First Blood at 40.

You don’t seem to want to accept the fact you’re dealing with an expert in guerrilla warfare; with a man who’s the best…with guns, with knives, with his bare hands. A man who’s been trained to ignore pain…ignore weather; to live off the land…to eat things that would make a billy goat puke. In Vietnam his job was to dispose of enemy personnel. To kill! Period! Win by attrition. Well Rambo was the best.

Earlier this year, David Morrell’s debut novel, First Blood, celebrated its 50th birthday. Like many authors who go on to write other books they consider better (or at least, better written) than their inaugural outings, it’s doubtful Mr. Morrell ever envisioned this relatively “small” story about a single man attempting to navigate a world he no longer understands or in which he feels welcome would go on to become – arguably – his signature work.

And while he perhaps hoped it might one day be adapted for film, he likely didn’t anticipate what would happen with that.

Released 40 years ago today on October 22nd, 1982, First Blood – the movie – introduced theater audiences to distraught Vietnam combat veteran John Rambo.

The first of what would become (so far?) five films focusing on Rambo hits several of the same notes as the novel, at least in the beginning. Rambo (given a first name of John for the film), a drifter, finds his way to a small mountain town and is harassed by the local law in the form of Sheriff Wilfred Teasle. Concerned this long-haired unwashed hippie might attract others of his kind to his quiet, tranquil little enclave, Teasle at first tries to “help” Rambo with a lift to the edge of town. When Rambo, hoping to stop somewhere for something to eat, decides to wander back, Teasle is none too happy and arrests him. That’s when things start to take a turn toward shit as Rambo is less than cooperative while being processed at the sheriff’s station.

Suffering from a PTSD-induced flashback to his time as a tortured prisoner of war in Vietnam, Rambo attacks Teasle and his men and makes his escape, commandeering a motorcycle and heading for the nearby mountains. Teasle and his men give chase, but that doesn’t turn out so well, does it? Things only get crazier when they find out Rambo is not only a former Green Beret with seriously mad ass-kicking skillz, but he’s also a Medal of Honor winner. Then, his former commanding officer, Colonel Sam Trautman, shows up looking for his boy, and by then we’re off to the races.

First Blood, for my money, anyway, is far and away the best of the Rambo films. Sylvester Stallone does a fine job embodying the tormented soul of John Rambo, shifting with aplomb between brooding loner, ruthless warrior, and broken man. He also served as a co-writer for the film’s script, and he would take on increasingly greater control of the character and storylines with each new sequel.

As for this first outing, it does differ in several respects from David Morrell’s novel, most notably with the ending, of course (No spoilers. You’re just gonna have to suss out that info on your own). The Rambo of the novel is a much darker, disturbed, and violent character than his film incarnation, and Teasle is presented in somewhat less sympathetic fashion in the movie, but he’s still pretty much a dick in both versions even though his motivations are at least a bit more understandable in the book. The setting is changed from a small town in Kentucky to the Pacific Northwest, and the film adds the extra bit about Rambo seeking out one of his old Army buddies and discovering the man has died due to cancer, perhaps the result of exposure to Agent Orange.

One big change I’ve never really understood is why the filmmakers chose not to keep more elements from what ends up being a very personal battle of wills between Rambo and Teasle. There are shades of it in the movie, sure, but the setup and payoff in the book are much stronger and more visceral, thanks in large part to Morrell’s decision to alternate the story between the two men’s points of view from chapter to chapter. If you only know Rambo from the movies, Morrell’s book is absolutely and without equivocation well worth the read.

Stallone’s initial outing as John Rambo was successful enough to warrant four sequels: Rambo: First Blood, Part II in 1985, 1988’s Rambo III, the surprisingly solid Rambo in 2008, and 2019’s Rambo: Last Blood. The first two follow-ups suffer from featuring stock, almost cartoonish villians and action, while the fourth movie pulled no punches in its depictions of war-torn Burma. For whatever the hell my opinion’s worth, Rambo as depicted here is closest to what Morrell originally envisioned for the character.

Rambo: The Force of Freedom. Yeah, that happened.

Despite an initial wave of mixed reviews, the original First Blood enjoyed box office success which lead to the aforementioned sequels (which in turn inspired comics, video games, and – believe it or not – an animated series complete with toys). Over time, First Blood has come to be recognized as an influential entry in the action-adventure and military film genres.

