SS: Hi, Cynthia Hawkins! I’ve been enjoying your cinema posts on TNB; given that people are discussing and deconstructing literature and music and poetry it seems only fair that film is included. I’m glad you’re picking up the slack on that front, and I’m glad you seem to have become TNB’s resident movie buff. However, for this particular piece I’m not even going to make an attempt to go highbrow or even to attempt a neat segue … because what I’d really like to discuss is ’80s action flicks. The ’80s (to me) seems to be when action movies really hit their stride. I’m talking Terminator, Aliens, Die Hard, Predator… First Blood, Tango and Cash, Commando. This was the golden age of guys like Schwarzenegger and Stallone. Do you think there’s a defining quality, or qualities, to the action films that were such an iconic part of the 1980s?

CH: Why, hello, Simon Smithson! You don’t know how happy it makes me to take up any slack there might be in the TNB movie department. Finally, I feel as if my movie-geekness is being used for good instead of evil. And by evil I mean being unbeatable at Scene It on X-Box. It’s like I finally have a true purpose now, and that purpose is to talk about ’80s action flicks with Simon Smithson. I’d say ’80s action flicks were equal parts mullet, saxophone, slip-on shoes, and kicking ass. But more importantly, I think what seems to set the ’80s action flicks apart as a golden era is that they departed from the gritty realism of the ’70s action flicks and took action movies over the top. Everything was bigger and flashier — the actors, their personalities, the explosions. The same thing was happening in music as well, if you think about it. It’s like going from Boston to Motley Crue.

SS: Well, if you were to have any kind of life purpose, you probably couldn’t get better than talking about ’80s action flicks with yours truly.

Obviously, I’m kidding.

There’s no place for the word ‘probably’ in that sentence.

Do you think advances in special effects had anything to do with the hallmarks of the era? The technical ability catching up with the film-makers’s vision? Because you’re so right – reality went straight out the window. Suddenly, the archetypal story became the one guy, killing a whole bunch of other guys, in the most explosive ways possible, and kind of enjoying himself while he did it.

CH: Your description of the jubilant one-guy killing machine immediately brings to mind Bruce Willis yelling “Yippee ki yay, mother fucker!” in Die Hard. That has to be the quintessential ’80s movie moment. It has everything except a mullet. Now that you mention it, I don’t think the bombast of the era could have been facilitated without those advancements. But it’s funny to think of them as “advancements” now. I remember at the time The Terminator was, in true James Cameron fashion, supposed to be the second-coming of movies thanks to its use of the absolute latest in special effects. Watch that now, though, and it looks a bit chintzy by today’s standards.

In fact, it’s a little hard to pinpoint ’80s action films that do stand the test of time, whether that’s due to the special effects or not. They tend to be so very ’80s even when they aren’t supposed to be. Take Young Guns, for example. A western, so I’m veering a little from the action genre here, but even Billy the Kid has a mullet in Young Guns. And I’m pretty sure there’s a Casio on the soundtrack. The ’80s flicks unabashedly embrace the tastes and trends of the era in ways I don’t necessarily notice films in the decades after doing to that same degree. It’s not too much of a distraction for me, though. I love The Terminator anyway, even if a shot does look like an egg beater getting mangled in a high-school wood-shop vice. Since this is one of your favourite eras and genres, I’m wondering if there are a few that do stand the test of time for you — or if perhaps their rebellious refusal to do so might be part of their allure?

SS: I think you’re right – there’s so much about ’80s movies as a whole – not just action flicks – that are so soaked in the unique ambience of the decade that it’s impossible to see them as anything else. In terms of special effects, some films stand the test of time… some really don’t. So much of a film’s longevity comes down to storytelling, and so much comes down to how and what special effects are being used, and how judiciously – Aliens, for example. The menace is hinted at in darkness, and done with model work as opposed to the shoddy early-era CGI that started coming in afterwards. And it’s amazing how the monsters in Aliens look so much realer than the creature in Alien 3.

I think what makes an action film stand the test of time is – and I’m loath to say this, I really am – honesty. For want of a better word.

Take Die Hard, for instance. It was a new take on a genre that was still being figured out; the storyline was one everyman up against terrible odds, he’s human, he’s damaged, he keeps getting beaten down… then compare that to Die Hard 4.0, which is slick and highly-produced and had tens of millions thrown at it in post-production. Die Hard is, by far, the better, more memorable, and more re-watchable film. Because I think they were still taking risks and trying new things and working from an idea rather than market research and exit polls, as opposed to the hollowness of Die Hard 4.0. Even though, I guess, Die Hard was one of the films that moved action films into the ’90s.

