Classic Style ~ Modern Story

Category: 2 Stars

Pulled Punches: My review of “Sly”

What:  Sly

Type:  Documentary Feature  95 Minutes

On: Netflix

Worth Watching:  Not really, unless Sylvester Stallone was influential in your life.

Score: 2 brain numbing upper cuts (2/5)


After watching the exceptional “Arnold” – I had high expectations for “Sly” – the Netflix documentary about Sylvester Stallone.  Sadly, this particular doc is the lesser event in every way.  It’s shorter, less insightful, makes a smaller impact and overall is the two things a documentary about Sylvester Stallone should not be:  tepid and boring.

It’s hard not to compare the two documentaries because Schwarzenegger and Stallone have been compared throughout their whole career.  In the 80’s war of the box office, each one tried to out-do the other as the stories got dumber, the guns got bigger, and they both were household names.  However, when it comes to the presentation of life stories, Arnold emerges a hero and Sly falls off a cliff hitting every painful rock on the way down.

The visual choices made for Sly seemed primed straight from the Rocky. Gritty, dimly lit action shots of Stallone moving from one place to another are so stark it’s like watching a home video taken by the movers as they unpack the truck to ensure nothing is broken.  The narrative choices also reflect a hero who, even though he has an Academy Award for screenwriting, has a hard time putting sentences together and just sort of huffs through history.  While Arnold speaks introspectively of his abusive father as a “broken man from a village of broken men,” Stallone says of his abusive dad, “He was always physical! He hit me! It was hard!”   Choppy dialogue and sometimes inarticulate thoughts are punctuated (as sweet relief) by interviews with others – Talia Shire, Arnold, Stallone’s brother, and Henry Winkler – who sort of re-explain what Stallone is trying to say.

The abrupt “And then this happened” narrative (“No one would cast me, so I wrote a film for myself”) bounces from one event to the next with no nuance or details.   Sadly, Stallone’s over-reliance on Botox and facelift procedures makes it a hard movie to watch sometimes. The more the camera lingers on his unnaturally lifted eyebrows and bloated face, the more alien he appears. The entire film suffers from “tell not show.”  Stallone meanders around talking about movies he made but instead of seeing clips from those films, we are watching him stare out windows or gesture at the rocky statue in his home.  The few clips we do see don’t always match the voice-over narration.

There are interesting topics that arise in the film – how he actually wrote 17 screenplays before Rocky, the fact that with Adrienne he was able to do what most Hollywood writers can’t – create a well-rounded, authentic female character who is neither a victim nor a vixen, and how his wife and kids (who we learn nothing about) are everything to him.  As quickly as these ideas arise, they vanish like smoke before we can grasp on and get something.

Like most people who were kids in the 80’s I grew up watching Rocky and Rambo – cheering for the underdog and singing Eye of the Tiger.  I liked Stallone then, and I like him now. This documentary, however, shows little of the man, the myth, or the movies that made him.




What:  Documentary

Type: Limited Series – 4 Episodes

On: Netflix

Worth Watching:  No.  Overly long, nothing new, and nothing gained.

Score:  – 2 Smoldering cigarette butts and a trigger warning  (2/5)

I was intrigued when I saw a documentary was being filmed about the Haysum killing.

When I moved to Virginia in 2007 I was offered a job at 2 places –Fluvanna Women’s Prison (where Elizabeth Haysum was held) and the Williamsburg AIDS Network (WAN).  The prison was under a 6-month hiring freeze, and I didn’t want to wait so I took the WAN job.  When I was studying Fluvanna for the interview, I learned all about Haysum, who was one of their most “notorious” and pampered inmates.  She was kept in a pod by herself (but not in isolation) and she was allowed to write a column in a local newspaper about life in prison.  The reason?  She had already been there 20 years and had at least 25 more to go.  Her case was “famous”, and she appeared to still suffers from rich white girl syndrome.

“Til Murder Do We Part” promises a rich he said/she said whodunit about the brutal stabbing death of Haysum’s parents by the two college age lovers.  What it delivers has all the excitement of an old school article on microfiche.  You literally could read a PowerPoint slide presentation of the murder and trials and learn everything they show here.

He said:  Soering claims he bought the alibi movie tickets and stayed in DC while she went to Bedford and murdered her parents.  His confession in Britain was false, because he loved her and wanted to take the blame (until she broke up with him and he discovered the blame could mean life in prison).

She said: Haysum stayed in DC, bought the tickets, and he went and killed her parents. She admits she wanted them dead – because they were trying to control her life, had a lot of money she could inherit, and there was a history of maternal sexual abuse.  But, according to Haysum, Soering was the hand that held the knife.

After a flight to England, extradition to the US, and 2 trials – both were found guilty. She was sentenced to 2 consecutive 45-year terms as an accessory. He was sentenced to life.

The series gets all the recorded facts right and lays them out in a row – but for a 4-episode program it adds stunningly little context.  “He was a jerk, no one liked him but Elizabeth” is all we really learn about Jens.  “She had a drug problem and hated boarding school” is what we learn about Elizabeth.  Much of the runtime is just re-readings of their cringy adolescent melodramatic love letters.  You know – the kind you wrote in high school and turn red if you read them out loud now?

The series hits a low with its treatment – then and now – of Elizabeth’s claim of a life of sexual abuse from her mother (a distant relative of Lady Astor who thought she as above it all).  We watch a lawyer badger the clearly traumatized young woman in the 80’s, then in an age where a documentarian should be at least “trauma informed,” the narrative digs into the “well, that was true” aspect with no empathy, context, or fairness. It is traumatizing to watch how ignorantly this topic is handled.

Both Haysum and Soering were released from prison early (with John Grissom convincing his Democrat friends (via money) that 18 is too young to have such a harsh sentence – the back-end shady deal would have made a much more interesting story) and deported.  They had been incarcerated for 33 years.  From Canada, Elizabeth is in seclusion and expresses regret.  From German Soering won’t shut up and is still banging his “I was innocent” drum that is as unbelievable today as it was then.

If you are intrigued by this tale of rich kids, dead parents, and court – google up an article and read it.  Don’t spend your life’s precious time on this plodding retelling.

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