‘I Queue’: Gurn Blanston revisits ‘Red Dawn’


Red Dawn
Director: John Milius
Writers: John Milius, Kevin Reynolds
Patrick Swayze- Jed
Charlie Sheen- Matt
C. Thomas Howell- Robert
Lea Thompson- Erica
Jennifer Grey- Toni
Tag Line: The invading armies planned for everything – except for eight kids called “The Wolverines.”
The Brat Pack goes to war. (OK, I made that one up)

I have always loved war movies. I can say that without remorse because I have now advanced to an age where self evaluation and moralistic self flagellation hold no sway over me. I lead a completely un-self-examined life, and I sleep much better. From “The Sands of Iwo Jima” to “The Green Berets”, “The Battle of the Bulge” all the way through to the 70’s blockbuster “A Bridge Too Far” I was always riveted to the screen, ready for every pointless charge into overwhelming enemy fire and every slow, drawn-out death scene. I ate it up, and then went out and shot at my friends with my plastic machine gun while they shot back with their toy cowboy rifle, and then we argued over who shot who first.
The thing about ‘Red Dawn’ is that when I first saw the movie in 1984, it kind of bought war to my doorstep. I am old enough to remember the Cold War, but young enough not to have felt very affected by it. I was too young to really understand Vietnam, at least at that time. The movies I watched were just entertainment, not reflections of real loss and sacrifice. ‘Red Dawn’ however was not distant; it took place in my front yard.
Not that this film was some great think piece on the vagrancies of armed conflict and its effect on the occupied peoples of a war-torn land, it wasn’t. It was poorly written and even more poorly acted; full of trite one liners and pseudo-patriotism, but it was entertaining. And when you see troops parachuting into the school yard of what could be your own alma-mater, and then you watch as the front of the school where kids have gathered to witness the spectacle gets strafed with machine gun fire leaving one child dead in the window, you have to step back and blink, “That kid looked like my friend Billy!” I was used to seeing troops parachuting into blown-out European hamlets or remote Middle Eastern towns, but not dropping down by the Piggly-Wiggly!
After the initial invasion by a Russo/Nicaraguan alliance, a group of teenagers, led by Patrick Swayze as the former all-star quarterback and Charlie Sheen’s older brother Jed, flee town in an exciting chase scene to hide up in the hills until the whole thing blows over. But it doesn’t just blow over, it turns into an occupation. And the kids, now styling themselves after their high school football team’s mascot “The Wolverines,” are forced into the role of insurgents. They tool about the countryside attacking convoys and stray troops, causing mayhem in the name of American freedom wherever possible. In one scene, they attack a group of Russian officers who have paused by the roadside to take pictures of themselves in front of a landmark, (flashes of Nazis posing in front of the Eifel Tower or the Pyramids), and as the officers flee the murderous group of teens they beg for their lives. The kids have to harden up and execute the last remaining Russkie so that he can’t radio in a warning. War is Hell.
Back in town, a concentration camp is up and running at the old stadium and executions abound. Harry Dean Stanton, as Swayze and Sheen’s father, implores them through the barbed wire fencing to “Avenge me boys!” The town Mayor, played smarmily by Lane Smith, is cooperating with the invaders in an effort to do “what’s best for my constituents”. He gets his son, one of the Wolverines, to wear a tracer so that the Nicaraguan counterinsurgents can track the group down. When the rest of the group find out about it from a captured enemy soldier they are forced to execute one of their own in what is probably the most powerful scene in the film. No one is able to shoot Daryl, the mayor’s kid and former class president played by Darren Dalton, until C. Thomas Howell’s character Robert, a former nerd who goes around the psycho bend after learning his entire family was executed, steps up and machine guns him down with a straight face.
At one point, an American fighter jet crashes nearby and Powers Booth, as salty Texan fighter jock Lt. Col. Andy Tanner, joins the group and helps to guide them along. He forms a quasi-pedophilic relationship with Lea Thompsons character Erica, which is a bit awkward, before being killed off in great B-movie tradition while saving the kids from a Russian tank attack.
Eventually the Nicaraguan counterinsurgency force catches up with the Violent Dumplin’ Gang and most die in a hail of bullets shot from a Russian Attack Helicopter. Howell’s character Robert has the best death scene, going out in a blaze of duel machine-wielding glory, America…F*ck Yeah! In my opinion, his is the most interesting character in the whole film, except for maybe the part of the counterinsurgency leader played by Judd Omen. His take on a reluctant military policeman forced to do things that he finds distasteful in the name of securing the territory for his forces is spot on.
Charlie Sheen is kind of a non-entity in the film, as are Jennifer Grey and Lea Thompson. They are always there but never make that big an impact. The wrap up at the end of the film showing the post war memorial to the kids and narrated by Lea Thompson, one of only two of The Wolverines to survive, feels kind of tacked on. On the whole, though, this film really made an impression on me. I have gone back and watched it again several times over the years. Once I watched it just to see the scene where Powers Booth’s character admonishes C. Thomas Howell’s character about how all the hate he carries inside him will eat him up, “it keeps me warm” Howell responds, classic!
If you haven’t seen it yet, do, it’s worth the rent and the two hours out of your life. They have recently remade it with a new round of fresh faces and so it will be worth seeing the original first to compare. I understand that since we are friends with Russia now they were going to make China the bad guys, but then we became friends with them and so now they are turning to North Korea. If Kim Jong-il shows up for dinner with Obama then the producers are in trouble, I guess they could use Gaddafi if they hurry.

Spaced out


Let’s set things straight at the top of this review: though it stars the duo behind the much-loved genre send-ups of cops (“Hot Fuzz”) and zombies (“Shaun of the Dead”), do not expect the exact same payoff for their latest outing, “Paul.”

“Paul’s” leads Simon Pegg and Nick Frost still posesses the same chemistry that helped cement “Shaun” and “Fuzz” in the modern comedic pantheon, but the addition of director Greg Mattola alters the equation. It’s not for the better or worse, he just brings with him a style that changes the scope, cadance and rhythm.

Science fiction and road movies are the genres up for ribbing in “Paul.” Pegg and Frost are Graeme and Clive, two good-natured nerds who are living their dream of attending Comic-Con, followed by a chaser of RV travels through alien “hotspots” throughout the Midwest. It starts off rather timid, as though Pegg and Frost (who also wrote the screenplay), were almost too cautious to sting the very crowd who bestow geek love on the pair in real life.

But the numerous obvious gags soon fade away once “Paul’s” eponymous star takes center stage, and things really ramp up. Voiced by Seth Rogan (and, for all intents and purposes’ is almost every Rogan comedic character), Paul is the stoner’s “E.T.” He’s randy (not above “pressing ham” against the car window), ribald, and does not need a spacecraft to “blast off.” In “Shaun” and “Fuzz,” both leads were at odds with one another, but are best pals here, so when Paul arrives, he delivers some much-needed conflict. And Rogan, content with becoming the Cheech Marin of this generation does more than his share to help stir the pot.

The film takes all the obvious routes — from eluding inept-but-persistent Feds and covert officers (Bill Hader and Joe Truglio, the former, and Jason Bateman, the latter), Paul’s ability to regenerate and heal with touch, but it does so with such affection for its source material (“Close Encounters,” “E.T.,” “Alien” etc.), it makes these scenes fresh with a knowing wink and grin.

For lovers of the genre, there are countless in-jokes peppered throughout to satisfy, and director Mottola manages to ground the film, even considering the film’s outlandish subject matter. The director, who helmed the sweetly nostalgic “Adventureland,” brings the same delicate focus on friendship and makeshift family.

Perhaps because the film is more singularly focused (the Speilbergian Mythology of aliens is the one to which this film most closely aligns), many may fault “Paul” for not broadening its net as widely as Pegg and Frost did with “Shaun” and “Fuzz.” But all feels right in “Paul’s” universe, right down to its final scene that is as touching as it is amusing.
“Paul” is a head trip with spaceships, and is accessible enough to let everyone on board to enjoy the ride.

MGM roars back with… A shit load of remakes and sequels?

I know a lion’s gotta eat, but this is a bit ridiculous.

