No Country for Old Men: John G. Avildsen’s SAVE THE TIGER

John G. Avildsen has always been a champion of the underdog and his film SAVE THE TIGER is no exception; it is a beautiful tragedy of a man who has pushed himself mentally and physically past the point of no return and he’s fighting with all his might to claw back for a second chance. But does he deserve it; should he deserve it? He’s cheated, cooked the books, in arson negotiations – all to survive.

Jack Lemmon, in his Oscar winning performance, has never been better. He truly is heartbreaking as Harry Stoner. He navigates the waters of his hollow and inflated garment business, setting up buyers with kinky hookers, meeting with a mobster to burn his building down, and suffering from PTSD from his tour in Italy during WWII. Harry does all this, so he can survive one more year, because he is sure his business will recover – but what gain and what loss? Harry is positioning himself to enter into a never ending cycle of hustle where there isn’t a clear goal set before him – or at least one that is tangible.

Lemmon is not Jack Lemmon in this film. While his affability is certainly played on, Harry Stoner is a broken man with absolutely nothing left. His time in the sun is limited, and he knows it. Lemmon is on fire in this film, he chews up the dialogue, he briskly breezes by the camera; he is always on the move. He is looking down the barrel of his own extinction; there’s no stopping his character’s trajectory.

Steven Shagan pens a deeply layered and fertile script. It’s a construction of who Harry is as a man, while simultaneously deconstructing what it is to be a man. The dialogue written, particularly for Harry, is so stoic and to the point, he almost belongs in a hard noir genre picture, or at the very least a Michael Mann neo noir. The film is dark, perverse, and heartbreaking – yet rays of hope shine through the bleak world Avildsen creates.

There’s a kinship between SAVE THE TIGER and Avildsen’s seminal picture, JOE. While he had marked his career as the king of the underdogs, what’s more striking is a subsection of being the champion of the ones going extinct, the forgotten man. Harry Stoner’s world has rapidly evolved to him being phased out. The world doesn’t care about him, his patriotic sacrifices, or his struggles; yet all he ever wanted was a second chance.

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.


JGA Underdogs


19225757_10102471107188568_2867561815267919866_nJoining Frank is filmmaker Derek Wayne Johnson whose film JOHN G. AVILDSEN KING OF THE UNDERDOGS premiered in February at the 32nd Santa Barbara International Film Festival. It is a fantastic film, chalked full of interviews with Sylvester Stallone, Martin Scorsese, Talia Shire, Ralph Macchio, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burt Reynolds, Bill Conti, and John Avildsen himself. Derek is currently going into production on his next two films, STALLONE: FRANK THAT IS and 40 YEARS OF ROCKY: THE BIRTH OF A CLASSIC. For those who tuned into our SBIFF podcast, you should remember my red carpet interview with Derek. 

The film hits theatres, blu ray, DVD, and VOD on August first. Please, pre-order the film at Chassy.

To order on iTunes, please click here.