While it seemed like John Rambo’s story might have reached a logical conclusion at the end of the fourth film, with him having “come full circle” as Trautman told him he one day would have to do, we neverthless (and perhaps inevitably) got one more sequel with Last Blood. It’s not a story that needed to be told, particularly given how the previous film ended on what I thought was just the right note. That feeling was only reinforced with the movie’s return to the more one-dimensional antagonists and what is essentially a build-up to a single violent confrontation with a Mexican drug gang. To be fair, the version I along with the rest of U.S. audiences originally got to see in theaters is a disappointment. The “extended cut” seen overseas and currently available for digital rental/purchase on Amazon Prime adds 12 minutes inexplicably left out of the U.S. release. Those 12 minutes don’t make Last Blood a great film, but for damned sure they make it a better film.

Have we seen the last of John Rambo? Recent rumors have whispered about a possible sixth film and even a TV series which might reboot the character, and I long ago learned to never say never when it comes to this kind of thing.

Meanwhile, there’s the original film, as good in its own way as the novel from which it sprang. Tip your glass to one of the iconic action movies of the 1980s. Draw First Blood.

Happy Judgment Day!

Roses are Red
Violets Are Blue
Humanity’s toast
Suck on my big fat CPU.

Love, Skynet.                                             

Judgment Day: August 29th, 1997. Sunblock optional.

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the fall of humanity and the rise of the machines.

Here’s hoping you can get out, enjoy it, and maybe take advantage of all the sales!

I AM LEGEND: One of “those” books.

“On those cloudy days, Robert Neville was never sure when sunset came, and sometimes they were in the streets before he could get back.

If he had been more analytical, he might have calculated the approximate time of their arrival; but he still used the lifetime habit of judging nightfall by the sky, and on cloudy days that method didn’t work. That was why he chose to stay near the house on those days.”

The opening lines from Richard Matheson’s classic novel I Am Legend, released on this date in 1954.

There are stories you encounter at a certain age – movies, TV shows, and most definitely books – that stay with you. As my good friend Kevin has described this phenomenon, this period of your life is something of your own personal “golden age” or “sweet spot,” usually your early teens or even before, where things encountered and enjoyed stick with you from that point forward. The love you have for this “thing” might be a fleeting sensation you revisit on occasion yet remember fondly each time that happens, or it might be something that remains with you, easily recalled with little or no provocation and never failing to bring a smile to your face.

For me, I Am Legend fits squarely in that latter category.

I first read the novel in 1979 at the age of 12 after stumbling across it at a local library. I was so enthralled with the story that I scoured bookstores for months until I found a copy to call my own. I haven’t been without at least one copy since.

In the decades since its original publication, the novel continues to provide inspiration. Pretty much the modern “zombie” subgenre of horror fiction – beginning with George A. Romero’s 1968 film Night of the Living Dead and spinning out from there – owes something to I Am Legend. As of this writing, Matheson’s book has itself been (officially) adapted for the screen three times: 1964’s The Last Man On Earth starring Vincent Price, The Omega Man from 1971 with Charlton Heston, and Will Smith’s 2007 film I Am Legend. This last one is currently being eyed for a sequel (or is it a prequel, or both?), and there was a time when I would’ve considered a follow-up to a film from more than just a few years after its predecessor an odd idea. Movies like Blade Runner 2049 and especially Top Gun: Maverick pretty much slapped that notion out of my head. Elsewhere, I long ago gave up trying to keep pace with the uncounted homages and flat out rip-offs of the original tale.

As for the book itself, I’ve turned hunting earlier editions of it into an idle passtime. In the early 1990s, Eclipse Comics published a 4-issue adaptation of the novel. I was lucky enough to find those at the time, and I enjoyed the graphic novel’s approach to slyly updating the story for the modern reader while remaining true to the original narrative. Years after Eclipse went under, IDW Publishing in 2003 produced a lavish hardcover edition of the adaptation. I missed it the first time around and after casually spending years hunting for it I finally landed a copy last year.

None of that compares to Matheson’s original novel, which 40+ years after I first read it remains one of my all-time favorite stories. I lost count ages ago how often I might pull it from the shelf, if not to reread it outright (it’s a short book) then simply to revisit favorite scenes and passages. When the 2007 film came along, a new audiobook edition of the novel was released, allowing me to enjoy the book in a whole new way.

I can quote passages from memory. Whenever I find myself driving around on an overcast day, I almost always consider the novel’s opening lines quoted above. I can’t drive past “Cimmaron Street” in my neighborhood without recalling that’s the street on which Robert Neville lived in the novel. Indeed, it was also the street on which Matheson lived while writing the book.

As I’m sure is the case with many other writers, the story itself along with Matheson’s superb crafting of such a memorable tale has influenced my own writing here and there. It’s just one of those titles that sticks with you, and I’m absolutely certain I’ve never assembled any sort of “Favorite Books” list that didn’t include it. For me, it’s most definitely one of “those books.”

When my oldest kid started taking an interest in reading supernatural horror and vampire stories in particular, I introduced them to Matheson and I Am Legend. They devoured the book in one sitting and immediately asked to read more by “this guy.”

#DadWin

Happy 68th Anniversary, I Am Legend.

Happy 35th Anniversary, RoboCop!

Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.”

robocop-poster

Take one police officer in the wrong place at the wrong time. Add a host of state-of-the art cybernetic and computerized implants, all provided by a soulless, greedy corporation looking to “modernize” an overworked,  undermanned police force while making a tidy profit for themselves as they design a “city of the future.” Give the resulting creation one gigantic mother-fucking hand cannon, and the keys to a police cruiser. What do you get?

Released on this date in 1987, RoboCop is filmmaker Paul Verheoven’s dark, violent, often satirical, occasionally funny and in far too many ways very prescient action-crime thriller doused with a liberal helping of science fiction.

The plot is pretty simple: Detroit police officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is mortally wounded while attempting with his partner to apprehend a gang of nasty bad guys with absolutely no qualms about torturing and killing a cop just for something to do. Declared dead but also still the “property” of Omni Consumer Products, the private corporation that has taken over the Detroit Police Department, Murphy — what remains of him following the shootout with the bad guys — is used as the “organism” part of a “cybernetic organism” project dreamed up by opportunistic junior executive/first-class douche canoe Bob Morton (played by the late, great Miguel Ferrer). Morton’s dream project, “RoboCop,” is intended to give OCP a cheaper, more reliable alternative to the law enforcement droids championed by senior exec Dick Jones (Ronny Cox).

Murphy is to be the prototype. All memories of his past life  are (supposedly) erased, and everything but his brain, face, heart, and other vital organs is replaced by cybernetic technology, turning him into a walking, talking armored tank with the ability to tie directly to any computer database and receive instructions the way you might program your own home computer. He’s also got a pistol the size of a damned baseball bat, that shoots like a Gatling gun and is stored inside his cybernetic leg. In short order, the new cyborg is given to the Detroit Police Department and he takes to the streets, and it doesn’t take RoboCop to strike fear into the hearts of evildoers everywhere and become the hero of a city beleaguered by crime. Everybody’s happy: citizens, the police force, and OCP.

Everything’s awesome until he runs into one of the bad guys who “killed” him, and his memories start to come back.

Then, shit gets real.

Thirty-five years after its initial release, RoboCop is still one of the absolute best science fiction films to come out of the 1980s. Though things like technology are of course dated by today’s standards, it’s the story — including peeks at the future of news and “infotainment” programming, the relentless quest for corporate profits at the expense of everything else including the people who provide those profits,  the bitter view of the military industrial complex — that still holds up. In typical 1980s/1990s Verheoven style, the humor here is dark…I mean, dark, yo.

Peter Weller is perfect as Alex Murphy and his cybernetic alter ego, struggling to hang onto those few vestiges of humanity that haven’t (yet?) been stripped from him. Nancy Allen is criminally underused as Murphy’s partner, Anne Lewis, and Ronny Cox and Miguel Ferrer are ruthless as the OCP execs who want to cash in at any cost. But it’s Kurtwood Smith who steals every single damned scene he’s in, playing evil-as-fuck Clarence Boddicker with unrestrained relish. It’s Boddicker who leads the murder of Alex Murphy, including taking the kill shot, and once Murphy realizes who and what he is and how he got here, you just know these two are going to clash like Godzilla and King Kong. For my money, Smith’s portrayal cemented Boddicker as one of the all-time great screen villains.

boddicker-grenade

The idea of marrying mechanical implants to a living being was already the stuff of SF film and literature well before RoboCop, of course. One of the more recent and popular manifestations of this trope had come along 15 or so years earlier, and also featured an unwitting test subject chosen by chance or fate to be “augmented” by cybernetic technology: Steve Austin, The Six Million Dollar Man. Several themes hinted at or explored in RoboCop, particularly with respect to Murphy being a “tool of the state” and wondering if he can retain any of his humanity — if he is in fact more than the sum of his parts — are also found in early episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man as well as the novel on which that series is based, 1972’s Cyborg by Martin Caidin.

RoboCop was a critical and commercial success, spawning two feature film sequels as well as a TV series, a TV mini-series, and (incredibly enough) not one but two animated series…precisely none of which are anywhere as good as the first movie. It’s also been successful in the merchandising arena, including toys and videogames as well as a run of comic stories from two different publishers. As I write this, a new videogame, RoboCop: Rogue City is in development with a scheduled release of June 2023 and featuring the Peter Weller’s likeness and voice. Click that link to check out a trailer. Elsewhere, rumors continue to fly about RoboCop Returns, a supposed sequel to the original film which would ignore the events of previous sequels and television series. Whether Weller returns to the role is undetermined, at least for the moment.

2014 brought with it an inevitable remake, which isn’t quite as bad as some people would have you believe while still coming nowhere close to holding a candle to the original. I recommend watching it at least once so you can see what they were trying to do, and how they brought some interesting twists while still (at times, anyway) somehow managing to completely miss what makes the original the enduring classic it is.

But, then you should definitely go back and watch this one, because Hell. Yeah. As Clarence Boddicker might say, this flick is “state of the art bang-bang.”

Happy 35th Anniversary, Full Metal Jacket!

If you ladies leave my island…if you survive recruit training…then you will be a weapon. You will be a Minister of Death, praying for war. But until that day, you are pukes. You are the lowest form of life on Earth. You are not even human-fucking-beings! You are nothing but unorganized grab-asstic pieces of amphibian shit!

Those were the days, eh?

FullMetalJacket

Holy dog shit, Private Joker! It’s been 35 years since the debut of Stanley Kubrick’s war epic, which received its wide US-based theatrical release on this date in 1987 following a premiere in Los Angeles and a Canadian and limited US release in late June. Based on The Short-Timers, a 1979 semi-autobiographical novel written by former Marine and Vietnam veteran Gustav Hasford, Full Metal Jacket chronicles the journey of young James Davis (later to be known as “Joker”) from Marine Corps recruit training in 1967 to his eventual posting to Vietnam. Before he can graduate boot camp, however, he has to get past hard-assed drill instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. Following training and stationed in Vietnam as a combat correspondent for the Stars & Stripes newspaper, Joker comes face to face with the horrors of war as he endures the Tet Offensive, including the tumultuous, costly battle for Hue City in January 1968.

(Hasford would later pen a sequel to The Short-Timers, 1990’s The Phantom Blooper, which continued to chronicle Joker’s experiences in Vietnam. It was the second book in a planned trilogy, but Hasford died before that ever came to fruition.)

ermey

Many people’s knowledge of Full Metal Jacket comes from the oft-repeated and parodied quotes from Gunnny Hartman, played to complete, bang-on perfection by R. Lee Ermey. Originally hired by Kubrick to be the film’s military technical advisor, Ermey, himself a Vietnam vet and former Marine drill instructor, convinced the director to hire him for the pivotal role of Hartman. His experience as a “Hat” allowed him to craft page after page of pitch-perfect dialogue, and his performance lends an authenticity to the boot camp scenes comprising the film’s first half which–for my money, anyway–have yet to be surpassed.

The film’s opening scene, with Hartman “introducing himself” to the platoon of terrified recruits, is an unrivaled classic, and Ermey walks away with every scene he’s in. Even Ermey himself has parodied this role in other projects, such as commercials and when he portrayed “Sergeant Major Bougus,” an instructor for the United States Marine Corps Space Aviator Cavalry in the short-lived science fiction TV series Space: Above and Beyond.

Hartman and Matthew Modine (as Joker) are joined by a stellar cast, including Vincent D’Onofrio as the troubled “Private Pyle,” Adam Baldwin, Ed O’Ross, John Terry, Dorian Harewood, Arliss Howard as “Cowboy” and Kevyn Major Howard as Joker’s Vietnam travel companion, “Rafterman.”

“He’s silly and he’s ignorant, but he’s got guts and guts is enough.”

Whereas the original novel unfolds over three distinct sections–one each for boot camp, the Tet Offensive and a later mission to Khe Sanh–Kubrick, working alongside writer Michael Herr (with input from Hasford, for which he received joint screenplay credit…and is apparently a story all its own), compresses and reworks events from the book’s latter two sections to create the film’s second half. In contrast, the “boot camp half” of the movie is expanded from what is the novel’s shortest section. There are changes to several character names, and Hartman’s role (“Gerheim” in the book) also is given more attention, likely owing to Ermey’s presence and performance.

The movie has always received mixed to positive reviews, with many praising the boot camp portion while taking issue with the Vietnam half. Personally, I’ve come to appreciate the tonal shift between the two halves while acknowledging the common thread they share: dehumanization of one’s self and one’s enemy in order to conduct the nasty business of war.

Full Metal Jacket is a powerful, visceral film, easily one of the best war movies ever made. It’s not “pro” or “anti” war, though elements of both can be found. At the end of it all, it’s just “about” war…the cold, brutal, shitty reality of war, and how it transforms — on any number of levels — those called upon to wage it.

“Is that you, John Wayne? Is this me?”

Happy 123rd Birthday, Indiana Jones!

Today marks the birth date of Dr. Henry Walton Jones, Jr., famed archaeologist and obtainer of rare antiquities, renowned professor, traveled adventurer, and all around nice guy.

If ever you need an historical artifact or object of the occult located and liberated from uptight French rivals, scheming Nazis or commie graverobbers, he’s your man.

If you’re starving in some backwater village and worried about some ancient voodoo rocks rather than finding a decent sandwich shop, this is the dude you call.

If you’ve got alien bodies that need studying before they’re whisked away to secret military warehouses, he’s good at that, too.

If you want someone to show you the folly of bringing a sword to a gunfight, he’s got it covered.

Indiana Jones: July 1, 1899 – ???

Smart, tough, resourceful, and ruggedly handsome. There are so few of us.

Were he still alive today, he’d be 123 years old.

On the other hand, he did drink from the Holy FREAKIN’ Grail. Maybe he really is still out there, crackin’ his whip and chasin’ after fortune and glory. Hmmmmmmm?

IndianaJones-1992
Indiana Jones, circa 1992

You just never know about these things. So, just in case…Happy 1234d Birthday, Dr. Jones!

Happy 50th Anniversary, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes!

“Where there is fire, there is smoke. And in that smoke, from this day forward, my people will crouch, and conspire, and plot, and plan for the inevitable day of Man’s downfall.

The day when he finally and self-destructively turns his weapons against his own kind.

The day of the writing in the sky, when your cities lie buried under radioactive rubble! When the sea is a dead sea, and the land is a wasteland out of which I will lead my people from their captivity!

And we shall build our own cities, in which there will be no place for humans except to serve our ends! And we shall found our own armies, our own religion, our own dynasty! And that day is upon you NOW!”

Sorry, humans. I guess that’s your ass.

In the “far off future” of 1991, people now live in what looks to be an oppresssive, militaristic society. Law enforcement (dressed in the finest stormtrooper fashions) is visible on every street corner, and endless directives and warnings are issued from faceless announcers as the civilian populace goes about its daily affairs.

What’s missing? Cats and dogs, all of which have died off as the result of a mysterious disease brought back from a space probe. This little bit of misfortune, of course, was foretold by chimpanzees Cornelius and Zira in the previous film, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, though it’s happened far more quickly than they indicated. So too has mankind’s desire to replace their little lost subservient quadrupeds, and they’ve turned to domesticating primates. By 1991, simians are a subclass; a slave race. However, is the collective intelligence of the apes on the rise?

Could be.

So, what happens? Add one intelligent, speaking chimpanzee to the mix–himself the offspring of Cornelius and Zira–to stir up some shit. Before you know it, the apes are pissed and they’re not gonna take it anymore, and so that’s humanity’s ass. Cue revolt.

Whoops.

Released on this date in 1972 after a Los Angeles premiere on June 14th and another in New York on June 29th, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes brings almost full circle the story begun in 1968’s Planet of the Apes. This third sequel to that classic film shows–at least to some degree–what’s promised in its title and tagline. As for Conquest being “the most awesome spectacle in the annals of science fiction,” I think we all can agree this was a bit of overreach from the marketing folks (and, we all know that honor goes to Barbarella, right?).

By the time production kicked into gear on this, the fourth of the Apes films, the cycle of diminishing returns was firmly in place. With each successive movie earning less at the box office, budgets for the next one were reduced accordingly. Therefore, director J. Lee Thompson faced the challenge of convincingly depicting what turns out to be the genesis of the ape uprising hinted at in the previous film, the longterm effects of which are–of course–apparent in the first movie. And, he had to do it on a budget which probably wouldn’t cover the catering bill on a Michael Bay shoot. This was prequel-izing before prequel-izing was rampant, yo!

The first half of the film isn’t the most exciting cinema you’ll ever see, but there’s a deliberate “tightening of the screws” going on as we see Caesar coming to terms with the role of apes in modern society, and deciding he ain’t playing that game. Once he learns of the death of his friend, Armando (Montalban) at the hands of government officials, watching him slowly yet firmly begin to push the apes around him toward dissent is, oddly enough, satisfying.

A larger budget might’ve allowed for more expansive scenes of turmoil once the apes lose their shit and start tearing up the joint. Still, considering what he was working with, director Thompson does a decent enough job injecting energy and tension into the scenes of ape rebellion which carry the film’s final act. Tight camera angles and deft editing manage–for the most part–to mask the production’s sparse budget, while strong performances from Ricardo Montalban, Don Murray, Severn Darden, Hari Rhodes, and Natalie Trundy (as the chimpanzee Lisa, her third different role in three consecutive Apes outings) help to elevate the material a notch or two above the previous two sequels.

But, again, it’s Roddy McDowall who carries the film on his stooping shoulders. Starting out as a supporting role in the original Planet of the Apes before moving to top billing in Escape (another actor, David Watson, portrayed Cornelius in the first sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes), he dons the ape makeup here for a third time, but for the first time as “Caesar,” the son of Cornelius. As usual, McDowall brings a warmth and–dare we say it–“humanity” to the role, which is sort of important now, as by this point in the series we’re all firmly rooting for the apes to kick humanity right in its collective taint. He would reprise the role of Caesar in the fifth and final of the original films, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, before going on to play yet another chimpanzee, Galen, in the 1974 live-action Planet of the Apes television series.

Moving past the original Planet of the Apes, which (so far as I’m concerned) stands apart from everything which came after it, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is actually my favorite of the Apes sequels. Like a lot of folks, I’ve always wanted to see what comes next. Obviously, we know what ultimately happens, but that still leaves plenty of room for a whole assload of stories set between the events of this film and the next one. Some of that territory has been explored, mostly in comics published by three different companies in sporadic fashion over the past 40-odd years.

And, lest we forget, it’s Conquest that provided much inspiration for the “reboot” Apes films: 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the ApesDawn of the Planet of the Apes from 2014, and 2017’s War for the Planet of the Apes. Indeed, you can also see more than a bit of Battle DNA in the latter two films.

Not a bad bit of legacy-leaving, if you ask me.

Happy 50th, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.

Happy 40th Anniversary, Blade Runner *AND* The Thing!

That’s right, movie fans! It’s a double dose of Geek Movie Milestone Goodness!

1982 is arguably one of the best summers ever so far as awesome movie releases goes, and two reasons for that are right here. 40 years ago today, a pair of iconic entries in science fiction film debuted on the silver screen, each going a long way toward redefining the genre in their own ways….

bladerunner-thing-posters

Blade Runner — adapted in rather liberal form from Philip K. Dick’s seminal novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? — influenced…what…the look of every other near and/or dystopian SF film since then? Yeah, pretty much. Ridley Scott, having already dabbled a bit in the genre with that little flick you might know, Alien, brought Harrison Ford out from under the shadow of the Millenium Falcon and Indiana Jones’ fedora long enough to have him play what would become yet another iconic role: Rick Deckard, the “blade runner” charged with finding and neutralizing renegade androids (“replicants”) in 2019 Los Angeles. The film’s production design as envisioned by legendary futurist Syd Mead established a benchmark which has yet to be surpassed, for whatever the hell my opinion’s worth. The movie was not an easy sell to American audiences, but has gone on to take its rightful place as a true classic.

Meanwhile, John Carpenter’s The Thing — less a remake of 1951’s The Thing from Another World than a new adaptation of John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella Who Goes There? — helped remind audiences that the SF film realm could definitely be one which could scare the shit out of us if it was done correctly. It was a welcome respite from the scads of Alien knock-offs to which we’d been subjected by that point.

I didn’t see Blade Runner during its original theatrical run, because at the time it didn’t really grab me. As for The Thing, my friends and I eventually managed to slide past the ushers looking to keep underage delinquents from sneaking into those auditoriums (Damn, those “R” ratings.), so we were able to watch it in all its big-screen gory goodness. I eventually caught Blade Runner on home video (VHS!) later, and fell in love with it on the spot. It’s a smart, layered film, in which you can always find something new to appreciate.

(Of course, the 57 different versions of the movie which have been released over the years help with that.)

As for The Thing, it was and remains a tight little monster movie. The 2011 prequel did little for me, besides demonstrating that Carpenter’s movie can hold its own without such skirt-hanging claptrap. That doesn’t mean we won’t see some form of sequel or reboot in the not too distant future.

Elsewhere, the world of Blade Runner has been revisited in prose, in the form of a trio of novels penned by science fiction author K.W. Jeter and comics laying out the past and future events spinning out from the original film. In October 2017 during the movie’s 35th anniversary year, Blade Runner 2049 hit movie screens, starring Ryan Gosling and featuring Harrison Ford as Deckard. It did what good sequels are supposed to do: scratching the familiar itch with moderation while expanding and deepening the world established by its predecessor(s). There was a time when the very idea of a Blade Runner sequel seemed impossible if not insane to me, but 2049 took little time to rise to the top tier of my all-time favorite films.

Meanwhile, there there’s Blade Runner and The Thing, representing 1982 cinema like the boss movies they are. You could do worse on this Saturday than to spin up this double bill.

Happy 55th Anniversary to The Dirty Dozen!

You will select twelve general prisoners convicted and sentenced to death or long terms of imprisonment for murder, rape, robbery, and/or other crimes of violence and so forth, and train and qualify these prisoners in as much of the business of behind-the-lines operations as they can absorb for a brief but unspecified time. You will then deliver them secretly into the European mainland and, just prior to the invasion, attack and destroy the target specified.

Major John Reisman just got dealt a shit sandwich, eh?

C’mon. Everybody knows this movie, right? It’s 1944: Lee Marvin is Reisman, tasked by his C.O. (Ernest Borgnine) to recruit a dozen ne’er do wells and train them up for a top secret insertion behind enemy lines on the eve of the D-Day invasion. What’s the target? A French chateau known to be a hot gathering spot for high-ranking German officers and their “companions.” The mission? Blow the fuck out of that place, kill every German big-wig they can find, and get out of Dodge.

Simple, right?

Major John Reisman: They’re really not paying him enough for this shit.

Endlessly imitated or just flat-out ripped off, The Dirty Dozen remains one of the most popular war films of all time. It’s based on the 1965 novel of the same name written by E.M. Nathanson (who would write a sequel, A Dirty Distant War, two decades later), and retains most of the book’s plot. The storyline is pretty simple, moving along from the selection of the prisoners to their training and the eventual parachute drop into France in mostly straightforward fashion.

The training period provides the backdrop for much of the film’s humor, from the construction of their camp to the learning of the various skills they must master before being sent into action. There’s a diversion to a parachute training base commanded by an adversary of Reisman’s that’s mined for laughs, and which also sets into motion the sequence of events whereby Reisman is able to convince a skeptical leadership that his “dirty dozen” can hold their own even against spit-and-polish troops.

“Boy, do I love that Franko.”

Most of the characters from the novel are there, as well, though a few are changed or tweaked in order to give the cast of convicts “flavor.” Filling out the ranks of the criminals Reisman selects for his team are such notable faces as Charles Bronson, Robert Ryan, Jim Brown, Donald Sutherland, Telly Savalas, Clint Walker and, of course, John Cassavetes as Franko (or, Number 11, if you prefer). Along with Borgnine, George Kennedy and Richard Jaekel also provide memorable supporting performances, but even with all this star power, it’s Lee Marvin as the non-conformist Reisman who helps bring the whole thing together.

But, does the mission succeed? Well, watch the flick, dagnabbit. Even after all these years, this baby still holds up. For me, I love to double-feature it with one of my other favorites, The Great Escape.

When it was first released, the movie took a lot of heat from reviewers for its on-screen violence. Tame by today’s standards, it was pretty brutal for 1967. There also was some criticism as to the unrealistic nature of taking prisoners and training them for such an important mission. Hey, it’s a movie, right?

In addition to the sequel to the original novel Nathanson wrote in 1987, there also was a made-for-TV movie sequel to the film, The Dirty Dozen: Next Mission, broadcast in 1985 and with Marvin, Borgnine, and Jaekel reprising their roles. As the events of the telefilm–centering on preventing a Nazi plot to kill Hitler–supposedly take place mere months after D-Day, actors who are nearly 20 years older than when we last saw them playing these characters is pretty weird. It’s weak…very weak, when compared to the original, but it’s still better than what would follow.

Borgnine would portray his character in two subsequent TV movies, 1987’s The Dirty Dozen: The Deadly Mission and The Dirty Dozen: The Fatal Mission following in 1988. As if that wasn’t enough, there also was a short-lived TV series inspired by the original film, with Ben Murphy playing a different Army officer given the shaft the assignment to lead “unconventional” soldiers on special missions. The less said about any of the sequels, the better. For all of us. As recently as late 2019, there was chatter about a remake in the works, with director David Ayer (2016’s Suicide Squad) set to take the helm as both writer and director.

(I’m just gonna walk past the easy Dirty Dozen/Suicide Squad comparisons, because Ayer also wrote the scripts for Fury and Training Day, and that immunizes him from any stupid jokes I might make. I’m taking a “wait and see” approach for this one.)

Meanwhile, there’s still the original flick, always watchable. Give it a spin, whydontcha?

Happy 35th Anniversary, Predator!

So, what happens when you’re a special operations unit called in to rescue the crew of a downed helicopter that’s been taken hostage by guerillas in a Central American country you’re not supposed to be in, anyway? Even on a good day, that kind of mission likely would have its share of pitfalls, right?

Toss in an irritable alien hunter from a distant planet who carries an assload of advanced weaponry and other sweet gadgets, including a tactical nuke strapped to its wrist?

Well, now it’s a party.

predator-poster

One of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s numerous contributions to the movie screens of the 1980s, the original Predator arguably is his best macho-flick aside from the first two Terminator films. Released on this date in 1987, Predator made no bones about what it was supposed to be: a stripped-down testosterone-fueled action fest stuffed to the brim with hard-core dudes shooting the hell out of everyone and everything, including that aforementioned irritable alien hunter from a distant planet. Said alien is here for a little safari of sorts, attracted to the heat of the Central American jungle and the promise of an exhilarating pursuit of worthy prey. It’s Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” amp’d up to the max, with maybe even a touch of homage to Kirk and the Gorn for flavor.

The film is directed by John McTiernan, soon to be the man who would provide the action movie genre with what remains its benchmark (that would be the original Die Hard, for those who don’t know…and why don’t you?). McTiernan takes the script from writers Jim and John Thomas and goes delightfully nuts with it. It begins as a standard adventure story with Schwarzenegger as “Dutch Schaefer” and his team of crack soldiers sneaking around behind enemy lines. Why? They’ve been sent into the bush by CIA agent/lying douchebag “Dillon” (played by always-cool Carl Weathers) to find the hostages and get the hell out of town before more guerillas get wise to their shenanigans.

The team takes out the guerilla camp where the last of the helicopter crew has just been executed, and douchebag Dillon plunders all the wonderful intel to be found…too bad/so sad about the hostages, and so on. They also take prisoner a female companion/sympathizer/etc., Anna, who ends up being along pretty much just so she can tell the guys with guns that they’re all about to have their day ruined. That’s when things take an abrupt left turn toward science fiction and horror as Dutch and his men–played by the likes of Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke (who previously worked with Arnie in Commando), Richard Chaves (the War of the Worlds TV series) and Sonny Landham (48 Hrs.)–suddenly find themselves turned from hunters to hunted. One by one, they’re picked off by their enigmatic, invisible enemy until it’s just Dutch and the alien facing off mano-a-whateverthefucko for all the marbles.

Simple, yet satisfying. This movie rocks balls, people.

“This wasn’t in the brochure, guys.”

There’s very little fat on this thing, that’s for sure. It starts getting into gear almost before the damned credits are done rolling, and kicks it up a notch when Arnie and the boys start taking down bad guys left and right. A couple of the stunts during the hammering of the guerillas smack a bit of “We just did this last week on The A-Team,” but they’re forgiven when Jesse Ventura utters what will become one of the all-time great manly-man action flick lines: “I ain’t got time to bleed.”

The Predator itself, designed by make-up and FX genius Stan Winston and portrayed by Kevin Peter Hall, is the first alien-looking alien to come to the silver screen in a while. It looks like the sort of dude who’d skull-fuck E.T. before ripping off his head and shitting down its neck, then tossing a quarter into the open wound for the phone call home. Composer Alan Silvestri, yet to establish himself as a go-to guy for action film scores yet still riding high after his stint on Back to the Future, knocks it out of the park with his music for the film. McTiernan’s direction coupled with lean, mean editing is so effective you almost want to start sweating along with Dutch and the gang as they traverse the thick, humid jungle. Everything about this movie is fine-tuned to the umpteenth degree, barely giving you a chance to catch your breath even during the supposed “quiet” scenes between action segments.

“Aaaaaaaaa-driaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!!!!”

Predator, despite initial mixed reviews–most of those taking it to task for its admittedly thin-as-tissue-paper plot–has managed to acquire a place of stature among the classic action films. It was followed by a serviceable sequel, Predator 2, in 1990, a “better in theory than execution” crossover, Alien vs. Predator in 2004 (which in turn received its own ill-advised horrific followup in 2007), a second all-but pointless sequel, Predators in 2010, and one more for good measure in 2018, The Predator. Elsewhere, Predators of all shapes and sizes have also factored prominently in comics, novels, and games over the years, including more than a few crossovers with the Alien franchise as well as numerous other properties. As I write this, a new film that will serve as a prequel to the entire franchise, Prey, is slated for release on the Hulu streaming service on August 5th.

Maybe Prey will prove me wrong, but until it does, I feel like you’re better off sticking with this–the first and still the best–Predator.

Happy 35th, yo. You’re still one ugly mother fucker, but we love you.