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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The Best!

1. Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood: Quentin Tarantino said a lot of interesting things while promoting this movie, including a threat that he would only be directing one more film after this (and he’s backing away from that being his R-rated Star Trek idea, to the surprise of absolutely no one). So … depending on what he does next, this could be the last “big” movie from QT. If so, I’d say it’s a fitting finish. It’s also the best movie of the year.

2. Uncut Gems: Adam Sandler goes full-throttle nuts in what is easily the best performance within the best film of his career.

3. Midsommar: The horror genre had a banner year thanks in part to Ari Aster, who took terror out of the night and put it in broad daylight for this warped breakup movie. Florence Pugh—who gets my vote for Performer of the Year thanks to this, Little Women and Fighting With My Family—has established herself as a sure bet.

4. The Lighthouse: While this is more of a psychological thriller, there’s plenty of horror in watching farty Willem Dafoe and squirmy Robert Pattinson driving each other crazy on a remote island during a lighthouse-watch stint.

5. Marriage Story: Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver break hearts in Noah Baumbach’s best movie to date, courtesy of Netflix.

6. 1917: Director Sam Mendes delivers perhaps his best film yet, about two British World War I soldiers trying to save 1,600 men before they advance into a German trap. It’s done to look like one continuous shot … and done well. This won a couple of Golden Globes, and while the Golden Globes are idiotic, 1917 is definitely award-worthy.

7. Waves: Startling performances all around and a tremendous visual flair make Waves a solid step forward for director Trey Edward Shults (It Comes at Night). Taylor Russell and Kelvin Harrison Jr. (also great in this year’s Luce) sparkle in this film.

8. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: The year’s most heartwarming story, with Tom Hanks playing Fred Rogers, and director Marielle Heller creating sweet vibes.

9. Honey Boy: Shia LaBeouf returned with a vengeance this year, supplying both the screenplay and a gripping performance as his own dad in this autobiographical take on his pre-adolescent and teen years. Talk about public therapy. (The film was produced by Amazon and will be streaming soon.)

10. Us: As I said above, horror had a nice year, and Jordan Peele continues his march away from comedy toward scariness with this chilling doppelganger thriller.


The Worst!

1. Star Wars: Episode IX—The Rise of Skywalker: The Force Awakens was written by Lawrence Kasdan, the guy who wrote The Empire Strikes Back. This one was co-written by J.J. Abrams and the meathead hack who penned Batman v Superman. That’s right: They handed the storytelling power for one of cinema’s all-time-great storylines to the man who crapped that monstrosity out of his computer. You thought the Return of the Jedi Ewok hoedown was a bad conclusion to the first trilogy? Well, say hello to Palpatine’s Hellraiser Disco Rave Extravaganza.

2. Rambo: Last Blood: It’s been fun seeing Rocky again in the Creed films. As for Sylvester Stallone’s other HGH-enhanced alter ego, the last two efforts in the series have seen … let’s say, diminishing returns, as his hair got shorter (just like Samson in the Bible!).

3. Glass: Just when M. Night Shyamalan was starting to restore my faith in his abilities, he unleashes this, a case study in how not to invent a movie franchise on the fly.

4. Cats: So I was watching this and just trying to survive. Suddenly, things picked up a bit when a song that actually contained a pretty melody sprang from the speakers. Turns out it was the song Taylor Swift wrote, a blossoming flower in the middle of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sewage dump. Taylor came out of the sky later in the film as a CGI human-cat monster and tried to save the movie, but all was lost by then.

5. Yesterday: I just couldn’t get behind this movie. The central character is a plagiarist asshole, and I hated his renditions of Beatles music. Stay home, and listen to the reissue of Abbey Road.

6. Dumbo/The Lion King/Aladdin: While Aladdin was just slightly bad, Dumbo was terrible, and The Lion King was a complete waste of time. Disney, I love you, but you have to stop with this nonsense. Don’t worry; you will still make money. Hell, the amount of dough I drop on coffee mugs in your souvenir stores rivals what these stupid movies made.

7. Hellboy: Maybe they should’ve let David Harbour be funnier in the title role? He kicked comedy ass when he hosted Saturday Night Live. But here, he’s a total dud as Ron Perlman’s replacement.

