*MOVIE RECAP: RAMBO — LAST BLOOD

Sad to say, I was disappointed with Rambo: Last Blood.

The previous installment of the Rambo franchise (Rambo IV, 2008) was as perfect as an action movie can be — it was brutal, entertaining, and fun. I still remember how excited I was when I walked out of the movie theater when I saw it back in ‘08… I said to myself: “Rambo is Back!!

Rambo: Last Blood is nowhere near where I envisioned the Rambo franchise going after the final scene of Rambo IV — where Rambo seems to finally make it back home, as he walks up to a farm with the name Rambo on the mailbox….. Man, I was excited about the possibilities of future films and how they could bring this iconic character into a full circle. David Morrell, the author of the 1972 First Blood novel (from which the Rambo character originates), has been vocal regarding his discontent with this latest installment. Morrell wrote on Twitter: “I agree with these Rambo: Last Blood reviews. The film is a mess. Embarrassed to have my name associated with it.”

That quote says it all, folks.

But here is the thing….. Sylvester Stallone is an excellent writer — Sly is the same person who wrote Rocky (1976), First Blood (1982), Rocky Balboa (2006), and Rambo (2008). All those films had excellent dialogue and solid storylines — which is why it is extremely hard to find any redeemable qualities in Rambo: Last Blood — it is almost unwatchable.

I did enjoy some aspects of this movie, like the tunnel action sequences; they reminded me of the tunnel sequences from Rambo III, which is a movie that most people don’t like, but not me; I enjoyed it. The classic Rambo score shows up, and it was cool to hear it pop-up in crucial moments of the movie.

The backstory of Rambo’s adopted family is never fully explained; We assume he inherits the horse ranch from his family, and he has an adopted niece, Gabrielle (Yvette Montreal); her family backstory and connection to Rambo is barely mentioned.

The Casting of excellent Spanish-speaking actors was a waste of their talents. Paz Vega is one of my favorite Spanish cinema actors (everybody should watch Sex and Lucia, 2003). Her character Carmen had a compelling backstory that never gets any traction.

The human trafficking Martinez brothers, played by Spaniards Sergio Peris-Mencheta (Life Itself, 2018), and Oscar Jaenada (Cantinflas, 2014), are way over the top with their lackluster dialogue and cruelty. A waste of their talent.

The more significant issue here is the negative portrayal of Mexicans, immigrants, and Hispanic people in general. At its core, it sends a message that most Mexicans are criminals, and it is very inflammatory considering the current negative political anti-immigrant sentiment.

Everything this movie shows you in Mexico is terrible. The depiction of Mexico and Mexicans is horrendous.

All in all, this movie doesn’t feel like a Rambo film. It has no heart and has no meaningful message to deliver — and, of all five Rambo films — Rambo: Last Blood is the least impressive one.

Two out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿

Rambo: Last Blood (2019).

*Redskins 2020 NFL Draft

Another NFL Draft has come and gone, and my dear beloved Redskins had a solid, thoughtful, and productive draft. 

We had the #2 overall pick…. and, well, we picked Chase Young, but more on him later.

This was not a normal draft — Roger Goddell called out the picks from his home — it was the strangest draft ever, I was not expecting much, but they pulled it off very well. Kudos to the NFL.

The Cincinnati Bengals did the right thing in drafting Joe Burrow with the #1 overall pick. 

The Miami Dolphins drafting Tua and using their other picks to build around him was smart. I think Miami has finally found the right coach in Brian Flores with whom to build something special for years to come. 

The Green Bay Packers drafting Jordan Love was the shocker of the first round. The story repeats itself; echoes of 2005 when the Packers drafted Aaron Rodgers, whose draft stock was plummeting from possibly being selected as one of the top overall picks — to end up getting drafted at #25 overall by Green Bay. Even though Bret Favre was still considered to be in his prime….drafting a quarterback that high sends a weird message. It is evident to me that a decision has been made to begin the process of replacing Rodgers. 

And for the Redskins….

We didn’t draft a quarterback this year, which doesn’t really mean much, and It seems that the coaching staff are all in on Haskins, or at least for the next season, but expect Kyle Allen to push him hard. 

