So, they finally announced the line-up for the 2013 Bonnaroo… Let me just say that it’s going to be pretty awesome. I’m not actually sure if the line-up is better than last year, but man, just man. I nearly cried when they announced one of the artists that was playing. Of course, I’m talking about Paul McCartney who is headlining. I’m going to Bonnaroo 2013. As soon as I wake up on Saturday, the first thing that I’m doing is buying tickets. If you think there is any chance that I’m going to miss a chance to see one of the only two remaining Beatles live alongside other artists that I love like The National and Beach House and Tom Petty and Wu-Tang Clan, then you are craaaaaaaaaazzzzzzyyyy. So, yeah, I get to see f***ing Paul McCartney live in about four months and it is going to be beautiful. It’s not one of my favorite Beatles songs (and I’m pretty sure Paul does Beatles songs that he wrote in his live shows), but if there’s an 80,000 person sing-along to “Hey Jude,” I’ll just f***ing weep the entire time. The emotions will be too high. It will be almost unbearable. If you can’t tell, I’m super stoked for Bonnaroo now. Hell yes!
(Quick aside before the real review. I watched this Sunday evening I believe although it might have actually been Saturday. School started this week. It’s my final year at WVU. Which I can’t even freaking believe. Of course, I’m a 6th year senior so it’s not my first “last” year. Anyways, I watched this a while ago so forgive me if my details are spotty)
It is impossible to take on films deemed as classics with the same level of objectivity you can use for lesser known works. You compare them to the films from the same era that got less attention (even if, maybe, they deserved more). You (subconsciously or totally aware) place the film within a context of sophistication that you’ve come to expect from modern cinema. Simple things like hype or hearing everyone talk about how great a film can often create expectations that are impossible to live up to. In the past on this blog, I’ve referred to that last phenomena as the Juno effect. 1976’s Rocky is the original sports underdog story. And while it can’t be blamed for creating all of the staid sports cliches that clog our cinemas every year, time hasn’t done Sylvester Stallone’s debut any favors. If you’re looking for an easy to enjoy film, Rocky is it, but greatness isn’t a word that shouldn’t be used in conjunction with this Best Picture winner.
As arguably the most famous sports film ever made, Rocky‘s story is known by virtually all and has inspired a legion of imitators. Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is a sad-sack bum, a nobody boxer who pays the rent by busting heads for a local loan shark. With a crush on his best friend’s sister, Adrian (Talia Shire), Rocky is barely floating through life. He’s even been kicked out of his locker at the local boxing gym by the owner/trainer, Mickey (Burgess Meredith). Rocky gets the chance of a lifetime however when world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) decides to give a local Philadelphia unknown boxer a shot at the title after his original opponent gets injured. When Creed chooses Rocky “The Italian Stallion” Balboa, Rocky has to train for his one shot to make it and to prove to everyone that he’s not a worthless bum.
Sylvester Stallone is not an actor. He might be one of the biggest action stars in the history of Hollywood, but he is not an actor. One can applaud him for writing the script himself for Rocky (and fighting with the studios for years to get it made), but his acting rates somewhere between Corey’s little brother in the finale of Boy Meets World and Sofia Coppola in The Godfather: Part III. That is to say, his performance is an utter trainwreck. Rocky is supposed to be a bit of a meathead, and Sly is himself obviously not the sharpest tool in the shed, but Sylvester Stallone displayed absolutely no emotional range in his performance and it often felt like he was reading his lines from a cue card out of the shot considering how nonchalantly he delivered otherwise critical lines. Talia Shire was nearly as unimpressive as the completely one-dimensional Adrian.
Burgess Meredith and Burt Young stole every scene they were in thankfully. Burgess Meredith was 69 when the film was made, but he had more life and vitality than the film’s actual youthful stars. When he tells Rocky he’s going to “eat lightning and crap thunder,” you believed him. When he called Rocky out for wasting his career as a legbreaker, you felt Rocky’s shame, and when he eats his word to approach Rocky about being his manager for the Apollo Creed fight, you could sense his own regret about his own career. Burt Young was also great as Adrian’s putz of a brother, Paulie. While Rocky is a loser who pulls himself out of the gutter, Paulie is even more pathetic than Rocky, and we see him slowly implode over the course of the film. When he finally spews his rage and despair on Adrian and Rocky, Young truly taps into something heartbreaking and pathetic in Paulie’s character.
