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: Sicario (2015)

Release Date: May 19th, 2015 (Cannes)
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Taylor Sheridan
Music by: Johann Johannsson
Cast: Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya, Jeffrey Donovan

Black Label Media, Thunder Road, Lionsgate, 121 Minutes

Review:

“Nothing will make sense to your American ears, and you will doubt everything that we do, but in the end you will understand.” – Alejandro

This is a film that I put off watching because there was a lot of hype about it when it came out. Had I watched it in 2015 or even 2016, I probably would’ve lost my shit.

Reason being, this is nowhere near as good as the critics and my friends led me to believe.

In fact, other than less than a handful of scenes, this is a boring fucking movie that doesn’t seem to have much of a point.

I mean, I get it, the drug cartels in Mexico are fucked up. But I’ve known this and seen this in lots of film and television shows that are far better than this.

With the cast and a very capable director I was expected an intense, badass neo-western in the vein of No Country For Old Men and Hell or High Water. Sadly, this doesn’t hold a candle to those films and it is just a few cool action sequences and one intense dinner scene, strung together with moral babble and Emily Blunt not doing much other than looking offended and confused.

I can see why she didn’t come back for a sequel but her character was completely vacant anyway and it didn’t really matter that she was in this film. And that’s not to knock Blunt, she’s an incredibly capable actress. However, they could’ve just taken all her close ups in this movie, spliced them into the sequel and no one would’ve been the wiser, as she is just sort of in the film as an observer and moral compass.

Now I can’t completely shit on the film. The high points were actually good and intense. The dinner scene has incredible tension but at the same time, the end result of that scene is not shocking and has little effect. It’s more fucked up than shocking.

Also, the cinematography and shot framing were incredible. This is a good looking film from start to finish and that’s probably its biggest positive. But I can get these things in a music video from a talented director of photography. Alluring visuals are great and they are important but they can’t be the sole driving force of a film.

For instance, The Revenant was visually breathtaking but none of that would’ve mattered if the rest of the film was a crap factory.

I absolutely love the modernized western film but they are really hard to do well. Sicario doesn’t deliver on much but I’ll still probably check out the sequel just to review it.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: the sequel and other neo-westerns, most of which are better than this.

Film Review: Samson Vs. The Vampire Women (1962)

Also known as: Santo vs. las mujeres vampiro (original Mexican title)
Release Date: October 11th, 1962 (Mexico)
Directed by: Alfonso Corona Blake
Written by: Alfonso Corona Blake, Rafael Garcia Travesi, Antonio Orellana, Fernando Oses
Music by: Raul Lavista, Galdino R. Samperio
Cast: El Santo, Lorena Velazquez, Jaime Fernandez, Augusto Benedico, Maria Duval, Javier Loya, Ofelia Montesco

Filmadora Panamericana, Fonexsa, Tele-cine-radio S.A., 89 Minutes

Review:

“The fight must go on.” – El Enmascarado de Plata

I think this is one of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes that I missed. I was probably out macking on chicks at a high school football game or something. But I didn’t remember them ever riffing one of the El Santo movies. Also, I thought I saw TV’s Frank’s last episode but this played out in a way I didn’t recollect, so I guess I never saw it.

Anyway, this is one of the many El Santo movies from Mexico. He was the top lucha libre star of all-time and a bonafide movie star in his country.

However, all of the old school lucha libre movies are strange, low budget affairs that usually saw luchadors fight supernatural or alien threats. Here, El Santo fights a horde of vampire women. In other words, the premise is awesome, if this is your sort of thing.

What I like about these lucha movies is that they feel like Mexico’s version of Japan’s tokusatsu genre. El Santo is Mexico’s Ultraman and I guess that makes Blue Demon Mexico’s version of Kamen Rider, albeit without the sweet motorcycle.

