I am a man who enjoys his movies. This is because although I enjoy being creatively stimulated by thoughtful and talented expressions of the human condition, I am also far too lazy/dumb to read a book. Movies provide me with a form of intellectual challenge while requiring little to no effort on my part. And that is a smoking deal. In fact, I need to join the movie version of a book club. Everyone agrees to watch a particular film and then we all get together and eat cupcakes and talk about its themes, symbolism and all that crap.
It's about time someone really sat down and deconstructed Wicker Man.
Sarcasm aside, I really do like a movie that succeeds in its aspirations of depth and substance. Note how I said "succeeds". Movies that shoot for the moon and suck are pretty damned intolerable. Of course, you can go too far with this sort of ambition. Recently, my Netflix queue accidentally became entirely too heavy and depressing. Months ago I would get the idea to add a particular film or director to the queue and forget all about it. I then received six straight weeks of David Lynch, Jim Jarmusch and documentaries about the Holocaust that I barely remember ordering.
I'm all for intellectual stimulation but sometimes you gotta lighten it the hell up.
To remedy this, I decided about a month ago to relive a certain type of movie from my childhood. The 1980's R rated Action Flick. Hell yeah! Needless violence, snappy one liners, brain dead plots and the occasional boob. That'll cleanse the palate. The 80's were a golden age of action movies. We were far enough away from Vietnam that violence seemed fun again but still close enough to it that we can have every hero be a former Green Beret thus giving him nearly omnipotent killing ability. This also provides a heavy handed sub plot as we watch our hero battle his personal demons and often an old war buddy turned drug dealing traitor. The Cold War was still in existence, so there was a big, bad villain just waiting for us to fight. Action movies only really work when we want to see the bad guy die. Depth of character in a villain leads to sympathy. And that shit doesn't do anyone any good. Commie Ruskies make for excellent nameless villains that we can kill without the least bit hesitation. The drug trade was in high gear, so coke dealers also were in the mix. And hell, when that's played out, let's just pit our hero against a dread locked alien with a human skull fetish.
Man, I really want to shoot some faceless, drug dealing, Commie predators right about now. With that rotary gun that Jesse Ventura uses in Predator.
So in my effort to appreciate these classics with fresh eyes, I loaded my queue with every piece of cherished contraband from my childhood. I had a few requirements. I had to have personally seen the original R rated version at some time in my youth. It was also required that I had not rewatched the R rated version since then. TV edited versions don't apply. No "You slug in a ditch!" or "Yippee Ki-Yay Mr Falcon" kind of crap. Nothing but the real deal. So such a classic as the first Terminator didn't apply since I never actually saw it. This little project only applies to movies with which I have a long standing but neglected friendship.
R rated movies weren't an easy thing for a kid like me to see twenty years ago. I grew up in a practicing Mormon house with two very involved parents. Now don't misread that by imagining some weirdo, orthodox, horse and buggy farm house with lots of belt woopins in the name of the Lord. No, I had a remarkably normal childhood. But the rules in my house were never in question. When challenged, my folks liked to appeal to the collective authority. Which is to say, when asked why we don't swear, the answer was simply, " We don't say those words in this house." And that was it. No need to apply further logic. We don't do it because we don't do it. (Of course the "we" didn't always seem to apply to the parents in this scenario, but whatever.) And when it came to F word dropping, terrorist shooting, explosion escaping, hot chick scoring action movies, well we just don't watch those movies in this house.
So I took my game on the road. This meant that in addition to implicit thrill every ten year old experiences when he watches John McClain take on Hans Gruber, I had the added bonus of mild rebellion thrown into the mix. It was a different time and I was different person when I first watched theses movies. Back then the word "shit" stung my little ears. This was before my tender sensibilities were calloused by Quentin Tarantino and HBO original programming. Back when I flinched when RoboCop shot the one rapist guy in the crotch. It was definitely memorable.
And that's what was so surprising to me. When I watched these movies over the last month, I was shocked just how vivid those memories were. Memories of both specific scenes in the movie and memories of where I was when I first saw it. Whether it was in my cousin's basement (the Day house was a regular venue), or at a sleepover at Steve Earl's house or at Luke Geddes's birthday party, I was transferred back in time two decades to when I first experienced the magic of classic Schwarzenegger. Watching Total Recall is like stepping into a time machine set for 1990.
