Movie Talk: Raw Deal (Schwarzenegger, 1986)

Raw-3Release Year: 1986   |   Directed By: John Irvin   |   Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kathryn Harrold, Darren McGavin, Sam Wanamaker, Paul Shenar, Steven Hill, Ed Lauter, Joe Regalbuto, Robert Davi, Blanche Baker

“Raw Deal” is a fitting title for this Schwarzenegger action movie because that’s exactly what I have seen critics give it. Wooden acting on behalf of Ahnold and a non-dynamic plot were to blame but I think the standards of these critics must be too high because Raw Deal is just raw (pun totally intended) fun. Still with a 25% rating on the ever-reliable (lol) Rotten Tomatoes and Wikipedia entries such as,

Though the film doubled its production budget at the box office, its earnings were a disappointment.

you could be forgiven for assuming that Raw Deal is a blip in Schwarzenegger’s career that you shouldn’t waste your time on.

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“WRONG!”

 

This film is – critically speaking – a shit film but it’s one of those films that is entertaining because of how dumb it is and because of how stiff Schwarzenegger’s acting is. Look, not all movies need to be thoughtful or clever pieces of writing. Sometimes you just want to kick back and enjoy the kind of 1980’s menu that a movie like Raw Deal serves up: Arnie in his element as an unstoppable one man wrecking machine, bodies piling up by the second, a sexy big-haired 80’s girl with plunging cleavage, quotable one-liners galore and repulsive villains getting their just desserts.

To give the critics some due (but only some), the plot is pretty disposable and only really an excuse for Arnie to go around shooting gangsters and generally being a badass. He plays former FBI agent, Mark Kaminski, who was forced to unceremoniously resign from his post due to his heavy-handed approach to apprehending a scumbag child molester. Brown-nosing FBI prosecuter, Marvin Baxter, gave him the option to “resign or be prosecuted. Any way you want it”. Kaminski lands on his feet (sort of) with a Sheriff’s job in small middle-of-nowhere town where they have no friends and nothing ever happens, much to the misery of his wife, Amy, who has taken to drinking to blot it all out.

But then Kaminski is contacted by old FBI pal, Harry Shannon. Harry’s son, Blair, has been killed while protecting a witness crucial to a big case against Chicago gangster, Luigi Patrovita. Harry is determined to seek revenge and asks Kaminski if he will go undercover on an off-grid, privately-funded operation to infiltrate Patrovita’s organisation and destroy it from within. Additionally, it is also apparent that somebody within the FBI has been bought by Patrovita’s organisation hence why their witnesses keep getting assassinated. In order to be convincing, Kaminski has to fake his own death in a massive chemical plant explosion and not tell anybody else the truth, even his wife.

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You’ll see this – a LOT. [Source]
The reason for agreeing to all of this? Reinstatement with the FBI. Though I can’t help but think that such extreme commitment for such a dangerous job on Kaminski’s end doesn’t quite equal Harry’s promise of “possible reinstatement”…for completing an unsanctioned operation! It’s a good job that Harry is his friend and that Kaminski wants to see Amy happy again…

The way that all of the backstory is told is fairly unimaginative too. Big in-depth recollections are simply brought up in conversation with Amy and then Harry and delivered monologue-style by Kaminski. But – as I said – you don’t watch a film like Raw Deal for a complex storyline and clever scripting.

You watch it for the resulting action. Kaminski goes undercover with a false ID, posing as Joseph P. Brenner, a convicted felon. He gets inside Patrovita’s organisation and then the fun begins. This is one of those classic 80’s action films where the hero guns down a never-ending supply of enemy goons that are seemingly unable to shoot straight. Arnie takes no hits at all as he blows away enemies. There are explosions and punches that sound like explosions for good measure. It’s just so entertaining. Especially when thugs are shot or punched and go flying silly distances, crashing through windows or into bar serveries. The fake blood is terrible and there are no end of conveniences such as when Kaminski steals a truck that just happens to have the keys left in the ignition. Or when he needs to escape a cemetery later on in the film and Monique roars up in a car with no explanation as to how she knew where he was!

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Kathryn Harrold plays Monique, the staple big-haired, big-eyed sexy 80’s girl that every action film from the era needs. [Source]
It all leads up to one final massive shoot-out in Patrovita’s offices, preceeded (of course) by a dramatic tooling-up montage of guns being loaded to some heavy electric guitar sounds. You know that Arnie is going to decimate the enemy and walk out completely unruffled but who gives a fuck about realism? This is a tour-de-force of destruction and henchmen getting what they deserve. It’s feel-good justice and pure entertainment that doesn’t need to apologise for what it does.

So yes, Raw Deal probably isn’t a “good” film on critical terms. Heck, it’s not even one of Schwarzenegger’s greatest hits. But this is still 1980’s, one man army action at it’s silliest. You aren’t meant to take films like this seriously or analyse their plots. You sit back, shut the fuck up and switch your brain off for 105 minutes. And there’s nothing wrong with doing that.

Movie Talk: The Expendables 2 (2012)

E2-1Release Year: 2012   |   Directed By: Sylvester Stallone    Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris, Dolph Lundgren, Jean Claude Van Damme, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Liam Hemsworth, Scott Adkins, Yu Nan, Charisma Carpenter

The Expendables is one of my favourite movie action series’, partly because of what it is and partly because it represents that magic moment when OTT 1980’s-style action movies briefly made an explosive return to the big screen, spearheaded by Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Several highly entertaining movies came about as a result of this very welcome resurgence including The Last Stand, Escape Plan, Bullet to the Head and, of course, The Expendables.

I’m only going to be reviewing The Expendables 2 however because this is the best of the trilogy in my opinion. The original is still a fantastic action movie but was unfortunately placed in the shade when the sequel turned everything up to eleven. The third film, meanwhile, is also an exciting thrill ride but the high points come from two fantastic action sequences which are – unfortunately – placed at either end of the picture. There’s a bit of a flat spot in the middle where Barney Ross’ (Stallone) team is replaced by a younger generation of Expendables who proceed to make Stallone’s character look like the 80’s dinosaur he is…before being so intelligent and high-tech that they get captured by Mel Gibson and require rescuing by the old guard.

The Expendables 2 hits a sweet spot somewhere in between and that’s why I’m only going to bother talking about this one.

 

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Ross: “I heard you were bitten by a King Cobra.” Booker: “Yeah I was…but after five days of excrutiating pain…the cobra died” [Source]
Sophisticated it ain’t but if you go in expecting otherwise then you’re a fool. Hulking, mens-men sit around in a bar smoking, drinking beers and shooting the shit before being given a suicide mission of a job. Said jobs in this series always take place in a fictional third-world country that riffs on somewhere real. The first film opted for South America while Expendables 2 surprised nobody by featuring Eastern Bloc countries such as Albania and Bulgaria. International arms dealer Jean Vilain (Van Damme) and his scumbag mercenary group are trying to steal five tons of refined plutonium, something that CIA agent, Church (Willis), doesn’t want to happen so he orders the Expendables team to stop them.

Having every action movie trope thrown into The Expendables 2 doesn’t hurt it though because the details exist purely as a vehicle for what this series is all about: an all-star group of big-screen action heroes blasting their way through a never-ending supply of enemy goons, none of which can shoot accurately to save their lives (literally) but all of which deserve to be iced.

Name another movie where you can watch Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Chuck Norris sharing the same screen and gunning their way through a room of enemies. It hadn’t happened before The Expendables 2 and unless there is a fourth installment in the series, we likely won’t see such a spectacle again. The Expendables 2 does sometimes get a bit too tongue-in-cheek to be taken seriously but that’s hard to consider a detraction when the stars are playing off of one another’s classic catch-phrases and one-liners. As far as I am concerned, the shootout scene in the airport at the movie’s climax is simply one of THE most entertaining sequences in any action film ever and never fails to raise a smile on this cynical face, no matter how many times I watch this movie.

[Trench (Schwarzenegger) and Church (Willis) are taking cover during the firefight]

Trench: I’m almost out; I’ll be back!

Church: You’ve been back enough. I’ll be back

Trench: Yippe-ki-yay…

[Trench (Schwarzenegger) is joined by Booker (Chuck Norris)]

Trench: Who is next? Rambo?

It’s absolutely brilliant and a love letter to old-school action movies like Commando. It’s big, loud and brash. You get mahoosive explosions and so much firepower that it’s almost like gun porn at times. It’s also nice to see a legend like Van Damme back in action in a decent, big-budget movie. His battle with Stallone at the end is a treat. You get Stallone dishing out some machinegun jabs, Rocky-style (I’d like to think that that was an intentional nod to Stallone’s boxing films), and Van Damme pulls off his famous helicopter kick.

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Just too awesome.

