Film Review: Nighthawks (1981)

Also known as: Attacks, Hawks (working titles)
Release Date: April 10th, 1981
Directed by: Bruce Malmuth
Written by: David Shaber, Paul Sylbert
Music by: Keith Emerson
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Billy Dee Williams, Rutger Hauer, Joe Spinell, Lindsay Wagner, Nigel Davenport, Persis Khambatta

Martin Poll Productions, The Production Company, Universal Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Oh, for Christ’s sake, DaSilva! Come off this cop on the beat mentality! Your wife left you for it! Wasn’t that enough!” – Peter Hartman

I wish I would have found this movie when I was younger in the ’80s but it eluded me until I saw it on television in the late ’90s. I liked it for its roughness and for the fact that Sylvester Stallone, Billy Dee Williams and Rutger Hauer where in a movie together. However, discovering it in my late teen years allowed me to not fall victim to the nostalgia bug.

Still, I really like this movie for what it is. It’s a no frills, straight up, badass cop hunting a badass psycho movie. It benefits from the urban grittiness, its testosterone heavy stars and Stallone’s friggin’ beard!

In the film, Stallone and Williams are cops. They deal with the scum of the Earth and have to do some serious dirt in an effort to keep the streets clean. They are then recruited into an anti-terror task force by their superior, played by Stallone’s buddy Joe Spinell, and a British terror expert, played by Nigel Davenport. Their purpose is to track down international terrorist “Wulfgar”, played by Rutger Hauer.

The film isn’t exceptional and the plot isn’t unique or surprising in any way. It plays like a standard angry cop hunting mad man picture but I do get pulled into the film’s visual aesthetic. There’s nothing unusual or unique about the visual style, it is actually pretty pedestrian, but the urban nighttime scenes just have this sort of majestic allure about them. The nightclub scene is especially enthralling. Granted, I feel like all of this was unintentional and it was the locations that just came alive on their own without any extra flourish. It felt magical in the same way The Warriors does regardless of that film’s unique fashion sense.

Nighthawks is a raw and intense film. Plus, seeing Stallone face-off with Hauer with Williams thrown into the mix is exciting stuff for anyone who grew up loving these guys throughout the ’80s. And again… Stallone’s friggin’ beard, man!

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Stallone’s Cobra and Schwarzenegger’s Red Heat. If you want to see more of Hauer in a similar type of role, check out Blade Runner and The Hitcher.

Film Review: Rocky II (1979)

Release Date: June 15th, 1979
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Tony Burton, Joe Spinell, Frank McRae, Chino ‘Fats’ Williams (uncredited)

United Artists, 120 Minutes

Review:

“I feel like a Kentucky Fried idiot.” – Rocky Balboa

Rocky II picks up right where Rocky left off but that was how most of these sequels worked and why all of the original five Rocky films seem like a long continuing narrative. This is the only one though, that feels like a true continuation but that’s mainly because of its quality and its similarity to the first. Plus, Rocky goes head-to-head with Apollo Creed, one more time.

And not to take anything away from the other sequels, I like them all, but it is necessary to point out that this one is almost as good as the first and it really feels like the second half of one larger story.

The premise sees Apollo questioning himself, after a nobody went the distance with him for fifteen rounds. He is the world champ and he let some bum come in and nearly usurp him as the top dog in the sport. While Rocky wants to live a life after fighting, Apollo constantly baits him and berates him publicly until Rocky decides to take the rematch and see if he has what it takes to defeat Apollo and become the world champion.

John G. Avildsen didn’t return to direct this chapter, so Stallone took the directorial reins himself and he did a pretty fine job. This was his second time behind the camera after 1978’s wrestling film Paradise Alley and it is a much better film than that one.

The majority of the cast returns and it’s actually great seeing them back. I love all these characters and getting to spend more time with them is great, even Joe Spinell’s Gazzo, the neighborhood loan shark.

The film explores the life of a fighter after fighting. Sadly, Rocky can’t find his place in the world and ultimately goes back to what he knows best. But all the while, he marries his love, has a son and rises to the challenge put before him.

