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Watching “Rocky IV” on the big screen.

Watching “Rocky IV” on the big screen. (photo)

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A friend once told me that I wasn’t a real American because I hadn’t see any of the “Rocky” movies. He was only half kidding. Still, given how iconic the series is and how ubiquitous it is on basic cable, it’s easy to feel like you’ve seen the film even if you’ve only caught the usual clips. And even I know that “Rocky” and “Rocky II” are decent; “Rocky III” is given a pass because it has Mr. T; and “Rocky IV” is the real lunatic film of the franchise, an all out Americans-vs-Russkies allegory grandiose enough to grace the Thanksgiving holidays for Ronald Reagan’s fifth year in office. And when I finally got a chance to see a “Rocky” film (in a theater, no less), it was installment four that I started with.

Part of what gives “Rocky IV” cult status are the bits emphasizing just what an stupidly huge presence Dolph Lundgren is. Stallone’s never hesitated to undercut himself for the greater dramatic good, so he’ll shoot from a low angle designed to make Lundgren loom even more than he naturally would. Lundgren’s Ivan Drago is a Bond-esque supervillain, a ‘roided-out freak sent to attack America self-confidence in the boxing ring.

It’s a hysterical way of framing the Cold War stakes, sure, but entirely appropriate for a conservative-minded guy like Stallone. (Ironically, the Swedish Lungren now has a sizable Russian following — his last film was set there, so the part clearly didn’t hurt him one bit, or maybe many Russians really would like to have that guy out there on their behalf.)

07092010_mrt.jpgOne of the charming things about “Rocky IV” is that it has no subtext whatsoever. Everything is spelled out painstakingly, with long speeches from Rocky about what he’s standing up for (America, Apollo, etc.) and a press conference that devolves into both sides shouting about lack of respect for their political positions.

It’s not a good movie — the audience was laughing right from the beginning — but it’s nowhere near as challengingly, mystifyingly bad as “The Room” or “Birdemic.” It’s just sweetly, dopily earnest; the initially giggle-heavy audience eventually reluctantly settled down into a torpor where every gratuitous ’80s-ism stopped being cause for laughter and only the truly bizarre stuff caused cackling.

07092010_rocky4.jpgMovies like “Rocky IV” doesn’t get shown in 35mm much. On the one hand, why tie up scarce screens with ironic nostalgia staples? On the other, it makes a screening of a basically unexceptional movie like “Rocky IV” more of an event than you’d ever expect it to be. Most of the people in the auditorium probably hadn’t seen it in a theater since 1985; the nostalgic connotations must’ve been fierce. Afterward, people started asking each other about other movies they might have revisited since “becoming adults.”

There’s value to seeing taken-for-granted pop culture ephemera exhumed briefly for one night, then consigned back to its post-theatrical afterlife. It provides a very rare occasion to give your full, undivided attention to something that’s been in the background of your life for years, taken for granted. And in the end, it didn’t matter that I didn’t really feel any deep history with Adrian.

[Photos: “Rocky IV,” MGM/UA Home Entertainment, 1985]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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