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Film Review: Derek Wayne Johnson’s 40 Years of Rocky: The Birth of a Classic

40 YEARS OF ROCKY: THE BIRTH OF A CLASSIC — Epic Documentary ...

Filmmaker Derek Wayne Johnson delivers a beautiful tribute to cinema’s most beloved underdog movie.

What more can be said about Sylvester Stallone’s most seminal film and character, Rocky? Well – a lot. Filmmaker Derek Wayne Johnson, the man behind John G. Avildsen King of the Underdogs and Stallone: Frank, That Is has crafted a beautiful showboat of a film that solidifies Rocky’s place alongside Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and James Bond as being not just an important part of modern cinema, but more-so showcasing how Rocky has become a significant part of American culture, conveying how an underdog was able to make the greatest underdog story of all time.

The film, with its very lean runtime of just 30 minutes, is patched together with home movies, behind the scenes footage and rehearsal footage shot by John G. Avildsen, as well as on-set footage that was found in the basement of Troma Entertainment by Rocky’s production manager Lloyd Kaufman almost 40 years after it was shot. Most of this footage has been seen on DVD and Blu-Ray special features, but Johnson’s new documentary includes some snippets of never before seen home movies from Avildsen’s personal collection. Along with Stallone’s steadfast narration, the viewer is able to take a closer look behind the making of one of the greatest films of all time. It is a thrilling experience, watching unseen footage, along with hearing a very intimate recount from Stallone, who is unseen, just heard as the 8mm film flickers across the screen.

Johnson, who didn’t just direct but also produced, assembles a very poignant and remarkably touching tribute to the film, allowing the audience a glimmer inside the intimate home movies of Avildsen, who was able to capture the vulnerabilities of Stallone and company through fantastic behind the scenes footage. Greg Sims, Johnson’s musical partner, was able to produce a remarkable score that finds its own voice to guide the audience through the picture, without retreading Bill Conti or any of the popular music featured in the franchise.

Rocky is just one of those films that has grown a legacy onto itself – everyone knows who Rocky is, yet not many know the pain and triumph it took to get the film made, or how the film had revolutionized filmmaking by the invention of the Steadicam by Garrett Brown that has since become a mainstay in filmmaking.  Derek Wayne Johnson outdoes himself with this film and has become an artist who, with each new film, grows as a filmmaker, creating an objective view of whatever subject undercard matter he chooses to tackle, yet allows the audience a very intimate look into the world of film, and in particular those who sacrificed everything to tell their stories the way they needed to tell them. If 40 Years of Rocky: The Birth of a Classic tells us anything, it is that Rocky isn’t just a film or a character Sylvester Stallone wrote and played, Rocky has become a part of American culture – world culture; and that we all have a Rocky inside of us, and between Stallone’s words and Avildsen’s footage, what Derek Wayne Johnson is telling us is to embrace that part of ourselves, and champion our own underdog.

40 Years of Rocky: The Birth of a Classic is available for preorder on Amazon and iTunes.

Phil Joanou’s State Of Grace


Phil Joanou’s State Of Grace had the unfortunate luck of being released in 1990, the same year that also saw Scorsese’s Goodfellas and the third Godfather film. It’s hard to gain your footing when that kind of momentum is surging about, but this film is as good as the others, and deserves recognition or at least some kind of re-release. Set in the blistering inferno of Hell’s Kitchen, NYC, it’s a violent tale of Irish Mobsters, undercover cops, betrayal and murder, set to a smoky, mournful Ennio Morricone score that lingers in the air like smog. Sean Penn is Terry Noonan, a deep cover operative who returns to his childhood neighbourhood to reconnect with old friends, and dig up buried grudges. Ed Harris is Frankie Flannery, ruthless gangster and former ally, while Gary Oldman plays his hotheaded brother Jackie with a tank full of nitrous and the kind of unpredictable, dynamite fuse

potency one expects to see from a David Lynch character. The three of them are on a collision course set in the grimy streets of New York, bound by old loyalties yet destined to clash and draw new blood. Penn shares the screen with his once wife Robin Wright here, looking lovely as ever. There’s also supporting turns from John Turturro, John C. Reilly, R.D. Call, a geriatric Burgess Meredith and an unbilled cameo from James Russo. Penn, Harris and especially Oldman are like flint sparks, a trio that won’t be stopped and light up the screen for a spellbinding, visceral two hours until their eventual confrontation, hauntingly shot by cinematographer ” in the midst of a bustling St. Patrick’s Day parade. This one has been somewhat lost to the ages, like a number of other stellar crime dramas I can think of from the nineties. The cast, score and Joanou’s thoughtful direction make it an unforgettable piece of work. 

-Nate Hill

The Sentinal: A Review by Nate Hill 

The Sentinel is one of the weirdest thing you’ll ever see. It’s less of a horror and more just a parade of bizarro world situations strung together loosely by a vague haunted apartment story. A young model (Christina Baines) has found a sweet deal on an uptown flat, inhabited by only herself and a blond priest (John Carradine). It’s just too bad that when a deal seems to good to be true in these kinds of movies, there’s almost always some kind of sinister agenda behind it. It’s not too long before spooky stuff comes along, starting with strange physical problems, creepy encounters with her odd lesbian neighbors, flashbacks to her attempted suicide and psychic disturbances that can’t be explained. She soon realizes that she has been brought to this building for a very specific and decidedly sinister reason. The way I described all that sounds kind of routine and pedestrian, but trust me when I say that there’s nothing generic or run of the mill about this absurdity of a film. Everything has a very disconcerting and surreal feel to it, particularly in a whopper of a climax where a portal to hell is opened and all sorts of babbling loonies pour out, deformed, whacked out and adorned in some of the most creatively gross practical effects that will give your gag reflex a solid workout. The film also speckled with a diverse group of actors, some of them quite young looking when you remember that this was 1977. A chatty Eli Wallach shows up as a detective, with a youthful Christopher Walken in tow as his partner, Ava Gardner of all people has a cameo, and watch for Burgess Meredith, Jerry Orbach, Beverly D’Angelo, William Hickey, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Dreyfuss, Chris Sarandon, and Tom Berenger in what must have been one of his very first gigs, a literal walk on part. Very distinct and memorable film, one that pushed the boundaries considering the time period, and never let’s the weirdness mellow down for a single minute.