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The Last Action Heroes

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Member Reviews

I loved The Last Action Heroes because of Nick de Semlyen and his overall writing style and how he crafts an amazing view of creating the blockbuster action heroes of the 80s and 99s. From Stallone to Norris, de Semlyen allows readers to see the rise of these larger than life figures and eventual future of these actors and Hollywood!

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What a fun, fast paced read. I was very familiar with all of these gentlemen's careers, but what really made this book interesting is how the author weaves their lives and careers together to show where they each were in comparison to the others.

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A very lively, juicy look at the rise, fall, and rise again of some of Hollywood's most vaunted action stars. Knowing the actors but not as familiar with their work, I found de Semlyen's writing to be accessible, informative, and engaging. The biggest compliment I can give is that I enjoyed his prose so much, I went and purchased his other book on comedy icons of the 80s ("Wild and Crazy Guys").

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When I think of ‘80s and early-’90s cinema, it’s impossible not to think of the (mostly) huge, muscle-bound brutes fronting them in such fare as Commando, the Terminator movies, Predator, Cliffhanger, Hard to Kill, or, my perennial favorite and all-time Christmas classic, Die Hard. Nick de Semlyen takes us behind the scenes of each of these, and plenty more, in The Last Action Heroes: The Triumphs, Flops, and Feuds of Hollywood’s Kings of Carnage.

London film journalist de Semlyen, editor of Empire, the world’s biggest movie magazine, recounts a very particular — and for many of us, a very special and particularly defining — era of Hollywood when the box office receipts were as large and imposing as the men headlining the movies. Impeccably researched, de Semlyen recounts a number of anecdotes and interviews that inspired and gave shape to these films and the titans starring in them. Of course, de Semlyen’s work for Empire, as well as the magazine’s podcast, gives him plenty of insider-access, which he shores up with various other materials in the public sphere. In addition to his own interviews with the stars, screenwriters, producers, and directors, he cites a number of other media journalists, film reviewers, and talk shows along the way. The end result is a well-rounded account that looks a these bigger-than-life movie stars and captains of action, presenting them as people first, rather than the inhuman, unstoppable forces of sheer power they so often portrayed on the silver screen.

The Last Action Heroes, fittingly, focuses on two biggest action heroes of this era and their decades-long feud: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. Their competition to continually one-up the other, in pay, in box office totals, in critical praise, in on-screen kill counts and the size of their combat knives, defined Reagan-era Hollywood and masculinity at-large, for better or worse. Their successes gave rise to a new breed of hero, as well, with various studios competing for their own in-house action stars and giving rise to newcomers like Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan, and Steven Seagal.

De Semlyen is careful to give each of these men their due, crafting a smart narrative arc that does justice to their legacies. Schwarzenegger and Stallone are the natural larger-than-life main attractions, of course, each enormous enough to draw others into their orbits thanks to their muscular gravity and inspire legions of fans. Among them was Stallone-worshipper Van Damme, who came to the US from Belgium with little more than the clothes on his back and the intent to be a star. Obviously it paid off, either despite or because of Van Damme’s own child-like naivety and earnestness, and he comes across a bit like a small, scrappy, yappy dog, constantly chasing the heels of whoever is ahead of him.

Of course, narratives like this need a bad-guy, a central antagonist we can root against. Enter Steven Seagal. The star of Above the Law and Under Siege rages across these pages, growing ever more narcissistic and deranged, making enemies everywhere he goes, from screenwriters to stuntmen. Surrounded by a coterie of questionable men, including mafia gangsters, Seagal would seemingly tell anybody who would listen that he was a CIA assassin and covert operator, perpetually hyping up — and fully buying into — his own image, but who mostly comes across as an unhinged sociopath and compulsive liar. In the years following his stardom, Seagal would be accused of sexual assault and predation by several actresses, including Julianna Margulies and Katherine Heigl. After losing the support of Warner Bros., the man once best-known for snapping wrists and necks, would be better known for his string of direct-to-video flops and support of Russian autocrat, President Vladimir Putin. Although he would never cross paths on-screen with these other kings of carnage, he fueled an off-screen rivalry with Van Damme that nearly escalated into a near-confrontation at Stallone’s Miami mansion.

Although de Semlyen avoids digging too deeply into some of these stars more controversial aspects — Schwarzenegger’s affairs and groping of women is mentioned alongside his confession that he made a lot of mistakes when he was younger — their various indiscretions are largely glossed over, as are their politics despite early links made between the rough-and-tumble tough guys of ‘80s cinema and President Reagan. Norris is described, in the words of an associate, as a “Kind, respectful, A+ human being” and devoted Christ follower, but any explorations of how this squares with his conservatism and his current-day writings for a far-right online rag is beyond this book’s remit. Schwarzenegger’s own stint as the governor of California is treated more like an instance of lost time and, granted, in terms of his acting career it was, but there’s absolutely no exploration of his political work off-screen. To read The Last Action Heroes, it’s almost as if Schwarzenegger just completely up and disappeared entirely for nearly a decade. While it may be beyond the scope of this book and de Semlyen’s explorations, it seems like such a meaty event should at least warrant more than a single aside to Schwarzenegger’s announcement for candidacy on a late-night talk show. That said, de Semlyen does a fine job drawing correlations between American politics and films circa the 1970s and how that helped pave the way for these hulking action heroes of the ‘80s, and the various ways Hollywood and D.C. impacted one another throughout this period, in mostly jingoistic and casually racist ways.

