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Rambo: Last Blood (2019)
Fifth & Final
Sylvester Stallone returns to play John Rambo in this fifth and final adventure set about a decade after part IV, which saw him returning to his family ranch in Arizona at the end. Here, he is trying to take care of his niece, but her stubbornness about finding her deadbeat father in Mexico gets her abducted by a human trafficking cartel there, and once again Rambo goes into hardcore action to rescue her, but tragedy still haunts him, and he must make one final stand back home after the cartel vows to kill him in retaliation...
Despite Rambo being 70+ years old, he is still in great shape and as lethal as ever. Stallone does a fine job portraying him as both a kind man to his friends, though a merciless killer to his enemies. Direction by Adrian Grunberg is efficient, even if the story holds few surprises. Loads of action at the ultra-violent climax, which features various ingenious booby traps to kill the bad guys. Finale is quite poignant, and would serve as a fitting sendoff for this memorable character, though once again, time will tell if this really is the end of that long road as a wounded but still alive Rambo rides off on his horse into the sunset...
The Nun (2018)
Abbey Of Evil
Fifth film in "The Conjuring" franchise is also chronologically first, telling the origin story of the demon nun from "The Conjuring II" as Taissa Farmiga plays a novice nun in 1952 who is sent by the Vatican to a cloistered Abbey in Romania where one of its nuns was found hanged outside, but the apparent sin of suicide is justified as a desperate self-sacrificial attempt to stop the demon from escaping, one that is destined to fail...
Reasonably good prequel is well acted and filmed in Romania, with enough interest and fright to succeed, though is not up to the "Conjuring" films themselves, with some visual melodramatic overkill. Still, at least this has a narrative point behind it, and its strong reliance on faith and belief is refreshingly old-fashioned(much like a Hammer film) and commendable.
The Titans Rise...Long Live The King!
Third entry in the new "Monsterverse" franchise of Toho Monsters is the best yet, a magnificently realized, ecologically-minded film that is a direct sequel to 2014's "Godzilla", which sees our old titan-sized reptilian friend return to do battle with a would-be usurper to his monster crown, King Ghidorah, a three-headed alien titan bent on using other newly awakened titans like Rodan in its quest to be the new Alpha of the Earth, but Mothra is also present to assist Godzilla in its fight.
Human characters(played by Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Ken Watanbe, and Charles Dance) are present of course in various capacities, but this is a monster film, make no mistake, and never has it been more realistically and seriously achieved than here. Filled with many tributes and knowing nods to the original series of Toho studios Godzilla films from decades previous, this is a true love letter and dream come true for fans of those Japanese epics that may well look quaint now with the astonishing CGI available, but will still be cherished nonetheless.
Future will hold Godzilla meeting Kong from "Kong: Skull Island" to see who will hold the monster crown. Whether or not other monsters like Gigan, Megalon, or Hedorah will appear is yet to be determined. Stay tuned through the closing credits though...
Annabelle: Creation (2017)
Creation Of The Origin Of Evil
Prequel to a prequel(!) tells the previously unknown backstory of how the doll Annabelle was created, which it turns out was by a man named Samuel Mullins(Anthony LaPaglia) who has a wife Esther(Miranda Otto) and a young daughter named Bee who is tragically killed by a car, driving both the parents into making a desperate, foolish action to make contact with their dead daughter that will lead to devastating consequences(especially for a nun and six orphans staying at their home) that will go on to haunt many lives for decades...
Disappointing entry in this growing franchise has some effective scares but also many slow spots and lulls, with a contrived, unconvincing story that didn't really need to be told, when all is said and done, though it does nicely dovetail into the first "Annabelle", still a superior film.