At the same time it was announced that 2011 is now the most sequelly year ever (27 are slated, which translates to one every other week), we were greeted without the news that MGM pulled itself from the bowels of bankruptcy by announcing five remakes/continuations.

It’s understandable that the studio would dust off some chestnuts to ensure some box-office familiarity, but others seem like curious choices to trumpet it’s return.

Here’s what’s in the works:

“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”: A 3-D futuristic retelling of the Brothers Grimm fable (which was most notably made at the tail end of the Cannon era and starred David Warner and Cloris Leachman). This remake is to be co-financed by Paramount and will star Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton.

“Mr. Mom”: This is one I can totally see, and while I hold fond memories for the original, it’s by no means beloved. Of course, its premise is not as novel anymore (a father? Home raising his children? Absurd!!!), it’s always fun to see ill-prepared dads dealing with the toddlers.

“The Idolmaker”: Another one that is fair game, but a curious choice, indeed. Taylor Hackford’s all-but-forgotten 1980 flick based on the life of Bob Marcucci, who discovered Fabian and Frankie Avalon. The new version will be retrofitted for the “American Idol” generation, but details beyond that are sketchy.

“Robocop”: Ouch. This stings. The beloved Detroit officer that runs on Microsoft Office, had threatened to hit screens last year, with Darren Aronofsky taking over for Paul Verhoven as director. Aronofsky has since moved on to pick up the “Wolverine” sequel (an equally depressing thought) and is now said to be getting his religion on afterward with an adaptation of “Noah” (really?).

“Poltergeist”: Another film that has long been in the rumor mill is set to return with a fresh coat of paint. Have filmmakers learned nothing from the “Poltergeist” curse?(http://www.snopes.com/movies/films/poltergeist.asp).

Messing with Memories: ‘Fletch’

The gloves are off, now, Warner Bros.

I can remain silent about various reboots of your superheroes (again with the Superman?), but now you are diving into the heart of my childhood.

According to Monsters and Critics, you are now going through with your plans to reinvent Irwin Fletcher, the beloved detective known to so many children on the 80s simply as Fletch.

The imminently quotable flick (forget picking a favorite line, just go here) is now planned for a revised reboot of the franchise, hoping to use the 11-book series created by Gregory Macdonald as a template.

This is not the first Fletch Threat we’ve heard, but it is certainly the one that seems to be the closest to becoming reality.

Another Fletch installment was in the works years ago, when director Kevin Smith acquired the rights with Chevy Chase set to reprise. After a falling out, Smith was rumored to have been working on an ill-advised prequel with Jason Lee as a young Fletch.

When that went south, so did the reboot rumors. Until recently.

Look. The film has endured because of its star, not because of the enduring legacy of the character. Even the first film’s screenwriter, the talented Andrew Bergman, admitted to a rather weak script. Chase was given the latitude to improvise many of the lines, which is what made the film iconic.

Sorry Warner Bros and Macdonald fans, but his words and actions were not the real reason for Fletch’s popularity. If you think me to be wrong, sue me.

Just send the bill to the Underhills.

Sources: Monsters and Critics, IMDb, Washington Post.

Will you still need me, when I’m 64?

I had to get in the right frame of mind to even be approved to see “The Expendables,” the double-dose of testosterone featuring action film caves from ap the last few decades.

Stallone, Lundgren, Li, Stathem, even Willis and Schwarzenegger pop by for maximum flex appeal.

So I gathered two of my manliest male friends, went to the gym for a some squats, deadlifts, and various other weight training execercises designed to sculpt our frames into The Situation-approved slabs of beefcake. We followed up with a protein shake, some raw eggs, a round of small firearms training, then a 10-mile dead sprint to the theater, where we arm-wrestled for the best seats in the house.

We were pumped and ready to relive our childhood with the cast of “The Expendables.” All the muscle-clad men of our youth were going to lay waste to perhaps continents of bad guys armed with steady streams of heavy artillery, heavily oiled torsos, and an arsenal of witty one-liners while staring in the face of death. Continue reading

Two great tastes that taste great together

I would like to talk about this trailer, but that would be breaking the first rule…

Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka? Is that you?

