We Want Action Double Feature: Rambo (1985) & Predator (1987)

rambo first blood part 2 poster

For the past seven or eight years — pretty much since I got out of college — I’ve been focusing on absorbing as much new entertainment as possible, not necessarily brand new, but new to me. In that time, and going back to my days in high school and college, I’ve also been building up a collection of books, trades, movies and albums that I’ve deemed good enough to keep (or cheap enough to check out). In the past few weeks, though, I’ve been more in the mood to revisit the films and trades I love and own instead of looking for new things to devour. I’m not sure if this is a function of getting older or maybe the result of having my fill of goofy, bad movies seen on Netflix (for the time being).

Whatever the case, when Lu went down for her nap yesterday, I didn’t have the desire to flip through my ridiculously long Netflix Instant queue. Instead, I wanted to watch Rambo: First Blood II. I got a great deal on the Rambo Blu-ray set a while ago which reintroduced me to the fantastic original film, but also the whole franchise which I realized I have a lot of fond memories of.

As I noted after watching First Blood, the Rambo I really remember from my childhood — the shirtless guy with black pants, a headband and a bazooka — actually came from this sequel.  The film finds Rambo’s one time commanding officer Col. Samuel Trautman (Richard Crenna) approaching the imprisoned one man army corps (Sylvester Stallone, of course) with a special offer: help us with a mission in the jungles of Vietnam and get a Get Out Of Jail Free Card. Rambo takes the deal and nearly completes the mission before getting burned by the guy who’s really in charge, Marshall Murdock (Charlies Napier). With that, Rambo gets captured and tortured, but thankfully has a friend on the outside in Co (Julia Nickson) who helps him escape, a move that unleashes Rambo’s mighty vengeance on his captors and, eventually, his  betrayers.

The film includes all the bigtime action you’d expect with explosions, arrows through bad guys and even the perfect synergy of both: exploding arrows. But, what struck me once again about a Rambo movie is the fact that Stallone portrays this character with a depth and sadness that my younger self couldn’t understand. This is a guy who was trained to kill and he’s great at it. Now he’s in the real world and he can’t catch a break. A sheriff thinks he doesn’t look right and tries kicking him out of town. A shady military guy dangles freedom in front of him and leaves him high and dry. For him, the war is never over and he’ll probably never get to win, this time or any other. Sure, you can watch this movie and enjoy the aforementioned explosions, but there’s more going on which I can appreciate these days.

predator poster One layer of Rambo I noticed that was completely unintended, though, is its similarity to Predator. Rather, since the latter came out two years after the former, Predator‘s similarity to Rambo. Both movies feature an incredibly well-trained person going into a jungle to do a job, getting betrayed or lied to and going up against an unforeseen challenge that takes all their skills to defeat. For Rambo it’s an army of Vietnamese baddies, for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Dutch, it’s an alien hunter with crazy weapons. Both movies also include a strong female character who plays an important part in the proceedings, a general lack of shirts in the end, super cool “preparing for battle” montages (a favorite genre trope of mine) and even similar dudes-holding-guns posters.

But, I’m far less interested in talking about the similarities between these two flicks than I am about how much I love them both(though someone should definitely do a mash-up). In the case of Predator — a favorite of mine going back to the Family Video rental days on into my Wizard internship when I scored the ass-kicking nickname Dutch after watching the first two Predator movies in a weekend — the film greatly benefits from its extended cast. We’re not just seeing Schwarzenegger in the jungle, but his whole crew, a gang consisting of Dillon (Carl Weathers), Mac (Bill Duke), Blain (Jesse Ventura, before we knew how crazy he is), Billy (Sonny Landham), Poncho (Richard Chaves) and Hawkins (screenwriter and Iron Man 3 director Shane Black). It’s important to have such a beefy group of dudes because they offer the Predator something to fight.

And fight they do! From the scene where everyone just desperately blasts into the jungle hoping to hit what took their friend to Billy making a last ditch effort to try and stop their pursuer, this movie is jam packed with iconic action set pieces all of which lead up to the king-daddy of them all as a mud-covered Dutch does his damndest to kill this thing with a series of cunning booby traps. I have no idea if it was intended or not, but there’s a real “natural versus technological” theme in that last fight in which the one with fewer pieces of tech winds up winning the day over the more “advanced” species.

Anyway, Predator doesn’t have the depth that Rambo does and that’s fine by me. If I felt for every single action hero the way I do for John Rambo, these things would be a lot less fun, but every now and then it’s good to actually feel something in addition to explosion-fueled excitement.

I mentioned many of the similarities between these two movies above but there’s one more that I think it worth noting: both have had fantastic sequels in the past five years. After mounting a comeback in 2006 with Rocky Balboa, Stallone decided to revisit one of his other famous characters in the wildly intense Rambo from 2008. Meanwhile, the Predator franchise, which has been Dutch-less since the initial outing, came back swinging with Predators in 2010, a film I really enjoyed and want to revisit soon. Heck Stallone even said at one point that he’d like to see Rambo face off against a Predator, but I think he was half joking. In fact, after doing a little research, it turns out Stallone was interested in adapting a book called Hunter which would, essentially, do just that. I fully support this decision!

Can You Believe Joel Schumacher Wrote Car Wash?

That’s right folks, the man behind Batman & Robin, Falling Down, Number 23, Phone Booth, Bad Company and a bunch of other movies, wrote the 1976 movie Car Wash, about one day’s work in a California car wash. Think of it as an Empire Records-type, one day glimpse at the relationships, drama and regular work that goes into keeping a place running.

I was flipping through my Netflix online queue Friday night and decided on Car Wash because it wasn’t very long AND George Carlin and Richard Pryor were emblazoned on the cover. I kind of figured this was one of those occurrences where somewhat unknown actors who would go on to be famous were in the movie or they didn’t have big parts, but were still featured because they were names, thus garnering them the box art. I’m not sure which was the case, but Pryor has one scene (though he shows up in a picture on a wall) and Carlin plays a cab driver trying to get paid.

The real focus of the story lands on all the guys working in the car wash and the owner. There are a few familiar faces in the group. SNL’s Garrett Morris is there as is a young Bill Duke (Mac in Predator) playing the angry black man. Also, Otis Day who kinda plays himself in Animal House is there as Lloyd, half of the Lloyd and Floyd singing team with high hopes. Lorrain Gray even makes an appearance as the mother of a boy who can’t stop puking. I recognized her but couldn’t place it, but thanks to IMDb, I now know that she played Ellen Brody in Jaws. Connections to SNL, Animal House, Predator and Jaws? How can you go wrong?

The thing about Car Wash is that there’s a lot going on. The car wash employs a TON of people, all of whom seem to have a side story (one guys’ having trouble with his lady, the other’s parole officer shows up, another’s trying to get with a girl who works nearby), plus you’ve got various customers, the owner of the car wash and a subplot about a mad bomber. But even with all that it feels like a complete movie. There isn’t much in the way of resolution at the end of the movie, but I kind of like that. This is just one day out of many in their lives. Maybe things will change tomorrow, but they probably won’t. It’s kind of fun to think about where things would have gone the next day. It’s a nice slice of life.

One character I do want to point out for my fellow geeks is TC. He’s the guy trying to get the girl of his dreams to pay attention to him. He’s also trying to win concert tickets on the radio (something I tried and succeeded at a time or two in high school). Also, also, he’s created a superhero called The Fly that he wears on his T-shirt. I think he created it. TC compares him
to Superman, which is fun. Now that I think about it, TC might be the main character, but it really is hard to say because of ensemble cast.

So, yeah, Schumaker wrote this and The Wiz! Go figure. It’s worth checking out if you’ve got an hour and a half and want to see a lot of familiar faces, plus a guy that looks like one of the Black Eyed Peas.

Going Commando

2008-08-29
4:47:29 am

I know this blog is free and all, but it would be great if you could pick up the last few issues of ToyFare, specifically 133, 134 and the upcoming 135. Not so much because it puts any more money in my pocked (it doesn’t), but just so you too can enjoy what has turned out to be my personal favorite Twisted ToyFare Theatre of all time. For those of you that don’t know what that is (mostly those of you who I know from my life pre-Wizard), Twisted ToyFare Theatre is this section in the mag where we pose action figures in funny poses and give them word balloons. For the past three issues, we’ve been working on this Manly Movie Men parody that takes shots at all kinds of 80s action stars. Of course, I didn’t really realize how good of a job we were doing until I watched Commando last night

To be honest I was pretty blown away by this flick. Not because it was great, or even all that good, but by the shear volume of quips that Arnold throws around. The basic plot involves some guy kidnapped Arnold’s daughter (Alyssa Milano). The guy wants Arnold to do something for him in some Latin country that’s actually fake, but Arnold gets away, hunts the bastards down and gets his daughter back, all the while gaining a stewardess cohort (Rae Dawn Chong).

I highly recommend checking Commando out, if for no other reason than to see Arnold in his prime just killing dudes left and right. There’s a scene where Arnold’s on a plane supposedly on his way to the Latin country. He sits down in first class with this dude who he punches in the face and then BREAKS HIS NECK ON THE PLANE. The best part? No one around them even notices. He then sneaks out through the wheel well and jumps from the ascending plane into a marsh. From there, it’s all killing and bad jokes thanks to screenwriter Jeph Loeb (he writes a few of the comics in Wizard’s Top 10, plus Teen Wolf and Heroes).

And boy does he kill dudes. All kinds of dudes. Short dudes, tall dudes. The second guy he kills is actually one of my favorite character actors of all time David Patrick Kelly who played the dude in The Warrios who says “Waaaaaariors, come out at plaaaaaaaaaaay.” He also played Jerry on Twin Peaks which I still need to finish.

The only real drawback to the movie is Rae Dawn Chong. She overacts her way through half her scenes and then makes terrible jokes through the other half. Basically, she’s pointless except for the fact that they wanted a love interest(?) in the movie.

Overall, this is a great “dude put in a crazy situation and DEALS with it” movie. I was seriously worried that Arnold wouldn’t get off the plane in the plane scene. There’s even this great scene where you see Arnold watching a stewardess close the door and you’re trying to figure out how he’s going to get out. Additionally, these really are some of the best/worst quips in the game. My personal favorite is after killing the dude on the plane he tells the stewardess not to bother him because “he’s dead tired.” Oh, and at the end when he kills the main bad guy with steam pipe he says something along the lines of “It’s time you let off some steam.” Just imagine that in Arnold’s voice. It’s GREAT!

But seriously, I do enjoy these kinds of movies where the main character is just so single-minded and you literally can’t stop you. He’ll even storm the mansion from Beverly Hills Cop to get his daughter. He’s an unstoppable killing force and it’s a shame he can’t become the president of these great United States.