The Rundown is a weekly column that highlights some of the biggest, weirdest, and most notable events of the week in entertainment. The number of items could vary, as could the subject matter. It will not always make a ton of sense. Some items might not even be about entertainment, to be honest, or from this week. The important thing is that it’s Friday, and we are here to have some fun.
ITEM NUMBER ONE — Robot news
Background first, because history is important. In Rocky IV, the classic work of cinema in which Rocky Balboa avenges his friend’s death and single-handedly ends the Cold War by whupping a roided-up Russian superhuman on Christmas Day in Moscow, Rocky gifts his brother-in-law, the charming and perpetually unshaven grump Paulie, a talking robot. Like, a full-on robot, not a Roomba or one of those little robot dogs. Here, look.
It is, to be very clear, hilarious and extremely 1980s, in a way very few things are. People were obsessed with robots for a chunk of the 1980s and 90s. Robots popped up in all sorts of television shows and movies, and, except for your Terminators and such, were usually friendly and helpful. It was a very optimistic time. People had yet to discover what technology and algorithms had in store for us. They thought we’d have polite robot butlers that would make us pancakes and do our laundry; instead, we have tiny supercomputers that we refuse to put down for one single second and that feed our once-sweet aunts and uncles a steady stream of conspiracy theories and thinly-disguised propaganda. It’s not ideal.
Anyway, Sylvester Stallone is preparing a new director’s cut of the film for its 35th anniversary, and he announced it on Instagram, and everything was proceeding at a normal clip until we reached this section of the comments on the post.
I will get to the substance of this issue in a second, but first, take a minute to consider two things:
- Please say “The robot is going to the junkyard forever” in your best and/or worst Stallone voice, out loud, at least a dozen times throughout the day
- Please picture Sylvester Stallone wearing reading glasses and sitting at a laptop pecking out replies to comments on his Instagram with his two meaty index fingers
But yes, this all raises an important question: Should Sylvester Stallone cut Paulie’s robot from the director’s cut of Rocky IV? Let’s look at both sides of the argument.
THE CASE FOR KEEPING THE ROBOT
The robot is very funny and watching Paulie react to it cracks me up. I would be sad if it just disappeared. I would like more of the robot, actually. And there’s more of it there to give me, as Screencrush explained recently.
Removing Paulie’s Robot is particularly upsetting because there were additional scenes with him that were previously left on the cutting room floor. In one interview [the robot’s creator Robert] Doornick describes a scene that was cut where “Paulie and the robot had developed an odd couple relationship, with the robot complaining that Paulie always slept in the same t-shirt and made too much cigar smoke. The robot ‘found it offensive to [his] sensors.’” so then Paulie messes with the robot’s circuits and changes it from male to female “Most people in the movie don’t understand why the robot switched from a normal voice to a female voice,” Doornick said. “That’s why.”
I absolutely adore that Sylvester Stallone got three Rockys into this franchise and then decided, screw it, I’m throwing an entire robot subplot into my boxing movie about death and loss and ongoing Cold War tensions. I’m mad this much of it was cut already. I’ll be heartbroken if he cuts the rest, in part because it’s always a bummer when filmmakers go back and screw around with their works many decades later, and in part because, again, the whole thing is so cheesy and goofy and so aggressively 1980s that it just fits. It’s a time capsule. Leave it alone, Sly.
THE CASE FOR CUTTING THE ROBOT
Rocky is a Philadelphia icon and Philadelphia has a long and storied history of wiping friendly robots out of existence. And when I refer to this long and storied history, what I mean is HitchBOT. You remember HitchBOT, yes? If not, allow me to direct you to this CNN report, headlined “HitchBOT, the hitchhiking robot, gets beheaded in Philadelphia”:
HitchBOT, the cheerful hitchhiking robot that had made cross-country trips across Canada, the Netherlands and Germany, had intended to travel across the United States as well. Instead, it survived all of 300 miles on the mean streets of the U.S.A.
Two weeks after beginning its U.S. trip in Boston, the robot was vandalized in Philadelphia, the team overseeing the robot said in a statement.
It is fitting and accurate that Philadelphia’s most iconic fictional figure would eliminate this robot. Good riddance.
Sylvester Stallone should keep the robot in the director’s cut of Rocky IV but add a scene where a group of local toughs stomp it out on the street. A healthy compromise.
ITEM NUMBER TWO— Chadwick Boseman was good at everything
Chadwick Boseman passed away from cancer at age 43. Every part of that sentence is awful. He was so young and so talented and had so much more to do and to give. I’ve read every tribute to him by all of his co-stars and collaborators, and I’ve read every other story about him I’ve seen this week, too, including the one about how he thought he had it beat as recently as last month. It sucks. It sucks in every way. It would have sucked even if he wasn’t incredibly talented, but it sucks especially because of that.
A lot of the focus this week has been on his work in Black Panther, and in biopics as Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Marshall. This is understandable, and correct, and good. He brought a kind of quiet power to those roles that leaped off the screen and brought them to life. He was so good in Black Panther. He was so, so good, even as he was playing against a charismatic and colorful villain in Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger. That’s not easy. It also shouldn’t be a surprise, because he was kind of great at everything.
For example, did you remember that Chadwick Boseman appeared in an episode of Justified earlier in his career? Because he did. He showed up in the second season as a character named Ralph “Flex” Beeman who could have very easily been one of many forgotten goons on the show. But he was great in the role. I remember watching it at the time and thinking “This guy kind of rules.” I was sad they killed him off at the end of the episode, for a few reasons, not the least of which being that he got to deliver one of the show’s best lines, which I will present here without context, because it doesn’t need it.
He was also terrific as a host on SNL, which I say both because it is true and because it will allow me to embed the Black Jeopardy sketch where he appeared in character as T’Challa.
Again, this all just sucks very much. I’m sorry I don’t have a more eloquent way to express myself here. It’s about as far as my brain will let me take things right now. It just sucks, a lot, and I’m sad.
ITEM NUMBER THREE — Something to think about regarding the new trailer for the upcoming James Bond movie, No Time to Die
Watch this whole trailer twice from start to finish. The first time, just take it all in. Then, the second time, use every ounce of power your brain can muster to replace Daniel Craig with Steve Buscemi every time he appears.
Much better, right? Here to help
ITEM NUMBER FOUR — Look, if we’re going to do this, let’s really do it
Back when Prince Harry and Megan Markle dipped on the monarchy and came to America, the strong suspicion among many people whose job or hobby it is to suspect these things was that they would end up in Los Angeles doing Hollywood things. It took a little while, but it did finally happen this week. The former royals signed a big honking deal with Netflix, which, between this and the big honking deal with the Obamas, is now very much in the business of making big honking deals with power couples who have recently left positions of power. Variety has the details.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who moved to California earlier this year, had been pitching movies and TV plans around Hollywood, Variety previously reported. Under their new, multi-year deal at Netflix, the couple will make documentaries, feature films, scripted television shows and children’s series.
This is interesting, but vague. It kind of checks off every box Netflix has, short of “Zac Efron learns about science from the world’s most patient scientists,” which is admittedly a very specific niche. Let’s get a little more specific. Tell me about some projects that are in development.
The couple will be focused on creating a wide variety of series about stories and issues that are close to their hearts, such as those that their newly formed nonprofit, Archewell, will highlight. Several projects are already in development, including a nature docuseries and an animated series centered on inspirational women.
Cool, cool, nice, nice. All fine and interesting and about what I think we all expected. But just hear me out here, Harry and Megan, if you’re reading this, which as of this moment I’m going to assume you are: A Suits spin-off. Megan Markle reprises her role as Rachel, who now lives in Los Angeles and his split from Mike and is a high-powered entertainment attorney. And, making his acting debut, Harry co-stars as bad boy rival entertainment lawyer Brix Montecarlo. Oh, they start out as hated adversaries (he hates her for being prepared and following the rules and being generally competent; she hates him for playing fast and loose and skirting the consequences), but eventually, baby, the sparks start flying. The tension builds until, finally, it pops like a balloon in a night of unplanned, spontaneous passion… on the eve of the big trial where they are going head-to-head.
You would watch at least one episode, just out of curiosity, just to see if Harry can act. Please don’t lie to me or yourself about this.
ITEM NUMBER FIVE — Hankso
Tom Hanks is a good man. This much we know or should know based on his long career in the public eye and the numerous stories about him being a sweetheart and the New York Times profile of him that came out when he was about to play Mr. Rogers, because who the hell else was supposed to play Mr. Rogers, you know? He’s also a smart, well-read man, as he proved yet again in a long feature about the legacy of WWII this week, also in the New York Times. And you are welcome to go read it if you life, but I am going to skip right past all of the words he wrote, all the way to the bottom of the page, to what is easily one of the two or three best corrections I’ve ever seen.
Okay, two things:
- I don’t know why, and I refuse to risk overthinking it in an attempt to figure it out, but this is the funniest thing in the world to me
- I promise all of you, right now, via words that are published online and cannot be taken back, that if I ever meet Tom Hanks, I will open the conversation by saying “Yo, Hankso”
I will never get over this.
If you have questions about television, movies, food, local news, weather, or whatever you want, shoot them to me on Twitter or at email@example.com (put “RUNDOWN” in the subject line). I am the first writer to ever answer reader mail in a column. Do not look up this last part.
Saw your excellent piece on The Great Muppet Caper, one of the nuttiest kids’ movies ever made. While reading it, I was struck by the similarity between it and 2014’s “Muppets Most Wanted,” a criminally underrated entry in the Muppet canon.
“Most Wanted” borrows a lot of elements from “Caper” — jewel thieves, Piggy being romanced by scoundrel who means her harm, celebrity cameos, etc. But there is one area in which “Most Wanted” sets itself apart, and that is with the jaw-dropping musical number “The Big House.”
Here is why “The Big House” is one of the greatest sequences to appear on film:
1. The song is written by the peerless Bret McKenzie, one half of the cherished folk comedy duo Flight of Conchords.
2. It is literally a song about the Gulag, done in a style that is part light pop, part doo-wop (think Manhattan Transfer).
3. The lead vocal is performed by Tina Fey. Yes, that Tina Fey, of “30 Rock” and “Mean Girls” fame. She’s wearing a Russian military uniform and singing in a Russian accent that comes and goes.
4. She is backed by a chorus that includes McKenzie’s fellow Conchord, Jemaine Clement, but also Danny Trejo, Ray Liotta and — somehow — Josh Groban.
5. The lyrics include the following “This is Russia’s premier state funded hotel/We’re very proud of our eclectic clientele/Excellence in service since 1932/Don’t believe what you read in the online reviews”
This performance is absolutely the most insane thing in a movie that also include Salma Hayek being chased by bulls, a dancing Ricky Gervais and Kermit being framed by a look-a-like with a heavy Russian accent.
The Big House is amazing. I think about it at least once a day, and we just don’t talk about it enough. Please help me in righting this colossal wrong.
Amanda has sent in a number of emails, all of them good, but this is my favorite one yet. It checks all the boxes:
- Compliments me in a way that allows me to link back to a thing I wrote earlier in the week
- Is informative and comprehensive to a degree that I really don’t have to do any extra thinking beyond block quoting it and doing these lazy bullet points
- Mentions the Muppets
Thank you, Amanda. I will gladly post this video.
And guess what: We have a second reader email this week. Another good one that I don’t have to elaborate on much. What a lovely development for me and you.
As a fellow Sixers fan, I feel the current bleakness of watching the NBA playoffs. Here’s a way I’ve been enjoying myself: just watch a Miami Heat game and wait for any mention of Duncan Robinson. The announcers always say his full name. Each time they mention him, I just repeat the name in a different vampire voice from What We Do In The Shadows. (“Get out of here, Duncan Robinson! *hiss*) He shoots like 12 3s a game, so you get a lot of opportunities to practice your various Nandor, Nadia, and Lazlo deliveries. Not so much a question as a suggestion for finding simple joy in these trying times.
Mentioning both my beloved Philadelphia 76ers and my beloved What We Do in the Shadows in the same email is basically a cheat code to get yourself published in this column. And yes, I will be saying “Duncan Robinson” with exactly the same energy as those three say “Colin Robinson,” but worse, because I am incapable of doing accents or impressions. Sometimes I forget this last part and start to do one and I realize one syllable into it what a horrible mistake I’ve made. You’d think I would know by now.
AND NOW, THE NEWS
To Los Angeles!
Two pilots on two different flights reported seeing a man in a jetpack thousands of feet in the air above Los Angeles on Sunday, prompting an investigation by authorities.
Hell yes. I love this. I love a good jetpack story. I’m kind of mad we all don’t have jetpacks, to be honest. It’s 2020! Come on! I should be able to fly around with my own personal rocket backpack! Now I’m angry! Let’s move on!
An American Airlines pilot was approaching Los Angeles International Airport at around 6:30 p.m. when he called in the sighting to air-traffic control, according to an audio log. The unidentified flying person was at the plane’s altitude, the pilot said, about 3,000 feet in the air.
Damm. I wonder what the pilot said to the tower when he saw some dude in a damn jetpack 3,000 feet in the air.
“Tower, American 1997. We just passed a guy in a jetpack,” the pilot said.
“Only in LA,” an unidentified person said in the audio log.
This is tremendous. It’s almost exactly like what the pilot and tower guy would say in a movie about a guy who has a jetpack. Screw it, let’s make this movie. Let’s make a jetpack movie. Prince Harry and Megan Markle can star in it as part of their Netflix deal. You know Harry would love to play a jetpack guy. I get strong “way into jetpacks” vibes from him.
The FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office also confirmed it was aware of the sighting. A spokeswoman for the office said the FBI was working to determine what happened.
If there is any justice in this cruel and unforgiving world, the FBI will assign this jetpack investigation to Agent Doug from McMillions. I think he would really enjoy it.