A Cure for the Summertime Blues? (Summer Rental, 1985)

Summer_Rental_PosterSummer Rental follows the story of Air Traffic Controller Jack Chester who is forced by his boss to take a vacation. He and his family are set up with a beach side rental.  Jack quickly finds himself at odds with the rich and self important locals and strikes up a friendship with bar owner Scully. This friendship leads to the family and Scully entering a boating competition against the biggest rich jerk in town (played with proper arrogance by Richard Crenna).

Summer Rental is a fun film, but largely carried by the charm of John Candy.  He is a well meaning hapless guy here, finding himself bumbling through misadventures. The film’s most memorable running joke is Vicki, a young woman wanting opinions on her breast implants and how uncomfortable it makes Jack and other guys. And the gag does work okay.  While Candy carries the heavy load, it would be unfair to ignore the rest of the cast.  Rip Torn especially is entertaining in the role of Scully, the bar owner, ship captain who may have committed to the pirate captain role a bit too much.

Summer Rental is light but enjoyable fare, edged up a bit by the presence of Candy.

A New War (Rambo III, 1988)

first_blood_3_movie_posterThe directorial debut of Peter MacDonald (whose had a bigger career as a second unit director, part of films such as Guardians of the Galaxy and the Empire Strikes Back), Rambo III brings us a Rambo once again in a self imposed exile.  But he is brought back out of this “retirement” because the Soviets have captured Trautman (Richard Crenna).

Rambo goes into Afghanistan and teams up with the Freedom fighters.  He also becomes a father figure to a young Afghani boy.  Ticking off the tropes again.  Rambo earns the trust of the Freedom Fighters, so that they are willing to help him, but Rambo needs very little help.  He is going to solve the cold war the old fashioned way…bullets.

Rambo is full on super hero here, unstoppable by even missiles.   This is not surprising, there had already been a Rambo cartoon on in the afternoons back in 1986.  In the cartoon, he was fighting a terror group called S.A.V.A.G.E. (Specialist-Administrators of Vengeance, Anarchy and Global Extortion) all over the globe. I am not joking.  It may surprise you to hear that neither Stallone or Crenna reprises their roles.  So the fact that Rambo III is the most cartoonish take on the character should not be a surprise.

Like Part 2, this film is enjoyable and amusing for what it is, even though it lacks the emotion of First Blood.  It is not for lack of trying.  Both sequels tried to approach heavy subjects related to war, but their simplified approach to Stallone’s Rambo is far more angry than broken.  The character suffers for it overall, and the action is pretty by the numbers, but still make for an enjoyable Stallone action film.

Forget the War (Rambo: First Blood Part 2, 1985)

First_Blood_Part_2Three years after First Blood, John Rambo came back.  This time he was freed from Jail to go on a secret government mission in Vietnam, saving POWs.  He is brought in by Richard Crenna’s Col Trautman at the request of Marshall Murdock (Charles Napier).  Directed by George Cosmatos (who went on to direct fan favorite Tombstone as well as Stallone’s Cobra) we get a shift in the type of character and story.

This film ticks off all sorts of tropes, such as a tragic love story, betrayal by the government who hires him and so on.  This film really pushes Rambo towards being a super hero.  He is not merely highly skilled as a fighter…he is unbeatable.  Bullets will miss him, but he will never miss.

First Blood Part 2 revs up the action and general violence, while toning down the tragic aspects of his character.  The focus on POWs, of course, allows some of it to remain, tying it to the first film.  But, tonally speaking, this feels unlike our introduction in First Blood.

The cast is good, though some of the characters are just gun fodder, meant to motivate Rambo.  In some ways, this is the film that moved forward the Stallone Action Era, that made him into the character we think of Stallone as today.

The Unwinnable Fight (First Blood, 1982)

first_blood_posterJohn Rambo, or as we tend to all call him, Rambo, seems like an unstoppable force.  A Vietnam veteran who never really left the war and finds himself pulled into a never-ending series of conflicts.  But his beginning was far simpler.  in the early 80’s we saw Hollywood starting to explore the conflict known as the Vietnam War and especially it’s impact on American Soldiers.

First Blood (adapted from a novel by David Morrell) tells the story of John Rambo…he is wandering America, trying to come to terms with his experiences as a POW.  There is a deeply ingrained mythology of how when soldiers returned from Vietnam they were greeted at airports by being spat upon and protested.  Some research has disputed how much (if any) of this happened.  But it is true that the soldiers returning from Vietnam were not greeted as war heroes.  There were no parades.We did want to just kind of ignore them.

John Rambo begins the story wandering into the small town of Hope, Washington.  He is in town for all of three minutes before being noticed by Sheriff Teasle (Brian Dennehy) who invites him for a ride.  Teasle drops him off at the city limits.  But John is not so quick to give up and walk to the next town.  But after returning he is quickly arrested and brought into the local jail.  There he endures humiliation and disrespect at the hands of officers with no respect for our military men.

John reaches a breaking point and fights his way out of the police station and escapes into the woods.  This creates a standoff, where John Rambo hides in the forest and mountains, crafting weapons and traps until his commanding officer (Richard Crenna) comes into the picture.

This film plays strongly to Stallone’s strengths as a gruff guy searching for healing and respect.  In some ways, it is not a stretch to see similarities to Rocky.  The film is a solid collection of established performers (Dennehy, Crenna and Jack Starrett) and up and comers (Chris Mulkey and David Caruso).  Everyone delivers performances that keep you in the story.

Director Ted Kotcheff (who would go on to Direct Weekend at Bernie’s) shows a solid handle on the action, always keeping a fast pace.  The film manages to be sympathetic to Rambo, while not presenting his actions as being right.  He is a victim who reacts far to swiftly and violently, setting off a chain reaction.  First Blood is a powerful action film with a heart behind it.

The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea Part 2 (Leviathan, 1989)

Leviathan_PosterAlso in 1989, we were treated to Leviathan. This was set at a deep sea mining facility.  Getting close to rotating out, they discover a sunken ship called the Leviathan.  In hopes of claiming riches, they brink back a safe.  But the safe just contains video tapes and a bottle of vodka.

The next morning, one of the crew is struck ill and dies.  But this is only the beginning, as the mysterious disease that killed the man seems to be actively altering his body.  Soon, a another crew member dies.  After the Doctor (Richard Crenna) confirms no other crew have symptoms, he and Crew Boss Beck (Peter Weller) decide to get rid of the  bodies.  But before they can, it fights back.  While trying to get rid of it, part of the body is sliced off and continues to grow while the crew is unaware.

The film is basically Alien underwater.  The crew uses flame throwers to move around and fight it through labyrinthine hallways.  They monster knocks off the various crew members until only a few remain.

This is a great cast.  Weller was fresh off Robocop, you had Ghostbuster’s Ernie Hudson, Amanda Pays , Richard Crenna and Daniel Stern in pivotal roles.  Then there are the effects.  It is obvious this was made on a tight budget and a tight time frame.    The Creature Effects were overseen by the Stan Winston Studio.  This team included Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis who now run Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc.They manage to create a fearsome looking creature, in spite of not being given a specific design to work with.  The director wanted a kitchen sink approach which results in the monster being somewhat of a mess, but it still work quite well most of the time.

If the only two movies that came out in 1989 about undersea crews fighting a monster were Leviathan and Deepstar Six?  Leviathan is flat out the better film, in part due to it sticking so closely to the Alien Formula.  But 1989 saw one other film which broke new special effects ground and left these two films in the dust.

The director George P. Cosmatos followed this film up with Tombstone.  Really.

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