The Return of the Real Aesthetic: Friday The 13th 3D (1982)

Posted by Charles Reece, January 31, 2009 04:54pm | Post a Comment
The quarrel over realism in art stems from a misunderstanding, from a confusion between the aesthetic and the psychological; between true realism, the need that is to give significant expression to the world both concretely and in its essence and the pseudorealism of a deception aimed at fooling the eye (or for that matter the mind); a pseudorealism content in other words with illusory appearances. -- André Bazin, The Ontology of the Photographic Image

[Please note: Ontological Enhancement Device (OCE) is required for the proper reception of the life-enhancing images that follow. Click on images for full lifeworld experience.]

If kids played baseball on the street, this is what it would look like:

Or if housewives watched TV, this is what it would look like:

I'm told that smoking reefer is something akin to the following:

Before September 28, 1987 -- when the holodeck went online -- kids used to do this:

I always felt the problem with Max Ophüls was that his objects lay dormant on the screen:

Did Robert Bresson ever achieve this level of realism?

Jean Renoir
is famous for using depth of field, but he's "quadrophonic" vinyl compared to the 5.1 surround of the following:

These are animals:

Realism or surrealism?

Now you see it, now you don't:

Supernatural Serial Killers: They're Just Like Us.

They take an axe to head, but keep on coming with a machete:

Books hurt them:

They hang from rope:

They get stuck in traffic:

They fall down:

They enter through windows to get the girls they love:

They look like their parents:

Don't You Forget About Me, Part 1: The Teen Flicks of John Hughes

Posted by Charles Reece, September 14, 2008 10:24am | Post a Comment
I wish to bring back to mind my past foulness and the carnal corruptions of my soul. This is not because I love them, but that I may love you, my God. [..] In the bitterness of my remembrance, I tread again my most evil ways, so that you may grow sweet to me, O sweetness that never fails, O sweetness happy and enduring, which gathers me together again from that disordered state in which I lay in shattered pieces, wherein, turned away from you, the one, I spent myself upon the many. For in my youth, I burned to get my fill of hellish things. I dared to run wild in different darksome ways of love. My comeliness wasted away. I stank in your eyes, but I was pleasing to myself and I desired to be pleasing to the eyes of men. -- The Depths of Vice from The Sixteenth Year of The Confessions of St. Augustine

I've always been something of a closet Augustinian, believing sin the default human condition. If he would've just left out all that God stuff I'd be more willing to come out of the closet. Nevertheless, his notion that being good is an act of will against wordly temptation seems right to me. In a capitalist democracy, giving in has always been an easier route to material success than acts of resistance.  Obama wouldn't be America's first ("serious") post-racial candidate if the majority thought he'd tackle racial injustice in any substantive manner. One doesn't rise through the business ranks by being an agent of moral change, making the business work better for the employees. The only change that's allowed is that of efficiency, streamlining the workers' output in accordance to the demands of the employer. You don't achieve power by disposing of the cultural rules, but by learning them, incorporating them and making them work for you while you actually work for them.  As Foucault pointed out -- and the Frankfurt School before him -- power is everywhere and nowhere in particular.

Since power is theoretically dispersed to the masses in a democratic system where the have-nots will always outnumber the haves, it becomes necessary for mass desire to be manufactured such that the status quo is believed by the people to be their will, and not something being forced upon them from the outside. This keeps things from changing, or not changing, too fast, so that the small ratio of dominant to the dominated can remain fairly static over time. That's why 1984 has never been a wholly convincing metaphor for the modern Western democracy. People would vote out Big Brother if he were seen to symbolically conflict with their democratic and other structuring beliefs ("don't need no outsider telling me what to do"). However, his ideas of control might work if the people can be convinced that those ideas are their own. In fact, Orwellian totalitarianism began when democracy ended, but a more pressing concern for modern democracy is its own despotic fault-line. 

The fault-line in the heart of democrats was pointed out by Tocqueville in the 19th century: "they want to be led, and they wish to remain free."  He referred to this danger as soft despotism, where people willingly (vote to) release their liberty, their control, to the state in exchange for some stopgap measure promised by the political representatives. The promise might be for some pork bill, or for some legislation limiting the rights of others who aren't felt to be acting in accordance with common sense or decency.  As Thomas Franks has argued, the politician doesn't even need to deliver the goods, so long as he's perceived to be working in the voters' interests, i.e., delivering the symbolic goods ("next year, we'll get prayer back in the schools"). Meanwhile, the politician can continue to serve the interests of the corporate status quo, which has zero interest in making things better for those doing the voting. Thus, the voters feel in control by voting for someone else to symbolically take care of things while the politician feels empowered by being the symbolic powerbroker in the capitalist order. The temptations of the silver-tongued devil have been replaced by the pervasive control of the culture industry.  And some of the most fitting allegories for this dispersed systemic power are in the teen oeuvre of John Hughes.

