TV Review: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero – Season 1 (1985)

Also known as: Action Force (UK)
Release Date: September 16th, 1985 – December 13th, 1985
Directed by: John Gibbs, Terry Lennon
Written by: various
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Larry Hama
Music by: Johnny Douglas
Cast (voices): Michael Bell, Arthur Burghardt, Corey Burton, William Callaway, Brian Cummings, Dick Gautier, Ed Gilbert, Chris Latta, Morgan Lofting, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Bill Ratner, Bob Remus, B.J. Ward

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, Claster Television, 55 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

“As of now, your little project is deader than disco! Hmmm… Deader than disco… I like that… I would have made a great stand-up comedian.” – Cobra Commander

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero is the original G.I. Joe cartoon series that ran from 1983-1986. It actually became a full series in 1985, after two separate five-part miniseries in 1983 and 1984. It was created as a big marketing vehicle for Hasbro’s G.I. Joe toy line. It also paved the way for a similar series, The Transformers in 1984. Both of these Hasbro toy franchises followed the same marketing path and also had their shows created by Marvel-SunBow. Both also had ongoing comic book series produced by Marvel.

I already reviewed the three miniseries events that lead to this regular ongoing series. However, I wanted to review just season one here, as there were a lot of big changes between seasons one and two. I will follow up with a season two review in the near future.

G.I. Joe has had several television series come and go throughout the years but none are even as close to the greatness of the original. This series, along with Transformers, created a megafranchise that was only rivaled by Star Wars, at the time.

The series created a lot of heroes and villains that were all cool and still very memorable. Cobra was, and still is, the coolest villain organization in all of fiction. G.I. Joe were the coolest heroes. As a kid who always sided with the baddies, it was hard not to love the good guys too. This was an animated show with surprisingly good character development.

The characters, for a cartoon about toys, had really good backstories and unique personalities. The stories about Shipwreck were always phenomenal. The show could tap into horrific things but serve it in a way that was okay for kids to handle. It took a lot of risks, offered up a lot of serious lessons but did it in a way that was so cool, at that age, you didn’t realize you were being taught anything. It was a perfect package of badass, cool and educational.

The art was top notch for the mid ’80s. The tone of the show was always adventurous. It was like someone took the best of James Bond, the best of The Avengers, mixed it together and gave it a military twist. G.I. Joe are mortal men without any real powers but they are superheroes. Cobra is essentially a much cooler version of SPECTRE or Hydra.

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero is still the best version of G.I. Joe ever created in animation form. I’m still waiting for a movie or a series that gets it because nothing since has even come close.

Film Review: G.I. Joe: The Pyramid of Darkness (1985)

Also known as: The Further Adventures of G.I. Joe
Release Date: September 16th, 1985 – September 20th, 1985 (first run syndication, 5 parts)
Directed by: John Gibbs, Terry Lennon
Written by: Ron Friedman
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Larry Hama
Music by: Johnny Douglas, Rob Walsh
Cast (voices): Michael Bell, Arthur Burghardt, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Bill Ratner, B.J. Ward, Frank Welker, Christopher Collins, Zack Hoffman, Kene Holiday, Neil Ross, Keone Young, Corey Burton, John Hostetter, Bill Morey, Lee Weaver, Pat Fraley, Hal Rayle, Will Ryan, Ketty Lester, François Chau, Morgan Lofting

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, 5 Episodes (first run syndication), 22 Minutes (per episode), 100 Minutes (movie cut)

Review:

“Let’s reconnoiter, Snake Eyes. Try not to attract attention… Sure. Who’d notice a wet sailor with a parrot and a silent masked man with a timber wolf.” – Shipwreck

Like the two five-part miniseries events before it, G.I. Joe: The Pyramid of Darkness was made to be combined into a feature length film for VHS release and for weekend replays. Also, this was the first five episodes of the regular G.I. Joe television show. This feels like the third part of a trilogy with the two miniseries releases before it but it is also the start of a much larger G.I. Joe television run. This would also be the last five-part miniseries until the start of season two, which would kickoff with Arise, Serpentor, Arise!