This was not a good draft for Tight Ends, and we did not draft any this year to replace Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis, but we did end up signing Thaddeus Moss as an undrafted free agent TE from LSU, (Randy Moss is his father)….. Don’t know much about Moss — all I know is that he had some issues staying healthy, but all his coaches raved about him. So, we shall see how he fares. 

Trent Williams was finally traded to the 49ers for a 5th round pick this year and a 3rd in 2021 — Reuniting him with Kyle Shanahan. I wanted us to get two picks out of Trent for this 2020 draft. Maybe a 3rd and a 4th this year and a 3rd in 2021 — or a 4th and a 5th rounder this year and a 3rd next year. I felt like we gave up a Pro Bowl elite tackle for peanuts, but at least this whole trade drama is over, and it will not be looming around and clouding training camp (if there is one), or the season for that matter. 

All in all, we made thoughtful picks, and it seems the front-office, including Head Coach Ron Rivera and our unofficial GM Kyle Smith, were on the same page, which has not been the norm for many years around Redskins Park.

Here is a quick breakdown on the Redskins 2020 NFL Draft:

1st round

#2 overall-Chase Young DE Ohio State: The second year in a row that we took an Ohio state player in the first round, and they are both from the DC area. Young is considered to be an immediate impact player. For what is worth, we should be an elite defense, based on all the first-rounders and young talented players we currently have on our defense. 

2nd round: We had ZERO picks

3rd Round

#66 Overall-Antonio Gibson RB Memphis: Listed as a running back, but runs routes like a receiver — I heard Kyle Smith was hight on Gibson. This pick is very intriguing, especially knowing how Scott Turner used McCaffrey in Carolina, He is joining a crowded and very talented backfield with Adrian Peterson, Derrius Guice, JD Makkisic and Bryce Love

4th Round

#108 Overall-Saahdiq Charles OT LSU: It looks to be a depth pick and a developmental player. 

#142 Overall-Antonio Gandy-Golden WR Liberty: He was highly rated. He seems to physically fit what the Redskins were looking for in terms of receiver. TV talking heads were also high on him but thought he fell to the 4th round because this draft was loaded with receivers.  

5th Round

#156 Overall-Keith Ismael C San Diego State (Trent Williams pick): This is another depth and developmental pick. Offensive line depth issues have plagued us for multiple seasons, and it seems we are finally starting to address those issues in this draft. 

#162 overall-Khaleesi Hudson OLB Michigan: This is another depth and developmental pick with special teams in mind. 

6th round:  We had ZERO picks

7th Round

#216 Overall-Kamrem Curl S Arkansas: Safety and special teams depth. 

#229 Overall-James Smith-Williams DE North Carolina State: This is another depth and developmental pick. We must have Defensive End depth in case we lose Ryan Kerrigan next season. 

*TV Series Recap: HIS DARK MATERIALS (Season 1)

Yay for His Dark Materials. I had lots of fun binging through the entire first season. Although the first two episodes, at first, can be tough to watch, unless you are familiar with the sourcebook series. Mainly because there is a lot of exposition going on — lots of information and lots of moving parts are thrown at you pretty fast, so you have to stay focused — and believe me, this show is worth investing your time. By the third episode, I was all in.

It’s the story of Lyra, played by Dafne keen, who was excellent in Logan (2017), and she is excellent here also. Lyra was dropped off for safekeeping at Jordan College by her uncle (Lord Asriel, played by James McAvoy). The characters do not share our reality; they live in an alternate-parallel world much different than our own. This world’s technology seems outdated, like they are stuck in the Edwardian era before the First World War. There are some portals or gateways that connect this world to our current modern world, but there are only a few handful of people who know where those doorways are located. This parallel reality is ruled by an oppressive religious fascist-like regime called The Magisterium. The plot centers around Lyra’s backstory and the mysterious disappearance of children, including Lyra’s best friend, Roger.