Beginning, appropriately enough, in 1984 with Sixteen Candles and ending in 1987 with Some Kind of Wonderful, Hughes explored the dynamics in which people are brought into the symbolic order. Four of these films he wrote, produced and directed (Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller's Day Off), and the other two he wrote and produced with Howard Deutch directing (Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful). Although largely dismissed for its establishment politics (Tout va bien these films ain't), his teen cycle is more profitably seen as depictions of the way an individual's desire interacts with and is ultimately shaped by social control. Central to this cycle is the master-slave dialectic, which he predominately addresses according to class distinctions (e.g., the envious attitude Molly Ringwald's character expresses towards her high school's wealthy ruling elite in Pretty in Pink), but also breaks it down along relative positions of prestige, or character types -- the popular versus unpopular (such as the adoration Emilio Estevez's working class jock receives in The Breakfast Club). The political criticism isn't without merit, as there's always a trace of the satanic in these films, the celebration of selling one's soul to fit in. The most evil example is undoubtedly Ally Sheedy's finding happiness in The Breakfast Club once she's made over into the jock's ideal. She complains about being ignored, but is only noticed once she ignores who she is. Consider here the paradox of Obama's candidacy: he became the first black candidate by becoming post-racial, downplaying that which makes his candidacy historically significant, his race in the cultural context of America's racism (he only alluded to Martin Luther King, Jr., for example, in his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention). 

However, Hughes doesn't just leave popularity or the haute bourgeoisie as unquestioned truths. Instead, he regularly demonstrates how the popular class has to go through the same process of commodification (selling oneself as an object for others) as the outré class does in order or to stand a chance of entering the former's social circle. Estevez's jock tearfully explains how he lives his life to satisfy the expectations of his dad and the school while having little time (until his detention) for deciding what he might want (which, as it turns out, is to do nothing in particular). Similarly, Lea Thompson's popular girl from the wrong side of the tracks in Some Kind of Wonderful has to constantly struggle with suppressing her moral conscience lest she be cast out of the popular clique. Hughes' twist on Horatio Alger's dream is that success comes more from learning to walk in another's shoes than pulling oneself up by one's own boot straps. That these films are nostalgically remembered for their happy resolutions despite their pervasive miserabilism has a lot to do with the conventions of the teenage romantic comedy genre in which they work (or are made to work).

Genre films produce satisfaction rather than action, pity and fear rather than revolt. They serve the interests of the ruling class by assisting in the maintenance of the status quo, and they throw a sop to oppressed groups who, because they are unorganized and therefore afraid to act, eagerly accept the genre film's absurd solutions to economic and social conflicts. When we return to the complexities of the society in which we live, the same conflicts assert themselves, so we return to genre films for easy comfort and solace -- hence their popularity. -- from "Genre Films and the Status Quo" (1974) by Judith Hess Wright

While it's not exactly statistically sound, consider the difference between the critics and general viewers' opinions of Hughes' films over at Metacritic: For the 4 films given both a critics and users rating (Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Some Kind of Wonderful), the critics gave the films an average of 5.6 out of 10 versus the users' 8.7, with The Breakfast Club scoring the highest for both at 6.2 and 9.3, respectively. I suspect that both the general taste and critical distaste for these films is rooted in the same cause: their nostalgia-mongering generic structure. Setting all six of the films in the imaginary suburb of Chicago, Shermer, Hughes addresses very real issues with becoming an adult in a capitalist society, but always through a rose-colored lens of how we'd like to remember those years, rather than how they actually were. The difference in the reactions based on entertainment and criticism can be seen surrounding Schindler's List. Sure you might get choked up towards the end when all those saved are celebrating Schindler, but that's just the result of all the emotional levers and pulleys that Spielberg is so adroit at operating. With a bit of distance, it's hard not to read cynicism in the fact that the most "serious" and "important" movie about the Holocaust coming out of an American studio is based on the heroism of an Aryan saving the Jews. Genre rules, like the myth of heroism, begin to strain and nostalgic entertainment begins to falter as reality returns to the fore. However, as I will endeavor to show, Hughes' fantastic approach to the teenage years reveals a good deal about American society that makes his cycle one of the more important set of films coming out of the Me Decade even if they are corrupt at their core.

With the exception of Ferris Bueller, all of these films follow the same narrative pattern: an outcast yearns to be accepted by a representative of the upper- or over-class, that representative discovers something about him or herself by falling for the outcast, and everything ends happily when the outcast is accepted.  Sixteen Candles, for example, has two such set-ups: Molly Ringwald plays a fairly well-adjusted (i.e., bourgeois for normal) 16-year old Samantha Baker, who dreams of getting into the pants and social circle of MIchael Schoeffling's BMW-driving übermensch on campus, Jake Ryan. Meanwhile, the Geek (Anthony Michael Hall, of course) knows his place in the order of things and can only dream of being with Samantha in the thick portion of the social bell curve. Just as would occur later with the popular desiderata played by Andrew McCarthy in Pretty in Pink and Ringwald in The Breakfast Club, Jake rebels against his superior position in the social hierarchy by taking on a mate from a lower social stratum. Should critical awareness begin to enter here as the audience realizes that the status quo remains firmly in place by having the Geek lose out once again to the popular kid, Hughes uses the nostalgic bypass (Wright's "sop") of throwing the Geek a bone, namely the chance to have his way with Jake's former girlfriend, the prom queen.

Hughes' nostalgic bypass is akin to the way the Republicans keep the lower white working class within its ranks: serve big business interests at the expense of the voters' economic stability while distracting them from this reality with promises of returning the country to some fabled state of moral purity or a illusory concern with the possibility that they might some day become members of the 2% economic elite. Just as audience identification begins to buckle under the pressure of seeing how Andie (Ringwald again) turns her back on who she is upon choosing Blane (McCarthy) over the perpetually abused and ignored Duckie (John Cryer) in Pretty in Pink, the latter gets a come-hither glance from a beautiful girl, thereby recommitting the audience to the nostalgic trompe l'oeil. For his role in encouraging Andie to give Blane a second chance after he succumbed to the pressure of his snobby friend Steff (James Spader), and jilted her at the prom, Duckie is rewarded with his own promise of upward mobility.  Little wonder why the test audience (and Ringwald) balked at the original ending where Andie went off with Duckie. The surfeit of reality gummed up the working of the nostalgic machinery. We want to believe our society to be classless (and raceless), irrespective of the evidence.

Part 2's acomin'...

... and so on and so on: Slavoj Žižek

Posted by Charles Reece, September 6, 2008 06:04pm | Post a Comment

Since I used Slavoj Žižek's latest book, Violence, in my discussion of the latest Batman flick, I figured why not link to this recent interview Michael Krasny conducted with the man himself. Just push 'play' for the best stand-up comedian of today:

Therein you will hear Žižek discuss, among other things, The Dark Knight (ideology at its purest), violent video games (he lets his 7 year old play Grand Theft Auto, but is wary of Disney films), rape (why masochists would be the most traumatized), Hugo Chavez (how authoritarians are as pragmatic as everyone else), the mystery of Stalinism (why Stalinists terrorized themselves), the honesty of fascism (it kept its promise to kill minorities), and so on and so on. Theory comes out as flakes on the corners of his mouth -- philosophy as a 3-day meth binge.

While I'm at it, here's some more fun stuff:

From his
Q&A with the Guardian:

Cultural criticism is now second only to being in a rock band as the great
equalizer: Žižek with fourth wife, Analio Hounie, an Argentinian
model who just happens to like reading Lacan.

Continue reading...

Go Forth and Replicate: A Few Thoughts on Advertising, Christian Rock, Mad Men and Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music (2004)

Posted by Charles Reece, July 27, 2008 10:17pm | Post a Comment
I've been letting my Movies We (I) Like blog languish for far too long, so before I get to my Batman critique, I'm adding not one, but two entries to it with in the next couple of days. I'm going to try to add one a week from here on out (we'll see how well that goes). Anyway, until they appear, I won't keep you in suspense: the first pick is the pretty darn good Mad Men (which is a TV show, not a movie, but it's better shot than most movies) and the other is the surprisingly thoughtful and balanced Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music (a documentary about the current Christian rock scene).

