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First Blood - Rambo II (Arrow Recommends)

First Blood - Rambo II (Arrow Recommends)
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"Arrow Recommends is a column that has my sorry ass advise older movies to your royal asses. I will be flexible in terms of genres i.e. I will cover whatever the bleep I want. For now, it will be the way to keep my voice on the site."

PLOT: Vietnam vet John Rambo (Stallone) arrives near a small town to visit an old war buddy. He finds out that his compadre has died and heads into town for some grub, wearing his pain on his sleeve. When the power-tripping County Sheriff (Dennehy) books him on arrival on BS charges (for vagrancy) and pushes him too far, Rambo escapes and wages a personal war on the local Police Department. He didn't win Vietnam - he'll win this one.

"They drew first blood, not me." – Rambo

LOWDOWN: With the news that Sly Stallone is set to shoot RAMBO 5 this year, it got me in the mood to re-visit the first two films. And once again, I was NOT disappointed. Both have yet to ever fail me. When Vietnam vets returned from the War in the mid 70's, they were treated like trash by their fellow countrymen and most suffered from post traumatic stress due to the horrors they endured. FIRST BLOOD (based on the book by Canadian writer David Morrell) addressed that theme and used it as a driving force to deliver one hell of an relentless and visceral picture. Through exciting physical action, First Blood communicated the anger, the sadness, the frustration and the psychological scars of one vet that fought for his country and was then rejected by it upon his return.

John Rambo (Stallone) relived the war on U.S. soil via being captured, tortured and his eventual escape. But this time, the battle was on his terms. I had a rollicking good time watching John Rambo use his personal vendetta against the town as a catharsis for his haunting Vietnam experience. The snappy pace and the intensity on hand reminded me once again as to why First Blood is one of my fav movies of all time. Acting-wise, Brian Dennehy was incredibly efficient as the hard ass Sheriff and Richard Crenna (who replaced Kirk Douglas at the last minute) also came through as Rambo’s old Colonel and present father figure. Both actors brought ambiguity to their parts, making them feel human as opposed to one-dimensional.

As for Sylvester Stallone, he not only proved that he was one of the top physical actors on the block (he did most of his own stunts) but he also managed to transcend every emotion his character was feeling through calculated physical movements and powerful stares. Special mention goes out to Jack Starrett who OWNED it as the despicable cop and David Caruso, who was starting out and looked like he was holding in a giggle in most of his scenes (would make a good drinking game - gulp when Caruso looks like he's about to ruin a take).

Eventually, John Rambo did blow up verbally and his emotional baggage poured out in a poignant 8-minute monologue. It never fails to clench my heart every time I watch the film. Taut action set pieces (note the rat cave sequence. that daring cliff jumping or the bullet madness finale), effective use of exterior locations, strong performances all around, a grounded directing style which upped the impact of the happenings a beautiful score by Jerry Goldsmith and hard-hitting drama make this one a keeper and in my action log...a hands down classic.


RAMBO FIRST BLOOD PART II

PLOT: Incarcerated for his previous war party in First Blood, John Rambo is sprung out of jail by his old Colonel and mentor (Crenna) for a special covert mission in Vietnam. His task: search for missing American POWs and if found, take pictures. He must not engage the enemy at any cost. YEAH, RIGHT! POWs are found and with his sharpened hunting knife, his bow and explosive arrows, Rambo mows down most of the country solo. Rambo! Rambo! Rambo!

LOWDOWN: The aim for relative realism that First Blood had adopted was dropped for RAMBO FIRST BLOOD PART II, a wham-bang borderline comic-book-ish sequel that went ALL OUT. Here, John Rambo was turned into a bigger than life, classic mythological type figure. You know the elements: the hero is muscled beyond belief, is always shirtless, lives in a man’s world where any woman that enters it doesn’t last very long, knows no fear, no equal and is defined by his actions as opposed to his words.  Where John Rambo was a wounded soul defending himself and dealing with his issues by way of his personal war in First Blood, here he becomes an avenging angel, a tool of redemption for all that was wrong with the Vietnam War. Rambo said it best when asked what he wanted. He retorted: "For our Country to love us, as much as we love it…that’s what I want". 

On a technical standpoint, Rambo 2 took action set pieces, violence and explosions to the next level back in the days. The more the movie forged forward, the more ambitious the mayhem became. This film showcased astounding jungle scenery, military carnage galore, a gripping montage of Rambo killing all kinds of soldiers in novel ways that shamed Jason Voorhees, an astounding helicopter Western-esque standoff, M-60 party favors up the wazoo…basically the freaking fire-works all played out to Jerry Goldsmith’s pulse pounding score. Add to that; a stand-out and memorable supporting cast (Charles Napier, Steven Berkoff, Julia Nickson and Martin Kove gave iconic showcases), sparse yet genius one-liners ("Murdock, I'm coming to get you.") and George P. Cosmatos visceral & energetic directing style and you get an explosive hand-grenade on celluloid!

Rambo II's IMMENSE success spawned countless imitators ("Missing in Action", anyone?) and was the most financially viable entry within the franchise thus far. When Ronald Reagan (the U.S. President at the time) starts quoting a movie character (he said: "Boy, after seeing Rambo last night, I know what to do the next time this happens."), you know that the cultural impact was immense. The flick was loud, brash, and improbable but fun as hell. DIRTY HARRY was the iconic male figure in the 70’s and Rambo II made this character THE staple of the 80’s. A cartoon (Rambo The Force of Freedom), a video game and a toy line quickly followed and just like that, RAMBO became a cinematic icon. Now the question is... will I re-visit Rambo III? Hmmm...

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