In the first two episodes, we get a look into Lyra’s life at Jordan College, and we meet her best friend Roger (Lewin Lloyd). We are introduced to Daemons; creatures who serve as a companion to a child and takes the form of an animal — they can switch to any animal form it desires at will. When a child reaches their teenage years, the Daemon settles into a final animal form — and they remain with their human companion for their entire life.

We also meet the Gyptians; A group of nomadic people who share similar characteristics with Gypsies. They are portrayed as the poor and under-class people of this world. They have their unique way of life and are shown to be a hardworking, honorable, and dignified group of people. Gyptian children are also being taken away, and they take matters into their own hands to find their missing children.

From the third episode on, things get progressively darker as more truths about Lyra are revealed. Lyra’s storyline is full of perils, obstacles, and magical adventures. There are many moving parts in the storytelling here — from the magical, fairy tale type of world, these characters inhabit to the grim and dark aspects of the same world.

Dafne Keen-Lyra Belacqua

The casting was excellent. Roger was a scene-stealer, and Dafne keen is at a whole other level capturing the child-like essence and maturity of Lyra. Ma Costa, played by Anne-Marie Duff, delivered a touching and moving performance. Ruth Wilson is terrific as Mrs. Coulter — capturing her morally ambiguous character exceptionally. Lín Manuel Miranda, as Lee scorsby, had a bit of a Han Solo vibe, but from the stand-alone Solo movie. They need to develop this character and his relationship with Lyra a little better next season, but I did enjoy his performance here.

Game of Thrones fans should recognize James Cosmo, who played Jeor Mormont: Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch — playing Farder Coram, an essential and influential leader type figure with the Gyptians. James McAvoy is always great in anything he is in, and he is great here also. His portrayal of the Lord Asriel character is remarkable. At first, you are not really sure where he stands in the story, his indifference and coldness towards Lyra is off-putting, and McAvoy captures this character brilliantly.

His Dark Materials Season 1 is a well-written adaptation by Jack Thorne (who also wrote the stage play for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child). The blending of action sequences and CGI worked well for me with the combination of compelling characters, and top-notch performances. I heard season 2 was shot simultaneously as season 1, so I assume season 2 will drop early next year. 

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

HIS DARK MATERIALS (Season 1-Streaming on HBO)

*TV Series Recap: The Dublin Murders (Season 1)

Man, what a treat it was to watch the first season of The Dublin Murders

Based on the Dublin Murders Squad book series by Tana French, specifically the first two books in the series: In the woods and The Likeness. Brilliantly adapted for T.V. by Sara Phelps, who is mostly known for adapting Agatha Christie’s A.B.C. detective series for the B.B.C., and the well-received T.V. adaptation of J. K Rowling’s Casual Vacancy.

The Dublin Murders (Streaming on STARZ)

The story revolves around the murder of a young girl in the woods, and the connection between this most recent murder and an old unsolved mystery regarding the disappearance of two kids in the same woods back to 1985. It is essentially a murder mystery within another mystery, and they are all interlinked. Bringing those two books to create a cohesive story is remarkable. The lead actors are super compelling. Excellent casting of Killian Scott (Detective Rob Reilly), and Sarah Greene (Detective Cassie Maddox); there is immediate chemistry between the two leads from the moment they show up on the screen.

Outstanding performance by Leah McNamara (Rosalind Devlin), she is an actor to keep an eye on future roles.

Most Game of Thrones fans should recognize the actor who played Varys (Conleth Hill), playing O’Kelly, a no-nonsense Captain of the Homicide squad, and he is fantastic on this show also.

The Dublin Murders is incredibly well executed in terms of quality; I admire the way it was shot, the tone and the color palettes capturing the atmosphere, the perverse and nastiness of the world the characters inhabit. Its dark, brutal, unnerving, eerie, but very human.

Audiences are hungry for engaging shows like The Dublin Murders, the type of elaborate shows that require your full attention. You cannot be distracted or be on your phone watching this show. You have to pay attention to everything going on. It is telling you in every scene to follow along, and you’ll know what is going on. It doesn’t dumb things down, its respectful to the audience. Can’t wait for season 2.

