Sunday, January 25, 2009

My Bloody Valentine to Rambo

You know what I hate? Pretentiousness. There are few things on earth that bother me more than people who think and or try to be more than they are all just to earn the love and platitudes of a bunch of strangers. That is why I love Michael Bay.

Michael Bay catches a lot of crap and is pretty vilified throughout most of the film community. More than a few critics have decried how he is the anti-Christ of film, threatening to bring it down with his testosterone soaked orgies of explosions and mayhem. My response to that would be; yeah, so?

The beauty of someone like Michael Bay (PEARL HARBOR being the exception and we all saw how well that turned out) is that he knows when you go see a movie called BAD BOYS, you have two expectations action and some choice witty banter in the midst of the insanity. He knows that when you plop down your hard earned cash for TRANSFORMERS you’re doing so because you want to see giant freaking robots blowing crap up. Of course I was happier than a pig in squalor when I saw TRANSFORMERS on opening night and discovered that was EXACTLY what I got. I’m sure that movie had the vaguest semblance of a plot but all I really remember is Megan Fox and $150 million dollars worth of anarchy and I’m ok with that.

Tom Shadyac used to make great comedies. I mean the guy was responsible for ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE. It’s gotten to the point now though where I won’t even bother with one of his movies because they just tend to tick me off. You see somewhere around the third act of LIAR LIAR Shadyac decided his works needs to have more gravitas and a heftier and loftier message amidst all the juvenile humor. Since then his movies have been almost completely unwatchable.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for smart entertainment any time I can get it. When something can tickle the mind and the eyeballs it’s a wonderful thing and there are many of the greatest film makers of all time, the likes of Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Alfred Hitchcock and Christopher Nolan who can do it with such ease that it’s scary. I also love going to a movie expecting one thing only to find something far different, that blows away my expectations waiting for me. Heck, that’s probably how I’ve seen at least half of my favorite movies of all time. No, this is not an indictment of being able to have your cake and eat it too but there’s something to be said for guys like Mel Brooks who has never had a single serious note in anything he’s ever done and as such everything he touches is comedy gold.

All of this is a rather long preamble to explain why in the movie industry, more than anywhere else it seems people want to sell you things under the auspice that there’s far more under the surface than meets the eye. Well, I just had two recent movie experiences that show sometimes, honesty and simplicity is just what the doctor ordered.

If you had told me at the beginning of 2008 that I would be head over heels in love with RAMBO more than INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL we might have come to blows. None-the-less here we are a year later and out of all the 80’s icons that have been brought back to life in the new millennium I’m not sure any of them has made me happier than the violent escapades of one John Rambo.

Allow me if you will to describe the plot of RAMBO for you.

Rambo lives in Burma and hates life and people. A bunch of missionaries come to Rambo and ask him to take them up river to an area where a viscous, bloody civil war is going on so they can lend a hand. Rambo tells them no because to do so is suicide but finally he decides the cute blonde missionary has a good enough argument to appeal to the last shred of his humanity so he changes his mind and takes them up river. As soon as they’re off the boat and Rambo is back to his miserable existence the unnamed bad guys kidnap the missionaries and do terrible things to lots of people. The pastor in charge of the church these missionaries came from asks Rambo to transport a pack of blood-thirsty mercenaries back up river to rescue said bible thumpers. Rambo reluctantly agrees to do so and since his soul has been awakened again wants to go with the mercenaries to help rescue the people in peril. Said mercs say no but low and behold the crap hits the fan and Rambo charges in to save the day with a bow and arrow. Rambo takes charge of the rag-tag group of guns for hire and they set out to save the hostages and Burma.

What I just described to you is the first 45 minutes of a barely 90 minute (With credits) long movie. The last 45 is just simply death. It is Rambo and this group of badasses (Including a sniper with a 30 caliber howitzer of a sniper rifle) reigning justice on all who have sinned against humanity. The last 20 minutes is especially invigorating since it is quite literally, no joke, no exaggeration, Rambo with a 50 caliber, jeep mounted machine gun blowing away the scum of the earth. Then give Rambo 5 minutes to literally just stand around and look badass, cut to him returning home to America and roll credits.

In case you haven’t been able to figure it out by now this movie is AWESOME! Seriously I was so entertained I was beside myself with glee, and here’s why. Sylvester Stallone knew EXACTLY what people wanted out of a Rambo movie and didn’t deliver anything less.

While the first Rambo movie, FIRST BLOOD actually has some depth to it and stands as a pretty strong damning of the way America treats it’s heroes, especially those that fought in the Vietnam War, the 2nd two films are little more than American wish fulfillment. In FIRST BLOOD PART II Stallone goes back and wins the Vietnam War for all of America. In RAMBO III he cleans up the mess that is the Middle East. In RAMBO Stallone avenges the senseless bloodshed and violence caused by despot rulers and civil wars in third world countries around the world.

My hat is off to Stallone for realizing that no one has looked to John Rambo for anything other than violent, red, white and blue, American wish fulfillment and vigilante justice in over two decades. As such he didn’t try to shoe horn in a deeper meaning or greater sense of social importance into his film, instead he set about having Rambo kill everything that moves and as a result made an unimaginably kick-ass movie.

The second film to beautifully prove my point is a film that took me by surprise more than any other film I’ve seen in quite a wile. Seriously don’t laugh because I’m talking about MY BLOODY VALENTINE.
I’ve been sick as a dog the past couple of days and to take my mind off of it I decided a movie was just the ticket. The only problem was that I’m on so much cough syrup and all sorts of fun stuff is secreting from every part of my head so I knew I wouldn’t really be able to concentrate on some of the “heavier” films I still need to see. I had actually read some pretty kind things about MY BLOODY VALENTINE; the start time was convenient so I figured what the heck. Man oh man am I glad I did.

Hands down MY BLOODY VALENTINE is the best slasher flick to appear in theatres since the genre’s heyday in the 80’s. This doesn’t count the SCREAM franchise because those go beyond the genre by so precisely dissecting it. No, MBV (I’m tired of typing out the whole thing so that’s the acronym I’m using) is one thing and one thing only an old school 80’s style slasher flick and because it never once tries to be anything else the movie is one of the more entertaining times I’ve had at a theater in several months.

In many ways I liken MBV to the brilliant works of Edgar Wright and Co., SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ. It is obvious from the very first frame of film that the film makers LOVE 80’s slasher flicks and they are going to pay homage to them by making a flick that could have come out 20 years ago and be held up next to the likes of FRIDAY THE 13TH, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, PROM NIGHT, FRIGHT NIGHT and… well, you get the idea. The only difference between this film and say SHAUN OF THE DEAD is that at no point is it obvious that the film makers have their tongue in their cheek. However like SHAUN OF THE DEAD the film makers aren’t deconstructing or making fun of a genre, instead they are reminding everyone why we all fell in love with that genre in the first place.

Make no mistake MBV is not going to win any awards or be lauded by the film critic community. No, instead it will receive a much higher form of praise as teenagers, college students and lovers of the genre will be popping it into their DVD players, cracking open a case of beer and having a ball with a film that wears its intentions on its sleeve as it repeatedly drives a pick-axe through your skull.

No ifs, ands, or buts about it I loved these two movies. Do they hold a candle to something like IRON MAN, THE DARK KNIGHT, THE WRESTLER, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED or any of the other brilliant works of art I’ve seen over the past 12 months? No, not at all, but they’re not meant to. These films have one mission and one mission only, to entertain the crap out of you. During both of these films I was cheering, laughing and having a ball and I walked away from each one with a huge grin on my face. Is there any higher compliment a film can receive?


Anonymous said...

I think the reason why Bay gets a lot of crap is because he comes off as arrogant in a lot of his interviews with the press. He's not my favorite action film director but I admit he did a good job with Transformers and has gotten more less better with each suceeding picture he's done.

Haven't seen Valentine yet so I can't really comment on that. But I do agree with you in terms of being faithful to the series that Rambo is in fact a better film than Indy 4.

I wasn't in love with it like I am with First Blood and First Blood II but it was far better than the travesty that was Rambo III and it was nice to finally see an unrated version Rambo.

Indy 4 on the other hand (although Adam will disagree with me on this) didn't feel like Indy at all to me. It was like they took a The Mummy vs. ID4 script and transplanted Indy into it. I actually think I enjoyed National Treasure more than that film, as much as I hate to admit it.

Having said that, I'd like to see another to see if they can get it right this time. I also hear there will be another Rambo as well too.

Adam said...

". . .there are many of the greatest film makers of all time, the likes of Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Alfred Hitchcock and Christopher Nolan who can do it with such ease that it’s scary."

Please tell me that you didn't just put Chris Nolan in the same sentence with Spielberg and Hitchcock.

Chris W said...

Oh but I did. First of all hands down Christopher Nolan is the second best director working in the industry at the moment. The first being Spielberg of course. While Nolan is not up there with Hitchcock and Spielberg yet he does have the ability to entertain the eyes and the brain like they do. There's a lot of directors out there that are great at a lot of things but very few of them can make intellectual "popcorn films" like Spielberg, Hitchcock and Nolan can. Having said all that though I am fairly certain that a generation from now his name will be up there those names. EVERY film he's made is a masterpiece and I think he's just getting started. If you go back and watch every film in his filmorgraphy you'll be blown away by the guys genuinely scary amount of talent. I know Megan will back me up on this one... I think.

FilmNinja said...

I personally think that Spielberg has gotten pretty weak. He's a genious when it comes to creating his vision, with great characters and amazing views of the world. But his movies always seem to die at the end, with a lame happy ending. He's afraid to make the audience sad, but personally, it's exactly what he accomplishes.

I also enjoyed My Bloody Valentine. Again, there are some movies that are just meant to be fun. And sometimes, they are my favorite. Just straight up entertainment, and the simpler the better. You can only be so unique, and let's be honest, there isn't much that hasn't been done. There's something to paying homage to the things that we love.

I will say that I am curious to watch the original, as the plot sounds a little tighter. Not that a slasher film really needs a complicated plot. But if you look back, the favorites have great plots . . . that get weaker with the sequels. But it accomplished it's goal - my girlfriend is currently afraid of the dark.

As for Bay - he's got a great formula for action. Unfortunately, it's a formula, and he can't break away from it any more than Shamalayn.

And finally - I agree. Indy 4 was lame, the biggest disappointment of the summer, and yes, the first National Treause was ten times better.

Adam said...

To Chris W:

My dear sir,

While I now better understand your reasoning for having included Mr. Nolan in the context that you did, I find that I still disagree with you almost completely about your estimation of his directorial abilities. I will be honest in saying that I have only seen two of his films, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. While my admiration for his rejuvenation of a wayward franchise is certain and my belief that TDK is one of 2008's better films absolute, I think that calling either one of them a masterpiece is an overstatement.

I believe that to call any film a masterpiece implies that said film has achieved a mastery of tone, narrative, and direction. When all three of these factors successfully combine, the result is a film that is, above all things, consistent.

Both of these films suffer from problems with consistency. Batman Begins suffers from an unconvincing 3rd act, a lackluster villain, and a ineffective performance from Christian Bale. The Dark Knight wanders in the beginning and takes far too long to achieve any sense of forward momentum. Mind you, once it does, it roared ahead like a freight train and I found myself quite caught up in it. That said, in addition, Heath Ledger is the only actor who gives a performance worth remembering. Next to him, the other actors might as well be standing still. Furthermore, while the film asks to be taken seriously as a crime thriller on the grounds that it's based in the "real world," in the vein of The Departed or something like that, it takes so many jumps in logic as to be utterly unbelievable. These factors, while not making either film "bad" by any means, give me serious pause to hear anyone calling them "masterpieces." That said, I respect that you're stating your opinion, and you'd most likely disagree with some of my choices for films that I consider to be "masterpieces."

Think for a moment. I recognize that The Dark Knight has become a bit of a phenomenon and has made a ton of money. However, if we were to look back a few years, we'd find an even more successful film with legions of fans, critical acclaim, and a multitude of awards. Now, in retrospect, it's fair to say that it's not so often that a film has such a quick (and negative) re-evaluation from many who loved it then. That movie was called Titanic. Heard of it?


Adam said...

To FilmNinja:

Have you seen many of Spielberg's more recent films? I ask because I can think of a few that don't really have a happy ending. For example, I found myself floored by 2005's masterful (and extremely underrated) Munich. I still remember how deeply I felt, perhaps for the first time, the futility of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after watching that film. Sorry. That's an aside. Anyway, it doesn't really have a happy ending. Another example would be 2001's A.I. Artificial Intelligence. That film's actually a bit of a sneaky one. At first glance, it appears to have a very happy ending that could easily have been seen as "tacked on" by Spielberg to soften Kubrick's original vision. (which isn't the case, by the way. The film ends as Kubrick intended.) However, if you think about it or are so fortunate as to have to sit and listen to me go on and on about it, A.I. has an ending that's incredibly bleak and as artificial as David himself.

Just some food for thought,

P.S. Wait a minute. Did you think Saving Private Ryan had a "lame happy ending?"

Anonymous said...

I'll have to check, but I think Speilburg is doing The Adventures of Tin Tin next.

I liked the books and the show they had on HBO growing up since you can tell they probably inspired him when he came up with the Indy series.

But looking back at his recent films, I really don't think that he's suited for those type of action-adventure films anymore. The only real one he seems to have done before Indy 4 was Hook, I believe and although a lot of people hate that film I enjoyed it even though its not perfect.

He seems to be more interested in historical dramas now or at least when it comes to directing.

Chris W said...

OK, responding to lots of things here. First of all, SOME of Spielberg's films do go for the happy ending but as was mentioned above not all of them. I love the bleakness of A.I. and personally i think MUNICH is Spielberg's best, most mature film to date. Is it my favorite film of his? No, that film is so precise, so raw and so poignant in what it's trying to say, I honestly didn't know Spielberg could make that dark of a film but he did. The final shot in that movie gets me every time. It's just devastating.

Adam as for Christopher Nolan I'm not going to argue with you about his Batman movies although I am almost one hundred percent convinced history will prove me right (I've given LOTS of though to TITANIC and this is not TITANIC). Having said that though I will digitally slap you upside the head for not seeing his other films. MEMENTO is beyond brilliant. INSOMNIA is genius, so much so that I can't watch it because the guy captures what it's like to have insomnia so well it's scary. I've suffered from insomnia all my life and that movie makes me sick because it makes me feel all the effects of the insomnia and makes it impossible for me to sleep. Then there's TEH PRESTIGE. Megan and I just had a discussion about it the other day. It is a brilliant, labyrinthian thriller the likes of which you'll be hard pressed to find. Seriously as one film fan to another seek out his other movies. You'll fall head over heels in love with the guys work once you do.

Adam said...

Dear Chris,

What is your favorite Spielberg film? I'm curious. I am glad to hear that you like A.I. So many people think that movie sucks when it's a great film.

As for Munich, it's so underrated. People seem to have forgotten that it exists when, like you said, it's one of Spielberg's best. That scene where the little girl answers the phone? Wow.

Didn't your mom teach you that it's not nice to slap people upside the head, digitally or otherwise? I actually have seen the end of The Prestige in a screenwriting class. Let's just say that seeing the ending without seeing the rest of the film kind of takes the desire away to see the rest anytime soon. The ending on its own was sort of lackluster for me. I'm sure when viewed with the rest of the film it's strong, but alone? It didn't do much for me. Besides, I'm sure that I could digitally slap you for not having seen certain things, but that's beside the point. That's what makes this blog such a great thing. It's exposing us and those who read it to films that we've probably never seen and might have never heard of. What more can you ask for?

I just watched Kieslowski's "Three Colors Trilogy." I really wish that there was someone else I knew who's seen it. I need to talk about it!

Yours in digital slap-happiness,

P.S. I'm still not convinced about The Dark Knight.

Anonymous said...

What is your favorite Spielberg film? I'm curious. I am glad to hear that you like A.I. So many people think that movie sucks when it's a great film.

I liked that one too but I think it got panned since it was such a strange film compared to Speilburg's other works and the ending was kind of a downer.

David Bowie was awesome in The Prestige. He's one of the very few musician who actually does good work as an actor and doesn't totally embarass himself.

Chris W said...

First of all to Adam, PLEASE see the rest of THE PRESTIGE the ending isn't so lackluster when you know what's led up to it. I can't believe they'd show the ending without the rest of the film. That'd be like showing the ending of THE USUAL SUSPECTS but not the rest. A travesty I say.

To everyone else my favorite movie of all time is RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK so that should answer the question of what my favorite Spielberg movie is. Honestly, I don't think the guy has ever really made a bad movie. Some are better than others for sure but EVERY one of his movies is worth watching, even stuff like 1941 and HOOK. I think MUNICH is his "best" film in that it's a story being told by an older, wiser man than the guy that gave us E.T. and the like. It's not my favorite but it so intrinsically nails such a complexly horrifying part of our world that I stand in awe of it.

I guess I could sort of sum up my feelings for Spielberg in this way. If I were to teach a film class, the very first day I would walk up in front of the class and announce that this is everything they need to know about making a good movie, and then put in JAWS. The next day I would announce the same thing and put in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, the next day I'd repeat the process but with RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. I'm trying not to go off on a rant (I'll save it for a blog post) but I think hands down Spielberg is the best film maker of all time, yes even better than Hitchcock. If you look at his body of work, especially his trully great movies there's nothing that compares. I mean he's the only man in the history of cinema that had to have a hotline set up because one of his movies was so realistic it was giving veterans flashbacks. Spielberg stumbles every so often but he never really falls and when he does he ALWAYS picks himself back up and blows people away. Garunteed whatever he does to "atone" for INDY 4 will knock people's socks off. OK, I'm done.

Anonymous said...

He's also a good producer, he had his hands in a lot of 80's classics like The Goonies even though he wasn't on set every day. His television like Band Of Brothers is usually always spot on too.