As far as El Santo pictures go, this one is pretty good. It almost taps into a Hammer Horror vibe with its vampire women and it reminded me of The Brides of Dracula. Granted, Peter Cushing wasn’t here to kick ass as Van Helsing but Santo did a fine job and even got to mix it up in the ring, which is always a plus even if it is customary in a lucha flick.

I thought that this film was pretty entertaining for its genre and I can’t shit on it like most people without an appreciation for lucha movies would. In fact, it is one of the more enjoyable films featured on MST3K and TV’s Frank should be happy that he went out on this one.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other El Santo movies, as well as the films starring Blue Demon.

Film Review: Conquest (1983)

Also known as: Mace the Outcast (working title), El Bárbaro (Mexico)
Release Date: June 2nd, 1983 (Italy)
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Gino Capone, Carlos Vasallo, Jose Antonio de la Loma Giovanni Di Clemente
Music by: Claudio Simonetti
Cast: Jorge Rivero, Andrea Occhipinti, Conrado San Martin, Sabrina Siani

Clemi Cinematografica, Clesi Cinematografica, Conquest Productions, 88 Minutes

Review:

“When a man meets a man, you never know which one will die. But when an animal meets a man, it’s always the animal that dies. I’m on the animals’ side.” – Mace, “Isn’t this an animal you’re eating?” – Ilias, “[shrugs] I didn’t kill him.” – Mace, “That’s a pretty strange law.” – Ilias, “Not when you’re hungry.” – Mace

By the time 1983 rolled around, everyone was making sword and sorcery movies, especially the Europeans, who just wanted to make their own version of Conan the Barbarian. Since most of these movies were made in Italy and Spain, it seems natural that Lucio Fulci, mostly known for his horror pictures, would direct his own.

What’s interesting about Fulci doing one of these movies is that he got to tap into his horror skills, adding in some interesting monsters and a darker tone to this sword and sorcery tale.

For the time and the budget, the special effects are pretty decent. The evil sorceress’ henchmen are basically  barbarian werewolves, which was a neat idea. Granted, they look like the lovechild of Joe Dante’s werewolf from The Howling and Chewbacca but still, werewolf barbarians is a cool enough concept to carry its own movie.

On the downside, however, this is a very cheap film and it looks it. I like the practical effects but that’s something I personally have an appreciation for and if you share that sentiment, the hokiness of the production probably won’t bother you. But for most people, this picture won’t cut the mustard. It also doesn’t help that it’s dark, dreary and always looks foggy or as if there is a haze over the camera lens.

That being said, I think the visuals of this film will turn most people away, as it’s not pretty to look at, especially when compared to bigger budget sword and sorcery pictures from the same era, mainly the Schwarzenegger Conan films, Red Sonja and the first Beastmaster.

I still like the movie though, but I have an affinity for these sorts of things. Plus, the one dude shoots light arrows, which is neat and reminds me of the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, which is odd because this movie and that TV show came out in the same year.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other Lucio Fulci movies, as well as other European sword and sorcery pictures from the early ’80s.

Film Review: Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)

Also known as: Grounded, Teenie Weenies, The Big Backyard (working titles)
Release Date: June 23rd, 1989
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Written by: Ed Naha, Tom Schulman, Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Rick Moranis, Matt Frewer, Marcia Strassman, Kristine Sutherland, Thomas Wilson Brown, Jared Rushton, Amy O’Neill, Robert Oliveri, Mark L. Taylor, Kimmy Robertson, Frank Welker (voice)

Walt Disney Pictures, Silver Screen Partners III, Buena Vista Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Nick, I’ve got six hours to get home, get big and get to the mall. Now get moving.” – Amy Szalinski

It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that one of the writers of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids is Brian Yuzna, the guy behind Re-Animator and its sequels, as well as From Beyond and Society. In fact, this film came out in the same year as the over the top and insane Society. Talk about two extremes.

Anyway, this family classic was one of many reasons as to why the summer of ’89 is probably the best summer for movies of all-time. I loved this as a kid and it has held up pretty well.