Five out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿

The Dublin Murders (Streaming on STARZ)

*Movie Recap: A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls (2016)

A Monster Call is the story of a young boy named Conor, played by Lewis MacDougal, who is coming to terms with his mother’s terminal illness. Conor is a very sad, lonely kid who gets bullied at school but has a wild imagination, which prompts one evening at exactly 12:07 for a monster to come calling. The monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) takes the form of a giant yew tree. The Monster tells Conor that he will return four times, and on each visit, he will tell Conor a story. However, on the fourth visit Conor must tell him a story of his own. Conor’s mom Lizzie (Felicity Jones), is undergoing some type of cancer treatment which is not yielding optimistic results. Sigourney Weaver plays Conor’s strict grandmother, who is trying to prep Conor for a potential life without his mother.

Based on a young adult novel of the same name by Patrick Ness, who also wrote the screenplay — Directed beautifully by J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage, 2007-The Impossible, 2012), A Monster Calls its an emotional viewing experience that will remind audiences of Pan’s Labyrinth. It has a gothic tone and feel, plus the combination of standard CGI with the animated side stories worked well, which was a nice contrast to the live-action sequences. The climatic graveyard scene was spectacular.

In many ways, this film hit home for me, as someone who is still dealing with the grieving process of losing a parent.

Its all about letting go—about grief, pain, forgiveness, and imagination; those are the central themes of this movie. Films that deal with heavy emotional content have difficulty achieving the high marks A Monster Calls manages to achieve. This film will touch you.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

A Monster Calls (2016)

*Movie Recap: On Chesil Beach

Here is another film that left me perplexed…. in a good way.

On Chesil Beach is a love story but not a traditional love story. It follows a young couple freshly married on their wedding trip to a hotel by the beach. They both seem nervous and anxious around each other, which we assume is because they have never been intimate before. Their story is told through flashbacks to their earlier lives before they met.

Florence (Saoirse Ronan) comes from an affluential family. Edward (Billy Howle) comes from a working-class family. She is a musician, and he is an aspiring historian who wants to write a book about historical figures who have been ignored or not given enough attention and not enough praise for their contributions. They both seem full of ambition and hope for their future — a typical characteristic of idealistic young people. However, at the hotel, amid their wedding night, is when everything falls apart for this young couple.

On Chesil Beach is based on a novella of the same name by Ian McEwan, who also wrote the screenplay. The book was a big deal when it first came out, and it was shortlisted for the booker prize. I was working as a bookseller for Barnes & Noble when the book was released in 2007, and I remember how popular it was back then. The book was much shorter than the usual Ian McEwan novel, still, it was a well-received book and sold great.

On Chesil Beach (2017)

Directed by Dominic Cooke, who makes his feature film directorial debut, and manages to create a thought-provoking, moving adaptation. Most notably, in the tone of the movie, capturing the awkward situation in the hotel room. Their difficulty with intimacy, the silent moments. The visual language expressing repressed feelings and emotions held within them. The terrible looking food they have to eat, the suitcases on the bed. All those little details were great. The unpleasant hotel room sex scene was well done; it was executed thoughtfully and not comical.

The film moves from the 1960s to the 70s, and concludes in 2007, it is never easy to move through time periods with the same actors using makeup and prosthetics, but all the time shifts worked well for me. The film vaguely alludes that her father abused Florence. It leaves the audience wondering whether she was sexually assaulted or there was some form of abuse, but we never really get those answers.

Tragedy and regret are what essentially is at the heart of this film—the meaning of love, and how decisions made in an instant can last a lifetime. On Chesil Beach is an ambitious adaptation that follows the source material faithfully, except for its ending, which is a perfect example of why I love cinema.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

*Movie Recap: The Happy Prince

The Happy Prince (2018, Sony Pictures Classic)

The Happy Prince is the story of Oscar Wilde in exile — it is essentially a death bed movie. The film recreates the final period of Wilde’s life – Living his last few years like a tragic vagabond, penniless, walking the streets, hustling for a drink. Surrounded by street hustlers and petty thieves, shone by the same public who at one time celebrated his genius—living on a small allowance from his Wife’s state. Cast out from his family and the world. He has to resort to using a fake name to check into hotels since the Wilde name has now become a controversial name all over the world. Oscar Wilde was a victim of the victorian era morality act, charged, and imprisoned for gross indecency in 1895. And although he finally received a posthumous pardon in 2017, the fact remains that this archaic law utterly destroyed his life and career.

