Sylvester Stallone has never been leaner, meaner and more badass than he was in Cobra, an absolutely unapologetic piece of hyper-violent, deliriously blessed trash from the 80’s, that glorious decade of synth pop music, neon lights and action spectacle supreme. As super cop Marion Cobretti, he uses a laser sighted sub machine gun and pearl handled colt pistol to deal out justice his own way in a hellish nocturnal LA that’s under the grip of a heinous serial killer dubbed the Night Slasher (a juiced up Brian Thompson). Slasher and his disciples are murdering left and right in the most violent and cold blooded ways, and the only witness left alive (Brigitte Nelson) has to tag along with Cobra and his deadly quest. A delightful simplicity can be found in these types of films, but this one isn’t just your garden variety actioner. There’s a reckless penchant for excess and stylistic flourish put into everything from Cobra’s gorgeous 1950 Mercury to his specific weapons to the Night Slasher’s gut ventilating melee knife to the beautifully threatening synth score to Stallone’s windshield size sunglasses, this thing is pure a*e*s*t*h*e*t*i*c! It’s no wonder that auteur stylist Nicolas Winding Refn was influenced by the tone of the film and by Cobra himself, who moodily chews on a matchstick later echoed by Ryan Gosling’s toothpick in the modern classic Drive. This is admittedly largely a brainless action flick, no doubt; Stallone dispatches literally hordes of psychopathic goons with his artillery and the final showdown takes place in that ages old, sparking scrap metal factory that we’ve seen in everything from Terminator 2 to Gone In 60 Seconds. Cobra has a wise cracking partner (Rene Santoni) and is hounded by idiotic, misguided superior officers (Art Lafleur and Andrew Robinson), plus he gets to utter some one liners, so all the tropes are there. But there’s just something so sleek and specific about the film’s design that sets it apart, attention to style and design that goes a long way in bringing vision to the screen. Cobra may be just another ultra violent action flick, but it’s cool in ways that others aren’t tuned in to, and I fucking loved it for that.
On a chaotic summer day among the poor souls in a horrific Polish concentration camp, 1944, young inmate Tomasz (Mateusz Damiecki) is desperate. German jew Hannah (Alice Dywer) is almost certainly meant for death at the hands of the nazis running the facility. The two have fallen hopelessly in love, and he knows he must get her out and far, far away before it’s too late. In an impossibly courageous effort and in a scene that will pummel your nerves, he uses a stolen SS officer’s uniform, scoops her up from the workhouse wing and quietly leads her right out the front gate. The two disappear into the neighboring Polish woodland in what is one of the only escapes from a nazi concentration camp ever documented. It’s a bold, thrilling, stirring way to start the film, whether or not you know of its origins in actual history. That kind of escape from a place so hellish is a collective sigh of relief from both audience and characters, and it’s one nail biter of an emotional ring of fire we all are forced to jump through. But we know this isn’t the end, the resolute happiness we so wish for these two, because the film has only just started. In the confusion near the end of the war, the two of them are separated, and move forward in life each believing the other to be dead. This is all interspersed with visions of Hannah’s life far in the future of 1976, now married, in her 50’s and played by the sensational Dagmar Menzel. In a dry cleaner shop one day she happens to see a talk show on European television, where a man recounts his daring rescue and escape from Auschwitz. The details are eerily similar, and Hannah’s mind races. Could this be Tomasz? Could he be alive after all these years and most importantly, should she go to him despite the gulf of time that signifies their prolonged separation? The film tugs at your heartstrings in so many different ways and moments, effectively hanging your tear ducts out to dry. No one can say no to a good wartime romance, because the formula is just too workable. Amidst all that confusion, terror and violence it is essential to find some sort of good with which to combat the dark, and what better way than the strongest force of all, love? Dywer and Damiecki are beyond convincing in their roles, so clearly blessed and burdened with that go for broke, die for one another type passion that we all look for and seldom find. American actor David Rasche plays Hannah’s husband in New York, clearly torn up by the tumultuous past rearing it’s head in their lives, but willing to empathize with the woman he loves and strive to do what’s best in this difficult situation. Menzel is conflicted, hurt, hopeful and utterly, convincingly reactive in a role that’s just not an easy one to pull off. Director Anna Justice uses majesterial skill to get the flow of story just right from scene to scene. Narratives which skip backwards and forwards in time can often feel jagged and unfounded in cohesion, but this one ebbs and flows from moment to moment without a single beat skipped or turn of plot out of place. I did some research on the true life tale this is based on, and for the most part they have stuck to fact to bring us as story that’s almost unbelievable, and deeply emotional. Remembrance is a keeper.