Beginning its second season today, Mad Men is about a third-tier agency on Madison Avenue in the early sixties, a time of radical (well, pseudo-radical) change in the world of selling stuff. The first season is set in 1960, following the recent appearance of the famous Volkswagen ads by the Doyle Dane Bernbach agency. William Bernbach was a critic of advertising as a science, instead using it to convey emotions and deep-seated connotations to sell a product. His ads sold you an image of yourself, rather than a laundry list of the product's qualities that were supposed to appeal to you. The approach proved highly successful, and it's why we have the Super-Bowl commercials we do today.

There's a scene in the final episode of the first season where head adman Don Draper sells a campaign for a new slide projector to clients by using snapshots of his own family. So moving is his pitch that one of the other admen, who's currently undergoing some marital woes, has to leave the room lest he be seen crying. Ironically underscoring this heartwarming moment is the whole season where Don has been shown in the company of two mistresses. Advertising is an art that says less about itself or its creators than it does about the intended audience. It's art that's meant to be entirely consumable by being designed with the audience, not artist, in mind. If it's not understood by the target demographic, then it fails as art. That's why it's questionable to even call it art. It's not intended to offer resistance, only acceptance. Any resistance that it offers is purely manufactured, meant to play into a collective mind that wants to see itself as an uncollected group of free-thinking individuals. That Bernbach and others following him could and can walk that line -- selling individualism as a collective commodity -- is the evil brilliance of late-20th century advertising. 

I was thinking of Bernbach's movement and that scene from Mad Men while watching Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music, named after the song from Larry Norman. Norman serves as the inspirational spirit for the film, promoting God while still managing to make music that could exist on its own terms. I don't know about the rest of his stuff, but that song's pretty catchy. I love country songs about Jesus, hillbilly sacred harp, classic Gospel, old Southern and Negro spirituals, et al., but the closest I ever came to being inspired by so-called contemporary Christian was dropping acid at a Stryper show (someone had to do it, and therein lay my inspiration). When a womanizing boozer like Kris Kristofferson asks "why me, Lord," one gets the sense of some struggle going on between his beliefs and his actions.  That sort of struggle gives the song an air of authenticity. But when Michael Sweet and his band sing they're "soldiers under God's command," one gets the message that this is metal being sanitized for the easily contaminated. Little has changed since when they were on top.

Most of the bands featured in Heather Whinna and Vickie Hunter's documentary sound like particular secular bands, just with special lyrics. The ones escaping this marketing pigeonholing tend to do so by sounding so generic that they can't be ascribed a particularized label. That strategy was employed by Stryper during the metal heyday, obtaining secular acceptance by sounding blandly like the genre, rather than the Christian-Iron Maiden or -Van Halen. 

The fundamental problem with Christian rock is that, rather than build on an authentically religious tradition of struggle, it's made to serve two masters: mass culture and fundamentalism. It fails both because it has no soul, no aesthetic inner life, being entirely outwardly directed. Like a modern ad, it tells you no more than what you already bring to the table. On the one hand, it's designed to appeal to the "secular audience" (i.e., the largely Christian audience in the U.S. -- if the census is any indication -- that aren't Christian enough for the extremists). Here the connotation is that Evangelicals are just like you (evidently just as bland as you), and after conversion you can keep on liking the same stuff that you liked in your heathen days. This message is doomed to fail, I suspect, because it's saying there is no essential change in who you are when coming over to their side, so why bother? On the other hand, the music is designed to appeal to the "Christian audience" (i.e., those teens raised with a severe pop cultural immune-deficiency order) who really like music, but live in fear of its not serving God, only itself -- in a word, idolatry. By giving the fundamentalist youth what they want, the ability to rock, while only reinforcing their cultural seclusion, the music is depleted of its potential aesthetic-objective vitality, instead serving as agitprop. In making rock music easily consumable, the dialectic between beliefs and the world is cut short. The religiously conservative audience doesn't have to struggle with popular art any more, because it's now being made with only one message in mind: buy Christian. With the Christian rock scene, the religion has become just as much of a commodity as the music that it copies, easily consumable in one's leisure time.

