Rambo: Last Blood (2019)

ramboHopefully that title is a promise, unless some twit decides we deserve Rambo: Last Blood Part Two.

I can’t figure out, for the life of me, how they messed up something as simple as this movie. I say ‘messed up’ but what I’m really referring to is… well, if ever a film betrayed signs of re-shoots and hasty confused editing trying to keep all of its eighteen executive producers, plus its additional five co-executive producers, plus its additional four producers content with what all their hard ‘producing’ finally produced onto the screen… well, I guess my answer is all there. A Rambo film is the simplest thing in the world, or should be, and it certainly doesn’t need twenty-seven possibly conflicting voices in the mix (I didn’t bother counting the ‘line producers’ I was getting dizzy enough as it is). I mean, this is Rambo; you put him into conflict with bad guys and  raise the stakes/tension until releasing it in an orgy of cathartic violence as Rambo destroys and mutilates scum who totally deserve it. I could write it over a weekend.

After the frankly amazingly surprisingly good Rambo from 2008 (how on Earth it has taken so many years to follow that success with a fifth film is remarkable in itself) this film is a terrible disappointment. Its not a complete disaster, but it too cynically, I think, copies everything from that fourth film and wastes a promising premise that pits Rambo against a Mexican crime syndicate/private army past due a visit from the Grim Reaper. I mean these bad guys are Scum with a very definite capital ‘S’ and, well, I was hardly expecting a blood-soaked Sicario but this was a pretty incredibly dumb movie. Any teenage niece who is forbidden to drive across the border to her estranged father but who then drives off  ‘to my  freinds house, promise’ the next morning is… well, Rambo is actually somehow shocked but nobody watching the film is. Irresponsible parenting, Rambo, that’s what I call it. You ground her her and let her sulk awhile. You just let her drive off, well, you only got yourself to blame for what happens.

Oh well. At least the action when it comes is graphic and shocking enough to keep us awake and cheer Rambo up (he’s never really happier than when he’s disembowelling someone or tearing his heart out or snapping bones or blowing scum up and he can turn it into art, clearly). Its just a shame that somehow such a simple premise gets so confused (why does Rambo just walk unprepared into a stronghold of over 40 bad guys if its isn’t just an excuse to beat the shit out of Rambo yet again and make things even more personal?).

Not a complete disaster I suppose and with ever further reduced expectations it might get better a second and third time. I mean, its Rambo, ‘innit?

Triple Frontier (2019)

tripleIts perhaps fortunate that I watched Triple Frontier in blissful ignorance of the pedigree of creatives behind it- in particular that it was directed by J C Chandor, who had earlier made two films I particularly enjoyed- All is Lost and A Most Violent Year. While I enjoyed Triple Frontier, it is clearly not in the same league as either of those two earlier films (in hindsight, maybe the casting of Oscar Isaac was a clue). From what I gather, Triple Frontier has had a long and protracted development history behind it (Kathryn Bigelow at one time marked to direct it, and a cast that at one time included Tom Hanks) – and it’s perhaps surprising that it has turned out as good as it has, or actually finally got made at all. At any rate, it’s probably not what I would call ‘a J C Chandor film’ in just the same way as several of Ridley Scott’s films were likely made as a ‘director for hire’ rather than a personal project (play a game, guess which ones). Which is a protracted way of me saying that I wouldn’t have enjoyed it quite so much had I been saddled with the expectations from the director’s name/past work. Sometimes you just have to judge a movie by itself, on its own terms.

So Triple Frontier (no, can’t say the title makes a lot of sense even after having seen the film) is a sort of old-fashioned action adventure/heist yarn, in which a bunch of embittered/financially challenged ax-Army Rangers buddies are recruited by one of their colleagues, who knows about a drug dealer down in a South American jungle whose millions of ill-gotten dollars could solve our heroes life problems. Hell, a premise like that, it could have been a great Predator sequel, but nevermind. So yeah, its part A-Team, part Sicario, part heist picture, part buddy picture, part man-against-nature picture. It should have been in all likelihood a terrible mess, and maybe it still is a bit of a mess, but it does actually work.

Sure, there are a few issues with the script, and characters making some odd choices just to further that script towards its various twists and plot-points, but that kind of thing can be inevitable from such a long gestation period and so many hands messing with it over the years. At any rate, the film does pack a few genuine surprises that I didn’t see coming.

It doesn’t hurt that it looks absolutely gorgeous. This is a movie with a capital ‘M’ and not at all what you’d expect – as I have noted before, some of these Netflix Originals are far beyond what might have been considered direct to video, or even tv movie, material, several years ago. There is some amazing location photography here and some great action sequences/stunt scenes. Maybe some of the visual effects don’t quite hold up to the scrutiny that this lovingly sharp and detailed image invites, but it really is quite cinematic. I don’t know what streaming compression Netflix is using but this film looked amazing in 4K, a real improvement on the fairly appalling compression artifacts and banding I suffered watching Voice from the Stone on Amazon a few nights ago.

 

Wind River (2017)

windrvr1Sometimes it can be frustrating, when prior work creates unnecessary hype and expectation for a new project- in this case, Wind River, perhaps weighed down by the fact that it is written and  directed by  Taylor Sheridan, who previously wrote Sicario and Hell or High Water, two of the best thrillers released in the past few years. Personally, for me Wind River more than lives up to that expectation- its a finely crafted, atmospheric, character-driven procedural thriller that, yes, maybe suffers from one or two missteps, but on the whole is a great piece of work. One of the best films of 2017 in fact.

