Rating: The Ugly – 66.5 Genre: Action Duration: 112 mins Director: Renny Harlin Stars: Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, Michael Rooker
A truly awful screenplay meets some of the hammiest acting straight on in this entertaining action romp about a group of mercenaries who co-opt a couple of mountain climbers into their attempt to locate briefcases full of money lost in a mountain wilderness. John Lithgow adds yet another impossibly over the top turn to his catalogue as the merciless leader of the bad guys, Stallone is actually a little better than usual as the burly yet modest climbing expert, Michael Rooker offers sound presence to the mix but Janine Turner is much too bland to matter. Where Cliffhanger succeeds is in giving us a veritable kaleidoscope of nastiness in the bad guy department. From Rex Linn’s crooked treasury agent and 24 carat asshole to Caroline Goodall’s murderous vixen and with a couple/three very punchable faces thrown in between, these guys are the best bunch of venom spitting henchmen since Die Hard. Alas, without much of a script to harness the interesting personalities which the actors bring to the party, that’s all they remain and whatever fun there is to be had, is at watching these world class bastards get their well deserved comeuppances.
Rating: The Good – 74.9 Genre: Drama Duration: 119 mins Director: John G. Avildsen Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young
We all know the story: a journeyman slugger is given a shot at the title as a publicity stunt dreamed up by the champ but ends up giving the champ more than he bargained for. It may have spawned an ultimately tiresome series of sequels but this original work is a very different film to the franchised money-spinners. Rocky is at times a brutally honest portrayal of a young bruiser reluctantly moonlighting as a loan collector stuck in a rut that it seems may last a lifetime. Sylvester Stallone gives the performance of his life in bringing a phenomenal degree of authenticity to the role. He gives us so many sides to Rocky which are all so well tied into the main core of the man that it might well be one of the most layered performances we’ve seen from anyone (really!). We like him immediately but the film ends with us rooting for him like nobody before or since. Talia Shire, Burt Young, and the charismatic Carl Weathers as Apollo Creed similarly turn in the performances of their careers. Not only did Stallone do the acting, but he also wrote the damn thing and rightly scooped up an Oscar for what is an awesomely fresh and insightful screenplay. For those expecting an action movie like the sequels offered up, forget it. This is a drama and a damn good one. Yes, they’re is an action pay off at the end but it’s actually quite truncated and the real joy is to be had in the extremely fleshed out build up. That said when the fight does begin, it’s a terrifically choreographed and shot spectacle which to the very last emotion captures the theme of the movie. “I just wanna go the distance.”
Rating: The Good – 72.3 Genre: Action Duration: 93 mins Director: Ted Kotcheff Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Brian Dennehy, Richard Crenna
Don’t be fooled by the formulaic sequels, First Blood is a different animal altogether. Directed by Ted Kotcheff (a man more famous for comedies) this film offers a more soulful examination of the impact of the Vietnam war and the civilian attitude towards the soldiers who fought in it. It tells the story of a war hero John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) who after learning that the last of his unit is dead, is arrested by a petty small town sheriff (Brian Dennehy) because he has long hair and hasn’t shaved. Once in custody, his uncooperative attitude brings out the worst in the deputies and they begin humiliating and physically abusing him. Naturally, it’s not long before they’re on the floor and our hero is heading quickly for the local mountainside where he kills one of his pursuers and a massive manhunt unfolds led by the vengeful sheriff.
The threat that Rambo offers to Sheriff Teasle and his ego is the central thread to this film and both the action and drama tie into it wonderfully. Some of the dialogue is truly gripping such as when Rambo snares Teasle in the forest and, in a different context, it could sound cheesy. But in the context of a small town tough guy who has finally met the real thing, it cuts deep. Stallone is brilliant as the brooding killing machine while Dennehy makes his character work in a way not many could. The only negative to the film is Richard Crenna who hams every line he’s given but even that adds some unintentional humour to the proceedings. The action scenes are handled very well by Kotcheff with the tense forest sequence being a particular standout. Of course, they’re ably helped by the great Jerry Goldsmith’s edgy score. So ignore the sequels because as a stand-alone film First Blood ranks amongst the best of the action genre.