Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Let's Talk About Rambo: The Force of Freedom

Question: How did the kids of the 1980s ever get into Rambo? His original movie, First Blood, is a taut, mature 1982 thriller about the treatment of Vietnam veterans. That's not really subject matter that appeals to children. The sequel, 1985's Rambo: First Blood Part II, takes things in more of a classic action movie direction, as Rambo is tasked by the government to head back to Vietnam and search for P.O.W.s. But again, it's an R-rated movie and it's pretty intense. I can't imagine most kids were allowed to watch it.

That said, I was five years old in 1986 and I thought Rambo was the coolest, so maybe it was just cultural osmosis at work.

So after the first two hit movies, what was the most logical next step for the Rambo franchise? An animated series, of course! Enter Rambo: The Force of Freedom.

This series, which aired for a single season of just 65(!) half-hour episodes in late 1986, puts John Rambo into a G.I. Joe-inspired premise, where a terrorist organization known as SAVAGE is threatening the free world and can only be opposed by Rambo and his allies. Or, as it turns out, just Rambo, while his allies watch and cheer him on and sometimes fix up his attack vehicles.

I guess there is one thing that The Force of Freedom and First Blood have in common––Rambo doesn't kill anybody.

I recently watched the first episode of the series, and it might be the baddest cartoon ever created. Let's take a look at the highlights!

From literally the first second of the intro, you know it's going to be good. That's because the first thing you see is Rambo's totally jacked-up animated bicep. The camera lingers on it for a few seconds before tracking down his arm to show that he's lacing up his boots. With a purpose.

Later in the intro, Rambo's commanding officer––and movie stalwart––Col. Trautman picks up an urgently ringing phone in his office. "Get me Rambo!" he immediately barks into the receiver. I'm not sure that's how phone calls work, chief.

Once the episode properly begins, we're treated to the invasion of "Tierre[sic] Libre," a small South American nation, by the forces of SAVAGE. There's the blue-suited General Warhawk, the outfit's leader, whose outfit is clearly supposed to give you a Cobra Commander impression. We also meet his lieutenants: Sergeant Havoc, who is clearly and entertainingly voiced by Optimus Prime doing a Russian accent; and Gripper, whose only defining feature is that he has a robot hand. Not a useful robot hand, though. A non-sharpened pincer hand, like Bender from Futurama.

It really can't be good for anything other than... gripping... around a slender wrist. Makes you wonder how he earned a top-level position in SAVAGE's forces. Pity?

Tierre Libre's president, who looks shockingly like Mean Gene Okerlund,

knows he's in over his head, and contact Trautman for help. Trautman, in turn, finds Rambo on his day off (more on this later!) and together they start building the team. First to be recruited? Rambo's old buddy Edward "Turbo" Hayes, who's in the middle of winning what appears to be the Indy 500. However, upon seeing Rambo, he promptly quits the race and they walk away from the racetrack arm-in-arm, much to the consternation of Turbo's pit team, whose annual income is presumably highly dependent on Turbo's racetrack success rate.

Apparently the only way in or out of Tierre Libre is via one long suspension bridge. Rambo's invasion-stopping solution? Yelling "I'm not just going to let them invade a free country!", then blowing up the bridge, which he accomplishes quite easily. Never mind that no one will now be able to leave Tierre Libre either.

Stuck on the wrong side of the bridge, Rambo must use all of his survival skills to evade SAVAGE's forces, up to and including hiding in a 15-foot pile of mud and ambushing people from it like a mud monster.

Eventually he makes it across the ruined bridge (via motorcycle jump) but it doesn't matter because SAVAGE had a backup plan and can still cross the bridge (via a proprietary bridge-building vehicle) but that doesn't matter either because Rambo destroys their incoming tanks (via an "anti-tank jeep" which has several extra turrets on it that Turbo and beautiful and deadly mistress of disguise KAT are seemingly forbidden from using).

Having defended the freedom of a free country, Rambo, Mean Gene, and the crew all eat a celebratory feast, and I gave myself a celebratory high five because I'm definitely going to watch all the other episodes of this amazing show.

Bonus! All of this leads up to our next regular Are You Bad Enough feature: What's Rambo Doing on His Day Off?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The WCCW Report: Episode 55: What's Andre the Giant Doing in the 1980s?

January 1983: Andre the Giant has come to town! Normally, foreigners (especially a Frenchman!) would be booed out of the Dallas Sportatorium, but who could hate Andre? At this point, he had been a beloved figure in the world of wrestling for over a decade, and he's rocking a swanky polyester suit in his mostly incomprehensible backstage interview with neckbearded announcer Bill Mercer.

For the special occasion of an Andre appearance, the main event is something unique: a six-man elimination match. Competitors can be eliminated by pinfall, submission and disqualification, as well as by throwing them over the top rope, battle royal style. The competitors: Andre, Kerry von Erich (fresh off his championship-costing betrayal at the hands of the Freebirds last week), eminently hatable "man-child" Bugsy McGraw, Freebird Terry Gordy, Duluth, Minn. native Wild Bill Irwin, and King Kong Bundy.