Order & Chaos
The "Star Wars" series continues (under the ownership of Disney) with Episode VIII, which is really no better or worse than Episode VII, which of course is the main problem... Mark Hamill makes a welcome return as Luke Skywalker, now 30+ years older, grey-bearded, and in self-imposed exile on a distant world because of his failure to properly train Kylo Ren(Adam Driver) his ex-student(and nephew) who turned to the Dark Side and is leading a resurgent Empire now called the First Order. Rey(Daisy Ridley) has sought out Luke taking with her Chewbacca in the Millennium Falcon, but getting him to train her will be no easy task. Meanwhile General Leia(Carrie Fisher) is trying to keep the rebellion going, but that task is also not going well either...
While it is good to see many of these characters again, like "The Force Awakens" this is a bleak and depressing film that is just not that compelling or well written. The story and direction(by Rian Johnson) feels cramped and patchy, despite the massive outer space battles, there is no sense of a galactic threat or high stakes, just the equivalent of two big street gangs fighting it out over a neighborhood that barely notices!
Where Episode IX can go now that several (one was led to believe) key characters are killed off is really unclear, and unlike the first six episodes, there is no purpose to this new trilogy, just an unwise and unwanted unraveling of "Return Of The Jedi" in order to manufacture a way to keep this series going.
Ultimately, it is just a sad, chaotic mess that has no meaning, and less point.
Land, Sea & Air
Director Christopher Nolan delivers another superb film, this time a WWII epic recreating the events at the battle of Dunkirk, France in 1940, as Allied troops are forced to evacuate from invading German forces by fleeing to the beaches and harbor, where they await rescue from various ships both military and civilian, while a group of Allied fighter planes do their valiant best to defend them by air. A compelling and realistic viewing experience from start to finish, with masterful score and cinematography. Though there isn't much emotional involvement with the characters, it is the true story being told that is the attraction here, as this important event in the war is finally given a proper treatment, and is a welcome breath of fresh air given the overly cynical and CGI saturated nature of so many modern films. Would have been at home as much in its own depicted period as it is in ours; a real achievement.
Kong: Skull Island (2017)
Kong As Island Defender
Exciting new version of the King Kong story stars John Goodman as a secret government representative from the Monarch group that is organizing a team of fellow scientists and soldiers(led by Samuel L. Jackson) to explore the mythical Skull Island which is inhabited by a variety of monsters, with Kong being the apparent King of, though he is often in battle with an aggressive species of giant iguana-like lizards that threaten all their lives. Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson also star as a tracker and photographer to aid the mission, though John C. Reilly also shines as a stranded WWII soldier who attempts to lead the survivors off the island to an approaching rescue ship.
Excellent F/X bring Kong to vivid life like never before, portraying him in a sympathetic light, (despite the carnage) though of course the original 1933 version is still best. Also contains an apparent subtext and awareness to "Apocalypse Now" and "Moby Dick"
Second in a series of updated Toho "monsterverse" films, in which Kong, Godzilla(2014) and other Japanese monster stars will appear.
Rogue One (2016)
A Story Of Hope
First in the stand-alone/spin-off series of "Star Wars" films is a winner. Set in-between Episodes III & IV, story has a ragtag group of rebels(led by Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones) who are made aware of an alarming new super-weapon just completed by the Empire called the Death Star that is capable of destroying whole planets, and so come up with a desperate plan(aided by the Rebel Alliance) to steal the schematics of it in order to exploit a weakness built into it by a most personal architect and "collaborator" - Jyn's father Galen(played by Mads Mikkelsen), though that won't be so easy, as Darth Vader(still voiced by James Earl Jones) is on the way to stop them...
Superb prequel takes its time to build, but delivers a rousing third act filled with well-staged ground and outer space battle scenes that gives this a welcome gritty feel. Filled with knowing cameos(especially regarding Grand Moff Tarkin) and touches, film is obviously made with love and respect by director Gareth Edwards and the whole crew, with a final sequence and scene that hits the bulls-eye.
Will give real hope to "Star Wars" fans that new parent company Walt Disney is on the right path at last, though of course only time will tell for now...
