Brian Tyler

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).


All Hail the King (2014, Drew Pearce)

It's too bad All Hail the King wasn't the epilogue to Iron Man 3. It's a continuation of Ben Kingsley's story from that film and it's the best thing out of Marvel. At fourteen minutes.

Writer-director Drew Pearce only has three scenes in the film–he uses a montage opening to establish, so maybe three and a half. He gives Kingsley a bunch of great lines and a fantastic plot. It eventually follows up on elements from all three Iron Man movies. It's a humorous wink at the idea of dropped subplots and forgotten supporting characters.

In addition to the dialogue and the acting–Scoot McNairy and Lester Speight are also great–Pearce's direction is outstanding. He has numerous jokes throughout, often letting them develop from a dramatic situation. That approach works perfectly with Kingsley's British stage boob.

While it's a showcase for Kingsley, it's equally one for Pearce. King is near perfect.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Drew Pearce; director of photography, Michael Bonvillain; edited by Dan Lebental; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Shepherd Frankel; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Disney Home Video.

Starring Ben Kingsley (Trevor Slattery), Scoot McNairy (Jackson Norris), Lester Speight (Herman), Sam Rockwell (Justin Hammer), Matt Gerald (White Power Dave), Allen Maldonado (Fletcher Heggs) and Crystal the Monkey (Bar Monkey).


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).


Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007, Colin Strause and Greg Strause)

Surprisingly, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem does elicit some conversation. Or, at least the first forty or so minutes of it does. The rest might elicit armed revolt, I’ll never know.

The movie’s interesting for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s atrocious. From the incompetent direction–the Strause brothers apparently couldn’t handle a Doublemint commercial–to the cheap CG (maybe the worst I’ve seen in a theatrical release in years) to the totally unknown cast (picked from the finest Canadian used car dealership advertisements, I’m sure) to the script. But the script brings up the second point (but does not provide a convenient paragraph break apparently).

The script owes more to early B-movies than it does to either of the film series or anything else. It’s like a cheapie from 1938, complete with contrived story lines for a number of people (ex-con, soldier returning, teen in love). Instead of being in a bus depot, however, these people are in a small town–well, not so small, the aerial shot reveals its quite large. When Requiem started, I figured–given the cast of idiot teenagers–it was going to turn the franchise into a slasher movie. Unfortunately, it does not (the slasher take would be a lot more interesting). Instead, it’s scene after endless scene of these idiotic people leading their contrived, TV movie lives. As far as I can tell, there probably isn’t even the payoff of watching the aliens eat these morons.

And that sentence brings me to my final point (I can’t waste time doing a paragraph about the music). It’s boring. It’s a movie called Aliens vs. Predator and it’s boring. Nothing happens. There’s one Predator. Whoop-de-doo. They show the Predator planet, which should have been interesting, but instead is certainly not. The aliens never invade, which is dumb. Here they’re afraid of the light too, which makes no sense because they don’t have eyes. The Predator has this computer and it literally has a function for everything he could need.

The first movie’s no good, but it’s fun and cheaply imaginative. This one is putrid garbage of an inconceivable level. I think I kept it playing because I couldn’t believe someone would greenlight a movie called Aliens vs. Predator where most of the story plays like a soap.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Colin Strause and Greg Strause; written by Shane Salerno, based on characters created by Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett, Jim Thomas and John Thomas; director of photography, Daniel C. Pearl; edited by Dan Zimmerman; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Andrew Neskoromny; produced by John Davis, David Giler and Walter Hill; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Steven Pasquale (Dallas), Reiko Aylesworth (Kelly), John Ortiz (Morales), Johnny Lewis (Ricky), Robert Joy (Colonel Stevens) and Ariel Gade (Molly).


Rambo (2008, Sylvester Stallone)

First, I need to get the theater-going experience out of the way. I do not remember the last time I’ve been in a theater filled with stupider people. They did not shower for the most part. Their girlfriends had to explain the complicated parts to them. I can only imagine what seeing Rambo III would have been like for people with IQs above eighty-five back when the series was popular.

On to the film.

Stallone tries hard to give Rambo the Rocky Balboa treatment and he succeeds on a few levels. He really gets across how awful things in Burma are going–the genocide. He manages to make it the setting, not turning the film into an infomercial. It’s impressive. The more important level is the character himself. In a very poorly constructed voiceover, Stallone eradicates the “Rambo the tortured Vietnam vet” thing he’s had going for twenty-five years. Rambo, Stallone decides, kills people because he likes it (which might not sound like much, but just imagine a Lethal Weapon or Die Hard featuring that thesis about its protagonist). Stallone’s observation, of course, would be a heck of a lot more profound if the movie worked out in the end….

