First Blood

first_blood_poster“…Silver wings upon their chest
These are men, America’s best
One hundred men will test today
But only three win the Green Beret…”

First Blood. Because the movie’s title is said in dialogue and Stallone drops choice ass-whoopings on a bunch of arrogant townie cops who don’t know who they’re dealing with…

What more do you need in a movie? The answer is unequivocally nothing, but there’s a bonus of scene-stealers Brian Dennehy and Richard Crenna as a belligerent sheriff and silver-smooth Colonel Trautman respectively, adding class and gravitas to a movie that probably deserves neither.

When you think about was considered to play John J Rambo, it makes you woozy, a who’s who of Hollywood machismo, who announce themselves by their surnames: Pacino, Eastwood, De Niro, Newman, McQueen, Nolte, Garner…

Ultimately, Sly came in, did a script re-write and the rest machine-gunned its way into the national consciousness, a $125 million dollar worldwide success.

“Drifter” Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) ambles into a hick town in the Pacific Northwest, and is immediately hounded by Sheriff Teasle (Dennehy). He’s taken downtown (or whatever the equivalent is in this one-stoplight burb) on trumped up charges, and while being processed, has flashbacks to his stint in a Vietnam jail. Rambo cannot be held by mere mortals, and beats the holy tar out of the entire precinct, before fleeing, commandeering a motorcycle, and hightailing it into the woods. Call in the National Guard. No really.


There are quite a few deviations from the 1972 source novel by David Morrell:

1. Rambo (no middle “J” initial like la Homer J Simpson) is more of a Born on the Fourth of the July hippie than the comparatively “kempt” (if that’s a word), Sly Stallone.

2. The initial conception of the character was more combative, violent, and generally antagonist (in the novel, he disembowels one of the jailers, whereas in the film the CO gets off with a comparatively easy elbow to the face).

3. The introduction of Rambo’s old war pal character, whose widow we meet in the opening frames, a change meant to humanizing him.


4. In the novel, Rambo flees jail confines in the nude, probably taken out for ratings concerns.

Still, all changes make perfect sense and what we’re left with is cracker-jack stuff, never a dull moment, with some incredible lines courtesy of Rambo mentor Colonel and intervener Trautman: “You don’t seem to want to accept the fact you’re dealing with an expert in guerrilla warfare…A man who’s been trained to ignore pain, ignore weather, to live off the land, to eat things that would make a billy goat puke.”

***3/4 (out of 5)


Assassination Games

assassination-games-dvd-packshot_09,11The best weapon against an enemy is another enemy.

Assassination Games begins with a quote from everyone’s favorite cranky syphilitic German, Friedrich Nietzsche — a line which sounds like it’d work well, badly dubbed in a Hong Kong kung fu caper.

But this film is a gangster flick starring Ubermensch Jean Claude Van Damme as Vincent Brazil, who’s a heartless murder-for-hire type and not a Chippendale dancer like his name would suggest.

Brazil lives a furtive existence in a hidden apartment, accessed by a lever in an abutting bathroom, complete with lovely art and violins (he’s an amateur violinist) and a pet turtle.  Somewhere in Romania (that Eastern Euro action hero tax shelter purgatory), he fashions an existence, identity mostly obscured by a ridiculous poor boy cap. His neighbor is a pimp who beats one of his women (a gorgeous brunette of course), who then takes shelter in Vincent Brazil’s palatial pad. (Now, we’ll let it slide at the moment that a guy whose life is perpetually in danger and whose pad contains what look like priceless museum artifacts, would take in a lady of the evening and give her free rein of the place).

Brazil is given an assignment (“double his normal fee” — Van Damme’s character is paid in diamonds) to take out a drug kingpin, only to find out that someone else wants the same people dead. And that guy is willing to do it for nothing, waiving the usual fee. Why? Because they did something nasty to his wife and she’s ridiculously hooked up to an IV and being tended to by this personal support worker, also with a background in ass-beating.

Now, Assassination Games could’ve had both Steven Seagal AND Vinnie Jones, that perfect second-rate action duo but instead we’ve got Scott Adkins (Expendables 2) as our man Flint, JCVD’s competition.

Assassination_Games_1Eventually, the hit-men decide it’s in their best interests to work together to take out a common enemy after some disagreement (“Excuse me, a partner with a vendetta? Just what I need.”)

Minus a half a star for that hackneyed staple of action films, the “you know what? the two of us aren’t that much different” but Assassination Games is a minor treat, with lots of intrigue, double-crossings and even some corrupt Interpol cops for good measure.

Van Damme uses poison-tipped arrows, pistols that look like they might’ve seen action robbing trains during the Great Depression, as well as AKs and high-tech laser guided weaponry.

And of course, Assassination Games comes with lots of ass-kicking.

*** (out of 5)