Stallone: Frank, That Is: Sylvester's the one on the right.
The press release hyped him as “one of the most versatile talents in Hollywood.” The late Danny Aiello dubbed him a “five tool guy” capable of singing, acting, performing, writing, and fighting “like a sonofabitch.” Billy Zane described him as “a combination of electric magnetism coupled with this incredible ability. It’s a rare cocktail.” Who is this multifaceted artist that had Hollywood at his feet, clamoring for more? Wayne Newton? Mickey Rourke? Ken Norton? The title tells all: Stallone: Frank, That Is.
Was it a case of an uncommonly well-mannered son or a fiercely independent mother who made it a habit of going off half-cocked? The story goes that Frank was such an obedient child that when mom Jackie parked him on a bench at Bloomingdale’s and told him to sit there until she finished shopping, Frank didn’t budge. It wasn’t until Jackie arrived back home that she realized the eminently forgettable Frank didn’t make the round trip. Upon returning to the store, there he was, still sitting on the bench.
Mile-a-minute spieler Frank loves to reminisce, so much so that it’s a wonder that director/official Stallone videographer Derek Wayne Johnson’s (40 Years of Rocky: The Birth of a Classic) talking-heads doc clocks in at a scant 74 minutes. Frank’s greatest claim to fame is his ability to stand in brother Sylvester’s shadow without freezing his ass off. “In his world and his talent,” says the thick-spoken Sly, “he’s every bit as good as I am at what I try to do.” (Stock footage and family photographs notwithstanding, you don’t see the brothers together in the same frame until the closing credits.) Living in Philadelphia, Frank found marginal success fronting a handful of local bands. He practically exited the womb singing, while it took twenty years before Sylvester found his calling. One testimonial after another praises Frank as a musical prodigy, a natural born entertainer. And of all the Stallones who went under the knife, Frank was the one who hired the services of the best plastic surgeon money could buy.
Prior to his band appearing as the street corner doo-wop group in Rocky, Frank achieved a modicum of success a musician. (There’s a bittersweet reunion with his surviving bandmates from the group Valentine.) After the film went wide, the majority of Frank’s big breaks hinged on Sylvester’s ability to find room for him on the payroll. The film was such a hit that Jakk’s Pacific immortalized Frank as a polyvinyl chloride Street Corner Action Figure. Frank capitalized on the cameo by making the talk show rounds, where it soon became obvious that Mike, Merv, and Dinah were less curious about his music and more interested in what it was like being the kid brother of a fictional character.
Always a bridesmaid: the morning after celebrating signing on with PolyGram Records — and cancelling all of his band’s upcoming gigs — the call came in saying the deal was off. A solo album flopped. The Bee Gees walked off Staying Alive, the Sly-directed sequel to the infernal disco monster that was Saturday Night Fever, leaving Frank the unenviable chore of composing a score that could top what remains the second-biggest-selling soundtrack of all time. The Golden Globes and Grammys both recognized Frank’s contributions with a pair of nominations, but Oscar showed him the door.
As with any self-financed biographical endeavor, truth is arbitrary. With a last name that could have been a real door-opener, the only one heeding his knock appears to have been brother Sly. Forget about the Barrymores and the Coppolas: the Stallones comprised a Hollywood dynasty that no one bothered to acknowledge, with Frank playing a disposable Stephen Baldwin opposite Sly’s Alec.
We exit feeling sorry for the guy. Based on the assumptions of versatility, the ballyhoo was more than half correct: Stallone’s not only a singer, but given the right role (Barfly, Tombstone), he can rise to the occasion as an actor. (Then there’s Terror in Beverly Hills, a laughably incoherent action-thriller that isn’t so bad... it’s worse!.) And when it comes to pugilism, the question remains: why pursue a career in boxing when one is trying one’s best to step out from behind one’s brother’s image? There is so much time devoted to Frank asking “Why not me?” that in the end, this very entertaining vanity production seems less of a biodoc and more like a demo reel. ★★★
Video on Demand New Release Roundup
My Little Sister — Agonizing set-’em-up-to-watch-’em-die melodrama starring Nina Hoss in the titular role of Lisa, a brilliant, albeit lapsed playwright who abandoned all artistic endeavors to follow her school teacher husband’s (Jens Albinus) career path from Germany to Switzerland. When her twin brother Sven (Lars Eidinger), a celebrated stage actor, contracts a fast-growing form of leukemia, Lisa throws everything she has into saving his life, while at the same time liberating her long dammed-up creative juices. Her latest endeavor will be an update of Hansel & Gretel. (Subtlety, anyone? ) While on the subject of fairy tales and folks who play make believe for a living, Nina tries to convince Hubby #1 (Thomas Ostermeier), a director of note, to make good on his agreement to cast Sven as the lead in his production of Hamlet. His response gives rise to one of the film’s few moments of genuine insight: “To let a dying actor perform is obscene.” A Hallmark moment arrives when the writing and directing team of Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond choose to prettify the otherwise grave events with a brief interval of rest and relief in the form of parasailing. For those who confuse significant storytelling with being dragged through hysterics, your ship just docked. Now streaming on AngelikaAnywhere.com. 2020 — S.M. ●
One Night in Miami... — The play’s the thing in this scenical adaptation of playwright/screenwriter Kemp Powers’ fictionalized account of a meeting between NFL great Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.). We open in the Twilight Zone: it’s February 1964, and upon his return home to Georgia, Brown pays a visit to the plantation of family friend, Mr. Carlton (Beau Bridges). Not only does Carlton allow his daughter to entertain a negro on the front porch, he instructs the girl to fetch a couple of glasses of lemonade. It isn’t until Brown’s offer to help move furniture that Carlton reminds him that they “don’t allow ni----- in the house.” The occasion for the group’s gathering at the Green Book-certified Hampton House is to celebrate Clay’s bout with Sonny Liston. Who wins when two black men punch each other’s lights out in the name of sport? Answer: the all-white audience, a chunk of irony Powers asks audiences to swallow whole. The four men all stand at pivotal crossroads in their lives: Brown is poised to make the move from the gridiron to the big screen, Malcolm X is set to sever ties with the Nation of Islam while at the same time asking Clay to change his name to Muhammed Ali and join him. Mercilessly dogged by Malcolm’s accusations that his bland, apolitical chart-toppers point to a sellout, Cooke was never really able to fulfill his promise to change. A motel encounter later that year ended with Cooke being shot to death later under mysterious circumstances. For her debut feature, actress-turned-director Regina King serves her cast well, but as soon as the foursome hit the hotel room, there are but two places to go that will open things up: the parking lot and the rooftop. That said, Powers’ powerful dialogue and the sterling work of the four leads make this a must-see. 2020 — S.M. ★★★