Rocky II might not be as good as the original but it’s damn close. I love how Bill Conti’s score evolved for this film and I love the banter between Rocky and Apollo. You see their admiration and respect for one another start to blossom, which would lead to a solid friendship in the films after this one.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Rocky (1976)

Release Date: November 21st, 1976 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: John G. Avildsen
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Tony Burton, Joe Spinell, Chino ‘Fats’ Williams (uncredited)

Chartoff-Winkler Productions, United Artists, 119 Minutes

Review:

“You’re gonna eat lightnin’ and you’re gonna crap thunder!” – Mickey

Every time I rewatch Rocky, I am reminded that it is a film that is much better than most people give it credit for. Maybe having over a half dozen sequels over the decades has cheapened the greatness of the original but it won three Academy Awards for a reason. Point blank, it’s a damn fine motion picture and still, the greatest boxing movie I have ever seen.

I know that this was his breakout role but if I’m being completely honest, Sylvester Stallone has never been better. Sure, his other outings as Rocky Balboa were also great (yes, I even like Rocky V) and it is hard to deny just how good he was as John Rambo in First Blood. Stallone just captured lightning in a bottle with this film though.

His acting was accented by his great script but I feel that Rocky is an extension of Stallone’s soul. You see, although Rocky was a boxer and Stallone was a guy trying to make it in Hollywood, their stories really kind of mirror each other. Rocky needed that break and made magic happen, Stallone did the same with this movie. The thing is, for anyone who has gotten to know Stallone over the years, it is really hard to deny that there are very close similarities between the real man and the character of his creation, Rocky Balboa. This is why I think that the film felt so real and why it captured the hearts of people. It’s a film with a lot of pain in it but it is authentic because it is really Stallone’s pain coming out.

The rest of the cast is also absolutely fantastic. Talia Shire was perfection as Adrian, the extremely shy woman who stole Rocky’s heart. Burt Young was great as Paulie, Adrian’s drunk and cantankerous older brother. The real scene stealer though was Burgess Meredith’s Mickey, the man who trains Rocky even though they have a harsh and turbulent relationship until they find something in each other.

It is also hard to deny the direction of John G. Avildsen, who won an Oscar for his efforts. He would also be behind a similar film a decade later, featuring karate instead of boxing and a younger protagonist. That film was The Karate Kid.

The one thing that really sticks with you though, is the score by Bill Conti. In fact, it is one of the most memorable scores of all-time. Some how his theme “Gonna Fly Now” didn’t win the Oscar and was beat out by a Barbara Streisand song from A Star Is Born. Looking back, that was damn criminal.

Rocky is a true underdog story in the best way possible. It is about getting your big break and making it matter. For Rocky, it isn’t about winning, it’s about whether or not he can hang with the best and leave his mark in the only way he knows how. And wasn’t that the same thing Stallone had to do with the opportunity he had in giving the world this movie? And just like Rocky, Stallone still has staying power, forty-one years later.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: Farewell, My Lovely (1975)

Release Date: August 8th, 1975
Directed by: Dick Richards
Written by: David Zelag Goodman
Based on: Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler
Music by: David Shire
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Charlotte Rampling, John Ireland, Sylvia Miles, Anthony Zerbe, Harry Dean Stanton, Jack O’Halloran, Joe Spinell, Sylvester Stallone

ITC Entertainment, Avco Embassy Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“[opening lines] This past spring was the first that I felt tired and realized I was growing old. Maybe it was the rotten weather we’d had in L.A. Maybe the rotten cases I’d had. Mostly chasing a few missing husbands and then chasing their wives once I found them, in order to get paid. Or maybe it was just the plain fact that I am tired and growing old.” – Philip Marlowe

Farewell, My Lovely is the first of two pictures where Robert Mitchum plays the famous literary private dick, Philip Marlowe. This is also a remake of 1944’s Murder, My Sweet, as both films were adaptations of the Farewell, My Lovely novel by Raymond Chandler.

Additionally, this came out during the 1970s, when neo-noir was starting to flourish, as a resurgence in the noir style began with the success of Roman Polanski’s 1974 masterpiece Chinatown. Plus, period gangster dramas were also gaining popularity for the first time since the 1930s and 1940s due to The Godfather films by Francis Ford Coppola.

Robert Mitchum, a man who was at the forefront of film-noir during its heyday, finally got his chance to play the genre’s most notable male character. He is also the only actor to get a chance to play Marlowe more than just once, as this film was followed up by 1978’s The Big Sleep, a remake of the iconic 1946 film with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

In regards to the narrative, there really isn’t all that much that is different from this picture and Murder, My Sweet. Sure, it is more violent and some details have changed but it is essentially the same story. It even has a weird drug trip sequence similar to what we got in the 1944 film.