Nevertheless, Oscar Wilde has a small circle of friends that still support him and expect him to write again. The film title of Happy Prince comes from a children’s book of the same name that Wilde wrote in 1888. The title of this movie, in a way, becomes a sort of bridge to his family, and the family he adopts during his exile. Both families cherished Wilde’s storytelling abilities, and that is beautifully protrayed in this movie.

Writer, director, and star of this movie Rupert Everett delivers a passionate performance. The Happy Prince is a complete triumph for Everett’s determination to make this movie, considering all the obstacles holding back production and the years it took to make this film a reality. And above everything else, this film establishes Ruppert Everett not only as an excellent actor, but also a gifted writer and a very talented director who should continue to write and direct more films. I found myself captivated by this movie.

Three of out Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

*Movie Recap: The Captain (Der Hauptmann)

The Captain (2017)

The Captain is based on the true story of Willi Herold, a German soldier who is on the run for deserting, and by chance, runs into an abandoned military vehicle where he finds a German Air Force Captain’s uniform. Herold puts on the uniform and encounters another soldier (Reinhard Freitag, played brilliantly by Milan Peschel). Freitag has been separated from his company and joins up with the impostor Herold, who claims to be on a secret mission from the Furher himself to seek out war deserters and evaluate morale and loyalty to the Third Reich. They pick up drifter soldiers along the way, looting and murdering as they make their way into a Nazi camp full of Jewish prisoners and deserters.

The officers at the German camp are suspicious of Herold’s credentials. Still, they go along with the phony officer. The apparent lack of oversight over Herold’s actions will end up serving in favor of all those Nazi camp officers’, especially, with regards to their lack of ethics towards the prisoners. Max Hubacher delivers a chilling and perverse performance of a murdering evil, sociopath that believes he has the moral high ground to commit all sorts of atrocities.

Written and directed by Robert Schwenkte (R.I.P.D. 2013, The Time Traveler’s Wife, ’09). Schwenkte is a director mostly known for commercially driven Hollywood movies like The Divergent series. Those series of movies are an ocean apart from The Captain as you can possibly imagine. Shot entirely in black and white, which I’m sure was influenced by Schindler’s ListThe Captain is a movie that haunts you long after it is over and makes you reflect upon the darkness of humanity. 

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

*Movie Recap: The Bookshop

One of the uniquely strange benefits of this lockdown is that I finally have the time to catch up with interesting and lovely films like this one.

The Bookshop based on a Penelope Fitzgerald novel of the same name. The film is about Florence Green (Emily Mortimer), a young widower following her dream to own a bookshop. She buys an old house in a small village in England and proceeds to transform the old house into a bookshop. Isabel Coixet (Elegy, 2008), wrote and directed this lovely film. Although light on plot, it still works fine just the way it is. The performances are excellent, full of interesting characters typical of a small European town.

The Bookshop (2017)

The always excellent Bill Nighy Plays Mr. Brundish, a grumpy yet lovable hermit who spends his days of isolation and solitude reading anything Ms. Green recommends and sends his way. Florence introduces Mr. Brundish to new and noteworthy authors like Ray Bradbury and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. Which as a former bookseller myself, I found those scenes to be very moving. Patricia Clarkson plays Violet Gamart, the local socialite set against the idea of a bookshop in the old house, and is determined to get rid of Florence at any cost. But the scene-stealer in this film is young Christine, played by Honor Kneafsey. Christine works at the bookstore as the one and only employee and quickly becomes an essential part of the bookstore operations.

There is much narration throughout this movie, which I enjoy. I’m a big fan of narration in films. But all in all, if you love literature, and stories set in English villages, then you will find The Bookshop to be quite enjoyable.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

The Bookshop (2017, Now Streaming)