Tag Archives: Sylvester Stallone

Saving the Galaxy…Awesome!

Family matters in ‘Guardians’ sequel, but mostly it’s a wild ride of bonkers space-rocket fun 

nullGuardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker & Kurt Russell
Directed by James Gunn
PG-13
In theaters May 5, 2017

“We’re saving the galaxy again?” asks the rascally raccoon known as Rocket. “Awesome!”

Many fans will have the same giddy reaction at the return of Guardians of the Galaxy, the 2014 blockbuster about a ragtag, Robin Hood-ish crew of Marvel Comics space mercenaries. The gang from the original, which raked in more than $773 million at the box office, is also all aboard for the sequel, including writer/director James Gunn.

Leading the pack again is Chris Pratt as the cocky, roguish pilot Peter Quill, who still has an “unspoken thing” for the emerald-skinned she-assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana). Former professional wrestler Dave Bautista is a man-mountain of red-tattooed muscle as Drax (the Destroyer), whose hearty laugh sounds like it could rattle the rings around Saturn. Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), the mouthy raccoon genetically altered to become a master of weaponry and fighting, is given his own mini-story spinoff—which includes an especially zesty verbal spar with a dreadlocked baddie named Taserface (Chris Dowd, who plays Toby Damon on TV’s This is Us).

nullAnd even though you really can’t tell, that’s Vin Diesel once more providing the voice of Baby Groot, the new, little-sprout incarnation of the hulking tree creature that was part of the Guardians crew in the first film.

Baby Groot pretty much steals the show—and certainly every scene in which appears,  dancing, wiggling, running, grunting or simply saying the only thing he ever says: “I am Groot.”

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Rocket & Baby Groot

This time around, the Guardians get into serious trouble when Rocket double-crosses some gold-skinned aliens, the Sovereigns, led by the imperialistic Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki).  That sets off an intergalactic bounty hunt by the Ravagers, a group of motley thieves, smugglers and space pirates.

But Peter Quill’s long-lost father, Ego (Kurt Russell), zooms to the rescue. When he takes the Guardians to his fabulous celestial home, a world he created, he lays the news on them: He’s actually a cosmic deity, a “celestial.” That makes Peter, his spawn, a bona fide star child.

“You’re…a god?” asks the incredulous Peter.

“Small g, son,” says Ego. “At least on days I’m feeling humble.”

The matter of Peter’s mixed DNA—his mother was an Earthling who died of a brain tumor when Peter was a child—looms large. And as most everyone knows, family matters can be complicated.

There’s a difference and a distinction between fathers and daddies, Peter is reminded by Yondu (Michael Rooker), the blue-skinned bandit who raised him. And Gamora is reunited with her sister, the cybernetically enhanced Nebula (Karen Gillan, Dr. Who’s Amy Pond), who has some major childhood grudges she still wants to settle.

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Gamora

All of this zaps and zooms along, as did the first movie, to a witty stream of pop-cultural riffs and references. Peter compares his slow-burn relationship with Gamora to Sam and Diane from the iconic rom-com Cheers, and he tells her how much he longed for his dad to be like dashing Knight Rider star David Hasselhoff. A wild, warping ride through space zones, in which characters’ faces contort in crazy, eye-popping ways, is a meta-reference to the work of legendary Looney Tunes cartoon animator Tex Avery. There’s a visual joke about Pac Man, and another very clever running gag that takes drone weaponry to an alien-videogame-arcade extreme.

And there are VIP cameos, one by someone Marvel fans always expect to show up in Marvel movies, and another by Sylvester Stallone, who mumbles a few mushy lines and then disappears for most of the rest of the movie.

Just like the original Guardians rocked out to Peter Quill’s “Awesome Mixtape Vol. I” cassette on his beloved Walkman, this one has an equally cool overlay of classic-rock gems to set the tone. It starts out with the Looking Glass super-70s hit “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl),” and continues through “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac, George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” Jay and the American’s “Love a Little Bit Closer,” Silver’s “Wham Bam Shang-A-Lang” and several more.

And you’ve probably never thought of Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky” as the musical backdrop for the battle of a gigantic glop monster, or Glen Campbell’s “Southern Nights” as the soundtrack for a moonlit evening of finely orchestrated defensive-perimeter mayhem. But you probably will now.

It’s noisy, colorful, jam-packed and it ends—like a lot of superhero flicks—with a big, boom-y, blowout bang before a much softer, sentimental coda, one orchestrated to the meditative strains of the Cat Stevens song “Fathers and Sons.” But it’s a practically nonstop cascade of fast-paced, bonkers, high-spirited fun, a far-out space-rocket ride with a cast of endearing characters that have definitely found their movie niche and intend to hang onto it.

