First Blood (1982)

March 11, 2009

This movie is unfairly remembered because of the misquote “don’t push me”- it was “don’t push it”, is that so hard to remember?- and the increasingly ludicrous sequels it spawned.  Even the name of the film has now been changed in the same way that the original Star Wars has, this is now apparently called “Rambo: First Blood”.  Fuck that, why would I go along with that.  There are similarly named characters with vaguely similar characteristics in the sequels but no other similarities.  This is an unfairly maligned film; much, much better than its reputation.  In First Blood a Vietnam veteran Green Beret John Rambo (Stallone, obviously) is the innocent victim of a bullying small-town Sheriff (Brian Dennehy) who simply picks a fight with the wrong man.  Rambo escapes and takes to the woods where he is hunted by policemen and the National Guard with machine guns and helicopters.  It’s a Western, a modern-day Western.  Rambo goes to great lengths to avoid killing any of his hunters, despite the constant and excessive provocation, the threat upon his life and despite suffering flashbacks to his torture in a Vietnam prisoner of war camp.

There is no deep underlying message in First Blood, unless you count ‘beware who you fuck about with’.  This is simply a documentation of an innocent man fighting for survival, waging a war of attrition and defying overwhelming odds to survive everything that is thrown at him.  It is, to some extent, an elegy to machismo.  Stallone is portraying every reactionary, right-wing, frustrated, pot-bellied, balding, middle-aged man’s dream- taking on everyon who has ever stopped him doing whatever he wants, wherever he wants with whoever he wants and however he wants.  Just like Michael Douglas’s D-Fens Foster in Falling Down, Rambo is a wet-dream for the insecure and the impotent.  That its appeal goes beyond that, however, says more for its quality than its limited macho hand-job appeal would have you believe.

And do you know what else?  Stallone is really, really good in this.  Not in the fat, lumbering “look at me, I’m stupid” way that he mistakes for acting in the likes of Copland and Rocky Balboa, but in a genuinely convincing, steely, haunted way.  At no point does Stallone’s performance fail him- even his ‘tormented by flashbacks’ scenes or his climactic breakdown where I expected him to struggle are fine.  He even looks handsome and hadn’t yet bloated himself into the caricature of a man that he became.  This is as good as it would ever get for Sly.  The second-stringers are solid and the direction by Ted Kotcheff (who I only know from the flimsy and disappointing Jane Fonda/George Segal comedy Fun With Dick and Jane) is straightforward enough to allow the story to work.

It’s a real pity that Rambo survived the film- he didn’t survive the source novel- allowing a fine and intelligent movie became a bloated, dumb, crash-bang-wallop series.  7/10



Get Carter (2000)

January 9, 2009


Tonight is a special night, at my mate Handsome Gav’s house we’re watching the three versions of Get Carter that we know about in reverse chronological order.

First up, Stallone’s remake. I’ve never seen this but I remember Stallone doing a big cover story with Arena magazine ahead of the movie’s scheduled cinematic release. In the interview Stallone was asked whether his Carter died at the end as Michael Caine’s had in the original. His reply was that “he has a spiritual death and rebirth”. Oh dear. The cinematic release was pulled then and this film went straight to DVD. Plenty to be wary of there.

I’m not going to dwell too long on this film, it is as woefully bad as I’d imagined, but I will just comment quickly on the liberties they’ve taken with the original. The dead brother Frank is renamed Richie for no apparent reason, his wife is brought back to life in the shape of Miranda Richardson (there’s someone who really should know better), the gangster Kinnear- now renamed Jeremy Kinnear- is a gay billionaire computer programmer, Carter’s Boss Les (formerly Sid) Fletcher gets to know about Carter and his girlfriend fifteen minutes in.

What they appear to have decided in conceiving this remake is that the original would benefit from a washed-out, anaemic, colourless visual style and looking like a car advert. In fully bringing the concept up to date, they roped in hot music producer Jellybean Benitez to add some dance beats to Roy Budd’s superb original soundtrack. Jellybean is the man who wrote Madonna’s “Holiday”- a song that is about as old as I am. Couldn’t they get anyone better than that for fuck’s sake?

The iconic moments in the original film are reproduced here in a sadly diluted form- “you’re a big man but you’re in bad shape” is delivered by a seated Stallone in a calm manner to a standing Caine cameoing in Alf Roberts’ part (Stallone had to be seated I suppose, he’s giving away about six inches to Caine) and “your eyes look like pissholes in the snow” becomes the frankly nonsensical “you look like cat’s piss in the snow”. They have attempted, I suppose, to create their own memorable dialogue but it is insipid and uninspired. Several times Stallone threatens to “take it to another level”, Alan Cummings’ “you know why I like golf?” speech is especially awful and only Stallone’s “it’s good to be home” after duffing up a local is at all interesting.

What they’ve done here is to shake up the script (change the order and several of the character names swap places in the script) it’s a puny rewrite. By revealing that Carter can never go back from the outset the suspense that made the original is lost, instead we get a watered-down Carter (Caine’s was driven by blind hatred, Stallone’s is driven by a sense of remorse) who talks throughout about doing something right for once and making up for his mistakes. The dumbed-down script where a bloke from Scrubs appears throughout to talk to Carter and explain like a child’s narrator what has happened so far is insulting. I got so angry watching this that it isn’t funny.

Positives are very few and far between- Caine really gives his part every chance and that’s the only one that I can think of. One good point, therefore, 1/10.