Phantasm: Ravager (2016)
End Of The Road
Fifth and final film in this series is mostly a showcase for stalwart series star Reggie Bannister as Reggie, former ice cream vendor turned wandering warrior still in pursuit of the evil Tall man(played by the late Angus Scrimm) in his never-ending plan of world domination, which seems to be coming true, though it is equally possible that poor Reggie is suffering from dementia, since he is visited in hospital by an older Mike(A. Michael Baldwin) who thinks it's all in his addled mind, though both realities seem to be converging to a final reckoning point...
A much-delayed, low-budget yet ambitious sequel that was produced sporadically over many years, which explains the patchy and convoluted narrative structure presented here, which is of course the chief problem. Unlike Part I(even II), there is little here that is eerie or original, and expecting any kind of proper closure at this point is ultimately futile, despite the earnest efforts of everyone involved. Still, "Phans" will want to see it regardless, as(for better or worse) this is the end... though you will certainly want to stay through the closing credits!
The Conjuring 2 (2016)
The Hodgson Haunting
James Wan returned to direct this superb sequel that sees Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga resuming their roles of real life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, who are first seen(in a most effective prologue) investigating the notorious Amityville haunting in 1976, before moving forward a year to being asked by the Church to look into the veracity of the reports of a haunting in Enfield, England, where the Hodgson family(a single mother and her four children) are being terrorized by a seemingly evil old man who had died in the house, but as the Warrens discover, the situation is far more complicated and sinister than that...A match for the original, this intelligent, chilling, frightening sequel is even better, with a well crafted plot that pays off emotionally and spiritually by the heart-stopping climax. A model of its kind, and further installments done like this would be most welcome, as there are still more cases to tell...
X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
Eighth "X-Men" film,(though the first one taking place entirely in the new, altered time-line) is set in 1983, where a powerful, ancient mutant named Apocalypse(played by Oscar Issac) has been reawakened, and is hellbent on ridding the world of all traces of human civilization, who enlists four mutants(Storm, Angel, Psylocke, and Magneto) to help him in this task, though the combined powers of Charles Xavier, Mystique, Jean Grey, Cyclops, Beast, Nightcrawler and Qucksilver may be too much even for a self-styled god... Action packed if bloated entry has big ideas but fairly routine execution, and I still think this new time-line(effectively negating five of the first six films in the franchise!) is quite needless and misguided.
Hugh Jackman does make a brief, obligatory appearance which sets up the planned ninth film in the series. Wolverine is not done just yet it seems...
Jurassic World (2015)
The Park Goes Global
22 years after the disastrous events of the first film, a new park(renamed World) was built upon the ruins of the original, and has been a huge success for about a decade, but an increasingly apathetic public has led the new corporate owners to authorize an experimental dinosaur created from various DNA sources that is large, fierce, and intelligent, so naturally breaks free of its paddock to wreck havoc, creating a domino effect of calamities that will lead to even more destruction and loss of life. Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt co-star, as does returning actor B.D. Wong as Dr. Henry Wu from the first film.
Fourth film in this series was a massive hit, effectively updating the story to 2015 and a new generation. Good plot and characters, exciting action by director Colin Trevorrow, though of course this is(intentionally) much like the original.
Ending of course sets up the planned Part V...
The Outer Limits: The Premonition (1965)
Dewey Martin stars as Jim Darcy, an Air Force pilot who is flying an experimental X-15 plane when it hits a sonic boom and suddenly crash lands. Jim is safe without injury, but his wife Linda(played by Mary Murphy) is also driving close by, and goes to him when they both realize that a freak accident of the plane hitting Mach 6 has somehow caused them to trip the time barrier a short distance into the future, where everyone is frozen until time catches up with them, which means they must be back in their proper places, or be stuck in limbo like some poor man/being they encounter at the airbase, not to mention they must save their little girl who is about to be hit by a truck after leaving her daycare center... Interesting episode has good acting and involving characters, with the limbo man especially tragic.