As the teaser at the end indicates, they’ll definitely be back—to save the galaxy again.

To quote Rocket the raccoon, “Awesome!”

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Gonna Fly Now

‘Creed’ soars as new Rocky saga

Creed

Starring Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone & Tessa Thompson

Directed by Ryan Coogler

PG-13

“No one cares about Balboa anymore,” sneers “Pretty” Ricky Conlon (Tony Bellew), the young British boxer itching for a fight in Creed.

It’s been nearly 40 years since the first Rocky movie introduced the plucky palooka, which Sylvester Stallone continued to play in five sequels. Rocky Balboa became a boxing icon, a rock-’em, sock-’em legend and a rags-to-riches tale for the ages.

But, does anyone care anymore?

In Creed, the first Rocky movie in which Stallone doesn’t put on the gloves, Rocky is coaxed out of retirement to train the son of his late friend and former rival Apollo Creed.

Creed05720.dngThe son, Adonis “Donny” Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), comes from L.A. to seek Rocky out at Adrian’s, the Italian restaurant named after his late wife that he now runs in his Philadelphia hometown. A born scrapper who grew up in a juvenile facility before finally being adopted by Apollo’s former wife (Phylicia Rashad), Donny appeals to Rocky’s own hardscrabble instincts—and their shared legacy, which Donny says makes them “like family.”

Can the grizzled former superstar help the feisty greenhorn learn the ropes, come to grips with his own legacy and face the cockney challenger from across the ocean, who’d love nothing more than to draw blood from a Creed—and the protégé of a Balboa?

Michael B. Jordan & Tessa Thompson

Writer-director Ryan Coogler, who worked previously with Jordan as the star of the powerful true-story drama Fruitvale Station (2013), draws deep on Rocky legacy while masterfully building a compelling, contemporary story that stands strong on its own, focusing on just a few central characters. Tessa Thompson brings sweetness and spunk as Bianca, an aspiring singer who lives in the apartment beneath Donny, whose music at first keeps him from sleeping—then later soothes his fighter’s soul.

Tony Bellew has a real swagger as the undefeated British heavyweight champ—because he really is one. As Apollo Creed’s widow, Phylicia Rashad (who played Bill Cosby’s TV wife, Clair) frets that boxing will wreck Donny the way it did her husband. “Your daddy died in the ring,” she tells him. “You’re better than that.”

Phylicia Rashad

Coogler’s technique is almost a character in itself, placing the camera inside the ring, between, behind and in front of the fighters, darting, shifting, bobbing and weaving along with them. One entire match is filmed as one breathlessly long, unbroken take, from the dressing room into the ring, through the final bell.

The blows land hard, and so does the sentiment—especially when the story shifts in the second act to another kind of “fight” that turns the tables on Rocky and Donny’s relationship. Creed packs a punch, in more ways than one.

There’s a lot to like and more to love about this movie, but most of it comes down to Jordan, whose performance as Adonis is raw, rousing and moving, and to Stallone, who at 69 does some of his best acting in years.

In one impactful scene, Adonis and Rocky ascend the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, immortalized in the original movie. “When you get to the top, you think you can fly,” says Rocky, this time a bit out of breath.

In making us care about Rocky Balboa again, in a big, big way, Creed indeed soars.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Old Soldiers

Stallone & Co. are showing their age in third testosterone fest

The Expendables 3 - Final One Sheet

The Expendables 3

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger & Mel Gibson

Directed by Patrick Hughes

PG-13

In the opening scene of this slam-bang, testosterone-fest reunion of aging action-movie icons, Sylvester Stallone’s character points to a frankfurter-sized finger of his meaty fist and a skull-shaped glob of silver—his Expendables “lucky ring.”

The Expendables franchise, about a group of super-covert, battle-scarred warriors hired to do the U.S. government’s dirty work, has indeed been lucky for Stallone. He’s had both his bank account and his ego fed by the success of the previous two movies, which he also had a big hand in either directing or writing.

In the movies, his team is “expendable” because their work is so dangerous, and their missions so secret, no one knows—or can afford to care—if they live or die.

How ironic—since the Expendables don’t seem expendable at all. They just keep coming back, again and again, and Stallone and his co-stars are a veritable, tried-and-true Hollywood guy-movie who’s who. These are some “dependable” Expendables.

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Sylvester “Rambo” Stallone (left) and Arnold “Terminator” Schwarzenegger are the alpha males in “Expendables 3.”