There really isn’t much to sink your teeth into with this movie. It feels like a pointless and fairly soulless attempt at a reboot of the Marlowe character. The art direction and the cinematography are decent but the only real thing that holds this picture above water is Robert Mitchum, as well as some of the other actors.

Charlotte Rampling is decent but she doesn’t have much to do. Harry Dean Stanton appears but he doesn’t have enough meat to chew on. You also get to see a young Sylvester Stallone and Joe Spinell play some henchmen. The only real standout, other than Mitchum, is Jack O’Halloran as the Moose Malloy character.

I had high hopes for this movie but was pretty much let down once seeing it. I’ll still check out its sequel but this is not one of the better neo-noirs of the 1970s.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: The Godfather, Part II (1974)

Release Date: December 12th, 1974 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola
Based on: The Godfather by Mario Puzo
Music by: Nino Rota
Cast: Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, Talia Shire, Morgana King, John Cazale, Marianna Hill, Lee Strasberg, Bruno Kirby, Joe Spinell, G.D. Spradlin, Frank Civero, Roman Coppola, Danny Aiello, Harry Dean Stanton, James Caan, Abe Vigoda, Richard Bright

The Coppola Company, Paramount Pictures, 200 Minutes

Review:

It is hard saying which is the better movie between The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II. For me, both of them are as close to perfect as a movie can get. I like Part II the most overall but I like that Part isn’t broken up by a nonlinear plot and feels more cohesive. I also like the ensemble of the first movie better. That is actually magnified when you get to the end of Part II and see a flashback dinner scene of all the men in the family, excluding Marlon Brando’s Vito. After spending almost seven hours with this family, up to this point, they always seem to be at their best and their most dynamic when all the men are present.

Everything positive I said about the first film still holds true in the second. The acting, direction, cinematography, costumes, art and design are all absolutely top notch.

However, this chapter in the saga takes things to a new level. The world that the Corleone family lives in is even bigger and more opulent. The section of the film that sees Michael go to Cuba is mesmerizing. It adds an extra bit of grit to the picture, not that it needed anymore than it already had.

The highlight of this film is Robert De Niro’s portrayal of the younger Vito Corleone. He took a role that was very much Brando’s and made it his own without stepping on the toes of his elder. It was definitely a performance that deserved the Oscar De Niro got for it. It is also the only time two different actors have won an Oscar for playing the same character.

The film also contrasts the first movie in that you see the Corleone empire being run in different ways. While the family business is the bottom line, Michael goes further than his father in what he’s willing to do to keep the empire running. Michael went from a young man who didn’t want his family to define his legacy, in the first film, to a man that goes to extremes to keep the family together while he is battling the conflict within himself.

Godfather, Part II is a more dynamic and layered story overall and it is well-executed. While I mentioned preferring the linear plot to Part I, the plot is still managed perfectly. The scenes of Michael and then the flashbacks of Vito go hand-in-hand and they reflect off of each other, showing that despite the differences in the father and son characters, that they still travel the same path in a lot of ways.

In reality, The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II just feel like one really long movie that had to be broken into two parts. And the place where they decided to break them, at the end of the first movie, was the best spot. It flawlessly separates the legacies of the two men, out for the same thing but in very different ways.

Film Review: Paradise Alley (1978)

Release Date: September 22nd, 1978
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Kevin Conway, Anne Archer, Joe Spinell, Armand Assante, Lee Canalito, Terry Funk, Frank McRae, Joyce Ingalls, Tom Waits

Universal Pictures, 107 Minutes

Review:

This film has been in my Netflix queue forever. I saw that it was getting pulled down in a few days, so I decided I had to watch it now or never. Granted I saw this film before but that was on HBO when I was like six years-old. I think I saw it again once on TBS or TNT in the early 90s at three in the morning. Regardless, I remember holding it in a special place, as it was very similar to the tone and style of the original Rocky.

Set in 1946, in Hell’s Kitchen, the small part of Manhattan made most famous by the Daredevil comics. This film follows three brothers played by Sylvester Stallone, Armand Assante – in his debut role and Lee Canalito. Canalito is a giant of a man and is pressured by his brothers to become a wrestler, after he upsets the town legend in an impromptu match to make a quick $100. Stallone’s Cosmo and Assante’s Lenny feud throughout the film over what each thinks is best for their wrestler brother.

