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: Leviathan (1989)

Release Date: March 17th, 1989
Directed by: George P. Cosmatos
Written by: David Peoples, Jeb Stuart
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Peter Weller, Richard Crenna, Amanda Pays, Daniel Stern, Ernie Hudson, Michael Carmine, Hector Elizondo, Lisa Elbacher, Meg Foster

Filmauro, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Talk about having a bad day.” – Justin Jones

Leviathan is hardly a unique movie. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, considering that most movies are just rehashes of things we’ve seen before.

This film is a hybrid of Ridley Scott’s Alien and John Carpenter’s The Thing. But there were a lot of films like this in the 80s; films that took a crew, isolated them and then had them face some sort of terrifying monster. In fact, there was a very similar film to this, which was also released in 1989, Deep Star Six. Out of the two, this is the superior picture.

This film benefits from having a really solid ensemble cast.

Peter Weller, Robocop and Buckaroo Banzai himself, is the crew leader. Then you have Richard Crenna a.k.a Col. Trautman from the Rambo movies, Daniel Stern, Ernie Hudson, Hector Elizondo, Amanda Pays from the original Flash TV series, Meg Foster from a ton of cool movies and Michael Carmine, who was charismatic and entertaining in Michael Mann’s Band of the Hand and Steven Spielberg’s Batteries Not Included.

The creature effects in this film were handled by Stan Winston’s people. While the creature and the effects are pretty good, they do get a bit cheesy when you see the man-eating fish-mouthed tentacle. Still, most of the film was comprised of solid work by Winston’s crew.

Peter Weller did a superb job pretty much playing a normal character and not a cyborg cop or an uber cool 80s superhero. He’s always been an accomplished actor and would do Naked Lunch a few years after this picture, which was some of his best work. Here, he shows signs of greatness but is bogged down by his surroundings, a better than decent but almost throwaway sci-fi horror spectacle. But this is a movie with a cast whose talent level probably deserved a better script that emphasized more suspense and less in your face scares.

Despite some of the film’s hokiness, the sets and effects feel pretty real and this is a good looking film for 1989 and for being limited by its budget, as it was produced by an Italian studio. It had the backing of the De Laurentiis family, who weren’t necessarily known for quality but were often times able to make chicken salad with chicken shit.

I have always liked Leviathan. The fact that it stars a lot of people I adore might have something to do with that but it still plays out well and is better than most of the Alien and Thing clones. There were a lot of these types of films back in the 1980s. Hell, they still knock those movies off today, almost forty years later. But Leviathan, is still, one of the better ones.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Cobra (1986)

Release Date: May 23rd, 1986
Directed by: George P. Cosmatos
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Based on: Fair Game by Paula Gosling
Music by: Sylvester Levay
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Brigitte Nielsen, Reni Santoni, Brian Thompson, Andrew Robinson

Cannon Films, Warner Bros., 87 Minutes

cobraReview:

I was once asked what my favorite Punisher movie was. My answer was Cobra.

No, Cobra isn’t actually a Punisher movie but it is the closest thing that I think Hollywood has gotten to a live-action version of him. Cobra is a balls out, unapologetic, bad ass, gratuitously violent, one-liner bonanza of an action film.

I mean, Stallone’s Cobra actually says, right before he knifes and blasts a guy, “You’re a disease – and I’m the cure.” When challenged about the broken justice system by a serial killer, Cobra says, “This is where the law stops and I start – sucker!” The film even starts with a fantastic narration by Cobra, “In America, there’s a burglary every 11 seconds, an armed robbery every 65 seconds, a violent crime every 25 seconds, a murder every 24 minutes and 250 rapes a day.” There is just that stone cold Stallone delivery of every line of Cobra’s dialogue in this movie.

From the standpoint of the critics in 1986, the film is too cliche and relies too heavily on tropes weaved together with bad dialogue. But these are the same assholes that loved Avatar.

No, Cobra is not a critically-acclaimed motion picture. But it made a shit ton of money at the box office and really, should have had a sequel or five. Just because critics don’t like something, doesn’t mean that there isn’t something for the world to sink its teeth into. Besides, the critics hated a lot of things that became classics and then they later backtracked and tried to act like they were now accepting of many of those films. Granted, they’ll probably never like Cobra, its balls are too huge and covered in thick masculine hair.

Cobra is just a manly fucking film. It is the epitome of violent 80s action movies. It does just about everything right, if senseless violence and bad asses triumphing over psychos is your thing. It is my thing.

Stallone was great as Cobra, even though he was one-dimensional and not that interesting or dynamic. He was Stallone playing Stallone but with extra octane. Brigitte Nielsen was passable as the girl he is protecting from the psycho. Speaking of which, Brian Thompson was perfect as the serial killer, the Night Slasher. And to be honest, as a kid, I was never afraid of Freddy or Jason. But I was scared shitless of the Night Slasher.

This movie is dark; it plays more like a horror film in some scenes. It is that darkness, however, that makes this movie really cool. Yeah, it really frightened me when I was a young kid, who probably shouldn’t have been able to rent this, but that is what I loved about it. And even though it is a mid-80s testosterone-laced action picture, it holds up really well.

This came out when overusing tropes was frowned upon by serious filmgoers. If this came out today, it would probably be applauded as a great homage to that old action style. I mean, the critics would still probably hate it but there’d be a lot more people accepting of it. And I think that is due to the fact that films like this don’t really exist anymore.

Cobra is just a seriously bad ass movie. Its not a great movie, from an artistic standpoint, but it is great at giving the men of my generation something to pump their fists to.

Rating: 9/10