Category Archives: Rambo series

Rambo: Last Blood (2019, Adrian Grunberg)

Sitting and reflecting on Rambo: Last Blood and the franchise’s thirty-seven year legacy, the best idea of the fixing the film is probably just to have Sylvester Stallone do a bunch of shots training horses. He seems really good with them. And he doesn’t seem really good at anything in Last Blood. It’s a far less physical Rambo for Stallone, who seems far less interested in being a septuagenarian action star than quickly turning around corners after the villains end up in his traps. There’s one big physical action sequence for Stallone though; he seems able enough. Just the script doesn’t offer any good action possibilities and director Grunberg is incompetent.

Last Blood is a film with limited possibilities. It’s not like Rambo is a great part with a lot of potential. He’s a pretty generic Stallone protagonist here. He’s still got PTSD, which Last Blood showcases with hilariously bad flashback newsreel footage because no one in the film’s post-production departments care about their dignity. Maybe they all used pseudonyms. Doesn’t matter, because the flashback footage goes away, along with when Stallone gets visual flashes when he’s out being Rambo (in a Mexican night club), and then never shows up after a doctor warns he’s got a concussion. Because Last Blood isn’t just bad—it’s boringly bad. Grunberg’s really, really, really bad. Stallone and Matthew Cirulnick’s script is frequently dumb, then dumber. Lots of bad things happen because Stallone doesn’t operate with forethought. So when he eventually plans how his enemies are going to attack him so he can set traps to ensnare them… well, he didn’t have that ability for forethought earlier.

The movie’s real simple. Stallone’s living on his childhood ranch, training horses, with fellow old person housekeeper Adriana Barraza and her granddaughter, Yvette Monreal. Stallone’s “Uncle John Rambo” and just wishes Monreal would spend her life training horses with him instead of going off to college. She’s really smart, even though her father left the family after the mom died. Oh, and he was physically abusive. Apparently to a dying wife (Last Blood has a lot of problems with its timeline; again, the script’s dumb). Barraza and Stallone ought to be cute together. With a sitcom intern doing a script polish and someone who could competently direct a soap opera, there would be potential with the setup. But it would take someone to write a character for Stallone to play; after thirty-seven years of Rambo as a caricature, what if we got a real character in the last movie?

We’ll never know because Last Blood’s Rambo is pretty thin. He’s also terrible at monologues. In trying to prove there’s room for a septuagenarian Rambo, Last Blood shows why there’s not. Then again, maybe if Grunberg weren’t so terrible, the movie would be better.

Anyway.

Things go wrong when Monreal goes to find her dad, ignoring Stallone and Barraza’s advice. Monreal could be good; Grunberg doesn’t know how to direct his actors and she needs direction, but she’s at least sympathetic. Sympathy isn’t exactly weakness in Last Blood, but it’s pointless. Politically, Last Blood is interestingly hands off. The wall is a failure, but because it’s a fool’s errand. As far as bad hombres… well, Last Blood makes the case every single woman living in Mexico should be granted asylum. There are also some other odd spots, like when Stallone wishes he never became Rambo and hadn’t enlisted. Also when he tells Monreal everyone in the world’s bad and she’s sheltered and she needs to not go to Mexico to find her dad but, it’s okay if she does, because her uncle has a very particular set of skills he has acquired over a very long career.

And Monreal goes through a lot. With considerable dignity since Grunberg’s so crappy. Last Blood’s never scary. Not even when good people are in danger. Sometimes because of how Grunberg and not good editors Carsten Kurpanek and Todd E. Miller cut the scene, sometimes because of how Stallone and Cirulnick’s write the scene, sometimes just because Grunberg can’t figure out how to do an establishing shot. Technically, Last Blood is rather crappy. The editors, Grunberg, Brian Tyler’s score is godawful; but it’s Brendan Galvin’s photography. Galvin’s not good. Grunberg’s awful but he’s awful with bad cinematography. It’s a mundane ugly but it’s an ugly.

Because Last Blood, Stallone seems to think, is a Western. Based on the script, based on his performance, it’s a Western. Set in Arizona. And Mexico. And Stallone has a farm house and trains horses and on and on. It ought to be simple to do some Western. Grunberg can’t. Because he’s awful.

There’s also the whole thing with Stallone building an intricate tunnel system and living in it, going up to hang out with Barraza, Monreal, and the horses, but otherwise he lives in the tunnel system under his family farm, which ought to be an uncomfortable statement on Vietnam vets, but isn’t because Last Blood’s got jack to do with Stallone as Rambo as veteran. It’s really, really, really weird.