Stallone doesn’t find the balance between action movie and thoughtful observation in Rambo, because he plays toward a general realism. It’s not Rambo running around the jungle trying to save the missionaries by himself, there’s a team of mercenaries with him. Of these mercenaries, Matthew Marsden and Graham McTavish give the best performances. As for the missionaries, Paul Schulze is surprisingly bad and Julie Benz is fine. Benz kind of plays Fay Wray to Stallone’s Kong. It’s a wonderful relationship to watch, because Stallone really gets how to make it work.

So, oddly, the problem becomes Stallone’s unwillingness to go the distance, to have a crazy action movie with Rambo running around killing bad guys (and these bad guys are bad… the worst bad guys I can remember seeing in such numbers in a movie). He goes for something resembling realism and the movie loses out. It’s not dumb fun. It’s dumb pseudo-realistic action violence. Stallone’s very big on showing how awful violence is in the film, it’s graphic and it’s intense.

Rambo, the character, doesn’t deserve the Rocky Balboa treatment–the redefined sequel treatment–because there’s just not enough of a character there. The proof is easily identifiable–Rambo‘s lame closing scene. But it seems like there’s a good mix–and Stallone finds it quite a few times in the movie… he just can’t sustain it.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Sylvester Stallone; written by Art Monterastelli and Stallone, based on characters 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).


Bubba Ho-tep (2002, Don Coscarelli)

I wanted to see Bubba Ho-Tep back when I first read about it because it sounded weird–Bruce Campbell as an old Elvis versus a mummy with Ossie Davis as JFK as his sidekick. The pairing of Davis and Campbell is weird enough–they seem at odds, style-wise, not to mention Davis is actually old while Campbell’s covered in make-up. The mummy aspect is a bit of a joke but also a bit not. It comes down to what’s so surprising about Bubba Ho-Tep. It’s not really a horror movie. It’s about old Elvis Presley in a rest home. For the first twenty minutes, Campbell isn’t even getting out of bed. He just lays there and we get a look at this feeble old man, plagued with regret.

Bubba Ho-Tep is all about Campbell’s performance. It’s great–and it’s a complete surprise, given I never think of Campbell as a particularly clever actor. His Elvis captures a basic apprehensiveness (everyone thinks he’s just an Elvis impersonator who’s confused), an obscene grandiosity (it’s Elvis) and a sincere sadness (Elvis wishing he could see his daughter). I’m not sure if Bubba Ho-Tep takes advantage of the viewer’s knowledge–the daughter stuff is sad because we know it’s Lisa Marie–but it’s exploitative. I can imagine if she saw this film, she’d be incredibly uncomfortable; the line between a fictional representation of a person who died some time ago (but didn’t) and that real person disappears from Campbell’s first second on screen. His performance is wonderful.

As the sidekick, who thinks he’s JFK (Elvis thinks he’s nuts), Ossie Davis is great, but he’s basically Ossie Davis playing a guy who thinks he’s JFK. It’s his scenes with Campbell though, where it really feels like two old men with nothing but regret and a longing to have been better men.

Don Coscarelli’s direction is restrained for the most part (there are some fast cuts to illustrate Elvis’s impaired perception) and his eye for the scenes is great. He creates this world where Campbell can be old Elvis (and there can be a mummy, but the mummy isn’t as important).

Other great things include Ella Joyce as Elvis’s nurse. She and Campbell’s scenes together are really nice, especially with the mood Coscarelli gives them.

Bubba Ho-Tep‘s probably the only way to tell a story about Elvis Presley alive today and have it be a successful, meaningful story. It’s good stuff.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Don Coscarelli; screenplay by Coscarelli, based on the short story by Joe R. Lansdale; director of photography, Adam Janiero; edited by Donald Milne and Scott J. Gill; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Daniel Vecchione; produced by Jason R. Savage and Coscarelli; released by American Cinematheque.

Starring Bruce Campbell (Elvis), Ossie Davis (Jack), Ella Joyce (The Nurse), Heidi Marnhout (Callie) and Bob Ivy (Bubba Ho-Tep).


Scroll to Top