Skip to main content

Don't push it! Don't push it or I'll give you a war you won't believe.

First Blood
(1982)

(SPOILERS) Conventional wisdom seems to have rallied round the first Rambo movie as an earnest, low-key piece about a Nam vet, one that belies the bloated carcasses flying hither and thither in later excursions. That’s not quite the case. First Blood starts out well enough, certainly, mustering a legitimate sense of injustice over Stallone’s persecuted (and smelly) John Rambo. But this is still a picture all about overstatement, and director Ted Kotcheff was definitely not the guy to turn it into something special.


First Blood went through a number of directors and writers after David Morrell’s novel was published and the rights snapped up in 1972 (an estimated 18 versions of the script). Stallone toned it down such that Rambo became more sympathetic, no longer killing his pursuers (only one, the particularly abusive sergeant who ignites it all, dies, and only indirectly due to John’s actions) and no longer buys the farm (fortuitous for franchise purposes). Still, the picture came in over three hours, and Stallone disliked it sufficiently that he had the lead role significantly pared down in order to let others tell the tale; it ended up at half that length.


For all the pumped-up flexing of subsequent instalments, the Rambo of the opening scenes is closer to the humble Stallone who embodies the first Rocky, only more taciturn. Stallone, who attested to doing seven rewrites himself, isn’t a writer known for subtext, or sub-anything; everything he depicts lies on the surface. Brian Dennehy delivers a solid counter to the Vet as Sheriff Teasle, seeing Rambo’s intrusion on his town in much the same way he would a hippy a decade earlier (advising him to have a haircut and take a bath, after escorting him to the town limits). Famously, of course, Rambo doesn’t like being pushed, which brings out the tiger in him.


The abuse he suffers from Teasle’s chief deputy (Jack Starrett) triggers Nam flashbacks (crudely envisioned) in Stallone’s own Bruce Banner, leading to his hulking out in a scene that may have inspired James Cameron’s Terminator police station massacre (less corpses, but Cameron did go on to script Rambo; First Blood Part II so it had surely made some impact). Once he’s headed off into the woods on a motorbike, Rambo is refashioned as the archetype of the anti-authoritarian, misunderstood survivalist. Except he’s a morally palatable one who, not unlike like The A-Team, doesn’t terminate with extreme prejudice (he only stabs and impale victims, including David Caruso and Chris Mulkey).


While there’s a canny takes on weekend warrior National Guardsmen, playing at soldiers until the going gets tough (“Come on, I’ve got to be back at the drugstore tomorrow”), much of the survival sequence is surprisingly lacklustre; only the initial pursuit by Teasle’s men, in which Rambo effectively dispenses with them, makes the grade. John spends significant time trapped down a mine, rattled by rats, before escaping to bring Teasle to heel in a conveniently deserted town.


The biggest chortle in this comes from Richard Crenna’s mentor and Dr Frankenstein (“God didn’t make Rambo, I did”), issuing a compendium of ridiculously portentous lines in the service of bulking up Rambo’s prowess (“I came here to rescue you from him” he warns Teasle, who will need “a good supply of body bags” if he sends 200 men against John, and then there’s the clichéd dialogue; “I was there with you, knee-deep in blood and guts”).


Rambo’s breakdown scene is reasonable in its way; Sly’s giving it all he’s got, which may be unintentionally funny, but still has a certain something,  as Rambo invokes a friend who was blown apart while grasping for comfort from the superior who lacks the emotional facility to respond. Everything else is so expressly over the top, however, that the picture merits little
consideration as a serious analysis as a depiction of PTSD.


It’s interesting that audiences responded so affirmatively to First Blood, as it’s mostly unremarkable, not even really keeping a tight grip on Rambo’s righteous retaliation (The Second Film Year Book commented that Vietnam and some liberal soft talk were presented as “enough to justify the enjoyment of violence for its own sake”, which is probably true, but credits he film with more expert manipulation than it actually displays). It did, of course, become infamous for a time due to an entirely unproven connection with the Hungerford Massacre (one of many examples of media attempting to demonise movies rather than people doing the deeds themselves – or society as a whole, man). First Blood, while not being a fairly unremarkable picture, remains noteworthy as the last Stallone role before he became an action movie icon, while simultaneously being the seed that germinated said status.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Courage is no match for an unfriendly shoe, Countess…

No, it’s not about the bunny.

Twin Peaks 3.3
If the first two episodes tend to the weird/dark, then the second couple are more in favour of the weird/light, once we get past the Eraserhead stuff with the girl in the radiator, I mean Naido (Nae), who is replaced by Teresa Palmer doppelganger American Girl (Phoebe Augustine). The proceedings come complete with staggered editing that’s enough to give you rolling vision and detached retinas, if you’re lucky, as we continue Cooper’s extended mission to return to the real world, or something approximating it.

