Thursday, September 30, 2010

Coming up this weekend

Hello readers!

September now turns to October. The past week here in Montréal has seen a small but noticeable drop in temperature. I've been seeing my breath at night recently...

The movies coming out these days are piping hot however as some of you may have noticed with my review a few days ago of Denis Villeneuve's Incendies. This weekend offers movie goers two much awaited movies, The Social Network and Let Me In (I particularly enjoy weekends with 2 releases of interest: more excuses to go to the movies!), both of which will be looked at with a fine toothed comb here at Between the Seats. On Sunday the 'Glory of Rome' marathon commences with the 1959 epic, Ben-Hur.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Films du Fleur de Lys: Incendies

Incendies (2010, Denis Villeneuve)

To say there was buzz surrounding the release of Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies, one is forced to put things into perspective. I haven’t the faintest clue if this film will receive any sort of wider North American release and if it does, it will most certainly quite limited. What’s more, I’d be curious to see how many our neighbouring English Canadian movie goers will have a chance to see the film. Here in Québec, however small a market that may be, there was indeed some moderate hype and anticipation regarding this drama based on the critically acclaimed play from Wajdi Mouawad.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

First Blood Part II rebuttal

Bill, why you didn't you tell me that the horror marathon was starting early this year?

 I think the strongest point you made in your review is that the Rambo franchise should have ended with the first film. First Blood may have been about the downfall of a war hero in a thematic sense, but Part II represents the downfall of that same character in wholly different sense: quality. Watching the first film caused me to wonder where the caricatures of the Rambo character came from. Watching Part II told me exactly where they came from.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Review: The Descent

The Descent (2005, Neil Marshall)

In a very short time span, writer director Neil Marshall has made quite a name for himself. With some directors more time is required for them to hone their skills and fully express themselves through the medium of film and gain a reputation. Marshall’s first film, Dog Soldiers, did him some credit, but it wasn’t until 2005 when his horror film The Descent was released that people really started to take notice. With this second outing, the Englishmen had provided some life into the horror genre at a time when many, including myself, were mostly shunning the supposedly scary motion pictures that studios were releasing.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

October plans: The Glory of Rome

'Rome is the light.'

Between the Seats often goes against the grain, sometimes willingly other while other times not. Take for instance the plethora of blogs and sites that spent the better part of September covering the always exciting Toronto International Film Festival. The event sounded like plenty of fun and many of the blogs I trust did a splendid job of providing the willing readers with insightful commentary. Time and work proved to be the enemy in our case, so we stayed home and wrote about Rambo and random Asian dramas from the 90s instead.

October is only days away, and I suspect that many of my friends from the blogosphere will be offering reviews an commentary on their favourite horror films (Bill at his Movie Emporium makes it a yearly affair in fact). Well, in this instance, Between the Seats is doing its own thing, but completely on our own will. We all get movie cravings from time to time, and right about now I feel like watching a bunch of action and dramas set in the time of the ancient Roman empire. Some of my favourite films are set during this remarkable and equally savage of human history. There are however some glaring blind spots on my 'watched' list regarding these kinds of movies. So how about we visit a period and place which offered so much beauty and sophistication while also showcasing some Man's most disturbing and grotesque features.

These are the films I'd like to get through so far. Further suggestions are much appreciated!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Rambo marathon: First Blood Part II

Rambo: First Blood Part II (George P. Cosmatos)

The sequel. For many film lovers, sequels are the bane of their existence. For studios, they are the opportunity to cash in on a familiar property which resonates with the paying movie goers. However, unlike what those who snub sequels would prefer to believe, there is planning and execution required in making a sequel. A studio just doesn’t ‘churn out’ another installment in a franchise. However much one might frown on sequels and prequels, there is a writing stage, a pre-production stage, filming, editing, etc. It’s still a movie and it has to get made before shown to an audience. Someone down the production line people (or someone) has to say ‘Alright, this product seems good enough, let’s release it.’ Questions must be posed when facing the challenge of a continuation episode in movies. Do the filmmakers up the proverbial ante? Do they give more of the same? Do they take the characters in a radically new direction altogether? Like I said, it remains a movie and therefore requires time, money and effort in getting made.

Hence, the disappointment that crept in with every further minute of Rambo: First Blood Part II’s running time.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Far East Specials: Christmas in August

Christmas in August
(1998, Jin-ho Hur)

I was thinking long and hard about some witty and clever sentence I could use to begin this review of Jin-ho Hur’s romance drama Christmas in August, but such things rarely bear fruit for me. The best I could come up with is that sometimes the best romances are the ones that never were. The notion that two people feel a connection, a bond that perpetually brings them together is something you, I, we can all relate too. In certain instances that bond will develop slowly, taking little baby steps as you and that special someone carefully reveal more about yourself through brief encounters. In other examples, it feels like love at first sight and things move along quickly and passionately. Then comes that first kiss and the declaration, in some fashion or other, of a person’s affections for the other. The end result, we hope, is love. What of those stories that are clearly driven by love but in which the central characters are prevented from ever fully rejoicing in their hopeful union?

In Christmas in August, the two bashful non-lovers are the owner of a photo studio in his early thirties named Jung-won (played with irresistible charm by Suk-kyu Han) and Darim (Eun-ha Shim), a twenty something traffic cop. On the day Jung-won returns from attending the funeral of his friend’s father, he finds Darim waiting impatiently outside his store. She needs some very specific photos enlarged. What image is captured by the photograph is not important, but there is something, a tiny little something that ignites between the two. It’s quite subtle, and when Darim returns the next to pick up her photos, she and Jung-won begin a little bit of small talk. He rides a moped when travelling to and fro and encounters Darim from time to time, and they share some friendly chit chat. He even offers her a ride one day as she carries some terribly heavy parcels. I think most of you can guess where this is heading, and you’d be correct. They clearly enjoy each other’s company and there are hints that the feelings they hold for one another may run a little bit deeper than mere friendship.