The Pyramid of Darkness really ups the ante. We have all the major Cobra officers from the previous two miniseries but we now get introduced to my favorite fictional twins of all-time Tomax and Xamot, the Crimson Guard commanders. They also run Extensive Enterprises as a corporate front for Cobra and they basically function as Cobra’s CFOs.

We also get the debut of several new members of G.I. Joe. Three of the coolest characters Alpine, Bazooka and Quick Kick have a pretty big spot in the story. In fact, I like their chemistry as a group and they are a good comedic addition to the show.

Like the other miniseries before this, Cobra has a superweapon. In this one, it is the Pyramid of Darkness. The way this one functions is a lot more interesting and cooler than the previous two superweapons. Basically, Cobra positions four giant black cubes around the Earth. They also send the Dreadnoks to space to overtake a G.I. Joe space station, which is needed to link the four cubes. Once all five points are secured and operational, the top half of the Earth is covered by an electric pyramid that works like an EMP, killing the electrical power of anything within its massive reach. This gives Cobra a huge advantage in world domination. The Joes have to then battle it out with Cobra in exotic and dangerous locations once again.

The Dreadnoks in space element is really cool, especially when their genetically engineered beasts, the Fatal Fluffies, grow to monstrous proportions. I actually wished that the Fluffies would have returned to the show and also had toys, back when I was a kid. With Duke on the space station, this makes the third time in three stories that he is a Cobra captive. Really, Duke? Get it together, bro! You’re the leader of G.I. Joe until General Hawk comes along in season two.

I also wanted to mention the character of Satin. She was a pop singer that worked the Cobra nightclub circuit. Really though, she was working her way into the organization because her father was framed by Cobra for crimes he didn’t commit, which ruined his life. Satin works as an ally to Shipwreck and Snake Eyes and was instrumental to the story, yet we never see her again after this.

The Pyramid of Darkness is my favorite story of the Marvel/Sunbow G.I. Joe universe. Actually, it’s my favorite Joe story, period. Well, not counting Larry Hama’s G.I. Joe comic books because that dude wrote some amazing shit.

Film Review: Invasion U.S.A. (1985)

Also known as: Invasion (working title)
Release Date: September 25th, 1985
Directed by: Joseph Zito
Written by: James Bruner, Chuck Norris, Aaron Norris
Music by: Jay Chattaway
Cast: Chuck Norris, Richard Lynch, Melissa Prophet, Billy Drago

Cannon Films, 107 Minutes

Review:

“If you come back in, I’ll hit you with so many rights you’ll be begging for a left.” – Matt Hunter

Cannon Films were synonymous with super violent action films. Invasion U.S.A. may feel like the most Cannon film ever. Well, at least in regards to the amount of bullets and carnage that fills up the screen in its 107 minute running time. But even with Chuck Norris, there isn’t enough to make this film anywhere near as epic as it should be but that’s due to some slower moments, which I’ll discuss below.

The film is similar to Red Dawn, except it stars the ginger martial arts king and not a group of bratty kids trying to avenge their town and wrestle away communist control.

Essentially, the title says it all. America is invaded and since this came out in the ’80s, when Cold War fear was still a thing, we see our city streets being overtaken by communist scum. Well, the film mostly takes place in and around Miami. Norris plays Matt Hunter, a generic badass American action name straight out of the ’80s. Hunter is a denim clad, sleeveless ruffian that lives in the Everglades, drives an airboat and never runs out of ammo or guns to fill with ammo. He’s like a living, breathing cheat code in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

The problem with this movie isn’t the ultraviolence because that shit is the most amazing thing about this picture, the problem is that when there isn’t ultraviolence, the film is a real bore. The action heavy scenes are really awesome to watch but the filler is terrible. I don’t care about these characters enough that I need to see them developed. I know who the evil one is, I know who the hero is, so just give them guns and let them shoot at each other until Miami is Swiss cheese. What’s with all the talking and driving around making tough guy faces? Grab a gun, stick a grenade up a dude’s ass and kill everything that moves.

Why this needs a running time longer than 80 minutes is beyond my level of comprehension. I guess Chuck Norris contributed to the writing and wanted to add some plot to this thing but Mr. Norris needs to stick to filling communists with bullets and sharp objects and leave the writing to more capable people who don’t care about their characters and just want to murder them as violently as possible for their art.

Still, the action and ultraviolence makes this a damn fun time. But that’s all this is, a quick watch with a lot of cool manly shit where you should probably fast-forward through those pointless talkie bits.

On a side note, I just picked up this film’s soundtrack on vinyl in pretty pristine condition.

Film Review: Rocky IV (1985)

Release Date: November 27th, 1985
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Vince DiCola, Bill Conti (Rocky themes)
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Tony Burton, Dolph Lundgren, Brigitte Nielsen, James Brown

United Artists, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Going in one more round when you don’t think you can – that’s what makes all the difference in your life.” – Rocky

For some reason, Sylvester Stallone felt compelled to keep making Rocky movies. I’m glad that he did though, as the character still lives on today in the Creed film series, which was a spin off after giving Rocky Balboa six of his own movies from 1976 to 2006.

Rocky IV was the first Rocky movie that I saw in the theater. I was six at the time and I had seen Rocky III but the experience with this one blew my mind. Plus, it had a Cold War twist, which was something I was just starting to understand at the time, thanks to a plethora of ’80s movies that dealt with it.

This film also introduced me to Dolph Lundgren, who would become on of my favorite action stars of the era and really, I still love Dolph today. In a lot of ways, he was also the glue of the picture, even if his Ivan Drago character had no personality here. That was sort of the point though, he was a literal killing machine, emphasis on machine. He was like a Terminator with boxing gloves that was propped up by his country as their hero but all he wanted to do was to crush his opponents, regardless of patriotism and Cold War propaganda.

The real villain, as far as being the mouthpiece anyway, was Drago’s wife, played by Brigitte Nielsen, who was on the cusp of marrying Stallone in real life. She would also appear with her then husband in 1986’s Cobra. I liked Nielsen in the ’80s, even if her career was partially propelled by her marriage. I wish she would have stayed in the right groove and continued to be a presence in action pictures but she didn’t do much of anything memorable after 1987’s Beverly Hills Cop II and that could very well be due to her marriage with Stallone ending so quickly. But I’m not going to get all celebrity gossipy like TMZ.

For fans of the series, this film starts off with a solid blow to the gut, as within the first half hour, you get to see the aging Apollo Creed sign on for an exhibition with the Soviet boxer, leading to his death after being pummeled in the ring. The rest of the film deals with Rocky needing to defeat the monster that murdered his friend for sport.

It’s easy to chop this up as a revenge flick but I think it is more about a boxer seeking out justice in the only way he knows how and about climbing an impossible mountain, which is made obvious by a scene where Rocky literally conquers a mountain. However, it is also a critique on the senseless nature of the Cold War which had Americans and Soviets uneasy and paranoid for decades.

Many people have called this a propaganda picture, it isn’t. Does it beat you over the head with Americana? Sure. But it uses its platform and its political context to deliver a message of peace and hope. By the time you get to the end, Rocky’s big speech in the final scene isn’t pro-American or anti-Soviet, it’s pro-human and anti-war. It was also fairly prophetic considering the massive changes that happened in the world and the Cold War finally coming to an end just a few years later. Hey, maybe Rocky Balboa helped in tearing down the Berlin Wall.

Rocky IV is the most important film in the series because it carries a message bigger than the film itself. While the first is the best motion picture and the most inspiring, Rocky IV is the one that made me see the world differently. Granted, I was a six year-old clutching his G.I. Joe figures but it may have been instrumental in making me who I am today, someone who doesn’t buy into propaganda or nationalism and who only practices tribalism when it’s associated with the Chicago Cubs and Chicago Blackhawks.