The other thing about doing a Last Rambo? Stallone’s always been interesting because he’s grown as filmmaker, his ambitions have changed, matured, developed. Last Blood doesn’t come off like a passion project or a personal ambition. Even though, after the first batch of end credits roll, you do have to wonder if Stallone tinkered with the end, which is what got Kirk Douglas to walk on the first movie, or if they always planned on a stupid twist. It’s hard to say, because so much of it is stupid. Also… doesn’t matter.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Adrian Grunberg; screenplay by Matthew Cirulnick and Sylvester Stallone, based on a story by Dan Gordon and Stallone and on the character created by David Morrell; director of photography, Brendan Galvin; edited by Carsten Kurpanek and Todd E. Miller; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Franco-Giacomo Carbone; produced by Avi Lerner, Yariv Lerner, Kevin King Templeton, and Les Weldon; released by Lionsgate.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (John), Yvette Monreal (Gabrielle), Adriana Barraza (Maria), Óscar Jaenada (Victor Martinez), Sergio Peris-Mencheta (Hugo Martínez), Fenessa Pineda (Jizzel), and Paz Vega (Carmen Delgado).


Rambo (2008, Sylvester Stallone), the director’s cut

I just went back and reread my response to the theatrical release of Rambo. I haven’t seen it since the theater and, while I could pick out some added scenes (Stallone’s director’s cut, titled John Rambo, runs about ten minutes longer), I couldn’t remember if my problems with the director’s cut are the same as my problems with the theatrical.

They are not. Not entirely.

Stallone’s director’s cut is much more thoughtful. It raises these great human contradictions–for example, a pastor hiring mercenaries to kill brown people to save his white people, white people captured while trying to stop brown people from getting killed.

Rambo‘s still incredibly problematic–this cut doesn’t fix the ludicrously unearned and unexplained end–and raising questions is far better than trying to answer them.

This time through–and this cut through–Stallone’s treatment of the Christian missionaries is, while I’m sure it’s unintentional, rather damning. Julie Benz’s character is a good fundamentalist Christian woman who uses sex (the idea, not the act) to bewitch Stallone. This development is new to this version. Maybe in the spinoff, Benz will run for vice president.

It makes Stallone’s Rambo pathetically attached to this woman who abandons him for her tool of a fiancée (John Schulze).

Most interesting, reading my first response, is the idea Stallone portrays Rambo as an animal thrilled at killing. He doesn’t in this cut. He gives Rambo a soul the whole time, not making him earn it.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t improve the movie.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Sylvester Stallone; screenplay by Art Monterastelli and Stallone, based on a character created by David Morrell; director of photography, Glen MacPherson; edited by Sean Albertson; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Franco-Giacomo Carbone; produced by Avi Lerner, Kevin King-Templeton and John Thompson; released by Lionsgate Films.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (John Rambo), Julie Benz (Sarah), Paul Schulze (Burnett), Matthew Marsden (School Boy), Graham McTavish (Lewis) and Tim Kang (En-Joo).


RELATED

First Blood (1982, Ted Kotcheff)

Maybe if it weren’t for the Stephen J. Cannell television techniques (cars flying through the air or exploding on impact), the asinine, comedic banter between the deputies, some poor writing and Richard Crenna, First Blood might have been okay. Ted Kotcheff isn’t a good director though, so maybe not. Kotcheff shoots exteriors well (the stuff a second unit could have also done), but his composition for actors is simplistic and his director of the actors is terrible. Crenna’s role is just idiotically written, but both Stallone and Brian Dennehy careen from good to bad and not all their writing is bad; Kotcheff was just a terrible fit.

First Blood‘s actually kind of boring, mostly because it wastes all of its potential. The opening with Stallone visiting a friend off a beautiful lake really works, because it gets across the idea Rambo smiles when he sees children play. That characterization of Rambo doesn’t hold up through the entire movie and it’s a real problem. Anyway, after the opening, there’s the whole small town cops hassle Rambo stuff. Those scenes have some potential. Not a lot, because the transition from the sensitive Rambo who comforts an angry woman isn’t there. But David Caruso’s good as the sympathetic young deputy and Dennehy’s sheriff is still just a Western bad guy (the big mistake is later, when the script tries to give him depth).

But then Stallone hops on a motorcycle and starts doing wheelies and all the reality goes whoosh. Of course, after just showing him as a heartless animal, he’s warning people to get out of the way of the motorcycle on the sidewalk. Then there’s the long sequence in the forest, with awful cinematography. Then Richard Crenna shows up and is terrible and then a bunch of other stuff, then the ending Gremlins seems to have ripped off a little (it’s okay, since First Blood stole a lot from Raiders of the Lost Ark).

All the while, Jerry Goldsmith’s absurd score booms. Goldsmith appears to have never seen First Blood and is instead scoring an action movie with motorcycles. Oh, wait….

Stallone really does try during some of the scenes, but it doesn’t work. His big monologue is nowhere near as effective as when he tells some guy to get out of a speeding truck. Some of his wordless grunting scenes are bad, but most of his stuff is just boring–the movie probably spends fifteen minutes with him walking silently through a mine.

Nothing, of course, compares to that terrible end credit song, which is horrific. Sadly, the moment just before the song starts, Goldsmith’s score is for one second appropriate and First Blood actually seems all right. Then the song starts.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ted Kotcheff; screenplay by Michael Kozoll, William Sackheim and Sylvester Stallone, based on the novel by David Morrell; director of photography, Andrew Laszlo; edited by Joan E. Chapman; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Wolf Kroeger; produced by Buzz Feitshans; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (John J. Rambo), Richard Crenna (Col. Samuel Trautman), Brian Dennehy (Hope Sheriff Will Teasle), Bill McKinney (State Police Capt. Dave Kern), Jack Starrett (Deputy Sgt. Arthur Galt), Michael Talbott (Deputy Balford), Chris Mulkey (Deputy Ward), John McLiam (Orval the Dog Man), Alf Humphreys (Deputy Lester), David Caruso (Deputy Mitch), David L. Crowley (Deputy Shingleton) and Don MacKay (Preston).


RELATED

Rambo III (1988, Peter MacDonald)

According to IMDb, Rambo III was the most expensive movie ever made at the time of its release. It shows. Enormous sets, lots of vehicles–Rambo versus a helicopter, Rambo versus a tank, Rambo in a tank versus a helicopter. For all the money, it ought to look fantastic–except director Peter MacDonald, a camera operator and second unit director… composes like a second unit director and camera operator. It’s incredibly boring to watch, no matter what’s actually going on. MacDonald shoots wide shots and long shots and close-ups of Stallone. For the majority of the movie, nothing else. His direction drains any energy the film might have.

With this one, Stallone changes it up a lot. Most importantly, the politics are essentially gone and the movie really does try for some humanism by giving a face to the Afghani people during the Soviet invasion. When Richard Crenna goes and calls it Russia’s Vietnam, however, the metaphors and similes get confused (Rambo is siding against the imperialist invader… siding with people who get illicit support from a superpower). But, whatever. They’re trying and, with the exception of the really cute and precocious thirteen-year-old soldier, they do okay.

The second change-up is between Stallone and Crenna. Rambo III is a buddy flick with all the wisecracks and the one or two moments of awkward tenderness between macho men. Crenna’s actually not as bad as usual in this one, the humor making his hammy performance acceptable. And Stallone’s better too… even if he looks out of place and not just because of his poofed out eighties hair. Rambo the character doesn’t transition well from the previous entries, as serious and terribly flawed as they are, to a superhero. There’s an emptiness to the desert landscape–it affects the visual of Stallone in his headband and MacDonald doesn’t know how to adjust for it.

So, the goofy action and the bad puns between Crenna and Stallone and the humanism make Rambo III an okay diversion. It’s a precursor to the bigger, louder Carolco action movies. The movie’s almost all action for the second half–including one good sequence in a cave–which is nice, because MacDonald can’t do tension and whenever villain Marc de Jonge is onscreen, the movie becomes nearly unbearable. De Jonge is something terrible… but the movie itself is nearly okay.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Peter MacDonald; screenplay by Sylvester Stallone and Sheldon Lettich, based on characters created by David Morrell; director of photography, John Stanier; edited by James R. Symons, Andrew London, O. Nicholas Brown and Edward A. Warschilka; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Bill Kenney; produced by Buzz Feitshans; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (Rambo), Richard Crenna (Trautman), Marc de Jonge (Zaysen), Kurtwood Smith (Griggs), Spiros Focás (Masoud), Sasson Gabai (Mousa) and Doudi Shoua (Hamid).


RELATED