Wind River begins with a partly-clothed young woman fleeing across the frozen tundra at night. She’s in a pretty bad way. Cut to a daytime scene; Wildlife Officer Cory Lambert  (Jeffrey Renner) is out doing his job, shooting wild wolves to protect livestock. Later when hunting down a mountain lion and its cubs that have killed some cattle he discovers a body frozen in the snow- the young woman we saw at the films opening. An FBI agent is summoned, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen, hey, its something of an Avengers reunion) a fish-out-water operative who is inexperienced and needs Cory’s help to solve what quickly becomes a rape/murder investigation in what is, for Banner, a totally alien environment.

In some ways the mystery of what the girl was doing out in the snow, who she was fleeing from and who raped her, is incidental to the film. The heart and soul of this film is the barren, wintry landscape, and the melancholy that enshrouds the film and pretty much every character in it. Set in the Wind River Indian Reservation, the film is a study of the Native American’s plight, a defeated people lost and trapped by where they live.

Its a slow-burn film in which any violence is sudden and unexpected, and all the more powerful for that. I thought a shoot-out near the films conclusion was very well done – some have questioned the internal logic of it but hey, I doubt most people who are feeling threatened can coolly think themselves out of a situation when they think their lives are at risk and they have a gun cocked in their hand. Fight or flight and all that. I thought it was very well-choreographed and convincing.

Cory has a haunted past that drives him to help FBI Agent Banner and in a traditional movie, the denouncement that vindicates his actions would offer him peace and closure but it really doesn’t here. There is no getting lost family back, and while I’m hardly spoiling the film by saying the bad guy/s get caught/punished, I will say that it doesn’t really solve anything, and the air of melancholy and tragedy persists into the last scene and beyond.  Wind River is perhaps partly crafted (and certainly marketed) as a crime thriller but really its a study of the plight of the Native American people, and of loss and pain. Its dark and devoid, really, of any hope- a sort of wintry Film Noir set in the barren snows of Wyoming.

Hey, I think we just found the writer/director for the next Blade Runner film…

Sicario (2015)

Now THATS a film poster...
Now THATS a film poster…

The prospect of director Denis Villeneuve helming Blade Runner 2 is more exciting than ever having seen Sicario. It also reinforces his evident fascination with humanities dark side, being a particularly grim, and at times unrelentingly tense, thriller with some fantastic performances (oddly, I did find a particular comparison here with Blade Runner, albeit unintentional- just as Harrison Ford was overshadowed by Rutger Hauer in the 1982 film, here Emily Blunt is overshadowed by the performance of Benicio Del Toro in what is ostensibly a supporting role that simply steals the movie). Alas news that LIonsgate seem keen to move on with a Sicario 2 is a little depressing even if somewhat predictable considering how the film ends. Sicario simply does not need a sequel and I fear it will be weakened by a follow up- I guess this is just a further demonstration of the times we live in, but it’s such a shame that a film like this can’t be allowed to stand by itself anymore. Indeed, it has hardly been given time to be released before the studio has raised the prospect of a sequel. My own response to the news of a sequel was “what? WHAT?” as if it was some kind of joke. Imagine Heat being followed by a Heat 2 and a Heat 3…. it’s heartbreaking really how cannibalistic the film industry is now, success breeding some kind of instant feeding frenzy.

(While those films that deserve or suggest a sequel, like Dredd or John Carter, haven’t a teardrop in Hell’s chance of ever getting one).

sic3I wouldn’t by any means describe this film as perfect- there are a few pacing issues with Sicario that leaves the middle somewhat laboured, but it remains a superior thriller with ambiguous lines of morality that is quite refreshing. Clearly there is Good and Evil here but its all shades of grey rather than simplistic black and white… There is no moral high ground championed, rather just a vague sense of futility trying to make sense of it all, the distinctions of right and wrong blurred in somehow trying to define a Greater Good, the central question being does the end justify the actions getting there. Having seen his previous film,  Prisoners, it comes as no surprise that Villeneuve has no problem establishing a realistic milieu with fine performances from his cast. What does come as a welcome surprise, considering how intellectual that films probing of human darkness was, is how well Villeneuve manages Sicario’s action sequences. It’s no overstatement to suggest it is so accomplished it recalls Michael Mann’s Heat, but even when the bullet’s aren’t flying it is the threat of violence that is most powerful and impressive. We live in age of films laden with cartoon violence with cities portrayed collapsing in photorealistic detail, whether it be due to superheroes or giant robots or giant monsters, but the implied threat of violence when being trapped in a traffic jam is here far more overpowering. Tension is ramped up incredibly high in three sequences, but beyond that there is a dark feeling of dread, of a world out of control. Its a tragedy, in many ways.

Clearly this film consolidates Villeneuve as one of the most promising directors at work today. Roger Deakins photography, meanwhile, ensures the film looks utterly beautiful, if such a thing can be said about a film as uncompromisingly as bleak as this is. I must stop mentioning BR2 but goodness, one can only wonder at the possibilities of these two working on the project, and what they might come up with if left alone and given decent material (i.e. a decent script). One can only hope and wonder. As it is, Sicario simply remains one of the best films of the year and really deserves some recognition come awards season.