating upon the existential menace of Ivan Drago.  We get Lynchian flashes of Drago, starkly lit against the darkness. We flash sporadically between shots of Drago and the car, as if there's an absolute madman in the edit room.  It made me think of the insanely edited montages in COBRA (where it was flashes of the axe-wielding gang instead of Ivan Drago!), which got me thinking.  While both movies do have co-editor Don Zimmerman in common, I get the idea that Stallone himself– being the auteur, and all– was in the edit-room, micro-managing the hell out of all of it and preserving his vision.  Which conjures a second question:  was he 'in character' as Rocky when he did it?

#5.  Apollo Creed's entrance.  
I love Carl Weathers.
Getting to see him prance about in an Uncle Sam costume in front of a papier-mache bull while Fosse dancers and showgirls alike cavort on a stage with fire and glitter and James Brown–
–yes, I said James Brown–  well, in short, it's something to behold.  Which leads me to– *spoiler alert*

#6.  Apollo Creed's death.
You know, I hate to see Carl Weathers go.  And he's giving it his all in this scene.  Then there's Stallone, throwing a towel in slow motion and doing that one kind of sad, kind of dazed, mouth-agape look that he does when he's required to show emotion.  Let's just say that if I were a lot drunker and 12 years old, this scene could have been imbued with a tragic beauty.

#7.  You know what would be cooler than Rocky climbing the steps at the Philadelphia Art Museum and raising his fists in triumph?

How'd he get up there anyway?  I don't see any grappling hooks or anything.  Also– maybe this is where Stallone got the inspiration for CLIFFHANGER?

#8. Brigitte Nielsen.
Again, this should be an honorary Cannon Film.  First Stallone (OVER THE TOP, COBRA), then Dolph (MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE), and now Brigitte Nielsen (COBRA).  She's sort of a stock Communist villain here, which means she mostly delivers icy stares punctuated by the occasional asshole sneer.  She's not too bad– but then again, she's not given the chance to pose and lark about with high-fashion robots.  Which is sort of sad, I think.  Nope, there's not even a single robot in sight.  No robots here.  None at all.

#9.  The Robot.

Had you going for a second there, didn't I?  Of course there's a robot.  He wrote 'em into COBRA for a reason, too.  What that reason was, I'll suspect we'll never know, though I can't help but wonder if it involved the mad typing of deadline frenzy as Sly hid in the basement from Brigitte Nielsen and imagined a better life: one with more robots.  Anyway, Stallone gave birth to SICO the Robot, who makes his first appearance as a birthday present from Rocky to Paulie (Burt Young).  SICO makes some gender shifts throughout (with the intent, I imagine, of eliciting laffs), delivers cakes, dances in the driveway, offers telephones, cleans up the aftermath of Redi-Whip shenanigans, and roots for the USA in international sporting events.  I can't even begin to describe how oddly out-of-place this feels in a ROCKY movie.  But I guess robots were the "new normal" for ROCKY movies in 1985.  SICO reminds me a little more of BB in DEADLY FRIEND than Johnny 5 in SHORT CIRCUIT or R2-D2 as it were, if we're talking marketable movie robots of the era here.  But that didn't stop him from touring with James Brown throughout the 80s.  I did a real-life spit-take when I read that.  Apparently SICO had his own Screen Actors' Guild card, too.  Pretty terrific.  Here's a video of SICO's first appearance:
HAPPY-BIRTH-DAY-PAUL-IE.  I love how quickly and stiltedly he says that line, and how it matches rhythmically with the awesome synth music.  And SICO is not some gimmicky, throwaway moment– he becomes a bona fide supporting character.  Plus, there's the line, "Yo, can you turn your robot down, please?"

#10.  Gorbachev slow clap.  So it's the end of the film, and Rocky is giving an inspirational speech about East-West relations.  There's already been a Gorbachev look-a-like (minus the birthmark) present in the arena, and I was struck with the thought that the only thing that could make this scene better is if Gorbachev nods his head in appreciation, slowly comes to his feet, claps once, claps twice, claps a third time, and then legitimately starts a barrage of clapping and nodding his head in a slow burn of enthusiasm, prompting everyone else to start clapping and nodding their heads in appreciation of Rocky's Philly-streets wisdom.


Amen, Rocky, Amen!  Four Berlin Wall-felling stars.

-Sean Gill

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Further Praise for SYMPHONY OF SHADOWS

Photo by Michael Blase.
Graphic Design by Sean Gill.
A few more  press responses to SYMPHONY OF SHADOWS (a description of which can be found here):

Flavorpill says:  "[SYMPHONY OF SHADOWS] depicts two familiar worlds– the workplace and dreams– only this symphony in shadows is far more exhilarating and terrifying than the norm or even Freud... Klein's Sleeper and her pesky Shadows move gracefully through the realms of modern dance, burlesque, gymnastics, and Romantic-era ballet.  The erotic dreams may be too much for the delicate heroine, but they are stunning stage pictures that are a genuine and refreshing reality." 

The New York Theater Review says: "Rigorous and dangerous... I could fully relate to the experience of dreading sleep... the company of dancers, aerial acrobats, clowns, and contortionists take on many roles and costumes, each one more arresting than the last."