There are only two things that I don’t like about The Expendables 2. The first is how the film almost becomes a parody of the genre it is attempting to pay homage to but as I’ve already said, I think they just managed to not go too far and maintain that balance between fun and bloody comic-book action. The second is the introduction of a female member to Ross’s team, Maggie Chan (played by Yu Nan). My issue with this is how they implemented her. Ross is initially resistant to having a woman shoe-horned into his team by Church and there are all of these small scenes throughout the movie where Chan gradually impresses the rest of the crew and gains acceptance. It’s clear from the outset that Maggie is both badass and capable so why go through the bullshit of trying to make some sort of statement about a woman being able to hold her own with the guys? Don’t get me wrong, it’s not intrusive or in-your-face but I’m not sure it was really necessary. Thankfully, The Expendables 3 redresses this with the seamless inclusion of Ronda Rousey’s character.

If I have to sum up The Expendables 2 with a single word then I’d have to use “fun”. These films are the ideal antidote to pictures that focus on social commentary or promoting some kind of politically-correct agenda. They aren’t clever or dynamic but sometimes, that’s not what you want. The Expendables 2 is simply a great time and benefits from having the most stacked cast of action movie greats (past and present) that we are likely to ever witness. If you love your old-school action movies then you owe it to yourself to watch this.

Movie Talk: Hobo With a Shotgun (2011)

hobo-1Release Year: 2011   |   Directed By: Jason Eisener   |   Starring: Rutger Hauer, Gregory Smith, Molly Dunsworth, Brian Downey, Nick Bateman

[to a group of newborn babies] “A long time ago I was one of you. You’re all brand-new and perfect. No mistakes, no regrets. People look at you and think of how wonderful your future will be. They want you to be something special like a doctor or a lawyer. I hate to tell you this, but if you grow up here, you’re more likely to wind up selling your bodies on the streets, or shooting dope from dirty needles in a bus stop. And if you’re successful, you’ll make money selling junk to crackheads. And you won’t think twice about killing somebody’s wife, because you won’t even know what was wrong in the first place. Or maybe you’ll end up like me – a hobo with a shotgun! I hope you can do better. You are the future.”

There’s nothing thought-provoking or “big” about a film like Hobo With a Shotgun but then, we don’t all want to coo over arthouse drivel or social commentary masquerading as entertainment. Sometimes we just want unrestrained fun, audacious violence and black humour without all that thinking man’s crap. This film certainly delivers on all those counts. The Hobo (Hauer) is a drifter travelling by rail who rides into Hope Town, a town with irony dripping from its name because there couldn’t BE a town with any less hope on display. Oppressive urban decay is everywhere as is flagrant, violent crime. Worse still, a psychotic crime lord self-styling as ‘The Drake’ (Brian Downey) rules the town with fear, routinely carrying out live executions in highly gruesome fashions. These killings take place in the streets for all to bear witness to and are dubbed “The Drake Show”. The Drake has his equally sadistic sons, Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman) on hand to help keep Hope Town dancing to his tune. Mess with The Drake or his business and you could well be The Drake Show’s next special guest.

All the Hobo wants is to keep himself to himself and scrape together enough money to realise his dream of purchasing a beat-up lawnmower from the town’s pawn shop. He quickly finds it difficult to turn a blind eye to the brutal, bloodthirsty acts taking place all over town however and his curiosity lands him on Slick’s radar when he intervenes in a struggle between The Drake’s favourite son and prostitute, Abby (Molly Dunsworth). The Hobo bucks the status quo by laying the smackdown on Slick and hauling him to the police station to make a citizen’s arrest. Unfortunately, Hope Town’s police force is in The Drake’s pocket and the Hobo finds himself on the end of a vicious retribution attack which he is lucky to survive, largely thanks to help from Abby.

The Hobo manages to obtain enough money for his lawnmower but upon visiting the pawn shop to make his purchase, he finds himself caught up in an armed robbery and despite the price paid for his previous intervention, steps in once more by seizing a shotgun and blowing away the criminal scum. He forfits his garden appliance to pay for said shogun instead and thus begins his vigilante quest to clean up the streets, delivering justice one shell at a time.