8. Mary Magdalene: Jesus was a lot of things, but super-boring wasn’t one of them. This pretentious slog was just an excuse for Joaquin Phoenix to hang out with girlfriend Rooney Mara and get paid.

9. The Dirt: The only thing cool about watching this shitshow was the knowledge that Mötley Crüe was over as a band. Now comes the news that those fucksticks will be touring again, which takes away any good vibe that could be experienced watching this.

10. The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot: Some critics had the audacity to call this Sam Elliott film one of the year’s best. To those folks, I say: Mushrooms can apparently be a fun recreational drug sometimes, but you shouldn’t take them when you are writing your reviews or operating a band saw.

While they didn’t make the year’s Top 10 worst list, boos go out to Godzilla: King of the Monsters for being soul crushingly dull, and Joker, perhaps the year’s most overrated mediocre film. I was very excited for both … almost as excited as I was for the new Star Wars.

Screw you, J.J. Abrams!!!

Published in Previews and Features

Sylvester Stallone takes his iconic John Rambo character and places him in what amounts to little more than an ultra-violent MAGA wankathon in Rambo: Last Blood—easily the worst film in the franchise, and one of the worst films in Stallone’s career.

The Rambo movies have been on a slow downhill slide all along, but have always been watchable. First Blood was awesome; Rambo: First Blood Part II was fun and silly; Rambo III was passable action but a little tired; and Rambo (2008) was bit of a drag, albeit with some decent action scenes and carnage.

Alas, Rambo: Last Blood is an abomination in the way all the Charles Bronson Death Wish sequels were terrible: This film does absolutely nothing to merit its existence. As a Rambo/Stallone fan, I wish I could pretend it didn’t happen, but it has, and it is pure dreck. Stallone has said he will continue to play the character if the film is a success. Well, I almost want this piece of crap to be a success so we can get a better swan song for Rambo—because it would be a shame for the saga to end this way.

The film picks up 11 years after the last chapter, with Rambo sporting a clean haircut and a cowboy hat, and him living a peaceful existence on his late father’s farm in Arizona. He rides horses and hangs out with the housekeeper (Adriana Barraza) and her niece, Gabrielle (Yvette Montreal), who has taken to calling Rambo “Uncle John.” Rambo finally has a “normal” existence.

Gabrielle starts talking about going to Mexico to visit her long-disappeared father … and it becomes apparent where things are going: No, she doesn’t have a nice reunion down there; instead, she winds up a sex slave who is addicted to drugs in one weekend. Rambo to the rescue!

It all builds up to a final half-hour in which Rambo finally goes into Rambo mode, fighting a Mexican drug cartel on American soil in the tunnels he conveniently built under his daddy’s farm. He manages to booby-trap the place in the few hours it takes for the cartel to reach him from Mexico. (The Mexicans are fully armed and ready to kill, mind you. Damn that void-of-a-wall Border Patrol!)

Did this have any chance at being good? I don’t think so. At this point in Rambo lore, you could go two routes: Examine Rambo’s incurable PTSD, during which he goes crazy and becomes a vigilante who hunts American, homegrown terrorists and the KKK; or take a plot like that and go the pure camp route, giving us a wall-to-wall experience of Rambo blowing shit up and taking out bad guys—with no attempt at serious exposition.

This one starts with a “Mexico is bad” angle that is very biased and one-dimensional. It tries to be serious about Rambo’s condition, but not really. (We see him popping a lot of prescription pills, but with no explanation.)

David Morrell, author of the original First Blood novel and creator of the John Rambo character, has disavowed this film, calling it “a mess” and “a clumsy exploitation film.” Thank you, Mr. Morrell! At just less than 90 minutes, Last Blood was rumored to have gone through a lot of reshoots and rewrites—so it’s pretty clear Stallone and company really didn’t know what to do with this movie. Need evidence? The preview trailers are full of scenes not in the film. Maybe this one got massacred by preview-screening exit polls and meddling studio dummies? Whatever happened, there’s a persistent stank coming off what wound up onscreen.

At the end of this Trump propaganda reel—excuse me, movie, the sad, familiar Rambo theme starts to play, and they show us a montage of the past movies behind the credits (just like Twilight!). It drove home the fact that this movie didn’t earn the right to associate itself with those past efforts, even with Stallone’s participation. It’s a cinematic disgrace.

Rambo: Last Blood is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews