‘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 * * * *

 

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‘Rambo’ (2008) Brings Back an 80’s Action Hero, and Leaves a Ton of Blood in its Wake

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WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written in 2008 back when this film was released.

With Sylvester Stallone having revived one of his most iconic characters with “Rocky Balboa,” it was only a matter of time before he brought back John Rambo. From “First Blood” to “Rambo III,” the ex-Green Beret was forced to deal with hostile elements which kept him from putting his violent past behind him, and now he is back after a two decade hiatus during which I am guessing this character finally found a way to silence his demons for longer than a couple of years. But when he starts wielding his knife or bow and arrow, the blood starts to flow like a river, and it’s a fast-moving river to be sure!

We catch up with Rambo in “Rambo” as he is living a life of solitude in Thailand where he catches poisonous snakes and sells them, and also drives his boat up and down the river. He has completely divorced himself from the world and its major concerns and, no surprise, he would rather not go back into combat again. To so will have him be reminded of who he really is and of what he cannot escape from. Then along comes a group of missionaries who try to hire Rambo to take them upriver where they can help those who are living in terror of the Burmese army which has no remorse for their suffering. Before you know it, the army descends on the village they are working in, and they wipe out just everybody including babies. Those who survive the onslaught are taken hostage by the army which is led by a vicious general who seems to be devoid of just about every emotion other than hate.

After all these years in development hell, I kept wondering who John Rambo was going to fight this time around. There were rumors he would take on the Taliban or some cult in America. Stallone’s inclusion of the Burmese army is an interesting choice as I am not sure how aware people are of the atrocities they have inflicted. “Rambo” starts off with some documentary footage of the army and the decaying corpses they leave in their wake. While it may seem exploitive to some that Stallone would use this footage here, it effectively sets up how dangerous and cold-hearted these villains are and will be throughout. It succeeds also in anchoring these antagonists in a believable way, and it makes them all the more threatening. Stallone is smart not give us a bunch of cartoonish 1980’s villains here as it would simply take away from the story and turn it into the kind of action flick which has not aged well.

Stallone directs here again as he did with “Rocky Balboa,” and this is the first Rambo movie which has him in front of and behind. It is hard to think of another individual who could have directed it as he knows the character so damn well and so much more than just about anyone else. It is also important to note that, along with “Rocky Balboa,” this is the first time Stallone has directed any movie in about 20 years. Some get rusty when they are away from the director’s chair for too long (we are looking at you George Lucas), but Stallone looks to have stepped back into this position without having missed a beat.

And speaking of action, “Rambo” is overwhelmed with it If you thought the first 20 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan” was exceedingly violent, wait till you get a load of this film. Rambo does not just blow away his enemies, he eviscerates them in such gory detail to where Dario Argento would be in awe of what Stallone has pulled off here. The ex-Green Beret also slices and dices better than Jason Vorhees, Freddy Krueger, or even Michael Meyers ever could. He eviscerates, decapitates, disembowels, and hits his targets with absolute precision and without hesitation. Many have called this the most violent movie ever made, and this may very well be true.

My guess is since this is the first Rambo movie made in two decades, Rambo has been laying low and not causing any trouble. As a result, he has had all this tension building up inside of him for a long, long time. Now had this movie came out a few years after “Rambo III,” then maybe he would not have battled his enemies in such an immensely gory fashion. But since he has been out of action for so long, it somehow makes sense he is slightly angrier than usual when he gets stuck in situations like this. In other words, do not piss him off after a long stretch of time where he has not done any hunting.

Many of the characters we see here do come across as one-dimensional, and this quickly reminded of Stallone’s limitations as a writer. There is a group of mercenaries who are led by one loud mouth Australian who would happily be anywhere else had he not been paid so much for this one job. These characters, however, are redeemed by the end of the movie as they fight for something as opposed to just the dollar. Also, some of the dialogue is unintentionally laughable, but thank goodness there is not too much of it here.

Among the actors teamed up with Stallone is Julie Benz who plays Sarah, the woman who wins over Rambo by meeting him at his level of morality. There is no sex here as Rambo looks to have become too much of a monk to where one wonders if he will ever be sexually active again (“no time for love Dr. Jones!”). But in the end, romance really has no place in a movie like this.

“Rambo” is also helped by a stupendous music score by Brian Tyler who more than honors the themes the late Jerry Goldsmith first brought to this franchise during its humble beginnings. It more than matches the furious pace of the action unleashed on us here, and gets at the deeper feelings of all the characters, especially Rambo himself. Tyler’s score here adds tremendously to the experience of watching this movie.

“Rambo” is not as good as “Rocky Balboa,” but it does deliver as an action movie. In fact, it has set the action bar so high in terms of onscreen deaths to where it will be a complete surprise if any other film in 2008 comes even close to topping its carnage. Anything is possible, but still.

* * * 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

‘Creed II’ Movie and Blu-ray Review (Written by Tony Farinella)

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When “Rocky Balboa” was released in 2006, many wondered how a sixth “Rocky” film would perform when the last one prior to that was released in 1990.  Sylvester Stallone himself was not all too pleased with how “Rocky V” ended, and he wanted to do right by Rocky Balboa.  Needless to say, he did so as he was the writer and the director behind it.  Because of the good will he had built up from the sixth installment, fans were excited for “Creed,” which was released in 2015 and directed by Ryan Coogler.

Coogler was coming off the success of “Fruitvale Station,” and it was set to star Michael B. Jordan, also from the aforementioned film. It was in good hands, as they were wise to hand the franchise over to Jordan while still keeping Stallone around.  The film was organic, funny, entertaining, and powerful at the same time. When it was time for “Creed II,” they handed it over to Steven Caple Jr.  I’m happy to report he did a terrific job with “Creed II,” and the writers also had a fresh idea to bring to the table: bring back Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) and introduce his son Viktor (Florian Munteanu).  After all, everyone remembers how things ended up in “Rocky IV” between Drago and Apollo Creed.

When the film gets started, everything seems to be going well for Adonis Creed.  He wins the World Heavyweight Championship, proposes to his girlfriend, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), and he also has a baby on the way.  His world, however, gets turned upside down when Viktor Drago, son of Ivan Drago, challenges him.  This is the same Ivan Drago who killed his father back in 1985.  Rocky tries to tell him to stay away from the fight and that he is fighting for the wrong reasons.

Adonis’ pride, however gets in the way and he ends up taking on the fight, regardless, and without Rocky his corner.  His life only becomes more complicated and painful from that point forward.  Now, he needs to figure out what to do in order to get his career, his health, and his life back on track.  It won’t be easy for Adonis, but everything in his life has always been a fight.  Rocky just wants him to figure out what he’s fighting for and also realize he has other people counting on him as well.

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There is a lot to like about “Creed II.”  I’m not going to say if it is better or worse than 2015’s “Creed.”  It is just as good.  It is just different, and it is dealing with different themes and different messages.   Jordan gives a knockout (I know, easy pun) performance here.  All of his emotions are in his face, and it’s a performance with a lot of nuance and complexity attached to it.  As an audience member, you understand what he’s doing and why, even if you don’t always agree with him.

His relationship with Tessa Thompson’s Bianca also brings a big heart to the film.  These two have tremendous chemistry together and it is a joy to watch them on screen.  Stallone has said he is walking away from the franchise after this movie, and it seems like the right move.  Make no mistake about it, Stallone’s the backbone of this franchise and he makes the most of every scene he’s in even though he doesn’t get a lot of screen time.  He does a lot with a little.  I imagine this was intentionally done, as he was one of the writers on the project.

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The film deals with the complexity of a father/son relationship and how men are trying to carve out their own image and legacy.  There is a lot of meat in this script, as Adonis is becoming a father himself. Phylicia Rashad is back here once again, and she brings such fierce intensity and knowledge to her role as Mary Anne Creed.  There is not a bad performance in the film.  It’s heartwarming, intense, and very, very entertaining.

