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.
The whole story of how I came to love King of the Kickboxers is something I am still working on. But what will say here dear reader is that I have of late been afforded greater insight into the making of the movie than I had ever hoped to obtain. For behind each of these movies are multitudes of individual artists and craftspeople that in many ways go to war to bring the images that we finally witness to the screen.
I first contacted participating members of the Seasonal Film family when compiling my anthology Conquest of the Planet of the Tapes. Now most folks aren’t unaware of the Seasonal catalogue, but it has its place in cinema history – the golden age of the martial arts/action movie. One of the main players involved was a gentleman named Keith W. Strandberg who served as writer and producer on the films which began with the movie that brought Jean-Claude Van Damme into public consciousness: No Retreat, No Surrender.
In time, two films would continue the NRNS series in the form of Raging Thunder and Blood Brothers. In acknowledging these I sought the participation of martial arts legend Keith Vitali(star of Blood Brothers & Superfights) and Loren Avedon. Loren has close to a three decade long career as a martial artist and is a 5th Dan black belt in Tae Kwon Do and 8th Dan black belt in Hap Ki Do. He received his big break when he was contacted by producer Roy Horan about a three picture deal with Seasonal. Aside from the NRNS series he would also star in the film King of the Kickboxers.
Now I must be careful here not to go ballistic and write the whole story, however, once upon a time I found myself on an 18 day bus trip through the wilds of Indonesia. It was clear from the first day we had been royally screwed by the company who was coordinating the adventure and so we spent a majority of the trip on the bus. There were three video tapes on that bus to help pass the time. One was Speed, the second was Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker, and the third was a film called King of the Kickboxers. It was fun, funny and had awesome fight sequences. Needless to say it quickly became the default movie on the bus and during the course of those 18 days I saw it many, many times.
So what is it about King of the Kicboxers that is, to me, so enduring? I suppose one could say that it was because of all the Hong Kong actioners and television (MONKEY every afternoon) I saw as a kid. KOTK, as with all the Seasonal productions, were among the first western audience films to employ the eastern style of filmmaking. Sure the reason for this is that they were co-productions and had American and international performers, but the way in which the productions were carried out and the methods employed during filming were right out pages of the eastern action movie play book. I guess the short answer is I just have a tremendous affection for straight to video movies like this. They came thick and fast once upon a time; lots of junk. Amongst all that product thought there were gems to be found. This was one such precious stone.
I recommend you take a look at KOTK before listening to the above interview, as I believe it will give you a better insight. But if you are already a fan of all films Seasonal and are like me, a devotee of KOTK, then press play above and listen along as the star of the show takes us behind the scenes of a movie that may have been forced upon me initially, but which now I watch over and over with both a warmth nostalgia and ever-increasing fondness.
I was delighted to finally get in touch with Molly, the beautiful and multi-talented Sherrie Rose (who also appeared with Keith Vitali in NRNS 3: BLOOD BROTHERS), this time round to find out what filming the movie I find most glorious was like from the perspective of the girl Jake so adamantly insisted Khan LET GOOOOOOOOOOO!
She has starred in over 60 films and television shows and is best known for her starring role in the feature film Me and Will (1999) opposite Patrick Dempsey and showcasing the talents of Keanu Reeves and Seymour Cassel which she also co-produced, directed and wrote. The feature opened The Women in Film series for Sundance.
She has been involved with the creation, writing and development of 100’s projects from conception to distribution and accomplished the unprecedented feat of writing, directing, producing and starring in her own film and has sold numerous scripts as a writer and has been published in magazines and books.
She has a camaraderie with actors and directors which has allowed her to hire and work with such incredible talents as Jada Pinkett Smith and Billy Zane who acted with her in Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995), Mickey Rourke in the feature Out in Fifty (1999) that she co-produced, Jonathan Kaplan from The Accused (1988) with Jodie Foster that she acted in the feature _Unlawful Entry (1992)_ qv with fellow actor Ray Liotta and Michael Bay from Transformers (2007) that she worked with on commercials and music videos. She was entered for an Emmy Nomination for her role in the television series Tales from the Crypt (1989) opposite Yul Vazquez from Magic City (2012) that William Friedkin, from The Exorcist (1973) directed her in.