So. Schwarzenegger. Stallone. Willis. Van Damme. Russell. Norris.

Any particular favourite? And why?

CH: I noticed you left Mel Gibson off that list. Does his sharp turn into utter misogynistic, racist madness cancel him out of ’80s flick glory? Talk about things that can make a movie largely unwatchable. Is it possible to watch his Three-Stooges flip-out scenes as Riggs in Lethal Weapon without inserting that weird animal huffing followed by something like, “And I’m gonna chop you up in little pieces and put you in the garden! Rawr!” Tsk, tsk, Mel. You coulda been a contenda.

Stallone. I’d have to say Stallone is the stand-out for the variety of iconic characters he portrayed, the success of the majority of his films, and the fact that his works span that entire decade (whereas someone like Bruce is just getting started at the end of it). Stallone’s characters tend to be dark, brooding outsiders, which always appeals to me because there’s something in that darkness that implies this person is capable of wreaking serious havoc without a moment’s notice. You have faith in this person no matter the odds.

It’s an interesting list you’ve created, though, because each of them had such strong and distinct personalities driving their films. And if there’s anyone I’d cross off it’d be because their personalities just don’t click with me. Chuck Norris for example (I think I just unleashed the hate mail kraken!). Norris’ films just seemed comparatively sub-par in my estimation and his characters weren’t quite compelling enough to remedy that for me. I know I’ll meet with dissenters on that score, and I’ll probably deserve it.

I expect you to answer this question of favourites now, because if I’m going out on a limb here you’re coming with me compadre!

SS: Mel has, unfortunately, lost all cachet with me. Even home-town pride only goes so far, you know?

I have to go for Stallone as well. He gets a lot of flak for his less cerebral roles (which, let’s be fair, sums up most of them), but I would have dinner with him any day of the week.

Admittedly, he would pay.

The guy wrote Rocky when he was 30 and won an Academy Award for it. Say what you like, that’s a better script than I see myself writing at 30. He threw himself into action roles – First Blood is a good movie too; there’s a reason the word ‘Rambo’ became synonomous with the genre – but there’s a lot of darkness and thought that went into Stallone’s performance. I’ve never actually seen a Norris film – I just suspect I wouldn’t care for him, and I don’t really feel any yearning to challenge that assumption.

It’s interesting you say ’80s flick glory – because there’s a lot of glorying going on in ’80s actions flicks. I can’t help but link it to the fact the US was riding high in the ’80s – there’s even a scene in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia where they talk about how people aren’t patriotic any more, and Mac says ‘Not like we were in the ’80s!’

Your thoughts on this matter, Ms. Hawkins?

CH: You do realize that there are now parts of the U.S., Texas mostly, in which we’ll only be able to travel incognito due to our Norris sentiments. And I live in Texas. There’s such a fervour over Norris of late, and I haven’t figured out if it’s a joke (like nominating Carrie for prom queen) or if it’s genuine admiration for the guy. I think I’ll quietly tiptoe away from this one and move along…

Oh, I absolutely agree that the bigness of those movies is reflective of the bigness of America’s collective sense of self at the time. I’ve always suspected that the best way to get a handle on any era is through its pop-culture. That said, this is the U.S.A. of the ‘80s based on Rocky IV: “If all we have is a donkey cart to train on, we can still kick your ass. And we will do it to synthesizers. Now, step back and take in the awesomeness of my shimmery satin stars-and-stripes shorts.”

But this reminds me that as much as we love them, these films aren’t entirely representative. They’re largely white, and they’re largely male-centric. Your thoughts on this, Mr. Smithson? (It’s like I just dropped a grenade at your feet and ran away!)

…Okay, I’m starting to feel bad for sticking you with analyzing 80’s flicks for NOT ONLY issues of race but gender as well. I mean, sweet jeebus, how much time do you have? If you’d rather, I was also going to ask you about what you thought of Stallone’s comment regarding the “death” of the genre as it was envisioned in the 80’s. If you’d rather go that route, here’s the official set-up…


So, Stallone told the Los Angeles Times recently that he felt Tim Burton’s Batman marked the beginning of the end for the 80’s-style action hero such as himself. Suddenly, someone more ordinary, less ripped, someone like Michael Keaton, could be the hero. He also felt that the “visuals took over,” becoming more important than the individual. Do you think the 80’s brand of action movie and action hero is truly dead? And, if so, would you agree with Stallone’s assessment of why? I’ll remind you he’s still really big and he’s buying you dinner.

SS: But wasn’t that what America was all about in the ’80s? White guys kicking ass all over the world? Even if they had a decidedly non-American accent. Huh. Can I even say this? Wesley Snipes didn’t become an action hero until Passenger 57, in ’92. Jackie Chan didn’t break for Western audiences until Rumble in the Bronx, which was what, ’95? Bruce Lee was a one-off in Hollywood, so it was up to Chan to open the market for guys like Jet Li and Stephen Chow. Carl Weathers and Bill Duke were probably the most well-known mainstream non-white action stars, and Sigourney Weaver was the sole representative for female heroes (although she beat the other guys to the punch – Alien was ’79). I don’t know, can you think of many other non-white, non-male action stars with the same level of notoriety?

As for the Batman idea… that’s really interesting. I remember reading that there was an outcry surrounding Burton’s decision to go with casting Keaton; people thought Keaton, known up until then primarily for comedic roles, couldn’t pull it off. I would say Stallone was right on the money there – although I think visuals probably would have been just as over-the-top as they are now, if they’d just had the technology at the time to do them. There is an element of escalation – action movies have to keep upping the ante, it seems, which could be one of the reasons they’re becoming so blase and staid.

I think now we’re seeing a combination of 80s and 90s heroes. Bond and Bourne and Batman are just as buff as their 80s forebears ever were – it’s become mandatory to have an shot of someone’s amazingly-ripped body as they train or fight; every film since Fight Club has sought to include it (Pitt’s toplessly muscular fight scenes set the gold standard). But they also have to be psychologically fascinating – the best of both worlds?

And of course, that brings us to The Expendables

CH: I think you’ve covered it well! If there is, by chance, any non-white or non-male kick-ass action hero we’ve left off, I think the fact we’ve forgotten them says it all about their unfortunate status in the ‘80s. I distinctly remember watching Burton’s Batman and feeling really anxious at one point when it seemed Batman was utterly defeated. He’d just gotten the crap beat out of him. His Batmobile was trashed. And I thought, “What is this? Stallone would have had this wrapped up twenty minutes ago.” Of course, he manages, just barely, to get out of trouble, but Burton’s vision of the action hero introduced a level of vulnerability and ordinariness you just didn’t see often in the ’80s. I think that’s the direction the action hero has continued to go coupled with that attention to visuals Stallone laments.

So … The Expendables. Have you seen it? Is it on where you are? I’m going this weekend, so I’ll report back on it afterward. I was going to avoid it, actually, but after our chat I’m feeling a little nostalgic for that bunch. Except maybe Dolph Lundgren. I’m not feeling nostalgic for Dolph. At all. Until then… I really want to know two things. What is it about this era of action movies that appeals to you, and if I asked you to queue up one of these films to watch this evening which one would it be?

SS: Are you kidding? Lundgren is one of the unmoveable Scandinavian pillars of the action genre. He’s blonde death incarnate. At least, he’s blonde death incarnate up until the last five minutes of any film, when he usually gets iced by the hero. Did you know he has a master’s degree in Chemistry, speaks seven languages, and competed in the Olympics? Which makes two ex-Olympians in The Expendables, along with Statham (and yes, it will shortly be on where I am, and yes, I am going to see it).

I think the simplicity of the concept is what appeals to me. There’s no pretense in ’80s action flicks – the good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, and an explosion will, most times, take care of any problems admirably. Most Hollywood movies – most movies, really – despite how high their aspirations may be, don’t really have all that much higher-level functioning to them as a matter of course. Which is OK, because, honestly, how much philosophy and understanding of the human condition can you fit into two hours of running time? Sometimes it’s nice to see something that dispenses with any kind of effort to be anything but gun porn.

Any one of those films? Damn. You know, I might go with the original Terminator. It’s been a very long time since I saw that film. Did you know that in every James Cameron film that Michael Biehn stars in, Biehn gets bitten in the hand?

I wish Snipes and Van Damme could have made it into The Expendables. That would have been perfect.

So how about you? Any single ’80s action movie?

CH: I do appreciate Lundgren for one thing: uttering the words “I must break you.”

I have to say that Die Hard, First Blood, and the first Terminator are all movies I watch more than the normal person should. So I’m going to follow your lead and pick something I haven’t seen in a very long time. Predator. For one thing, it offers one of my other favourite movie quotes with Arnold’s “you one ugly mudda fucka.” For another, it has Carl Weathers who survives just slightly longer than most non-white people do in ’80s action movies. And then there’s the awesome heat vision special effects, the jungle razing explosions, and an alien enemy who leaves its prey hanging like strips of beef jerky in the trees. What’s not to love?

SS: Nothing.

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SIMON SMITHSON is an Australian writer and editor. He is currently based in Melbourne, Australia, but frequently finds himself in Los Angeles and San Francisco. His work has appeared on both sides of the globe in print and online in publications such as BLIP, Every Day Fiction, Beat, The Loop, My Sinking Boat, and more. He has a tumblr at www.simonsmithson.com and he runs a lifestyle experiment at www.selfhelpless.net.

74 responses to “Lights, Camera, Action: A Conversation Between Simon Smithson and Cynthia Hawkins”

  1. Richard Cox says:

    This is a great interview. Kudos to you both. Where the hell did it appear, though? I only found this by accident, as one of the “related posts” links.

    Excellent, excellent point about the difference between Die Hard and Die Hard 4.0. And the most ridiculous thing is, besides being insufferable pricks, the suits that make these decisions are, by and large, smart people. So why on earth do they do this? Everyone knows most movies these days suck because of the “write by committee” model. So why keep doing it?

    It hurts when I punch myself in the face. So I guess I’ll just keep doing it!


    • Simon Smithson says:

      I know, I know. RE: the movies, that is. I feel strange about saying ‘I know, I know’ in reference to the phrase ‘this is a great interview’.

      Although Cynthia is awesome. And this was a lot of fun.

      God, the suits! Such awful, awful men and women!

      • That’s why I never, ever wear suits.

        Also, Die Hard sequels have the worst titles. Ever. Die Harder. Die Hard with a Vengeance. Live Free or Die Hard.

        I’d just like to add that Simon is awesomer with a vengeance.

  2. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    STALLONE. I want to watch Rocky right now. RIGHT NOW!
    I got a lot of “action” the following decade. Cynthia, when you’re read to talk shop about 90s romantic comedies (read: dark, sexy indie flicks), I’m down for a lil TNB interview action.
    Nicely done, team.

  3. Becky says:

    You know, I’ll come right out and say it: I still like Mel Gibson and his movies. Not as a person, necessarily, but as an actor. He’s hilarious and the 80s would not be the 80s without him. Simon, did you quit liking Seinfeld because Kramer dropped the n-bomb? I have a feeling that if identifying other undesirable personality traits were as easy to detect as racism, by this rule, we’d all be flat out of movies to watch. But, on the other hand, I’m accustomed to this “oh well” attitude toward entertainers saying stuff I don’t like in general. Politically, I disagree with almost all of them. At some point I had to choose between having music and movies I liked and having actors and musicians I was enthusiastic about personally.

    I wish someone would kick Lars Ulrich in the jewels, but I just rebought the black album the other day. John Cusack seems to be a pretty collossal DB, from what I can gather. Still one of my favorite actors. I mean, I don’t pay to see them be agreeable in their personal lives, right? I mean, this question fascinates me.

    • Zara Potts says:

      I’m with you, Becky. I still heart Mel Gibson. Mad Max is one of my all time faves.
      And both Simon and Cynthia know how I felt about him in ‘The Bounty’…

      • Becky Palapala says:

        My honest-to-God feeling about the whole thing, since we went…30 years or something without ever becoming privy to these apparently glaring personality defects of his, is that they’re probably somehow related to the alcohol that seems to accompany them.

        It’s possible that he’s a racist and a misogynist, but I think it’s more likely that he’s an alcoholic.

        Just a gut feeling.

        I think he gets doubly fucked on the PR end for two reasons: His (apparent) politics (this is a big one) and the fact that we DIDN’T know about any of it for 30 years. People figure they’re entitled to this sort of information. They feel betrayed when celebrities don’t turn out to be who they thought they were, etc.

