Film Review: First Blood (dir by Ted Kotcheff)

First Blood was not what I was expecting.

From everything that I had heard and seen over the past few years, I was under the impression that this 1982 film was the ultimate in mindless action.  I figured that the film was basically just two hours of Sylvester Stallone hiding in the woods, firing a machine gun, riding a motorcycle, and eventually blowing up a small, bigoted town.  It wasn’t a film that I was in any particular hurry to experience but I knew it was one that I would have to watch eventually, if just because of how many filmmakers have cited the film as an influence.  On Sunday night, First Blood aired on the Sundance Channel and, for the first time, I watched it all the way through.  What I discovered is that there’s a lot more to First Blood than I had been led to believe.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  It’s definitely an action film.  Stallone spends a lot of time hiding in the woods, firing a machine gun, riding a motorcycle, and blowing up a town.  Somewhat improbably, only one character actually dies over the course of the film, though quite a few end up getting maimed and wounded.  There’s even a close-up of Stallone stitching up a nasty gash on his arm, which totally made me cringe.  But, even with all the gunfire and explosions, First Blood has more on its mind than just carnage.  It’s a brooding film, one that angrily takes America to task for its treatment of its veterans and outsiders.  In its way, it’s an action film with a heart.

Sylvester Stallone plays John Rambo, a troubled drifter who is still haunted by not only his experiences in Vietnam but also by the feeling that his own country doesn’t want him around.  When Rambo, with his unkempt hair and wearing a jacket with an American flag patch prominently displayed, shows up in the town of Hope, Washington, it’s not to cause trouble.  He just wants to see an old friend, a man with whom he served.  Unfortunately, his friend has died.  The man’s bitter mother says that he got cancer from “that orange stuff they were spraying around.”  Even though the war is over, it’s still killing the only people who can possibly understand how Rambo feels about both his service and his uncertain place in American society.

As Rambo walks through the town, he’s spotted by Sheriff Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy).  Rambo just wants to get a cup of coffee and relax.  Teasle, however, views Rambo as being a stranger and, therefore, a possible threat to his town.  Teasle wants Rambo to leave.  Rambo wants to know why, after everything that he’s sacrificed for his country, he’s being told that he needs to get a haircut.  From this simple conflict — a misunderstanding really, as Teasle doesn’t know that Rambo is mourning the death of his friend and instead interprets Rambo’s sullen silence as being a threat — an undeclared and unwinnable war soon breaks out.

Technically, Teasle is the film’s villain.  He’s the one who arrests Rambo for vagrancy.  It’s his abusive deputies who cause Rambo to have the flashbacks that lead to him breaking out of jail.  It’s Teasle’s arrogance that leads to him ignore the warnings of Rambo’s former commanding office, Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna).  And yet, Teasle himself is never portrayed as being an evil man.  Instead, Dennehy plays Teasle as being well-meaning but stubborn.  It’s been written that the most compelling villains are the ones who don’t realize that they’re the villain and that’s certainly true in Teasle’s case.  Teasle’s job is to protect the town and its citizens and that’s what he’s determined to do.  If his actions become extreme, it has less to do with any deliberate cruelty on his part and everything to do with the fact that, towards the end of the film, he finally figures out that he’s in way over his head.

Once Rambo has disappeared into the woods and maimed (but not killed) all of Teasle’s deputies, he only has one request and that’s to be left alone.  He simply wants to stay in the woods, hunting for food and free from a society that has nothing to offer him during peacetime.  What’s interesting is that, at the start of the film, everyone wants Rambo to just disappear.  He’s a reminder of not just the turmoil of the Vietnam era but also the fact that Vietnam was the first war that America lost.  Rambo’s presence is viewed as being like an ugly scar that you wish would just fade away.  However, once Rambo does actually vanish, people won’t stop looking for him.  As opposed to the later films in the franchise, the Rambo of First Blood doesn’t want to fight anyone.  Rambo just wants to be left alone in solitude and considering the way that he’s treated by the town of Hope, it’s hard to blame him.

And so, you end up sympathizing with this John Rambo.  Even thought he’s blowing up a town during the Christmas season and there’s a few scenes where he’s kind of scary, it’s impossible not to feel that he has a right to his anger.  You find yourself wishing that the Sheriff had just left him alone or that maybe Rambo had just taken Teasle’s earlier advice and left town.  Because, as you watch the film, you know that 1) there was no good reason why any of this had to happen and 2) things probably aren’t going to end well for either John Rambo or Will Teasle.

First Blood was based on a novel that was first published in 1972.  The film spent nearly a decade in development, as various directors, screenwriters, and actors circled around the project.  At one point, First Blood was envisioned as an anti-war film that would have been directed by Sidney Lumet and which would have featured a bearded Al Pacino lurking through the wilderness and killing not only Teasle but also several deputies and national guardsmen.  When Stallone agreed to star in the film, he also rewrote the script, transforming Rambo into a sympathetic outsider who goes out of his way not to kill anyone.  The end result was an underdog story that audiences could embrace.

Seen today, it’s interesting to see how many familiar faces pop up in First Blood.  For instance, a young and really goofy-looking David Caruso pops up and totally overacts in the role of the only sympathetic deputy.  A less sympathetic deputy is played by Chris Mulkey, who would go on to play other unsympathetic characters in a huge number of movies and TV shows.  Interestingly enough, the most sadistic of the deputies was played by Jack Starrett, who directed a several classic B-moves in the 70s.  (One of Starrett’s films was The Losers, in which a bunch of bikers were sent to Vietnam to rescue an American diplomat.)

As opposed to many of the films that it subsequently inspired, First Blood holds up surprisingly well.  It may be violent but it’s violence with a heart.

Lisa’s Week In Revew — 3/25/19 — 3/31/19

This has been a shocking week!  In between following the latest developments regarding the Mueller Report, Michael Avenatti, Jussie Smollett, and the upcoming 2020 Democratic primary, I even managed to watch a few movies and read two books!

Here’s my week in review:

Movies I Watched:

  1. Brexit (2019)
  2. Casino (1995)
  3. Conan the Barbarian (1982)
  4. Cotton Comes To Harlem (1970)
  5. Final Exam (1981)
  6. First Blood (1982)
  7. Island of Grace (2009)
  8. The Killer Next Door (2019)
  9. Marie’s Story (2016)
  10. Night School (1981)
  11. Red Sonja (1985)
  12. Shock (1946)
  13. Shock (1977)
  14. Under the Electric Sky (2014)

TV Shows I Watched:

  1. 9-1-1
  2. American Idol
  3. Antiques Roadshow
  4. Bar Rescue
  5. Barry
  6. Beverly Hills 90210
  7. Charmed
  8. Couples Court with the Cutlers
  9. Dance Moms
  10. Deadly Recall
  11. Dynasty
  12. Flack
  13. Ghost Whisperer
  14. Hometown Homicide
  15. I Am The Night
  16. Lauren Lake’s Paternity Court
  17. Million Dollar Mile
  18. Project Runway
  19. Shipping Wars
  20. South Park
  21. Special Unit 2
  22. Survivor 38
  23. Veep
  24. The Voice
  25. World of Dance

Music To Which I Listened:

  1. Big Data
  2. Billie Eilish
  3. The Black Keys
  4. The Chemical Brothers
  5. The Comet is Coming
  6. David Guetta
  7. Dillon Francis
  8. DJ Judaa
  9. Flight of the Conchords
  10. Foals
  11. Hozier
  12. Kero Kero Bonito
  13. M4Sonic
  14. Moby
  15. Muse
  16. Neon Indian
  17. Paige Stark
  18. P!nk
  19. Rich White
  20. Robert DeLong
  21. Saint Motel
  22. Seal
  23. Sigrid
  24. Subsonica
  25. Taylor Swift
  26. Tiesto
  27. The Ting Tings
  28. UPSAHL
  29. Wolkoff

Books I Read:

  1. An Anonymous Girl (2019) by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
  2. The Light Over London (2019) by Julia Kelly

Links From Last Week:

  1. I haven’t seen Us yet.  *GASP*  I know, I know.  It’s been a busy week.  However, check out Derrick Ferguson’s review over at The Ferguson Theater!  (I should have my own review up over the upcoming few days.)
  2. On her photography site, Erin shared Fire Department, Cameras, Antique Camera, Cameras Watching, Kodak, Antique Camera 2, and Fountain!
  3. On my music site, I shared music from Moby, Kero Kero Bontio, The Comet is Coming, David Guetta, Sigrid, Subsonica, and Foals!
  4. I recapped the latest episode of Survivor!
  5. “While I live, I remember”: Agnes Varda’s Way of Seeing
  6. Keanu Reeves helps fellow airplane passengers through emergency landing stress, logistics
  7. New Book Reveals Stunning Misconduct And Dysfunction At ABC’s ‘The View’
  8. Jagged Little Pill Is Actually Very Bad???
  9. Amy Schumer, Amy Poehler, and Other Stars Stand Up For Waitresses.  Their response?  “No thanks.”
  10. The Resistance Media Weren’t Ready for This
  11. A family rescued a dog from certain death. Years later, he died saving their lives in a shooting.
  12. An awkward kiss changed how I saw Joe Biden.
  13. American Horror Project Volume 2 Blu-ray set announced