I said that this movie isn’t about the commentary but what I will say is that the Hobo’s desire to act and his subsequent killing spree speaks to that part of us that secretly wants somebody like the Hobo around; that person who can cleanse the streets of deviants and the very worst criminals when the justice system(s) has proved too soft and law ineffective. We want to see the monsters of society reap what they sow and not get off lightly. Of course, I wouldn’t go as far as to promote vigilantism but thankfully we have movies like this and I found immense satisfaction in seeing the utterly evil scourge of Hope Town first introduced through the Hobo’s eyes then blown away by his shottie.

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[Source]
The other reason I really dig Hobo With a Shotgun is because it just doesn’t give a fuck. They went wild with the free-flowing gore, sadistic violence and generally fucked-up stuff here, firmly placing the movie in the Exploitation sub-genre with that crazy Grindhouse feel that you’ve seen in the likes of Planet Terror and Machete. There’s heads being crushed to a bloody pulp between two fairground bumper cars. There are heads being ripped off by barbed-wire nooses tied to cars. There are topless girls giggling as they beat the shit out of a human pinata with baseball bats and then squealing with delight when his blood sprays like a burst water main and soaks their naked bodies.

It’s disgusting, gratutious and extremely OTT but at the same time, it’s all so silly and comical that you can’t take it seriously and so all this highly creative violence is likely to coax out a smile from the viewer rather than a grimace.

Hobo With a Shotgun doesn’t just stop at the ultra-violence however. This is a no holds-barred movie that frequently shocks with the daring makeup of some of the scenes that fly in the face of our overly-sensitive society that wants everything banned. The paedophile santa for example who parks outside a children’s playground and spies on kids through binoculars, touching himself before speeding off with an unfortunate captive hammering on the back window of his car. Then there’s a scene where a school bus full of kids gets torched with a flamethrower to the tune of The Trammps’ Disco Inferno.

Nothing is held back and I got the sense that the director and writer of this film let their imaginations run riot without even considering putting their ideas through an acceptability filter in order to appease the “won’t somebody think of the children?” brigade. And I love them for it, I really do. It’s a fat dosage of mental, unpretentious FUN that absolutely rocks hence why I’ve watched this movie about four or five times since 2011.

I must also quickly mention the lovely Molly Dunsworth who plays Abby. All horror and bizarre exploitation films need a hot female lead who can kick ass as well as look sexy and Dunsworth more than succeeds here.

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[Source]
If I had to level any kind of criticism at Hobo With a Shotgun then I suppose I would have to wheel out the traditional “style over substance” trope and I can’t completely refute that observation. However, it’s also worth pointing out that you know exactly what you are getting into with a film like this just by looking at the poster, DVD cover or synopsis so I imagine it unlikely that you could expect anything other than what I’ve described in this review.

Movie Talk: Heat (1995)

Heat-Poster-1Release Year: 1995     Directed By: Michael Mann   |   Starring: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Diane Venora, Ashley Judd, Amy Brenneman, Kevin Gage, Natalie Portman, Dennis Haysbert, Danny Trejo, Jon Voight

[Not to be confused with “The Heat” (2013) or Heat (1986), Heat (1972), Heat (1996 Australian TV film)…how many times has this name been used? Jeez…]

I’ll go ahead and begin by stating that Heat is my favourite movie of all-time. It hadn’t used to be; that honour tended to switch between Terminator 2 and the first Kill Bill. Each time I re-watched Michael Mann’s crime masterpiece however, it crept up the order until I decided that, fuck it, Heat may as well be my favourite movie. I can’t say enough good things about it.

The film centres on professional thief, Neil McCauley (De Niro) and determined LAPD homicide detective, Lt. Vincent Hanna (Pacino). Both are dysfunctional individuals with their own code and the cat-and-mouse game between these two main players of the movie is one of its main draws. McCauley heads up a proven crew of organised thieves and is a loner by nature, living with the philosophy of not having anything in your life “that you cannot walk out on in thirty seconds flat if you spot the heat around the corner”. For McCauley, making the big scores is his life and all he wants to do. Hanna on the other hand is a workaholic cop that puts his job first at all times, even at the expense of his increasingly frustrated wife (Diane Venora) and step-daughter (Natalie Portman). Hanna is determined to take McCauley and his crew down and is unable to avoid putting the hunt aside to rescue his marriage.

The thing I absolutely love about Heat is that there are no irrelevant, filler scenes or dull moments – quite an achievement for a film that goes beyond the two-hour mark. Even the scenes that involve characters simply talking are enthralling because the writing and characterisation is brilliant. Obviously, the stars are De Niro and Pacino but the supporting cast are just an important. From the crazy Waingro (Kevin Gage) to the disillusioned Donald (Dennis Haysbert), there are so many memorable performances. Then there are the women who have to suffer for the actions and decisions of their other halves – just one of many subtle plot threads woven together to produce the epic tapestry that is Heat.