Based on True Events: Rambo (2008)

Posted by Charles Reece, June 14, 2008 05:12pm | Post a Comment

So this isn't, practically speaking, a summer movie, but if they still made 'em like they used to, it would be. This time around John Rambo is a snake handling loner living in Thailand who makes money on the side by ferrying people across the river to their inevitable death in Burma. As in the previous films, he hates humanity and has little patience for ideology of any kind. He's content playing with his snakes until a hot Evangelical missionary (played by Angel's ex, the vampire Darla) convinces him to take her group over to feed a Karen village being tormented by the Burmese military. I read a few reviews that found this scenario unconvincing, suggesting that her platitudes wouldn't be enough to get Rambo to care.  Rambo's been playing with snakes for the past 20 years in a jungle, what more reason does he need?  It's not what's said, but who's saying it. Fear not, Rambo doesn't have sex, only its substitute, killing, which brings up a question I had while watching Bret Michaels in Rock of Love: how does the bandana stay on during intimate moments? Does Bret pay the girls not to say anything, has it written in their contracts? You'd think at least one of his rejects would call him on it. Is this why Rambo takes no prisoners? Regardless, kudos to both men for laying waste to a bunch of bodies while keeping their hair on straight.

Rambo is the second part of Stallone's Christian marketing diptych, following Rocky Balboa. Originally he wanted to call it John Rambo, but the studio demanded it be changed for some reason. He saw how well Mel Gibson was doing marketing bloodletting and violence to the fundies and decided to continue his successful franchises with that strategy in mind. Look how well it worked with the Rocky sequel:
What was also wonderful about the film was how Stallone incorporated, what I like to call, the faith factor. As part of his corner crew, Rocky brings along Spider Rico, portrayed by another former boxer Pedro Lovell, as his spiritual advisor. Before going out to take on Dixon, Rocky is sitting in his dressing room while Rico is reading scripture verses to him. In his restaurant, Rico always gets a free meal from Rocky until he takes it upon himself to start washing dishes for Rocky telling him, “Jesus wants me to work.”
Over there on Christian Spotlight, the reader responses were overwhelmingly positive, with only a couple of negatives that had to do with the profanity (these guys use the aesthetic criterion of bean-counting the number of salacious words in a film) and some kiss between a supposed 10 year old and a 40 year old (but this problem was brought up by teenaged reader). Christian moralizing has come a long way since the days of the Hays Code and the League of Decency, when violence itself was largely deemed indecent, irrespective of who was killing whom and for what reason. Now, as Gibson's Pollack-cum-blood manifesto, The Passion of the Christ, demonstrated, it's okay to get off on unrelenting gore so long as it serves a higher purpose. This a good thing; Christian films have finally caught up to their brutal legacy. Therefore, when Rambo is trying to get a group of mercenaries to go in and risk their pagan lives to save the Christian tail who inspired him earlier in the film, he mumbles, "live for nothin’, or die for somethin’."  Like the ambiguity of all that S&M Catholic self-flagellation and torture, is Rambo's new found higher calling a sublimated rejection of his celibacy or a belief in Divine Will?

Going by the Spotlight responses, the conservative Christians seem to take the film as an allegory for God's Wrath. But this film proved a bit more divisive than Rocky Balboa. The sheer amount of gore showed that there are some old-fashioned moralists who just can't take it, regardless of intent. As for the largely positive reviews, the violence was seen as a necessary realism for the way war is, carnage adding verisimilitude. Expressing the ambiguity I alluded to in the previous paragraph, one reader says:
My main objection to this film was the scene of a woman's breasts. I really am trying to stay away from films containing such material. There are other scenes of sexually related material as well. This film is EXTREMELY violent -- but this is to be expected fom a Rambo movie. The violence did not bother me, especially considering it is a means by which we privileged people can see the genocides occur in areas where few even know exist.
Why sex in art is never taken by the fundies as being a necessary depiction of the way life is continues to be unexplored, or outright shunned (cf. the differing reactions to The Last Temptation of Christ and Gibson's magnum opus). Had Stallone decided to give Rambo peace of mind by having him fuck a lot, rather than murder a couple hundred Burmese soldiers, the film wouldn't have been as well received by the right-wing Christians. God is always vengeful, loving in a strictly platonic way, never ordering His followers to go fuck their enemies, but only smite them. Unlike violence, fucking would be turning away from God, not towards him:
This movie so accurately portrayed the evil that man, without God, is capable of. To think that these acts of torture and cruelty actually happen in Burma. May God save those people. Is this what King David faced when he and Israel went to war? Of course, not the modern weapons, but the sheer hatred, the brutality, the lack of concern for life, the lack of respect for God?

