Thursday, August 27, 2009

Going Commando: Action films of the 1980's

All of this nostalgia recently for a certain decade has made me look back, too...I had my formative years in the 1980's as a teen. Without going into detail, they were the best and worst of times for me...the worst took the gain over the best, unfortunately, for a myriad of reasons. Anyway, at times watching movies could be a truly welcome respite. In fact, it was because of my love for movies as much as my love for truly good books like Stephen King's that made me want to be a writer, too.

Without a doubt, like the 1930's, the 1980's were a major decade for movies. Take the formation of teen comedies like "Sixteen Candles" that I described before, thanks to John Hughes...the crystallization of the 'bigger and better blockbuster' usually tailor-made for the summer months, thanks mainly to Steven Spielberg ("Raiders of the Lost Ark", made ironically on a relatively low budget) and Geoge Lucas (the "Star Wars" sequels)...and the popularity of horror films, especially slasher flicks like "Friday the 13th" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street" that pulled viewers in to see one creative screen death after the other. The profit motive, which I won't condemn in regards to the film industry -- but I will condemn the nearly mercenary drive for profit in certain other arenas, mainly health care -- took a naked, unbridled prominence over creative expression. But then, it would only take someone really dumb to honestly think that those in Hollywood don't care about making money.

But there was a uniqueness to the 80's for another that decade, there was nothing bigger or better than the action movie.

The decade and its films can be better described, and with more wit, at this little site I know called Ruthless Reviews. (I have no problem plugging them here, even though their political rhetoric can get exhaustingly dumb, just like CNN and Rush Limbaugh. I hate politics, as I've said before, and I refuse to make them core to my existence and worldview.) Team Ruthless has even devoted an entire section to action films from the 1980's, and homosexual undercurrents aside, their reviews are spot-on as hell. Check out their Guide here...

Around the middle of the decade, almost in parallel to the formation of the Girls With Guns sub-genre of Hong Kong action films, something funny happened and I was lucky to be there. A certain breed of films started to explode across the screen, and they could be traced back to three sources. The first was the 1974 cult classic "Death Wish", the seminal revenge film in which Charles Bronson goes hunting -- literally -- for the scum of society. The second source was "Conan the Barbarian" from 1981, which catapulted Arnold Schwarzenegger to fame.

The third source was John Rambo.

1982's "First Blood" established the blueprint for the action films of the decade that followed thanks to Sylvester Stallone (who co-wrote the film), director Ted Kotcheff, and its source material, a novel written by David Morrell. In a nugget, Stallone starred as John Rambo, a troubled, world-weary Vietnam Vet who drifts across the American countryside without direction until he's confronted by a small-town sheriff (Brian Dennehy) who gives Rambo problems just because he's an outsider...ultimately, Rambo is arrested for nothing, and after mistreatment from one of the sheriff's deputies, Rambo suffers a flashback and loses it. Rambo escapes, thinking the 'enemy' law enforcement officers no different from the Vietnamese he fought years before, and war is declared. You'd think that even a small-town sheriff would know better than to fuck with someone trained to kill people for his country, especially someone trained to kill with psychological problems...but that's life.

"First Blood" became very popular, and set the stage for action films to follow not long afterward. It's telling that Sylvester Stallone said that his greatest influence was the legendary John Wayne, who now and forever is the symbol of the Western genre of films. The Duke also influenced Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the current Governor of California and Stallone became the undeniable standard-bearers of the action films of the 1980's. 1984 was when the ball really started rolling, with "The Terminator" and "Missing in Action", and that ball turned into a politically incorrect train rolling full steam ahead one year later.

"The Terminator" aside, action films of the 80's could be boiled down to one thing that drove their action: revenge. Revenge was core to the three sources of 80's action, as well...Bronson's Paul Kersey wanted revenge for his family; so did Conan; and Rambo wanted revenge on the entire damn TOWN he saw as enemy territory. Sometimes the concept of unfinished business rivaled revenge, like the real issue of whether or not there were still American prisoners of war in Vietnam at the time. More often, though, real rising crime rates and the frustration that law-abiding citizens felt became fuel to such movies.

These films were essentially moving comic books, pure visceral entertainment that sometimes had substance, but any substance was there alongside revenge to drive the action. The basic blueprint was that the hero would be wronged in some elemental way, and then he'd spend the rest of the film killing his often numerically-superior enemies...the one-against-many scenario. Knowledge of heavy-caliber weapons were a must for the hero, naturally, along with a love for the good old U.S.A. (Guns were to the 80's action hero what superpowers were to comic book heroes...a lot could be written about that.) An exception to the gun rule was Jean-Claude Van Damme, who let his feet do the talking in martial arts films like "Bloodsport"...he became the 80's equivalent to Bruce Lee. The inherent patriotism in most of these movies sometimes lapsed into jingoism, though, as in "America is better than ANYBODY!" I love my country, but I dislike arrogance as much as I do politics. At their best, these films were celluloid crack for those looking for entertainment, big and loud their worst, they had the capability to kill a viewer's brain cells from dumbness. The worst were often from Cannon Films, which gave us flicks from the aforementioned "Missing in Action" to "Invasion USA" to a lousy David Carradine effort (R.I.P., seriously), "P.O.W.: The Escape". Yes, I saw that one, unfortunately. Cannon ceased to be in the early 1990's, most likely because they spent too much money on "American Ninja" sequels. By the way, what started that trend in Ninja movies?

