Tag Archives: Dan Gordon

Rambo: Last Blood (2019, Adrian Grunberg)

Sitting and reflecting on Rambo: Last Blood and the franchise’s thirty-seven year legacy, the best idea of the fixing the film is probably just to have Sylvester Stallone do a bunch of shots training horses. He seems really good with them. And he doesn’t seem really good at anything in Last Blood. It’s a far less physical Rambo for Stallone, who seems far less interested in being a septuagenarian action star than quickly turning around corners after the villains end up in his traps. There’s one big physical action sequence for Stallone though; he seems able enough. Just the script doesn’t offer any good action possibilities and director Grunberg is incompetent.

Last Blood is a film with limited possibilities. It’s not like Rambo is a great part with a lot of potential. He’s a pretty generic Stallone protagonist here. He’s still got PTSD, which Last Blood showcases with hilariously bad flashback newsreel footage because no one in the film’s post-production departments care about their dignity. Maybe they all used pseudonyms. Doesn’t matter, because the flashback footage goes away, along with when Stallone gets visual flashes when he’s out being Rambo (in a Mexican night club), and then never shows up after a doctor warns he’s got a concussion. Because Last Blood isn’t just bad—it’s boringly bad. Grunberg’s really, really, really bad. Stallone and Matthew Cirulnick’s script is frequently dumb, then dumber. Lots of bad things happen because Stallone doesn’t operate with forethought. So when he eventually plans how his enemies are going to attack him so he can set traps to ensnare them… well, he didn’t have that ability for forethought earlier.

The movie’s real simple. Stallone’s living on his childhood ranch, training horses, with fellow old person housekeeper Adriana Barraza and her granddaughter, Yvette Monreal. Stallone’s “Uncle John Rambo” and just wishes Monreal would spend her life training horses with him instead of going off to college. She’s really smart, even though her father left the family after the mom died. Oh, and he was physically abusive. Apparently to a dying wife (Last Blood has a lot of problems with its timeline; again, the script’s dumb). Barraza and Stallone ought to be cute together. With a sitcom intern doing a script polish and someone who could competently direct a soap opera, there would be potential with the setup. But it would take someone to write a character for Stallone to play; after thirty-seven years of Rambo as a caricature, what if we got a real character in the last movie?

We’ll never know because Last Blood’s Rambo is pretty thin. He’s also terrible at monologues. In trying to prove there’s room for a septuagenarian Rambo, Last Blood shows why there’s not. Then again, maybe if Grunberg weren’t so terrible, the movie would be better.

Anyway.

Things go wrong when Monreal goes to find her dad, ignoring Stallone and Barraza’s advice. Monreal could be good; Grunberg doesn’t know how to direct his actors and she needs direction, but she’s at least sympathetic. Sympathy isn’t exactly weakness in Last Blood, but it’s pointless. Politically, Last Blood is interestingly hands off. The wall is a failure, but because it’s a fool’s errand. As far as bad hombres… well, Last Blood makes the case every single woman living in Mexico should be granted asylum. There are also some other odd spots, like when Stallone wishes he never became Rambo and hadn’t enlisted. Also when he tells Monreal everyone in the world’s bad and she’s sheltered and she needs to not go to Mexico to find her dad but, it’s okay if she does, because her uncle has a very particular set of skills he has acquired over a very long career.

And Monreal goes through a lot. With considerable dignity since Grunberg’s so crappy. Last Blood’s never scary. Not even when good people are in danger. Sometimes because of how Grunberg and not good editors Carsten Kurpanek and Todd E. Miller cut the scene, sometimes because of how Stallone and Cirulnick’s write the scene, sometimes just because Grunberg can’t figure out how to do an establishing shot. Technically, Last Blood is rather crappy. The editors, Grunberg, Brian Tyler’s score is godawful; but it’s Brendan Galvin’s photography. Galvin’s not good. Grunberg’s awful but he’s awful with bad cinematography. It’s a mundane ugly but it’s an ugly.

Because Last Blood, Stallone seems to think, is a Western. Based on the script, based on his performance, it’s a Western. Set in Arizona. And Mexico. And Stallone has a farm house and trains horses and on and on. It ought to be simple to do some Western. Grunberg can’t. Because he’s awful.

There’s also the whole thing with Stallone building an intricate tunnel system and living in it, going up to hang out with Barraza, Monreal, and the horses, but otherwise he lives in the tunnel system under his family farm, which ought to be an uncomfortable statement on Vietnam vets, but isn’t because Last Blood’s got jack to do with Stallone as Rambo as veteran. It’s really, really, really weird.

The other thing about doing a Last Rambo? Stallone’s always been interesting because he’s grown as filmmaker, his ambitions have changed, matured, developed. Last Blood doesn’t come off like a passion project or a personal ambition. Even though, after the first batch of end credits roll, you do have to wonder if Stallone tinkered with the end, which is what got Kirk Douglas to walk on the first movie, or if they always planned on a stupid twist. It’s hard to say, because so much of it is stupid. Also… doesn’t matter.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Adrian Grunberg; screenplay by Matthew Cirulnick and Sylvester Stallone, based on a story by Dan Gordon and Stallone and on the character created by David Morrell; director of photography, Brendan Galvin; edited by Carsten Kurpanek and Todd E. Miller; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Franco-Giacomo Carbone; produced by Avi Lerner, Yariv Lerner, Kevin King Templeton, and Les Weldon; released by Lionsgate.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (John), Yvette Monreal (Gabrielle), Adriana Barraza (Maria), Óscar Jaenada (Victor Martinez), Sergio Peris-Mencheta (Hugo Martínez), Fenessa Pineda (Jizzel), and Paz Vega (Carmen Delgado).