The Outer Limits: The Probe (1965)
Last episode of the series sees a cargo plane traveling through a hurricane and making a crash landing into the sea. The survivors(including Peter Mark Richman and Peggy Ann Garner) find that their rubber life raft is not on the water, but instead is on a metal surface, and indeed they appear to be inside some mysterious structure that turns out to be an unmanned alien probe that had scooped them up for examination, though a strange microbe creature has escaped sterilization, which just might keep them alive if they can figure out a way to communicate their plight to the unknown intelligence...Good episode has fine acting and an intriguing premise that holds viewer interest. Though the series' cancellation was unfortunate, this does at least provide a fitting end.
Anthony Eisley stars as Colonel Barham, a dying astronaut confined to a wheelchair who volunteers to be a part of an experimental operation that will see his healthy brain removed from his body, and placed in a complex artificial container connected with a supercomputer that will allow him to undertake the mission to Mars that is being planned. Unfortunately, the arrogant-minded Barham becomes even more so, developing an inflated egomania and a dangerous form of mind control that threatens the lives of the staff. Grant Williams also stars as Major McKinnon, and Elizabeth Perry as the Colonel's wife. Uninspired episode is mired in too many clichés to succeed.
The Outer Limits: Counterweight (1964)
A six person crew(played by Michael Constantine, Jacqueline Scott, Sandy Kenyon, Crahan Denton, Larry Ward, Charles Radilac) has volunteered to participate in the first simulated test space flight to the planet Antheon. There is even a panic button on board that, if pushed, will immediately end the flight, and any chance of their going on the real thing. The captain(played by Stephen Joyce) and stewardess(played by Shary Marshall) do what they can to help, but paranoia and personality clashes emerge, threatening the success of this experiment, as some malignant force seems determined to stop the mission... Tedious episode misfires much like the flight itself, though the monster is nicely done.
Ron Randel stars as Henderson James, a scientist in the near future who had successfully smuggled to Earth a fierce but banned alien creature called a Megasoid that has escaped from its captivity in his home. It is in its reproductive cycle, which means more of these things could emerge, so Henderson decides to handle the crisis himself by having a limited-life(5 hours) duplicate(clone) made to kill the creature, but instead it causes his wife Laura(played by Constance Towers) to prefer its company to his, since their marriage is on the rocks. Sean McClory co-stars as the spaceship captain who smuggled it to Earth for Henderson, and is called upon to help again. Good cast and set design, but marred by a ridiculous looking(if distinctive) monster, story flaws, and a slow pace. Towers is luminescent though(why does Henderson ignore her?)
Warren Stevens stars as a scientist named Eric Plummer who has been despairing about completing complex equations needed to manufacture an anti-magnetic disintegrator when he is unexpectedly approached by an alien named Ikar(played Robert Webber) who will give him the help he needs if he can borrow his emotions, a concept unknown to his species. Of course the emotions wreck havoc on the orderly mind that his race prides itself on, which threatens everyone involved, in particular Eric's girlfriend Janet(played by Gail Kobe) as the aliens plan to invade the Earth, and wont let the compromised Ikar stop them...Dreary, all-too predictable and arch episode only has memorable monsters to distinguish it in any way, despite the colorful title.
Second of two part episode sees government agent Adam Ballard(Robert Duvall) along with his fellow agents continue their pursuit of the four men(played by Steve Inhat, Lee Pollack, James Frawley, and Ivan Dixon) all soldiers who have been chosen by an alien intelligence to complete an important project that they can't explain or stop themselves from completing. Things have taken a more definite turn as it is learned that six children, all afflicted with one physical malady or another, are being taken to a newly built spaceship for transport to an unknown alien planet, and the question is if it is for good or evil purposes... Excellent conclusion to this compelling story continues the fine performances, script, and direction, all leading to a truly poignant, beautifully realized ending.