The 80's action film blueprint still rears its head in Hollywood, but not as often as it used to in that decade. The most notable recent example came from Sylvester Stallone and his triumphant comeback in "Rambo" in 2008, where he basically decimates a damn army to rescue some Christian missionaries. Yes, you read that right. John Rambo killed people for MISSIONARIES! Thankfully, it's better than it may be one of the bloodiest films ever, but go see it anyway!

Want to shut off your brain and just have a good, exciting time? Even enjoy some 'rah-rah!' patriotism, which you don't even have to be American to get infected by? I recommend three movies I know and love from the 80's action heyday for anyone to see, all of which also score high with Ruthless Reviews. All three of these films coincidentally come from the year 1985. And if you're politically correct, you'll hate 'em.

First is "Bloodsport", wherein Jean-Claude Van Damme might just have the true grit to be the first Westerner (meaning American) to win a secretive annual martial arts competition in Hong Kong. Then there is the Arnold Schwarzenegger epic "Commando", where he must go to war with an island full of mercenaries to save his daughter (Alyssa Milano, who I've had a crush on since she grew up) from a would-be South American despot played by Dan Hedaya. But as exciting as Jean-Claude was, as high as Arnold's bodycount was, the guiltiest pleasure you'll have of this decade and maybe any other is from "Death Wish 3".

Forget "The Magnificent Seven" and even the original "Death Wish"..."Death Wish 3" unofficially sealed Charles Bronson's immortality as an American icon in films. The only reason it's unofficial is because it's obvious not enough people have seen this film. Paul Kersey's war against crime is turned literal here, as he and the film earn a death per minute rating -- yes, PER MINUTE! -- that is only rivaled by "Commando". There's barely a hint of a story and revenge is the only thing that matters as Bronson's conflict with a street gang big enough to start their own country escalates until there's chaos in the New York City streets unlike anything ever seen in cinema. And Charles Bronson is there marching through those streets with a big-bore handgun built for shooting big game (I shit you not) with Ed Lauter as a disgruntled cop by his side. Dumb? Of course! Shallow? Yep! Violent? Duh. But this movie is still undeniable fun, and impossible to take seriously even for a second, just like most action films from the 80's.

Besides, the only thing we should take seriously is life outside of movies, right? I'd have to honestly work at crafting a story as low in intelligence as many of the films I just talked about. These movies are as far away, in substance, from a John Wayne Western as you can possibly imagine...yes, The Duke gave us great times, and great stories to go along with them. That's beyond dispute. Strange again he inspired the likes of Schwarzenegger and Stallone, whose best-known and loved films emphasized visceral thrill over substance. Yet for sheer fun designed to take us from any real problems at least for a short time, like Hong Kong Girls With Guns films from that same decade, American action films fit that bill just fine...logic is not necessarily included, but that's okay. Just watch "Commando" at least, and you'll see what I mean!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

More than a few long-overdue words about Geri Ahearn.

Yep, back from a lot of things, life in general among 'em. :/

This is long overdue for one of my truly dear friends here online. I met Geri Ahearn on MySpace while getting the word out about "Hell Knight"...not only is she a fellow author, she's reviews other writers' works. I can't start in enough about how much she was willing to take a chance on a mature-rated book written by a guy she didn't even know. Talk about taking a risk!

Fortunately, I had nothing to worry about with my writing passing muster for Geri. She enjoyed "Hell Knight", and she's been helping me promote it ever since. I've been doing the same for her in return on a regular basis on MySpace, but that ain't enough! Even though I haven't had much of a response even due to Geri's glowing testimonials, I owe her a lot and I want to get the word out about her too, and not just where we met.

