Tag Archives: Richard Crenna

First Blood (1982, Ted Kotcheff)

Maybe if it weren’t for the Stephen J. Cannell television techniques (cars flying through the air or exploding on impact), the asinine, comedic banter between the deputies, some poor writing and Richard Crenna, First Blood might have been okay. Ted Kotcheff isn’t a good director though, so maybe not. Kotcheff shoots exteriors well (the stuff a second unit could have also done), but his composition for actors is simplistic and his director of the actors is terrible. Crenna’s role is just idiotically written, but both Stallone and Brian Dennehy careen from good to bad and not all their writing is bad; Kotcheff was just a terrible fit.

First Blood‘s actually kind of boring, mostly because it wastes all of its potential. The opening with Stallone visiting a friend off a beautiful lake really works, because it gets across the idea Rambo smiles when he sees children play. That characterization of Rambo doesn’t hold up through the entire movie and it’s a real problem. Anyway, after the opening, there’s the whole small town cops hassle Rambo stuff. Those scenes have some potential. Not a lot, because the transition from the sensitive Rambo who comforts an angry woman isn’t there. But David Caruso’s good as the sympathetic young deputy and Dennehy’s sheriff is still just a Western bad guy (the big mistake is later, when the script tries to give him depth).

But then Stallone hops on a motorcycle and starts doing wheelies and all the reality goes whoosh. Of course, after just showing him as a heartless animal, he’s warning people to get out of the way of the motorcycle on the sidewalk. Then there’s the long sequence in the forest, with awful cinematography. Then Richard Crenna shows up and is terrible and then a bunch of other stuff, then the ending Gremlins seems to have ripped off a little (it’s okay, since First Blood stole a lot from Raiders of the Lost Ark).

All the while, Jerry Goldsmith’s absurd score booms. Goldsmith appears to have never seen First Blood and is instead scoring an action movie with motorcycles. Oh, wait….

Stallone really does try during some of the scenes, but it doesn’t work. His big monologue is nowhere near as effective as when he tells some guy to get out of a speeding truck. Some of his wordless grunting scenes are bad, but most of his stuff is just boring–the movie probably spends fifteen minutes with him walking silently through a mine.

Nothing, of course, compares to that terrible end credit song, which is horrific. Sadly, the moment just before the song starts, Goldsmith’s score is for one second appropriate and First Blood actually seems all right. Then the song starts.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ted Kotcheff; screenplay by Michael Kozoll, William Sackheim and Sylvester Stallone, based on the novel by David Morrell; director of photography, Andrew Laszlo; edited by Joan E. Chapman; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Wolf Kroeger; produced by Buzz Feitshans; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (John J. Rambo), Richard Crenna (Col. Samuel Trautman), Brian Dennehy (Hope Sheriff Will Teasle), Bill McKinney (State Police Capt. Dave Kern), Jack Starrett (Deputy Sgt. Arthur Galt), Michael Talbott (Deputy Balford), Chris Mulkey (Deputy Ward), John McLiam (Orval the Dog Man), Alf Humphreys (Deputy Lester), David Caruso (Deputy Mitch), David L. Crowley (Deputy Shingleton) and Don MacKay (Preston).


RELATED

Advertisements

Rambo III (1988, Peter MacDonald)

According to IMDb, Rambo III was the most expensive movie ever made at the time of its release. It shows. Enormous sets, lots of vehicles–Rambo versus a helicopter, Rambo versus a tank, Rambo in a tank versus a helicopter. For all the money, it ought to look fantastic–except director Peter MacDonald, a camera operator and second unit director… composes like a second unit director and camera operator. It’s incredibly boring to watch, no matter what’s actually going on. MacDonald shoots wide shots and long shots and close-ups of Stallone. For the majority of the movie, nothing else. His direction drains any energy the film might have.

With this one, Stallone changes it up a lot. Most importantly, the politics are essentially gone and the movie really does try for some humanism by giving a face to the Afghani people during the Soviet invasion. When Richard Crenna goes and calls it Russia’s Vietnam, however, the metaphors and similes get confused (Rambo is siding against the imperialist invader… siding with people who get illicit support from a superpower). But, whatever. They’re trying and, with the exception of the really cute and precocious thirteen-year-old soldier, they do okay.

The second change-up is between Stallone and Crenna. Rambo III is a buddy flick with all the wisecracks and the one or two moments of awkward tenderness between macho men. Crenna’s actually not as bad as usual in this one, the humor making his hammy performance acceptable. And Stallone’s better too… even if he looks out of place and not just because of his poofed out eighties hair. Rambo the character doesn’t transition well from the previous entries, as serious and terribly flawed as they are, to a superhero. There’s an emptiness to the desert landscape–it affects the visual of Stallone in his headband and MacDonald doesn’t know how to adjust for it.

So, the goofy action and the bad puns between Crenna and Stallone and the humanism make Rambo III an okay diversion. It’s a precursor to the bigger, louder Carolco action movies. The movie’s almost all action for the second half–including one good sequence in a cave–which is nice, because MacDonald can’t do tension and whenever villain Marc de Jonge is onscreen, the movie becomes nearly unbearable. De Jonge is something terrible… but the movie itself is nearly okay.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Peter MacDonald; screenplay by Sylvester Stallone and Sheldon Lettich, based on characters created by David Morrell; director of photography, John Stanier; edited by James R. Symons, Andrew London, O. Nicholas Brown and Edward A. Warschilka; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Bill Kenney; produced by Buzz Feitshans; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (Rambo), Richard Crenna (Trautman), Marc de Jonge (Zaysen), Kurtwood Smith (Griggs), Spiros Focás (Masoud), Sasson Gabai (Mousa) and Doudi Shoua (Hamid).


RELATED

Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985, George P. Cosmatos)

Rambo‘s pretty awful. It’s not terrible–not too terrible to watch anyway (at least once, though New York Times critic A.O. Scott should probably be fired for supporting it to any degree). The main technical fault lies with George P. Cosmatos, who somehow managed to stock the crew with capable people (editor Mark Goldblatt is no slouch and Jack Cardiff–you know, the Archer’s cinematographer–shot it), but can’t shoot an action scene, establishing shot, anything. The second unit stuff of the helicopters is the best composition in the movie. The next big problem, then, lies with the script. And not even Stallone’s political commentary, which I’ll save for its own paragraph. No, the problem with the script is the movie’s mostly action after fifty minutes. Forty or so minutes of chase scenes and shooting and explosions. None of these things, of course, look good. Cosmatos is awful at shooting them.

Next problem, the cast. Richard Crenna’s terrible, Charles Napier’s terrible, Martin Kove’s terrible, Julia Nickson-Soul is terrible. Steven Berkoff’s poorly directed but he at least appears to be having fun. Stallone’s okay for some of it… not when he’s talking, not when he’s romancing Nickson-Soul. But when he’s running around, he’s okay. Not when he’s got the big gun either. It just looks too absurd.

As for the film’s politics, they’re incredibly confused (if strangely well-meaning). So confused–and the movie is such an absurd vehicle for political commentary–it’s hard to take them seriously. Stallone pushes and pulls in every direction. Each one of Rambo’s painful moments of political insight is invalidated by the next and it’s somewhat offensive–given the whole movie is about POWs still in Vietnam–Stallone takes the spotlight for himself at the end, instead of acknowledging–in the movie’s reality–there are a dozen or so men about to go home after twenty years in a prison camp.

Luckily, Rambo’s final speech is so dumb and brother Frank Stallone’s song is so awful, it’s impossible to dwell much on Rambo: First Blood Part II… thinking too hard about it, trying to unravel Stallone’s contradictory ideas, trying to understand why Rambo falls in love with Nickson-Soul in four and a half seconds… it hurts the brain.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by George P. Cosmatos; screenplay by Sylvester Stallone and James Cameron, based on a story by Kevin Jarre and on characters created by David Morrell; director of photography, Jack Cardiff; edited by Mark Goldblatt and Mark Helfrich; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Bill Kenney; produced by Buzz Feitshans; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (John J. Rambo), Richard Crenna (Col. Samuel Trautman), Charles Napier (Marshall Murdock), Steven Berkoff (Lt. Col. Podovsky), Julia Nickson-Soul (Co Bao), Martin Kove (Ericson), George Cheung (Tay), Andy Wood (Banks), William Ghent (Capt. Vinh) and Voyo Goric (Sgt. Yushin).


RELATED

Leviathan (1989, George P. Cosmatos)

Leviathan has to be one of the few films where the hero punches out a woman for audience satisfaction, which is actually quite an achievement for the film, since it’s so derivative. Leviathan is Alien, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and Peter Hyams’ Outland rolled together, with an amazing 1980s cast kneaded into the dough–there’s Ernie Hudson from Ghostbusters, Daniel Stern in his final, pre-Home Alone role, and Lisa Eilbacher from Beverly Hills Cop. Stern essentially plays his Home Alone role and Eilbacher isn’t particularly good (but, the good heavily outweighs the bad), but Hudson’s likable. The script gives the actors a little something–quirks, good speeches, anything to establish them in a couple minutes.

Leviathan is one of David Webb Peoples’ genre scripts. Peoples is known for Blade Runner, Unforgiven, and Twelve Monkeys, but he also wrote a lot of other sci-fi stuff that ended up getting made. Leviathan is actually a rather well-constructed film. It’s tense when it’s supposed to be tense and it never takes itself too seriously–though it would be hard, since Peter Weller is well-aware of what he’s doing (I think he once said he took the role so he could get a free trip to Italy). There’s even character establishment well into the second act, which I always like, coming out naturally instead of being explained to the audience. The script’s far from perfect–it prejudges Stern’s character, making it impossible for the audience to care about him.

When I worked at a video store, I once recommended Leviathan to someone over The Abyss (they came out at the same time). I caught hell for it from the customer and from a co-worker, but there’s nothing wrong with Leviathan. It’s beautiful–shot by Alex Thomson of all people–it’s ninety-six minutes of dumb fun with no glaring faults. Weller is always an interesting lead actor, it’s probably Richard Crenna’s finest work (Alien³ is actually derivative of Leviathan when it comes to medical officers), and Amanda Pays is good in the film. I rented it after I watched Dead on the Money and she’s actually good for a lot of Leviathan–she relates better to the film camera than the TV camera.

So, I feel rather vindicated. Now, I’m not recommending Leviathan, but there wouldn’t be anything wrong with it if I was….

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by George P. Cosmatos; screenplay by David Webb Peoples and Jeb Stuart, based on a story by Peoples; director of photography, Alex Thomson; edited by Roberto Silvi and John F. Burnett; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Ron Cobb; produced by Luigi and Aurelio de Laurentiis; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Peter Weller (Beck), Richard Crenna (Doc), Amanda Pays (Willie), Daniel Stern (Sixpack), Ernie Hudson (Jones), Michael Carmine (DeJesus), Lisa Eilbacher (Bowman), Hector Elizondo (Cobb) and Meg Foster (Martin).


RELATED