‘Rambo: Last Blood’ is a Disgrace to This Franchise

Rambo Last Blood theatrical poster

Okay, let us cut to the chase: “Rambo: Last Blood” is a disgrace to the long-running franchise. Sylvester Stallone is back as former Army Special Forces Officer and Vietnam veteran John Rambo, but I really do not recognize the character here. Whereas the previous installments observed Rambo as a soldier trying to deal with a violent past, this one instead treats him as just another guy out for bloody revenge. This does not even feel like a “Rambo” movie as it starts off like “Taken” and eventually turns into a mediocre “Death Wish” flick with a ridiculous amount of “Home Alone” thrown in for good measure. Heck, even if Stallone still had the mullet and a bandana or two on hand, my opinion of this godforsaken sequel would be no different.

Ten years have passed since the events of the fourth “Rambo” movie, and our hero has long since taken over his father’s ranch in Bowie, Arizona. While he still deals with PTSD which he combats with an endless supply of anti-anxiety medication, he has found a measure of peace with his adopted family of Maria Beltran (Adriana Barraza) who manages the ranch with him, and her granddaughter Gabriela (Yvette Monreal) who has just graduated from high school. His close bond with them helps to keep his demons at bay, but as he goes through the underground tunnels which he built under his property, those Vietnam flashbacks keep haunting him to no end.

Soon after these characters are introduced, we are quickly reminded of what curiosity did to the cat. Gabriela gets word her biological father, Miguel (Marco de la O), is alive and living in Mexico, she becomes determined to seek him out and gets answers as to why he left her and her late mother behind. Both Rambo and Maria strongly encourage Gabriela not to seek him out as he is a cold man with no heart or conscience, but she defies them both and drives across the border on her own. Instead of a heartfelt reunion, she is drugged by enforcers of a Mexican drug cartel who turn her into a sex slave. As you can expect, Rambo finds out what has happened and heads out to Mexico to bring her home, and much ultraviolence ensues in the process.

Like I said, “Rambo: Last Blood” starts off as another “Taken” movie as our hero goes after a loved one abducted by those who have no respect for life, but while Liam Neeson’s character had a “unique set of skills,” we know Rambo’s will not be so refined. In the end, many of us come to the “Rambo” movies for the action as it is brutal and visceral to take in, and the red band trailer for “Last Blood” ensured its target audience there would plenty of carnage to take in and enjoy. However, this sequel is quickly weighed down by an overwhelming amount of exposition which slows down the proceedings to a sluggish pace, and this is regardless of the fact it has a running time of 89 minutes.

Stallone wrote the screenplay along with Matthew Cirulnick, and it is filled with clunky dialogue, stereotypical villains and a wealth of plot holes you could drive a Mack truck through. But what stuns me is how Stallone leaves us hanging way too long for the scenes where Rambo lays waste to his enemies with a blood vengeance. How long has this character been with us? That’s right, since the 1980’s. So, what is the point of having these cartel members beat the crap out of him early on when we know he can take them on single-handedly? Oh yes, so we can get introduced to an independent journalist named Carmen Delgado (Paz Vega, completely wasted here) to nurse him back to health, give him background information on his adversaries, and then later warn him how nothing will change regardless of what he does.

Seriously, “Rambo: Last Blood” is such a missed opportunity. Instead of dealing with foreign enemies, it would have been more interesting to see him fighting those of domestic origin. There should be no denying white supremacy is a bigger threat to America than anything outside of our borders, and the Stallone would have ended up with a far better sequel if he went in another direction. With Rambo back in America for the first time since “First Blood,” I would have loved to see how he would have dealt with how backwards this country has become. Soldiers who fought for America’s freedom are not the least bit happy about this, and I doubt Rambo would be either.

