The Direct to Video Connoisseur
I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Rocky IV (1985)
This is our 800th post, which isn't the biggest milestone, but it is on an even hundred, and worth celebrating I think. And what better flick to look at than one that, while it wasn't itself a DTV flick, launched the career of the man we've come to know of as the Babe Ruth of DTV, Dolph Lundgren. Even today, when most people think of Dolph, they think Ivan Drago-- though they often get the famous line wrong. For the record, it's "I must break you", which I imagine Stallone wrote in to drive home the point that Drago didn't have any free will under the Soviet Union-- no "will", all "must".
Rocky IV has Sylvester Stallone back as his iconic sports hero, this time taking a break after beating Clubber Lang. A Soviet heavy weight named Ivan Drago has been making news, and Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) sees this as a last chance at glory. Drago ends up beating him to death in the ring, so Stallone goes on a one-man crusade to take down Drago, and maybe end the Cold War while he's at it.
While this was the highest grossing of Stallone's Rocky films, there's definitely a feeling of shark jumping, especially considering how over the top (no pun intended) so much of it is. Stallone incorporates a montage of clips from the previous films as Rocky reflects on how far he's come, and I think we can't help doing the same. Everything the first one was-- real, compelling, and not out of proportion with what we associate with the real world, while still being big and theatrical-- this one wasn't-- it was always out of proportion and overly theatrical, so by the time we get to the end and Rocky is essentially ending the Cold War in his post fight interview, we aren't surprised by the ridiculousity. But it did have enough of what made the first Rocky so endearing and so successful, in particular Stallone's down-to-Earth working class hero that we can't help but root for, even if we're surrounded by jingoism and silly larger-than-life dramatizations. In the end, shark jumping or no, this is a fun flick in the Rocky series.
No, he wasn't the star, far from it, and no, this wasn't his first big screen role, he had a small part in A View to a Kill, but this is the one that put Dolph on the map. Unfortunately his next film, Masters of the Universe, was a colossal flop, and the one two after that The Punisher, was stuck in limbo and didn't get a US theatrical release (Red Scorpion was in between those two). So began his journey into DTV-dom, with only a blip coming with Universal Soldier, though that film was more a Van Damme vehicle than it was a Dolph flick. We always talk about movies as gems that fell through the cracks when Hollywood ignored them, and here we have the same thing, only with an actor-- their loss is our gain. Who'd'a thunk that a role in a Stallone flick would lead to the greatest DTV action career in history? Here's to you Dolph Lundgren, you're one of the great ones.
It's hard for me to go back to when I was six and get a good grasp on what Stallone and Rocky meant at the time in 1985. I remember the Cold War scare. Though it was near the end, it was still very palpable, and I remember fearing that the Soviets would invade and take my neighborhood hostage. But it's also important to remember that the 80s was Stallone's decade. Schwarzenegger had some good ones then too, but he really came on in the 90s and replaced Stallone then. With that in mind, this is a Stallone at the height of his popularity, revisiting the character that made him most famous. I had this sense as I watched the scene where Rocky looked back on where he came from, and thought about how he needed to get back down to Earth, that his character was trying to speak to Stallone, telling him that this ride won't go on forever, but in his hubris he didn't listen, and in just five short years Rocky V came out, and two years after that Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. I think the difference between Stallone and Rocky, is that Rocky never felt comfortable as a star, while Stallone craved it.
Getting back to Rocky, the first film, I noticed on Tumblr recently that a kid (like 21 or 22) was talking about the travesty that was the 1977 Oscars, because Rocky won for best picture over Taxi Driver. It's interesting how perceptions of both films have changed over time, especially for kids born in the late 80s early 90s. They've essentially only grown up with Rocky as a cliched sports film paradigm, and have had so many "inspired by a true story" sentimentality porn fests shoved down their throats, that they can't conceive of Rocky as an original and endearing concept, let alone comprehend the film's social and artistic significance at the time. It's kind of hard for us Gen X-ers to comprehend it too, because Taxi Driver just seems so much more sui generis, but at least we have some perspective, we remember when both Rocky as a character, and Stallone as a person, were much more relevant in Hollywood, and that's something kids today can't conceive of. Rocky will always be The Blind Side or Seabiscuit to them, while Taxi Driver will always be Travis Bickle kicking ass.
The soundtrack on this is amazing. First and foremost, you have Survivor's "Burning Heart". I'm not ashamed to admit that that's on my iPod in my exercise mix alongside Loverboy's "Turn Me Loose". Just a fantastic montage song, the kind that makes you wish by the end of it that you'd just done 6 months worth of exercise in 3 minutes. Then John Cafferty has "Hearts On Fire". You can never go wrong with John Cafferty. Also we have some Go West, with "One Way Street", and 80s soundtrack mainstay Kenny Loggins, who teams up with Gladys Knight for "Double or Nothing". One of my personal favorites was "No Easy Way Out", which was performed by Robert Tepper-- There's no easy way out/there's no short cut home! Finally, I can't go over the Rocky IV soundtrack without mentioning James Brown's "Living with a Hernia"-- er, I mean "Living in America"-- which was written by Dan Hartman of "I Can Dream About You" fame.
I don't know why I included a shot of Stallone in that Hugo Boss sweatshirt above, I just thought it was so cool. I wish they made sweatshirts like that today, I'd totally buy them. Anyway, I wanted to talk about the sport of boxing, because Stallone was recently inducted into the boxing hall of fame for his work in making boxing films, in particular the first one. In this one, he bends the rules of what's allowed in boxing, especially in the Creed/Drago fight. He went for the element of Creed wanting to die like a warrior in the fight instead of growing old and deteriorating, but the way the whole thing went down, with no ringside doctors, the press surrounding him after he hit the canvas, the ref not stopping the fight when it was obvious Drago had won. For me as a boxing fan it was a little hard to watch, and I wanted scream at the TV when Rocky yells "Can somebody get a doctor!", because every fight has a doctor at it, and he'd have been in the ring before Rocky was.
The boxing thing wasn't nearly as bad as this here. The training scenes were shot in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with the Grand Tetons in the background. If you don't know, the Tetons are over 13,000 feet in elevation, and require, at the very least, rock climbing at a 5.4 difficulty. I get that in the film these were supposed to be fake mountains in Siberia, but anyone looking at them can see that they aren't hills, they have some serious altitude and some serious rock climbing associated with them, so to see Rocky on a whim in just some snow boots and a leather jacket run up to the summit of one was ridiculous. It was also very silly, because they obviously just dropped a stuntman off near the top of one of the peaks and had him run around, then cut to Stallone somewhere else. It was that kind of thing that added to the shark jumping effect.
This is available on a really nice DVD from MGM video. Don't let my screenshots fool you, the DVD is two-sided, with one in widescreen and the other full screen, and I only decided to use the full screen side because I think they look better on the blog. It's a beautiful widescreen transfer on the other side, worth watching on a nice TV. If you see it used or on sale at a big chain, I'd scoop it up. This is a fun film and full of nostalgia-- plus it's the movie that introduced us to Dolph, and for that we're forever grateful.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089927/