Monday, January 28, 2008

Rambo: The Reaction

I've had fun being "excited" for Sylvester Stallone's Rambo, but I honestly didn't have much hope to like it. My enthusiasm has been enhanced by nostalgia, but also by an old-fashioned sense of sarcasm.

Rewatching the older First Blood films, I've realized though every one is enjoyable on its own terms, there's not a great film in the bunch. You have the brawny-and-dumb original, the brawnier-and-dumber second one, and the brawniest-and-not-quite-as-dumb-as-the-second-one third one. A lot of brawny, a lot of dumb, and sometimes a lot of fun - but that's it.

So calling Rambo the best of the First Blood films isn't necessarily the highest praise. But after just one viewing, I'm also prepared to say it's one of the best action films I've seen in years, and maybe the most purely fun moviegoing experience I've had in the same span.

It's really unbelievable what Stallone has pulled off here. He's taken a character dormant for 20 years and infused him with a wholly believable sense of purpose. I've read many surprised positive reactions to the film, most of them saying they loved it "for what it was." Meaning, of course, they weren't willing to give the film credit for being anything other than a blood fest. It is more, though.

Yes, there's an absolute orgy of bullets, hacked-off limbs, freed bowels, poofs of blood, ripped-out tracheas, and even the occasional stabbed child. It's not for everybody. But at the same time, the film's story is so involving you're infused with the guilt-free bloodlust of the main character. Stallone has done such a superb job fashioning a plot that supports this carnage - you legitimately hate the bad guys, and each act of comeuppance is an adrenaline-fueled rush. And the heartfelt moments actually work this time, when in previous Rambo films they teetered on the edge of parody.

It's funny, but the movie is really just a boiled-down remake of Rambo III. Rambo gets approached about a mission set in a real-world hot zone, turns it down, mission fails, and Rambo is sent in for the rescue. But the difference in the final products really show Stallone's strength as a filmmaker. This is the first Rambo film he's written and directed, and definitely the first one he's been this emotionally invested in.

Most importantly, he straddles the character's realistic and superhero aspects better here than in all the previous films put together. Even though Rambo always seems to be in the right place, and never takes that fatal bullet, we are forgiving of any such logic stretches. He also shows enough respect for the true plight of the Burmese people - even opening the film with documentary footage - to avoid any real accusations of exploitation. The film actually works in some regard as a civics lesson.

Stallone's rebirth with 2006's Rocky Balboa was a safer bet. The Rocky series features a more likable lead character, has an easier-to-digest formula, and has two bonafide classics and two more all-time crowd pleasers already in its history. There's no single John Rambo film with even the pedigree of Rocky IV. Until now, of course, as Stallone has solidified his (at least) two-movie comeback. I'm excited to see what this filmmaker has for us next, as he seems to have learned from the excesses of his past.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Friday Random: First Blood Part 10

Obviously, today is a banner day here at Martians Attacking Indianapolis.

It has been 7,184 days since the May 25, 1988 release of Rambo III. No less than 172,416 hours. Exactly 10,344,960 minutes. And yes, 620,697,600 seconds.

That's a long time to wait for anything, especially a new Rambo film. So today, you'll forgive me if I seem a bit myopic. After all, John Rambo is back in town.

Today's Friday Random 10 is not random at all, but hand-picked songs that illustrate my excitement over this landmark film. As always, all songs straight from my own iPod.

1) Foo Fighters, "Hero"
2) Lou Reed, "Perfect Day"
3) R.E.M., "Near Wild Heaven"
4) Bruce Springsteen, "Tougher Than the Rest"
5) Trey Parker, "America (Fuck Yeah)"
6) Vince DiCola, "War (Fanfare from Rocky IV)"
7) Frank Stallone, "Peace in Our Life"
8) Pearl Jam, "Blood"
9) Joe Esposito, "The Moment of Truth"
10) Air Supply, "Making Love Out of Nothing At All"

I might have revealed too much with that last one.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Over the top

Tonight, the clock sitting at 9:43, I realize I can expire tonight and consider life fulfilled.

Sylvester Stallone answered my question.

Check out #5.

Attention hog

Uh-oh, it looks like Al Gore is feeling left out of the spotlight, or maybe the paid speaking engagements are running thin.

"Pay attention to meeeeee!"

(I wonder if the media will revisit this in five years when his predictions prove wildly inaccurate).

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

First Blood: Revisiting the Series - Part II

In anticipation of Friday's Rambo, I am revisiting the entire First Blood series in three installments. This is part two. (Here is part one).