Film Review: The Last Dragon (1985)

Also known as: Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon
Release Date: March 22nd, 1985
Directed by: Michael Schultz
Written by: Louis Venosta
Music by: Bruce Miller, Misha Segal
Cast: Taimak, Julius J. Carry III, Chris Murney, Leo O’Brien, Faith Prince, Glen Eaton, Vanity, Mike Starr, Ernie Reyes Jr., Keshia Knight Pulliam, Jim Moody, Esther Marrow, Chazz Palminteri, William H. Macy, Carl Anthony Payne II, Ron Van Clief (uncredited)

Motown Productions, TriStar Pictures, 107 Minutes

Review:

“I’m gonna get you, Leroy, because I am the Shogun! I will not rest until everybody knows the Shogun is the master!” – Sho’nuff

The Last Dragon is a weird enigma and frankly, there is nothing else quite like it.

The story is about a boy named Leroy and how he becomes a kung fu master. His friends and students call him Bruce Leroy and there is a good amount of old Bruce Lee movie footage thrown into the picture for good measure. Between this and No Retreat, No Surrender, Bruceploitation was still alive and well more than a decade after the man’s death.

Leroy draws the ire of an evil kung fu badass named Sho’Nuff, who is played by the immensely awesome Julius Carry, who I would become a lifelong fan of after his role on the underappreciated television series, Brisco County, Jr. In fact, regardless of Carry being the badass bad guy, I love this movie mostly because of him and the very young Ernie Reyes Jr.

The two main stars of the picture are Taimak as Bruce Leroy and the ’80s pop star Vanity as Laura, who was essentially like an old school MTV VJ. You also get small roles from William H. Macy, Chazz Palminteri, Mike Starr and two of The Cosby Show‘s kids: Keshia Knight Pulliam and Carl Anthony Payne II. Legit martial arts star Ron Van Clief handled the fight choreography and had a small uncredited role.

While this isn’t a musical, it is a film that is very music heavy. One of the villains is an evil music producer that wants his girlfriend to become a massive star. In fact, I thought her song was pretty good within the context of the movie but Vanity seemed to be completely disinterested in it, which made the villain lash out and become even more villainous. Honestly, the bad song wasn’t really that different than most of the mid-’80s pop that fills the movie. Had she just played the music video, she could have saved herself and her friends a lot of stress.

The thing that makes The Last Dragon so unique is that it is a weird mix of kung fu, ’80s music, teen comedy and is a visual explosion of over the top ’80s style. The film almost feels like a fantasy that takes place in a world similar to ours but much cooler, where everything is accented by neon lights and chrome.

The Last Dragon is a pretty cool experience but it feels pretty dated. It probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea in the modern era but for fans of ’80s cheese, it’s a nice cornucopia of ’80s style, music and humor. Plus, it is just a cool movie that’s a whole lot of fun.

Film Review: Hellhole (1985)

Also known as: Hell Hole (alternate spelling)
Release Date: April 26th, 1985
Directed by: Pierre De Moro
Written by: Aaron Butler (as Vincent Mongol), Lance Dickson, Mark Evan Schwartz
Music by: Jeff Sturges
Cast: Ray Sharkey, Judy Landers, Marjoe Gortner, Edy Williams, Mary Woronov, Terry Moore, Robert Z’Dar

Arkoff International Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

This is a film that I didn’t even know existed until recently. Somehow it evaded me in countless pillages of mom and pop video stores throughout the ’80s and ’90s. But it does have some people I like in it, so why not check it out?

The film sees a woman murdered by some crazed madman that looks like a middle aged punk rock mobster hybrid. Kind of hard to describe him but it’s the ’80s and this isn’t even a B-movie it’s more like a D-movie. Anyway, the woman’s daughter sees the murder, is then pursued and chased until she falls about ten feet and gets amnesia. She is then locked up in an insane asylum where they do crazy experiments that turn female patients into killer zombies. Also, the man that murdered her mother is there, working as an orderly.

In a lot of ways, this is an absolutely awful movie. However, it isn’t all a waste because it’s got some great character actors in it and frankly, it’s full of so much ’80s horror cheese that it should satisfy you, if that’s your thing.

The film has Mary Woronov, who was great in Death Race 2000Eating RaoulRock ‘n’ Roll High SchoolNight of the Comet and so many other B-movies. We also get Marjoe Gortner, who I enjoyed in Starcrash and as the villain in American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt. Then you have the “Maniac Cop” himself, Robert Z’Dar in an early role before he’d star in a slew of B-pictures, usually as a psycho killer… okay, always as a psycho killer. But he’s a guy with serious gravitas, a good presence and a chin that would make Bruce Campbell’s take a month off.

I’ll be honest though, there isn’t a whole lot here, apart from the cast, that is all that great. However, I was a bit surprised with how well it played out for what it is. At its core, it is a women in prison movie with a horror twist. There are boobs, lesbian stuff and whatnot. Sadly, there isn’t as much of it as you’d expect from this type of film. But hey, we get killer women prison zombies, so things balance out.

Hellhole isn’t a complete waste of time and it is only ninety minutes. If you didn’t get your fill of Woronov being a psycho in an operating room in Night of the Comet, then this should be up your alley.

Film Review: Clue (1985)

Also known as: Clue: The Movie, Cluedo (France)
Release Date: December 13th, 1985
Directed by: Jonathan Lynn
Written by: Jonathan Lynn, John Landis
Based on: Cluedo by Anthony E. Pratt
Music by: John Morris
Cast: Tim Curry, Eileen Brennan, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Martin Mull, Lesley Ann Warren, Colleen Camp, Lee Ving, Jane Wiedlin, Howard Hesseman

PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Communism was just a red herring.” – Wadsworth

Thanks to Flashback Cinema, I got to see Clue on the big screen. I never did get to see this in theaters, as a kid, but it was one of my favorite films to watch around the time that it first hit video store shelves. Seeing this in the theater was a lot of fun and it made me remember just how much I love this movie. I own it but I haven’t actually watched it in probably a decade.

The one thing that stands out, watching it now as an adult, is how great the writing is. Jonathan Lynn and John Landis made a hilarious movie that was well thought out, well constructed and had multiple endings, all of which were great in their own way.

And that is one of the cool and unique things about this film. In the theater, you only got to see one of the multiple endings. Which ending you got was pretty much random. So if you saw this in one theater and then watched it again in a different theater, you would have seen a different conclusion. When this came out on home video, all three endings were included and the way that they edited these together was really kind of cool. The version I just saw in the theater, handled the ending like the home video release. The true and final ending is the best, by the way, even though all three scenarios were good.

This movie makes use of a great ensemble of actors. Everyone was good in their role and there wasn’t a weak link. Each actor owned the character and gave them depth and personality that even enhanced the board game experience after this film came out. Instead of randomly picking characters before the film came out, all the kids I played with that saw this movie, would base their character selection off of who they liked from the film. I was usually Professor Plum because I loved Christopher Lloyd. Although, I really wish they would have added Wadsworth to the game.

I also liked that this was a bit of an homage to House On Haunted Hill, as the film starts out the same way and the mansion is called “Hill House”, making the comparison a bit more obvious. The film was also produced by Debra Hill, most known for her collaborations with horror director John Carpenter.

Clue proved that you could make a good movie based off of a board game. Granted, that doesn’t mean that it should ever be attempted again. Years later, Battleship was adapted into a film and it was awful but I don’t know how that game could’ve been adapted into something decent.

For years, several other board games have been in development hell. I’ve read stories about movies for MonopolyLifeCandyland and a bunch of other board games. There has even been a Clue remake that has been discussed for years and seen many incarnations come and go without actually going in front of the camera.

Clue was a perfect storm that had the right talent assembled at every level of the production. It probably isn’t something that could be successfully replicated again. Besides, Clue was initially a failure at the box office. It wasn’t until it hit home video that it really became somewhat of a cult classic.