It should be noted that director Jin-ho Hur developed story in a very specific way with what I believe to be a very specific intention. He doesn’t simply want to tell a love story. Rather, he wants to tell Jung-won and Darim’s love story. Their romance blossoms in slow fashion, very slow fashion in fact. Both characters are comfortable with one another, but seem to proceed with baby steps when it comes to true love. We know that Jung-won had a true love at one point in the past (she visits him briefly early in the film), and maybe it is this broken past love that constantly sets up some imaginary barriers whenever the opportunity arises. Let it be known that I don’t refer to ‘imaginary barriers’ in that Jung-won clearly prevents himself from taking any extra steps in order to woo Darim. He just seems bit reserved and bashful at times. I think he really likes Darim but is of the type who believes he had one chance at true love and it failed, so he simply isn’t willing enough to embrace something new. Of course, Darim isn’t much more ambitious in her mannerisms, although she’s the one who asks the more questions (about who is and all) and gives hints that she’d like for them to be something of a couple. So Jin-ho Hur has these two adorable characters come in and out of contact tons of times throughout the film, each time there being a stronger and stronger connection between the two, but again, the increases are incremental. Every once in a while, the viewer sees Jung-won taking some pills and visiting the hospital, so we are warned, rather early on in fact, that all is not quite right with him. When it seems as though he and Darim are about to take the next step, well, the forces that regulate Jung-won’s health have other ideas unfortunately.

I think it’s rather easy to lump Christmas in August into the category of films deemed ‘tearjerkers,’ especially for its final 10 minutes or so, and I should add that it isn’t a category of films that I’m terribly fond of. That being said, I was charmed to a certain degree by this movie. Much of that has to do with Suk-kyu Han’s performance and Jun-ho Hur’s directing. Suk-kyu Han’s Jung-won is such a lovable guy that it’s pretty hard not to like the guy. He isn’t incredibly handsome, he isn’t terribly athletic and doesn’t even show off any kind of remarkable intelligence, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t want to hang around with him for an afternoon (provided I knew how to speak Korean). This man loves to laugh and smile. In fact, he almost reminds me a little of myself in how he reacts to people and things around him. He’ll often shrug or giggle things off in a very nonchalant type of fashion. Not a whole lot gets this guy angry and especially excited, he often just enjoys being nice and cool, all the while showing off that smile. Happy-go-lucky I believe is the term, but thankfully not like Happy go Lucky. The moments when the reality of his health kick in or when people are really trying his patience are jarring because we witness Jung-won’s attitude change dramatically. They don’t occur frequently, but when they do it seems as though he takes on a completely different persona, one diametrically opposed to the one we had explored up until those points. I’m not sure each one works, but at the very least they showed a different side to Jung-won, one indicating that he can be broken down if pushed too far by frustrating circumstances (or when drunk).

As a director, Jun-ho Hur offers a quite affair. In a style reminiscent of so many Korean and even Japanese films I’ve seen recently, he’ll often invite the viewers to saviour the moment, any moment, precisely because the finer details of people can be discovered in those seemingly random and unimportant periods. One can discern much about the psychology of a specific character in these instances. A glance here, a smile there, a sigh of relief, etc. If you enjoy the type of films where some scenes, on a surface level, come across as mundane because they only show someone taking a photograph or preparing a meal in the kitchen, but in reality you know that all the details in the characters’ movements and gestures add to the ‘character building’ aspect of a film, then I’d say Christmas in August is right up your ally. As for myself, it’s a style that only a few years ago I would not have found appealing, but that has quickly won me over. I think it’s a style that, rather than try the audience’s patience, is in fact paying respect to the audience. Movies which are directed and presented in the way Jin-ho hur gives us Christmas in August ( or in the way Kohei Oguri gave Sleeping Man, or how Sang-soo Hong presented The Power of Kangwon Province) know that audiences are more intelligent and discerning than are often given credit for.

Does anything make Christmas in August truly stand out however? I don’t think so. It’s well paced, well acted- nay, really well acted (again, I was struck by Suk-kyo Hun’s charm) and offers plenty of cute little scenes that offer tidbits about who Jung-won and Darim are. The film’s conclusion is…satisfying in many ways, although if one is looking for a more traditional ending to a romance drama, they might leave a bit disappointed. Never did I think the film broke any new ground, but nor did it have to. It sets out to tell a very specific kind of love story, one that reminds how oftentimes ‘life’, in its harsh and unexpected ways, will get into the way of the rosy plans we had.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Blogging around (September 15th 2010)

If you are serious movie buff, then it should be no secret that the Toronto International Film Festival (or TIFF for short) is currently taking place. It's arguably one of the most interesting film festivals around in that it successfully balances all sorts of films, from documentaries, to smaller indie films, all the way up to the bigger budget Hollywood dramas that come out in the weeks and months after the festival closes. Plus, it's one of the few notable film festivals which takes place in Canada.

Not being from Toronto, you'll have to forgive me if I don't get the opportunity to follow the festival with a fine toothed comb. However, I have several Torontonian blogger allies who are doing their very best to provide intelligent, fun and thorough coverage of the event, so this week's Blogging Around column will be dedicated to them:

-The Dark of the Matinee, who has some early reviews of such highly anticipated films the likes of Let Me In and 127 Hours.

-Our buddy Corey Atad is also writing away about some of those same movies over at The Reelists.

-The guys from Sound on Sight have plenty to share about. These guys are in fact based in Montréal but, unlike me, invested time, money and effort in getting to Toronto to see the movies.

Far East Specials: After the Rain

*Participation in the 1990s Far East Bracket over at the Filmspotting message boards has opened up an entirely new world of Asian cinema was that non-existent to me only a couple of years ago. Not all the movies I stumble upon in this tournament of films prove their worth, but every once in a while luck will share her pretty smile and hand me a little gem, or at least something of note that is inspiring and stays with me for days and sometimes weeks afterwards. Much like I did in the fall of ‘08 and winter of ’09, I’ll be offering some brief thoughts on the noteworthy films I discover throughout the bracket in the hopes that you, the readers, will also be encouraged to dig up some previously unheard of cinematic gems from the Far East. This will hopefully be a recurring article called Far East Specials.

Ame Agaru/ After the Rain (1999, Takashi Koizumi)

For comparative purposes, I would liken the curious beast that is After the Rain to 2001’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Steven Spielberg’s unfairly maligned sci-fi drama contained several ideas and story elements that were in fact the brainchild of a great American film director from the past, Stanley Kubrick. In the case of today’s movie, the screenplay was the very last written by Japan’s all time cinema master, Akira Kurasawa, before he passed away. The director, Takashi Koizumi, was Kuroswa’s assistant director for many decades, so one can foresee that there may be stylistic similarities between what this movie shall reveal and the works of Kurosawa.