Title: Rambo: First Blood Part II
Release date: May 22, 1985
Domestic box office: $150.4 million
Director: George P. Cosmatos

The Backstory

Sylvester Stallone was ridin' high in 1982: his Rocky III was a summer smash, and First Blood followed in October with his biggest non-Balboa gross to date. Perhaps even better, he had announced himself as the King of Action, with both of his films that year beating the efforts of Arnold Schwarzenegger (Conan the Barbarian), Charles Bronson (Death Wish II) and Clint Eastwood (Firefox). Life was good ...

... until 1983.

Stallone was no stranger to the director's chair, but he had also acted in those projects: Paradise Alley, Rocky II and Rocky III. Undoubtedly wondering what it would be like to stay behind the camera, he signed up as director, writer and producer of Staying Alive, the sequel to Saturday Night Fever. The decision would not go down as one of his best.

What no one remembers is Staying Alive was actually a hit. It was the 8th highest grossing film of 1983, beating the likes of Risky Business, National Lampoon's Vacation and Superman III. But oh lord, it was awful, and everybody knew it. The New York Times called it "clumsy, mean spirited and amazingly unmusical," which is not exactly what one hopes to get from a supposed flashy, fun musical.

With the directing bug squashed for the time being, Stallone decided to stretch his wings in another direction, this one sure to be more successful - COMEDY!

So yeah, that wasn't the best idea either.

Rhinestone, the absolutely tragic pairing of Stallone and Dolly Parton, barely scratched $20 million at the box office. To make things even worse, while he was dabbling in comedy, other action stars were sticking to their genre and flourishing - Schwarzenegger (Conan the Destroyer, The Terminator), Chuck Norris (Missing in Action) and Eastwood (Tightrope) all had hits that year. Oh, and did I mention Stallone turned down Beverly Hills Cop and Romancing the Stone to pair with the country star?

What's a struggling star to do? You've made unsuccessful leaps into directing and comedy, and the competition is catching up. Shall we go back to the familiar?

We shall. The final 1985 box office statistics looked like this:

1) Back to the Future - $210.6 million
2) Rambo: First Blood Part II - $150.4 million
3) Rocky IV - $127.9 million

The Year of Stallone.

The Plot

Two and a half years after First Blood, John Rambo is doing hard labor for his supposed crimes. With five years remaining in the sentence, he gets a visit from old mentor Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna). The Colonel has an offer: go to Vietnam and look for American prisoners of war. Don't attempt a rescue, just gather photographic evidence for a later extraction team to use.
So he takes a camera. And a big knife. And a bow with exploding arrows. The latter two are the audience's first hint that Rambo's "search" mission will eventually have an "and destroy" element added to it.

Once Rambo arrives in Vietnam, the prisoners are located within convenient minutes, and soon nothing will stop our hero from making sure each and every one of them boards a friendly helicopter by the time credits roll. The Vietnamese - and later, oddly enough, the Russians - don't take kindly to the American intrusion. Bullets fly, things go boom, mayhem ensues.

The Review

The disparity between the first two installments of the Rambo series reminds me of another noted action franchise: Lethal Weapon. The first Weapon was a pretty hardcore action-drama, with the lead character suicidal in the beginning and only a little less so by the end. Lethal Weapon 4, on the other hand, was practically a slapstick comedy, with the suicidal lead character now a practical joker, ceding screentime to the likes of Joe Pesci and Chris Rock.

At least Weapon slowly devolved over four films; the vast chasm between First Blood and Rambo: First Blood Part II is immediate. While the 1982 original was mostly a dramatic effort, Part II is practically a cartoon, ceding any realism for a few quick bangs. Sure, there's a tacked on "message" at the end (and, granted, a fairly effective one), but the movie leaves the memory banks as soon as the credits roll. Hell, I watched the movie 25 times as a kid, and I had completely forgotten there were Russians involved until I rewatched the film this week.

All of that said, Rambo II is effective for what it is. The lead character is an original, and the film is certainly never boring. There is some wonderful supporting work from Crenna and Charles Napier, and Stallone is completely invested even if his screenplay is not. Perhaps it's nostalgia talking more than anything, but this movie gets every benefit of its many doubts from me.

Grade: B

The Trivia
  • In Vietnam, Stallone meets up with a native woman who serves as his guide through the jungle. Naturally, she's beautiful, and ends up (briefly) serving as a love interest. I didn't remember, however, how absolutely hilarious her dialogue was. "I just want to live, Rambo. Maybe go America." Naturally, she dies 15 seconds after saying that. (I'm not giving out spoiler warnings for 23-year-old movies, folks).

  • The movie does have its genuinely nice moments. One that stands out is the look on one P.O.W.'s face when he finds out it is 1985.

  • Rambo: First Blood Part II was the first R-rated film my parents let me see in theaters. My best guess is that my brother and sister were at camp, and they didn't want to pay for a babysitter for just me. So at nine years old, I went with my parents, and soon thereafter became the object of all my friends' insane jealousy. "I saw Rambo, and you didn't!" Yeah, fuck y'all.

  • And actually, when I saw it, I had no idea it was a sequel to anything. I mean, if you see The Empire Strikes Back without first seeing Star Wars, you're going to be lost. If you see Rambo: First Blood Part II without first seeing First Blood - well, you're going to have an easier time of it.

  • "I always thought the mind was the best weapon," Rambo says. And they say there aren't valuable lessons in these movies.

No Nominations For Old Men - except Hal Holbrook

The Academy Award nominations were announced this morning, and oddly enough, I'm fairly happy with the results. Of my five favorite 2007 films, a whopping three of them are nominated for Best Picture (sadly, Once was expectedly ignored, garnering just as many nominations as Norbit).

What follows are the nominations in the six major categories, as well as the results of my predictions yesterday. A complete list can be found here. (And no, I wasn't kidding about that Norbit/Once thing - the films received one nomination each.)

Best Picture
Michael Clayton
No Country For Old Men
There Will Be Blood

Prediction results: 4/5. My five favorite 2007 films, by the way, are Once, Blood, Clayton, Eastern Promises and No Country (in that order, I think). I had Into the Wild slotted instead of Clayton.
Early favorite: No Country For Old Men.

George Clooney, Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Tommy Lee Jones, In the Valley of Elah
Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises

Prediction results: 4/5. I am at a loss to explain why, but the Academy tends to cream over writer-director-hack extraordinaire Paul Haggis (Crash). His Elah was a box office disaster, but I guess they threw him a bone with Jones's out-of-nowhere nomination. I called Into the Wild's Emile Hirsch in that spot (Wild was largely ignored, one of the morning's big surprises).
Early favorite: Day-Lewis.

Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Julie Christie, Away From Her
Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose
Laura Linney, The Savages
Ellen Page, Juno

Prediction results: 3/5. Blanchett is a minor shocker, because the film was almost universally despised. And I believe she is the first woman to be nominated in an original film and its sequel, as she also got the nod for 1998's Elizabeth. I had Keira Knightley and Amy Adams (admittedly a stretch) instead of Blanchett and Linney.
Early favorite: Page.

Supporting Actor
Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson's War
Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton

Prediction results: 4/5. I assumed the Academy would attempt to reward older, Oscarless people, so I thought Max von Sydow would slide in (he has only received one nom, for 1987's Pelle the Conqueror). Instead, Hoffman picked up his second nomination.
Early favorite: Bardem.

Supporting Actress
Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There
Ruby Dee, American Gangster
Saoirse Ronan, Atonement
Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton

Prediction results: 5/5. Back sufficiently patted.
Early favorite: Ryan.

Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood
Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, No Country For Old Men
Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton
Jason Reitman, Juno
Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Prediction results: 2/5. Jason Reitman was born on the exact same day as my younger brother and sister, which makes me hate him even more. See, I have this long-simmering beef with the guy dating back to 1989, when he turned in a truly dreadful one-line performance in his father's Ghostbusters II. Being practically the same age, and a wannabe actor at the time, I seethed with jealousy that he got to be in such a huge movie solely because of family connections. I coulda done better! I woulda done better! ... Anyhoo, now he's nominated for Best Director, and I actually really dug his last film, Thank You For Smoking. I hate that asshole. For the record, I only called the Coens and Anderson, while lobbing whiffs on Sean Penn, Sidney Lumet and Joe Wright. (Nobody is this beautiful and perfect all the time.)
Early favorite: Le Coens.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Oscar Wild! (sorry about that)

The Academy Award nominations will be announced tomorrow morning, and my interest is one born only of routine and addiction.

I've been guessing the winners each year since 1987, when I was only nine years old. I was studying the show with a near-religious fervor before that, from watching it from under my sheets so my parents wouldn't hear, to once ending up in a Key West gay bar because it had the only working TV I could find. And for longer than I can remember, I've been predicting the nominations - at least since 1990 when I made my first go-against-the-grain pick (that Miller's Crossing would eke out a nomination over The Godfather Part III; I was wrong).

I don't really care about the Oscars anymore, I truly don't. In the distant past (ie. the '80s), undeserving films would win, but at least they were still good undeserving films. Over the past few years, though, we've seen some truly awful films win Best Picture (Crash, A Beautiful Mind, Gladiator). It's happened so often I feel the award has been fatally devalued. And I still can't get over Roberto Benigni's Best Actor win.

