Film Review: Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)

Also known as: Rambo II (unofficial title), Rambo (shortened title)
Release Date: May 22nd, 1985
Directed by: George P. Cosmatos
Written by: Sylvester Stallone, James Cameron, Kevin Jarre
Based on: characters by David Morrell
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Charles Napier, Steven Berkoff, Julia Nickson, Martin Kove, George Cheung, Voyo Goric

Estudios Churubusco Azteca S.A., Anabasis N.V., TriStar Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Pressure? Let me just say that Rambo is the best combat vet I’ve ever seen. A pure fighting machine with only a desire to win a war that someone else lost. And if winning means he has to die, he’ll die. No fear, no regrets. And one more thing: what you choose to call hell, he calls home.” – Trautman

The first Rambo movie, First Blood, is and will always be the best of the Rambo films. Frankly, it’s really hard to top but this one does comes pretty close while being a very different kind of movie.

At their core, both films are action flicks with a one man army fighting for survival against man, the wild and every other dangerous thing that arises.

However, the first picture was more about making a statement regarding the treatment of Vietnam veterans returning from war to a home that didn’t want them while this film was much more about balls out action and fun.

That’s not to say that this chapter in the franchise doesn’t have a message, it does. It sees John Rambo return to Vietnam in an effort to rescue some of the P.O.W.s that were left behind by their own government. The film critiques the U.S. government’s handling of the P.O.W. situation and shows that the government wasn’t actually too keen on getting them out. Rambo is essentially set up to fail but he blasts his way through the dangerous jungle, falls in love, loses love, rescues some soldiers, kills several evil men and then exposes his own government for spitting in the faces of the men that lost their lives and sanity for a government that abandoned them.

There are actually a lot of similarities between this movie and Chuck Norris’ Missing In Action film series. As much as I love those movies, this just feels like a better, more polished version of what those movies were. That being said, Missing In Action was actually rushed out and released in 1984 to avoid a lawsuit, as it was based off of a story treatment that James Cameron wrote for this film.

Out of all the Rambo films, this one features my favorite cast. Alongside Stallone, Crenna gets a bigger role here and then you’ve got the great Martin Kove, who I wish had a bit more screen time, Charles Napier, Steven Berkoff and Julia Nickson, who I will always remember most for her part in this film and how it inspired and gave hope to John Rambo that there could be life beyond war. Additionally, Voyo Goric is in this and while his name might not be known to most people, he was in several action flicks of the time and always played a good, intimidating and convincing heavy.

As an adult, I know and recognize that First Blood is better. However, as a kid, this was my Rambo film, as it was so over the top and action heavy that it made my young mind explode with excitement and wonder. It felt like a G.I. Joe character come to life and it was just violent and cool in a way that makes it a near perfect ’80s action picture. It feels like a Cannon Films movie with a bigger budget and a bigger star. Granted, it could’ve used a few ninjas.

One thing that makes this picture work so well is the pacing. For example, I love Rambo III but it isn’t as good as this one because it has a slow pace that hinders it. I’ll talk about that more when I review it. The pacing here though is perfect, the film keeps moving forward, a lot happens but you don’t get stuck in a spot of fixated on some plot point. Rambo blasts or punches something just about every five minutes.

Some may accuse this of being a mindless action movie, it’s not. It has a message and a point to make but it also doesn’t let that message get in the way of what’s most important: action, muscles, bullets, explosions and heavy machinery.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Rambo movies, as well as other ’80s and early ’90s Stallone movies.

Film Review: The Magic Voyage of Sinbad (1953)

Also known as: Sadko (original Russian title)
Release Date: January 5th, 1953 (Soviet Union)
Directed by: Aleksandr Ptushko
Written by: Konstantin Isayev, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Music by: Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Vissarion Shebalin
Cast: Sergei Stolyarov, Alla Larionova, Yelena Myshkova

Mosfilm, 85 Minutes

Review:

In researching this, I’ve seen that some people really like it. However, being that I’ve only seen the poorly dubbed American version as it was riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000, it’s hard for me to see what’s so great about it.

No, not because it is being made fun of but because there isn’t much here that makes it stand out as the pillar of quality. But if I’m being honest and comparing it to other Soviet films of its time, it certainly looks good for what it is and it looks like they spent some money on it.

That doesn’t excuse the fact that it is dreadfully boring with clunky action and more dialogue than I care to sit through.

I guess it’s imaginative but it doesn’t have anything of note going on for it; no sequence that I can point to and say to myself, “Oh, that’s interesting.”

The sets are a mixed bag, the costumes are pretty basic and the technical stuff is fairly shoddy. It’s competently shot but everything is pedestrian looking and straightforward. Other than the period piece sets and costumes the films feels devoid of any real artistic flourish. Well, that big octopus puppet was kind of cool but it didn’t actually do anything except twitch while people danced beneath it.

It’s hard to say much about the acting, as I’ve only seen the shittily dubbed version. At first glance, it doesn’t appear to be great but without actually hearing and seeing the actors deliver their performances without the hindrance of the dub track, I don’t want to pass judgment.

While this didn’t satisfy any part of me, I can’t necessarily call it a bad movie. It’s just kind of meh. But I hate “meh”. I’d rather it be awful than meh.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other foreign fantasy films with bad dubbing that made their way onto MST3K.

Film Review: Vincent (1982)

Release Date: October 1st, 1982
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Tim Burton
Music by: Ken Hilton
Cast: Vincent Price (narrator)

Walt Disney Productions, Buena Vista Distribution, 6 Minutes

Review:

As far as I know, this is the earliest thing that Tim Burton directed that’s been officially released. I never got to see this as a kid but I eventually saw it in the ’90s when a friend showed it to me.

Burton had some other shorts he did before this and he also worked in animation at Disney but this was the creation that got his career moving forward at a pretty rapid speed, as he got to make the original Frankenweenie short just after this.

This is a stop motion animated short but the techniques Burton employed here would go on to serve him well in The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride.

This short film is also significant in that it opened the door for Burton to work with his childhood idol, Vincent Price. They would work together again in one of Burton’s most iconic films, Edward Scissorhands.

Vincent is just a hair under six minutes but it is simple, sweet and effective.

The story is about a seven year-old boy named Vincent Malloy. He obsesses over trying to be like Vincent Price to his mother’s dismay. His mind runs wild and the short film gives us a lot of great vivid visions of Vincent doing heinous acts to those he cares about. The whole thing is narrated by the real Vincent Price, who delivers his words in the form of a poem written by Burton.

The animation is fabulous, especially for the time and for what I’m sure was a scant budget and limited resources despite being made while Burton was employed by Disney.

Vincent is a great homage to the man who narrates it and from a stylistic standpoint, it shows us that Tim Burton already had a clearly defined vision of what he wanted his work to be, specifically in regards to tone, atmosphere and overall visual design.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Tim Burton animated works: The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride, Frankenweenie, etc.

Documentary Review: Special When Lit (2009)

Release Date: October 1st, 2009 (Raindance Film Festival – UK)
Directed by: Brett Sullivan
Music by: Brett Sullivan
Cast: Roger Sharpe, Rick Stetta, Sam Harvey, Steve Epstein, Gary Stern, Lyman Sheats Jr., Tim Arnold, Josh Kaplan, Pat Lawlor, Steve Ritchie, Steve Kordek, Steve Keeler, Raphael Lankar, Koi Morris, Al Thomka

Stream Motion and Sound, PBS International, 97 Minutes

Review:

I’ve always been a fan of pinball and arcade games in general. When I grew up in the ’80s it was hard not to be captivated by these things as gaming machines of all types were everywhere you went, even in a small town like mine.

Because of that, I was excited to see this documentary back when it first came out. It also came out in a time when pinball and video game documentaries were at an all-time high, probably due to the 2007 cult hit The King of Kong.

This delves into the history of pinball and it covers a lot of ground but it is mostly focused on the mid-’70s and beyond. It touches on the history before that but I actually would’ve liked to have seen more of its early history, as well. But there are other documentaries that cover that.

For the most part, this is simply talking head interviews edited together to tell a story. It’s well organized and edited and the whole documentary runs smoothly, as it looks at the fan side of pinball, the corporate side and the competitive side. All bases are pretty much covered and everything is given a good amount of time.

Now I don’t know how much this will resonate with everyone but if you’ve got an interest in the subject, it’s certainly worth a watch, as it’s full of colorful, entertaining characters and it’ll probably make you want to go collect your quarters and find the nearest machine to play.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about pinball and arcade games, many have been reviewed here already.

Film Review: Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

Release Date: June 24th, 1983
Directed by: John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, George Miller
Written by: John Landis, George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, Melissa Mathison, Jerome Bixby
Based on: The Twilight Zone by Rod Sterling
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Dan Aykroyd, Albert Brooks, Scatman Crothers, John Lithgow, Vic Morrow, Kathleen Quinlan, Burgess Meredith (narrator), Dick Miller, Steven Williams, Al Leong, John Larroquette, Selma Diamond, Priscilla Pointer, Nancy Cartwright, Christina Nigra

Amblin Entertainment, Warner Bros., 101 Minutes

Review:

“Hey… you wanna see something really scary?” – Car Passenger

After recently watching the Creepshow television series, as well as revisiting the movies for the umpteenth time, I got the itch to rewatch Twilight Zone: The Movie, as it has a lot of similarities and I hadn’t seen it in at least a decade.

I like the highpoints of this movie almost as much as the Creepshow films. However, Twilight Zone is pretty inconsistent, as the first two segments are weak while the latter two are really good. And maybe it was put in this order in post-production because Steven Spielberg felt the same way, even though one of his segments was one of the crappier ones.

The prologue and the first segment were both directed by John Landis, coming off of An American Werewolf In London, a true horror classic. The prologue was a pretty good setup and I loved it when I was a kid. Landis’ segment, however, plays more like an episode of Amazing Stories.

Although, two of these segments play like Amazing Stories episodes and maybe this movie is what inspired Spielberg to create that show just two years later.

Anyway, Landis’ segment is actually incomplete due to an accident involving a helicopter on the set of the film. The accident killed two kids and actor Victor Morrow. It was a pretty controversial event back when it happened (see here) and it forever ruined the working relationship between Steven Spielberg and John Landis.

Moving on to the second segment, it’s the one directed by Spielberg himself and it is also the other segment that feels like an Amazing Stories episode. It’s also really boring and slows the movie to a crawl. But thankfully, Joe Dante’s segment gets the movie back on track.

By the time the third segment rolls around, you might find yourself in a comatose state that even the gentle, kind and always fly Scatman Crothers couldn’t pull you out of during the previous story. But once you get to the midpoint of the film, everything picks up, gets better and the movie delivers.

The third and fourth segments feel almost as good as the best segments from the Creepshow franchise and they save this movie from being a total disaster.

Where the first story dealt with an unlikable, old, racist piece of shit and the second dealt with old people getting to feel young again, the third deals with a young boy with special powers and a nice lady that eventually wants to help him, played by Kathleen Quinlan. It has more energy, it’s a more interesting story and the monster effects that Dante had created for this are superb. I love the third segment and it’s actually a story I would revisit if ever there were a followup to it. Plus, it has Dick Miller in it.

Now the fourth segment is directed by George Miller, the man behind the Mad Max franchise, and it is a remake of the most famous Twilight Zone episode.

The story sees an airplane passenger freak out over a monster on the wing of the plane. It may sound like an odd setup but it is a great segment that builds suspense incredibly well and also benefits from the great talent of John Lithgow. I also really liked the young Christina Nigra in this, as she added some good comedic seasoning at just the right moments. She was also really good in Cloak & Dagger, alongside Henry Thomas, a year later.

The final segment features the best (and only real) monster of the movie. The special effects are outstanding and the payoff in the finale makes the rest of the movie worth sitting through.

In the end, Twilight Zone: The Movie is a good example of what I don’t like about anthologies: consistency. The first half is bogged down by dry, slow, boring stories that one has to suffer through in an effort to get to something better. Thankfully, the second half of the picture is good.

In retrospect, though, it feels like this is almost a movie length pilot to Spielberg’s anthology television series Amazing Stories. If you’ve ever seen that show, this feels like an extension of it more than it feels like it fits within the Twilight Zone franchise. However, this would also lead to the Twilight Zone getting resurrected on television. In fact, it relaunched just a few days before Amazing Stories debuted.

Going back to the Spielberg segment with the old people experiencing their youth again, there are a lot of parallels to it and Ron Howard’s Cocoon. I’m not sure if this was an inspiration for that movie and its sequel but it’s very possible.

In fact, Twilight Zone: The Movie seems to have had quite the impact between launching a new TZ television series, influencing Spielberg’s Amazing Stories and its similarities to Cocoon, all of which came out two years later in 1985.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other horror anthology films of the time: the Creepshow movies and Tales From the Darkside: The Movie, as well as the television shows Amazing Stories and Tales From the Crypt.

Film Review: Teen-Age Strangler (1964)

Also known as: Terror In the Night (re-release title)
Release Date: 1964
Directed by: Ben Parker
Written by: Clark Davis
Music by: Danny Dean
Cast: Bill Bloom, John Ensign, Jo Canterbury, John Humphreys

Ajay Film Company, American Diversified Services, Original Six, 61 Minutes

Review:

“And he didn’t steal no bike either! I did!” – Mikey Walton

Mystery Science Theater 3000 never ran short of juvenile delinquent movies from the ’50s and ’60s and this picture is just one more to add to the list.