She appeared in such hit show’s as the pilot episode of FX’s, Sons of Anarchy (2008) opposite Charlie Hunnam and Married… with Children (1987) with Ed O’Neill and Katey Sagal and Miami Vice (1984).
She is an activist working with IFAW and other non-profit organizations concentrating on children, animals and the environment. She lives on a ranch with her son and their rescue animals.
I have always been a fan of underdog stories. They hold for the viewer a message of hope that – should one’s fortitude and perseverance be fixed to the sticking place – then there is nothing that can’t be accomplished or overcome.
Having enjoyed the first installment of the Martial Arts Kid, as well as having a chance to chat with two of its legendary cast, Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock, I was thrilled at the prospect that, not only would the story continue, but that I would have a chance to meet the players from this exciting second chapter.
Of course, it is obvious, that there are parallels to be drawn with John G. Avildsen’s iconic The Karate Kid. Still this is a story onto itself – a story of the discipline it takes to rise to the challenge, and ultimately find redemption in the wake of defeat.
The Martial Arts Kid 2: Payback sees the return of Wilsonand Rothrock, headlining an all-star cast of Martial Arts professionals in a tale of courage and honor in the face of adversity. My guests include Producer, Dr. Robert Goldman and stars T.J. Storm, Matthew Ziff and Brandon Russell – all returning from the MAK. I’m certain this shall be another inspirational story, combined with the finest Martial Arts action, and featuring the real life champions of the various styles. A pleasure it was to talk to each of them, and more exciting, the anticipation of the release of the MAK 2. I trust you will enjoy my guest’s insights along with the movie . . . upon its release.
Dr. Goldman is a 6th degree Black Belt in Karate, Chinese weapons expert, and world champion athlete with over 20 world strength records and has been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. Some of his past performance records include 13,500 consecutive straight leg situps and 321 consecutive handstand pushups. Dr. Goldman was an All-College athlete in four sports, a three-time winner of the John F. Kennedy (JFK) Physical Fitness Award, was voted Athlete of the Year, was the recipient of the Champions Award and was inducted into the World Hall of Fame of Physical Fitness, as well as induction into numerous Martial Arts Hall of Fames in North America, Europe, South America and Asia. He founded the International Sports Hall of Fame, recognizing the world’s greatest sports legends, with ceremonies held annually at the Arnold Schwarzenegger Sports Festival the largest sports festival in the world, with over 200,000 participants, 70+ sports represented and over 20,000 competing athletes, making it double the size of the Olympic Games.
In high school Storm was shy and started break-dancing as a way of trying to “fit in”. Dance quickly became T.J.’s passion and he would win over 200 dance competitions in the genres of hip hop and break-dancing. He received a dance scholarship and this paved the way for his move to Los Angeles and dancing in music videos. Dance was his passion, but it only provided him with enough money for rent and a diet of Ramen Noodles and Pop Tarts, with little left for anything else. Devoted to the martial arts, Storm often found himself stopping by and observing an outdoor Northern Shaolin class on his way home from work. Eventually Storm was approached by the teacher and he was asked to join class, allowing him to add the knowledge of Northern Shaolin to his others arts. Using his talents for dance and martial arts, T.J. began to pursue acting. He graduated from the Joanne Baron/D.W. Brown Acting Academy. While playing the role of Bayu on the television series, Conan The Adventurer, Storm developed the unique action style that he is known for. His brand of action is a combination of martial arts, acrobatic skill, comedic timing, and an almost balletic grace. Storm has since gone on to work with Jet Li, Sammo Hung, Sir Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Kelly Hu, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Michelle Rodriquez, Neal McDonough and Kristanna Loken. T.J. Storm made motion captures for Captain Josh Stone and Dave Johnson in Resident Evil 5. He is known for his roles as Criag Marduk in the Tekken Series, and Strider Hiryu in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Soon you will hear T.J. Storm in the video game Battlefield Hardline (2015), and see him in The Gold Rush Boogie (2015), Jonny Flytrap (2015) Bullets Blades and Blood (2015), Boone: The Bounty Hunter 2014 and as Coach Laurent Kaine in The Martial Arts Kid (2014).