      • Simon Smithson says:

        Actually, I’ve started drawing a hardline stance. I’m refusing to go see Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, despite the fact I really, really want to, and I think I’d love it, because Michael Cera doesn’t deserve my money, and here’s why:


        I was never a huge Mel fan anyway, so, now that I know he beats up chicks (allegedly!) and insults people for not being white (definitely!), he doesn’t deserve my money either. There’s a line, and Mel crossed it. I can also now never see an episode of Seinfeld (luckily for me, I haven’t watched that show for years, so it’s a moot point), without thinking Hey! That’s the guy who said to some black guys that fifty years back they’d have a fork in their ass! What an asshole.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Well, you know, principles are principles.

          But what of the Christian Bale freakout? Have you abandoned the Dark Knight series, American Psycho, The Machinist, AND The Prestige, too? Those are an awful lot of good movies. I dunno.

          I’m just saying that I’d suspect a large portion of Hollywood doesn’t deserve your money if being an asshole is the criteria for exclusion. Like, you might be left watching only Will Smith movies if you were able to discover what a lot of those people are really like.

          So isn’t it possible that you’re boycotting these people not for being assholes, but for being caught being assholes? Isn’t that more arbitrary than principled?

          I don’t know. I’m really not trying to antagonize. Like I said, I’m maybe more accustomed, in general, to separating actors’ personal and professional lives, so it doesn’t bother me as much. And really, at the end of the day, it doesn’t make any difference to me about who you’re willing to give your money to.

          I just wonder sometimes about people feeling entitled to agreeable celebrities. I mean, it seems to reward something other than talent. It’s an interesting question that extends well beyond Gibson or Cera or even actors & musicians.

          I mean, what if a writer is an asshole?

        • Becky Palapala says:

          And AND…on the Christian Bale tip: Little Women and that screen adaptation of Henry V.

          You could never see those again, either. I mean, my God, Simon. The fatalities are piling up.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          Oh, it’s totally arbitrary! But that’s my right as a consumer. I get to choose how and why I spend my money on any particular product, and I choose not to spend my money on douchebags who have hit a tipping point that exists only in my own head, remains undefined, and is only apparent in hindsight.

          Bale didn’t cross that line quite enough for me. Sure he ranted and raved, but to me, he actually kinda saved himself by saying ‘You’re a nice guy! You’re a nice guy. But Jesus Christ, you’re amateur.’ But if, say, he’d stomped a puppy to death, laughed about it on late-night TV, and then done it again, do you think there would be a backlash against his film? I’m using the extreme example to map the territory, but hopefully my point is apparent.

          Separation of a celebrity’s life and work totally exists – up to a point. And, poor Mel, I would be surprised if most of his problems didn’t stem from his alcoholism and upbrining.

  4. Becky says:

    Ugh. iPhone typing. Said “I mean” about every other sentence.

  5. Quenby Moone says:

    I’m so moved by this fabulous interview that I had to unearth one of my old pieces about the most crappy of craptastic movies: the Sunday afternoon matinee on network television, featuring almost exclusively all the movies mentioned in this unbelievably wonderful interview!

    Oh, no. I had no idea that the matters of craptastic viewing were being so handily undertaken by one of our own. Now I have to become a Hawkins groupie.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      Oh, man, I can’t even remember the last time I went to see a movie on a Sunday afternoon.

      That should have been when we went to see The Expendables.

      God damn, I love the ’80s.

      Quenby: any ’80s movie you would watch, if you could watch any ’80s movie right now?

      • Quenby Moone says:

        Man, that mention of Predator towards the end made me pine a bit; maybe that one. It’s got Jesse Ventura in it, future AWESOME govr. of Minnesota and pro-wrestler, for god’s sake. It’s like the weird governor dream team: Arnie and THE BODY.

        I miss Jesse.

        Let’s see. I hold a special place in my heart for Terminator: The Clunky One. I always quote it in the most inappropriate of moments. Also, just terrible effects. And that soundtrack! Special bonus: my brother pulled focus on a movie with Michael Biehn this spring. Dude. So many coolness points. I actually worship my brother.

        But I was intrigued that my father had a copy of that Paul Verhoeven classic Total Recall. Arguably, it’s from 1990, but I’ll give it the edge because they were shooting it through the ass-end of the 80’s. Brilliant lines: “Git your ahs to Mahs. Git your ahs to Mahs,” and “Two weeks, two weeks….two weeks…” and the tourist does a terrible morph into Arnie.

        And who could forget Kuato, the man-baby living inside a man from where he leads a rebellion? I’m telling you, I would curl up on the sofa and watch that out of the corner of my eye right now if I could.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          “Baby, you make me wish I had three hands!”

          Classic, classic line.

          Like The Running Man:

          “Look at you, Sub-Zero. Now just plain zero.”

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      Back atcha, Quenby! I’d love to see your Sunday matinee piece. We *recorded* those. That’s how I know that movies about giant insects exist. And also, why I can quote Nighthawks. I think my first TNB post on lording over the Netflix queue gave the appearance that I only like high quality films, but really I will see any crappy movie as long as it is craptastic.

      Simon, The Expendables should have been called The Craptastics. But let us speak of this no more lest we give our Part II away!

  6. Zara Potts says:

    I was never a big fan of the 80’s action movie genre, DESPITE being the co-president of the NZ chapter of the Arnie Appreciation Society (“Don’t disturb my friend, he’s dead tired”).

    I think it was indeed the saxophone and synth soundtracks that ruined it for me. Funnily enough, I was a big fan of Mel Gibson – but not in his action roles. I hated the Lethal Weapon franchise.

    But, yes. Commando is a gem and Predator, although I always thought the alien monster looked disturbingly like Whoopi Goldberg.

  7. Though not as iconic as the Rambo and Die Hard films, I agree with you about Predator for two more reasons 1) the quintessential Schwarzenegger line “If it bleeds, we can kill it” and 2) Jesse Ventura. Now that I think of it, that film was chock full of political harbingers. I believe I heard something about the Predator pulling an upset in a GOP primary recently. With Norris endorsing.

    Anyway, thanks for this juicy interview.

  8. Of all the ’80s action films only Commando can compete with the awesomeness of 1991’s POINT BREAK.

    Hey Scully, remember when I said I’d kill you last?

    I LIED

    • Simon Smithson says:

      I’ve worked on a couple of scripts – not successful scripts, sure – for now-, but that’s beside the point.

      The point is:

      What the fuck hour at night did someone come up with that line, and someone else greenlight it?

  9. One good thing about Korean TV: These movies played constantly. All of them. They make great hangover fodder.

  10. Becky Palapala says:

    In other news: I think the dated-ness of 80s soundtracks is totally a matter of perspective.

    I mean, the phenomenon is well-documented enough in 70s films, and I suspect that movies like The Matrix will sound silly and very millenial-high-techno-digital-revolutiony 5-10 years from now (cyber-punk-gamer-nerd-chic?), if they don’t already.

    I think the datedness of movie soundtracks is a phenomenon as timeless as the soundtracks aren’t.

    • Cynthia Hawkins says:

      This is true, but this is also why I appreciate films that go for a traditional score. I’m such a huge fan of movie scores that are grand and cinematic, you know, in the traditional sense (there are always a few exceptions — Badly Drawn Boy’s soundtrack for About a Boy, for instance). My personal taste. Both Tim Burton and Nolan’s Batmans have gone this route, for example, and that makes me happy. Also, there are scores that seem dated but still work — Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western scores, for example, are awesome even if they recall a particular era in filmmaking. Something like Young Guns, Lady Hawke, Nighthawks, (probably anything with “Hawk” in its title), or Lethal Weapon I can hardly watch because their soundtracks are SO awful. I remember thinking they were awful at the time too. Ugh, those friggin saxophones kill me. I just can’t take it!

      • Becky Palapala says:

        Two words: Top Gun.

        That one presents issues. It is, far and away, the posterchild for dated 80s soundtracks, but it is, on the other hand, celebrated for it.

        Also, The Crow.

        I mean, that soundtrack may be the MOST decade and sub-culture specific of all. Was just all-around dated for its capitalization on (and mainstreaming of) 90s goth culture.

        • Matt Baldwin says:

          I was just thinking about The Crow. While I don’t mind the music IN the movie (which I’ve not watching in a few years now), aside from a few tracks, I don’t like listening to the soundtrack album at all. Not in the way I do for say, the soundtrack to Singles.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Oh man, I love that soundtrack.

          Maybe this is just my problem.

          I was totally a pseudo-goth when it came out. Two notes of NIN’s “dead souls” and I’m 17 again, wishing I had the nuts to wear full face paint.

          God, what a douche I was.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          Burn kept me going for years. Damn, that Robert Smith knows how to put together an angst track.

          But I found myself getting into scores a few years back – The Dark Knight has a great (if dark, no pun intended) soundtrack.

      • Matt Baldwin says:

        To Live and Die in L.A.. A perfectly serviceable action/crime film, with a great chase scene, some nice plot twists, and William Peterson before he got all swollen and puffy in CSI. Absolutely ruined for me by the terrible, horribly dated Wang Chung soundtrack. Bottom of the barrel scrapings of 80’s cheesiness. I CANNOT stand it.

        I’m usually not a big fan of pop-music soundtracks to begin with, unless it’s something appropriate to the story, like High Fidelity, Almost Famous, School of Rock etc. – but again, good songwriting is good songwriting, and some get away with it a lot better than others. I can bear the 80s pop in The Lost Boys because it’s diagesis-specific (it’s believable that the characters in the movie would be listening to that music), but I cannot for a moment believe the Secret Service characters played by Peterson and John Pankow in To Live and Die in L.A. would be cruising around listening to Wang Chung.

  11. Matt Baldwin says:

    I cannot believe you guys did this entire back-and-forth and no one brought up Escape From New York. 1981. If any movie set the template for the “lone badass guy against an army of baddies” 80s action films, it’s that one.


    I’ve met Chuck Norris. He’s an asshole – far-right wing Bible-thumper of the worst stripe. And a terrible actor to boot. One of his movies – Delta Force, I think – drove the young Neil Gaiman out of the film critic business.

    • *deep breath in* So. Matt. Um. I’ve been working up the nerve to tell you I’ve never seen Escape From New York in its entirety. BUT the good news is that I have seen Big Trouble in Little China many, many times, so hopefully that makes up for it. Don’t hate me! And stop yelling FAIL at me b/c I can’t take it! It’s just like trying to do a chin-up in gym class all over again.

      Seriously, though, feel free to expound on it here as an addendum if you will. Am I right to think this one had more of a cult following than the others we did discuss? Which probably makes it truly cool instead of craptastic cool?

      • Simon Smithson says:

        To be honest, I’ve never seen Escape from NY either, but Wikipedia tells me it was huge.

        That being said, the number of times I’ve seen Big Trouble in Little China… my God. And I’d do it all over again!


        • Matt says:

          DOUBLE FAIL.

          Serious demerits here, guys.

          Escape From New York is a straight-up action film, not camp like Big Trouble in Little China or an action-film satire like the sequel Escape From L.A. was. It and Mad Max 2/The Road Warrior made 1981 a one-two punch for the post-apocalyptic action film subgenre.

        • Cynthia Hawkins says:

          It always seemed like a lesser Mad Max to me, which is why I’d never felt like watching it all the way through. Oh how I loved all of the Mad Max films — esp. the one with Tina. Because, really, we don’t need another hero. I have a feeling if I were to watch all of these again, along with all of Escape, they’d seem far more equal to each other now.

          Simon, just so you know, I’ve caught some heat (off the comment board) for not including Harrison Ford anywhere in our discussion. Whom I adore beyond measure for Han Solo and Indiana Jones. What do you think? My defense was that outside of these roles he’s a dramatic actor and that the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films were less action and more of their respective genres — sci-fi and adventure. Sorry, that’s a bit off your topic, Matt, but while I’m thinking of it …..

        • Cynthia Hawkins says:

          Oh, and Blade Runner! Matt’s going to yell FAIL at me again for sure!

  12. Joe Daly says:

    I was delighted to see that this piece is itself a meta-80s piece, with flashy writing style, cracking one-liners, and over the-top-metaphors to exalt the flashy exuberance of 80s movies, their cracking one-liners, and the over-the-top killing sprees within.

    So happy that you captured all the big names, too. Even a topical discussion of Mr. Gibson, which was entirely warranted in view of recent developments.

    >>I’d say ’80s action flicks were equal parts mullet, saxophone, slip-on shoes, and kicking ass.<<

    Best line about 80s movies, period.

    And Simon, I had no idea that Herr Lundren was a fellow pimp! Does he really have a chem degree? Holy shit. That’s bad ass. Indeed, he is “blonde death incarnate” on apparently many levels.

    When “The Expendables” came out, I gave it a weekend to breath a little bit, and then on a Monday evening, took my favorite guy (me) to see it. I found myself smiling constantly throughout the movie. Not laughing a the humor and hilarity, but genuinely smiling because the movie is so intentionally fun. It is smart enough to send up so many of the elements you both describe above, without being too cutesy about it. It does not sacrifice the plot to wink through the fourth wall, if that makes any sense.

    Loved the topic, loved the questions, and loved the answers. I hope you two make this a repeat engagement because Lord knows, there are a lot of movie genres worth discussing!

    • Why, thank you Joe Daly! I really, really want to talk about The Expendables … but I can’t. I am only allowed to talk about The Expendables with Smithson.

      • Simon Smithson says:

        I can’t believe how many YouTube clips there are available of action stars singing that we can put to use in our next piece.

        And I can’t wait to start talking about The Expendables.

        Joe, Lundgren is a giant pimp. His chem degree is even from Australia.

  13. Quenby! This essay was forged from awesome sauce! I love it. No shame in shilling. “Tom Skerritt, grandpere of Sunday afternoon movies,” ha! You know, when you first mentioned it, I immediately thought of the movies we’d watch (and record) on Saturday and Sunday afternoons as a kid out of the same kind of desperation. (Someday you’ll have to watch Empire of the Ants.) But we do this kind of viewing all the time too.

    I swear there’s always a Die Hard on somewhere/sometime (yay!). And I mention this elsewhere in the comment thread, but since we’ve downgraded our satellite channels I sometimes watch these on the Spanish networks, overdubbed in Spanish, which is like craptastic plus (not that Spanish is crappy — just the overdub).

    One of the great things about these films is that not only, as you say, can you do other stuff while viewing them, but you can watch them from any point. And how sad is it that I’ll still record them? I recorded Young Guns the other day (both Sheens!). But my husband made me turn it off because Dirty Steve’s cursing was bleeped. *sigh*

    • Shiza. This was meant as a response to Quenby’s comment above.

      • Quenby Moone says:

        Man, we could have some fine Sundays together, I tell you what. I love all these pieces of “work.” The action, the dramedy, the ensemble. There’s something so prevalent about the ensemble piece during the 80’s: Lost Boys, Young Guns, Brat Packers ad nauseum. Seriously, it’s like you couldn’t just have one star; the only way to make a movie work was if you had at least six equal cast members all fighting or cheating on each other or both.

        Good times.

        The two Sheen Dream Team. Love. Them.

    • Matt says:

      I’ve got good news for your husand: the Special Edition DVD of Young Guns is about $5 in most fine retail locations. Cheaper in some less-fine ones.

  14. Gregory Messina says:

    Great conversation you two. And you pointed things out that never occurred to me which make perfect sense.

  15. Roy says:

    To revisit Mel Gibson it has got to be the late 70’s and early 80’s but I did likeApocalypto that he directed.

    One film and others have already mentioned Mad Max but another film I liked him in was The Year of Living Dangerously it was fast paced and action. Who would have thought a high paced film would have a handsome guy who only wielded a typewriter , pen , and recorder as being really masculine, but he was.
    A so tall Sigourney Weaver and handsome Mel really had nice tension. You needed those Monsoon rains to cool off. Mel nailed the leading man the way he strode into a scene and cig in his mouth. The relationship with Linda Hamilton’s character Billy Kwan , I would describe as oddly platonic but with such intensity as played by Ms. Hamilton. The final scene is intense and again Mel does his craft well he strides through danger and gun barrels with great confidence. Action movie…sort of…intense for sure. Young Mel was something else , I think back in those days it was about his craft. These days he needs redemption and hopefully a healthy post script. That last plane out.

    Whole Movie is on auto-play here


  16. […] there to make Lundgren’s delivery seem more natural by comparison.  We’ve established in “Lights, Camera, Action” part one that I like Lundgren when he says “I must break you” and that you like Lundgren all the rest of […]

  17. […] lost custody of his children in light of yet more accusations. When Simon Smithson and I co-wrote a post about eighties action films and knowingly omitted Mel Gibson, there was much back and forth in the […]

  18. noi that dep says:

    noi that dep…

    […]Simon Smithson | Lights, Camera, Action: A Conversation Between Simon Smithson and Cynthia Hawkins | The Nervous Breakdown[…]…

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