The story of After the Rain focuses on the travels and small adventures of one ronin (master-less samurai) named Ihei Misawa (Akira Terao), a man with a decidedly uplifting look on life who, while unquestionably talented in bushido, prefers to settle whatever conflicts may arise through gestures of kindness and a warm smile. He stays at an inn with his beloved wife Tayo (Yoshiko Miyazaki) while a heavy rain floods the region. Given the poor weather outside, several other travelers are temporarily stranded at the inn, prompting Misawa to lighten the dour mood with a feast. The importance of these early scene consists mostly of showing off how nice of a guy Misawa is. Shortly after the rain has subsided, our benevolent ronin takes a lonesome walk in the forest, where he encounters a few agitated young samurai students who are about to engage in combat. In the nick of time Misawa defuses the conflict, earning the attention of the clan’s lord, Shigeaki (Shiro Mifune), who was standing not far away. The lord invites Misawa to dinner and offers employment as the clan’s sword master, much to the ire of the other teachers and experienced warriors of the clan.

I haven’t seen all of Akira Kurosawa’s films (that would literally require a few more years at the rate I watch movies), but I have seen a decent amount, and I find the screenplay to After the Rain, which he wrote, to be refreshing. A lot of characters in his films are quite violent and many a time the central figures of his films have had a propensity to violence or agitation. Rather than continuing the tradition of rough and tough samurai heroes, here the hero is shining a different kind of light. I’d even say that with After the Rain, we get the opposite. Ihei Misawa possesses all the skill necessary to dispatch any antagonists in the blink of an eye, much like the great samurai characters of Kuroswa’s previous stories like Sanjuro, but this movie’s protagonist seems naturally gifted with something more important: compassion. He is not a violent man at all even though he could be if he chose to. He smiles a lot, keeps his composure at all times, and often makes an effort to be helpful and decent. The guy is as cool as a cucumber. There is a tenderness to the character of Misawa that was a pure joy to watch because it brought such a different flavour to the samurai genre. I absolutely love samurai films with a heroic protagonist who slices and dices his (or her) way through hoards of villains to restore peace and justice, but the central character of After the Rain is such the antithesis to that formula that I was instantly compelled and charmed by what I was seeing. Even when faced with no other choice than combat, his swiftness and stunning reflexes allow him to avoid his challengers’ blades and subdue them with quick hand to hand moves. I think the one time we see someone actually die by the sword it is accidental and the result of ‘friendly fire.’ There are scenes in which his close rivals are taken aback by his demeanour (which is an odd one for a samurai), only frustrating them more so while Misawa cautiously avoids getting confrontational.

Misawa’s natural inclination to show decency and kindness towards others not only applies to people at the inn or lord Shigeaki, but also his loving wife. Both don’t see eye to eye with regards to Misawa’s use of his skills. Tayo doesn’t necessarily want to be the wife of a ronin, but she loves him for who is he and he often times looks for her forgiveness whenever she learns that he was, willingly or not, involved in some sort of conflict. The film tries to balance these two parallel plot points, the ronin’s involvement in Shigeaki’s clan and his life with Tayo, and I thought it accomplished that rather nicely. Of the Kurosawa films I’ve seen, the women were either not of any significant importance or were actually pretty evil, so here again there was a refreshing change of pace to the plot. Everything returns to this initial idea that Misawa is not your average ronin looking for chumps to gut in order to make a buck…or yen. Even when others take their chances and try to pry some sort of aggressiveness out of him, he just keeps his blood at regular temperature because that’s the way he is, no more and no less.

Koizumi’s direction is controlled and assured, which can be viewed two separate ways. The first is that such a reality comes as a welcome surprise given how he hadn’t been a feature director very often in his career. On the other hand, he was under the wing of Akira Kurosawa for about 28 years, so one would hope that Koizumi acquired some sort of directorial skills after all that work. Still, one can’t lose focus on the fact that this is Koizumi solo, it’s his movie, and his efforts are not bad at all. The film possesses a more classical look and feel to it. The framing in many shots is carefully chosen to focus on very specific objects or people in a given scene, many times remaining static for several minutes so the viewer can inhale the sights and sounds of where conversations are occurring. Whenever the camera performs more dynamic moves, such as panning, I noticed it was very subtle and its intention was merely to follow the action more properly, not necessarily to inject any sort of ‘adrenaline’ into the picture. For a film with a story which develops as calmly as is the case here, After the Rain moves long at a really brisk pace. Of course, it doesn’t quite reach 90 minutes in running length (87 to be precise), so that might have something to do with it, but I was acutely aware of how director Koizumi was handling his scenes. He liked to linger on certain moments, but rarely, if ever indulged. It was often just enough for elements to sink into the viewer’s mind and then move on.

The beauty of the movie is also found in its score, which at first comes across as too sentimental. Hmm, maybe I should choose my words more carefully. I think the score might feel too ‘romantic’ at times, and not in the sense we understand romanticism today. There is a majestic quality (that kind of romance) to the score that required a bit of effort from me to become accustomed to it. I don’t know if it always suited every single scene, but I wouldn’t want to begrudge the film because of it. I do think that, simply as music, it makes for a nice listen, but I hesitate to call it a really good and suitable score.

After the Rain
is more than just a curiosity. It shouldn’t merely be viewed as ‘that Kurosawa screenplay somebody else directed.’ It truly is a very nice movie, which, yes, brought to life Kurosawa’s final script, but also gave Takashi Koizumi to take the spotlight as director for one of the few times in his career. More importantly, it’s a samurai tale that isn’t afraid to give the viewer a radically different vision of what such warriors could be.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

'First Blood' rebuttal

‘You drew first blood, Bill. You drew first blood.’

A commonality between our reactions to Ted Kotcheff’s 1982 First Blood was in how the film blindsided us with its earnest and dramatic tackling of the subject of Vietnam War veterans in the early 1980s. First Blood is not concerned with stereotypical violence as is often found in Hollywood productions featuring actors the likes of Sylvester Stallone. In fact, when the violence erupts, it is atypical in that the character of John J. Rambo is involved in a battle of wits and might against his own countrymen in his own backyard. This alone made for a unique viewing experience, not to mention how, as you put it in your review, Stallone provide some gravitas to Rambo that would have been sorely lacking otherwise. I liked seeing Stallone in an early performance. His youth really lent to his being a disgruntled Vietnam vet who got the proverbial shaft upon his return home from the battle fields. That typical deep voice of his only reinforced Rambo’s unfortunate state of mind and heart throughout the film. The movie works in many ways as a social commentary, one that must have hit American audiences hard back in 1982 when the subject of the Vietnam War was still fresh. The conflicting emotions of the American public towards this infamous war and those who served in it are set on a dangerous collision course in First Blood. For those reasons Kotcheff’s movie is a challenging one, far more challenging than one’s run of the mill action movie, and I think we agree that First Blood is far more than a mere ‘action movie.’