Another notable bit of genius is that it’s impossible not to like the characters no matter if they are good-hearted and innocent like Eady (Amy Brenneman), psychotic and violent like Waingro or greedy and unsavoury (most of the criminals). Heat is a character piece as much as it is a crime thriller or action movie and it feels natural to understand where everybody – good or bad – is coming from. Many of the characters blur the line between being wholly good or bad and this is probably what makes them so endearing as this is what it means to truly be human. We viewers may not partake in anything as dramatic as holding up armoured cars or putting big-time crooks behind bars but we can still relate to the characters and their motivations.

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[Source]
The action scenes are another highlight of Heat, particularly the gun battle in downtown LA as McCauley’s crew attempt to escape following their carefully-planned bank heist gone wrong. This kind of scene just wouldn’t exist today for many reasons. First up, there are no unrealistic and unnecessary explosions or dynamic action shots. There’s no music either. What you get is a group of guys simply trying to get away, using cars as cover while shooting at the LAPD, deafening bursts of assault rifle fire echoing off the buildings. It’s exactly what a real-life version of this scene would sound like and I’ve even read that their tactical retreat was used as a reference for police or military training (though how true this is, I can’t say). The whole thing feels raw and natural and is totally immersive.

The final showdown between McCauley and Hanna is another scene that would never be permitted today. Hanna gives chase to a desperate McCauley across the runways of LAX, even running across the path of a taxiing passenger plane at one point. As I understand, this kind of filming is now strictly prohibited in a post-9/11 world which is a shame but completely understandable.

Heat is a masterpiece of scripting backed up by superb performances from all actors involved. Every set-piece, every action scene and every conversation is special. I know I’m probably gushing over this fim and I haven’t said anything bad about it but really, I can’t think of anything. If you’ve somehow missed it then you should really rectify that mistake because – as cliched as it sounds – they really don’t make ’em like this anymore.

Movie Talk: Blade Runner (1982)

BR-1Release Year: 1982  |  Directed By: Ridley Scott  |  Starring: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward Hames Elmos, Daryl Hannah

I don’t suppose that there’s much more to be said about Blade Runner by this point so this review is probably redundant (and certainly thirty-seven years too late) but what the hell. I fancied watching something the other night and chose this from the DVD collection that most certainly needs trimming as part of my ongoing battle against materialism. I watched the ‘Final Cut’ version, if that’s important. It’s the only version I have ever seen so unfortunately, I’m not privy to any knowledge on the changes/additions that were made over the original theatrical release. This is turning out to be a useless review isn’t it? *ahem*

Anyway, Blade Runner is set in the ‘future’ of 2019. Looking out of my window as I type this, I can’t see the flying police cars, towering buildings or giant neon advertising signs but then again, I don’t live in LA where Blade Runner is set so who knows. This future is loaded with technology and wondrous advancement but at the same time, the film depicts nothing but urban decay and slum-like living with the populance crammed into tight streets. Further, The Tyrell Corporation has developed bioengineered human-like beings known as Replicants to do the dirty/dangerous work of humans. The Replicants are a perfect mimicry of man and are even capable of developing human emotions over time. Explained in the movie’s intro, there is a rebellion amongst Replicants working on an off-world colony and they are thus made illegal back on Earth but a small group manage to steal a shuttle and successfully make it to Earth.

Harrison Ford plays Deckard, a special type of police officer known as a Blade Runner, whose role is to hunt down Replicants hiding in society and “retire” them.

As the plot progresses, Blade Runner explores several philosophical themes with the most obvious being the morality of playing God and creating life. There is also the question of whether it is right to create beings that are more or less human with their own personalities but then treat them as disposable appliances or slaves and kill (or “retire”) them without a second thought. It’s 2019 now and artificial intelligence/man-made “people” hasn’t quite happened yet as in the world of Blade Runner BUT we are getting there at a rapid rate and so I suppose these themes have turned out to be the most relevant since this movie released in ’82. In other words, the content of movies like Blade Runner and The Terminator aren’t necessarily just sci-fi entertainment anymore but real possibilities that throw up questions and potential concerns for the near future.