New York Nearsay says:  "Dive deep into the Bowery for this sexy, macabre performance... don't miss this one!" 
SYMPHONY OF SHADOWS runs for just one more weekend– more information is available here and tickets are available here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Only now does it occur to me... THELMA AND LOUISE

Only now does it occur to me...  that the highlight of THELMA AND LOUISE is not when they drive off the cliff together, nor is when they blow up the tanker–
(although, now that I mention it, it miiight be when they blow up the tanker...)

but in fact it is the subtle pleasure of watching Harvey Keitel beat Brad Pitt about the head and neck...
...with his own cowboy hat.


As I say, it's a subtle joy, and one that's amplified by the fact that Keitel isn't really given that much to do in this movie otherwise.  Though I suppose it's more than pleasant to see him exchange Geena-Davis-and-Susan-Sarandon-hunting strategies with the legendary Stephen "Ned Ryerson" Toblowsky.
As I said, it's the little things.  Also– I must say that THELMA AND LOUISE makes a fine "homoerotic, adrenaline-fueled summer movies of 1991" double-feature with POINT BREAK. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

RIP, Susan Tyrrell

It pains me to report that Susan Tyrrell has passed– one of my all-time favorite actors, and one of the most fearless, talented, and outrageous performers of her– or any other– generation.

She had a storied romance with Hervé Villechaize, performed for years a one-woman show entitled MY ROTTEN LIFE: A BITTER OPERETTA (which can be watched here), and was told by Tennessee Williams that "My favorite actors are fifty-percent male and fifty percent female.  You, my dear, are neither."  From dilapidated gin joints (FAT CITY) to the Middle Ages (FLESH + BLOOD), from teaming up with Clu Gulager (TAPEHEADS) to Michael Ironside (TALES FROM THE CRYPT), from playing a three-inch woman (BIG-TOP PEE-WEE) to a biker mama (CRY-BABY), from tendin' bar (ROCKULA) to reigning as Queen o'er the Sixth Dimension (FORBIDDEN ZONE), from Bukowski to BONANZA, she cut a swath of unmatched brilliance through cult and art and trash film alike!

Undaunted by cycles of misfortune (culminating perhaps in the amputation of her legs in 2000 as a result of a rare blood disease, thrombocythemia), she remained an outspoken, hard-drinkin', impudent, bawdy babe until the end– frequently spouting brilliant nuggets of crude wisdom on her Twitter account.  Here are just a few of her exquisite ruminations:

"For all you shit chompers out there...Eat at your own risk! Bon appetite! Love, Susu"

"Thank you my little pubes! I kiss you all in your sacred place! KISH KISH! ShuShu"

"I would so love to suck my tits (all 3 of them!), but they're on the floor past my stumps. This vision is my gift to the world!"

"Fuck and Paint, Fuck and Paint, Fuck and Paint, go to an audition, then Paint and Fuck. Ah, the good life--and that's the bitchin' truth."

"Honey, you either have to let em' drag you through the shit or EAT SHIT LIKE A MAN SON!!!!!"

"I was raised to be a bitch by a bitch who was raised by a bitch and that's the bitchin' truth!"

So eat your shit, and raise a glass to a grand old dame who sought truth in her performances– and found it; to a woman who spat in the eye of all that is holy in a world of endless filth; to a badass broad who stared into the abyss until that goddamned abyss blinked.  You are missed.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Village Voice on SYMPHONY OF SHADOWS

Photo by Michael Blase.
Graphic Design by Sean Gill.
Some excerpts from the Village Voice review of SYMPHONY OF SHADOWS (a description of the show can be found here):

"A lively and fantastical depiction of how we hide from our own issues, pushing them down in our daily lives until they have no other choice but to come after us in the night...  one of Symphony's greatest strengths  is its ability to depict a setting that's no so much unlike ours, yet one that's just cloudy enough to play with the performance's levels of reality...  a charming commentary on the pressures we hide from every day in our world– and the ones we discover with our head on the pillow."

SYMPHONY OF SHADOWS runs for one more weekend– more information is available here and tickets are available here.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Only now does it occur to me... SNAKE EYES

 Only now does it occur to me...  that Nic Cage once played Rick Santorum in SNAKE EYES, the biopic focusing on his lesser-known early career as a sleazy Atlantic City cop.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Only now does it occur to me... AGAINST THE WALL

Only now does it occur to me...  that Harry Dean Stanton must occasionally request for "singing" to be included in his contracts.  
As he broke into song, I recalled Harry Dean's hearty rendition of "Hand Me Down My Walking Cane" in STRAIGHT TIME, Harry Dean's eerie hymnals in BIG LOVE, and I'm pretty sure he sorta sings along with the radio in WILD AT HEART.  That's just off the top of my head, I'm sure there's more, but in general, I must say that I'm happy we get to see Harry Dean belt one out in every other movie.  Anyway, that minor observation was just a portal into the movie at hand: John Frankenheimer's made-for-HBO historical movie on the Attica Prison riots, AGAINST THE WALL.

And of course it wouldn't be a prison movie without Danny Trejo.  That's a major prerequisite.

There's a frightening turn by Clarence Williams III as one of the instigators of the riot.  He also played a terrifying villain in 52 PICK-UP, Frankenheimer's Cannon Films classic.
And, hey– remember Clarence was in TWIN PEAKS for a couple of episodes as an FBI Agent?  There's a whole TWIN PEAKS connection there with Harry Dean Stanton, who memorably played in FIRE WALK WITH ME.

Speaking of TWIN PEAKS– here, Harry Dean plays the father of...

Kyle McLachlan!  "Damn fine coffee!  And hot!"

So wait, if we're to believe that Agent Cooper took a demotion to "prison guard," does this take place before or after the [NEBULOUSLY PHRASED TWIN PEAKS SPOILER ALERT] 
"transformation" at the end of Season 2?


Aaaah!!  BOB!  "Through the dark of futures past, the magician longs to see.  One chants out between two worlds, fire walk with me.  I'll catch you with my death bag.  You may think I've gone insane, but I promise I will kill again!"  Indeed!

P.S.  Apologies for foisting my ludicrous pop culture crossovers onto what is a pretty serious and socially relevant flick.  Occasionally it wanders into moments worthy of an After School Special, but on the whole, it's intense, well-acted, and held together by the crisp, workmanlike direction of John Frankenheimer.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Photo by Michael Blase.  Graphic Design by Sean Gill.
More reviews of SYMPHONY OF SHADOWS (a description of which can be found here):

Backstage says:  "The world that the dancers craft is visually sumptuous. Klein's staging fills the theater from floor to ceiling, and each of the fantasy sequences allows a different dancer to perform a virtuosic set piece in one of many worlds sensuously imagined..."

Courtesan Macabre says:  "The production is an extravaganza of ballet, aerialists, musicians, surreal costumes, acrobats, burlesque and dancers telling a dark, but beautiful story...The eerie violin concerto is a sensuous score to this seamless, elaborate production.  Creator Rachel Klein started with a concept of the horrors of sleep paralysis.  She worked with co-story writer Sean Gill on how to portray the different nightmares... If you are in NYC the next few weeks, definitely make the time to enjoy this show!"

Black Book Magazine says:  "Every so often these "I've seen it all” eyes see something that flabbergasts mark this on your calendar, get a babysitter, empty the cookie jar, and if necessary kick the reluctant lover to the curb and attend the world premiere!"

SYMPHONY OF SHADOWS runs for two more weekends– more information is available here and tickets are available here.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Photo by Michael Blase.  Graphic design by Sean Gill.
A few early press responses to SYMPHONY OF SHADOWS (a description of which can be found here):

Call Me Adam says:  "A show that will stay with me for years to come! One of the best performance pieces I have seen...The extremely talented cast of performers engulfed the audience with their artistry."

Theater for Nerds says: "Eye-catching and exciting, with a very wide range of performance styles... spider women will swing over the stage, ballerinas dance en pointe, and busty burlesque queens strut in skimpy outfits...  the cast (A whopping 25 of ‘em) is quite talented and athletic."

SYMPHONY OF SHADOWS runs for two more weekends– more information is available here and tickets are available here.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Only now does it occur to me... DR. NO

Only now does it occur to me...  that James Bond values fine booze above human life, or perhaps even humanity itself.  Now, on some level I'd always known this, but I'd forgotten about this wonderful little exchange in the midst of DR. NO.

It's the scene in the film where Bond dines with the mastermind-antagonist at his underwater nuclear installation and they test their intellects against one another, invariably setting up the final act.  At Bond's suggestion, the Bond-girl of the moment, Ursula Andress, is removed so they can have a proper tête-á-tête.

Dr. No himself remarks, rather cavalierly I might add, that "I'm sure the guards will amuse her," insinuating gang rape.  Bond leaps into action– it's time for ass-kicking and escape!

He grabs a bottle of champagne and is about to rain holy hell upon the henchmen when Dr. No reminds Bond what's at stake:

"It's a Dom Perignon '55 . It'd be a pity to break it."

At which point, Bond, realizing that it'd be a crime to waste booze of such pedigree, calmly places it back inside its ice bucket, careful not to bruise the exquisite hooch.

Bond then sits back down and says, lamely:

"I prefer the '53 myself."  Ah, what a shallow attempt to save face, Mr. Bond!  If the '53 is sooo superior, why didn't you bust some heads with that piddling '55?  In my opinion, Bond would have treated any alcohol with greater consideration than human life, even if the alcohol in question were... Thunderbird.  (Which begs the question of how much more excellent THUNDERBALL would have been had it been entitled THUNDERBIRD.)

But let's go back with a magnifying glass to the very moment when he decides to choose somebody else's booze over his gal-pal of the moment.

Look at that.  It's not a particularly difficult decision for him, but he's still a little rankled, because he has to admit the fact in front of God and Dr. No and everybody.  Even the henchman is going– 'Holy shit, seriously?!'

Good 'ole James Bond.  How about a toast:  here's to keepin' it klassy... on Krab Key.