Some of the effects look a bit dated, as this came out just before the CGI boom that came with Jurassic Park in 1993, but the use of green screen and stop motion effects pretty much comes off without a hitch and these special effects are top of the line for 1989. Disney crafted an incredible world for this movie and all the physical sets still look fabulous by 2019 standards.

The movie is also kind of timeless and the humor still works. This isn’t a film that’s chock full of ’80s cliches. Okay, maybe the clothes the kids wear are very ’80s but this is written in a way that the jokes and humor aren’t as dated as other films from the time.

Additionally, all the kid actors are pretty solid, as are the parents. The parents of course get top billing in this movie but the bulk of the film is focused on the children and their adventure, trying to get home from the other side of their backyard. Of course there are several challenges that stand in the kids way, which just makes this adventure a lot of fun and actually provides a good amount of real tension.

Rick Moranis is as good as he always is but the real scene stealer was Matt Frewer, who owned the character of Russ Sr. Frewer can do drama and comedy well but here he was so committed to the bit that he was the biggest bright spot in the film.

I’m glad that I revisited this and I’ve just realized that it’s approaching its thirtieth anniversary. Man, I can’t believe it’s been that long since the epic summer of ’89.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the sequels but each one gets worse and worse, as well as other late ’80s family sci-fi movies like *batteries not included and Cocoon.

Film Review: El Mariachi (1992)

Release Date: September 4th, 1992 (Telluride Film Festival)
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Written by: Robert Rodriguez
Music by: Eric Guthrie, Chris Knudson, Álvaro Rodriguez, Cecilio Rodriguez, Mark Trujillo
Cast: Carlos Gallardo, Consuelo Gómez, Peter Marquardt

Los Hooligans Productions, Columbia Pictures, 81 Minutes

Review:

“That morning was just like any other. No love. No luck. No ride. Nothing changes.” – El Mariachi (narration)

I’ve followed Robert Rodriguez’s career ever since first seeing Desperado. I had never seen this proto-Desperado film until now, however. But I liked experiencing this movie two and a half decades too late with fresh eyes and without nostalgia being a factor.

It’s an extremely low budget film. In fact, Rodriguez made this in Mexico with just $7000. That being said, the end result is incredibly impressive and I have to be accepting of certain flaws due to the immense limitations of the production.

The film has an incredibly gritty and grainy look to it but since this is kind of a throwback to grindhouse era cinema, it works to the movie’s benefit. Also, the action style and special effects, like the use of primitive squibs and blood splatter also works for the film’s style.

The acting is exactly what one should expect from a film like this but despite the limitations of the performers, the film’s star Carlos Gallardo is a pretty charming guy and it’s hard not to root for him, even if you’re not sure what the hell is going on.

Rodriguez also mixes in some solid humorous bits and the film is just as amusing as it is badass.

One flaw that’s hard to dismiss though is the film’s villain. That guy was just annoying as hell and delivered his lines like a coked up cartoon character. Maybe that was Rodriguez’s intention but it doesn’t work for me and it is distracting and pulls you out of the film.

Overall, this was fun to watch. It’s a short, cheap film and it will probably be enjoyed by those who like Desperado but it really just made me want to revisit that film.

For a first directorial effort, color me impressed.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: the two films that were born from this one: Desperado and Once Upon A Time In Mexico.

Vids I Dig 004: Comic Tropes: Did Peter Parker Marry Gwen Stacy in the Mexican ‘Spider-Man’ Comics?

From Comic Tropes’ YouTube description: In the ’60s and ’70s, Mexican publisher La Prensa not only got the rights to reprint Marvel’s The Amazing Spider-Man title but also got permission to create their own original issues that they would insert between the reprints. These issues have never been translated into English or reprinted here in the United States. This episode looks at their history, the techniques of their artist, José Luis González Durán. These books focused heavily on Peter Parker’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy.