Monday, 04 March 2024

‘Sly’ improbable inspirational story; ‘Genie’ holiday spirit


Baring his soul to a certain extent on the Netflix film “Sly,” the titular character burst onto the scene of public awareness in a film that has come to be a symbol of willingness to go the distance even if the outcome does not turn in the protagonist’s favor.

The film, of course, is Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky,” the genesis of which has the makings of a fantasy story that seems to be rooted in fiction. By all accounts, Stallone forged his own path by writing the script which he insisted would not be sold unless he starred in the film.

Up to that point in his career, Stallone mostly had bit parts, usually being cast as a thug. A brief film clip from “Bananas” shows him mugging an old lady on a subway train as Woody Allen’s terrified passenger nervously sits nearby.

At the beginning of the documentary “Sly,” the actor’s opening line is “It’s really easy to become complacent.” Maybe that’s on his mind because the film’s beginning shows him packing up his Los Angeles mansion for a move to the East Coast.

By any measure, Stallone is anything but complacent, as others like director John Herzfeld and his former rival and friend Arnold Schwarzenegger attest. The Terminator himself recognizes Stallone’s astute creation of three franchises, namely “Rocky,” “Rambo” and “The Expendables.”

As for the move east, it seems to be more like a return to Stallone’s roots, as the actor was born in the summer of 1946 and lived in the tough neighborhood of New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen, a place that once lived up to its name but now has become gentrified.

Stallone’s hardscrabble childhood found him often truant and involved in fights. He attended more than a dozen schools. But a Harvard professor who was in the audience for a school play told Stallone he should think of acting as a career, and that moment became an epiphany for his life’s trajectory.

Escaping a dismal home life, Stallone spent a lot of time sneaking into movie theaters, from which he became self-taught on writing scripts. He also saw Steve Reeves in “Hercules” as the perfect male role model.

For a documentary on his life, Stallone talks not that much about his childhood or family life, even though it is apparent that he came from a broken home and let it be known that his father was physically abusive to him and his brother Frank.

While married three times with five children, there is not much said about his immediate family ties, though clips with his son Sage, who played his offspring in “Rocky V,” are illuminating. Sadly, Sage died at the age of 36 from a coronary disease.

Turning down an offer of $265,000 for his original “Rocky” script, which was a fortune for a struggling actor at the time, was the best gamble ever made.

If you wonder about the success of his franchise films, Stallone makes the interesting point that he believes in sequels because “quite often the story can’t be told in two hours.” Well, “Sly” is less than two hours but it tells a lot.


As one holiday seemingly bleeds into another, the spirit of Christmas always arrives even before the turkey is carved on Thanksgiving Day. Right now, holiday cheer is needed more than ever.

Christmas programs are already on the air. Hallmark Channel, as usual, jump starts the season with its “Countdown to Christmas” slew of movies that launched back in late October.

Christmas also comes early on Peacock with the November 22nd streaming launch of holiday fairytale comedy “Genie,” from Oscar-nominated screenwriter Richard Curtis, who has the “Love Actually,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” and “Notting Hill” films to his credit.

Melissa McCarthy stars as Flora, a genie trapped for more than 2,000 years inside an antique jewelry box because of one teeny-tiny little misunderstanding with a sorcerer back in 77 B.C.

After millennia of being summoned to grant wishes of gold doubloons and hot babes for greedy men, Flora is accidentally called to service by Bernard Bottle (Paapa Kwayke Essiedu), whose life is unraveling around him.

Bernard’s been so busy working that he has lost sight of his marriage to his wife Julie (Denee Benton) and the childhood of his young daughter Eve (Jordyn Mcintosh). When Bernard misses Eve’s birthday 12 days before Christmas because of work, Julie decides it’s time for a trial separation.

Even worse, Bernard gets fired by his tyrannical boss (Alan Cumming). Alone in his New York apartment, a despondent Bernard dusts off a jewelry box in their home and unintentionally releases the one entity who just might be able to help him get his family back.

Is this a longshot for Bernard, as Christmas approaches? Maybe. Possibly. But in the process, Flora and Bernard will discover that love, and an unexpected friendship, can unleash a special holiday magic all its own. Does “Genie” end up back in the box?

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

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