Looking at Wikipedia, there are (apparently) other themes running through Blade Runner including religion, Deckard’s morality, paranoia and even literary influences. I didn’t really pick up on most of these myself and I don’t mind because for me, Blade Runner is all about the visuals and world design.

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[image: BFI.org]
I mentioned the “urban decay” look before but Blade Runner really does paint a miserable, grim future. It’s always dark and pouring with heavy rain, tight streets are choked with people pushing past one another and seediness is around every corner. There is a police presence everywhere and corporations rule supreme with enormous advertising boards and airships with giant video screens beaming more advertising down from above. There is definitely a dystopian feeling to Blade Runner but I really like it and drank in the exhaustive detail of the sets. The Asian influence with the neon advertising boards and abundance of oriental-looking civilians wearing wide-brimmed conical straw hats doesn’t really make much sense to me but it kind of fits the futuristic vision somehow.

Blade Runner is one of the original influences of all things cyber-punk and many, many forms of entertainment – books, videogames, movies – have mimicked the dark, wet and neon look. This is where it all began however and the impressive thing is how believable the sets and special effects still look considering the age of the film. The take-off and landing of the flying “spinner” police cars for example look far better than you might expect them to for a 1982 film.

There are lots of things to like about Blade Runner but for me, the movie is all about the look and the vision of a technological future. It’s why I enjoyed it the first time round and why I still enjoy it now. The only negative in my opinion is the somewhat abrupt and open-ended conclusion that leaves the viewer to decide what happens next. I know that many appreciate these sorts of “thinking man’s” endings but I personally don’t. Other than that, Blade Runner is a sci-fi classic that deserves its status. I’m definitely interested in watching the recent sequel now too.

The Captain Marvel controversy is bullshit

I was recently surprised at the intense outpouring of hate and anger being directed at the new Captain Marvel film and as much as I planned to just ignore it, I simply had to read some more about just what the hell was going on. Turns out that I shouldn’t have been so surprised because as usual, it was internet keyboard warriors screaming into their echo chamber and raging about a movie that they hadn’t even seen yet. It was internet keyboard warriors ignoring the fact that this could well be another great Marvel film and urging a mass boycott based on lead actress Brie Larson’s views outside of her role as Captain Marvel.

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So…not so surprising then. Hate to say it guys but if you don’t want to watch something (for whatever reason) then just vote with your wallet and don’t watch it. What a concept! Heading to the ‘net to start getting angry and firing hateful shots doesn’t paint you in a very sophisticated light. Cinema operators probably don’t want people like you there anyway.

That’s not an attack on all detractors by the way, just the type I have described. It’s always okay to have an opinion and to decide that you don’t agree with something – whatever the reason – but putting it across in a calm, structured manner is always more likely to get people to listen to your view. Making Youtube videos to rage at a camera or posting Tweets comparing Brie Larson to Adolf Hitler is frankly embarassing. Sadly, this is the world we live in now. A world where the internet has given everybody a platform to mount and spew their ignorant, angry view and say things that they wouldn’t dare say in public or to somebody’s face.

The first grumblings I heard about Captain Marvel were from fans complaining that Brie Larson didn’t have the right figure to play a character like Captain Marvel. Given that comic books are primarily sold to a male audience who have grown up devouring artwork that depicts voluptuous, amazonian women in the role of superheroes then that wasn’t surprising. I do personally somewhat agree because the image I have of Captain Marvel (or her aliases, Ms Marvel and Warbird) is something like this:

ms-marvel-cho-1

[Frank Cho is GOD by the way]

I’m not going to sugarcoat anything or attempt to be apologetic because that isn’t the way here on Unfiltered Opinion. I would fucking love it if the MCU version of Captain Marvel had the hips and bust of her comic book counterpart. Imagine somebody like Kate Upton in the costume for example.

BUT this is no reason to slag off Brie Larson and get all personal about things. Also, if you were a true geek, you would recall that Carol Danvers was originally a fighter pilot for the US military so you could in fact reasonably put forward the idea that her statuesque glamour model figure was never realistic to begin with. I certainly don’t remember her filling out as a result of gaining her superhuman powers (correct me if I’m wrong). She has always been a military woman and this would also blow away another of the complaints about the character not smiling enough in the film’s promotional shots. Why would a hardened ex-military woman fighting off alien invasions stand around smiling?