Of course, because I'm an addictive personality of the highest order, I still must predict tomorrow's nominees. Not because I care, because trust me I don't, but because I - dammit, OK, I might care a little. Just a little.

Best Picture
Into the Wild
No Country For Old Men
There Will Be Blood

Surprisingly, I've only seen two of these films (No Country and There Will Be Blood), and both are richly deserving. Juno emerges in this year's "quirky indie" slot (previously filled by Little Miss Sunshine, Sideways, Lost in Translation and a host of others). Atonement is stuffy and British, and Into the Wild was directed by Sean Penn, an Academy favorite. Sometimes that's all it takes.

If life was fair: Once

Best Actor
George Clooney, Michael Clayton
Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Emile Hirsch, Into the Wild
Daniel Day Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises

Lewis is the only lock here, though Mortensen would be in a perfect world. Though most experts are putting Hirsch just out of the top five, I actually think Depp is the easiest drop here because of the relative failure of his film.

If life was fair: Christian Bale, Rescue Dawn

Best Actress
Amy Adams, Enchanted
Julie Christie, Away From Her
Marion Cotillard, La Vie En Rose
Keira Knightley, Atonement
Ellen Page, Juno

Nobody is really predicting Adams here, but I'm thinking a relatively weak year for actresses could allow Hollywood to reward its latest "rising star" with a nomination (think Julia Roberts' nom for Pretty Woman). Of course, the same argument could be made for Page, who is a lock.

If life was fair: Keri Russell, Waitress

Supporting Actor
Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford
Javier Bardem, No Country For Old Men
Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild
Max Von Sydow, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton

Bardem is going to win. The other four are window-dressing.

If life was fair: James Marsden, Hairspray

Supporting Actress
Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There
Ruby Dee, American Gangster
Saoirse Ronan, Atonement
Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton

Almost every critic's award has gone to Blanchett or Ryan, and Dee should be there seeing she's been acting for over 50 years without Oscar recognition.

If life was fair: Leslie Mann, Knocked Up

Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood
Ethan and Joel Coen, No Country For Old Men
Sidney Lumet, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
Sean Penn, Into the Wild
Joe Wright, Atonement

The 83-year-old Lumet will almost certainly be recognized, and he might even pull off a win considering he's been nominated four times previous and never won (his earliest being 1958's 12 Angry Men and most recently 1983's The Verdict).

If life was fair: John Carney, Once

Saint nicked

Am I the only one uncomfortable with the light of perfection and sanctity that has been cast on Martin Luther King, Jr. in the years since his death? That we seem to have forgotten - or chosen to ignore - that he was a human being with actual flaws? And in doing so, are we doing his memory a disservice, considering he spent his life espousing the views of who he believed was history's only perfect man?

Of course, many will view these simple questions as an act of racism - and that proves my point, I think.

Fair and balanced

Oliver Stone has announced his next film: Bush, which will chronicle the life of our current president. According to the director, Josh Brolin is slated to play W.

First, after the abhorrent box office of recent left-leaning political films (Rendition, Lions for Lambs, Redacted), I can't believe he's getting anybody to finance this.

Second, this is how he claims to be presenting an even-handed portrayal:

"Here, I'm the referee, and I want a fair, true portrait of the man. How did Bush go from an alcoholic bum to the most powerful figure in the world?"

Alcoholic bum? Oh yeah, this film is going to be a crowning achievement in objectivity.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Friday Random 10: Oblivion

"If I can get my milk for free, I am going to start fucking cows."

Ok, there. Now you have no reason to ever see The Ten, because you already know the one funny line in the entire film. And even though you might not have heard of The Ten now, eventually you're going to come across it and say to yourself, "Hey, it's got Paul Rudd, folks from 'Reno 911' and 'The State,' Jessica Alba, Winona Ryder, Famke Janssen, Adam Brody - that's gotta be good."

It isn't.

The Ten is a series of thinly related stories, each tackling a different commandment of the "Thou shalt not" variety. Rudd serves as "host," I guess, introducing each short while carrying on with his own unamusing storyline. And for Paul Rudd to be unamusing, well, it'd seem you'd have to willingly tank, but that's not the case here. The effort is there, and yet in a 90-minute comedy, I cracked a smile only once.

Let me put it this way: I literally laughed more in Schindler's List than The Ten. (There are some intentionally light moments in Spielberg's film, if you'll recall.)

Alright, well I'm considering that my Good Deed of the Day. I saved you almost two hours that you can now spend volunteering at a soup kitchen, calling your grandmother, painting a sunset, or downloading that equine porn you like so much, freakshow.

