Saturday, October 25, 2008

Stallone: A Career Retrospective: Part I

Stallone. Pathetic hack or misunderstood genius? Wait... can't he be both? Stallone has always held a special place in my heart. His was a talent that could've reached the heavens, but instead he chose to waste it on films like Rhinestone. But still, I think he's a wonderfully charming and talented filmmaker who's deserving of a closer examination. And since nobody else is going to do it, I guess I have to.

So here is my comprehensive look at the entire film oeuvre of one Sylvester Gardenzio Stallone. We're in for a long ride.

Oh, and I'm going to begin with Rocky, because that was Stallone's first breakout film. Everything he did before that he did because he was young and starving. I can't judge a man for what he did because he had to.

The first Rocky is a masterpiece. This is one of my top five favorite movies of all time. Maybe it's even my favorite movie of all time, I dunno. All I know is that it's brilliant and absolutely deserving of all of the fame and praise it has received since it was first released. It has also been unfairly maligned, but mostly because it has been parodied so many times that most people have forgotten which was the film and which was the parody. But it's still a wonderful, charming, funny, and dare I say inspiring film that holds up to this day.

Stallone's follow-up to Rocky was a period piece based loosely on the life story of... Jimmy Hoffa. It's an interesting and well done film, and definitely a product of the auteur-driven films of the 70s. And as great as Stallone was in Rocky, he was even better here, giving a far more interesting and nuanced performance. Had he kept making films like this, he could've become the next Robert DeNiro. And, yes, I actually believe that. But then, who would've starred in Demolition Man? But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Paradise Alley

In the interest of full disclosure, I decided to list this movie even though I actually haven't seen it. But it exists if you're interested, but good luck finding a copy. I sure haven't. This is also Stallone's directorial debut.

Rocky II
After Rocky became a world-shaking smash hit, it was inevitable that there would be a sequel. And the premise is simple: What if we completely remade the first film, but had Rocky win in the end?! It's a little strange. That'd be like if they made a sequel to Titanic where they made a newer, bigger ship that didn't sink this time. What would be the point? But, silly premises aside, this is a fantastically entertaining movie. It's funny while still being sweet and uplifting, and it was the last Rocky film that actually felt genuine, and not like a parody of itself.

Another lost Stallone film that nobody's heard of. Stallone and Billy Dee Williams are cops on the hunt for terrorist Rutger Hauer. And if that does't sound like an awesome film, I don't know what planet you're from. This is just a classic late 70s/early 80s style cop film. This is just a really good film and Stallone is really good in it. How come nobody ever remembers his good films?

Another film made back when Stallone was young and powerful and made interesting acting choices. Ok, get this... Stallone, Michael Caine, and Pele (!!) play Allied POWs in a Nazi prisoner of war camp, and they're only chance to excape is by agreeing to play a soccer game against the Nazis. It sounds dumb, but it's fantastic.

Rocky III
Remember that Titanic 2 analogy I made above? Ok, now imagine in Titanic 3 if they changed the ship to an Aircraft Carrier and shipped it off to the Persian Gulf to kill Saddam Hussein? That would be pretty dumb, right? Well, if you haven't seen Rocky III, you don't know what dumb is. This has to be one of the silliest, most over the top, dumbest movies ever made. In fact, this movie is more over the top than Over the Top, but we'll get to that one too. Oh, and this movie is also awesome. This is dumb and silly and a complete betrayal of everthing the original Rocky stood for, but it's also one of the most entertaining movies ever made. I love it.

First Blood
The history of the Rambo movies is very similar to the history of the Rocky movies. Both are world famous and widely ridiculed for being cartoonish pieces of fluff that glorify violence... and rightly so! But they are also notable for the fact that the first films in each series are actually brilliant pieces of filmmaking. If you can believe it, First Blood is actually anti-violence in a way. The violence is almost metaphorical for its story about a Vietnam vet's attempt to reaclimate himself to society. Yeah, that's right! This is a great movie and an absolute classic of the action genre.

