Saturday, January 26, 2008

Return To The Green Inferno

Sylvester Stallone’s RAMBO is the most entertaining, brutal, vicious, nihilistic and savagely bad-ass action film in almost 25 years. You would have to go back to the Italian cinema of the early eighties to find a more exhilarating and primal film than the one Stallone has delivered here.
RAMBO is the absolute opposite to pretty much any other film out right now which is one thing that makes it so incredibly refreshing. It’s a grueling, ugly, rain and mud soaked work that feels more like an authentic Grindhouse film from a few decades ago than any other modern film I could possibly imagine.
Stallone, directing as if he is channeling Ruggero Deodato, thankfully pulls the series out of the macho cheesiness that hampered Parts Two and Three and returns his iconic character to the downtrodden outsider that marked the masterful FIRST BLOOD twenty five years ago. If ROCKY BALBOA was a heartfelt haunting elegiac finale to his key series, then his RAMBO is a angry go for the throat attempt at reclaiming the action genre from the Michael Bay slick hell than it has found itself in the past two decades.
Beginning with some chilling real life news footage of modern day Burma, Stallone’s film centers on a group of Christian missionaries who seek out an American boatman named John Rambo to take them up the river where they can deliver medicine and supplies. After doing so, the missionaries are kidnapped and Rambo returns with a group of mercenaries to rescue them. That’s the plot of this lean and savage film in a nutshell. Like the best of Stallone’s work, the screenplay for RAMBO is a jewel of minimalism and simplicity. Stallone has always been a genius at taking the simplest of stories and transcending them into something unexpected and surprisingly complex, and RAMBO does just that.
RAMBO fits very nicely into the classic Hollywood mold that Stallone has always delighted into playing into. Here we have all of the stock characters of the genre…evil villains, a few key supporting characters and even a damsel in distress surrounding a lone isolated title figure. The genius of Stallone is that he values these standard conventions…he embraces them, and in his best work he finally transcends them.
Stallone’s new film is a triumph on nearly every front. Easily the best of the series since FIRST BLOOD, RAMBO works mostly as a tribute to just how powerful a figure Sylvester Stallone can be. Gone is the slender and musical vision that populated Parts Two and Three and in its place is a brooding beast of a man who casually tosses off lines like, “Fuck the world” and “Live for something or die for nothing” like a practiced mantra that he whispers to himself each morning upon waking up. Stallone’s Rambo is quite unlike any other character in film history…half hero and half horrific killing machine, John Rambo remains a terrifying and yet totally enduring creation.
Stallone's RAMBO might be the most violent film ever released with an R Rating in Hollywood history. It’s the kind of film SAVING PRIVATE RYAN would have been if Steven Spielberg had any real kind of film making balls, which he doesn’t. By the way, if someone like Spielberg’s name was attached to this film exactly as it is, it would be greeted as a revisionist classic by the same critics who are currently trashing Stallone. RAMBO is the kind of film that will invite disdain from the critical establishment, intellectuals and film snobs, but trust me, this film will last much longer than most of the ‘great’ film that will appear throughout the upcoming year.

I mentioned at the outset the Italian films of the early eighties and it is productions CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, THE NEW BARBARIANS and CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE that Stallone is clearly paying tribute to here. Fans of those films would be advised to check out RAMBO as soon as possible even if they have never admired the work of Sylvester Stallone. Even more than the works of more celebrated genre enthusiasts like Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, Sylvester Stallone hits on an authentically brilliant and grimy feel with RAMBO that is incredibly seductive and hard to shake. With its many be-headings, severed limbs, stakings and stabbings, the carnage in RAMBO achieves an almost surreal and dizzying quality that is rarely seen in even the harshest of American or World cinema.
The difference between RAMBO and the Italian pictures that preceded it is a marked one though. Whereas Deodato had his cannibals, and Fulci had his zombies, Stallone has Stallone. Sylvester Stallone is his own greatest creation and as he did with ROCKY BALBOA, he return his second greatest character to an absolute grace with RAMBO.
I suppose it's not a perfect film and I am sure re-viewings will make its problems clearer but for now I just want to bask in the excitement of it. As the late Jerry Goldsmith's theme kicked in yesterday and RAMBO came to a close, I felt a real satisfaction that I rarely feel anymore in a theater. RAMBO will be a punching bag for critics and many film goers but I highly doubt I will enjoy or be more enthralled by another American film this year.


Steve Langton said...

Well, you sold it to me. Stallone's work has attracted acres of criticism (sometines justified, mostly unfair) but any new film featuring his talents has got to be checked out.This one sounds like a real treat.

Rogue Spy 007 said...

Your review definitely made me more pumped up to see this movie. I had been wanting to see it anyway. I was a fan of all 3 of the other ones, but I did think 2 and 3 got away from the original view of the character. I'm glad to see that this one is more on mark. It's also nice to see a dirty, bloody, and violent action film. I'm tired of all these slick Michael Bay action flicks that we've gotten stuck with over the last couple of days. Stallone and guys like him would make the guys in action movies today cry like babies. I was a big fan of the new Rocky, so I'm interested to see what Sly does to Rambo. Thanks for the review. I'm glad to see someone not just criticize this film because it's Stallone. Have a great weekend.

Brandon Colvin said...

My review of "Rambo" should be appearing on Out 1 soon. I must say that I love it as much as you did, maybe even more!

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Steve,
Stallone gets a raw deal in my book. He's easily one of teh smartest and talented people working in Hollywood and has been for the past thirty years...hope you enjoy the film.

Thanks Keith,
I really think you will dig the film. We have lots of similiar tastes and I think this monster will be right up your alley...enjoy.

Thanks Brandon,
Super psyched to read you review. I really can't wait...

Thanks again...

Craig Zablo said...

Well said Jeremy!

Jeffrey Allen Rydell said...

"It’s the kind of film SAVING PRIVATE RYAN would have been if Steven Spielberg had any real kind of film making balls, which he doesn’t."

Ya lost me.

My feelings about Spielberg are... complex, but dismissals like the above don't begin to speak to them.

- Jeffrey Allen Rydell

Jeffrey Allen Rydell said...

By which of course I don't mean to suggest that this is the 'Make Jeff Happy Sunshine Blog". Ahem.

Carry on.

- Jeffrey Allen Rydell

Jeremy Richey said...

Hey Zablo,
Thanks so much for the mention on Stallone Zone! It's one of my favorite stops and I am honored...

Hey Jeffrey,
Thanks for stopping by...always good to get comments from you. My feelings towards Spielberg are pretty complex too as I actually like a number of his films.

His "important' films almost always rub me the wrong way with SAVING PRIVATE RYAN being the one that bothers me the most.
It was probably too flippant of me to write that but I have always thought of him as one of the ultimate examples of a 'ball-less' filmmaker. By which I mean that I never get the sense that he really follows through in his films (I can't tell you how many times I have felt deflated by his endings) and I feel a lack of conviction in almost all of his work. I just don't believe the guy...
Now I realize that most would completely disagree with me but that is just what I have almost always gotten from his films...SAVING PRIVATE RYAN was kind of the ultimate example of it to me but it isn't a film I have ever revisited so who knows maybe my thoughts on it now would be different now. The distaste it left in my mouth when I saw it opening night still lingers.

Either way, not trying to ruffle any feathers and I know my above thoughts on Spielberg are scattershot and I am not offering much to back them up. Perhaps someday I will write out a well thought post on his work...and perhaps even pay tribute to some of his films I do admire...I typically try not to make callous remarks towards people's work here so I am actually glad you called me on that line...thanks again for stopping by and I have been enjoying your reading your comments on RAMBO at Mobius and I think DVD Maniacs?
Love the Gould pic by the way...

Rambofan said...

I have seen it 3 times already and it kicks ass!!! If you haven't noticed, most of the bad reviews are from liberal critics.They want Rambo to sit down and talk with these sick evil bastards, not sink an arrow through their throats. I hope our real heroes in Iraq and Afganistan get to see this film.

Neil Fulwood said...

If I hadn't been sneakily reading this review at the office I'd have stood up and made with a round of applause. "The kind of film 'Saving Private Ryan' would have been if Steven Spielberg had any kind of film-making balls, which he doesn't." You have just summed up, in one wonderfully quotable sentence, my exact feelings about Spielberg. An over-rated, self-important director who was at his best helming suspense thrillers ('Duel', 'Jaws') but whose films have developed into turgid, bloated affairs shot through with emotional manipulation.

I completely agree with you about the sense of 'deflation' when the genius first half hour of 'Ryan' deteriorates into a contrived and by-the-numbers slog through a checklist of war movie tropes.

Looking forward to 'Rambo', though. It sounds like the kind of straight down the line, unapologetic action movie that modern cinema is crying out for.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Neil,
This..."but whose films have developed into turgid, bloated affairs shot through with emotional manipulation."
"I completely agree with you about the sense of 'deflation' when the genius first half hour of 'Ryan' deteriorates into a contrived and by-the-numbers slog through a checklist of war movie tropes."...

pretty much sum it up for me. I appreciated reading this...thanks for stopping by and commenting. Hope you enjoy RAMBO.

Thanks RamboFan,
Glad you enjoyed the film as well. I am going to see it again soon.
I have always liked that the character seems apolitical to me. This guy walks alone so I don't let the politics that a critic might bring to it bother me. I hope critics aren't judging it that way from either side...
I actually don't agree with many of Sly's politics but I love the guy and his films. I appreciate that I don't feel like he is forcing any political views down my throat unlike a lot of filmmakers would (liberal and conservative).
I hate even bringing up politics here...back to the film.
Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Jeffrey Allen Rydell said...


Thanks as always for the warm welcome - sorry if I came across as chiding.

I happen to agree with the areas of contention people usually have with Spielberg (trouble with endings, imposition of world-view sometimes derailing the story he's there to tell), but seldom sense a lack of conviction in his choices. Just the opposite, in fact. I think he's gone through a very strange, compulsive period of begging for approval from audiences that I recently see indications that he's emerging from.

Now to me, that compulsion is in and of itself fascinating, and marks him as a filmmaker who can't help but put a personal stamp on his films. I find that of value in the overall - it fits what we know of his upbringing, and it's chartable over the course of his career.

For my money, that marks him as an auteur - regardless of how it sometimes negatively impacts the apparent goals of a story he's elected to tell (RYAN is a perfect example of his taking a film off the rails).

But no balls? I don't know of a director more effective at visually implying violence than Spielberg. I'd submit that it's no lack, but instead a profound discomfort with his own potency as a visceral filmmaker - he's constantly apologizing for the effectiveness of his image-making - trying to 'take it back' and restore a status quo. His panic is palpable to me, and his recent, cathartic integration of the impulse into the very fabric of MUNICH galvanic. And extremely encouraging.

I hope you will take Spielberg on directly one of these days - I guarantee a lively back-and-forth from me if you're game.


Jeremy Richey said...

Excellent read Jeffrey. Thanks for leaving such well considered and thought out comments.
I really do need to do some sort of post on one of his films eventually. I will be curious to hear your thoughts on it.
Thanks again for the very clear headed comments.

Neil Fulwood said...

Thanks to the delay in the latest American releases fetching up in UK cinemas, I've only just seen 'Rambo'

I have to say, Jeremy, everything you wrote about it (and everything Brandon said on Out 1) is on the money.

Hyper-kinetic, brutally realistic, unflinching, nihilistic - it's an angry snarling movie that sinks its teeth into you and doesn't let up for the whole of its running time. 'Rambo' is one of the most intense and draining cinema-going experiences I've had in ages.

Thanks for the recommendation.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Neil,
Glad to hear you got to see it and you admired it as well...I think a lot of people are going to be kicking themselves for not seeing this at theaters when this monster hits DVD this summer.