The film also features Joe Spinell, who worked with Stallone in Rocky as the infamous character Gazzo. Pro-wrestler Terry Funk plays the head thug of the mobster and the final opponent in the film’s climactic battle. Frank McRae plays an aging yet lovable fighter, Anne Archer plays a love interest that creates a bit of a love triangle with Cosmo and Lenny. Kevin Conway plays Stitch the mobster; he is a favorite of mine and can be easily remembered as the announcer (or barker) that you heard throughout the outside fairground scenes in Tobe Hooper’s Funhouse.

There are cameos from many well-known professional wrestlers: “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, Bob Roop, “Dirty” Dick Murdoch, Dory Funk Jr., Don Leo Jonathan, Don Kernodle, Gene Kiniski, Dennis Stamp, Ray Stevens, and Uliuli Fifita.

This film, like Rocky, features the music of Bill Conti. In fact, this film felt like it was trying pretty hard to recreate the magic of the first Rocky film. Maybe after it fell a bit short, its lack of success inspired Rocky II, which came out a year later.

Paradise Alley was written and directed by Stallone and as a first real directorial effort, it isn’t a bad film at all. He would go on to direct most of the Rocky sequels, as well as many other films after this.

While I enjoy this movie overall, it falls a bit flat in comparison to the Rocky franchise. It also doesn’t really represent professional wrestling accurately at all because even in 1946, it wasn’t a straight up sport. Furthermore, it employed wrestling moves that were more commonplace in the 1970s and 1980s. 1940s professional wrestling was a totally different experience than what was shown in this film. Despite that, the visuals and the way the matches were shot, was pretty damned awesome. Stallone experimented with style, substance and texture and achieved something marvelous to look at.

From a plot standpoint, the film is disjointed and at times, dysfunctional. The characters motivations seem to flip-flop on a whim and there seems to be an underlying rivalry between the two older brothers that is never really explored and never really that important to the overall narrative once you get to the end. Additionally, the end of the film, mainly, the way the wrestling match ends, is confusing. I guess they won and the brothers are now at peace and I’m not sure how the conflict was really resolved.

This is a film worth watching but if you don’t, you’ll probably be okay.

Film Review: The Godfather (1972)

Release Date: March 15th, 1972 (Loew’s State Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola
Based on: The Godfather by Mario Puzo
Music by: Nino Rota
Cast: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Richard Castellano, Robert Duvall, Sterling Hayden, John Marley, Richard Conte, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Abe Vigoda, Alex Rocco, Joe Spinell, Sofia Coppola, Richard Bright

Alfran Productions, Paramount Pictures, 177 Minutes

godfatherReview:

I had a great experience, as I finally got to see The Godfather on the big screen. Like my recent experience of seeing Aliens in the theater, movies just take on a different life when seen in their intended format, much larger and in a dark movie house with other filmgoers there for the love of the picture.

I’ve mentioned before that it is hard to review a masterpiece and this is really no different. In fact, The Godfather goes beyond that. It is a film truly devoid of any real flaws.

I don’t need to talk about the great story and the great acting or how Francis Ford Coppola was at the top of his game – everyone already knows that. The music is perfect, the cinematography is absolutely pristine and tonally, everything is pure magic. I mean, this is a film that has a 9.2 on IMDb. Only one other picture in the entirety of film history is rated higher and that is The Shawshank Redemption.

The Godfather‘s real appeal is that it truly feels timeless. It takes place in the 1940s but was made in the 1970s, yet none of that matters. The world within the film, even now, feels true to itself and incredibly authentic. The Godfather has a certain realism to it missing from most other films, especially the mafia crime genre. It doesn’t feel like Hollywood at all, it feels like you are really a fly on the wall in this family’s home. Even Goodfellas, as great as it is, doesn’t come close to the authenticity of The Godfather.

The film is long, at almost three hours. That is usually a bone of contention with me, but everything in the film feels necessary. Where I feel that certain filmmakers make really long epics in an effort to somehow legitimize their films as something epic and great, The Godfather is one of the few that deserves as much time as it needs. Here, the time is truly needed. At the other end of the spectrum, 2005’s King Kong didn’t need three hours, let alone the extra twenty minutes that brought it to a whopping 200 minutes.

The running time, makes The Godfather feel more like a lengthy miniseries, especially taking into account its sequel, which was even longer. However, it deserves to be seen in the theater. In fact, that is where it should be seen. Not on a small screen where it has existed for the entire duration of my lifetime. I really hope the sequel gets re-released theatrically in the very near future. Hell, I’d even see The Godfather: Part III just to complete the saga on the big screen.

If you have the opportunity to see this in the theater, you need to. And if you’ve never seen the film, you really owe it to yourself to experience it.