Rambo II – This movie sits uneasily between the first and third Rambo films as the titular character is in transition from the multifaceted and sympathetic ‘Nam vet who wants respect for his war (Rambo I) and the one-dimensional badass motherfucker who makes blowing shit up an art form (Rambo III). What you get here is some of both – and while the action scenes are cranked up and generally improved over those in first film, the love story is silly and the conflict between Rambo and the base commander pales in comparison to the more palpable tension between Stallone and Dennehy in First Blood. That said, the film has its moments – like the helicopter scenes and the interrogation – which make it worth seeing if you’re in the mood for some mindless action.
Rambo III - This is probably my favorite Rambo film, which might put me in the minority. Why? Because they dispensed with as much pretense/plot as they could in order to focus on the action – which is what this series has always done best. And while it is a little strange to watch this movie (set in Afghanistan) in 2009, it still delivers the goods in terms of explosives and carnage. In addition to the knife work, machine-gun toting, and bow shooting that carried the first two films, you have here a liberal use of tanks, helicopters, and other vehicles – all of which shoot missiles, fire bullets, blow up, etc. The scene where Rambo and Trautman take on 100+ the Russians alone is a classic example of the over-the-top feel these films provide – it captures, in a nutshell, what these films are all about: brainless fun with lots of blood and guts.
Rambo (Rambo IV) – This was, in my mind, a step backwards. This is probably the worst of the Rambo films if for no other reason than that Rambo has too little screen time where he is actually fighting. Instead, the film spends a lot of time focusing on the mercenaries who help him and the missionaries he is trying to protect. We get to see lots of Rambo driving a boat. There ARE some good action scenes – notably a bit with an unexploded bomb in the forest – but Stallone does show his age here as most of the action scenes involve him standing still (e.g. behind a gun) or running for short periods of time – he looks fatigued throughout, compared to the previous films. That said, it is impressive that he was able to pull any of this off after age 60, and I should probably cut him a break. But the movie is still poor.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford – 2007 will probably go down as a banner year for amazing Western style films that are nothing like traditional Westerns. Though most of the accolades went to the stellar No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood, this film deserves equal attention and praise. This is a deliberately paced film that demands the viewer’s unwavering attention throughout in order to fully appreciate the tightly woven narrative. And though the title gives away the outcome of the film, the sense of doom created throughout - by the actors, by the artful shots of expansive landscapes, and by the haunting score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis – is mesmerizing. Casey Affleck (who here ends any debate as to who the most gifted Affleck is) in the role of Robert Ford is the standout, though Brad Pitt puts in one of the finest performances of his career as the aging Jesse James. If you haven’t seen this yet, do yourself a favor and settle down for a few hours with one of the better films of the past decade.
Bruno – What a disappointment. I got a chuckle from the Ali G film and thought that Borat was a sharp-witted satire with lots of laughs. Cohen’s sketches with all his characters are also usually comedy gold - so I don’t know how he could have gone so wrong with this film. Outside of two or three genuinely funny bits (e.g. the Ron Paul confusion or the Abdul scene), this film didn’t have the laughs. It’s “shock” moments rarely functioned as punchlines and often seemed to be thrown in for the sake of shock. Everything here came across as contrived and staged in a way that Borat didn’t (even if it was), and much of it was painful to watch.
The Third Man – I owe Ack a note of thanks for his recent review of this film as it reminded me that it has been sitting on my TiVo waiting to watch for the past few months. And while I disagree that the film contains Welles’ best performance (that honor still goes to Citizen Kane), the film is cast perfectly and everyone here is in top form. And though the plot is intriguing, the highlight of the film is the cinematography - especially in the night scenes. The pursuit that makes up the last twenty minutes or so of the film could serve as a textbook for any director who is looking to create a compelling foot chase. A finer looking film from this classic period of film noir may be hard to come by.
Next Up: more westerns (The Searchers, Pale Rider, etc.), Pineapple Express, and perhaps I'll start into the Dirty Harry box set. I also want to get back to viewing some of the classic Bond films...