“RED DAWN” (1984) – 4.5 Stars

I’m not sure if there was any movie in the 80’s that I watched more than “Red Dawn”. How my VHS copy was able to withstand the multiple viewings during my teen years is beyond me. This 1984 war film from director John Milius is a unique, almost “what if” story anchored in 1980s world politics. With the trailer of the upcoming remake already released, I felt it was the perfect time revisit what was one of my favorite movies of its decade. “Red Dawn” was a popular movie that stirred lots of conversations particularly for those craving something political to harp on. It was also criticized for its violence which at that time was considered heavy. In fact, the movie has the distinction of being the first film to receive a PG-13 rating from the MPAA.

But how is the movie itself? Even more interesting, how does “Red Dawn” hold up after all these years? I thought a cool way to help me determine this would be to watch it with my son and see how he responded after his first viewing. It was pretty telling to see him have a similar reaction to the one I had over 25 years ago. For my son, it was an exciting action movie. For me, it’s still a really good film built around good characters that holds up exceptionally well. For those looking, there are certainly things to nitpick. But I find the film’s few weaknesses easy to overlook considering how well conceived and well structured the movie is. And even after all these years I found myself excited when I was supposed to be excited and emotional when I was supposed to be emotional. For me it still pulls the right strings.

“Red Dawn” begins with one of my personal favorite openings of any movie. It doesn’t waste time and gets right into the meat of the story. In the small town of Calumet, Colorado, Jed Eckert (Patrick Swayze) drops his younger brother Matt (a sane and stable Charlie Sheen) and friend Aardvark (Doug Toby) off at school. It’s just another normal September morning. But later during history class, their teacher notices a large group of paratroopers landing outside. He walks out to see what’s going on and is shot dead as the students watch from inside. The paratroopers then open fire on the school as kids scramble to get away. Jed drives up amid the chaos and picks up Matt and Aardvark along with Robert (C. Thomas Howell), Daryl (Darren Dalton), and Danny (Brad Savage). The boys tear through town and then head for the mountains to hide out.

One of the most compelling things about the story is that these are just kids. We’re constantly reminded that we aren’t dealing with trained soldiers but kids who are suffering through fear, panic, and eventually loss. In fact, after seeing the new trailer, one of my biggest concerns about the upcoming remake is that the kids come across as a cool special ops-like team. But a big part of what propels the original is their fear – fear of their circumstances, fear of losing their families, fear of death. But they are forced to overcome their fears and when the harsh reality of this new war-torn country shows itself to them, they’re forced to grow up fast.

As the movie unfolds, the kids have to fight back. There’s no deeply strategic military influence to their actions. It’s strictly guerilla warfare against what we find out are Russian and Cuban forces. They take on the moniker “Wolverines”, named after the school’s sports mascot, and begin complicating things for the enemy army by attacking caravans, freeing prisoners, and sabotaging strategic checkpoints. The action is very well done and it progresses from bows and arrows and hunting rifles to mounted machine guns and RPGs. But what’s really impressive is how the group progresses. The way it’s presented, I had no trouble believing that these kids had adapted as the stakes got higher. Sure, some of the shouts of “Wolverines” are cheesy, but the action is thrilling and it’s truly pertinent to the story.

The boys end up taking on the two granddaughters of a local rancher, Erica (Lea Thompson) and Toni (Jennifer Grey). At first there is some tension between the girls and the guys but soon they’re fighting right alongside of each other. They also are joined by a United States Air Force pilot (Powers Boothe) whose plane is shot down in their area. He gives them a better understanding of the gravity of the war as well as some much-needed experience that pushes their “operation” a little further. These characters mix in well and it doesn’t take long before you actually feel invested in them as well. They each have their place in the story and I still found myself caring for them especially when things begin to go bad for the group.

The entire idea behind “Red Dawn” can certainly be viewed as preposterous. But there is still a grounded and sincerely human element to the film that doesn’t feel a bit outlandish. Again, the politics of the 80’s and the international tensions of the time plays a key part in setting up the story and understanding them will definitely make the movie feel more real. But overall this is an action picture. It takes an intriguing story built around an interesting concept and some good chemistry and creates a movie that feels very 80’s-ish while also still holding up today. I’m still skeptical about the remake, but I have no qualm with calling the original “Red Dawn” a really good movie.

5 PHENOMENAL MOVIE FOOT CHASES

As an action movie fan I love a good chase regardless of the kind – motorcycle, car, or even on foot. It may surprise you just how many great foot chases there have been in movie history. And as technology has gotten better, particularly with new cameras and methods of shooting action scenes, movies have been able to create some incredible foot chases. So I decided to give some love to 5 great movie foot chases. I left out a few that certainly deserve mention, but these 5 were impossible for me to leave out. So, here they are. Now as usual, I wouldn’t dare call this the definitive list. But there’s no denying that these 5 movie foot chases are absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – “FAST FIVE”

“Fast Five”

The “Fast and Furious” series has made it’s reputation on fast cars and some ridiculously wild car chases. Who would have thought that one of the coolest scenes in 2011’s “Fast Five” would have been a foot chase? After meeting back up at Dom’s safe house in Rio de Janeiro, Dom, Brian, and Mia find themselves boxed in by the armed thugs of a local crime lord on one side and Special Agent Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and his men on the other. The three take off on a foot chase through the cramped, densely populated, hillside streets – running through tight alleys and jumping from rooftop to rooftop – with a host of pursuers hot on their tail. It’s a tremendous, high-octane sequence with some incredible camera work. I love this scene.

#4 – “POINT BREAK

“Point Break”

In what was one part free-spirited surfer movie and one part gritty heist film, “Point Break” was a popular action romp from director Kathryn Bigelow. Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) is the ring leader of a group of surfer bank robbers and FBI agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) has infiltrated their ranks. As Utah gets closer to making the arrest, the “Ex-Presidents” – the name they go by due to the rubber masks of past presidents that they wear – pull off a heist. Utah arrives as they are leaving and bodhi is forced to take off on foot. Utah chases him into a neighborhood, over fences, through backyards and living rooms, and finally down a ravine where Utah hurts his knee and Bodhi gets away. It a furious chase with tight, close quarter camera work and even a touch of subtle humor. “Point Break” has a lot of memorable scenes, few better than the foot chase.

#3 – “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM

“The Bourne Ultimatum”

The third film of the Jason Bourne series featured the same intense, spy thriller action and around the world globetrotting that the series is known for. One of my favorite sequences is the sequence in Morocco. Bourne (Matt Damon) and Nicky (Julia Stiles) are trying to get to a source who is coming clean about the CIA’s undercover project known as “Blackbriar”. But the organization has an asset on the ground to take him out before they get to him. After Bourne and Nicky split up, the asset turns to her with orders to kill on sight. Nicky takes off, the asset chasing her, and Bourne chasing the asset. The three run through the crowded streets of Tangier and finally through a series of close, cramped houses, before the scene ends with the best fight scene of the entire series so far. Director Paul Greengrass puts it all together perfectly with the perfect amount of tension and action. It’s an awesome scene.

#2 – “RAISING ARIZONA

“Raising Arizona”

Leave it to Joel and Ethen Coen to give us not only one of the best foot chases in movie history but by far the funniest. In 1987’s “Raising Arizona” Nicholas Cage plays H.I. McDunnough, a dimwit struggling with a most unusual addiction – robbing convenient stores. He’s stressed over some events at home, namely the kidnapping of one of the “Arizona Quints” – the children of unpainted furniture tycoon Nathan Arizona. While the story revolves around H.I. and his wife Ed’s lamebrain idea to solve her infertility by taking one of Arizona’s five babies, one of the funniest moments is when a stressed out H.I. gives into his addiction and holds up a convenient store with ED and Junior in the car outside. Once she realizes what he’s doing, she drives off leaving him behind. With the police arriving and the store clerk pulling out his Dirty Harry .44 magnum, H.I. takes off on foot. He’s chased by lunatic cops, dogs, and eventually Ed again. He runs through suburban backyards, living rooms, and supermarkets running into an assortment of funny characters and hilarious obstacles. It’s hard to beat.

#1 – “CASINO ROYALE”

“Casino Royale”

I’ve never been the biggest James Bond fan although I did enjoy some of the Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan films. But that changed dramatically with director Martin Campbell’s “Casino Royale” from 2006. Daniel Craig took over the role of 007 and brought a gritty more realistic Bond to the big screen. I absolutely loved it. It doesn’t take long for the action to fire up in “Casino Royale”. We see Bond in Madagascar where he has tracked down a wanted bomb manufacturer. When his partner botches the apprehension, the suspect takes off on foot with 007 right behind him. I recently rewatched this scene when preparing this list and it still blows my mind. The chase takes the two to a construction site where a high-rise in being built. They leap up scaffolding, run along steel girders, and fight on high altitude cranes. Then the chase takes them back to the ground and through the streets and finally through the Nabutu Embassy where it has an explosive ending. Even though it’s close to 10 minutes long, this chase keeps you glued to the screen, constantly draws “ooo’s” and “aah’s” from the audience. It’s beautifully shot, masterfully edited, and it serves as a wonderful introduction to this new era of Bond. I love the movie and I really love this scene.

There ya have it – my 5 Phenomenal Movie Foot Chases. See something I missed? Disagree with one of my choices? Please take time to share your favorite movie foot chase.