While this is a terrible movie, it’s kind of interesting in that this one is a proto-slasher film. There isn’t any actual slashing but there is a serial killer that is targeting teens and strangling them to death. I guess you could also consider this an American giallo, although it’s devoid of a vibrant color palette and anything resembling actual style.

This only clocks in at 61 minutes but it is still a slog to get through. It lacks excitement is littered with bad acting, questionable directing decisions and it’s a “how to” on how not to light a film.

It has an interesting enough plot though, as it’s about a delinquent kid suspected of the murders, who is actually innocent, but has no alibis to deflect suspicion.

In the end, the killer isn’t even a juvenile delinquent so maybe by 1964, these films were making some social progress and didn’t blame everything on angst-y teens in car/biker culture.

Despite all its flaws, it does have one thing working for it and that’s the light rockabilly score by Danny Dean, who is probably most known for fronting the rockabilly band Danny Dean and The Homewreckers. While that band wasn’t massively successful, Dean was a pretty talented musician for his scene and his contribution in this film, at the very least, gives it a feeling of authenticity.

Sadly, the film itself doesn’t do much to capitalize off of the tunes and mostly cancels out Dean’s work, as everything else is so lackluster that it drowns out the positives.

Rating: 2.25/10
Pairs well with: other juvenile delinquent movies that made it on to MST3K.

Film Review: First Blood (1982)

Also known as: Rambo (Argentina, Austria, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Venezuela), Rambo: First Blood (informal title)
Release Date: October 22nd, 1982
Directed by: Ted Kotcheff
Written by: Michael Kozoll, William Sackheim, Sylvester Stallone
Based on: First Blood by David Morrell
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Brian Dennehy, Richard Crenna, David Caruso

Anabasis N.V., Elcajo Productions, Orion Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“I could have killed’em all, I could’ve killed you. In town you’re the law, out here it’s me. Don’t push it! Don’t push it or I’ll give you a war you won’t believe. Let it go. Let it go!” – Rambo

I wanted to see Rambo: Last Blood in the theater. But when it came out, I had a lot going on and next thing I knew, it was out of my local cinema. It’s out digitally now but before finally watching it, I thought I’d start way back at the beginning and work my way through the franchise, as I haven’t watched any of these in at least a decade.

First Blood is the best film, at least from my memory. But my opinion doesn’t really seem to be that different from the general consensus. And after revisiting it, I think the other ones have their work cut out for them, as this still holds up and hits the same notes it did when I first saw it, a few decades ago.

This is the most serious and dramatic of the films and Stallone is pretty damn stellar in this. He carries the entire film on his back and shows why he was one of the biggest action movie stars of all-time. People will always debate who was better between Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger but this film, like the original Rocky, shows that Stallone was the better actor.

The story here is simple, Rambo is a Vietnam veteran that just happens to be traveling on foot through a small town. He draws the attention of a bigoted sheriff that thinks it’s wise to fuck with Rambo. Both men push each other back a little bit and it escalates into the police going on a manhunt for a legitimately deadly soldier that knows how to use his wild environment to his extreme advantage.

What sets this film apart from the other Rambo movies is that this one has a clear message that really resonated at the time that it was released. It’s a straight up action movie, for sure, but beyond that, it examines the treatment of Vietnam veterans by their own country once they got home from the hell that was the Vietnam War.

The film conveys its message quite well and Stallone’s final moments in this film really show the audience the horrors and the effects of war on those who are closest to it. You sympathize with Rambo, you feel what he’s feeling in your gut and its hard not to truly feel his emotion and pain as he breaks down in the arms of his former commander.

In regards to the bulk of the film, which is action, everything is wonderfully shot and executed. I love the look of this picture, the choice of using the Pacific Northwest and how it becomes Rambo’s real weapon against a corrupt, power mad sheriff and his police force.

I also like the final act of the film which brings Rambo back into town for a showdown with the sheriff. Speaking of which, Brian Dennehy was pretty good as the slimeball sheriff and this is the role that helped to give him a pretty solid and respectable career.

One thing that really takes this movie to the next level is the Jerry Goldsmith score. It’s pretty perfect, especially in how it gives extra energy to the spectacle of the action heavy sequences.

First Blood is still a damn good motion picture to watch and it carries a message that is still relevant while not being too heavy handed, allowing the movie to still entertain you. Modern Hollywood could learn a lot from First Blood in that it doesn’t sacrifice story and character to force feed its audience an agenda. It presents its message and allows you to digest it, think on it and then do what you will with it.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Rambo films, as well as Chuck Norris’ Missing In Action movies.