Is this what will happen to us if America turns from God? Is it really a waste of life to go into these areas and try to bring the peace of Christ? Rarely does a movie cause me to ask so many questions, but this one did and still does. An excellent movie!! I salute Stallone for his bravery in making this film.
Just so the fundies know Stallone is on their side, he made the junta leader a HOMO-sexual predator -- along with the groping of some Burmese hookers and a touch of rape, it's the only sex directly referenced in the film. Any positive depiction of sex would be cause for concern for right-thinking parents everywhere. If these Christians watched more Battlestar Galactica, they'd know that even genocide can be forgiven with a lot of sex. Sleeping with the enemy produces hybrid offspring, ideological miscegenation. But, then again, that's not something the Evangelical types strive for, as it would dilute the purity of their beliefs -- "segregation now, segregation forever."  That's why they have their own Christ-brand simulacra for everything we secularists and pagans enjoy, like death metal, theme parks, feminism, genre fiction and the aforementioned example of torture porn (well, in fairness, this last one is merely returning to its roots). These Christian extremists exist in a alternate world that's akin to the Star Trek holodeck, where any kind of story might happen, but in the final instance, the flock can rest assured that it hasn't left the Biblically literalist sub-structure. It's certainly homo-ideological, even while it denounces any -sexual part. 

Besides, the inclusion of negative homosexual stereotypes -- as with 300 -- will ultimately give this film, featuring a bunch of overly muscular men slaughtering everything in sight, an interesting angle for future queer theoretical analyses, rather than any sort of consistent moral agenda for the impressionable masses.   In other words, any sort of sexual argument the film makes will probably go unnoticed to anyone who doesn't over-think their mass entertainment (like yours truly). Since the Sixties, the medium has been the message, and Stallone's medium is violence. It is in violence that pagans, Christians and atheists can all come together and love the same thing.  Take my god-hating limey pal, Simon (who's trying to be American, but he still doesn't drink coffee):
I've never seen so much awesome carnage! Legs getting blown off, people exploding in a fountain of blood and getting cut in half, and don't forget about babies being thrown into burning rubble. That's especially awesome! And what about the ending of this movie. It brought a tear to my eye. I give this movie a roman thumbs way up. This movie gets a perfect 10 for total entertainment! I have to say I love Stallone for making this picture.
Everyone loves babies and everyone loves specular violence; they go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Rambo is a rejuvenation of the Eighties superhuman action flick for a post-Saving Private Ryan generation. Back in the Reagan era, the muscular hero would mow down an impossible number of villains at a distance with very little bloodshed. Stallone's great aesthetic innovation here is to personalize the carnage, giving the audience both quantity and quality. Rather than just keeping the camera with Rambo, he locates it within the ranks of those being lacerated à la the first 30 minutes of Spielberg's film, letting the finely detailed blood splatter and limbs fly across the camera eye. The result is as close to a summer movie being directed by Takashi Miike as we're likely to get. That's high praise in my book.

One doesn't have to be a homophobe and/or Christian to appreciate Stallone's ability to use realworld events to occupy our leisure time. It's a sign of the new interventionist aesthetic where it's politically correct to enjoy violence involving the Other so long as Our Hero is stopping it from killing an-Other (as was recently seen in Iron Man). What's not as widely acceptable is when we're supposed to be entertained by the fictionalized versions of acts perpetrated on us (confer the conservative reaction to United 93). Thus, Stallone cherry-picked the worst of the current political crises that didn't directly involve the U.S. and interpellated his hero into the story. As an action director, Stallone knows how to entertain.

In fact, so committed to violent entertainment is Stallone as an auteur that any proselytizing ability the film possesses is only going to work on the most committed, red-meat eating kind of Christian (you know, the ones who see the story of Abraham being willing to sacrifice his son for God as a sign of loving devotion). On the way down the river, Rambo kills a bunch of Burmese marauders who were trying to steal supplies from him and the missionaries and keep Darla as a sex slave. Instead of thanking him, the head missionary chastises Rambo with a bunch of claptrap about "thou shalt not kill." Reminiscent of the moral dilemma in End of Days where Schwarzenegger has to give up his gun and go fisticuffs with Satan in order to prove his love to the Lord, this pacifist missionary is shown gleefully smashing in Burmese skull with a rock later in the picture. What a right-wing Christian might see as an allegory for Divine Wrath, a homo-loving atheist might see as leisurely entertainment. Such is Stallone's complexity as an artist. Truly heady stuff: like the morality of sex, is violence only to be appreciated when it's done for God?
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