Here’s The Trailer For Rambo: Last Blood!


So, today, twitter is all abuzz over the trailer for the upcoming Rambo film.  Apparently this film, which is called Rambo: Last Blood, will be the final time that Sylvester Stallone will ever play John Rambo and it features Rambo coming home and fighting a Mexican drug cartel.

Look, to be honest, this trailer pretty much looks like a typical Sylvester Stallone trailer.  It could just as easily be the trailer for another Expendables film, except for the fact that Rambo has become an iconic figure in the annals of cinematic mayhem.  Just the mere mention of the name gets certain filmgoers excited.

Of course, I watched First Blood earlier this year and I was surprised to discover just how good a film it actually was.  And, of course, action film enthusiasts are still talking about that scene in Rambo where the title character kills the population of a small country in a matter of minutes.  So, I get why people are excited about this trailer but, at the same time, it still feels a bit generic.

This trailer also features Old Town Road because God knows it’s not like that song is currently overplayed or anything.

There’s one thing that I do think we definitely have to give Sylvester Stallone credit for.  I’ve read that, during the first part of his stardom, Stallone wasn’t always pleasant to work with and that he sometimes resented being thought of as just being an action star.  But, during the twilight of his career, it would appear that Stallone has definitely made a sort of peace with the roles that define him.  He understands what he does well and he tries to give his audience what they came for.  I’m predicting that, when Stallone’s 90 years old, he’ll probably still be making movies where he beats up terrorists.  By this point, of course, the terrorists might be attacking a retirement home but Stallone’s going to be there to put them in their place.

And we’ll all be better off for it!

Anyway, here’s the trailer:

Music Video of the Day: Peace In Our Life by Frank Stallone (1985, dir by ????)


On a whim, after I finished my review of First Blood, I decided to check to see if there were any music videos featuring Sylvester Stallone’s brother, Frank Stallone.

Lo and behold, from 1985’s Rambo: First Blood Part II.

Enjoy!

Film Review: First Blood (dir by Ted Kotcheff)


First Blood was not what I was expecting.

From everything that I had heard and seen over the past few years, I was under the impression that this 1982 film was the ultimate in mindless action.  I figured that the film was basically just two hours of Sylvester Stallone hiding in the woods, firing a machine gun, riding a motorcycle, and eventually blowing up a small, bigoted town.  It wasn’t a film that I was in any particular hurry to experience but I knew it was one that I would have to watch eventually, if just because of how many filmmakers have cited the film as an influence.  On Sunday night, First Blood aired on the Sundance Channel and, for the first time, I watched it all the way through.  What I discovered is that there’s a lot more to First Blood than I had been led to believe.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  It’s definitely an action film.  Stallone spends a lot of time hiding in the woods, firing a machine gun, riding a motorcycle, and blowing up a town.  Somewhat improbably, only one character actually dies over the course of the film, though quite a few end up getting maimed and wounded.  There’s even a close-up of Stallone stitching up a nasty gash on his arm, which totally made me cringe.  But, even with all the gunfire and explosions, First Blood has more on its mind than just carnage.  It’s a brooding film, one that angrily takes America to task for its treatment of its veterans and outsiders.  In its way, it’s an action film with a heart.

Sylvester Stallone plays John Rambo, a troubled drifter who is still haunted by not only his experiences in Vietnam but also by the feeling that his own country doesn’t want him around.  When Rambo, with his unkempt hair and wearing a jacket with an American flag patch prominently displayed, shows up in the town of Hope, Washington, it’s not to cause trouble.  He just wants to see an old friend, a man with whom he served.  Unfortunately, his friend has died.  The man’s bitter mother says that he got cancer from “that orange stuff they were spraying around.”  Even though the war is over, it’s still killing the only people who can possibly understand how Rambo feels about both his service and his uncertain place in American society.

As Rambo walks through the town, he’s spotted by Sheriff Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy).  Rambo just wants to get a cup of coffee and relax.  Teasle, however, views Rambo as being a stranger and, therefore, a possible threat to his town.  Teasle wants Rambo to leave.  Rambo wants to know why, after everything that he’s sacrificed for his country, he’s being told that he needs to get a haircut.  From this simple conflict — a misunderstanding really, as Teasle doesn’t know that Rambo is mourning the death of his friend and instead interprets Rambo’s sullen silence as being a threat — an undeclared and unwinnable war soon breaks out.

Technically, Teasle is the film’s villain.  He’s the one who arrests Rambo for vagrancy.  It’s his abusive deputies who cause Rambo to have the flashbacks that lead to him breaking out of jail.  It’s Teasle’s arrogance that leads to him ignore the warnings of Rambo’s former commanding office, Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna).  And yet, Teasle himself is never portrayed as being an evil man.  Instead, Dennehy plays Teasle as being well-meaning but stubborn.  It’s been written that the most compelling villains are the ones who don’t realize that they’re the villain and that’s certainly true in Teasle’s case.  Teasle’s job is to protect the town and its citizens and that’s what he’s determined to do.  If his actions become extreme, it has less to do with any deliberate cruelty on his part and everything to do with the fact that, towards the end of the film, he finally figures out that he’s in way over his head.

Once Rambo has disappeared into the woods and maimed (but not killed) all of Teasle’s deputies, he only has one request and that’s to be left alone.  He simply wants to stay in the woods, hunting for food and free from a society that has nothing to offer him during peacetime.  What’s interesting is that, at the start of the film, everyone wants Rambo to just disappear.  He’s a reminder of not just the turmoil of the Vietnam era but also the fact that Vietnam was the first war that America lost.  Rambo’s presence is viewed as being like an ugly scar that you wish would just fade away.  However, once Rambo does actually vanish, people won’t stop looking for him.  As opposed to the later films in the franchise, the Rambo of First Blood doesn’t want to fight anyone.  Rambo just wants to be left alone in solitude and considering the way that he’s treated by the town of Hope, it’s hard to blame him.

And so, you end up sympathizing with this John Rambo.  Even thought he’s blowing up a town during the Christmas season and there’s a few scenes where he’s kind of scary, it’s impossible not to feel that he has a right to his anger.  You find yourself wishing that the Sheriff had just left him alone or that maybe Rambo had just taken Teasle’s earlier advice and left town.  Because, as you watch the film, you know that 1) there was no good reason why any of this had to happen and 2) things probably aren’t going to end well for either John Rambo or Will Teasle.

First Blood was based on a novel that was first published in 1972.  The film spent nearly a decade in development, as various directors, screenwriters, and actors circled around the project.  At one point, First Blood was envisioned as an anti-war film that would have been directed by Sidney Lumet and which would have featured a bearded Al Pacino lurking through the wilderness and killing not only Teasle but also several deputies and national guardsmen.  When Stallone agreed to star in the film, he also rewrote the script, transforming Rambo into a sympathetic outsider who goes out of his way not to kill anyone.  The end result was an underdog story that audiences could embrace.

Seen today, it’s interesting to see how many familiar faces pop up in First Blood.  For instance, a young and really goofy-looking David Caruso pops up and totally overacts in the role of the only sympathetic deputy.  A less sympathetic deputy is played by Chris Mulkey, who would go on to play other unsympathetic characters in a huge number of movies and TV shows.  Interestingly enough, the most sadistic of the deputies was played by Jack Starrett, who directed a several classic B-moves in the 70s.  (One of Starrett’s films was The Losers, in which a bunch of bikers were sent to Vietnam to rescue an American diplomat.)

As opposed to many of the films that it subsequently inspired, First Blood holds up surprisingly well.  It may be violent but it’s violence with a heart.

Here’s The Trailer for Creed II


The first Creed was a boxing film that was so good that even a non-boxing fan like me could enjoy it!

Will the second Creed be as effective?  It’s hard to say.  Michael B. Jordan is returning.  Sylvester Stallone is returning.  You know who isn’t returning?  Ryan Coogler.  And while Jordan and Stallone were both a huge part of Creed‘s success, Ryan Coogler’s contribution — as both a director and a writer — cannot be underestimated.

Creed II is based on a screenplay by Stallone.  (Reportedly, Stallone came close to directing it as well, before hiring Steve Caple, Jr. for the job.)  This time, Adonis Creed battles the son of the man who killed his father.  Apparently, Rocky survived the illness that was threatening his life in the first Creed because he’s back and once again offering up punch-drunk advice.

Will the second Creed live up to the first?  It’s hard to say but the trailer certainly looks effective.  Creed II will be released on November 21st.  While I don’t think anyone is expecting Creed II to be an Oscar contender, the film could potentially help Michael B. Jordan’s supporting actor campaign for his role in Black Panther.  And if Creed II is a failure …. well, who knows?

We’ll see what happens!

Here’s the trailer!

Stallone Acts: Cop Land (1997, directed by James Mangold)


Garrison, New Jersey is a middle class suburb that is known as Cop Land.  Under the direction of Lt. Ray Donlan (Harvey Keitel), several NYPD cops have made their home in Garrison, financing their homes with bribes that they received from mob boss Tony Torillo (Tony Sirico).  The corrupt cops of Garrison, New Jersey live, work, and play together, secure in the knowledge that they can do whatever they want because Donlan has handpicked the sheriff.

Sheriff Freddy Heflin (Sylvester Stallone) always dreamed of being a New York cop but, as the result of diving into icy waters to save a drowning girl, Freddy is now deaf in one ear.  Even though he knows that they are all corrupt, Freddy still idolizes cops like Donlan, especially when Donlan dangles the possibility of pulling a few strings and getting Freddy an NYPD job in front of him.  The overweight and quiet Freddy spends most of his time at the local bar, where he’s the subject of constant ribbing from the “real” cops.  Among the cops, Freddy’s only real friend appears to be disgraced narcotics detective, Gary Figgis (Ray Liotta).

After Donlan’s nephew, Murray Babitch (Michael Rapaport), kills two African-American teenagers and then fakes his own death to escape prosecution, Internal Affairs Lt. Moe Tilden (Robert De Niro) approaches Freddy and asks for his help in investigating the corrupt cops of Garrison.  At first, Freddy refuses but he is soon forced to reconsider.

After he became a star, the idea that Sylvester Stallone was a bad actor because so universally accepted that people forgot that, before he played Rocky and Rambo, Stallone was a busy and respectable character actor.  Though his range may have been limited and Stallone went through a period where he seemed to always pick the worst scripts available, Stallone was never as terrible as the critics often claimed.  In the 90s, when it became clear that both the Rocky and the Rambo films had temporarily run their course, Stallone attempted to reinvent his image.  Demolition Man showed that Stallone could laugh at himself and Cop Land was meant to show that Stallone could act.

For the most part, Stallone succeeded.  Though there are a few scenes where the movie does seem to be trying too hard to remind us that Freddy is not a typical action hero, this is still one of Sylvester Stallone’s best performances.  Stallone plays Freddy as a tired and beaten-down man who knows that he’s getting one final chance to prove himself.  It helps that Stallone’s surrounded by some of the best tough guy actors of the 90s.  Freddy’s awkwardness around the “real” cops is mirrored by how strange it initially is to see Stallone acting opposite actors like Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro, and Ray Liotta.  Cop Land becomes not only about Freddy proving himself as a cop but Stallone proving himself as an actor.

The film itself is sometimes overstuffed.  Along with the corruption investigation and the search for Murray Babitch, there’s also a subplot about Freddy’s unrequited love for Liz Randone (Annabella Sciorra) and her husband’s (Peter Berg) affair with Donlan’s wife (Cathy Moriarty).  There’s enough plot here for a Scorsese epic and it’s more than Cop Land‘s 108-minute run time can handle.  Cop Land is at its best when it concentrates on Freddy and his attempt to prove to himself that he’s something more than everyone else believes.  The most effective scenes are the ones where Freddy quietly drinks at the local tavern, listening to Gary shoot his mouth off and stoically dealing with the taunts of the people that he’s supposed to police.  By the time that Freddy finally stands up for himself, both you and he have had enough of everyone talking down to him.  The film’s climax, in which a deafened Freddy battles the corrupt cops of Garrison, is an action classic.

Though the story centers on Stallone, Cop Land has got a huge ensemble cast.  While it’s hard to buy Janeane Garofalo as a rookie deputy, Ray Liotta and Robert Patrick almost steal the film as two very different cops.  Interestingly, many members of the cast would go on to appear on The Sopranos.  Along with Sirico, Sciorra, Patrick, and Garofalo, keep an eye out for Frank Vincent, Arthur Nascarella, Frank Pelligrino, John Ventimiglia, Garry Pastore,  and Edie Falco in small roles.

Cop Land was considered to be a box office disappointment when it was released and Stallone has said that the film’s failure convinced people that he was just an over-the-hill action star and that, for eight years after it was released, he couldn’t get anyone to take his phone calls.  At the time, Cop Land‘s mixed critical and box office reception was due to the high expectations for both the film and Stallone’s performance.  In hindsight, it’s clear that Cop Land was a flawed but worthy film and that Stallone’s performance remains one of his best.

 

Remembering The Real Rocky: Chuck (2017, directed by Philippe Falardeau)


In 1975, an unheralded boxer named Chuck Wepner shocked the world when he managed to go nearly 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali.  (He only fell short by 19 seconds.)  The fight not only made Wepner a temporary celebrity but it also inspired a down-on-his-luck actor to write a script about an aging boxer who just wants to show that he can go the distance.  The name of that script was Rocky and it made Sylvester Stallone a star.

As for Chuck Wepner, he initially enjoyed being known as “the Real Rocky,” but he soon learned that fame is often fleeting.  After Wepner retired from the ring (but not before one exhibition match against Andre the Giant), he attempted to reinvent himself as an actor but a combination of bad friends, bad decisions, and a bad cocaine habit conspired to derail his life and Wepner eventually ended up serving a 10-year prison sentence.  While he was incarcerated, Wepner did get to see a film being shot on location in the prison.  The name of the film was Lock-Up and the star was none other than Sylvester Stallone.

With Chuck, Chuck Wepner finally gets the movie that he deserves.  Wepner’s fight with Ali occurs early on in the film.  The rest of Chuck deals with Wepner’s attempts to deal the aftermath of the biggest night of his life.  Wepner may love his fame but secretly, he knows that it’s not going to last.  While Stallone makes millions playing the role of Rocky Balboa, Chuck struggles to make ends meet.  Even when given a chance to appear in Rocky II, Wepner falls victim to his insecurity and blows the audition.  Seeking escape though drugs, the real Rocky ends up in prison, watching the other Rocky shoot his latest movie.  Though the film suggests that Chuck finally found some peace with his third wife and a career as a liquor distributor, it’s still hard not to feel that Chuck Wepner deserved more.

Featuring a great lead performance from Liev Schreiber and outstanding supporting work from Naomi Watts, Jim Gaffigan, Michael Rapaport, Ron Perlman, and Morgan Spector (who plays Sylvester Stallone as being well-meaning but often insensitive), Chuck is a heartfelt, warts-and-all portrait of Chuck Wepner.  The film sets out to give Wepner the recognition that he deserves and it largely succeeds.  Watch it as a double feature with ESPN’s The Real Rocky.

Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone Return In The Trailer for Creed II!


Way back in 2015, Creed was a huge surprise, a Rocky spin-off that paid homage to the films that came before it while, at the same time, establishing its own identity.  After their acclaimed work in Fruitvale Station, Creed made a star out of Michael B. Jordan and definitely led to Ryan Coogler getting the chance to direct Black Panther.  It also brought an Oscar nomination for Sylvester Stallone, something that, before the film’s release, nobody thought would ever happen.

Well, we all knew that there would inevitably be a sequel.  Today, the trailer for Creed II was released and … well, to be honest, its looks pretty conventional.  Coogler did not write or direct the sequel.  Instead, the directing was handled by Steve Caple, Jr. while the script was written by Stallone himself.  In this one, Creed steps into the ring to fight the son of the man who killed his father.  It looks like the film is designed to be crowd pleaser but you have to wonder if it will have any of the attention to detail and the subtle wit that distinguished Coogler’s film.

Oh well.  At least it’s always enjoyable to watch Michael B. Jordan did his thing.

Here’s the trailer: