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: Return to Oz (1985)

Also known as: Oz, The Adventures of the Devil In the Sky (working titles)
Release Date: June 21st, 1985
Directed by: Walter Murch
Written by: Gill Dennis, Walter Murch
Based on: Oz books by L. Frank Baum
Music by: David Shire
Cast: Fairuza Balk, Nicol Williamson, Jean Marsh, Piper Laurie, Deep Roy

BMI (No. 9) Ltd., Oz Productions Ltd., Silver Screen Partners II, Walt Disney Pictures, Buena Vista Distribution, 113 Minutes, 110 Minutes (“uncut”), 109 Minutes (cut)

Review:

“I have always valued my lifelessness.” – Tik-Tok

I saw this in the theater when it came out. I’m not sure how this was a kid’s movie because it scared the shit out of me. Granted, it scared the shit out of me in that really cool way that made me re-watch the film again and again once I copied it onto my own VHS after renting it. Yes, I was a bootlegger creating my own entertainment library at six years-old.

Anyway, usually things that I found scary as a kid aren’t scary in adulthood. However, the two key creepy scenes in this film still hold up and are actually still effectively creepy. In a time when kids are much bigger pussies than my generation, this movie would wreck six year-olds’ brains.

The two scenes I’m talking about are the introduction of the evil Wheelers and the hall of severed heads, especially when their headless host awakes and the heads all come to life in their glass display cases.

In fact, that latter scene is pretty over the top and kind of a mindfuck even though I know it’s coming and honestly, that’s incredibly rare for a movie rated PG.

Moving beyond those two moments, the film itself is still pretty damn dark. I mean, any film that starts with a child being locked up in an asylum and about to receive electroshock therapy is quite unsettling.

Unfortunately, despite a few moments with some imagination and potential, the picture as a whole is kind of drab and definitely fifteen or so minutes too long.

The whole third act is really drawn out.

Once Dorothy and her friends get to the Nome King’s mountain, things screech to a halt. It’s not that this portion of the film is uninteresting, it’s just dragged out to an ungodly length and moves at a snail’s pace.

I still really enjoy the flick as a whole and it’s worth a watch for fans of L. Frank Baum’s Oz stories. However, it lacks energy in most places and getting from one sequence to the next can be like waiting for an elderly turtle to pull his dangling balls across a pool of molasses.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other Oz films, as well as ’80s family fantasy movies.

Film Review: The Goonies (1985)

Release Date: June 7th, 1985
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Chris Columbus, Steven Spielberg
Music by: Dave Grusin
Cast: Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Jeff Cohen, Corey Feldman, Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton, Jonathan Ke Huy Quan, John Matuszak, Robert Davi, Joe Pantoliano, Anne Ramsey, Mary Ellen Trainor

Amblin Entertainment, Warner Bros., 109 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t you realize? The next time you see sky, it’ll be over another town. The next time you take a test, it’ll be in some other school. Our parents, they want the best of stuff for us. But right now, they got to do what’s right for them. Because it’s their time. Their time! Up there! Down here, it’s our time. It’s our time down here. That’s all over the second we ride up Troy’s bucket.” – Mikey

Cyndi Lauper sang that the “Goonies ‘r’ good enough” and frankly, I have to agree with her.

This is a perfect movie for kids… and adults, really. It’s fun, funny, full of adventure, danger, treasure, good feelings, friendship, imagination, wonderment and a bit of swashbuckling.

On top of that, every single person in the cast is absolutely perfect, top to bottom. This was just a special movie where everything seemed to go right, especially in regards to the actors chosen for each specific role.

On one side, you have the kids and their hulk-like ally Sloth. On the other side, you have the Fratelli crime family.

Every kid in this is great and they had spectacular chemistry. You believed that they were all friends and it was impossible not to root for them. With the Fratellis, you had another group that worked damn well together. Honestly, as a kid I kind of wanted a Fratelli spinoff movie. Sadly, Anne Ramsey died a few years after this but I’ve always wanted to see Robert Davi and Joe Pantoliano come together as gangster brothers again.

Apart from the casting, you had a wonderful script penned by Chris Columbus from a story written by Steven Spielberg. With Richard Donner directing, it’s kind of hard to imagine this failing, even before seeing the picture.

It’s very rare that I come across someone that hasn’t seen the film. It’s reputation precedes it and for good reason. It has stood the test of time and it’s not something that loses steam the more you watch it. In fact, at least for me, it’s a film that I appreciate more with every viewing. It’s hard to peg as to why that is but man, it’s a film that just brings you to a special place; it’s magical and it is full of optimism when most entertainment, at least in modern times, is pretty nihilistic.

The Goonies gives one hope because it is exactly what entertainment needs to be, pleasant and enjoyable escapism that leaves you with a positive feeling despite whatever crap your day threw at you.

It’s perfectly paced, there isn’t a dull moment and every frame of the film… hell, every line spoken, has a purpose and has real meaning behind it.

The Goonies also benefits from its stupendous score by Dave Grusin, a guy who isn’t as well known as John Williams, James Horner or Alan Silvestri but was still able to create a theme and a score that was good enough to rival the best work of those three great film composers.

For what it is, The Goonies is absolutely perfect. If you don’t like it, you probably aren’t human or at least don’t have a heart.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: The Monster Squad, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and The Explorers.

Film Review: House (1985)

Also known as: House: Ding Dong, You’re Dead (video title)
Release Date: December 6th, 1985 (Victoria, Texas premiere)
Directed by: Steve Miner
Written by: Ethan Wiley, Fred Dekker
Music by: Harry Manfredini
Cast: William Katt, George Wendt, Richard Moll, Kay Lenz

New World Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Hey, it’s great to have a new neighbor. Woman lived here before you was nuts. Biggest bitch under the sun. Just a senile old hag really. Wouldn’t be surprised if someone just got fed up and offed her. Know what I mean?” – Harold, “She was my aunt.” – Roger, “Heart of gold though. Just uh, a saint really. And uh such a beautiful woman, for her age.” – Harold

I never liked this movie. In fact, I remember not being alone in that based off of what other people said about both House films when I was a kid. But in the last few years, I’ve heard people talk it up like it’s a classic or a hidden gem. Being that I hadn’t watched it since the mid-’80s, I wondered if I had missed something as a kid. Was it maybe too adult for my eight year-old sensibilities?

The short answer is “no”.

I still think that this is a pretty bad movie. The main reason is because it is dreadfully dull.

This is like a family friendly horror movie of the worst caliber. It’s like a terrible episode of Amazing Stories and then it’s even worse than that.

The story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, it’s really just a total fucking mess and it is hard to care about any of the characters because you can’t take any of this seriously enough to connect to anything.

Sure, this has some good comedic actors with William Katt, George Wendt and Richard Moll. Their talents are mostly wasted though. Katt is a wee bit charming but he’s too goofy and thus, it’s hard to sympathize with his turmoil. Wendt has some funny lines but he’s not in the film all that much and he’s sort of just on the sidelines. Moll wasn’t used in a comedic way at all and it’s such a departure from the Moll audiences would have been used to due to his time on Night Court. In fact, I wonder why the cast him in the first place.

The special effects are pretty hokey, even for 1985. Although, I was impressed by some of the matte painting work.

In the end, I still think this movie sucks. I’ll probably watch the second one in order to review it but I’m not enthused about it.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: its sequel and other films that Italy merged into a series of unrelated pictures called La Casa.

Film Review: Death Wish 3 (1985)

Also known as: Death Wish III (working title)
Release Date: November 1st, 1985
Directed by: Michael Winner
Written by: Don Jakoby (as Michael Edmonds)
Based on: characters by Brian Garfield
Music by: Jimmy Page, Mike Moran
Cast: Charles Bronson, Deborah Raffin, Ed Lauter, Martin Balsam, Gavan O’Herlihy, Alex Winter, Marina Sirtis, Barbie Wilde

Golan-Globus Productions, The Cannon Group, 88 Minutes

Review:

“It’s like killing roaches – you have to kill ’em all. Otherwise, what’s the use?” – Paul Kersey

Some people are going to wonder why I gave this film a really high rating and why I place it above the original. Well, I can’t give it a 15 out of 10 for just the last twenty minutes, so when I average everything out, the big climax pulls the rating up to a 9 out of 10.

Why?

Because the violent, explosive finale of this motion picture is the best big action sequence in the history of American filmmaking. It’s incredible, it’s badass and it force feeds you so much testosterone that some people have sprouted extra testicles.

As a total body of work, this isn’t a better movie than the first one. But the massive action-filled crescendo of a one man army against a city infested with human cockroaches is the stuff of legend! In fact, for fans of action movies, especially from the ’80s and made by Cannon Films, this is an absolute treat and a pillar of perfection for the genre.

Additionally, this chapter in the franchise has a great ensemble that works well with the great Charles Bronson. You’ve got Ed Lauter as the dickhead cop that allows Bronson to go Bronson on New York City, Martin Balsam as a tough old guy who has done some fine movies in his day, Barbie Wilde who was once a Cenobite, Marina Sirtis from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Alex Winter from the Bill & Ted movies and Lost Boys, as well as the always underappreciated Gavan O’Herlihy as the shitball, scumbag gang leader.

This is one of those movies where guns only run out of ammo if it suits the plot. Bronson literally shoots the damn machine gun for what feels like an eternity. Then when that actually runs out of ammo, his pistols are seemingly powered by Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas cheat codes. Plus, he uses an impractical but insane .475 Wildey Magnum. It’s like he’s got fucking Megatron in his hand! Scratch that, it’s like he’s got a handheld fucking battleship! The developers of the video game series Doom need to rename “God Mode” to “Bronson Mode”.

The film then ends with Bronson running into his apartment to finally reload, after twenty minutes of turning New York City into a carnage filled lead mine. He is then ambushed by Gavan O’Herlihy wielding a gun. But what’s Bronson do? He shoots him, in his own living room with a fucking bazooka! And he stands there after the walls explode into the street, completely unscathed while the corpse of the shitball, scumbag gang leader burns in the street below, covered in the rubble of what used to be Bronson’s apartment.

I remember watching this as a kid and thinking that it was the most epic thing I had ever seen in an action movie. I wasn’t wrong. But sadly, nothing has come along since and lived up to this movie’s stupendous finale. Sure, there are a lot of incredible, high octane action pictures, especially from Cannon Films, but this one took the cake and no one else has ever been able to get a slice.

Death Wish 3 needs more recognition for its greatness. I think it’s dismissed because it’s the third film in a long running series. The first one is beloved but everything after it doesn’t get the same sort of adoration. I mean, I can understand that in regards to parts 4 and 5, but 2 and 3, especially 3, deserve to be shown on a large screen in the center of every town for the rest of eternity.

If you consider yourself an action movie fan and you’ve never experienced the third act of Death Wish 3, you’re an absolute fucking fraud.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other Death Wish movies and the Dirty Harry film series.

Film Review: Missing In Action 2: The Beginning (1985)

Also known as: Battle Rage (Australia, New Zealand, UK), Braddock 2: O Início da Missão (Brazil)
Release Date: March 1st, 1985
Directed by: Lance Hool
Written by: Arthur Silver, Larry Levinson, Steve Bing
Music by: Brian May
Cast: Chuck Norris, Soon-Tek Oh, Steven Williams, Bennett Ohta, Cosie Costa, Joe Michael Terry, Professor Toru Tanaka

Golan-Globus Productions, The Cannon Group, 95 Minutes

Review:

“You really didn’t think I’d leave… without making sure you were dead?” – Colonel Braddock

Originally, this was supposed to be the first Missing In Action movie. And that makes more sense in regards to the title because in this film, Chuck Norris and his crew actually go “missing in action”.

The first two Missing In Action films were filmed back-to-back but to evade a lawsuit regarding the fact that Golan-Globus pretty much ripped off the premise from a treatment of the Rambo: First Blood Part II script, they flip-flopped the films’ releases and changed their titles so that they could get the original second film into theaters before that Rambo movie.

So even though this film was intended to come out first, it didn’t and then got labeled a prequel.

Anyway, I actually like the first movie a wee bit more but they are both pretty badass even if they are very different. Sure, they deal with very similar subject matter and are Hollywood critiques on US soldiers that were prisoners of war in Vietnam, after the war, but this movie doesn’t really give you any action until the third and final act.

The story here is slower but it is more personal and the dramatic elements of the film work in a way that is kind of surprising considering that no one in this film is known for giving great dramatic performances. And while the performances aren’t great, they are still convincing and drum up the right type of emotion as the plot rolls on.

The story starts with Braddock’s (Norris) small squad in Vietnam getting their helicopter shot down. They are then taken to a POW camp. The film jumps ahead an unknown amount of time but you can assume that it’s been at least a few years. Braddock and company have been imprisoned and forced to work in the camp, where it is run by a Vietnamese colonel that acts like a sadistic tyrant. He wants to force Braddock into confessing to war crimes and his method is to make Braddock’s soldiers suffer through various forms of mental and physical torture. The film actually spends an hour on this but none of it is dull and it only makes the action that much better once Norris gets a gun in his hand.

At its core, this is a revenge movie, but it’s a damn good one that has more narrative and context than similar films, including the other ones in this series. When Braddock succeeds and kills the evil scumbag, it is a pretty satisfying moment, after watching his madness unfold for 90 minutes.

Missing In Action 2 is a film that is better than it should be. It probably won’t appeal to those who aren’t already fans of intense ’80s action movies but it tells a good story, is well paced and ends just as it should. There’s no subversion of expectations, this is pure escapism and entertainment and what an action movie should be.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Missing In Action movies, as well as the Delta Force film series and pretty much anything by Cannon Films.

Film Review: Wheels of Fire (1985)

Also known as: Desert Warrior, Pyro, Vindicator (German alternate titles), Fuego (Spain), Guerreros infernales (Peru)
Release Date: April 11th, 1985 (Philippines premiere)
Directed by: Cirio H. Santiago
Written by: Ellen Collett, Frederick Bailey, Cameron Frankley, Keith Mortimer, Joseph Williams, Frank Wolfe
Music by: Christopher Young
Cast: Gary Watkins, Laura Banks, Lynda Wiesmeier, Linda Grovenor

Rodeo, Concorde Pictures, 81 Minutes

Review:

“What’s the matter, sweetheart? You don’t like my looks?” – Scourge, “Maybe as a corpse!” – Arlie

Roger Corman didn’t direct or directly produce this film but he put some money into it. When his previous company New World Pictures refused to distribute the movie, that was more fuel to the fire that became a big lawsuit between the two parties.

Also, Lee Ving was supposed to star in this as the villain Scourge. However, he quit just before shooting. Honestly, it would have been cool as hell to see Lee Ving in this. I was always a fan of the guy even if his roles were always kind of small. But he stands out in both Clue and Streets of Fire. Plus, his punk band Fear was one of the most badass bands of all-time.

This is one of dozens of Mad Max ripoffs. While none of these films are as good as the material they are stealing from, some of them are at least fun and have enough gravitas to justify their existence. This is one of those films.

The good guy is a black leather clad, shotgun wielding badass with a black muscle car and two big balls that each have their own V8 engine. He takes no shit, gives the evil bastards of the wasteland hell and doesn’t care whose car he has to wreck in order to make a point.

Now the acting is pretty awful and this film is also riddled with other issues but this flick is just rough and tough enough to make me not nitpick it apart, as I would with something that didn’t serve up as much testosterone as this.

Ultimately, this is a solid, no budget action movie that doesn’t need to hide its weaknesses, because its strengths are so good.

But if I’m going to pull something negative out of this, I didn’t like how they sped the frame rate up during car scenes to make the vehicles look like they were moving faster. Its kind of jarring but luckily, it doesn’t break the film as it isn’t overused to the point of madness.

If anything, this movie just makes me want to build a beat up, black muscle car and head to the desert with a camera. Point being, this film had to be fun to make and everyone looked like they were having a good time.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Mad Max ripoffs: Battletruck, Metalstorm and Megaforce.