First Blood (1982) Is Awesome

first blood poster Before talking about how much I enjoyed First Blood, I want to talk a little bit about my history with the character of Rambo. As a kid growing up in the 80s, you could not escape this huge idea of the character. I don’t remember when I saw the movies, but I knew there was this bandana-wearing dude running around shirtless shooting people and wielding a big knife. He. Was. Awesome.

Part of the reason I knew about the character, aside from just living in the world at that time, because they heavily marketed this guy for kids, which is funny when you think about the fact that the violent franchise is built around a Vietnam vet with PTSD. There was a 65 episode cartoon called Rambo: The Force Of Freedom. That series also spawned a line of action figures which I will feature in next week’s Toy Commercial Tuesday (plug!).  I definitely had one of the shirtless, black pants action figures, but think I lost it or someone swiped it. I should have gone on a Rambo-like rampage until I got it back, but that’s tough to do when your 7 or whatever.

I mention all of that because the version of Rambo that lived in my head for so long doesn’t really match up to the character seen in the first film. When I finally got around to watching First Blood for the first time in high school, I was confused and lost interest. “Why’s Rambo just walking around like a guy? Why isn’t he blowing anything up? Eh, what’s on the internet.” A week or so back I got a hankering to watch the movie again, but it wasn’t on Netflix Instant so I scoped it out on Amazon and discovered they were having a big sale on the box set, so I got myself a little birthday present.

While I’m not sure how great the BR conversion is (some of the blacks looked pretty spotty), this movie really is beautiful. Director Ted Kotcheff really took advantage of the Washington setting and made sure to grab wide sweeping shots of the landscape. I don’t know if it was his intent, but I got the feeling that part of the emotional heart of this story was to juxtapose the beauty of the location with the ugliness of assumption and violence that it winds up being the backdrop for.

And really, this is an emotional movie on many levels. You’ve obviously got the emotional states and responses by the main characters the fuel the thing: Brian Dennehy’s assumptions about the kind of person Rambo is leads to a lot of the trouble, while the combined crap of Rambo’s life lead him to head back into town instead of just leaving like he easily could have. More than that, though, you really feel what Rambo went through (as much as anyone who hasn’t gone through a war can do so). I’ve seen plenty of movies revolving around the Vietnam War and every time I do, I’m reminded of how terrible people were to the returning soldiers. These are guys who either by their own choice or thanks to the draft were put into a system that’s designed to turn you into a killer (or at the very least, a person with the skills to kill), sent to a faraway place with little to no support, immersed in death and killing and then expected to come back home and integrate into society? That’s the plight of every soldier, but it was rougher for the Vietnam vets because, unlike their WWII brethren, they didn’t get parades or cheers, but instead angry protesters and jeers. I’m amazed that any of those guys were able to come back and be productive — or at the very least non-destructive — members of society.

So there’s a lot of that in this film; a lot of heart and a lot of anger. But the action scenes are also really solid. You’ve got everything from the car/motorcycle chase into the woods and the helicopter coming after Rambo to Rambo’s town-centric rampage. This dude’s not messing around and has certainly been pushed too far.

One of the interesting aspects of this film is that it’s very gray when it comes to morality. You want to root for Rambo because he’s been through so much, but does he really need to take his war into town where civilians can be hurt? No, not really. And, at the heart of things, Dennehy’s character really does have the town’s best interested at heart even if this all started because he couldn’t get past a guy’s long hair and general scruffiness. If memory serves, the three other Rambo films don’t have much of this in that Rambo’s sent into a place where his mission is to kill the bad guys — and they’re often really, really bad guys as is the case in 2008’s Rambo — but in this original film, he’s up against a bunch of townspeople who are just trying to keep their home safe. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that even if their motivations are based on misinformation.

It’s not often that I come away from an action movie both pumped up from the action scenes and thinking about something. I like when that happens, just not all the time. Too much thinking about these things tends to lead to feeling bad about the usually catastrophic level of death and violence featured in these movies.

Death Becomes Him: The Weekend At Bernie’s Films

Wow. I fully intended to watch both Weekend At Bernie’s (1989) and Weekend At Bernie’s II (1993) within a fairly short amount of time. Instead, it turned out to be an almost two week process thanks to watching so many horror movies and falling asleep a few times during WAB2. In fact, Rickey and I tried watching 2 after we watched Terror Train. I had watched the first one and thought I had seen 2 when it came out, but was completely blown away by it’s weirdness. Not so blown away that I could stay awake, mind you, but it’s pretty crazy.

I’m getting ahead of myself though. Everyone always remembers the WAB plot very simply: two guys pretend like their boss is dead so they don’t get in trouble. But it’s SO much deeper than that. See, our heroes played by Jonathan Silverman and Andrew McCarthy are interns at Bernie’s firm (insurance, I believe). They find a discrepancy of millions of dollars in one account. Bernie asks them to come to his house in the Hamptons to celebrate the discovery, but what he’s really doing is setting them up so his mobster cohorts can kill the guys. Flipping the script, the mob boss tells his goon to kill Bernie instead. The goon gets there before the guys, kills Bernie with a lethal injection and leaves him, passing the guys on their way to Bernie’s house. At first they don’t think he’s dead, just sleeping, but eventually they figure it out, but just as they do a traveling party shows up to rock out and have fun. The girl Silverman’s trying to bag also shows up, which is why he doesn’t say anything (he’s the straight-laced one to McCarthy’s wacky dude). So, at first it’s a “we’re already in too deep” kind of a story, but then the guys hear a message on Bernie’s answering machine with Bernie asking about killing the guys. So now they keep Bernie around so they don’t get killed.

All in all it’s a pretty fun, though fundamentally morbid film that keeps getting crazier and crazier, but in a way that WAB 2 tops in spades. See, in the sequel Silverman and McCarthy are back (it’s only a day or two after the events of the first one, but these dudes are Clearly worse for wear after the four years that passed in real time) and they’re trying to use dead Bernie to get the money that he stole from his company. To do that they have to take him to St. Thomas, but before they can do this, a couple of voodoo dudes grab Bernie and bring him half-back to life. Basically, when music plays around the corpse, Bernie gets up and dances his way toward the money (hence the “Zombies” label). It seems they were hired by the mobsters to find the money. Meanwhile, firm employee Barry Bostwick, is on the guys’ trail (they were fired from their job after returning to New York and getting blamed for the missing money), but he keeps looking crazy and getting arrested.

This is absolutely a weird movie. If you have trouble accepting the idea that two guys could haul a dead man around for two days in the original, then steer clear of this one. If the scenes where Bernie walks under water thanks to a Walkman and headphones to find the treasure aren’t enough, they meet up with a girl who’s father studies voodoo, but also accepts the fact that these men have been carting around a corpse-turned-zombie for days with little-to-no problem.

If you like bad movies, this is it. A studio actually made this movie and released it in theaters. That’s shocking to me. To add to the weirdness, McCarthy plays his character like a coked up chimp, which is distracting to say the least. But, with a few beers and friends, I think this movie is a party waiting to happen. Both are still on the NetBox, so you can hit them up whenever you want!