Links From The Site:

  1. I wished James Caan a happy birthday and I shared music videos from The Comet is Coming, Wolkoff, Paige Stark, M4SONIC, Flight of the Conchords, Tiesto, and Seal.  I also reviewed Red Sonja!
  2. Erin took a look at the covers of Detective World and shared the following artwork: No Business For A Lady, Startling Stories, Astounding Science Fiction, Action Stories, Dime Detective Magazine, No Wooden Overcoat, and The Fixers!
  3. Gary reviewed High Sierra, It Happened In Flatbush, and A Reason To Live, A Reason To Die!
  4. Ryan reviewed Casino Son and shared his weekly reading round-up!

(Want to see what I did last week?  Click here!)

Have a great week everyone!  The first three months of 2019 are over with and April is going to be shocking here on the Shattered Lens!

The TSL’s Grindhouse: Red Sonja (dir by Richard Fleischer)

The 1985 film, Red Sonja, invites us to take a journey to a forgotten age, a time of a mythical kingdoms, evil sorcery, epic sword fights, and annoying little child kings who spent a lot of time shouting.  It’s a time of wonder, danger, heroism, and, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Reportedly, the once and future governor of California has frequently named Red Sonja as being the worst film in which he ever appeared.  When you consider some of the other films that have featured Gov. Schwarzenegger, that’s indeed a bold statement.  In Red Sonja, Schwarzenegger plays Lord Kalidor.  Interestingly enough, Lord Kalidor is absent for the majority of the film.  He shows up briefly at the beginning of the film and then he vanishes for quite a bit of Red Sonja‘s 89-minute running time.  Whenever Schwarzenegger does show up, he wears the smirk of a man who knows that he’s going to get paid a lot of money for doing very little actual work.

The majority of the film focuses on Sonja (Brigitte Nielsen), a warrior who lives in one of those vanished ages, perhaps after the War of the Rings but before the sinking of Atlantis.  When we first see her, she’s being spoken to by what appears to be a puff of smoke, which is apparently meant to be some sort of warrior goddess.  The puff of smoke fills tells Sonja about everything that happened to her before the start of the movie, though we never do learn why Sonja needs to be told her own backstory.  After rejecting the sexual advances of the evil Queen Gedren (Sandahl Begman), Sonja was forced to watch as her parents and brother were murdered and then she was raped and left for the dead by the Gedren’s soldiers.  The Goddess promises to make Sonja into a superior warrior, on the condition that Sonja agree to never have sex with a man unless that man can first beat her in fair combat.  Sonja agrees and is sent off to get trained by the Grand Master.  It’s kinda like Kill Bill, if Bill was a puff of smoke.

Jump forward to …. well, I’m not sure how many years pass.  To be honest, it’s next to impossible to really discern any sort of coherent logic to the film’s narrative progression so let’s just give up on that.  What’s important is that there’s this temple and, inside the temple, there’s a glowing green talisman.  Apparently, the talisman created the world but now it needs to be carefully watched over before being destroyed.  Only women are allowed to handle the talisman (Yay!) but they’re not allowed to destroy it unless directed by a man.  (Booooo!)  The temple priestesses are waiting for Lord Kalidor to arrive so that they can get rid of the talisman.  However, Queen Gedren shows up first.  Not only does she steal the talisman but she kills the priestesses as well.

One of the priestesses was Varna (Janet Agren, who you might recognize from Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead).  Varna just happens to be the sister of Sonja.  (Sonja is now known as Red Sonja, because she had red hair.  From now on, I want to be known as Red Lisa.)  Now, Sonja has yet another reason to want to kill Gedren!  Rejecting Kalidor’s help, Sonja heads off for revenge.  Along the way, she meets an annoying child king named Tarn (Ernie Reyes, Jr.), who is upset that Gedren previously destroyed his kingdom.  Despite hating him, Sonja allows Tarn and his guardian, Falkon (Paul L. Smith), to tag along with her.  Despite not being an official member of the revenge party, Kalidor decides to follow after them because he wants to beat Red Sonja in fair combat, if you get what I mean.

Red Sonja is a spectacularly silly film.  The dialogue is stilted.  Even by the standards of the 1980s ,the special effects are poorly executed.  This the type of film where the evil Queen nearly destroys the world not because she has any sort of grand scheme but instead, just because she’s evil and that’s what evil people do.  Brigitte Nielsen delivers her lines with a forced solemnity while Schwarzenegger, Bergman, and the great Paul L. Smith seem to be struggling not to start laughing.

And yet, there’s a sneaky charm to be found in all of the silliness.  For instance, when Sonja does finally reach the queen’s castle, she has to cross a bridge that appears to basically be the skeleton of giant rhinoceros.  No none in the film seems to be surprised to come across a skeleton a giant rhinoceros and, to be honest, there’s no reason for it to be there.  It’s just there and it’s so wonderfully out-of-place that it becomes rather fascinating.  Add to that, while the portrayal of the evil lesbian queen is problematic in all sorts of ways, this is a film about a strong female warrior who doesn’t need a man to rescue her and that was probably even more rare in 1985 than it is today!

Watching Red Sonja, you get the feeling that nobody involved in the film took it all that seriously and that perhaps the best way to handle the movie is to just sit back and have a laugh.  It’s dumb, it’s campy, it often makes no sense but, at the same time, it’s still a lot easier to follow than Game of Thrones.   Like many bad films, it’s only bad if you watch it alone.  Watch it with a group of your snarkiest friends and you’ll have a totally different experience.

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 03/24/2019 – 03/30/2019, Old School ‘Zines

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

Fuck the internet. Once upon a time, if you wanted to get your thoughts on any given random-ass subject (say, for instance, comics) out there to a tiny sliver of the public, you had to go to the trouble of writing ’em down, constructing them into articles, essays, or at least rants, designing and laying out pages, selecting and/or commissioning illustrations, and then slapping everything between two covers and actually publishing what you’d come up with.

It took guts. It took determination. It took commitment. And it took cash that most ‘zine creators were sorely lacking. Fortunately, some folks still refuse the “easy out” offered by digital and continue to produce these labors of genuine love. For this week’s Round-Up column, I thought I’d draw attention to some notable recent examples —

Mineshaft #36 is the latest issue of Everett Rand and Gioia Palimieri’s long-running, idiosyncratic, expertly-curated (a term…

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The Enduring Cartooning Legacy Of One Gone Far Too Soon : Mark Campos’ “Casino Son”

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

There are tough reviews to write — and then there are damn tough reviews to write.

This one’s the latter, obviously, but not because reading the 2018-published collection of the late, great Mark Campos’ autobio webcomic Casino Son was anything less than an absolutely splendid experience, no — it’s simply a fact that this is one of those instances where separating art from artist is so utterly impossible that one shouldn’t even pretend to keep up the pretext.

Here, then, is the last work of an utterly unpretentious, immensely- (and justly-)respected talent, whose naturalistic tone, poignant observation skills, fluid minimalist line, and eye and ear for entirely unforced humor are put to use on the very best possible subject — himself. Specifically, his younger self, coming of age in late-’60s/early-’70s Reno, Nevada, a culturally- and emotionally-dislocated kid of Mexican-American heritage at at time — and in a place — where…

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A Tasty Spaghetti Ragu: A REASON TO LIVE, A REASON TO DIE (MGM 1974)

cracked rear viewer

James Coburn, at the height of his career, moved from American movies to international productions with his trademark elegance and ease. He worked for the Maestro of Spaghetti Westerns Sergio Leone in 1972’s DUCK, YOU SUCKER , then appeared for Leone’s former Assistant Director Tonino Valerii in A REASON TO LIVE, A REASON TO DIE, a revenge tale disguised as a caper film that costars Telly Savalas and Spaghetti icon Bud Spencer. The version I viewed was the truncated American cut, missing about a half hour of footage and released stateside in 1974. If the complete version is as good as this one, I need to hunt it down and see it!

The Civil War-set drama finds Coburn as Col. Pembroke, recently escaped from a Confederate prison after surrendering Fort Holman without a fight to Rebel Major Ward (Savalas) and his forces. Fort Holman is a crucial piece of real…

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Music Video of the Day: Infected by Tiesto & Jauz (2016, dir by ?????)

This video kind of starts out with this vibe that basically says, “The world’s about to end so we might as well have the greatest party ever before we all cease to exist!”  However, it then quickly turns into something much different.  The party is so wonderful and the music so powerful that people start to spontaneously turn into Yetis.  Have you ever wondered where the Sasquatch came from?  Well, now you know.  No longer will I fear running into the Boggy Creek Monster whenever I head up to Arkansas.

Personally, I love to dance and I certainly love Tiesto but I don’t know if I’d be willing to allow myself to be transformed into a Sasquatch.  I may be alone in that, though.  Everyone in the video certainly does appear to be happy about it.

And really, isn’t that what matters?