Rambo: Last Blood and Play Misty for Me: Jim Hemphill’s Home Video Recommendations
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Play Misty for Me

Sylvester Stallone's Rambo series is one of the more enduring franchises in American cinema, which is a bit of a surprise given that it didn't really find her voice until episode four and started with a film that wasn't at all suitable for sequels. First Blood, directed by Ted Kotcheff in 1982 based on a script by Stallone, Michael Kozoll and William Sackheim, is an action classic in its own right, an elegant and strict survival film in which the Vietnam vet John Rambo competes against the city that wronged him did without killing a single person. Stallone balanced First Blood's low physique with the wildly entertaining and joyfully exaggerated 1985 sequel to Rambo: First Blood Part II and its successor, Rambo III (1988). Films as broad and dull as Kotcheff's were nuanced and thoughtful. By the time Stallone first stepped in the series' chair with Rambo in 2008 (he is recognized as the co-writer for all five Rambo images), he had obviously been pondering the character for years and his own ambitions for the franchise could come up with overlap the expectations of his audience; The result was a film in which Stallone could go both ways, delving deeper into the self-doubt and relentless pessimism that always made John Rambo an unusually interesting action hero, while at the same time providing bloody set pieces that Dawn of the Dead looked like Driving Miss Daisy. The newest and theoretically last entry in the cycle, Rambo: Last Blood from last year, continues with a story that brings Stallone's ongoing philosophical investigation into the possibility of meaningful action in a meaningless world to the fullest – and with that a highlight of the powerhouse under the expert direction of Narco's second helper Adrian Grünberg, whose work is reminiscent of the best of Peckinpah in its combination of violence, subject and character.

Last Blood was underestimated, including by me, during its first theatrical release. I didn't fully understand its size until I revisited the entire series this week on Lionsgate's gorgeous new steelbook set, which gathers all five Rambo films in new 4K and Blu-ray editions. When I saw the films in the correct order, I was surprised to find that, despite all the stylistic differences between the films, they have a common thread in Stallone's portrayal of Rambo as a hero who doesn't really make himself or what he's become likes – the cumulative feeling The effect is comparable to what could have happened if Clint Eastwood had decided to make a whole series of films about his William Munny character from Unforgiven. The authentic turmoil conveyed by Stallone gives even the cartoonish second and third Rambo films more depth than they are usually credited with, and undermines their reputation as a simple expression of the patriotism of the Rah-Rah-Reagan era. (When campaigning for the films, Reagan showed he misunderstood them almost as badly as Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA.) Stallone's status as an '80s action icon alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chuck Norris has, I believe, his actual attraction and worth overwhelms an actor in the films that starred him; His specialty is not invulnerable supermen, but persecuted antiheroes who are plagued with regrets not only in the Rambo series, but also in other action films such as Cliffhanger and Richard Donner's underrated Assassins. James Mangold understood this about Stallone and took advantage of the traumatized quality of the actor in Copland, a film for which Stallone had rightly received its best reviews since the original Rocky. But his appearances in the last two Rambo films coincide with his work in Mangold's picture, and the steelbook set provides a valuable opportunity to follow not only the evolution of Stallone's approach to the character, but also his visceral approach to filmmaking – Among the many hours of extras on the discs are video production diaries by Rambo and Rambo: Last Blood, which offer refreshingly open and insightful insights into Stallone's process.

Another actor who became a director and made a career by querying and deconstructing his own screen image is responsible for my other recommendation this week, Kino Lorber's Blu-ray from Play Misty for Me. Clint stars in his first film as a director Eastwood a female disc jockey whose narcissism leaves him unprepared for the effects of a one night stand with an obsessive fan (Jessica Walter). Although the film forms the basis for Eastwood's later explorations of masculinity and heroism, Play Misty for Me seemed like a particular choice at the time of its production for the actor best known as Man With No Name. He's the protagonist here, but not exactly the hero, as he's both a passive victim and a somewhat self-centered idiot – the irritable excuses he makes with his recurring girlfriend (Donna Mills) are hardly a symbol of strength and conventional notions of masculinity. Eastwood's risks paid off, however, when Play Misty for Me opened in the fall of 1971, harnessing the zeitgeist to become a box office hit and cultural touchstone (in typical Eastwood fashion, the movie's politics can be read in different ways depending on the type Interpretation and personal inclinations). It plays even better today – the insights into the corrosive effects of self-absorption on relationships are stronger than ever, and Eastwood's extraordinary use of landscape as a metaphor is astounding for a first-time director. The terrain of Carmel, California is inviting, sensual, hostile, and terrifying, depending on the psychological demands of a particular scene. Cinema's Blu-ray is from a new master that is a huge improvement over any other home video release I've seen, and it's generously filled with additions, including a carefully researched commentary track by film historian Tim Lucas. The CD is one of several new Eastwood releases from the cinema. Her editions of Breezy (his second film as director) and High Plains Drifter (his third) are as great and well-endowed as two classics Eastwood appeared in for other directors (Don Siegel's Two Mules for Sister Sara and John Sturges & # 39 😉 Joe Kidd). Together, the five Blu-rays offer a comprehensive crash course in an important transition phase for one of the most important Hollywood filmmakers of the 20th century.

Jim Hemphill is the writer and director of the award-winning film The Trouble with the Truth, which is currently streamed on Amazon Prime and Tubi. His website is www.jimhemphillfilms.com.

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