Saturday, 21 September 2019
The 80s were ripe with several genre-defining movies, but as far as B-grade action movies were concerned, First Blood was easily one of the most memorable. Released in 1982, the film introduced moviegoers to the character of John Rambo, a veteran from the Vietnam War struggling with PTSD who is forced to put his wartime skills to use when he is caught in a fight for survival against the police in a small town. The film was so successful that it spawned an entire franchise. Rambo: Last Blood is the fifth and potentially final installment in the series.
In Rambo: Last Blood, John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) has since left his days of bloodshed behind, and taken up residence in an old family horse ranch he'd inherited from his late father. He lives there with an old friend called Maria (Adriana Barraza), who helps him care for the aging property. They also care for Maria's granddaughter, Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal), whose mother had died while she was very young. With the help of her friend, Jezel (Fenessa Pineda), Gabrielle is able to track down her estranged father, Miguel (Marco de la O), who now lives in Mexico.
Gabrielle expresses her desire to visit and reconnect with her father, a desire that both John and Maria warn her against. She proceeds to do so anyway, but while in Mexico, she is abducted by members of a Mexican cartel, who run a sex trafficking ring that is led by the two Martinez brothers, Hugo (Sergio Peris-Menchata) and Victor (Óscar Jaenada). John learns about her disappearance and goes to Mexico to find her. Except what he finds there instead is enough to make him become unhinged once again, and he finds himself in the middle of a full-on war with the Mexican cartel.
There is very little to love about Rambo: Last Blood, from its cookie-cutter, revenge-driven storyline, to its over reliance on excessive, gratuitous amounts of blood and gore. The fact that the whole film takes a fair amount of time to kick into gear, despite its relatively short runtime, doesn't exactly help matters. You get the sense that somewhere between the jumbled mess of an uneven pacing and over-the-top violence the filmmakers were actually trying to make something thought provoking, which only serves to highlight the movie's shortcomings even more.
The best thing about Rambo: Last Blood was the montage of past films that plays over the end credits, a section that effectively charts the title character's journey from lonely Vietnam War veteran to full-blown, B-grade action hero. And that says a lot about the overall quality of a movie, when the best part is watching the end credits roll. Still, if you happen to like B-movies or like me, you grew up watching the series, then this latest (and as the title suggests, final) installment is worth checking out on the strength of its nostalgia alone.
Wednesday, 11 September 2019
Anyone who's been following my annual Year in Review series of posts long enough might remember that I had named Snowpiercer my favorite movie for 2014. There was just so much to love about that movie, from its mind-bending tale of the last surviving remnants of the human race being confined to an unstoppable train encircling the globe, to the way the inhabitants of the titular train were segregated according to class. It was a visually-striking action movie that proved that South Korean director Bong Joon-ho was nothing short of a visionary. And that vision is once again on full display in Parasite, a dark comedy he'd also co-written.
The film explores classism, a recurring theme in several of his works. But this time around, he does so through the lenses of two families living on opposite sides of the great economic divide in South Korea: the first are the Kims, a family of four living in a basement apartment in a rundown neighborhood, and the second are the Parks, another family of four living in a lavish mansion. The lives of both families intersect when the Kims' son, Ki-woo, gets a job as an English tutor for the Parks' daughter, Da-hye, after he is recommended by his good friend and former tutor, Min-hyuk.
Discovering that the Parks were also in search of an art tutor for their son, Da-song, Ki-woo manages to convince (read: con) the extremely gullible Mrs. Park into hiring his sister, Ki-jeong. And using similar underhanded tactics, the Kim children also secure jobs for both their parents with the wealthy family, to the detriment of the people formerly holding those jobs (like the titular Parasite). While the Parks are on a camping trip with their son, the Kims use the opportunity to take up full residence in their house. But things change one rainy night when they receive an unexpected guest who reveals a very dark secret about the Parks' luxury home.
Parasite is currently my favorite film for 2019. I know it might be too early to call it, with movies like Ad Astra, Joker and The Rise of Skywalker still on the horizon. But it is hard to imagine any of the aforementioned films managing to outshine this one. At the very least it is the current movie to beat. The movie grips you from the very beginning, with its quirky sense of humor, before taking you on a full-blown journey into the dark recesses of the director's mind. And all the while, it treats you to some truly breathtaking cinematography that effectively captures the plights of the two families at its core.
I don't think I can recommend watching Parasite highly enough. It is every bit as mind-bending as Snowpiercer, despite being anchored in a contemporary setting while exploring identical themes. It is definitely a shoe-in for Best Foreign Language Film at next year's Academy Awards, and depending on how well it performs at the US box office when it releases next month, might even score Best Picture and Best Director nods. It truly deserves the highest honors it can get, and should stand as a masterclass of film-making for many years to come.
Saturday, 7 September 2019
It is very rare to see a horror film play like a Hollywood blockbuster, but that was precisely what happened with It Chapter One in 2017. The Stephen King adaptation was fueled by the love of fans of the source material, a strong sense of nostalgia for Tim Curry's portrayal of the eponymous clown in the 1990 miniseries, great reviews and good word-of-mouth, all of which would come together to propel it to become the highest grossing horror film of all time, with more than $700 million made worldwide. But that was just half of the story of what is effectively another two-part adaptation.
Set 27 years after the events of the first movie, It Chapter Two finds the seven members of the Losers' Club all grown up and living out their adult lives. Bill (James McAvoy) is a successful writer that struggles to write good endings to his stories. Ritchie (Bill Hader) is a successful standup comedian. Eddie (James Ransone) is a risk assessor with an overprotective wife. Ben (Jay Ryan) is an architect and has since shed all of his boyhood fat. Stanley (Andy Bean) is an accountant. Beverly (Jessica Chastain) is a fashion designer caught in an abusive relationship with her husband.
Of the seven members, only Mike (Isiah Mustafa) had stayed behind in their hometown of Derry, Maine, after their initial defeat of Pennywise the clown (Bill Skarsgård), where he serves as the town librarian. But when the eponymous shape-shifting entity returns to terrorize the children of the town in another one of its 27-year feeding cycles, he is forced to reach out to the others, whose memories of their first encounter with Pennywise has been dulled by time and their distance away from the town, asking them to honor the blood oath they'd made as children, by returning to kill It once and for all.
It Chapter Two succeeds as an adequate followup to Chapter One, but doesn't aspire to do much else. It is helped along by some truly stellar performances by its adult cast, with Bill Hader being the obvious standout. But something about their on-screen chemistry doesn't quite gel as well as that of the child actors from the first film. Thankfully, there were quite a few flashback sequences where we got to see the kids again, which helped flesh out the narrative from the first film.
There is no denying the fact that It Chapter Two is the weaker half of director Andy Muschietti's two-part adaptation. It lacks much of the heart that made the first movie so special and tries to compensate for that with an over reliance on jump scares and spectacle. The fact that it stretches to almost three hours in length doesn't exactly help as well. Perhaps these are problems inherited from its source material. But since I never did manage to finish reading the novel, I can't really speak about how faithfully its overall narrative has been adapted here.
There are rumors of a supercut of both movies being considered for release with a narrative structure that more closely mirrors that of the book, with the action jumping back and forth between the kid and adult versions of the Losers' Club. I imagine this would run into well over 5 hours in length, but it is something I'd be interested in checking out. That said, I still believe that It Chapter Two, in its present form, is definitely worth the watch, especially if you're a fan of Stephen King and his works