So consider yourselves being put on notice here, buckaroos. You want to know more about my fellow writer, book reviewer and all around classy lady? :) Here's two links for you to get to know more about Geri Ahearn and what she go check them out!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Women Warriors, Part Two: MOON LEE

Before I go into the heart of this installment, a quick word about filmmaker James Glickenhaus, the only guy in cinematic history who could make Uwe Boll look like Spielberg. Glickenhaus annoys me...other cinephiles condemn him as a hack. You'd say, "So what, most filmmakers these days aren't exactly equal to the very film they shoot with!" True. I've seen most of his movies, even his signature film, "The Exterminator" from 1980. He could have done so much better, but what really annoyed me was that he botched Jackie Chan's second try at getting into American films, "The Protector" (1985)...the film also featured the American debut of Hong Kong actress Moon Lee. Again, Glickenhaus didn't do well because of slow pacing and the simple fact he refused to play up Jackie Chan's strengths. Instead of Jackie Chan in a kinetic, exciting adventure, we got a crawling yarn with Jackie forced to try to imitate Dirty Harry. "The Protector" flopped in the U.S....and Jackie felt the need to reshoot some scenes to make it better for audiences in Asia.

A gentle challenge to Mister Glickenhaus. I've got degrees in film and video production. Give me, oh, ten million dollars, and I'll bet you I can make a movie just as good -- if not better -- than anything you've ever done, from "The Exterminator" to "Timemaster". If I succeed, we split the profits. If I don't succeed, I'll clean your exotic cars.

That same challenge goes to Uwe Boll, by the way.

Now, back to my newest installment of Women Warriors. (Finally!) I focus now on the lady who helped Yukari Oshima start the surge of Girls With Guns films in Hong Kong cinema, Moon Lee.

Moon, classically trained in dance, got her start in television and quickly gravitated to a higher profile in movies. She was undeniably talented, amazingly cute, and yet there was nothing really remarkable about her roles for a while. Moon left an undeniably positive mark in films like "Zu: Warriors From the Magic Mountain", "Mr. Vampire" and the previously mentioned "The Protector" in the early 1980's. (I've seen those films, so I should know.)

But it was the lack of anything remarkable in those previous roles, maybe, that made Moon decide to co-star with Yukari and another talented lady, Elaine Lui, in 1987's "Angel"...and begin her undeniable reign as a princess, if not THE princess, of the Girls With Guns.

The affect Moon has on a viewer of "Angel" and other action movies she starred in usually goes something like this: "Whoa, she's cute! Cheerleader-cute! Wait, this is an action film, right?" Then the action hits...then MOON hits...the viewer's jaw then drops and one thought comes to mind: "Holy damn, she kicks ass!" Without a doubt she did, Pilgrim, and in almost thirty movies. But she didn't just kick ass, often going toe to toe against or fighting with Yukari Oshima, she could sing, do comedy, and naturally, dance. Try to watch "Nocturnal Demon", a comedy-slasher movie (yes, you read that right!), without at least getting a smile on your face because of Moon being so adorable and funny, even when she's busting heads.

Moon Lee got married and retired from acting in her early thirties(!), and she's been missed by fans ever least I miss her, a lot. The Girls With Guns films had seemed to run their course not long before that, so maybe she felt it was time to move on to better things? But Moon is still amazingly cute...and I don't doubt she can still kick ass with the best of them. :)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

I feel a little older because someone just died.

I've been feeling older since I found out filmmaker John Hughes passed away. Like Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson, I grew up with him and what he brought to moviegoers. And like Farrah and Michael, he left us too soon.

I appreciate John Hughes in a way different from how I appreciate Farrah and Michael...John was more a creative force, never really a celebrity, even though his name became a recognized one. But he was recognized and respected in the same way filmmakers like Steven Spielberg are for the quality of his films. He'd been a writer for films like "Mr. Mom" and "National Lampoon's Vacation", but it was when he started directing he really began to cast an influence in Hollywood. The films he directed in the 80's are time capsules to that decade, and touched young teenaged film fans in a way no filmmaker has ever since. I know they influenced me...I was a teen in the 80's, and to say the least it wasn't the best of times. (It was because of his films along with many others at that time that inspired me to write and hopefully, one day, be a filmmaker bringing stories to everyone on the silver screen.) Hell, he all but revolutionized the teen comedy subgenre. More importantly, those films and many others he produced and wrote were successful in a huge sort of way that set the standard for comedies to follow. His brand of comedy could get crude, to be sure, and even politically incorrect in a way that would scare the hell out of Hollywood today, but it always had a soul that most comedies these days that pander to the lowest common denominator can only dream to have. Look at anything from the rude and crude brands of comedy in American cinema or television...can it honestly even be called funny? Even Hughes' "Home Alone" -- take it or leave it -- while punctuated by Tex Avery-style violence (I'm talking several degrees above The Three Stooges), had an undeniable moral center that was in counterpoint to the crudeness.

My favorite of John Hughes' films, just edging out the nearly magical "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and the way-over-the-top "Weird Science", was the first film he directed...1984's "Sixteen Candles". The main plot of the film was of a teenager, Samantha (Molly Ringwald), suffering higher-than-average angst for two reasons...first, even though the film starts on her Sweet Sixteenth birthday, her entire family has forgotten that important milestone(!); second, she's trying to figure out how to at least tell an uber-handsome jock in school she's smitten with him. To say the least, the day doesn't go very well, but it isn't boring!

All manner of characters bounce around Samantha's orbit, from her clueless family to the overconfident Farmer Ted (Anthony Michael Hall), a Freshman who wants to score with Long Duk Dong, a foreign exchange student who goes on a trip to find America that's as surreal as the one Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper took in "Easy Rider"! Just to get the shit out of the way: Gedde Watanabe's 'The Donger' isn't even CLOSE to being as offensive as Mickey Rooney's bastardized version of a Japanese guy in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (one of the Top Ten Most Overrated Films). Sure, the guy is even squarer than Farmer Ted and his version of Engrish has to be heard to be believed, but Gedde and John Hughes make sure to give Long honest to God humanity and a bewildered, fish-out-of-water charm that's impossible to resist or take as truly offensive. 'The Donger' could never be called a stereotype, but he's definitely on the wrong side of correctness. "Sixteen Candles" on the whole is incorrect in a way that would make mild-mannered filmmakers of the current day crap their pants! Pawing Freshmen, drunk teens and a house party that leaves the house standing only sorta, trash talk, sex between teens (that the participants can't remember), and a girl's panties put on public display are only a few of this film's many offenses to the over-sensitive. And it's hilarious!

But even before the dust settles, the crudeness is tempered by the film's clear and present heart, thanks to Hughes. In one of the best scenes in the movie, Samantha and her apologetic dad (Paul Dooley) have a heart to heart that touches on so many levels. As the chaos dies down, every other element takes on new and surprising orbits. I won't spoil things for you; as Farmer Ted says, "Buy the book!" (Or in this case, see the movie!) But in the end, Samantha's birthday wish comes true and we even get a fairytale ending. And could we want or expect anything less?

"Sixteen Candles" was typical of all of John Hughes' films...sure, the 80's pastels of teen wear in this film will tempt you to shield your eyes, and its soundtrack typical of the New Wave Pop of the decade will make you wish for electric guitars. The humor gets rude and often incorrect in a way that will leave many laughing, and others fuming. But the setting of the film is Mid-America, USA (itself to some politically incorrect), and its characters were ones anyone -- especially teenagers -- can relate to, even in the 21st Century and maybe beyond. We could relate to them because they were characters with real emotions and, granted, sometimes unrealistic dreams, but if they stayed with their respective quests through even the most chaotic situations, they might find their destination and their happiness. And isn't that what we all do in reality?

Rest In Peace, John, and thanks for bringing your films to us!

Monday, August 3, 2009

August the Fourth...a day NOT to mark on your calendars!

Yes, I'm back from researching again. :/

One thing I noticed and couldn't ignore was the fact that some online media outlets (I'd only name them if they friggin' paid me) are offering us something truly ridiculous this day. They're placing a self-imposed ban on themselves of any and all Megan Fox coverage. Uh-huh. No matter what she says or does that day, they won't cover it.

Okay, we're all fascinated by Miss Fox. I think she's truly attractive, and with time and experience she'll have the acting chops to match her beauty. She's gone through plenty of exposure; one could say she's been overexposed and analyzed to the point it's a little strange. (Other celebrities have gone through the same thing, of course. Madonna could tell her stories about living in a fishbowl.) The only criticism I'd have of her is she has too many tats. Yes, there is such a thing as too much body art.

A little too much has been ado about what Megan Fox says and does, meanwhile. This story and that can only loosely be referred to as news, too. So she (accidentally!) snubbed a younger fan. So she talked a little out of turn about Michael Bay and Angelina Jolie, and called herself and her fellow actors in Hollywood 'prostitutes'. So there's something weird about her thumbs. SO WHAT? Most everything that we hear and see about her from those who decide it's 'newsworthy' can't be called news, and we haven't suffered burnout from it all. Yet.

However. These online media outlets who seemingly don't tire of dishing us this tidbit or that about Megan Fox supposedly say they ARE tired of it all? And they're going to 'bless' us with a Fox-news-free day? How nice of them! I've heard too much about her, too! What a pleasant change of pace!

What a bunch of bullshit!

These oh-so-generous online media outlets are the ones who decide to bring us the stories about Megan Fox in the first place! They and those like them have been profiting from sticking her in a fishbowl ever since everyone became aware of her! To say they'll abstain from doing what they've (gladly!) been doing again and again ad nauseum about Megan Fox or ANYONE famous is self-serving in the extreme. In fact, it promotes...yep, you guessed it...themselves!

The whole thing is so stupid, it's funny. I have no doubt Miss Fox has had a good laugh now and then about how so many make her 'news' and profit from her accordingly. The only unfunny part about it is that the certain media outlets will get right into it again (with every other damn media outlet) after this day is over the next time she says or does something.

Burnout might not be far away, and Megan Fox might be relieved to see it!