Onto the Friday Random 10, with songs straight from my iPod and completely unrelated commentary:

1) Pearl Jam, "Severed Hand" - Every movie I've seen recently has been an extreme - a superb, eye-opening work, or a fly-ridden Thin Mint made of fecal matter and burps. The Ten obviously falls into the latter category, along with Shoot 'Em Up (which alternately thrives on bullet-ridden violence and preachy anti-gun messages) and Inland Empire (which plays more like a bad David Lynch parody than an actual Lynch film). But I have two fantastic, potential all-timers to recommend: David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises and, especially, the Irish musical Once. They will be ignored come Oscar time, but you won't be able to find more wondrous films ...

2) Ben Folds Five, "Brick" - ... for at least a week. Because we're seven days away from the return of John Rambo, sucka! Is anybody as excited about this as I am? Ok, then is anybody at least a little excited? Savor these times, people. In a 13-month span, we have gotten revisited by Rocky Balboa, John McClane and John Rambo, and Indiana Jones is only a few months away. It's as if Hollywood turned to my 12-year-old self and said, "Just make whatever you want." (That probably also explains the impending remake of Hellraiser, and I do apologize about that one).

3) U2, "Sunday Bloody Sunday" - By the way, we'll know my 12-year-old self is really in control if Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger make a movie together. If that happens, I won't ever have to watch a movie again. I will be satisfied.

4) They Might Be Giants, "Hot Cha" - Actor Brad Renfro left us this week. And I said goodbye the best way I know how: submitting an ill-timed, asshole headline to Fark. And they used it.

5) Bruce Springsteen, "Worlds Apart" - I've been found out. "As part of the agreement, Massey promises to develop and implement new procedures and tracking systems to prevent waste water discharges." If only, right? (Thanks to Stanicek for the heads-up).

6) U2, "Hallelujah Here She Comes" - And there she goes, although I'm not hallelujah-ing anything. The Fiancee is headed out of town tomorrow, our first weekend apart since she started wearing that fancy new ring. And I'm totally going to miss her, which makes me gay, right? God, I'm gay. And you'd think I would have big plans, like strip clubs, poker nights, all forms of debaucherous leanings - but eh, I'll probably get around to seeing There Will Be Blood (she isn't interested), watching the NFL playoffs (she isn't interested), and doing my laundry (shockingly, she isn't interested). I know, I'm such a wild and crazy guy! When the cat's away, huh? Am I right? Woo-hoooooooo...

7) Countdown Singers, "I'm Gonna Hire A Wino To Decorate Our Home" - Ok, I said I wasn't going to comment on the songs, but a little explanation is in order: my dad doesn't even know how to turn on a computer, so I download songs he wants and load them onto his iPod. In the process, though, they end up on mine as well. And this is the kind of music my dad likes. We're similar in a lot of ways, but I'm pleased to say musical taste isn't one of them. (He swears this was a big hit, by the way).

8) Outkast, "Elevators (Me and You)" - Alright, the NFL championship games are this weekend, and I'm excited to join 99.999% of the country in rooting for the Green Bay Packers. Look, the end game here is a Patriots loss - that's all I'm focused on. And Brett Favre would pull off that minor miracle much more adeptly than Eli Manning ever could (and don't even think about Philip Rivers, who has quickly revealed himself as a genuine, top-of-the-line, shiny ol' cockface). So come on Pack, I've always loved ya. (I'm 4-4 in my playoff picks so far, and I'm taking Green Bay -7 and Patriots -14 this weekend.).

9) Hootie & the Blowfish, "Drowning" - I'm not sure how it started, but all of my Friday Random 10s have stolen a subtitle from a different Hollywood sequel. "Friday Random 10: Electric Boogaloo," "Friday Random 10: Jason Takes Manhattan," etc. etc. After a year or so, though, it became hard to come up with franchises I'd never used before. And thus, you get "Oblivion." Five points to whoever can tell me what film series that comes from, and I'll trust you not to cheat with IMDB.

10) Peter, Paul & Mary, "Puff the Magic Dragon (Live)" - Again, my dad's choice. He's certainly never let on, but I'm thinking he used to do a lot of drugs. That would explain his song selections, at least. And my siblings. (Just kiddin' wit'cha, dudes!).

Monday, January 14, 2008

It's all in the details

Alright, pop quiz time: You've seen the below picture before. I promise. What is it?

1/15 update: The answer is in the comments section.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Friday Random 10: At World's End

OK, with football coming to an end, I'm feeling the ranklings (long a) and ranklings (short a) to revive (long e, long i) the Granddaddy of All "I Don't Have Anything To Write" Standbys - the Friday Random 10.

I ripped this idea off of Doug long ago, but it has been M.I.A. in recent times. In fact, it looks like the last one was on June 30, 2006 - also known as 10 days after I met my current fiancee.

So yeah, it has been awhile.

To refresh my rules of the FR10: the following 10 songs come straight from my iPod on random shuffle. They could be humiliating, they could be dorky, they could be as cool as the lovechild of Terry O'Quinn and Andre 3000. But what they are guaranteed to be are a harbinger of things to come for the weekend.

And since I have to be at Stone Mountain tomorrow morning at 7:30 for a 36-hour long work conference, I'm not expecting good things.

Friday Random 10, the Grand Return:

1) "Christmas Canon," Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
2) "A Mind With A Heart of Its Own," Tom Petty.
3) "Ultra Violet (Light My Way)," U2.
4) "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," Barenaked Ladies (with Sarah McLachlan).
5) "Superman," Five for Fighting.
6) "Hearts On Fire," John Cafferty.
7) "All Because of You," U2.
8) "The Neverending Story," A New Found Glory.
9) "Burning Heart," Survivor.
10) "I Ain't Mad at Cha," Tupac Shakur.

Ok, two Christmas songs, which makes sense - my co-workers are of a particularly religious variety. But two - count 'em, two - songs from the Rocky IV soundtrack?

Rocky IV = greatness. Suddenly, I'm thinking a 36-hour long work conference might not be so bad. Unless that means my boss and I are going to get into a fistfight. That would suck. And not only because he'd win.

The football picks:

Seattle @ Green Bay (-7 1/2). PICK: Green Bay
Jacksonville @ New England (-13). PICK: New England
San Diego @ Indianapolis (-9). PICK: Indianapolis.
NY Giants @ Dallas (-7 1/2). PICK: NY Giants

Playoffs so far: 2-2

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Ohio State is 0-9 against the SEC in bowls. Just thought I'd mention that up top

From the AJC:

"As far as a playoff system, there will not be one," Ohio State President Gordon Gee recently told reporters. "They will wrench a playoff system out of my cold, dead hands."

If it helps get college football a playoff, I would be glad to make that happen. **

It makes sense, though, that Ohio State would be so anti-playoff. If they actually had to earn the right to play in the championship game, they'd never get within sniffing distance of it again. Bring on Youngstown State and Akron!

(Kudos to UGA's Michael Adams for taking a surprising stand on all of this, even if it comes off as a capitulating "please don't hate me" political move).

** Yes, that means I would kill him. To get a playoff system. I'm serious about this shit.

11:39 a.m. update: I'm a whore. A filthy whore. Because after years of trashing Michael Adams, I am ready to sit on his lap and cover his cheeks with kisses while calling him "grandpapa," with each "pa" accented like a little German girl would. In advocating an 8-game college football playoff, he goes out of his way to make a not-so-subtle stab at the Rose Bowl: "If one of those bowls chooses not to participate (in a playoff), another game could be found to fill the void." Oh, President Adams, I've always loved you so.

Monday, January 07, 2008

First Blood: Revisiting the Series - Part I

In anticipation of this month's Rambo, I am revisiting the entire First Blood series in three installments. This is part one. (Here is part two).

Title: First Blood
Release date: October 22, 1982
Domestic box office: $47.2 million
Director: Ted Kotcheff

The Backstory

When First Blood was released in Fall 1982, Sylvester Stallone was one of the biggest stars in the world - sort of.

He was riding high off of Rocky III, then his biggest hit ever, and had just been tabbed to direct the (then) eagerly anticipated sequel to Saturday Night Fever. However, Stallone had yet to star in a successful film without the word "Rocky" in the title. Between the first two films of that franchise, he made Paradise Alley and F.I.S.T. - both financial duds. His films between parts two and three of the boxing saga - Nighthawks and Victory - were even less successful. Doubts about his true box office stature were not scarce.

Enter John Rambo.

The Plot

First Blood stars Stallone as a former Vietnam P.O.W. turned drifter, a man whose emotional scars seem only to be matched by the literal ones criss-crossing his body. When a sheriff (Brian Dennehy) runs him out of a small town for no reason, something in Rambo's head snaps. Through (almost) no fault of his own, he is soon on the run in the northwestern wilderness, hiding from local - and eventually state and national - police forces.

From then on, the film is split into two sections - Rambo's survival in the forest while being hunted, and then his return to the town with a singular, and not at all sane, sense of vengeance.

The Review

Is the film successful? As an action movie, First Blood is among Stallone's best. The shots of Stallone bounding through the forest, diving from explosions and, hell, jumping off a cliff, are the noble beginnings of the '80s Stallone/Schwarzenegger muscle-bound mindset (I mean that as a compliment).

As a drama, though, it falls a bit short by losing focus. Is it meant to be a wrenching post-Vietnam drama like Coming Home or The Deer Hunter, or does it want to kick ass Charlie Bronson/Death Wish-style? It tries to have it both ways, and ends up looking silly a few times. (Remember, the war had only been over six years when the film opened.)

Of course, that duality makes the film memorable, and sets it apart from Stallone's weaker single-minded action-action-action efforts (Cobra, Tango & Cash). You tend to appreciate the filmmakers adding depth to an action movie, and at the same time adding action to a dreary drama. Best of both worlds, and all that, even if it doesn't work 100% of the time.

Grade: B+

The Trivia

  • Stallone's DVD commentary reveals Dennehy's character was a Korean War vet - which makes a whole lot of sense, and should have been included. The sheriff was an older guy who despised Rambo because, in Sly's words, many Korean War vets felt their battle was the more just. In the finished film, the hatred seems a bit nonsensical.

  • The character of Rambo's old mentor, Colonel Trautman, was supposed to be played by Kirk Douglas. In fact, he was played by Douglas right up until the cameras started rolling, then he quit over "creative differences" (he wanted to make Trautman the hero, according to Stallone). Replacement actor Richard Crenna was brought in at the last minute, and had to wear Douglas's wardrobe throughout the production. And since Crenna was about a foot taller, Colonel Trautman suddenly had to wear a trenchcoat in every scene to cover up the short sleeves and pant legs.

  • Douglas probably wouldn't have been interested in appearing in the sequels, one would assume. Heck, he wasn't interested in reprising his role from The Man From Snowy River, so he was replaced in Return to Snowy River - by Brian Dennehy. Spooky. You just got chills, didn't you?

  • Crenna, by the way, had come straight from playing an effeminate homosexual on Broadway - and it shows. He absolutely could not shake that character in a couple of scenes, overpronouncing his vowels and even lisping a couple of times. Oh, and Trautman was an asshole in the first film, a stark contrast from the buddy-buddy relationship he'd have with Rambo in the sequels.

  • It's no secret nearly every big star had turned down First Blood in the late '70s. By the time the script got to Stallone in 1981, even he had refused to do it a couple of times previous. The producers refused to let it die, however, and eventually made the Rocky star received a financial offer he couldn't refuse. In the DVD commentary, Stallone admits as much, also saying he often wondered if he could intentionally hurt himself on the set to get out of the supposed career ender.

  • "We ain't huntin' him. He's huntin' us," says a red-haired whipper-snapper cop - played by a very young David Caruso.

  • John Rambo dies in the original David Morrell novel (and in one of the DVD's deleted scenes, incidentally). That would have made the three sequels a bit tougher to make.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

How she fail grammar

OK, grammar Nazi coming 'round the bend ...

Just after hearing Hillary Clinton reveal that her supporters were "literally freezing to death," I come across the new poster for MTV's latest cinematic abortion.

Corrections by Massey.

It's bad enough that the gay man inside of me (not literally, of course) is screaming about the yellow-and-violet color scheme, but come on, can we please have correct grammar in our TITLES?

How She Moves. You Have Gotten Served. Is that so hard?

Don't think I'm only going after ebonics, though. Check these, yo:

Where, pray tell, is the dash between "40" and "Year?"

And goddammit, where's the QUESTION MARK at the end of that tag line? (The fact Philip Seymour Hoffman looks like a ventriloquist's dummy is a topic for another time).

Now you play: Do you see what's wrong with that one, smarty-pants?

As a kid, it should be revealed, I would always get pissed about the "R" in "Toys R Us" being backward.

Government waste


If this isn't an argument for mandatory term limits on every elected government position, I don't know what is.

Friday, January 04, 2008

You can't spell "BCS" without "dickheads"

The most telling quote from today's Stewart Mandel's BCS/playoff story:

"A plus-one is helpful because it gives every major bowl the opportunity to have the winner of that game mean something," said Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker. "We're bowl enthusiasts, and we think there's plenty of meaning in the games already, but if we can add even more meaning, that's a positive."

Sure, he tried to save himself, but what a slip: a BCS bowl CEO is admitting that his game, in its current form, means nothing. You can practically hear the "uh, uh, I mean" following the first sentence.

Of course, Mandel in all his pansy-shitted glory, buries the quote in the 27th paragraph and doesn't bother to call Junker on it.

(I also love Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese's assertion that a playoff would have dulled the excitement of Pittsburgh's upset of West Virginia. You know, I think I could sacrifice a handful of "exciting" regular season matchups for a larger number of meaningful, thrilling postseason ones. Instead, Tranghese is willing to sacrifice the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl - both yawners this year due to the pathetic, corrupt college football postseason.)


The calendar, the newspaper and my phone all agree: it's Friday. My head is the one offering a dissenting opinion.

The holidays are over, but they're still wreaking havoc on perception. It doesn't feel like a Friday. It doesn't taste, sound or smell like a Friday. And it certainly doesn't look like one, with election results and college football dominating the morning headlines.

Of course, I'm not complaining. This work week has been stretched out to an excruciatingly long two days, and I'm in need of a break. The past seven-day cycle has seen a number of huge events take place, from my car bumpin' n' grindin' with a cement wall, to The Sister finally getting her due, to a particularly eventful trip to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl.

In fact, let's focus on that last one. So many damn things happened in those three days, it's going to take a list to put them into proper perspective. And I love lists.

My Top Five New Orleans Headlines

5) Emeril's. One of my Christmas presents to The Girl was a New Year's Eve dinner reservation at Emeril's in N.O. Now I ain't FAN-cee, but that's FAN-cee. And freakin' good, too. I hate seafood, but found myself taking down shrimp, lobster, crab and even sea urchin (though at the time I thought it was french dressing). It ain't cheap, but it's guuuuud. And the egg nog tart thingy for dessert? To. Die. For.

4) The OSU bus. New Orleans not only played host to the Sugar Bowl, but is also the site of Monday's BCS Championship Game between Ohio State and LSU. And as I came across the already-present OSU team bus, I received the rare opportunity to express my feelings in a fair, mature manner.

3) Bourbon Street. This was my first time drinking on the famed Louisiana strip, and it just about lived up to its reputation. And that's why you aren't seeing any pictures from that portion of the vacation. Now it's not that I shy away from posting boobs on this blog, it's just that I shy away from posting those boobs on this blog. Picture your idea of "good boobs." Now add 125 pounds to the "good boobs" frame, and combine it with a mental image of a chain-smoking central Florida trailer park resident in her late 40s. Those boobs. As the evening went on, the chants of "Show! Your! Tits!" became "Oh! Please! God! Don't! Show! Your! Tits! Keep! Your! Shirt! On! My! Eyes!" Or something to that effect. I mean, we all know New Year's Eve is Amateur Night, but we also all know New Year's Eve and Mardi Gras are two separate occasions, right? Right?

Yes, my seats were amazing. I could see my house from there, even though the game was in a dome. I was that high.

2) The Game. Man, the Sugar Bowl was 18 hours of pure football excitement. Georgia's 41-10 dismantling of Hawaii aside, that sucker turned painful in the second half. And while we did our best to hang on to the remaining minutes (hours, days) of Georgia's fantastic 2007 season, seeing 0:00 on the scoreboard was damn near exhilarating. Congrats to the Bulldogs on the most fun season this dusty ol' brain can remember, and good luck in dealing with the mammoth expectations 2008 will bring. One negative note, however: certain Georgia fans need to class up before we hit the true national spotlight next year (says the guy who flicked off the OSU bus, I know, but at least it was empty). I was mildly embarassed to see how some of the inebriated red and black-clad treated the Warriors fans, who were about the friendliest bunch I've come across in my years of traveling to games. Save your taunting for those who deserve it (Georgia Tech, Tennessee, Florida), and show some damn dignity. Screaming at a group of 50-year-old Hawaiians when you're up by 38 is deserving of a cockpunch, and I'm sorry I didn't have the energy to deliver one.

1) The Highlight. Oh, and by the way, The Girl is now ... (drumroll please) ... The Fiancee.

On December 31st, about 10 p.m., I took her to the banks of the Mississippi, shared some private words, and got down on one knee. And even though I was fairly sure of her answer, a part of me still reeled in shock when she said yes. And no, she wasn't drunk.

It happened about two minutes after this picture was taken. She claims to have had no idea. I claim to have no idea how I landed such a freakin' hottie.

The NFL picks, just for S&Gs:
Washington @ Seattle (-3 1/2). PICK: Washington
Jacksonville (-3) @ Pittsburgh. PICK: Jacksonville
NY Giants @ Tampa Bay (-3). PICK: NY Giants
Tennessee @ San Diego (-10). PICK: San Diego

My regular season total: 115-127-20. Yes, I'm humiliated.