action stars

Rambo: First Blood Part II

rambo_first_blood_part_iiHe’s the “chosen one.” There’s no Obi-Wan to be found, but who needs him, when you’ve got Stallone?

Rambo: First Blood Part II, is the prototype for all special forces-type commando movies. After the subtle understatement of First Blood, there is moon-bat action aplenty in the sequel, with Rambo sweating his way through two head bands, and baddies who wear the wrong color camo in the jungle.

John J. Rambo (JJR) is working on a chain gang, when he’s approached by Colonel Trautman for a covert recon mission to rescue POWs who are still being held captive in ‘Nam.

And naturally, it’s a suicide mission. And of course, there’s a timeline attached to it, part of what management/business types would call a critical path — where he’s supposed to be when, what weapons he’ll use, what he’ll encounter there, etc. It’s a cheap and cheerful way for screenwriters to ratchet up the tension.

In Rambo: First Blood Part II, he’s got 36 hours, and to prove how awesome a specimen JJR is, he doesn’t eat or take a dump for the whole duration.

Of course his prowess is questioned by disbelieving military folks, who have access to the latest and greatest weaponry and a wall of giant 80s computers. But Rambo says (rightly) that “the mind is the best weapon.”

Still, you can’t have an 80s action movie without a spectacular arming / weaponry montage, and while the mind may be the best weapon, a machine gun is really what’s top-drawer when it comes to blasting khaki-clad extras off rickety wooden boats in muddy rivers.

And because it was the 80s, Russians, not just the Viet Cong, made for fantastic bad guys (they still do, decades hence). They make all kinds of macho patter when they could’ve easily cut Rambo’s throat rather than subjecting him to a mud bath of leeches.

rambo-first-blood-part-iiRe-watching Rambo: First Blood Part II, one is staggered by the hack chutzpah of Bruno Mattei, whose cornball 1987 hit, Strike Commando, is a note-for-note walk-through of this movie, complete with a scene where Mike Ransom has to make a radio address under duress and cradles a dying boy, much like JJR does Co-Bao (the Razzie-nominated Julia Nickson).

Luckily, George P. Cosmatos and not Mattei, is behind the camera for Rambo, he of the exemplary Tombstone, and the enjoyably asinine Leviathan. And under his tight direction, we get something pretty glorious.

And while we love Reb Brown, he is clearly no match for the steely mullet of prime-beef Stallone.

***3/4 (out of 5)

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Escape from New York

escapefromnewyork1A match for They Live in terms of sheer paranoia + entertainment value, Escape from New York is a ballbuster.

Who needs a peninsular Panopticon when, in the near future, all of Manhattan is a prison and there aren’t even any guards?

Air Force One careens into the Big Apple, but not before the US president exits via escape pod. Unfortunately he’s been captured on the island, soon after he touched down.

Luckily, there’s one man who can save the day. And that man, is Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell). He’s a former special forces op, before Steven Seagal ruined that designation in perpetuity. He’s a King of the Prison Break Movies before our rotund aikidōka ruined those as well. He wears an eyepatch and has awesome flying/shooting skills while lacking stereoscopic binocular vision.

In exchange for his freedom (Snake is a convicted bank robber), he’s compelled into what on the surface is a suicide mission: drop onto island via glider, rescue the president, and do all of this before subcutaneously injected capsules on time release blow his arteries to bits. The injections are to prevent the resourceful Snake from simply escaping (the open air island prison may be escape-proof, but as we saw with Alcatraz, it’s possible someone as substantial as Plissken could make a go of it).

To assist him on the mission: a yellow cabbie played by Ernest Borgnine, of all people. He shepherds Snake to get intel from Brain (Harry Dean Stanton).

But it gets better. Along for the ride, the incomparable Isaac Hayes as the Duke of New York, a kind of capo di tutti cappi of the roving prison gangs. All roads to the president must lead through him.

snake_escape_from_new_yorkThe New York City streets have seldom looked this mean (in truth, they’re actually St. Louis). The one shot that is The Big Apple is perhaps the most ironic and iconic: the tracking shot of Lady Liberty, holding her torch above this newly-created urban penitentiary.

The dystopian cityscape is a wonder. John Carpenter’s direction is simply stupendous. The man really outdid himself here.

As gorgeous and compelling as it was upon first release, you owe yourself to see this thriller.

There’s talk that Escape from New York is being set up for a reboot: Fox has obtained the rights, though it’s too early to know anything further.

**** (out of 5)

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