I don’t think it’s a spoiler nearly 40 years after the film’s release to say that Rocky loses the fight at the end of the film. When that’s the only unexpected thing to happen in the film (although the fact that he gets the holy hell knocked out of him the entire fight means it’s not really that shocking where the decision goes), the movie will often feel a little cliche. The film runs for roughly two hours, and I applaud it’s decision to devote the first 3/4 of the film to trying to develop Rocky and the environment that spawned him, the movie didn’t do that very well. Why is Rocky such a bum? Why does he have such a terrible opinion of himself? He’s obviously a talented boxer. Where did he go wrong? The film tries to explore his self-esteem issues (as well as those of Adrian’s) but the film instead offers shallow portraits instead of insightful examinations.
The boxing match at the end of the film is certainly one of the most engaging sports scenes in cinema history. If the rest of the film felt too tame or too safe, the climactic fight between Rocky and Apollo is brutal. You get a great look at the hell these men put themselves through because of their own pride and their desire to put on a great show for the crowd. All in all, I enjoy Rocky. It’s a fun movie, but it’s inclusion in the canon of great American cinema is completely unfounded. The fact that this film beat Taxi Driver, Network, and All the President’s Men for Best Picture is one of the biggest crimes in the history of the Academy Awards. But que sera, sera. If you come into the film just expecting an easy to enjoy underdog story, you’ll get what you want. Anything else, and you’re setting the bar too high for a film scripted by Sylvester Stallone.
Final Score: B
Every generation has its signature comedy pairings. You’ve got Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, the Marx brothers, Harold and Kumar, Cheech & Chong, the Wayans bros, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, Chris Farley and David Spade, etc. One of the comedy pairs that kids from my generation may not be as familiar with is Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder. Everyone knows the two apart, whether it’s Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka or Richard Pryor for his stand-up (as well as his film career), but unless you were alive in the 70’s and 80’s and old enough to remember the series of films that Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder made together, you’re likely not familiar with their long partnership simply because few of these films have really stood the test of time. I’m a cinephile so I’ve always known about these movies (there was a stretch where at least one of their buddy films was on at least one of the HBO/Cinemax channels at any given time), but I had never actually watched one before. Lo and behold, my master list for this blog puts their very first movie together, 1976’s Silver Streak, as the next film on my instant queue for Netflix, and while it wasn’t a great buddy action comedy film (and went long stretches of time without ever making me laugh), it was still an entertaining ride into the beginning of one of Hollywood’s most unorthodox pairings.
On a routine two night train ride to his sister’s wedding, George Caldwell (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory‘s Gene Wilder), a mild-mannered editor for a book publisher, meets the beautiful Hilly (Jill Clayburn), a secretary for a reclusive author on his way to Chicago to give a presentation on the artist Rembrandt. George and Hilly hit it off and when the pair return to George’s compartment to close out the evening, their romantic rendezvous is interrupted when George sees a corpse fall off the train through the compartment’s windows. He convinces himself that he is just seeing things, but the next morning when he looks at the dust jacket of Hilly’s boss’s book, George realizes that was the man who was murdered. Before George knows it, he finds himself drawn into a dangerous investigation of a gangster art dealer, and when an undercover federal agent on the train is murdered trying to help George, George must enlist the help of smooth thief Grover (Richard Pryor) to save his new girlfriend and bring justice to this murderer.
This movie is billed as an action comedy though it is mostly light on either for healthy portions of the film. It ends with such a ridiculously over-the-top shoot-out and explosive set piece that the ending almost seems out of place in this otherwise lighthearted film. Similarly, the laughs don’t come nearly often enough to make up for it not being especially fast moving. The film is nearly 2 hours long and I counted only one moment in the entire film where I legitimately began to laugh out loud. I had some light chuckles here and there, but only one moment where I felt as if the film was really tickling my funny bone. It wasn’t that the film was boring. It certainly always kept my attention. Gene Wilder’s Cheshire cat grin and everyman charm kept me invested in his character (it’s always weird seeing him in grown-up roles and cursing because it permanently ruins Willy Wonka forever). Similarly, Richard Pryor doesn’t show up until nearly half-way through the film but his comedic chemistry with Gene Wilder is magic. The jokes and gags they have scripted don’t always work in this particular film but you can see just how easily and smoothly they come together as a team and the film instantly picks up when Pryor’s effervescent energy enters the equation.
I’ll keep this review short because this wasn’t exactly the most substantive movie I’ve watched. If you liked buddy cop films like Lethal Weapon, you’ll get lesser kicks out of Silver Streak. I’ve certainly watched less engaging films for this blog, but I always wonder how exactly films like this end up on my list here. I want to know what was so award-worthy about them (in this case Gene Wilder was nominated for a Golden Globe). Regardless, if you’re a fan of either of these actors, this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship (to paraphrase Casablanca).
Final Score: B-