When we reach the movie’s last half, it descends into a “Death Wish” sequel which would have been better off going straight to video. Plus, as we watch Rambo go over diagrams of the family ranch, preparing traps and transforming weapons and bullets into something far more deadly, it started to feel like the third “Home Alone” movie we could have gotten with Macaulay Culkin had he played Kevin McCallister as a grown up. Seriously, I kept waiting endlessly for Stallone to say, “This is my house! I have to defend it!”

Heck, “Rambo: Last Blood” would have been more ridiculously entertaining had Stallone spent his time reciting dialogur from “Home Alone” as the stuff he comes up with here is simply pitiful. Just close your eyes and think of what Stallone would have looked and sounded like had he said the following:

“You guys give up? Or are you thirsty for more?

“This is extremely important. Will you please tell Santa that instead of presents this year, I just want my family back. No toys.”

“Bless this highly nutritious microwavable macaroni and cheese dinner and the people who sold it on sale. Amen.”

“Is this toothbrush approved by the American Dental Association?”

Many have called this sequel “Trumpian” as it deals with Mexicans in a very negative way, and the level of xenophobia “Rambo: Last Blood” has to offer is impossible to ignore after a while. The villains of this piece do little to paint Mexicans in a flattering light, and they are presented as a bunch of one-dimensional schmucks who we should do nothing more than despise and hate. But by not making them a bit more complex to where we can see them as individuals instead of as stereotypes, this just blunts the joy we could possibly get when Rambo makes chop suey out of them.

There is even a scene where Rambo drives his truck straight through a fence placed on the U.S./Mexico border, and I cannot help but think Stallone is subversively saying Donald Trump should get his border wall. At the same time, it has already been established how Rambo can build underground tunnels which can go on for miles. If Trump is to get his needless border wall, there is no doubt in my mind Rambo could dig a tunnel right under it all by himself.

Directing “Rambo: Last Blood” is Adrian Grunberg who previously directed Mel Gibson in “Get the Gringo” and served as first assistant director on Gibson’s “Apocalypto.” Taking this account, I came into this sequel assuming Grunberg would provide us with dozens of action scenes riddled with blood, gore and carnage since he was under the tutelage of a filmmaker who holds nothing back when it comes to ultraviolence on the silver screen. But when we finally get to the climactic showdown, Grunberg ends up giving us a lot of rapid-fire editing which keeps us from fully experiencing the violence on display. Yes, there are moments where human heads are turned into grotesque works of art which would have had Jason Voorhees saying, “Wow! Even I didn’t think of that!” But the action moves so fast to where it is almost impossible to fully see everything going on, and this had me walking out of the theater deeply frustrated.

And there is Stallone himself, who comes in and goes out of this sequel looking like a barely animated zombie with a faint pulse. Watching him here, it became clear just how much he values the legacy of Rocky Balboa more than John Rambo’s. With “Rambo: Last Blood,” he basically sells this iconic character out and gives us something which is about as bad as the many direct-to-video movies he has been churning out whenever he is not involved in a major Hollywood production. If this is to be the last “Rambo” movie, it is a real shame as even a character as jingoistic as this one deserves a far more respectful curtain call. When all is said and done, this is as necessary a sequel as “Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles” was (which is to say, not at all).

At this point, I would much rather see Stallone make another “Rocky” movie instead of one with Rambo. Furthermore, I hear he is in talks with Robert Rodriguez to make a sequel to “Cobra.” Or maybe he would better off making a sequel to his arm-wrestling film “Over the Top” as Johnny Carson joked it would instead be about thumb wrestling. Even that sounds better than another “Rambo” movie.

Shame on everyone involved in the making of this sequel. Shame.

* out of * * * *

 

The First Trailer for ‘Rambo: Last Blood’ Has Finally Arrived

It has been 10 years since Sylvester Stallone revived once of his most iconic characters in “Rambo” and wreaked bloody vengeance (and I mean really bloody vengeance) against the cruelest of adversaries. Since then, we have constantly wondered if John Rambo will utilize his ruthless combat skills one more time. Stallone at one point swore that this series was over and had no desire to do another sequel, but the term “never say never” was always in the air, and now he is back as the Vietnam War vet who can never keep his past at bay for too long.

The first trailer for “Rambo: Last Blood” has now been unveiled, and the movie is scheduled to be released in September 2019. My thoughts on this trailer are particularly mixed as it makes this next adventure in the violent life of John Rambo look like any other action movie. Moreover, it almost seems like a remake of “Homefront” which Stallone wrote the screenplay for. My hope right now is for “Rambo: Last Blood” to be a much, much better movie than “Homefront” was as that one really sucked.

I have a feeling it will take a little bit for audiences to realize Stallone is playing Rambo again as the character no longer has a mullet. Instead, he has the same kind of haircut Stallone sports in most of his movies, and adds to the business as usual look this trailer gives off. It is only when Stallone wields his famous knife or picks up his bow and arrow that you realize whom he is portraying. Perhaps the moment which will make you see Stallone is playing Rambo once again is the last image of him with a bloodied face as he prepares to jam his knife down into some place where the sun don’t shine.

Stallone has said he intends for this “Rambo” chapter to be a “soulful journey” and his version of “No Country for Old Men.” Truth be told, it does have a very similar look to the Coen brothers’ Best Picture winner. Or perhaps it will be something along the lines of “Logan” which allowed Hugh Jackman and James Mangold to bring permanent closure to the story of Wolverine. Still, this trailer makes this sequel look like any other action flick, and my hope is the next trailer we get will make it look a bit more unique.

Directing “Rambo: Last Blood” is Adrian Grunberg who previously directed Mel Gibson in “Get the Gringo” and also worked with Gibson as a first assistant director on “Edge of Darkness” and “Apocalypto.” Whatever you may think of Gibson as a person these days, he has proven to be one hell of a filmmaker, and I hope Grunberg has learned a lot from his style to make this “Rambo” sequel more thrilling and bloodier than this trailer suggests.

And yes, this is said to be the last “Rambo” movie ever, but while at the Cannes Film Festival recently, Stallone did say he would continue playing John Rambo if this fifth film does well. In the end, the box office will have the final say on this.

Check out the trailer for “Rambo: Last Blood” above.

Rambo Last Blood Teaser Poster

Soundtrack Review: ‘Lethal Weapon 3’

Lethal Weapon 3 soundtrack

We are now at the 25th anniversary of the release of “Lethal Weapon 3” in theaters, something I have a hard time accepting as I still remember seeing it for the first time like it was yesterday.

With it being the third movie in a highly successful franchise, “Lethal Weapon 3” settles into a familiar formula which, as this sequel proves, still works. Director Richard Donner and stars Mel Gibson and Danny Glover were interested in making this film more of a comedy, and we get the usual gunfights, explosions and car chases which are all expertly filmed. In addition, we also get another thrilling music score from the composers who worked on the previous “Lethal Weapon” movies: Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton, and David Sanborn.

I still remember the first time I saw “Lethal Weapon 3” and how gleefully entertained I was while watching it. I also loved the score for it as well even if it sounded recycled from the previous two films. After seeing this sequel twice in one week, I couldn’t wait to buy the soundtrack in the hopes it would have more of the music I expected to hear on the soundtracks to “Lethal Weapon” and “Lethal Weapon 2.” But yet again, the commercial release of the “Lethal Weapon 3” soundtrack left me disappointed despite some good tracks (“Armour Piercing Bullets” was the standout) included on it. Furthermore, it only had a portion of Kamen’s, Clapton’s and Sanborn’s music score on it.

But now we have a brand-new expanded and remastered soundtrack for “Lethal Weapon 3” which includes two compact discs containing all of the music cues I prayed would be on the 1992 commercial soundtrack release. It is being released as part of La La Land Records’ “Lethal Weapon Soundtrack Collection” box set, and it is gratifying to listen to this score in its entirety.

This film score starts off with a whimsical feel as Riggs and Murtaugh try to disarm a bomb and end up failing to do so quite explosively. Busted down from detectives to beat cops, they are at the scene of an armored car robbery and immediately jump into action. This leads to one of my favorite tracks on the first disc entitled “Armoured Car Chase.” Hearing the three composers come together to create such a thrilling piece of music made watching this sequence all the more exciting.

My other favorite tracks on this expanded soundtrack are “Gun Battle” which is the same piece of music as “Armour Piercing Bullets,” and it always succeeds in getting me super excited to where I can see myself in appearing in an action movie. Another is “Fire/Fire Battle/A Quiet Evening by the Fire” which gives the movie’s action climax an equally thrilling and highly emotionally effect which reminds you of how the “Lethal Weapon” movies are as big on character as they are on unforgettable action set pieces.

The second disc of “Lethal Weapon 3” features the commercial release of the soundtrack which includes the songs “It’s Probably Me” by Sting and Clapton, and “Runaway Train” performed by Clapton and Elton John. The rest are pieces of the score by Kamen, Clapton and Sanborn, and there are some additional tracks featuring alternate versions of music cues. I have to give credit to La La Land Records for including the original album on this special release instead of just trying to bury it under a rug or something.

Jeff Bond, whose booklet “Some Movies Don’t Invent Genres: They Just Perfect Them” accompanies the “Lethal Weapon Soundtrack Collection,” writes about how Donner decided to put more of an emphasis on comedy and family with this sequel. Still, there were some new additions like renegade ex-cop Jack Travis (Stuart Wilson) and Internal Affairs officer Lorna Cole (Rene Russo) to give “Lethal Weapon 3” the dark edge it needed. It also was revealed Lorna was originally written as a male character. For those who have seen the movie, I think we can all agree the change in gender was a very welcome one. Who else but Russo could have inhabited this role so memorably?

In regards to the score, Bond makes it clear Kamen, Clapton, and Sanborn did not phone this one in at all. Unlike the previous “Lethal Weapon” movies, this one starts out with a song performed by Sting. The song was “It’s Probably Me,” and Bond quotes Sting as saying his idea behind it was that Riggs and Murtaugh are such macho guys to where they wouldn’t express their love for one another right away.

Bond also points out Kamen did intentionally stick with the formula which made the scores to the previous movies work so well. But at the same time, this score shows how talented Kamen and company are in scoring the most humorous scenes as well. In “Lethal Weapon” and “Lethal Weapon 2,” Kamen succeeded at balancing action spectacles with character driven moments. But in “Lethal Weapon 3,” he also proves to be a master at adding to the endless laughs which were to be had in this sequel.

Once again, La La Land Records has given us another great special edition of a soundtrack long overdue for an expanded release. Here’s hoping they release more remastered and expanded soundtracks I have spent decades waiting for in the future. Can an expanded release of Harold Faltemeyer’s film score for “Fletch” be far behind?

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Hacksaw Ridge

hacksaw-ridge-movie-poster

I want to start off first by applauding director Mel Gibson for using the term “A True Story” as opposed to “Based on a True Story” when he starts off “Hacksaw Ridge.” You all know how much I have come to despise the term “Based on a True Story” as it has long since lost its meaning, and I have to give credit to Gibson for altering this phrase here. As a director, you know he’s not about to take the easy way out or give us something which feels emotionally false. This continues to be the case with “Hacksaw Ridge,” his first directorial effort in ten years.

This movie tells the story of Desmond Doss, a Seventh-day Adventist Christian who joined the Army in World War II to serve as a medic. The only thing is, he joins as a conscientious objector and refuses to carry a weapon of any kind into the battlefield. At the Battle of Okinawa, he succeeded in rescuing 75 wounded soldiers without firing a single shot, and he was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his acts which went above and beyond the call of duty.

Desmond is played as a young adult by Andrew Garfield, and he is very deserving of the Oscar nomination he received for his performance. From start to finish, the British-American actor imbues Desmond with an unshakable faith in a higher power, and I never saw this faith waiver for a single second. Seeing him square off with a fellow soldier who assumes he is a coward for not picking up a rifle is fascinating as Garfield’s eyes emit a hard-won bravery the others around him only think they possess. This even comes across as he pursues Nurse Dorothy Schutte (the luminous Teresa Palmer) as obsessively as Dustin Hoffman chased Katherine Ross around town in “The Graduate” to where you wonder if anything could stand in Desmond’s way at all.

We all know Gibson is a devoutly religious person, and not just because he made “The Passion of the Christ.” Indeed, “Hacksaw Ridge” could have easily looked silly if it took its subject far too seriously or tried to indoctrinate us or push some agenda, but Gibson doesn’t make those mistakes. The director treats Desmond with the respect he deserves, and he was clearly determined not to make him look like a joke. Desmond was the real deal, and he found the perfect actor to portray him in Garfield.

Gibson also wades through a wealth of war movie clichés which do take away from the final cut, but the scenes are elevated by a number of strong performances from a well-chosen cast. Hugo Weaving of “The Matrix” and “Lord of the Rings” fame (“Welcome to Rivendale, Mr. Anderson”) is a big standout as Desmond’s father, Tom. Being a war veteran himself, Tom has seen the vicious damage it has done to the soul and the psyche. Weaving makes Tom more than the average abusive drunk you see in cinema as he shows his character’s pain over the memories he can’t drink away, and of the terror he wishes to keep his sons from experiencing themselves.

Rachel Griffiths provides the yin to Weaving’s yang in her performance as Desmond’s mom, Bertha, who enforces in her son the importance of God’s commandments, especially the one which states “thou shalt not kill.” She also gives Bertha a strong gravitas which Garfield benefits richly from as the movie goes on, and you can see how her presence remained a strong one in Desmond’s life.

Then there’s Vince Vaughn who gives his best performance in quite some time as Army Drill Sergeant Howell. While his work may pale in comparison to R. Lee Ermey’s brutal performance in “Full Metal Jacket,” at least Vaughn invests Howell with a strong dose of human you wouldn’t often expect characters like these to have in war movies.

But the real meat of “Hacksaw Ridge” comes in the last section during the battle sequences. Now Gibson might not be able to match Steven Spielberg’s powerful realism when it came to those unforgettable opening minutes of “Saving Private Ryan,” but he tops him when it comes to bloody carnage. Bullets fly everywhere, limbs are blown off and guts are laid out for rats to chew on. This should be no surprise as this movie comes from the director of “Braveheart,” “The Passion of the Christ,” and “Apocalypto,” and like those movies, it features a protagonist who has to wade through body parts and blood in order to receive any kind of salvation.

Along with director of photography Simon Duggan, Gibson gives us some of the most visceral and best war movies I have seen in a long time as he shows you the damage war leave in its wake as well as what it does to the souls of those in the front line. It also gives a real-life superhero who selflessly risked his life to help those who could no longer help themselves. While certain sections are undone a bit by an innate corniness which comes with unavoidable clichés, Gibson gives us a war movie for the ages which, in the wrong hands, could have become silly and heavy-handed, but in his, it becomes a celebration of a man who saved so many without even firing a bullet.

“Hacksaw Ridge” had been in development hell for 14 years, and the rights to it were at one point in the hands of Walden Media which wanted to turn Desmond’s story into a PG-13 movie. Something tells me this would have been a mistake as sanitizing the struggles of war would have been an insult to those who fought for our freedoms. Yes, this is an ultra-violent motion picture, but for good reason. Could we have appreciated what Desmond without having a clear view of the chaos he and other soldiers put themselves into? I think not.

* * * ½ out of * * * *