Robert Duvall stars as a government agent named Adam Ballard who has been assigned to a most peculiar case: Four men(played by Steve Inhat, Dee Pollack, James Frawley, and Ivan Dixon), all soldiers, have been shot in the head during an ongoing Asian war, but have survived. The bullets used in all four cases were manufactured from meteorite fragments that have somehow healed their bodies, and given them a secondary brain wave pattern that has given them increased intelligence and an inexplicable drive to complete a project that Adam believes is for sinister alien purposes, but the fact remains that no one has been hurt, or any laws broken, so why the pursuit? Excellent episode with fine acting, intelligent script and smooth direction. First of two parts.
The first manned expedition to Mars has successfully landed, and the two-man crew explores the surface of the planet when something goes horribly wrong, and all contact is lost. Three years later, Earth tries again, this time sending a four-man crew to re-investigate, when tragedy strikes again, and two more men are lost. Major Merritt(played by Adam West) and Captain Jack Buckley(played by Rudy Solari) discover the true nature of the mystery, voracious sand sharks that may prevent them taking off again...Paper thin story with outdated science(an atmosphere on Mars?) still manages to be entertaining on a Halloween-viewing level. Not to be taken seriously of course, but watchable.
The Outer Limits: Wolf 359 (1964)
Patrick O'Neal stars as scientist John Meredith, who has managed to build an enclosed miniaturized clone of a planet in the nearby star system of Wolf 359. He seeds it with human DNA in an effort to speed up the planet's evolution, roughly 1 second equals eleven minutes Earth time. The experiment appears to be a success until a mysterious ghost-bat like creature emerges, striking fear in his wife(played by Sara Shane) and his colleagues, before finally coming after him. Just what is the creature, and what does it want? Ambitious story here, with some big scientific and philosophical ideas at work, though dramatically it isn't as compelling as it should be, with too little action. Still worthwhile though.
The Outer Limits: I, Robot (1964)
Of Robots and Men
Howard Da Silva stars as a cynical lawyer named Thurman Cutler who is contacted by an equally cynical newspaperman named Judson Ellis(played by Leonard Nimoy) on behalf of a young woman(played by Mariana Hill) whose inventor uncle was killed in his laboratory, and the blame has fallen on a robot he created named Adam who has been captured, and is due for destruction. Cutler gets the robot a trial, but a guilty verdict seems like a foregone conclusion in the unscientific community it occurred in. Can Adam be saved, or at least redeemed? Interesting story about robotic rights vs. human fears works reasonably well, with a fittingly ironic end.
The Outer Limits: Cry of Silence (1964)
Failure To Communicate
Eddie Albert and June Havoc star as Andy and Karen Thorne, a married couple driving along a desert highway trying to find Wild Canyon Road, but instead stumble upon strange phenomena like tumbleweeds or boulders moving of their own volition, even a large group of frogs seem to want to attack them, though the timely arrival of a seemingly friendly farmer named Lamont(played by Arthur Hunnicutt) enables them to escape to his farm, though it is there that they discover that a mysterious alien force is desperately trying to communicate with them, but why? Unpopular episode is really not bad at all, creating a genuinely eerie atmosphere in its isolated locale. Dramatically it never really pays off, but that failure to communicate is cleverly remarked upon. The three-person cast (especially Albert)is fine at least. Worth another look.
Robert Culp stars as Trent, a man who awakened ten days ago with no prior memory of who he is, or what's going on, other than that he has a computerized glass hand that gives him limited information, and he is being chased by strange looking humans who turn out to be invading aliens from the future who are seeking the glass hand which is missing three fingers that they have possession of, and will tell them where the 70 billion missing future humans are when attached, which it turns out is closer than anyone realizes... Atmospheric episode with a fine performance by Culp maintains viewer interest throughout, with some ingenious ideas, though the aliens look distressingly shabby! Still memorable regardless, with a striking ending.