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!

NYC & LA Movie Marathon: 7 Movies From Both Cities

I watch a LOT of movies. More so than usual since I’m unemployed/work from home. Netflix really has become my closest friend which is both sad and technologically impressive. Anyway, I like to watch movies or shows while I work on freelance, which means I’m not always giving them 100% of my attention, but enough to do a series of mini-reviews. I’ve been trying to figure out some thematic similarities between the movies I’ve been watching (like the otherwise unrelated Dr. Horrible and Angel of Death from the other day). It wasn’t until I was watching Last Action Hero today which takes place in both New York City and Los Angeles that I realized that a big chunk of the movies I’ve watched recently are set in one or the other. So, what the hell? Even though they’re mostly unrelated, here’s a look at seven movies I’ve watched in the last few weeks set in these places. Hit the jump for the incredibly entertaining reviews.

First up, New York, both because it’s a place I’m semi-familiar with and it contains the movie I watched first.

F/X (1986)
As long time United Monkees know, I watched F/X 2 a little over a year ago and had a great time with it. It was a fun little action movie that didn’t seem to take itself too seriously and had fun with the concept. The original is a bit more straightforward and intense that I was expecting, with Cocktail’s Bryan Brown taking on an assignment from the government to make it look like a mobster (Jerry Orbach) gets killed so he can testify. Turns out he gets double crossed and things go downhill from there. Brian Dennehy still stars as the one guy trying to help Brown’s character and the two team-up to take out the bad guys and win the day, using plenty of Brown’s special effects tricks. It’s a cool movie, but definitely not as fun as the sequel.

RIGHTEOUS KILL (2008)
Not only do Righteous Kill and F/X share a common setting in the form of NYC, but they also share something in the form of awesome actor Brian Dennehy. In this case he plays lieutenant to Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. This review absolutely contains SPOILERS, so if you don’t want the movie ruined, skip to The Muppets Take Manhattan. Anyway, the whole plot of this movie revolves around De Niro’s seeming confession to being this killer of guys who fall through the cracks of the criminal justice system. We even have video footage of him confessing. But, it turns out that the video is Pacino making him read his (Pacino’s) diary. See, throughout the movie, they’re only referred to by their nicknames, so when De Niro reads a real name, we don’t actually know who it is. I found the twist to be a fairly interesting one that would probably make sense on further viewings (less High Tension and more Usual Suspects). Personally I liked watching these two veterans working together in a fairly tight script that brings in the talents of 50 Cent, Dennehy, John Leguizamo, Donnie Wahlberg and Carla Gugino. Definitely worth the NetBox watch in my opinion.

THE MUPPETS TAKES MANHATTAN (1984)
I must admit, I’m not a huge Muppets fan. That’s not to say I don’t like them, I just don’t have the history with them that a lot of people my age seem to. My only childhood memory of them is from Muppet Babies. After that? The video they did with Weezer. So, it was kind of on a whim that I watched The Muppets Take Manhattan on NetBox and I had a great time with it. The story follows Kermit and the Muppet gang who are fresh out of college (seems like that would make a great movie premise itself) and taking their show to New York to get it on Broadway. After several failed attempts to get the show made, Kermit kind of blows up at his friends who all decide he would be better off if they told him they got other jobs and moved away. This leaves Kermit in NYC, working in a diner and still trying to get the show made. He, of course, succeeds eventually, only to get in an accident that leaves him with amnesia and taking a job as an ad exec, Mad Men-style. I had a ridiculous amount of fun watching this flick and trying to figure out if I’d ever been to the parts of the city Kermit was walking around (I’m guessing so, though the place has changed quite a bit in 25 years). I also really enjoyed the flashback that spawned Muppet Babies. It made a lot of things make sense. Now, I’ve got to check out the rest of the movies.

KRUSH GROOVE (1985)
Holy crap, I loved this movie. I just watched it today (well, yesterday at this point in the early morning) and had so much fun with it. See, it’s a fictionalized history of Def Jam records back in the 80s, but starring a ton of their artists like Run-DMC, the Fat Boys, LL Cool J, Kurtis Blow, Rick Rubin, Sheila E., the Beastie Boys and New Edition among others. I only really started exploring hip hop within the last five or six years, but that exploration has heavily included Run-DMC and the Beasties. I also had a couple Fat Boys tapes back when I was a kid (I’m guessing around the time they got huge, musically speaking, because I vaguely recognized a track or two in the movie from those tapes). That combined with my fairly recent viewing of VH1’s 2009 Hip Hop Honors which focused on Def Jam really made this movie interesting for me. There’s a lot going on in a fairly limited amount of time, but I feel like the director did a good job of balancing the main storyline of Run-DMC thinking of jumping form the Krush Groove label and the B-story of the Fat Boys trying to make it big. If you’re interested in early hip hop at all, this is a must-watch flick. I was also surprised to find out that director Michael Shultz also directed past UM reviewed movie Car Wash and a few movies I didn’t get around to reviewing like the epic Last Dragon (SO awesome) and Cooley High (surprisingly depressing).

New York To LA and Back

LAST ACTION HERO (1993)
The movie that inspired this entire entry starts off with a kid in NYC who loves Arnold Schwarzenegger movies getting sucked into movie-LA and eventually bringing the fictional Jack Slater back into the real world. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but I really loved this movie. I remember watching it with my grandparents back around the time it came out on video and thinking it was kind of dumb. But, see, now I’ve seen most of the movies it tries to spoof and had a much better time with it (I’m guessing my grandparents also thought it was dumb, but I bet they never said anything). The kid calls out all kinds of late-80s, early-90s action movie cliches, trying to convince Slater that he’s living in a movie. What I like is that all aspects of the story are interesting and I guess the credit for that goes to world renowned scriptwriter William Goldman (whose book of scripts including Butch & Sundance, Misery, Marathon Man & The Princess Bride is sitting mostly unread on my shelf) who came in and did a rewrite after Arnold insisted on it. Credit should also be given to Die Hard and Predator director John McTiernan who did a great job of mixing the comic and action elements. Sure, the kid’s acting can be a bit thin at times and maybe over-the-top, but I think it works, especially (maybe only) if you’re a fan of these kinds of movies. Oh, it also features a cartoon cat voiced by Danny Devito, how can you go wrong?!

Now On To LA

SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO (1991)
After watching several movies about cops getting new partners (Dragnet, The Rookie, Lethal Weapon (the latter two soon to be reviewed on their own), it’s funny how similar they end up. This one has dandy Dolph Lundgren and Brandon Lee teaming up to take down crime in LA’s Little Tokyo. Soon enough, something minor leads them to something huge and our heroes have to put a stop to it. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to this one, but I still enjoyed the weird aesthetic of it. See, Lundgren loves Asian culture, while Lee only knows martial arts because his mom made him take lessons and otherwise doesn’t care. When I was a kid I always got this one confused with Big Trouble In Little China. That doesn’t really mean anything, I guess. On another note, Wayne’s World’s Tia Carrere also stars in this movie. On another nother note, the director Mark L. Lester also directed the more-fun Class of 1999 and Commando.

ALIEN NATION (1988)
Hey, guess what? I’ve had a surprising amount of luck watching movies lately. Case in point? Alien Nation. I added a few sci-fi movies including this one a while ago and decided to give this one a shot. I remember seeing the TV series randomly syndicated when I was a kid watching late-night TV but had never seen the movie, which stars James Caan and Chicago Hope’s Mandy Patinkin. Kind of like V, Alien Nation is based around an alien race that is welcomed to earth and begins to be integrated into society, though basic stereotypes still exist. These aliens were bread to be slaves though. Like with Showdown, this movies focuses on cop Caan being saddled with Newcomer (that’s what they call the aliens) Patinkin. As the two learn about each other, they find out about a much bigger plot to addict the Newcomers to drugs and have to put a stop to it. I really liked James Caan in this flick. I guess I haven’t seen him in too many things, but I liked his every man approach. I haven’t seen a ton of his movies, but this made me want to do so. It also made me add the TV series to my Netflix queue, though I was it was on instant watch. I don’t have incredibly high hopes because it got canceled after one season, but it did spawn a number of TV movies. Anyone familiar with them?

So, that ends my cinematic tour of NYC and LA, though I’m sure I’ll see another movie or two set in one of those places before the end of the week. I’ve enjoyed my brief stay and wish I would have taken more pictures, but what are you gonna do?