Some fans have taken this the wrong way and assumed that the dark, conspirational powers-that-be in the decision-making roles cast somebody like Larson as the character for this very reason. They think that political correctness is out to get them, remove all traces of sexuality from our movies and sterilise our entertainment in order to satisfy the militant feminists and vocal #metoo crowd. Looking at the wider picture outside of this specific movie, I do think that there is an element of truth in this idea but I cannot believe that it is being driven on a conscious basis, one movie at a time. It is merely a reflection of the times we live in.

Thing is, comic books were – for the longest time – sold to men and teenage boys and written/illustrated by men. Of course, the women were going to be sexy and appealing. It was how they sold comics and also how the creators of said characters wanted them to look. I’m not condemning that because as a man, I’ve certainly enjoyed comics over the years and how the likes of Emma Frost, Captain Marvel and Black Widow were drawn. I will continue to do so too. The movies on the other hand have exploded in popularity and now have to cater to a wider audience if they want to keep on growing. Yeah, it sucks that they can’t look exactly how we want them to but do you expect Marvel to turn away Larson based on her measurements or cup size?

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But this was only the tip of the monolithic iceberg of hate and resentment that I came across. I ventured below the icy waters a bit further to see just how large this ‘berg was but was careful not to go too deep. You see, the biggest source of anger was surrounding Larson’s comments about Captain Marvel‘s press tour being more diverse and inclusive. Traditional male fans hit back, leaping to the conclusion that the actress was saying that the movie wasn’t for them and that it was a vehicle for political correctness and encouraging diversity.

I don’t want to get too deep into this because I will openly admit that I don’t know enough to start throwing judgments about. What I will say is this: when did superhero films suddenly need to get so deep and involved in social events? We saw it with Black Panther and all the praise for it being a ‘black’ film in the mainstream. I heard more about that than the actual film itself. The fact that it featured a black cast should have been a given since the fictional country of Wakanda is in Africa. Yet somehow it generated this massive buzz as if people were excited that Marvel Studios hadn’t cast white actors in the place of black actors. As far as I was concerned, it was just a very accurate and successful, common-sense casting that anybody would have seen as the only way forward.

And now we have Captain Marvel being in the news for all the wrong reasons and all of this debate about Brie Larson’s comments and beliefs rather than the movie itself. The only thing I’m hulking out about is the superhero genre becoming such a battleground for social issues. Stop all of this bullshit. These are meant to be popcorn films and simple escapism, not Oscar-winning productions or reasons to start debating sexism or discrimination. It was always this way and that was fine.

To the riled-up haters: grow up and just don’t watch Captain Marvel if it offends you. Yes, not everything lines up with what us comic book fans might want to see but flinging shitty insults and ignorant views around in an aggressive manner won’t get anybody to take you seriously. Brie Larson was hired to play the part based on her acting skills and you really don’t need to dig deeper and berate a movie based on an actor/actress’s comments outside of the film. No, I’m not saying that you should like her (or anybody) and you are one-hundred percent entitled to disagree with what she is saying (I don’t agree with a lot of it) but does it need to get any more serious than that?

To the film industry and actors/actresses: stop turning brain-off entertainment and escapism into debates on social issues, sexism, equality, discrimination etc. These are all important talking points but we are exposed to them constantly through the media and society. We don’t need it spilling over into comic book films for fuck’s sake. I want to watch these movies for what they are and decide whether I enjoyed them or if they were shit without all of this background context going on. It’s getting hard to just be a geek for fuck’s sake.

 

Movie Talk: Rocky (1976)

Rock1These days, the Rocky name is bigger than the movies themselves and the main character’s transcendence into a pop-culture icon means that even the younger generation know who Rocky Balboa is without necessarily watching any film in the series. Trendy fitness classes work out to Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”, tourists make a point of sprinting up the Philadelphia Art Museum steps and there are a galaxy’s worth of training montage parodies. It’s easy then, to forget that the original Rocky is actually a gritty, character-driven story and upon recently re-visiting it, I was struck by just how good the writing for this movie was.

Balboa is a washed-up semi-pro boxer living day-to-day on the rough, run-down streets of Philly. A nice guy with a big heart, he nevertheless failed to work hard enough to reach his potential and earns a living by collecting on debts for a local loan shark and fighting in low-rent boxing matches. It’s easy to pick out parallels between Rocky’s life story and your own if you too are working an unsatisfying day job with an unfulfilled dream gathering dust in the back of your mind. Perhaps not so relatable is what happens next when heavyweight champ Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) offers a shot at his title to an unranked nobody and sets his sights firmly on Rocky “The Italian Stallion” Balboa. Now Rocky has to train like never before to make up for all of the years of bumming around but not before a scathing reality check from trainer, Mickey (Burgess Meredith), winning the heart of painfully shy pet shop employee, Adrian (Talia Shire) and suffering his friend, Paulie’s (Burt Young) bitter cynicism.

