Movie Project #1: First Blood [1982]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

First Blood [1982]

First Blood [1982]
Director: Ted Kotcheff
Writers: David Morrell (novel), Michael Kozoll (screenplay), William Sackheim (screenplay), Sylvester Stallone (screenplay)
Country: USA
Genre: Action/Adventure/Drama
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Brian Dennehy, Richard Crenna
Running Time: 93 minutes

Before watching First Blood, I envisioned the character of John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) to be a shirtless, testosterone-fueled one man army armed with a machine gun and endless ammunition. This is the image that I had been fed through the pop culture canon over the years. I was a bit surprised, then, to find a mentally damaged Vietnam War veteran in place of the fearless commando I thought I knew.

First Blood begins with a shaggy-looking Rambo wandering the streets of a small town in the Pacific Northwest. The local sheriff, Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy), notices him walking about and forcefully “offers” a ride out of his town. After being dropped off, Rambo simply starts walking back the way he came, drawing the ire of the sheriff. Teasle arrests him for vagrancy and drives him back for a night in jail. Once there, the rest of the police force joins in on giving Rambo a hard time for no good reason. A few officers attempt to give him some unwanted grooming; when a razor is pulled out, Rambo has a flashback to being tortured in ‘Nam, and he panics. He fights his way through the entire building, steals a dirtbike and heads deep into the mountains, now a wanted fugitive.

The police force, equal parts stubborn and embarrassed, refuse to back down, and soon tracking dogs, the State Patrol and the National Guard are all brought in. Little do they know that Rambo is a former member of an elite Special Forces unit, and the odds are actually against *them* to survive. Rambo’s mentor, Colonel Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna), arrives in an attempt to talk sense into both sides, but by then it’s all too late — this is war.

First Blood [1982]

The idea of Rambo taking on an entire town’s worth of enemies is a bit ridiculous, but it never feels as outlandish as other 80s action flicks. Stallone does a tremendous job of getting us to be on his side, even as he lays waste to a poor, innocent town. He even gets to show off his acting chops in a surprisingly touching final act. The closing scene with his Colonel is what really pulls everything together, and it provides some sort of meaning to what had until that point been a relatively run-of-the-mill action film.

First Blood still has its issues — the policemen are stereotypical villains with no depth, for one — but damn if it didn’t leave on a high note. Now if only that godawful “It’s a Long Road” song didn’t play over the end credits…


Movie Project #18: Rocky [1976]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Rocky [1976]

Rocky [1976]
Director: John G. Avildsen
Genre: Action/Drama/Sports
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Carl Weathers, Burt Young and Burgess Meredith
Runtime: 119 minutes

I watched Rocky at the perfect time — I was very sick and needed to spend some time resting. What better way to get me through a nasty illness than by watching one of the most popular (and inspirational) sports films of all time?

Now six films deep, the original Rocky is still regarded as the best of the series. Sylvester Stallone, a virtual unknown at the time, wrote the screenplay and starred as the eponymous Rocky Balboa, an underachieving Philadelphia boxer who works as a debt collector on the side. He is poorly educated and fights in dimly light venues, often bringing in just a small cut of the gate revenue. Little does he know it, but Balboa is about to get the biggest break of his life.

Undefeated world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), a flamboyant and cocky star, is coming into town for a championship bout on New Year’s Day 1976, the year of the U.S. Bicentennial. After his opponent becomes injured, Creed comes up with the idea of giving a local fighter a shot at his title. While scouring through names of those in the city, he stumbles upon the “Italian Stallion” — Rocky Balboa. It’s as if you can see the light bulb and/or dollar signs appear over Apollo’s head. This is his man.

Aided by his friend Paulie (Burt Young), his quiet-and-reserved girlfriend Adrien (Talia Shire) and his trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith), Rocky begins training for a fight he never expected to have. Hell, Rocky doesn’t even think he can beat Apollo — he just wants to go the distance (something never accomplished against the champion).

Rocky [1976]

At its core, Rocky (the film) is a terrific underdog story. This is the stuff small-time and aspiring boxers (and other athletes) dream of — to break through and get their big moment. In a way, it is a glimpse at the American Dream, working hard to catch that big break. Of course, in Rocky’s case it was dumb luck (or rather, a catchy nickname) that got him his title match, but the sentiment is the same.

While pop culture has somewhat diluted the story of Rocky over the years, the fact remains that this is still an uplifting film. It is presented in a way that is very easy to digest, and the movie is one that most will be able to relate to. The fact that this was selected as Best Picture winner over several other greats such as Taxi Driver, All the President’s Men and Network, runs parallel to the film’s underdog story. With a classic rags-to-riches story, strong action scenes and an unforgettable soundtrack, Rocky is still enjoyable today.