And if anything, they just keep getting more “expandable.” In this excursion, the grizzled, gung-ho wagon train links up former E-team stalwarts Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Wesley Snipes, Jason Statham, Randy Couture and Jet Li with new add-ons Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Kelsey Grammer (yes, Dr. Crane from Cheers and Frazier!) and Antonio Banderas, and a group of younger Expendables-in-training—Kellan Lutz, Glen Powell, boxing champ Victor Oritz and mixed martial arts fighter Ronda Rousey, the sole female invited into the boys’-club sandbox of bullet-spraying machine guns, missile-launching bazookas, exploding trains, airborne boats, dive-bombing helicopters and ka-booming army tanks.

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Mixed martial arts fighter-turned-actress Ronda Rousey is the only female invited to play in the boys-only sandbox.

There’s a wisp of a subplot about the old-school Expendables (with their knives and guns) vs. the new young high-tech Expendables (with their computers and cameras and drones). But now, four years and three movies into the franchise, the just-plain-old Expendables are beginning to wear visibly thin, the plots have ground down to near nothingness, the wisecracks aren’t wise or crack-y anymore, and the original stars mostly lumber around like middle-aged slabs of spa-toned beefcake. And this movie, in particular, is so bloated with actors, there’s not much space for any of them. Some, like martial arts champion Jet Li, are relegated to little more than a cameo.

When the first movie came out, in 2010, it was an homage to Hollywood’s long tradition of Dirty Dozen-style, action-caper, military-mission flicks, as well as an adrenaline shot of career-rejuvenating mojo for Stallone and some of his action-movie pals from the ’80s and ’90s. Now, as Neil Young’s “Old Man” plays and Stallone’s character proudly watches his young protégés carouse in a barroom, it seems like the original Expendable is thinking about finally easing out of the picture—or at least making much more room for a younger, leaner, greener set of espionage and counter-terrorism experts.

At one point, Trench (Schwarzenegger) tells Barney (Stallone) he’s through. “I’m getting out of this business,” he says, “and so should you.” Maybe it’s finally time for Stallone to take that Expendables advice to heart.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Raging Bull Crap

De Niro, Stallone slug it out in clichéd boxing comedy

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Grudge Match

Starring Robert De Niro & Sylvester Stallone

Directed by Peter Segal

PG-13, 113 min.

What if the two boxers from two of Hollywood’s most iconic boxing movies of all time came together in one contemporary clash of the titans?

Well, Rocky and Raging Bull don’t show up, exactly, but you’ll have no trouble remembering the roles Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro played some 30 to 35 years ago watching them spar in Grudge Match, in which they both portray long-retired palookas lured back to the ring by the promise of a big payday—and the opportunity to settle a decades-old dispute about who’s king of the knock-outs.

Back in the day, “Razor” Sharp (Stallone) and Billy “Kid” Donnen (De Niro) were Philadelphia scrappers who battled their way to the top of the light-heavyweight heap, culminating in an epic slugfest that ended with a split decision. Razor called it quits, however, and announced his retirement before a tie-breaking rematch could be arranged, and Kid’s been obsessed with “what might have been” ever since.

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Kevin Hart (center) creates a major media event around the rematch of ‘Razor’ (Stallone) and ‘Kid’ (De Niro).

Now a motor-mouthed young promoter (Kevin Hart) sees an opportunity to make his name (and a lot of moolah) by setting up a long-overdue bout between the two rusty old steel-town foes and turning it into a major media event.

Will Razor agree to put on the gloves one more time? Will the Kid swap pancakes and scotch for salads and sit-ups? Will the press stop making cracks about Geritol and Life Alert necklaces? And who will the woman (Kim Basinger) who had to choose between Kid and Razor three decades choose this time around?

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Kim Basinger

Stallone mumbles, De Niro mugs. There are some funny bits, but director Peter Segal (50 First Dates, Anger Management, Get Smart) somehow manages to miss with most of his punches, comedic and otherwise. The jokes are lame and low; this is the kind of movie that thinks anything from the waist down is hilarious. The story trots out nearly every contrivance and cliché imaginable, and the performances are about as lazy as you can get in a movie that still requires people to get up and walk around.

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Alan Arkin

And walking around isn’t even required, at least not all the time, for Alan Arkin’s character, Razor’s “elderly” trainer, whose ability to self-ambulate comes and goes.

Ironically, one of the best moments of the whole movie happens after it’s finished. Stay for the credits and catch the snippet in which Hart’s promoter tries to tempt another couple of former boxing champs back inside the ring for his next Big Event.

By the time things get around to the “Grudgement Day” match you know is coming, you just want the scene—like the movie—to be over before either Stallone, 67, or De Niro, 70, gets hurt. If I had a towel, I’d have thrown it in long before the legacies of two great movies were slammed to the mat and ground into a crappy comedy like this one.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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