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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.

Derek Wayne Johnson’s JOHN G. AVILDSEN KING OF THE UNDERDOGS

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.

Christopher Coppola’s Deadfall


I hear a lot of talk about how weird Nicolas Cage can get in films, and I’m always seeing top ten craziest Cage compilations on YouTube and such, but people often seem to neglect the veritable cherry on top, the big cheese of nutso Cagery, a terrible conmen flick from back when called Deadfall. This is a film directed by a member of the Coppola family, and anyone who’s done their base research knows that Cage is a member of the brood, which is the only reason he ever broke into the industry in the first place. Now as to why and how he was allowed to give the unapologetically certifiable ‘performance’ we see here, well that remains a mystery. Needless to say, this is Cage unchained, off the leash and out of the Cage, an unnecessarily clownish banshee cry of a turn that derails the entire film, eclipses every other actor and puts a big dark stain on everyone’s career. The protagonist here is Michael Biehn as a shit-outta-luck hustler who accidentally kills his own father (James Coburn, who also does double duties to play the man’s brother), and ends up in the criminal doghouse, reprimanded by his boss (Peter Fonda) and left to flounder in small time stings. Enter Eddie (The Cage) another small-potatoes loser who clashes with anyone and everyone around him, a true lunatic of a character whose left empty of any sort of engaging qualities or charisma thanks to Nic’s utterly bombastic histrionics and lunatic ravings. If I sound like I’m overselling just how fucked up his performance is or making mountains out of molehills, please feel free to jaunt on over to YouTube, type in ‘Nic Cage Deadfall’ and see for yourself. If bad performances were represented as train wrecks, this would be the infamous explosion escape scene from The Fugitive, and even that doesn’t do it justice. This is a giant schoolyard tantrum, an inexcusable, near fourth wall busting bag of uncomfortable verbal utterances and bodily contortions that make you want to call an exorcist for the poor spastic, I really don’t know how the film ever got released with such fuckery on display. Anywho, all that just drowns out literally *everything* else about the film, and when one of your actors acts out so much that they smother work from heavy hitters like Biehn and Coburn, you know your filmmaking process is handicapped beyond repair. As such, brief appearances from Michael Constantine, Talia Shire and Charlie Sheen are subsequently lost to the abyss of Cage’s deafening orbit. A mediocre film without him as it is, but add what he does to the mix and you have a true stinker, the cinematic equivalent of a spittoon filled feces. Don’t bother. 

-Nate Hill