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


Anonymous said...

That robot always gets me. One of those "WTF" moments of cinema.

Sean Gill said...

I love it. And having just seen ROCKY V, expect a brief, robot-related follow-up in my forthcoming review of that!

Maurice Mitchell said...

Sean, for some reason the 80s robot always stands out to me. Everyone was convinced robots were coming soon. 20 years later all we have is the Roomba. LOL

Sean Gill said...

Indeed. It's 2012– where is my personal SICO to say HAP-PY BIRTH-DAY to me and serve me cakes and such?!

Anonymous said...

nice posting.. thanks for sharing.