So here's a quick list of badass action movies that I had neglected for too long but have rewatched over the last month or so. But like any good friend, it was easy to become reacquainted even after twenty years apart. Surprisingly, a few of these movies hold up pretty well. Not so surprisingly, many of them suck beyond belief.
Hell yeah! This baby has it all. Snappy one liners delivered by Pro Wrestlers? Check. Implied homo-eroticism? Check. Mystical Indian soldier in touch with the jungle? Check.* Skinless corpses? Check. Invisible alien that somehow bleeds glow in the dark green blood? Check. Black guy constantly shaving his cheek and doing lots of eye ball acting? Check. Carl Weathers? Check. Carl Weathers getting his arm shot off? Double check.
Baby, we got a stew going!
Yeah. This is the complete package. It's Apocalypse Now without all that artistic ambition, nuanced storyline and you know . . . quality. And like Apocalypse Now, it's a really good looking movie. It's no where near as seductively evil as AN but Predator has aged pretty well.
Although, here's a question that I think we all asked ourselves when we first saw this little beauty. Why exactly does the mud make Dutch invisible to the Predator? I get that the Predator sees in infer red / thermo whatever and that the mud is probably slightly cooler than Dutch's body temperature. But wouldn't the mud warm right up after it dries and starts flaking off?
But you know, I'm nit picking here. You can't blame a brainless movie for being brainless. Predator strikes the difficult balance of being just good enough and just dumb enough to transcend any plot holes. If you complain about a plot hole in Predator, it just illustrates that you have spent too much time thinking about a movie that does not deserve that much thought. The movie doesn't look stupid. You do. So disregard my question.
This movie messed me up when I was a kid. I saw it at my cousin's house when I was probably 9 or 10 years old and the violence and gore screwed with my head. I had nightmares of the guy falling into the toxic waste. Remember how his fingers melted and how he turned to gooey liquid when he got hit by the car? Or when Murphy got shot to hell in the beginning and his arm fell off? I'm talking nightmares.** In fact a year or so later, I was at a sleepover at Gavin VanWagner's house and everyone wanted to watch Robo Cop. I had to smoothly bypass that movie without admitting that I was scared of it.
"Let's just watch Red Dawn instead. RoboCop is boring.", he said thinly hiding his cowering fear.
Well twenty some years later and guess what I learned upon my review? RoboCop sucks donkey balls. It is a historically awful, stupidly funny movie. That toxic waste mutant that haunted me for years? The corniest pile of rubber you can imagine. This movie wasn't threatening or disturbing. It was just bad.
Guess what else I learned. The main bad guy is the dad from That 70's Show. It was kinda weird to see Red Foreman shoot that one guy in the knees. The guy who just snorted coke off the hooker's chest as he watched the video of Dick Jones explained the evil plot just before the house exploded from the grenade whose pin Red Forman pulled with his tongue. Man, what a tool. I'm glad Red got stabbed in the neck.
Shit, yeah! The definitive action flick. It's perfect. You like the villain almost as much as the hero. Good old Hans. Such a lovable bastard. It's a movie that manages to make all the cliches that seem so lazy and hackneyed in other movies feel like home. You don't roll your eyes when the coked out yuppy tries to betray everyone. Instead you exhale in satisfaction when Hans kills him. We all saw it coming but it still felt right.
My favorite part of Die Hard is the authoritative assholes who are inexplicably working against McClain for no other reason than to add tension. I'm talking about the lady at the radio dispatch ("Do I sound like I'm ordering a pizza?") the dirtbag news reporter ("Listen Dick. That is your name? Dick?") and Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson ("He could be a f*cking bartender for all we know."). They have no reason to not believe McClain. They have no reason to resist his information or advice as how to best proceed. But they are dicks just for the sake of being dicks. Arbitrary secondary villains are a staple of many movies. They make us hate them early on and then in the closing scenes they get their comeuppance. Usually by getting punched in the face/kicked in the balls by the female lead. The interesting thing I noticed this time around watching Die Hard though is that the two main arbitrary secondary villains are played by people who have made a career out of playing that character. The police chief is the same guy that plays the dickish teacher in the Breakfast Club. And the weasel reporter was the EPA guy in Ghostbusters. "It is true. This man, has no dick." Like I said. The cliches feel like home. This really is a satisfying movie. I can't believe I hadn't watched the unedited version since 8th grade.
Rambo: First Blood
Speaking of villains who have no reason to be the assholes that they are, let's talk about Brian Dennehy and his gang of evil cops from Jerkwater, USA. I am all for the stereotype that small town cops are authoritative assholes that get off by jamming up regular tax paying shmoes. Anyone who has been pulled over while driving through Price, Utah can relate. But really? "That guy has long hair! Better keep him out of our little town. He came back? Throw him in the clink and spray him down with a fire hose! Now he's in the woods and surrendering to our helicopter? Shoot him! Kill him dead! Because we're just stupid small town cops and we like to beat and murder people with long hair." Take that, War Veteran! You filthy drifter.
Why is a badass like Rambo afraid of rats? Remember when he dives into the cave with the torch and rats start falling on him? He freaked out. You're a POW, dude. There weren't rats in the Hanoi Hilton? Indiana Jones wasn't afraid of rats. Indy stormed right through the masses of rodents in the catacombs below Venice to the tomb of Sir Richard.***
Rambo was a pussy.
Now with the criticism out of the way, it is worth pointing out that Rambo is a pretty intelligent commentary on the United States' involvement in Vietnam. You know. Intelligent for an 80's action flick. It's a sliding scale. But consider the storyline. An arrogant and superior force engages a skilled and determined adversary that is fighting for its survival in a location that marginalizes any technological and logistical advantage. Once committed to the conflict, the police gain little if they succeed but still can't risk failure by stopping short of victory. Eh? Think about it.
I just have one observation to share about this movie. Do you remember the hot topless chick that commits suicide at the beginning? Do you know who that is? The actress is named Jackie Swanson. Why is this relevant? Jackie Swanson is best known for playing one Kelly Gaines. Who is Kelly Gaines you ask? This is Kelly Gaines.
Woody Boyd's hot girlfriend is topless in the first Lethal Weapon. Thank you IMDB. Now would be a good time to adjust your Netflix queue accordingly. Go ahead. I'll wait.
Before last month, I had seen Total Recall just once in my entire life. And that was in Steve Earl's basement in probably 1991. When I rewatched it, I was astounded at the details I remembered. There is a part of my brain whose soul purpose is to exactly remember the X Ray scanner that Quaid smashes through. And the secretary digitally changing her nail polish. And "Get your ass to Mars." And Arnold's googly eyes when his helmet gets smashed. And the midget hooker firing the machine gun. And the bad guy getting his arms chopped off on the elevator. And the aborted fetus talking out of that one guy's chest. I saw tons of movies in Steve Earl's basement and somehow it was Total Recall that just stuck in my brain. Which is weird because I don't remember liking it all that much. And for good reason.
This is a crappy movie.
Total Recall is a perfect example of a movie that should be remade. I've never understood the impulse to remake and ultimately destroy a movie that was already undeniably great. Are you listening, Tim Burton? Especially when there are so many mediocre to crappy movies that could have been good if they were treated right. Why waste your time stinking up The Pink Panther or The Day The Earth Stood Still when so many movies failed to prosper due to lazy film makers.
Total Recall was based a short story by Phillip K Dick. He is the legendary Sci Fi author who wrote the original stories behind Blade Runner, Minority Report and A Scanner Darkly. Three brilliant movies by three brilliant directors. But Total Recall got the Paul Verhoevan slop job. He's the genius behind such crap as the previously mentioned RoboCop as well as Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers and Showgirls. Subtly and human realism really aren't his strong suits. Imagine Total Recall in the hands of Christopher Nolan or JJ Abrams or Jon Favreau. This story is a layered, compelling mind f*ck that deserved better than sassy black character #3 and three titted hooker jokes. By the way, that just looked gross. One might think that three is always better than two. Well, not in this case. It reminded me of my Beagle after she had puppies.
So this 4th of July weekend, give yourself a well deserved break. Become reacquainted with your old friend, the 80's Action Flick. Or save yourself a little time and just watch the paintball episode of Community. You'll be a happier person for it.
* I love how no explanation is given as to why the Indian guy cuts himself right there other than, "He's an Indian.". Apparently white people are happy to accept the assumption that Native Americans will randomly cut themselves if the jungle tells them to do so.
**Little kids can get freaked out by random things. I watched Return of the Jedi with my 5 year old nephew a few months ago and the poor kid had Yoda nightmares for days. Not Rancor nightmares, or Darth Vader nightmares. Yoda. He's barely in that movie. But somehow that was the image that stuck with him.
***Yes, Indy had a fear of snakes. But snakes are undeniably scary. Rats are gross, but not really scary. I'll say it again. Rambo was a pussy.