With that said, it is not a perfect film.  I would argue it is about twenty minutes too long.  As with most boxing movies, the boxing itself and the training montages are not all that interesting compared to the relationships in the film. What transpires throughout the film will not surprise anyone, but when it’s done with such warmth and commitment from the actors, it helps elevate the material into something really, really special.  While I don’t think we need a “Creed III,” I can’t say I would necessarily mind one if the right people are involved in the project.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

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Blu-Ray Info: “Creed II” is released on a two-disc Blu-ray combo pack, which also includes a digital copy, from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. The film is rated PG-13 for sports action violence, language, and a scene of sensuality.  It has a running time of 130 minutes. It is presented in 1080p High Definition with an aspect ratio of 16×9, 2.4:1.  The audio formats are Dolby Atmos-TrueHD: English, DTS MA: English 5.1, English Descriptive Audio 5.1, Dolby Digital: Français 5.1, and Español 5.1. Subtitles are included in English, French, and Spanish.

Special Features:

Fathers and Sons (07:16): This special feature talks about how “Creed II” touches on the father/son dynamic and what a big role it plays in the film and also in life.  Interviews with the cast and crew are featured as well as some famous boxers including Sugar Ray Leonard.  They even talk about the Shakespearean aspects of the story.

Casting Viktor Drago (05:43): This special feature is all about the casting of Florian Munteanu who comes from a boxing background.  Stallone wanted him in the film and saw something special in him.  Munteanu talks about how grateful he is to be in the film as he is familiar with all of the “Rocky” films.  He trained for seven months and really committed to the role, which impressed his fellow actors and the director as well.

The Women of “Creed II” (05:51): Sugar Ray Leonard appears once again, and he gives credit to the women that are alongside the boxers through all of the training and the punishment in the ring.  Director Steven Caple Jr. didn’t just want Tessa Thompson and Phylicia Rashad to be in the background of the film.  He wanted them to get their due.  It’s a big reason why the film is as effective as it is because each and every character serves a significant purpose.

The “Rocky” Legacy (15:01): This is hosted by Dolph Lundgren, and it discusses the impact the “Rocky” franchise has had not only on boxing movies, but also on the sport itself.  They also tie it together with “Rocky IV” and “Creed II.”  The cast and crew of “Creed II” talk about the music, the boxing scenes, and why the franchise has lasted as long as it has going all the way back to 1976.

Deleted Scenes (09:46): One notable deleted scene worth mentioning is one where Rocky performs a eulogy for Spider Rico, the first fighter he ever fought in the “Rocky” films.  It’s a powerful scene and one which should have been in the film despite my issues with its length.  The other three deleted scenes include Rocky training young kids to box, Adonis and Bianca talking about his legacy, and the aftermath of the fight between Adonis and Viktor.

 

Let’s Call This Run ‘King of the Hill’

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This week, I remembered exactly where I parked my car and arrived at Griffith Park in Burbank 15 minutes before the clock hit 7 a.m. Coaches Kerry and Joaquin were there waiting patiently for the Pablove runners in temperatures which were frigid even by Los Angeles standards (yes, we do get cold temperatures from time to time in Southern California). Coach Kerry brought along his dog and had him (or her, I don’t remember) firmly on a leash as this pup was ready to chase after any bicyclists or squirrels in its radar range. Once the first set of bicyclists went by, the dog was ready to hit warp speed, and I think his barks translated into, “Hey, I want to run with you! Yes! Yes! I want to run! Wait up!”

Once Coach Kerry got his dog under control, he suddenly said, “Maybe we should call this run ‘King of the Hill.’” Little did I know what I meant. We have run up and down hills before, and I have come to welcome them as they are part of the LA Marathon. But this week had us going up a hill like none other before it, and it was definitely not the one Kate Bush sang about back in the 1980’s.

This run would be our first double-digit run of the training season as we were running 10 miles, and the coaches had us going up the hill first on the backside of Griffith Park. Good, I thought, we will get the hard stuff out of the way first. Of course, this particular hill always wipes me out long before I reach the top. Even if I wanted to be like Sylvester Stallone in “Rocky IV” when he reached the top of that mountain and yell out “DRAGO!!!” for all to hear, I never have the energy or enthusiasm to do so.

But here’s where the run took a sharp turn both literally and figuratively speaking. Instead of going down the backside of Griffith Park, we took a right onto a paved road which was shut off to cars but not to runners or bicyclists. The only thing is, this road kept going up instead of down. And once I thought I went as far upward as I possibly could, I found I hadn’t. And then later on, I found this out again, and again, and again. As determined as I was to finish these 10 miles, I realized it would probably be longer than the running time of Lars Von Trier’s latest cinematic opus, “The House That Jack Built.”

Look, I am fine with running up hills, but none of those hills we Pablove runners have ascended previously compared to this one. As my walk breaks increased over my running, I wondered if two maintenance runs during the week was even close to being enough to prepare for this or any other marathon. Just imagine if I had hills like this to run up during my cross-country days in high school. Oak Hill Park has nothing on what Griffith Park has to offer!

Nevertheless, I persisted like all those female politicians running for office during the past midterm elections (many of whom won mind you) and did my best. I tried to keep up with everyone else, but as usual I fell behind the rest of humanity and was more than confident nobody would be waiting for me by the time I got back. On the plus side, there was a nice breeze in the air and, even as the sun rose high into the sky, it was neither too hot nor too cold. On the downside, there were no bathrooms or portable toilets nearby, and at one point I had to drop the kids off in the bushes. That’s probably more information than you need, but I don’t want to leave anything out here.

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Coach Joaquin was on hand throughout to make certain we were all doing as well as could be expected. Of course, before we started this run, he did tell us all that if we became sick or died on this run, it was not his fault.

Upon approaching Coach Joaquin at one point, I saw a sign which, from a distance, appeared to say “HELL SPOT.” This sign seemed more than appropriate as this was road which people will have better luck hiking up than running up. But once I got closer, I realized it actually said “HELI SPOT.” I don’t know, maybe I’m becoming dyslexic.

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One thing this particular course did have going for it was the view it gave us of Burbank and Glendale. Looking at Burbank from a higher elevation, I was reminded of how it is a much bigger city than I ever bother to realize. It’s not at all dwarfed by the IKEA store which, by itself, probably has its own zip code, and the buildings, homes and apartments stretch out for what seem like miles.

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I also thought I could see Pasadena from where we were, but Coach Joaquin informed me were looking at Glendale and that Pasadena was further off into the distance. I knew that. Anyway, at least I could tell it wasn’t Russia.

After making a sharp left turn at one point, I assumed we would not be running uphill anymore, but I was incorrect. Still, Coach Joaquin assured me what goes up must come down. You know, like the Trump Administration.

I did catch up with my fellow Pablove runners who encouraged me to keep on going as they made their way back. One of them told me, “I’d tell you the turnaround is right around the corner, but…” Believe me, I appreciated the honesty.

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The turnaround point was at this enormous puddle of water which was truly impossible to miss. Looking at it reminded me of a scene from “Stand by Me” in which the four boys come to what looks like a shallow pond they think they can walk across with no problem. River Pheonix even checks to see how deep it is with a stick. Once he convinces everyone it is safe to cross, they walk straight ahead and realize just how deep the water really is. But that’s not all, remember? LEECHES!!!

It was a huge relief to finally reach the turnaround and head back, but there were still some hills to shuffle up and down, and I spent what felt like an obscene amount of time desperately trying to catch my breath. Once I got back to the main road, I knew it was all downhill from there, and in a good way. It’s nice to see “downhill from here” has a couple different meanings and is more than just something adults tell kids when they turn 18.

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The coaches were still around when I returned, and this of course meant they could finally pack their things up and go home. I told Coach Joaquin how the maintenance runs I was doing didn’t seem to be enough, and he encouraged me to get in 30 minutes of exercise each day whether it be running or something else. He also made me see that I did good today and pointed out I did complete all 10 miles. I came, I ran and I finished, and this is something I should be proud of. So what if I came in last? I went through all 10 miles with a sheer determination to make it across the finish line.

Coach Joaquin assured me next week’s course will be completely flat and be only six miles. Still, I need to kick up the workouts during the week. I am now past the point of no return.

Click here to see the Pablove runners in action on this 10-mile run.

The end of the year is rapidly approaching, and I encourage you to make one of your last tax-deductible donations to The Pablove Foundation which is dedicated to finding a cure for pediatric cancer. It’s an amazing organization I encourage you all to support, and I still have a way to go with my fundraising. Click here to learn more.

David Gordon Green’s ‘Halloween’ is the Sequel We Have Been Waiting For

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Why do filmmakers constantly insist on doing a retcon of the “Halloween” franchise? Every once in a while, the continuity of the series is tossed to the wayside, usually for profit and greed, but perhaps deep down there are those out there who remain infinitely eager for another and more fulfilling showdown between Laurie Strode and Michael Myers. We thought we got it in 1981’s “Halloween II,” but even Michael couldn’t stay down after being burned beyond recognition. Then there was “Halloween H2O: 20 Years Later,” but that was really a “Scream” movie disguised as a “Halloween” movie, and what resulted did not feel particularly compelling.

But just when you thought it was time to lay this long-running franchise to rest, along comes the simply titled “Halloween” which wipes the slate clean to give us the true sequel fans of the series have been waiting 40 years for. Once again, Michael Myers breaks free and heads back to Haddonfield, Illinois for a bloody homecoming. But this time, Laurie Strode is ready and waiting, and she is not about to take any prisoners. As this “Halloween” unfolds, you will see what Sylvester Stallone meant when he said, while in pursuit of Wesley Snipes in “Demotion Man:”

“Send a maniac to catch a maniac.”

In this alternate timeline, Michael did not escape at the end of John Carpenter’s “Halloween,” but was instead captured and sent back to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium and has remained there for the last 40 years. His latest psychiatrist, Dr. Ranbir Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), insists Michael can talk but chooses not to, but this doesn’t stop a pair of true-crime podcasters, Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall) and Dana Haines (Rhian Rees), from trying to make him say something, anything. But once Aaron pulls Michael’s old mask out of his bag, we know it won’t be long before they are reminded of what curiosity did to the cat.

This particular “Halloween” was directed by David Gordon Green and co-written by him, Jeff Fradley and actor Danny McBride, and the respect they have for Carpenter’s 1978 horror classic is on display throughout. They even bring back the serif font from the original’s credits as they are determined to make us accept this is a direct sequel to the one which started it all. I admired how the credits started off with a pumpkin which looks to have been stomped on one too many times and which reforms slowly but surely. It’s almost like a metaphor for this franchise as many continue to resurrect Michael, or “The Shape” as he is often referred to, with varying results.

Green is one of those filmmakers who can go from making independent films like “All the Real Girls” and “Joe” to more mainstream fare such as “Pineapple Express” and “Stronger” with relative ease. With his “Halloween,” he gives a slow-burn thriller which thankfully doesn’t peak too soon. Many horror movies give us their best moments far too early these days, so it’s nice to see Green not making this same mistake here as he gives us a deeply suspenseful thriller which builds up and up to its much-anticipated climax.

I also have to give Green and his collaborators credit for giving us characters we care about. It is impossible not to relate to them in one way or another as we remember having their same needs and desires when we were their age. Many of the “Friday the 13th” sequels kept giving us characters we couldn’t wait to see get killed off as we were made to hate them, but when the residents of Haddonfield are killed off, you cannot help but feel for them, and not just because they never got the chance to lose their virginity.

The real big news, however, about this “Halloween” is John Carpenter is back. It marks his return to the franchise he created for the first time since “Halloween III: Season of the Witch.” I imagine money was a big motivating factor, but I do believe Carpenter when he said how enthusiastic he was about Green and McBride’s pitch for this movie. In addition to acting as executive producer, Carpenter also scored the movie along with his son Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies, and they give the brutal proceedings here an extra hard kick in the ass (click here to check out my review of the soundtrack).

But let’s face facts, the real star of this “Halloween” movie is Laurie Strode. Jamie Lee Curtis returns to her iconic role with a real vengeance, and she plays Laurie to the hilt in this installment. When Curtis first played Laurie, she was a kind, shy and innocent young woman. 40 years later, Laurie is a shell of her former self as her life has been severely undone by PTSD, alcoholism and agoraphobia. She has spent the past few decades training to be a survivalist as her life is now dedicated to removing Michael from the face of the earth, and it has all come at the expense of caring for her own family.

Curtis has always put in a great performance in each movie she appears in, be it a good or a bad one, but she really hits it out of the park here. She succeeds in turning Laurie Strode into a bad ass warrior who is never determined to suffer in the same way she did before, and at times she threatens to be more frightening than Michael herself. Just check out the scene when Laurie breaks into her daughter Karen’s (Judy Greer) house and reminds her bluntly of how unprepared she is for the oncoming slaughter.

Moreover, Curtis really makes us sympathize with Laurie Strode throughout. We know all what she has been through, and to see the effect it has on those closest to her is heartbreaking. We learn she has been divorced twice, and her daughter Karen wants little to do with her and constantly begs her to get help. Even when Laurie absent-mindedly takes a drink from a glass of wine like as it it were was an automatic impulse, we feel for her as no one can see Michael Myers as being the embodiment of pure evil the way she can.

Watching Curtis as Laurie here quickly reminded me of a line the late Natasha Richardson said in “Patty Hearst:”

“I finally realized what my crime was, I lived. Big mistake. Very messy.”

The cast overall does really good work, and they are made of very likable and dependable actors which include Judy Greer and Will Patton who make their characters seem very down to earth in a way you want them to be. One real standout here is Andi Matichak who plays Allyson, Laurie’s granddaughter and the only one capable of having a meaningful relationship with her. Matichak proves to be a very appealing presence here, and she makes Allyson into a strong and defiant young woman who is not about to suffer fools in the slightest.

As “Halloween” builds up to its inevitable climax, Green keeps increasing the tension throughout. He smartly leaves Michael in the shadows, and you can’t help but wondering when he is going to jump out next. Green also leaves you wondering if we might actually see Michael’s face or even hear him speak. Does he? Wouldn’t you like to know?

This “Halloween” is not at all groundbreaking, but then again neither was Carpenter’s film. The 1978 “Halloween” owed a lot to the works of Alfred Hitchcock among others, but it also managed to give a freshness to the horror genre in the same way “Psycho” did years before. With any “Halloween” follow-up, we can only hope for it to be as good, if not better, than the original. There’s no way you can top what Carpenter pulled off 40 years ago as none of us saw Michael Myers coming. But with this “Halloween,” we get the true sequel the original never quite received, and it proves to be well worth the wait.

There is also something very cathartic about watching this one in the midst of the #MeToo movement. Essentially, we are watching a woman take revenge on a man who thoughtlessly ruined her life years before, and seeing her do battle with him makes this “Halloween” especially thrilling. Lord knows women have been forced to be silent for far too long, so seeing one get her revenge feels much, much overdue.

By the way, I think I’m going to start calling this one “Halloween: 40 is the New 20.” It seems appropriate, don’t you think?

* * * ½ out of * * * *

WRITER’S NOTE: A lot of people have been getting mad at Jamie Lee Curtis recently. We see her wielding many different weapons and firearms in this movie as Laurie Strode, but some have been quick to call her a hypocrite for doing so as her stance on gun control and the need for it has been well-documented. Why is she appearing in this movie armed to the hilt and yet complaining about gun violence in real life? Ladies and gentlemen, what Curtis is doing in this movie is called ACTING. SHE IS PLAYING A CHARACTER. Whatever happened to make believe anyway? Not all actors are out to put their political issues into each movie they do. Do yourself and everyone else a favor and stop blurring the line between fiction and non-fiction. That is all.

All-Time Favorite Trailers: ‘Cliffhanger’

The 1990’s were not a kind decade to Sylvester Stallone. “Rocky V,” which was supposed to be Stallone’s last go around as Rocky Balboa (LOL), proved to be a critical and commercial disappointment, and his foray into comedy with “Oscar” and “Stop or My Mom Will Shoot” was disastrous to say the least. Clearly, Stallone was in serious need of a comeback as well as a return to the dramatic action movies he became best known for. As a result, he teamed up with “Die Hard 2” director Renny Harlin and Carolco Pictures to star in the action adventure film “Cliffhanger,” and the first trailer made for it remains forever burned into my memory.

The genius of this teaser trailer was how the filmmakers scored the images to Mozart’s “Dies Irae,” a powerful piece of music which served to make this movie seem more epic than it ended up being. There is no dialogue to be heard here as the focus is on the snowy mountain landscape which proves to be as beautiful an environment as it is a brutal one for those unprepared to deal with its frigid temperatures. As we watch Stallone and his fellow cast members John Lithgow, Michael Rooker, Leon and Janine Turner battling the elements which range from climbing up a mountain without a winter jacket or being trapped in a cold lake beneath a thick sheet of ice, it made “Cliffhanger” look like the end all of mountain movies as it captured a reality which is usually faked on a Hollywood soundstage.

Then there is the trailer’s final image of Stallone making a death-defying leap from one mountain side to another, and it’s a fantastic visual to close out on before the movie’s title comes up. Watching him do this quickly reminded me of when he performed similar feats as John Rambo in “First Blood” and its sequels as he the situations Rambo was caught up in were not entirely realistic, but Stallone’s physicality and performance made us believe he one could survive such impossible circumstances to where stopped asking questions and just went along for the ride.

Of course, upon learning Stallone had co-wrote the screenplay, I went in to see “Cliffhanger” with reduced expectations as I figured it would be a variation on the story he writes about more often than not of a man haunted by a tragedy and of his need for redemption. The movie did prove to be very entertaining, but it was not as deep and epic as this trailer promised. Regardless, I look back on this particular trailer very fondly as I said to myself after watching it, “Now that’s how you sell a movie!”

Cliffhanger teaser poster

First Trailer for ‘Creed II’ Enters the Ring

Creed II teaser poster

“Creed” may not have reinvented the “Rocky” franchise, but Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan succeeded in making it feel fresh and reinvigorated to where a sequel was not only inevitable, but more than welcome. Now we have the first trailer for “Creed II” which promises a powerful follow-up as Adonis Creed faces the son of Ivan Drago, the man who killed his father Apollo Creed in “Rocky IV,” Viktor Drago.

In some ways this trailer is a bit anti-climatic as we have known for a while already how the son of Ivan Drago was going to Adonis’ next big opponent, and the trailer keeps building up to a reveal we can see coming from miles away. Viktor is played by Florian Munteanu who previously appeared in “Bogat.” Now we never get a clear look at his face, but when he turns around we see “DRAGO” stenciled on the back of his robe. Personally, I was hoping for a little more than just this reveal, but then again, this is a teaser trailer.

I also kept waiting for Dolph Lundgren to reappear as Ivan Drago as he is slated to be co-starring in “Creed II,” but no such luck. One of the things I am really looking forward to is seeing him come face to face with Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) as I wonder how each character feels about the other following their bloody bout in Russia 30 years ago. I’m guessing Brigette Nielsen will not be back as Ivan’s wife and official spokesperson, so Lundgren will obviously have more dialogue to work with than he did back in 1985.

The trailer does have a lot of cool shots of Adonis training and throwing brutal punches, and the moment where we see him practicing punches underwater is especially cool to where I’m surprised there wasn’t a scene like this in the previous “Rocky” films. Using Kendrick Lamar’s “Loyalty” to score the trailer was a great move as it has a powerful beat which will stay with you to where downloading the song off of iTunes is a must unless you own it or the album it is on already.

But what I really liked about this “Creed II” trailer is how it reflects the challenges Adonis and Rocky face outside of the ring as opposed to in it. Both characters are still stuck in a past which will not let them be. Whether it is the guilt Rocky feels over letting Apollo die in the ring or the feeling of inadequacy which gnaws constantly at Adonis, their struggles are never limited to a boxing match. Seeing this quickly reminded me of when Rocky and Adonis were looking at themselves in a mirror in “Creed” and of Rocky telling him how he will always be his own biggest opponent. And as Rocky talks about the “cheap shots” life is constantly giving him, I was taken back to his great speech in “Rocky Balboa” in which he said the following:

“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”

Taking this into account, I believe “Creed II” looks to focus on the characters even over the intense fight sequences we can expect to see. Besides, what’s a fight like without the psychological depth? You can have great choreography, but it won’t mean as much if you are not fully invested in the characters’ plights and of what they stand to win or lose.

Directing “Creed II” is Steven Caple Jr., and the returning cast includes Tessa Thompson and Phylicia Rashad who proves she is still a badass with her brief appearance here. The sequel is set to be released on November 21, 2018.

Please check out the trailer below.