There were a couple of details you mentioned in your review last week that caught me by surprise however, the first being how First Blood ‘isn’t a particularly well made film.’ You go on by briefly mentioning some poor post-production dubbing and the underwhelming direction from Kotcheff himself. With regards to the first point (poor dubbing), I must admit that it flew over my head. Perhaps I was so absorbed in this dark, gritty and challenging world that the fact that dubbing had been performed was too slight detail for me to take notice. I haven’t watched the film since, but I’ll keep that issue in mind the next time I give my disc a spin. It seems to me a lot of older pictures have dubbing, so it could have been that I just took it for granted. More importantly however were your less than complimentary comments towards Ted Kotcheff’s directorial style. I thought his camera did wonders for the film, especially in the action sequences. It certainly has a more ‘old school’ feel to it, with the camera being pretty static in many instances, but oftentimes I thought the frame was perfectly placed and awarded the viewer with some really intriguing images. One of my favourites occurs early on when Rambo is hanging from the cliff over the river. The police have called in a chopper (in which the crazy cop with the rifle is riding) and the hovering vehicle is approaching Rambo’s location along the cliff. The camera is placed very near Rambo, but on his right side, so the rest of the frame showcases the remainder of the canyon and the grey sky. In the background we can see the chopper approaching as Rambo scrambles to keep his grip. I thought that shot was really cool. Not flashy, but really effective at telling the story of an action scene. That was Kotcheff’s most important contribution to the film in my opinion, that is, the ability to carefully frame the shots during moments of tension and action. This might sound ludicrous but I felt there were hints of some Hitchcockian inspiration at times during the action sequences.

The only other point on which we disagree somewhat is the usefulness of the Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) character. His importance at the end of the story is of the utmost, that we agree on I believe. However, his introduction around the midpoint of the story does serve some purpose, even though it may not be totally essential. The point I’m about to make has much to do with the type of characters we are dealing with up until the moment Colonel Trautman makes his presence known, so let’s rewind things a little bit. So far, we’ve seen Rambo try to find an old friend, only to discover of his shocking demise. This completely warps Rambo’s attitude, from somewhat decent bloke to cold and distant. When the cops pick him up, they’re aren’t much better. In fact, they’re clearly worse for a short while, mistreating him in some surprising to say the least. This in turn activates ‘killer/survival instinct’ mode in Rambo, with the latter going all army on anyone who dares approach him. The momentary flashbacks tell us one of the main reasons why Rambo is behaving this way, but for some audience members it might not be enough for that knowledge to make Rambo terribly relatable. I mean, we have a United States war veteran maiming small American town police officers in the woods. While I did find the conflict interesting in its oddity and shock value, and while I believe that I could have still found it interesting without the introduction of Colonel Trautman, the Colonel’s presence instils a sort of structure to the chaos that has taken over. We understand a little bit more who Rambo is and why he might be behaving the way he his. In fact, I think the night time scene in which Colonel Trautmen tries to reign Rambo in via radio is top notch. Rambo’s semi-psychotic state is put into some harsh words during their radio conversation (‘They drew first blood’). And anyways, I really enjoyed Richard Crenna's performance, so there.

I was relieved to learn that you found First Blood to be a mostly pleasing viewing experience. It certainly takes the action genre by the horn and gives it good shake. I was listening to the extra features on the disc in which the author of the novel David Morell expresses some of his thoughts. It was quite interesting to hear him reveal that in the book John Rambo really does start gunning people down in small town U.S.A. I think there are some obvious reasons why the decision was made not to have Rambo do that in a mainstream motion picture adaptation, but it had me wondering what sort of movie that would have been like. Regardless, First Blood is far smarter than I foolishly had given it credit for (without having seen it), and you were smart enough to realize this as well. Seems as though things mostly evened out in our reviews. Maybe the real bloodshed will commence next week…

Read Bill's rebuttal over at his Movie Emporium.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Review: Lebanon

Lebanon (2009, Samuel Maoz)


High concept movies are a tricky bunch. Naturally, they always begin with an interesting idea, one that grabs the interesting of the audience immediately because it makes them question how exactly the story will unfold under the unique, well defined and often peculiar circumstances the filmmakers have determined. In the case of 2009’s Lebanon, from Israeli Samuel Maoz, the viewer, much like the film’s four central characters, are stuck in an old, greasy tank during the Lebanon war in 1982. Under the guidance of Gamil, a captain who is patrolling the urban warfare areas with his troops by foot, our young and weary foursome of tank dwellers are asked to protect the foot soldiers as their platoon performs what they think is cleanup duty in a Lebanese town which has already been the victim of significant air raids.

Shumlik, Herzel, Yigal and Asi, the tank’s captain, are the protagonists who must witness the devastation and stress brought upon by modern warfare from their aging, cluttering and clanking steel made contraption. Early on in the movie the camera shows a small crest plastered on the inside wall of the assault vehicle that ironically states how men are made of steel whereas tanks are merely junk. It’s an interesting and à propos little nod to the emotional and psychological build up that is surely emphasized on in the military and before combat to get the troops’ adrenaline running. Ironically enough, it would appear that the crest which decorates the filthy wall was placed there by the previous team who manned the tank because from early on the audience is given clear indications that this foursome is not so fearsome after all. Whether it is due to their youth or perhaps some false pre-conceived notions of what warfare is all about, from the moment trouble begins to stir the team’s capabilities of functioning adequately are put into serious doubt. Botched opportunities to wipe oncoming enemies, incompatible personalities and an overall lack of composure are but some of the evil seeds which plant themselves firmly in their claustrophobic little bit of breathing space.

Lebanon had the making of a film that would grab the audience straight from the get go with some high tension scenes and not let go until the very end. The idea that the entire story would be told from the interior of a military tank held a lot of promise for several reasons. The camera, which serves as the audience’s eyes are ears, cannot leave the confinement of the vehicle, so there are several moments when the tension mounts due to the mostly hidden nature of what transpires on the outside. The only eye to the outside world the viewer and the characters are privy to is the tank driver’s cross air. The zoom factor for the cross air also served for some interesting visual cues that were at times borderline voyeuristic. The restrictive vision to the outside world made for some very intense scenes when trouble was brewing in the surrounding areas. These searches for the source of oncoming enemy fire during the battles scenes do a decent job at putting the viewer in the shoes of the tank’s crew. The sequences when the driver is just observing the remnants of the destroyed urban area were far less convincing however. The cross air (and thus the camera) will sometime rest on the face of an angry Arab who stares at the cross air as we are looking at him and at one point the driver keeps following a naked woman who has just survived the bombing of her apartment which resulted in the death of her husband and young daughter. In these moments the film was trying too hard to elicit some sort of emotional reaction from the viewer. A lot of it has to do with timing in instances such as these and I felt as though the camera would rest on the bystanders or the victims of violence for too long, almost as though it didn’t trust the audience enough had to make things as obvious and didactic as possible.

The character relations are of interest in Lebanon given how Samuel Maoz keeps them nice and tight with the tank. It’s pretty obvious that the crew is relatively young, with oldest perhaps in his early to mid thirties at most. Most of them don’t really want to be there at all, especially Shmulik, who consistently questions Asi’s authority, thus creating some strain between the two. I suppose we could designate Shmulik as the smart ass, or obnoxious one of the bunch. Whatever decision is taken, be it by Asi or Gamil who transfers his own orders via radio communication (although he does pop in from time to time to speak to the crew directly), one can be certain that Shmulik will show at least a minimal form of resistance. The only other crew member however who is given any significant characterization is the so called leader, Asi. At first he does his best to impose his authority, although with Shmulik around it often falls on deaf ears. Then again, Asi rarely, if ever provides discernable reasons for some of the decisions he opts for, which therefore invites to question his true abilities as a leader. The other two crew members feel quite superficial. An opportunity to build up some memorable characters in a memorable setting is therefore somewhat lost. They aren’t total blank slants, the movie does try to give them some simple traits, but there isn’t a whole lot to chew on. A shame.

Overall, I would argue that Lebanon’s first half is really decent despite that I felt the characters were a bit under-developed. The set design was superb with all the steam and filth infesting the tank and I enjoyed following Gamil’s platoon from the inside of this ancient vehicle. The movie started out with a certain ambition that caught my attention and was playing its cards well overall, but, much like the crew members themselves, the film loses its way somewhere during the second half. It was a bit odd because it felt as though director Y, for right or wrong, suddenly thought ‘Oh gosh, I set my entire film in a tank and we’ve mostly just been patrolling a decimated Lebanese town with a few incidents here and there. I had better start throwing more things into the mix otherwise this will get boring.’ While not completely blown away (no pun intended), I though the first half was interesting enough and I wouldn’t minded at all had Lebanon simply continued down that same trajectory. Director Y clearly felt otherwise and thought it best to include several new variables during the last 30-40 minutes of the movie which don’t necessarily make the story any better. In fact, I felt things got a bit clunky near the end. A Syrian prisoner of war is thrown into the tank, a Falangist (Christian Arab) comes in on occasion to taunt the former in Arabic about how he is going to cut off the prisoner’s balls, Asi’s mental stability seems to melt away and he begins to talk strange à la Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, and the film’s climax and final shot feel rushed, sadly. The focus of the film is lost at some point and I’m not sure director Y knew exactly how to get things back on track. The addition of the Syrian prisoner is a prime example because that character is brought into this confined space but only seems to be a factor on and off. The POW’s presence doesn’t add anything, but every once in a while the movie will takes a few minutes to have a scene that is concerned with him. That, in essence, encapsulates my sentiments on the director’s storytelling decision during the latter stages of the film: things are adding just for the sake of adding them. These things might happen during wartime, I wouldn’t contest that, certainly not with my limited knowledge of the Lebanese war of the 80s. But some things can’t just be done in a film to add authenticity, they need to serve the story.

Despite its weaker second half, I still believe Lebanon to be worth recommending. The premise might sound more promising than the end product, but that isn’t to say the product in question is unworthy. There are a number of solid scenes, some of which study the character relations of the crew members while others are more action-oriented and concentrate on the fury that rages outside. I just think the script required some more polish before all the shooting, both literal and figurative, began.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

2 years old

2 years already.

It was in September of 2008 that we at Between the Seats had this wild idea of writing and publishing film related reviews on our own blog. I still recall it was like back then, when I was a total newbie to this increasingly popular ‘blogging’ thing. What colours do I chose? What font do I choose? WHAT DO I EVEN NAME MY BLOG?!? After careful reflection (which, if memory serves me right, lasted about 20 minutes) I registered this little bundle of joy you see before you now on your computer screens. Those first few months were a bit tough and I wasn’t sure how long I’d keep it up, but I figure that it could be useful to put my writing skills to the task since I tend to find pleasure in jotting down thoughts into grammatically correct phrases.

I’d have to say that for about 3 or 4 months, the only readers, and they were indeed few, were other members of the Filmspotting message board, which I had been frequenting since the fall of ’07. I learned that blogging is a funny thing. Some of us might say that we just want to write for ourselves and care little for who and how many people visit our sites, but the truth, I suspect, is a bit different. I mean, is it not the least bit gratifying when people leave comments at the end of your articles? Of course it is, let’s not kid ourselves here. It became increasingly obvious that in order to earn some credentials among my new found peers, I would have to spread my horizons and take a plunge into the ocean of movie blogs and start ‘connecting’, if you will. Some blogs weren’t worth the time, some were alright, while others were (and still are) excellent. I started leaving comments and the hosts, the best ones, tended to answer back. Hence, connections were made.

Suddenly some bloggers I had visited and shared some thoughts with were visiting Between the Seats! I gained further understanding of the tools offered by Blogspot, like ‘links’ and that ever so useful ‘follow’ tool. There are so many aspects about blogging that one must juggle in order to become good at it. You want to find good material across the net either for inspiration or just for pleasure or information. You also want people to visit your own blog, but the key to that is the dance of give and take required to create those essential connections. To be a blogger really means being part of a community. There is no such thing as being on a lonely island if one wants to blog. Uh-uh, it really doesn’t work that way. It’s tough finding some quality writing on the net these days. Anybody can host a site or write for a blog. Very little skill is required to do just that, but a lot more creativity, class and openness towards others is a necessity if you actually want to be good at it.

I’d like to thank all those who visit Between the Seats, whether you’ve been around since September of 08 or just discovered us last week. Equally important, if not more so, is that I want to thank all of you who blog as well. It comes back to that notion of ‘give and take’ I mentioned before. If Between the Seats is still around, you, the other bloggers I visit, probably had a lot to do with that. If any of you reading this were to take something away from reading this post, I’d like it to be the following: if you happen to stumble upon a blog you’ve never heard of and you genuinely like what you find, let the author know. Trust me, they’ll appreciate it.

Thanks again.
Edgar Chaput

Monday, September 6, 2010

Review: Machete

Machete (2010, Robert Rodriguez)

Directly inspired by a mock trailer which appeared in 2007’s Grindhouse, Machete is a very Grindhouse-like adventure filled to the brim with sufficient nudity, crass language and over the top gory violence to satisfy the needs of just about any schlock film connoisseur. Workaholic actor Danny Trejo stars as a Mexican ex-federal marshal named Machete (and pronounce with a Spanish ring to it, will you?) who in the opening scenes learns just how corrupt his country has become while performing one of his last jobs before being exiled to the United States. After spending 3 years north of the border as a down on his luck labourer, he is hired by Booth (Jeff Fahey), a sleazy business who shall award Machete with 150,000 dollars in cash is the latter executes the Texas senator running for re-election, Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro). When Machete is betrayed just prior to pulling the trigger, he sets himself on a mission of personal revenge which shall pit him against the likes of Booth, the Senator and an old enemy drug lord from Mexico, Torrez (Steven Seagal). On his side are special agent Sartana (Jessica Alba) and a Mexican born woman, Luz, (Michelle Rodriguez) who helps illegal immigrants get a fresh start in the United States, but of course just runs a taco stand as a cover. Oh right, Lindsay Lohan plays Booth’s drug addict daughter and Cheech Marin is a priest who wields shotguns in the name of justice.

The question on everyone’s mind heading into Machete was whether or not the film could live up to 3 years of hype and fanboy dreams after that now famous trailer that had grindhouse movie fans drooling in 2007. More importantly however was the question about keeping the story of Machete fresh and fun enough that he wouldn’t overstay his welcome. It’s one thing to drool over a 2 ½ minute trailer, but as we all know, it can be an entirely different story when the 105 minute feature length production doesn’t live up to expectations. For the most part, the answer to those two questions is yes. Robert Rodriguez’s career is filled with some of the most over the top action and horror movies you’ll see. Sin City, Planet Terror, the El Mariachi trilogy, he is a director who enjoys relishing in excess, surprising audiences and making them laugh with whatever insane deaths and erotic sequences he can come up with. That’s arguably why there are never been any unanimous opinion on his work and sensibilities as a writer and director. It’s hard to please everyone when you’re always going for what one hopes will comes across as outrageous as possible. I think the most significant criticism that one can attribute to a director the likes of Rodriguez is perhaps a lack of ambition. Sure, it takes times and a dedicated crew and actors to make movies like Machete, but there aren’t a whole lot of brains to the endeavour.

With this current outing, Rodriguez offers another platter of splatter which delivers the goods if you are looking for that sort of entertainment. Danny Trejo remains fully in character from start to finish, what with his cold, deadly stare and those bad ass kills he performs on the flick of a whim. Sometimes he doesn’t even need to do much to dispatch a foe, as is demonstrated in one of the movie’s funniest scenes in which Machete keeps avoiding an opponent’s kicks and punches while munching on a burrito. Other times his creativity will kick in, as in the scene when, while trying to escape thugs in a hospital, he creates a sort of whip with operating knives attached to the end. Machete whips that little sucker around like cowboy tosses his lasso around cattle. That brings me to something about Rodriguez’s style as a storyteller and director: he understands what his audience wants. The buckets of blood and gore that are dispersed long the streets and walls of Texas re fine and dandy, but there is inherent comedic value in the insanity that runs through the picture. Things never get truly gritty, most of what happens on screen has a decidedly campy value to it, so the viewer can simply sit back, relax and laugh their heads off has Machete blows people’s heads off. The film is nonsensical in its depiction of men, woman and violence, but in the world Rodriguez creates, that is something to be laughed at, and laugh we do. The cast is obviously enjoying themselves, and some of them are so perfectly cast it would be difficult to imagine anybody else in their roles. Michelle Rodriguez, who I’ve always felt was an underrated actress, knows how to deliver lines with the exact sort of earnestness that makes the scenes so much fun, while Jessica Alba, an actress whom I’m actually not very fond of, does seem to clue in on that this is all preposterous and manages to play along as well. Probably the one character most people will come away with the fondest memories of is Padre, played by Cheech Marin. The dialogue, the attitude, two double wielding shotguns, he is unquestionably the funniest and wildest creation in the movie.

There are a couple things that held the film back from being a completely religious experience, and both are intimately related. The first is the number of side characters and their respective storylines. Every gets some shining moments and little plot threads, some of which feel more deserved than others, and the more of them Rodriguez piles on the more I wondered why the movie needed so many people in it. Was this also a joke on how silly grindhouse films were? I don’t know, but the story did become a tad convoluted by the hour mark, which brings me to my second negative criticism: the titular character begins to feel like a supporting player himself at times, especially as the story develops. I’ll admit that attempting to genuinely develop Machete into something more three-dimensional could have easily fallen flat on its face, and maybe that’s why some many other characters earn more and more screen time the deeper we get into the plot, but I found it odd how Machete felt less and less important. He gets his fight with Steven Seagal at the end, which is all I could have asked for really, but I thought the focus of the story shied away from Danny Trejo a bit too much in the latter stages.

This is going to be a rather brief review. I won’t deny the fact that, while I wanted to write a little piece on Machete because I enjoyed it and would like to see it do better than its very meek opening weekend box office performance, I don’t have that much to say about it. It’s good fun, with a number of laughs and entertaining kills to keep one occupied for a little over an hour and a half, but it wasn’t as tight and focussed as I would have liked it to be. Something this trashy should have had a more simplistic story arc and avoid adding subplot after subplot. If you liked Grindhouse, I don’t see how in the world you won’t like Machete.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Review: The American

The American (2010, Anton Corbijn)

Dutch director Anton Corbijn’s sophomore effort after his critical hit Control a few years back will more than likely end up going unnoticed. Released at the very tale end of the summer season, The American stars international superstar George Clooney but arrived with as little fan fair as possible. I would deem this to be rarity with regards to films starring the charismatic and talented American actor, but such was the case a couple days ago when I went with a friend from work to the local multiplex to see a movie for which the poster (which looks pretty swell if I may say so) had only been appearing around town for a couple weeks.

I think about 10 minutes into the film I had understood why I hadn’t seen a single trailer for the movie in front of any film I had seen this summer. Yes, The American is a thriller of sorts, with some chases, some tension, some mystery and some decent kills, but it is, on the whole, a very different beast from what one might expect when going to see a movie of the thriller genre. The story, which follows George Clooney’s character (whose name may be Jack or Edward. No joking, I'm really not sure) around a small but charming Italian village as he a) prepares an arms sale for a female assassin , b) flees from some Swedish heavies who are after him for a past job the viewer is given no information about and c) falls in love with a beautiful prostitute named Clara (Violante Placido), unfolds with a very deliberate pace. The film is in absolutely no rush to get to the end and does not feel the necessity to fill the audience in on enough details for us to know exactly what is going on from frame one. Jack (or Edward), who is employed by a mysterious elderly man for very particular tasks involving arms dealing (and I presume assassinations as well since his character seems to know how to handle himself) is a lonesome man who finds it a difficult to connect to other, yet several people he meets during his adventure seem inexorably attracted to him in many ways, such as the prostitute Clara and quiet but somewhat witty old priest who enjoys his company even though Edward (or Jack) rarely has much to say.

Therein lies one of the strengths of the movie, this notion of a man who, through his job and past experience, finds it both difficult and dangerous to get too close to people and therefore consistently remains at a certain emotional distance from those who want him to open up a little bit. He is shut off, probably because he both can’t and shouldn’t try to be amiable towards those he meets on the job. Without giving away too much, the opening scene exemplifies the ‘shouldn’t’ part. Corbijn utilizes almost everything at his disposal to enforce this prevailing sense of a man on his own. Naturally, the starting point is actor George Clooney, who gives a different performance from the Danny Ocean variety we see often enough. He is very cold, almost mechanical and robotic in his mannerisms and the few times where he tries to be witty, it comes off as a bit awkward and mean spirited, but intentionally so. When things between him and Clara grow more intimate and serious, there is always a lingering reluctance preventing him from wrapping his arms around this love that is standing at his door. It’s a calculated performance, one that pays dividends because of the mystery surrounding the character. The audience would also like him to open up, to reveal himself a little bit more, but that would go against his nature and put himself and those around him in grave danger. The more he sees Clara and the elderly priest however, the more his desire for another life strives for a few gasps of air. Henceforth an internal struggle that rarely, if ever, shows itself in George Clooney’s facial expressions. Whether he will be able to really behave more like a regular sociable person is another discussion, but the fact that he is beginning to realize that he should strive for something more in life than just his job does earn his character a degree of sympathy from the viewer. Yes, he’s kind of boring and cold, but he is coming around on the fact that maybe he could be someone else, and even though it is demonstrated very slowly, without flash or any on the nose scenes with obvious dialogue, it was enough for me to actually start hoping that he did make it out of this adventure alive.

The framing of several scenes as well as the location where the story takes place support the dominant theme of the film. The stunning village where Clooney is staying to prepare for the sale feels lonely and remote. Rarely is there more than a few people in the narrow or the wide streets. There are scenes with Clooney at cafés with him sitting sometimes outside or inside the establishment, and even though there are often other customers, the framing of these scenes often succeeds in putting an emphasis on the character’ s loneliness. It’s an instance in which the ‘framing device’ is effective in a literal sense and not merely as an idea or theme that structures the story. Speaking of framing and visuals, Corbin’s camera is exquisite here, to say the least. Even if one does find the narrative empty and too ponderous for their tastes, at least stay to withhold the beauty of Castel del Monte where the movie was shot. There are a number of breathtaking transition shots that do such a marvellous corner of Europe justice.

Director Corbijn will also find tension in the strangest scenes. Because we know so little about Clooney’s character but have witnessed his lighting quick brutality and effectiveness in disposing people in the opening scene, there was frequently an ominous mood whenever he and other people involved in the same business as him were together. The one that stood out for me is when he takes a stunning blonde woman to a remote location in the woods near Castel Del Monte to demonstrate the quality of his weapons. The stares and body language of the Clooney character is consistently ambiguous. He’s already proven that he can kill anybody depending on what needs to be done, the audience has seen it already. Corbijn takes that knowledge and constructs an odd little scene in which both characters are merely testing out a rifle on the surrounding vegetation, but I was always on high alert for any dark surprises that might be in store. The sense that at no time of day is the Jack/Edward character fully safe leaks superbly into almost every scene. There are a number of downright creepy moments, especially in those dark alleyways at night. Were I to offer a comparison, The American is very much the kind of film a director the likes of Jim Jarmusch would make. Come to think of it, he kind of did already. It was called The Limits of Control and was released during the summer last year (reviewed here). In no way am I attempting to denigrate Anton Corbijn’s work here by calling him copycat. I think any film that finds inspiration from Jarmusch’s work is on solid working ground, but both films, in many respects, are eerily similar.

I don’t know how successful The American will be. It is being released at that difficult early September slot when the movie going public is a bit tired after a hectic summer season and a month or so before the highbrow dramas start rolling out. I don’t think September has ever been a good month to release a film, not to mention that this movie has a decidedly non-mainstream feel to it. From the character interactions (Jack/Edward’s nationality is often the punch line to a lot of stereotypical comments made by supporting characters, but he himself feels so quiet and distanced that the comments just roll off his back most of the time. It’s very dry humour), to the storytelling decisions and especially the pacing, The American is very much its own creation and not a run of the mill thriller, despite George Clooney’s handsome mug gracing the film’s one-sheet poster.

Blogging around

Hello readers.

In the vast sea of movie blogs, it can be a hassle to find quality content. Taking a page out of the Mad Hatter's book of doing things (with his Everybody's Talkin' column), I thought I would direct my faithful followers to other worthwhile articles or columns I happen to stumble on. Mind you, I wouldn't want you all to read more stuff from the other blogs. I mean, these will just be friendly visits, right? I don't want to lose my readership now...I NEED YOU!

1- CS' countdown to the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. Fellow blogger CS from the T-dot is currently sharing memories and thoughts on the 9 TIFF's he has attended so far in anticipation of this year's edition.

2-Relative newcomer to the movie blogging world is Suspend Your Disbelief, who has begun a Philip K. Dick blogathon. The first entry is an in-depth comparative review of Blade Runner and its source material, the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

3-Our friends over at The Reelists (or 'friend.' It seems to be only Corey Atad writing these days) have begun a marathon devoted to the great films of Powell and Pressburger. The first entry is The Life and Death of Colonel Blimb.


Rambo marathon: First Blood

First Blood (1982, Ted Kotchef)

Over the course of the past few decades, the name ‘Rambo’ has become synonymous with notions of action heroes who are all brawn and no brains. They don’t do much else other than take out their machine guns, machetes and slaughter armies of faceless enemies. Add to that actor Sylvester Stallone’s inability to escape the misguided perception that he’s not the brightest bulb in the light shop (that, admittedly, is far more the fault of those who hold that idea, not his) and what one is left with is more a caricature than anything with emotional depth and psychological weight. Entering First Blood for the first time, I told myself to remain completely open to whatever Ted Kotchef’s and Stallone’s film based on the David Morell novel had to offer.

The easiest thing I could say to start things off is that I was surprised. When the caricature and spoof becomes so prevalent, one looses focus on the original subject which spawned said caricatures. I had heard, vaguely, that First Blood was different, that it did little to earn the tag of ‘mindless 80s action film’ that many of us have been guilty have attributing to it, even without having seen it (which made me especially guilty). Indeed, First Blood does not one but many things I simply had not envisioned to be capable of. ‘Surprised’ however is not the most apt word I could use however. I think I was more satisfied and relieved than surprised. When my expectations are shattered for something of superior quality, both in terms of storytelling and intelligence, than I am a happy camper. First Blood opens with Stallone’s John J. Ramob walking along a road in direction of an old friend’s house. He and this friend were soldiers during the Vietnam War. Upon his arrival however, he learns that his friend has passed way, most likely the victim of all that ‘orange stuff’ they spread around in Nam. Devastated by the news, John Rambo heads into a small town, stunned by the revelation. His past as a Vietnam War hero becomes a major force in everything that is to follow over the course of the next few days. The local sheriff (Brian Dennehy) doesn’t like the looks of Rambo very much, but one the latter shows resistance to the former’s attempt at establishing hierarchical superiority, things get out control and fast. Very soon the local police force and the army have their hands full as Rambo has a mental breakdown and terrorizes the area, both in the mountains and in the town itself. Even the soldier’s former mentor and teacher, Trautman (Richard Crenna), is having trouble controlling one of the deadliest men alive.

To put things into perspective, the character of John J. Rambo, as portrayed in First Blood, is no hero. Hold on, I may have typed that with bit too much haste. He earned the congressional medal of honour for his services in the Vietnam War, thus making him something of a hero, but he is far from a hero in the traditional Hollywood movie sense. This is a man who, due to some horrific, nightmarish experiences back during the war (some of which briefly shown via split second flash backs whenever Rambo sees something that reminds him of the torture inflicted on him as a POW) is haunted by fears, both real and imagined and whose mental and emotional stability are but a shadow of what they used to be. As a soldier, he was conditioned to fight and kill on command, but back in the United States those services are much less in demand. Complicating matters further are the terrible reputations the Vietnam War and its veterans earned during and after the conflict. No job, no future, overbearing negative public perception, post-traumatic stress disorder, Rambo is much more a mess than he is a man. When the officers in the local police department start roughhousing him, he snaps and proceeds to act out all of his aggression towards pretty much anybody who dares oppose him. His mental state reverts back to what is was in the jungles of Vietnam. When Trautman finally reaches Rambo via radio communication and tries to bring back a sense of order and discipline to the young man, Rambo coldly explains that it was the police force who drew first blood, not him. If they want to do evil to him, than he’ll fight back without the slightest hesitation. This is not a story about a psycho killer rampaging around town giving Michael Myers a bad name. It is a story about a man who, through his conditioning, by taking part in the wrong war at the wrong time, through societal circumstances that he cannot control and which are constantly throwing him to the curb, and through depression has completely lost his way in life. In essence, there are no heroes in the film at all. Rambo is a dishevelled soul and the local sheriff wants nothing more than to kill him. For the longest stretch during the movie the one character who elicits the most sympathy is Trautman, who wants to reign Rambo in.

Much of First Blood’s strength rests with these odd circumstances and characters. The movie depicts how we are all products of whatever society and situations we either grew up or were conditioned in. When the variables are beyond our control and continuously beat down on us, our reactions can be frightful and outright dangerous. Take that idea and stick in the context of a young, frustrated Vietnam war veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and the results can be repulsive. The movie takes a bold chance in placing the story on American soil as well. It isn’t as if Rambo was going crazy in the jungles of Vietnam (although his issues may have begun just like that). He is a war hero terrorizing his own country when said country has turned its back on him in the vicious way. Regardless of where one’s politics lie, there is something undeniably compelling about such a plot. As a Canadian, I am a bit of an outsider looking in on matters involving the Vietnam War, although Canada’s current involvement in the country of Afghanistan is strikingly similar, down to the reality and fewer and fewer Canadians support the country’s military presence in Afghanistan. Rambo isn’t a ‘good’ character at all, but he is endlessly fascinating and, while the film takes the intensity of his actions up some notches too many in the latter stages of the film, there is a ring of painful truth to a lot what Rambo is experiencing. Men can and do return from war as different, and sometimes, in the saddest cases, the changes to their behaviours are considerable downgrades in mental and emotional stability. I think the film goes a little bit overboard in the final scenes when Rambo attacks the town at large, blowing up gas stations, corner stores, gun shops, etc. I can see how those scenes represent, metaphorically, the full extent of Rambo frustrations, but it felt a bit too stretched compared to what transpired earlier, not to mention that the viewer is led to believe that after all the havoc Rambo has wreaked, only one person perished. I didn’t need Rambo to go on an intentional killing spree, and he does stop short of killing people when he stands face to face with them, but just the fact that he’s blowing the town to high heaven must have meant that he knew he was probably going to vaporize some innocents. Is he so good that he knows how to blow the shite out of a town and not kill a soul?

Regardless, those scenes were not enough to sour my viewing experience. In fact, the final few minutes when Rambo pours out his feelings and frustrations through words rather than guns and knives made for a very solid conclusion. I sincerely mean it when I say that people should seek out First Blood. If any of you reading this review and who have not seen the film believe it be an 80s version of The Expendables, go watch it now. It is balances grit and violence with sophistication and intelligence in some bold ways that command respect.

Find out how Bill unleashed his post-traumatic stress over at Bill's Movie Emporium.