The small WCCW ring looks comedically childish with Andre in there. The top rope barely comes up to his waist, and I keep worrying that he's going to lose his balance and take a bad spill to the floor.

Bugsy and Kerry (whose unbridled fury at the Freebirds gets him disqualified) are eliminated quickly. Meanwhile, Andre endears himself further to the Texas crowd by spending the entire match choking out Gordy. And when I say the entire match, I mean it. He literally has his hands wrapped around Gordy's neck for 10 straight minutes while the other two bad guys ineffectively try to loosen his grasp. After a while, it just gets uncomfortable. Stop it, Andre! He's already dead!

Eventually, Michael Hayes comes out to ringside to harass everyone––this is Michael Hayes's role in life––and Andre steps out of the ring (over the top rope, as he knows no other way, of course) to chase Hayes, eliminating himself.

So much for that 15-year unbeaten steak they advertised at WrestleMania III!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Murder She Wrote Recaps: S1E20: Armed Response

Jessica flies to Dallas to serve as an expert witness in a copyright infringement lawsuit, but before she can make her first of many MSW courtroom appearances, an airport mishap leaves her with a sprained ankle. At the hospital, where she meets her toughest match yet: cynical Dr. Ellison, played by the legendary Martin Kove (Cobra Kai sensei John Kreese from The Karate Kid).

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The WCCW Report: Episode 54: Kerry vs. Flair-y

The WWE Network is amazing. One of the hidden bonuses of the service is that they’re uploading a few classic episodes of World Class Championship Wrestling each week. This is stuff that really can’t be found anywhere other than in the musty tape libraries of Vince McMahon’s basement, but each episode brings back memories of when the show was syndicated every day at 3:00 CST on ESPN and I used to watch it from a tiny director’s chair with a bag of Fun Fruits after a long, tough day of first grade.

Not to be confused with WCW, this regional promotion was one of the most exciting of the early-to-mid 1980s. Based out of the Sportatorium in “downtown” Dallas, World Class Championship Wrestling was the brainchild of the Von Erich family. Most of the time it served simply to make the Von Erichs––at this point, father Fritz (by all accounts a terrible person/crazy madman) and his sons David (boring), Kevin (pretty much the only non-Samoan wrestler to eschew boots), and especially Kerry (“The Modern-Day Warrior,” whatever that means)––look like the best and most talented people in the world. But, this being the territory days of pro wrestling, a rotating cast of weirdos and scary Asians surrounds the Von Erichs, leading to some both some shockingly amazing and hilariously amateurish moments. I’m going to relive all of them and I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

I know, I know, we’re starting with episode 54! But we had to start somewhere, and where better than the episode that kicked off the rivalry that defined the promotion?

This show, from December 1982, features the biggest WCCW event to date. When’s the last time an episode of a wrestling show featured only a single match? But this one’s a doozy, pitting local favorite Kerry Von Erich against traveling world champ Ric Flair, who’s returned to town to reluctantly defend his title against Kerry after hiring The Great Kabuki to make an ultimately failed attempt to permanently injure Kerry’s leg. He should’ve just hired a motorcycle instead, as it turns out (oh snap).

The match takes place in a steel cage to prevent further shenanigans, and the local fans were allowed to vote for a special referee to keep the peace. They chose Michael Hayes, the loudmouthed leader of the Fabulous Freebirds, who have been sucking up to the fans for the month they’ve been in town. The crowd really should have known better––they Freebirds grew up in a place called Badstreet USA, for god’s sake!

Sure enough, after Kerry refuses to accept Hayes’s illicit help to defeat Flair, Hayes has a hissy fit and leaves the cage. As Kerry’s leaning out, yelling after him, the other Freebird, Terry Gordy, slams the cage door on his head. In a modern match, Flair would get the pin right there, but this one goes on another 10 minutes before Kerry finally collapses and the other ref anticlimactically awards the match to the champ.

The remaining 15 minutes of the episode are spent on listening to the despondent screams of the teenage girls in the crowd (seriously, Kerry must have been the biggest heartthrob of ‘80s Texas) and replays of the cage door slam heard round the world. David grabs the mic and I’m expecting a legendary speech, but he just garbles something about seeing what the Freebirds got him for Christmas. Classic David.

Things are only going to heat up from this point forward. I smell a blood feud coming on!

Professor Robert Langdon Facts #2

Straight from the pages of Dan Brown's Inferno...

Image credit: "GellyH" from deviantart.com

Did you know?

Professor Robert Langdon insists that Bombay Sapphire and the works of Russian author Nikolai Gogol should never be mixed.

Because Professor Robert Langdon is a lifelong aficionado of Italian art, Florence has become one of his favorite destinations in all of Europe.

Although most people are impressed by the sheer enormity and defined musculature of Michelangelo's David, Professor Robert Langdon is more interested in the genius of the statue's pose.

Professor Robert Langdon routinely chastises his students for Googling themselves, an act that he feels reflects the American youth's bizarre obsession with personal celebrity.

A Google news search on "Professor Robert Langdon" will return several pages of results.