Staying Alive
The less said about this film the better. This is notable for being the first film Stallone directed that wasn't meant to be a vehicle for his acting. In fact, he only really has a brief cameo. This was a sequel to Saturday Night Fever that is even more ridiculous and removed from its predecessor as Rocky II and III were from the first Rocky. But where those films were great fun, this is a huge piece of garbage. This is one of the worst films I've ever seen. This is probably the worst film of his career, in fact, and as you'll see as we go on, that's saying a lot.

Oh god.

I guess I can't blame him for making this movie. Afterall, if I was the biggest star in the world and somebody offered me a chance to make a romantic comedy where I get to act and sing opposite Dolly Parton, I wouldn't turn it down. But still, a musical comedy starring Sylvester Stallone and Dolly Parton? Who thought this was a good idea? They aren't exactly Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds, or even Jim Nabors and Burt Reynolds.

This has gone down in history as a joke, but it's interesting to note that this was actually the first misstep of Stallone's career. This was his first truly bad film and his first flop. Everybody makes mistakes, but what makes this mistake so interesting, was how colossally huge it was. Anyway, I have said far too much about a film that really needs to speak for itself:

Rambo: First Blood Part II
Perhaps one good thing came out of Stallone's experience making Rhinestone: He ran back to playing one of his most lucrative characters of all time: John J. Rambo. Only the real fans remember First Blood, this is the film that cemented Rambo - maybe even Stallone himself - as a world-wide phenomenon. This is one of the biggest, most popular films of all time. This film may have helped Reagan become the most popular president of all time. This film may have ended the Cold War. This film... well.. now this is a film.

It's also really dumb and actually doesn't hold up all that well. It has a reputation as a mindless action film, but it's actually really talky and kind of boring in places. It's also really strange. Remember how Stallone remade Rocky so Rocky would win the second time around? Well, now Stallone is remaking the Vietnam War so America can finally win. It's just a strange concept, considering how the first Rambo film dealt with how war effects a man and makes it almost impossible for him to return to a civilized society.

But, whatever. This film is awesome.

Rocky IV
Oh wait... did I say Rambo ended the Cold War? I meant to say, the one-two-punch of Rambo and Rocky IV ended the Cold War. Think about it: Both of these films came out in 1985, which was the year Reagan and Gorbachev had their first summit in Geneva, then after that Perestroika came into effect, with the Berlin Wall finally coming down in 1989. All because of Sylvester Stallone.

But we were talking about Rocky IV. This is the most entertaining movie ever made. It's also really, really stupid. Sensing a pattern here? Rocky IV is almost an art movie in that it is told almost entirely in montages. Seriously, every major plot point or epiphany in this movie is conveyed by a long montage. And they're awesome. Just check this out:

No wait... this one is better:

Oh, but here's my favorite scene. It's not actually a montage, but the way the music carries the scene makes it seem like it's a music video. Forgive the Russian. It's the only clip of the scene I could find:

I don't even want to talk about this movie. It just makes me feel dirty. Stallone has made a lot of terrible films over the course of his career, but this is the only one that's actually reprehensible. This is a film for all of the people who didn't think Rambo was violent and gory enough. This movie actually used to give me nightmares. As an adult, I still wake up sometimes in the middle of the night, covered in sweat, with my heart beating in my chest, being paranoid about something that's wrong in the world. But then I remember that I sat through Cobra when I was a kid, and I try my best to calm down and fall back to sleep.

This is just a dirty, slimy, vile little film. It's Stallone's attempt at a Dirty Harry style, renegade cop who plays by his own rules, kind of film, but in the end, it's just about a cop who kills people and a criminal gang who are so evil they make Nazis look tame by comparison.

Ok, you need another reason to skip this movie? Stallone's character is nicknamed Cobra because his real name is Marion Cobretti. Ugh.

Please, for the love of all that's good and holy in this world, do not let your kids see Cobra.

I need to go take a shower and take a break. I'll post part 2 later on.


tep said...

rhinestone was a classic!

James said...

Inspired work DW. I agree completely about the Rambo II-Rocky IV combination winning the Cold War. As soon as it became "no holds barred from Moscow" and "The Russian is cut," it was all over for the USSR. It's dinner time now, so, "Come! We go!"