American Girl: When you get there, you will already be here.
Some of this material is impenetrable and will surely remain so, as he and Naido go up to the roof, which is floating amid the stars, to connect circuitry that will allow Coop to journey back via the mains, and she is thrown off, only for him to now encounter American Girl down below (“You better hurry. My mother’s coming”). The device(s) that sucks Cooper in alternately displays the numbers 3 and 15 on it …

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

What, no cheese and crackers?

Twin Peaks 3.4
If anything, the fourth episode goes even goofier than the third, before sobering up dramatically for the final scene. There’s at least one innocuous cameo here, Richard Chamberlain pulling the equivalent of George Hamilton in The Godfather Part III, but it’s most notable for the arrival of Naomi Watts and Robert Forster, and the return of Dana Ashbrook and David Duchovny. And… Michael Cera?

Wally: My shadow is always with me. Sometimes ahead. And sometimes behind. Sometimes to the left. Sometimes to the right. Except on cloudy days. Or at night.
Maybe the battiest thing in the third season to date, and that’s saying something, is Cera’s appearance as Wally Brando (born on the same day as Marlon), Andy and Lucy’s son, his appearance plays like an extended skit, with Lynch cackling away behind the camera, eager to see how long he can string it out. You pretty much get the impression that, when Forster’s Sheriff Frank Truman, Wally’s godfather, turns heel and walks off, For…

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

I'm Mary Poppins, y'all.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Most of the time, we’ll settle for a solid, satisfying sequel, even if we’re naturally going to be rooting for a superlative one. Filmmakers are currently so used to invoking the impossible standard of The Empire Strikes Back/The Wrath of Khan, of advancing character and situation, going darker and encountering sacrifice, that expectations are inevitably tempered. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is indebted to at least some of those sequel tropes, although it’s arguably no darker than its predecessor, if more invested in character development. Indeed, for a series far more rooted (grooted?) in gags than any other in the Marvel wheelhouse, it’s ironic that its characterisations thus far have been consistently more satisfyingly realised than in any of their other properties.

Perhaps the most significant aspect writer-director James Gunn is clearly struggling with here is how to keep things fresh knowing he’s developed an instantly satisfyin…

I’m supposed to watch the box and see if anything appears inside.

Twin Peaks 3.1 & 3.2
(SPOILERS) Well, Lynch hasn’t lost it, that much is clear. Not his marbles, which he never had, of course, but his capacity for weirdness, hilarity, discord and the outright disturbing, all of which are brewing away potently in Season Three of Twin Peaks. What’s most striking, though, and something I’ve occasionally found a detraction from his work, is that the presence of Mark Frost ensures there’s a lucid narrative thread upon which to hang his strange fascinations. It means that, even when we go on a diversion into five minutes of plot-free surrealism, or one of Lynch’s trademark crawl-act comedies (which are sublime, as long as you’re willing to pace yourself), it won’t be long before (potentially remaining unanswered) mystery and intrigue will pull us back on track.

I’d read, not least from Lynch himself, that his prequel movie Fire Walk with Me would indicate the tone of Season Three, but that might be a touch misleading. If you took the first act, the no…

Slice him where you like, a hellhound is always a hellhound.

Jeeves and Wooster 2.1: Jeeves Saves the Cow Creamer
(aka The Silver Jug) Season Two of Jeeves and Wooster continues the high standard of the previous year’s last two episodes, appropriately since it takes after its literary precedent; Season One ended with a two-part adaptation of Right Ho, Jeeves, which PG Wodehouse followed four years later with The Code of the Woosters. Published in 1938, it was the third full-length outing for Bertie and his genius gentleman’s gentleman, and the first time Plum visited Totleigh Towers, home of imperious nerve specialist Sir Watykn Bassett. If I say “Spode”, and add “Eulalie”, its classic status in the canon will no doubt come flooding back to you.

Sir Watkyn has already graced our screens, of course, in the very first episode, adapting Bertram Wilberforce’s recollection from this very The Code of the Woosters of his policeman’s hat-stealing incident, and for the most part, like the season finale before it, Clive Exton recognises a good thing when he …

Jeeves, you really are the specific dream rabbit.

Jeeves and Wooster 2.2: A Plan for Gussie  (aka The Bassetts’ Fancy Dress Ball)
The cow creamer business dispatched, the second part of this The Code of the Woosters adaptation preoccupies itself with further Gussie scrapes, and the continuing machinations of Stiffy. Fortunately, Spode is still about to make things extra unpleasant.

Sir Roderick delivers more of his winning policies (“the Right to be issued with a British bicycle and an honest, British-made umbrella”) and some remarkably plausible-sounding nonsense political soundbites (“Nothing stands between us and victory except our defeat!”, “Tomorrow is a new day; the future lies ahead!”) while Jeeves curtly dismisses Spode trying to tag him as one of the working masses. It’s in Spode’s ability to crush skulls that we’re interested, though, and it looks as if his powers have deserted him at the start.

Jeeves has given Gussie a pep-talk in how to get over his terror of Spode (“We don’t fear those we despise… fill one’s mind with scorn…