Matthew Ziff’s professional career started two months after he was born when he signed with the Wilhelmina Modeling Agency in New York. He has been featured in numerous print ads and campaigns including Glamour magazine. By age 10, due to his talent as well as his professionalism, not only was he considered a top child model, called upon constantly for magazines, clothes and toy boxes, as well as various commercials, he had already appeared in comedy skits on both the David Letterman and Conan O’Brien shows. During his high school years at The Blair Academy, Matthew kept active with acting classes, as well as performing in stage productions, not only as an actor, but also as a director. Once in college at the University of Miami, he signed with Stellar and Elite Talent agencies where he filmed multiple commercials and embarked more thoroughly on his film career. Matthew has worked in many genres in such films as Six Gun Savior (Eric Roberts, Martin Kove), Treachery (Michael Biehn, Sarah Butler, Jennifer Blanc), Hardflip (John Schneider, Randy Wayne), Online Abduction (Brooke Butler, David Chokachi), Mansion of Blood (Robert Picardo, Gary Busey), Safelight (Evan Peters, Juno Temple), Among Friends (Danielle Harris, Kane Hodder) and Searching for Bobby D (Paul Borghese, William DeMeo). In addition to acting, Matthew has his second degree Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do and has studied Hapkido as well as Kendo (swords). In July, 2012, he represented the USA in the International Quidditch Association’s Summer Games during the Olympic Torch Relay in England, where Team USA won the Gold medal. He is also a marksman with rifles and pistols and is a multi-instrumental musician specializing in guitar, bass and saxophone. Matthew has a Master’s of Science in Industrial Engineering from the University of Miami. He is a member of SAG, AFTRA, AEA and GIAA. He maintains homes in California, New York and Florida.
Brandon expressed an interest in acting at the age of 3 and by 5 was already a member of SAG. His biggest role to date was his lead role in the feature film, Smitty (2012), which was released in April 2012. Brandon plays the lead role of Ben Barrett and worked alongside: Peter Fonda, Mira Sorvino, Louis Gossett Jr., Lolita Davidovich, Jason London, and Booboo Stewart. Since filming Smitty, he has gone on to film supporting roles in Wiener Dog Nationals (2013) and The Martial Arts Kid (2015). He also had a lead role in the UPtv holiday movie, Beverly Hills Christmas (2015). Brandon has also been seen on Tosh.0 (2009), Supah Ninjas (2011), and Instant Mom (2013). Later, he portrayed Peter Michaels in Fishes ‘n Loaves: Heaven Sent (2016) alongside Patrick Muldoon and Dina Meyer.
You’re all familiar with the concept “so bad, it’s good” I’m guessing? If you’re not then I’m here to tell you that there is a thriving sub-genre enjoying the hell out of life just beyond the fringes of your current viewing tastes. Now, some might say that these are the lands where bad films go to die – but I say it is not so. You just have to look a little harder, you have to look with better eyes than the ones in your head that only see the mainstream and everything that floats down it. Remember shit rolls down hill too.
And you’ll be told that films like Space Mutiny, Troll 2 and The Room are only enjoyed by small minded juveniles that still think farts are funny. You’ll be told to stick with the cinema of the Golden Age, heck even the Silver Age – but what ever you do – stay away from the counterfeit Peso Age.
If these are the voices that dictate your viewing pleasure then you best take off. This story ain’t for you. The cinema of Amir Shervan (top) and Gregory Hatanaka (bottom) is beyond your realm of understanding. For these guys play in the sandbox where bad is beautiful and lunacy equals legendary. These are the men who created the Samurai Cop.
In 1991 a ex-Stallone body guard and a trained New York actor strapped on the guns and a bad wig and took their place in cinema history. The film was Shervan’s tribute, some might say, to the American action film. What he made had bad acting, stilted action, a whole lot of tits, ass and Robert Z’Dar, blended with a mighty helping of stupid courage.
Then – just like that – the film vanished, along with its star.
Cut to 25 years later and a new filmmaker, inspired by the newly uncovered brilliance of Samurai Cop, decides to get the old band back together and make a sequel. Only problem being . . . the Samurai Cop is missing, presumed dead.
But Matthew Karedas (formerly Hannon) was just chillin’. He’d grown tired of jumping through Hollywood’s hoops and so, he got a real job and took the time to raise his young family. It was one of Matt’s daughters that saw the word on the web of her father’s supposed death and told him he should post word – tell the world the Samurai Cop Lives!
So he did, and the rest dear friends is history. Samurai Cop 2 : Deadly Vengeance was released around the world to adoring fans and took its long-awaited seat beside the awesome original. Nearly all the cast returned, along with some new faces. One genius stroke was the casting of fellow “so bad, it’s good” megastar Tommy Wiseau (The Room). The meeting of Karedas (Hannon) and Wiseau on screen being equaled only by the scene from Michael Mann’s Heat, which saw the powerhouses of Pacino and De Niro square off.
So, kick back with me now as we sit down with the Samurai Cop himself to learn about the past, chat about the future, shoot the breeze on the subjects of bad acting and equally bad wigs . . . and of course hear all about rubbing shoulders with Tommy Wiseau. Ladies and Gentlemen I proudly present . . . Matt Hannon (Karedas), The Samurai Cop.
CREED excels on every level possible. It’s a new story that is shored up by one of the most seminal film legacies of all time. The story is rather simple; the bastard son of Apollo Creed wants to build and champion his father’s legacy. He travels from Los Angeles to Philadelphia to seek out the only man who can train him, Rocky Balboa. Yes, the film is a template of the first ROCKY film, and it is predictable – yet this is an incredibly inspired film that fulfills the legacy of the sacred ROCKY franchise.
There are two things that make this film as phenomenal as it is. Firstly, this film is the next collaboration between actor Michael B. Jordan and filmmaker Ryan Coogler who first worked together on the brilliant FRUITVALE STATION. These two are a perfect team, ranking up amongst the team of Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling and the early work between Martin Scorsese and Harvey Keitel/Robert De Niro. There is a scene in this film, which is to be absolutely marveled at – the second fight featuring Michael B. Jordan is all in one shot. There aren’t any fancy camera movements to slip in trick edits; it is one showboat of a camera movement. Coogler brings a fresh look and feel to a franchise that was pretty much closed with Stallone’s final chapter, ROCKY BALBOA.
Regardless of how fantastic this film looks, how good of a performance Jordan gives as Creed, the be-all-end-all to this film is the resurrection of Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa. Stallone is not only one of the most talented people in Hollywood today, but maybe even ever. The man has three fantastic franchises under his belt and a probable fourth if CREED gets its own series of films (which I hope happens, it more than deserves). While Stallone is credited as an actor and producer on the film, he doesn’t get a WGA credit even though he did help polish the script.
In CREED, Stallone gives not only his best performance as Rocky, but one of the very best of his career. Rocky’s legacy is continued in the best possible way – he becomes Mick from the first film, and it is beautiful. Stallone reaches a new emotion depth in his seventh turn as one of the most classic and beloved characters in film history. This time, we see a more vulnerable and human Rocky. He’s no longer the superman, he’s an old man fighting his biggest and most personal battle yet.
Michael B. Jordan, Ryan Coogler and Sylvester Stallone are wonderfully complimented by Maryse Alberti’s cinematography, Ritchie Coster’s turn as a skeevy trainer, and Ludwig Göransson’s score. Possibly my favorite thing about the film is Rocky’s theme GONNA FLY NOW lingers throughout the film, it softly and slowly lurks in the ambient background until it is loudly unleashed while Michael B. Jordan runs down a Philadelphia street in a grey sweat suit. CREED is a wonderful film on all accounts and is one of the very best of the year.
Podcasting Them Softly is proud to present a chat with feature film producer BILLGERBER. Bill has some huge credits under his belt — Clint Eastwood’s GRAN TORINO and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT are major feathers in his cap — and over the past 30 years he’s etched himself into the Hollywood landscape with a diverse background that includes work in the worlds of both film and music. Attracted to exciting material and excellent filmmakers, he spent time at the studio level working as an executive on both Oliver Stone’s JFK, Michael Mann’s HEAT, Clint Eastwood’s UNFORGIVEN and Curtis Hanson’s LA CONFIDENTIAL, before branching out as an independent producer with a first-look deal at Warner’s. Passionate, insightful, and beyond knowledgeable, we had a great time chatting with Bill, and we hope you enjoy!