No, unfortunately, this is in the new image for the Conan remake, courtesy of CinemaBlend.

Go with what you know…

Two former box-office titans battled for relevancy doing what they are known best for in a market that has, at times, met their new releases with utter indifference. For Adam Sandler’s “Grown Ups,” he herds up his usual suspects for a comedy about embracing (?) their ages. For Tom Cruise’s new vehicle, “Knight and Day,” he relies on his action hero roots, which have proved his bread and butter.

They both entered the race being bested by a gaggle of animated toys, but if either film were a clue as to what’s in store for their next chapters in their careers, they better look at some high-profile cameos on TV, pronto. Continue reading

World’s saddest IMDB page

Thank you, Reddit, for this Friday morning chuckle.

The world’s saddest IMDB page.

How long before this woman gets an agent  her SAG card renewed?

Re-do or Re-don’t?: ‘The A-Team’

I am sure its the side effects of a soul-crushing summer box office (seriously, instead of ratings, these films should have come with prescription-bottle warning labels indicating their sleep-inducing effects), but leave it to a loud, obnoxious adaptation of an equally loud, simplistic television show to be the summer’s best offering thus far.

Even at its heyday, “The A Team” was considered high fructose entertainment. It’s fun now to wax nostalgic about the series, but if you have ever tried to suffer through more than two episodes at a time today, you can actually feel the IQ points trickle out of your ear onto the floor.

They were silly, repetitive and laughably trite, but the leads’ chemistry made the proceedings bearable. And while the film gets just a shade darker (contrary to what the A-Team show taught me, bullets and bombs actually KILL people!), it still relies heavily on the frat-boy sparring of mastermind Hannibal (played by Liam Neeson), pretty boy Face (played by Bradley Cooper), nutjob Murdock (played by “District 9’s” Sharlto Copley) and the iconic B.A. Baracus (here played by mixed martial artist Quinton “Rampage” Jackson).

Almost all of the actors involved in this go-round actually improve on the originals, making them feel just a tad more authentic: Neeson, the most notable of the bunch, seems to relish in the B-movie madness much the same way he amplified his performance for“Taken”; Cooper, as always just can’t help but be charming, regardless the role; and the real surprise is Copley, whose resume is the lightest of the bunch, but whose performance is one of the film’s most engaging as the resident loon.

Only when Jackson’s Baracus takes up the screen does the film skid to a halt. The reason the original B.A. was iconic was not the chains, the mohawk or the catchphrases, but the steely glare and the delivery of Mr. T. It’s a laser-eyed look that Jackson has yet to perfect (though, ironically, Jackson is most likely far more deadly than “T” ever was in his prime).

Regardless, the crew has such an easy rapport, it feels like a reunion of castaways from TBS’s old “Movies for Guys Who Like Movies,” except a lot more explode-y.

I’ve made ¾ of the way through this without mentioning plot, and, come to think of it, so did the film. Something about stolen plates for money laundering, Blackwater (oh, I’m sorry, Black Forest) and Jessica Biel’s phone number or something like that. I gotta be honest, I was far too busy being distracted by the numerous munition-infused money shots that dot the film (the flying tank scene is worth the price alone) to really care.

And the pacing of cheeseball action is just what director Joe Carnahan knows a little about. His first big outing was the critically lauded cop drama “Narc,” which was most likely a fluke. This is not meant as a knock to Carnahan, for he seems a more assured director when he allows things to fly off the handle a bit. His next film, “Smokin’ Aces” was a perfect example in this cartoonish excess.

With “The A-Team,” he’s given a much bigger sandbox.

Just like one of Hannibal’s famous “plans,” Carnahan stages the sequences with precision, never letting the audience linger too long over the countless laws of physics and gravity were just broken.

The doors are left open wide for a sequel, and while I enjoyed the time spent with this group of manly men and all the fun times with explosions that can be had, it would be best to let the “A-Team” ride off into their undisclosed location, emerging only once more to celebrate the DVD release.

That way, Carnahan and crew can get cracking on a big-screen treatment of “Airwolf,” “BJ and the Bear” or “Simon and Simon.”

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