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Jungle Drums (1943, Dan Gordon)

Sitting through the first third of Jungle Drums, I kept hoping the cartoon would keep the African natives in silhouette. I had zero confidence they wouldn’t do some racist caricature and, at least in silhouette, there would be specifics. The natives do get out of silhouette and they are racist caricatures, but… at least there’s no real activity from the natives? It could be a lot worse. The cartoon could go two streams of racist, it just goes one. Yay?

So the story is these Nazis are pretending to be… witch doctors or something? They hide their identities by wearing white robes. Yes, that kind of white robe. Lois (Joan Alexander) and Clark (Bud Collyer) are in Africa for some reason, each taking an individual ride with a pilot to somewhere. Doesn’t matter. Lois’s plane crashes. She gets captured, tied to a stake, burned alive. Lois takes long enough to burn (she just passes out from the heat) Clark can save her. He’s not worried about his pilot seeing him change into his long johns after parachuting out with no warning.

Then it’s Superman versus Nazis in white robes. Then Hitler’s in it.

The setup of the temple–while the natives are silhouetted–is visually striking. The rest of it is less. Orestes Calpini and H.C. Ellison’s animation is mostly competent, Gordon’s direction just isn’t compelling. He does all right with exposition and lead-up, but has very few ideas once the action starts.

Though maybe it’s because the action is more about bombers and conveys and upset Hitler than Superman?

Jungle Drums is an object lesson in the perils of propaganda media. Though Alexander does almost get a good part. When the Nazis are interrogating her, it seems like it might go somewhere good. Unfortunately, it goes to pot.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Dan Gordon; screenplay by Robert Little and Jay Morton, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Orestes Calpini and H.C. Ellison; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), Julian Noa (German Commander), and Jack Mercer (Lt. Fleming); narrated by Jackson Beck.


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Eleventh Hour (1942, Dan Gordon)

While Eleventh Hour posits Superman as some kind of American war hero–he’s in Yokohama doing all sorts of damage, usually to ships–the cartoon actually portrays him as a big doofus who’s more lucky than anything else.

Clark (Bud Collyer) and Lois (Joan Alexander) are under house arrest. In a hotel. In Yokohama. Almost a year after Pearl Harbor. With no explanation. There’s sabotage going on, which is confusing the Japanese soldiers (personified with some exceptionally racist caricatures), and Lois thinks it might be Superman. Of course, the viewer knows it’s Superman because Hour’s already shown him sneaking back into Clark’s hotel room (and replacing the window bars).

Lois and Clark have been talking through their adjoining wall, with Clark apparently always getting back just in time to answer her questions about the latest act of sabotage. But then one night, knowing she’s looking out her window for Superman, Superman flies past. And she knocks on the wall to tell Clark only a guard gets her. So they post signs about how she’ll be executed following Superman’s next act of sabotage. She’s a hostage.

They post the signs everywhere.

Only Superman doesn’t pay any attention to them. Not when he goes out the next night, not when he’s Clark Kent during the day (presumably). Next night, Superman blows up a ship or something and gets trapped under some steel beams because he’s actually really bad at understanding… gravity? So when the Japanese are about to execute Lois, he’s just lifting himself out and reading the sign for the first time.

Even for wartime propaganda, Eleventh Hour is pretty dumb. Willard Bowsky and William Henning’s animation isn’t particularly good either. Ditto Gordon’s direction. Though Gordon does understand iconic shots, he just can’t pace them or make them work in the context of the cartoon.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Dan Gordon; screenplay by Carl Meyer and Bill Turner, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Willard Bowsky and William Henning; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), and Jack Mercer (Japanese soldiers); narrated by Jackson Beck.


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The Magnetic Telescope (1942, Dave Fleischer)

The Magnetic Telescope is about a power-mad astronomer who builds an observatory with a giant magnet on top so he can attract meteors and comets to the Earth for further study. The device, in attracting meteors, is an obvious public safety issue but the astronomer doesn’t care. He’s willing to let thousands die so he can observe a comet.

The cops try to stop him, but he locks himself in and they have to try to destroy the giant magnet’s supporting machinery. They do, but it then means the astronomer can’t control the comet he’s brought to Earth. So he does a run for it.

Lois (Joan Alexander) is the only reporter covering the story. The cops aren’t very worried about her. She ends up trapped. Luckily, when Clark Kent (Bud Collyer) takes a cab over to save her, a fragment of the comet hits the cab and he decides to save the day as Superman. Though his plan isn’t initially much brighter than hitting the comet, which both times knocks him out.

Magnetic is too visually tepid to be exciting. The animation is rushed and lacks detail, the story is weak. Weak might actually be a compliment. The comet fragments hitting the city sequence is all boring–there’s a definite lack of detail throughout, but when not even the set pieces get any attention, well… then there’s nothing to Magnetic Telescope.

The end “it’s all thanks to Superman” tag would almost be amusing if Clark weren’t such a wet blanket. It’s hard to get excited about a Superman too dense to know he can’t stop a comet–and he appears to fly towards it, not jump–not to mention when Clark takes a cab to help possibly mortally injured Lois.

Magnetic it ain’t. But who knows what better animation would’ve done for it.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Dave Fleischer; screenplay by Dan Gordon and Carl Meyer, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Thomas Moore and Myron Waldman; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; produced by Max Fleischer; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman/Mad Astronomer), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), and Julian Noa (Perry White); narrated by Jackson Beck.


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