As with the movies they starred in, though, de Semlyen’s focus is primarily on the bright spectacles of these mens’ lives. We get just enough shades of gray regarding on- and off-set behaviors, accusations, and explorations into addiction (Van Damme’s success paved the way for his becoming a cocaine addict in the ‘90s, snorting lines of coke so wide he called them “freeways”), however briefly, that The Last Action Heroes avoids becoming a hagiography. The author is careful, too, not to ruffle the feathers of those actors who still possess a big-screen career today. De Semlyen avoids editorializing or inserting himself or his own opinions into the body of this book, sticking to a “just the facts” vibe in the actor’s own words, but noting discrepancies as they occur (perhaps unsurprisingly, Seagal’s recollections often conflict with those of others).

Still, The Last Action Heroes does offer up plenty of behind-the-scenes nuggets and occasionally juicy pieces of gossip in and out of studio boardrooms to make for a fun and compelling read. De Semlyen’s various notes on casting also offers up a tremendous amount of “what ifs” that should spark discussion amongst movie fans — what would Robocop have been like if Schwarzenegger had been tucked away inside that heavy metal suit? Would Stallone have made a good Superman? What would Die Hard have been like if James Caan had taken on the role of John McClane instead of Bruce Willis? While I would have liked, at times, a bit more depth and deeper journalistic exploration into some particular areas of these stars’ lives and work, I certainly cannot say I was ever bored reading de Semlyen’s writing.

The Last Action Heroes is a lot of fun, and offers up a welcome bit of nostalgia with its various trips and detours down memory lane. I’d seen and loved so many of the movies de Semlyen writes about here that perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay this book is that it made me want to watch these flicks all over again just to experience them one more time. In fact, de Semlyen’s work here may or may not have inspired me to splurge during a recent iTunes sale for some cheap digital Stallone boxsets of his Rambo and The Expendables series… As for Commando, one of my favorite Schwarzenegger vehicles behind the first two Terminator flicks (I’ve always been a bigger fan of Schwarzenegger than Stallone), I’m waiting for the 4K disc — de Semlyen just has me hoping that materializes sooner rather than later.

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My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Crown Publishing for an advanced copy of this book on 80's cinema and the action stars that made it so great and memorable.

Once giants strode the earth, these idols on screens both in cineplexes and VCR boxes, their every utterances captured in entertainment shows. Some of them were titans, larger than life, some were a little bit smaller, but seemed large with split kicks and pony tails, huge arms, and bigger weapons. Their first names could add millions to a budget, studios based their entire output on certain stars, and faced bankrauptcy if stars faded. Their films made people want to know about what a film made opening weekend, what it sold in foreign markets. Tentpole movies and sequels. Straight to video and much more. Writer and editor at Empire Magazine Nick de Semlyen has in his book The Last Action Heroes: The Triumphs, Flops, and Feuds of Hollywood's Kings of Carnage written about an age an entertainment that can probably never happen again, with big men, big muscles and a whole lot of ultra-violence.

Sly, Arnold, Van Damme, Chuck, Cannon, Carolco. People of a certain age could read these names and flash right back to th 80's when these names meant action, mayhem, stunts, and one man versus everybody. The book begins with Sylvester Gardenzio Stallone, the man who really started it all, his troubled youth, but even more about his drive to succeed, which he did with a little movie called Rocky. At the same time Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger was making the scene, winning body building contests, learning English, buying real estate and taking acting lessons. Arnold had the body, the humor and the drive along with a strong enough ego to listen to anyone with an idea. Slowly these two began a string of movies that would change Hollywood. Rambo, Conan, The Terminator, more Rocky films, joined by others such as the Muscles for Brussels, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, and the enigmatic and odd Steven Segal. Their highs would be high, record breaking box offices, record breaking pay days, and some of the biggest bombs in movie history.

A very good account of Hollywood in the 80's focused more on the bigger names, rather than the straight to video fare that was common also. de Semlyen is a very good writer, with a good grasp of explaining film, and more importantly the behind the scenes stories, which are a lot of fun. The feud between Sly and Arnie, which led to Sly picking an awful movie based on the story that Arnold started about wanting to do it. The book is filled with interviews from directors, friends, studio executives and more. However it is the movies that make the book, and de Semlyen is very good at bringing back those feelings, of seeing a preview for a movie like Predator and going oh snap I have to see that movie. I enjoyed this book quite a bit, and wish that it was longer and discussed some of the 90's movies that really kind of ruined some of these stars legacies.

A great book for film fans, or for people who grew up in the 80's and were able to see these films in all their magnificence. A very well written account of a time in movies before CGI and IP movies kind of made everything dull and the same.

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There were lots of fun and interesting stories in this book about the action heroes we have watched over the years. The inside information and behind the scenes gossip was great and entertaining to read. I liked how the book was laid out, it flowed really well from one chapter to the next. The author, Nick de Semlyen, wrote this in an easy to read and understand format. I was entertained by the book and will probably read it again because there was so much enjoyable information.

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This book is a tremendous amount of fun! It's worth it just for the stories about what a jerk/idiot Steven Seagal is. But then there's plenty of hilarious stories about the other action stars. Enjoy!

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The Last Action Heroes, The Triumphs, Flops, and Feuds of Hollywood's Kings of Carnage by Nick de Semlyen was received directly from the publisher and I chose to review it. This book is very good for those of us that grew up watching these action stars in our childhood. The world has very few action stars nowadays who are not woke crybabies, and honestly, the best ones are these same old action stars in this book. The author writes like he is talking to the reader and explains the stars interactions, the Hollywood backstory and it was an enjoyable and quick read. if you, or someone you buy gifts for enjoys reading and enjoys "old"' action movies, give this book a read. hopefully a sequel will come out with some more lesser known action stars I remember.

4 Stars

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I really enjoyed this book, it was what I was hoping for from the description. I enjoyed how good this book does the Action Hero justice. It was written really well and I enjoyed how good it was as a entertainment. Nick de Semlyen has a great writing style and I was hooked in reading this. It had what I was looking for in a movie book.

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