The thing that makes Rocky so great is not the boxing itself but these characters because they are so well written and believable that you can’t help but get invested in them. This is especially true of the supporting characters. Paulie for instance is an eternally angry, grumbling, drink-loving bum and yet you know that – deep down – he is a good guy so you can’t help but like him anyway despite his general scumbaggery and the way he puts his sister, Adrian, down.

Then there is Adrian’s initial stone-walling of Rocky and how she gradually thaws, ever-so-slowly emerging from her shell. The thing that makes Adrian great is that she is attractive but not too attractive and this makes her character so much more believable and endearing than if she had been an obvious stunner or classic, sexy girl-next-door. Adrian only works because she is an average (by Hollywood standards at least) and realistic woman hindered by her shyness. During the course of the movie, she becomes Rocky’s strength and serves as one of the major catalysts for his transformation from a could-have-been into a revitalised man with new purpose. Rocky still wants to go the distance with Creed to prove his to himself that he can do it but from that point on, he is also fighting for Adrian.

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[image: allmovie.com]
Burgess Meredith is superb as Mickey, Rocky’s fierce, no-nonsense trainer who defies his age and stature with the sheer charisma he brings to the role when in full flow. Mickey is as real as Paulie or Adrian though and harbours disappointment in Rocky as well as regret on his part. The two have to repair their relationship and share some difficult home truths. Mickey is angry that Rocky got lazy and squandered his potential. Rocky is angry that Mickey wasn’t there for him in the past.

The movie slowly builds up to the big finale and Rocky’s showdown with Apollo Creed, a battle that is extremely well choreographed to resemble a real boxing match. Creed is a formidable opponent: proven and with an abundance of self-confident swagger. Yet, he never crosses the line into villain territory and even though you root for Rocky the entire time, it isn’t due to any resentment for Creed or his character – something which can’t be said for Rocky’s later opponents in the sequels. The fight is genuinely gripping (even on a repeat viewing) and the blows explosive, packing plenty of punch (pun fully intended). Bill Conti’s score should never be discounted as one of the major elements that makes Rocky such a memorable movie and there are some truly epic, rousing pieces reserved for the finale that rival anything by the likes of John Williams.

The finest piece of writing is saved for the very end however because against all silver screen tradition, the unlikely underdog actually loses to a judge’s decision after fifteen gruelling rounds. The thing is though, you know that the real winner is Rocky and Creed’s celebrations being swallowed up by a crowd that belongs to the ‘nobody’ confirms that. Rocky came from the streets of a decaying neighbourhood and went the full distance with the world heavyweight champion without being knocked out. Creed won but Rocky’s victory means more. It’s a very clever bit of writing that has stood the test of time.

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[image: IMDB.com]
Ultimately, Rocky is one of the true greats and so much more than the blockbuster action image it has garnered over the years. In fact, I would argue that Rocky is almost the complete opposite with the action coming at the end and the first three quarters being about establishing these believable characters and going on a journey with them. If you do want to look at Rocky with a view to analysing the entertainment factor first and foremost however, then it’s impossible to ignore the genuinely motivational elements. From the famous training montage – that sees Rocky wake up and really work for something he believes in – to the film’s underlying message about giving it your all in order to go for something no matter the odds, it’s a movie that can encourage you off your backside to chase your potential.

If you haven’t yet watched Rocky or were put off by preconceptions based on it being a Stallone movie or a boxing/sport movie, then I highly recommend laying those reservations aside and giving it a shot. If you have seen it before then definitely watch it again. If you’re only going to watch one film in the series then the original is by far the most essential with Rocky II a close second (but not entirely necessary given the powerful conclusion to the original). The sequels gradually descended into ‘popcorn’ territory and stopped being so intelligent. They are still enjoyable though and come with their own life messages but I’ll be looking at the follow-ups in a separate article.

[On a personal side-note, I really enjoyed the grainy, interference-laced picture on this DVD copy I have. It added to the gritty setting and imagery of urban decay in a way that I can’t imagine a super cleaned-up HD copy managing. Obviously I’ve not watched a Blu Ray version or anything like that so I can’t comment.]