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Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

When her husband dies in a terrible car accident, Libby’s life falls apart. Her two young daughters give her the reason to continue. She packs up the minivan and moves out to the country in Central Texas, where her aunt runs a struggling goat farm.  She offers her room and board in exchange for help on the farm.

The kids adapt to life in the country quickly, but it’s harder for Libby. There are secrets in her family, and her overbearing mother and her aunt aren’t exactly helping her uncover her past. There is also a cantankerous farm manager who does the work around the farm, teaches the girls some very practical skills and slowly gets Libby’s attention as well.

The Lost Husband is a story of life’s hard knocks in contemporary rural Texas, where life on the farm is everything, and where city slickers are frowned upon.

The movie is an adaptation of the book The Lost Husband by Katherine Center. I have not read the book, but saw some reviews that state that the movie follows the book closely. It’s a feel-good family movie, with something for everyone, but it does not go too deep. A lot of reviewers on IMDb gave it 10 out of 10 stars, which seems strange to me. The Lost Husband has some of the feeling and sentiment of Fried Green Tomatoes, but it’s no Fried Green Tomatoes.

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Timestalkers is a time travel science fiction flick of the worst kind. Surprisingly, it was made in 1987, and I thought it was more like 1967. I watched it because I could not sleep the other night after midnight, so I got up and flipped through the channels and Amazon Prime thought I’d be interested in this.

Scott (Willam Devane) is a history professor in California in 1986 and an Old West aficionado. He likes to go to auctions and pick up antiques and curiosity items from the 19th century. He comes across a photo from 1886 where he notices a handgun that appears to be an anachronism.  Through his research he attracts a woman (Lauren Hutton) who eventually turns out to be a time traveler from the year 2586. She is on a mission to stop another rogue scientist from her time (Klaus Kinski) who is back in the Old West trying to change history. As the two battle, Scott is drawn into the conflict, resulting in a shootout at a robbery of a stage coach that carries U.S. President Grover Cleveland.

Timestalkers is bad from the credits on and all the way though. The acting is terrible and the story lame. Obviously, they didn’t have the special effects we are used to now in movies, so the time travel episodes and scenes are hokey and annoying.

There is nothing of value here, nothing that adds to the genre of time travel stories or movies, and definitely nothing you want to devote an hour an 40 minutes to, unless of course, it’s after midnight, you can’t sleep, and you’re a time travel buff like me.

 

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I didn’t know what The Old Guard was about when I started watching it. For the first half hour I was completely confused and I was not able to follow the plot. I was close to turning it off when it finally came around.

Andy (Charlize Theron) leads a group of highly trained fighters and mercenaries who have obviously worked together for a long time. They only take on jobs that are for the good of mankind, or so it seems. What is odd about them is that they are immortal. They get shot or stabbed, and literally, within minutes they start healing rapidly, get up and fight right on. They are the ultimate weapon. Nobody knows how and why they have this gift and why it works. They also have a telepathic connection, where they sometimes can feel and see each other’s dreams.

When a pharma tycoon finds out about them, he sets a trap to capture them in order to study them and hopefully extract the secret of immortality. Suddenly their mission is not to save someone else, but it’s to get themselves out of the clutches of the murderous scientist who will stop at nothing to get his will.

The Old Guard has a slow start and is characterized by extreme violence and brutality. At times it feels like a video game rather than a movie. The plot is complex and confusing. When I was done watching, I felt like watching it again to appreciate it more and fill in the many blanks. The end sets it up nicely for a sequel.

 

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Nick is a young scientist who has always been obsessed with building a time machine. He was first in his class in high school, went on to study physics and lives in a modern house in the suburbs in Michigan. His focus is on his job, and he neglects his friends, and most importantly, Jess, his wife. She has stood with him and supported him through five years of courtship and another seven years of marriage, when by 2019, she has had enough. She leaves him, and the day she serves him with the divorce papers, she also brings a box of stuff that belongs to him.

Most notably, it contains a pocket watch she gave him on their 5th anniversary of their relationship, the day he had proposed to her. That’s the watch he’s holding up on the movie poster above. When she brings it back to him along with the divorce papers, he calls it “junk” since it hardly works, they get into an argument, and she smashes it with a hammer before she leaves the house .

That very night, federal agents from the Department of Energy bust into his house, act like they’re going to arrest him, and eventually make him an offer to buy his time machine. It’s not clear how they knew it was working, and it’s also not clear how Nick would be so obtuse about that fact with his wife, who has spent years of her life supporting him in this quest. Eventually, he leads the feds down into his basement. The lead agent is Dr. Kent, a physicist who, upon seeing the time machine, seems to immediately understand how it works, and within minutes Nick and Kent are on their way seven years into the past.

Through some amazing coincidence, they arrive in his basement seven years earlier just before his anniversary party, to which he has invited some of his friends and sister, without telling his wife, because he wants to mark the occasion by proposing marriage to her with his friends present. The arrival of the time travelers pops the breakers in his house in the basement, and Nick from seven years ago comes down to check on what’s going on. Nick meets Nick, and things get complicated fast after that.

Let me just say that the busted pocket watch serves a plot need, similar to how the watch in the classic time travel movie Somewhere in Time made us all marvel: where did the watch come from?

Making Time is a cute time travel movie, but the acting is sophomoric, the plot silly and oversimplified, and the entire story is therefore not credible. The federal agents are outright caricatures, the cast of friends somewhat confusing, and the two-scene structure of now and seven years ago is too obvious for a simple plot skeleton without enough meat on the bones. And the depiction of the time machine is comical and ridiculous.

As I said: Cute. But if you’re a time travel story buff like I, you gotta watch it.

 

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Three young men with disabilities need to get away from it all. Two are in wheelchairs, one of them completely disabled from the neck down. And the third is blind. All three of them are virgins. They make a pact to get away, and escorted by a nurse driver, they go on a road trip from somewhere in the Midwest to Montreal, where they heard there was brothel that “caters to people like them.”

At first, the nurse does not know what’s going on, but by the end of the first day, staying in a motel, she figures it out. Soon she joins their quest and helps them escape the tentacles of their parents who, thinking they are “in trouble” are trying to bring them back home.

On they go, and they each find what they are looking for, but not exactly where they thought they would find it.

I enjoyed watching this film, even though there are some unrealistic scenes and some plot holes. But it was meant to be a comedy and to put a spotlight on disability, something the able-bodied among us can easily ignore. It was good and heartwarming, and when I got up from the couch after watching I was grateful that I could do so without asking anyone to help me.

Come As You Are is a remake of the acclaimed Belgian film ‘Hasta La Vista’ which in turn is based on the real-life story of Asta Philpot, which was chronicled in the 2007 documentary ‘For One Night Only’.

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Romeo & Juliette

British-Italian, 1968, 2.5 hours

Directed by Franco Zeffirelli

Music by Nino Rota

Starring Leonard Whiting & Olivia Hussey

Franco Zeffirelli’s popular version of Romeo & Juliette undoubtedly remains the most successful adaptation ever of this Shakespearean tragedy for the screen. The Director’s artistic touch is evident in the lush photography and the meticulous attention to detail in the scenery, costumes, and props.

Zeffirelli’s determination to seek out the best talent was well rewarded. The casting of teenage actors for the protagonists is faithful to Shakespeare’s play. The bright flame of youthful passion between Romeo and Juliette, which shines through Shakespeare’s verse, is resurrected on-screen by the chemistry between Whiting and Hussey. The famed Irish actor, Milo O’Shea, stands out as Friar Laurence, a demanding role which challenges the actor to steer his emotions between the extremes of boundless hope and hopeless despair. The querulous antagonists, Tibult and Mercutio, Juliette’s sinister cousin and Romeo’s steadfast companion, are brilliantly portrayed by Michael York and John McEnery. The fateful duel between Romeo and Tibult ‒ unrelenting in its graphic violence ‒ is staged with gut-wrenching realism.

Through his directorial deftness, Zeffirelli manages to instill in his audience a glimmer of hope, a momentary suspension of belief in the predictable tragic climax. We are tempted to wonder whether Friar Laurence’s ingenious plan to save the hapless couple could have succeeded; whether Juliette may have awoken at the right time to see Romeo by her side; whether Romeo himself could have acted less rashly and impulsively. Yet even with his magical touch, Zeffirelli cannot shield us, his empathetic audience, from the inescapable conclusion. In the end, his retelling of the tragic resolution of the tale of the star-crossed lovers remains faithful to Shakespeare. The Bard would have approved!

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Taming of the Shrew

Columbia Pictures, 1967, 2 hours

Directed by Franco Zeffirelli

Music by Nino Rota

Starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton

Have you already endured the cathartic effects of Zeffirelli’s tearful, Romeo and Juliette? If so, you may turn to his more cheerful, earlier blockbuster: Taming of the Shrew. You will be rewarded in spades by a lush adaptation of Shakespeare’s hilarious commentary on the perennial battle of the sexes. A boorish fortune-hunter named Petruchio (Burton) undertakes the daunting challenge to court a stubborn shrewish spinster by the name of Katharina (Taylor). Their brief courtship, a marathon battle of words and blows, leads to a rushed wedding. Now tethered by the vows of wedlock, Katharina continues to endure Petruchio’s unrelenting efforts to tame her. Yet amazingly, the unyielding wife gradually begins to humor her overbearing husband. But how sincere are her gracious avowals of submission? The drama culminates in an unexpected contest between Katharina and her untamed sister to determine which of them is a more obedient wife! The contest reaches its climax with a seemingly earnest admonition to married women to obey their husbands. Most ironically, the impromptu speech is delivered, somewhat coyly, by none other than the (repentant?) shrew herself, Katharina. The veiled lesson (if any) behind the speech is still debated among Shakespeare scholars.

Zeffirelli’s legendary artistic touch is recognizable in every frame of this production. The leading roles were originally earmarked for another memorable duo, Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. However, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were so eager to play the starring roles that they invested more than a million dollars of their own money into the production of the film, in exchange for a percentage of the profits. Their gamble paid off: the film grossed $12 million worldwide, proving that under the hands of a skillful director, Shakespeare can still draw a huge audience across cultures. The winning choice of Burton and Taylor, a cantankerous couple in real life, illustrates a perfect inversion of the cliché that art imitates life. The turbulent relationship between the legendary couple, much publicized, was an unrelenting roller-coaster ride before and during their marriages.

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In the last few days I watched the “trilogy” movies Atlas Shrugged, parts I, II and III. I put trilogy into parentheses because it’s not really a trilogy, but I am getting ahead of myself…

The trilogy is based on the novel by Ayn Rand of the same name. The novel is one of the longest written in the English language with 645,000 words and over 1,000 pages. I read the book in 2008 and wrote a review here. I gave it three stars. Atlas Shrugged is a book you cannot shrug off, and it leaves a mark on you, it alters your thinking, and it is just as relevant in the age of Trump as it ever was, or perhaps more so. Before I get into the movie review, therefore, here is my plug. Go and read Atlas Shrugged, it is worth it, and it will change the way you think about our society.

Browsing the movie offerings on Amazon Prime in pandemic stupor, I came across the Atlas Shrugged Trilogy:

Atlas Shrugged: Part I – came out in 2011.

Atlas Shrugged: Part II – The Strike – 2012

Atlas Shrugged: Part III – Who is John Galt? – 2014

I watched the first movie and it struck me that it was pretty poorly done and that it didn’t do the book justice at all. Also, it played in the “near future” of 2017 – which for 2011 is reasonably far away. I thought that didn’t work. Atlas Shrugged plays in the 1950s, it is about railroads, steel and rust-belt industries in general. They have telephones and railroads. Commercial air travel is still in its infancy. By placing the story into the age of smartphones, Apple, and Facebook, but still dealing with the subject matter of making a railroad work, just does not play very well. It would have been much more effective if the movie had played in the original time period, mid 20th century. It would have been more authentic.

Then I watched the second movie and I was completely jarred. All the actors of the main characters were completely different. Yes, Dagny, the protagonist, was still a young blonde woman. Her assistant, Eddie, was still a black man. But that’s where the similarities stopped. They didn’t even try. All the characters that played in Part I had roles in Part II, but all the actors were different.

Enter Part III. AGAIN all the actors changed. Every. One. Of. Them.

This was truly bizarre. It was hard to watch. The most jarring character changes were those for Ellis Wyatt and Francisco d’Anconia.

I am not even going to go into the story line here, since I won’t recommend you watch the movies, but I have to tell you something funny.

Today, via email, a good friend from high school asked me about a classmate, and he praised my memory of details from 45 years ago. What had gone completely obscure and murky for him were vivid images for me, completely clear. We remember what we choose is important for us, and we forget events and people that had no impact.

Memory is selective. I just experienced this now when I sat down to write this review about the trilogy. Since I remembered reading the book a long time ago, I did a search for the title and found it. But guess what else I found? This review I wrote in 2012 about, you guessed it, Atlas Shrugged: Part I. It was actually pretty good, and it’s a better review of the movie than this is. I encourage you to read it.

So – in 2020 – in pandemic boredom – I watched all three parts of Atlas Shrugged and absolutely had no recollection first of watching the movie, then of writing a pretty extensive review and coming pretty much to the same conclusion – don’t bother.

Atlas Shrugged, the movies, are so bad that you’ll likely forget you ever watched them in the first place.

 

 

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Spotlight is a team of investigative reporters working for the Boston Globe. When a new editor takes charge of the paper, the Spotlight team is tasked to investigate allegations of sexual abuse of minors by the Catholic Church. The year-long investigation slowly exposes cover-ups at the highest level of the Boston religious circles that date back decades.

Spotlight is an expose about the Catholic Church, not just in the United States, but worldwide. What we learn is shocking, disturbing, disgusting and, in the end, a confirmation of what we knew all along from the media revelations of decades of abuse.

The Catholic Church has taken advantage of its members for over a thousand years, it has committed millions of atrocities, and it’s been getting away with them. In the modern world, where we value the emotional health of our children, abuse, and particularly sexual abuse by the clergy has been put under a microscope. And even now, with all the modern tools, there are still plenty of people willing to cover up for the church.

I know about this type of abuse and the effort to cover it up personally from people very close to me and I can attest to that.

We need more Spotlight on this problem, and we need to continue to expose the church for what it is: a power-hungry, self-serving beast that preys on its own members and everyone it comes in contact with.

Watch Spotlight!

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Five decades after the Vietnam war we still have riveting movies about that war, or that conflict, as it was called back then. Spike Lee tells the story of Da 5 Bloods, the nickname for a group of all black Vietnam veterans, Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), who go back to find and exhume their fallen leader, Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman), and bring him home, and to find the massive cache of gold bars they buried there in 1971. To help them, Paul has brought along his adult son, David (Jonathan Majors).

They find Norman, and they find the gold. The problem is, you can’t just carry out that much gold in backpacks without attracting the wrong kind of attention, and the ensuing conflicts during the retreat brings out the worst in each of them, all deeply damaged from post-traumatic stress and ruined lives. Today’s Vietnam is not the Vietnam of the 1960s, but it’s also not Kansas. There are still plenty of landmines that can kill, and demons that can drive you insane.

In today’s age, where black Americans are once again the targets of hate, injustice and suppression fueled by nascent resurgence of racism let loose in our society, a movie about the fates of black soldiers in a war that wasn’t theirs hits the mark. Beware that this movie has some very horrid imagery that once seen, will stay with you for a long time. Some pictures cannot be unseen. I have warned you.

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Ellen Martin’s (Meryl Streep) husband dies during a cruise on Lake George. When she tries to collect on an insurance policy, her hapless journey eventually leads her to Panama City and the world of shell companies the rich of the world are using to amass larger fortunes on the backs of ordinary citizens. The movie tells the story of the famed Panama Papers scandal that quickly created a straw fire in early 2016 before the tumultuous presidential elections and the ensuing Trump administration stole the headlines.

It’s ironic that a story about how the rich evade taxes, cheat their own countries, through complex webs of fraud and worthless paper was told just before we elected Trump. But there are other books written about that.

The Laundromat tells this story awkwardly, not quite a movie, but not quite a documentary either. I kept watching, but I was quite unsatisfied at the end.

You can pass on this one, unless, of course, you’re working on a paper about the Panama Papers.

 

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In America, we currently have the worst race relations and resulting riots, protests and civil unrest since 1968. Who would have thought that over a 50-year span of history, we would not have made more progress toward race equality in this country. The shackles of slavery, hardened over 400 years of brutal history, have not been undone, and a significant percentage of our population is still – oppressed.

This is the backdrop to which we chose to watch the 2019 film Harriet, which dramatizes and illustrates the life of Harriet Tubman. The story starts in 1844 in Maryland. A 26-year-old slave woman named Araminta Ross, for short Minty, was married to John Tubman, a free black man. When they approach Minty’s master, a plantation owner, showing the paperwork that documents that she should be free, he simply tears up the paper and proclaims that she will be his property, her children will be his property, and that was the end of it. That moment shows the utter brutality of slavery.

Minty runs away and makes her way to Philadelphia all by herself, taking advantage of the “underground railroad,” a system by which runaway slaves were helped in their journey north and to freedom. As was customary for freed slaves, they changed their names, and Minty picks the first name Harriet after her mother and Tubman after her husband. Rather than settling down in a life of work as a free black woman, she takes on the cause and becomes a crusader for other slaves. The eventually becomes one of the most successful “conductors” of the underground railroad, achieving fame and, among the slaveowners, infamy as “Moses,” a mysterious rebel who steals their slaves and guides them to freedom. As history tells us, she becomes one of the most famous freedom fighters of her time and a powerful female figure in our country’s history.

Harriet tells this story and illustrates the anguish and institutional injustice blacks have suffered throughout our history. Watching Harriet, I understood the incredible brutality of the system, our now proverbial “knee on the neck” of the people we subjugated for so long.

 

 

I have written a lot about slavery in this blog, and I will take the opportunity here to list some of those posts, as the are so appropriate at this time in our history. Please read them.

Visualizing  the Atlantic Slave Trade  – Some illustrations of what it was like to be on a slave ship.

Ben Carson’s Appalling Statements about Slaves – Our Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, a black man, and a renowned brain surgeon, makes the dumbest comments ever. It’s not brain surgery, man!

Book Review: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl – A great documentary story of what it’s like to be a slave.

Movie Review: 12 Years a Slave – A good movie illustrating the horrific injustice suffered by slaves.

With Liberty and Justice for All – Eight of our presidents were slave owners. Here is the list.

Be Careful What You Post – Disgusting comments on social media by trolls, stating that slavery isn’t all that bad, and calling those of us that think it is “liberals.”

U.S. Population in 1776 and 1790 – Statistics on the United States population in those years and the percentage of blacks.

 

 

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Five former Special Forces soldiers (Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund and Pedro Pascal), stuck in their humdrum lives get together one last time to rob the cash a drug kingpin in South America. After careful planning and reconnaissance, they go in for the heist and come out with much more money than they even planned.

Money, even in hundred dollar bills, has weight. If you have watched Better Call Saul lately, you will know that seven million dollars fill up two large duffel bags. Now imagine 200 million dollars. You need a freight helicopter to fly that out of the jungle. And that’s exactly what they use. The problem is, a jalopy helicopter in the South American jungle can’t be overweight to cross the Andes with passes over 11,000 feet to get to the coast of Peru. That’s when things start going wrong.

The story starts out like Ocean’s Eleven, where Ocean rounds up his buddies, one by one, for the big heist. It’s the same here, and a good part of the movie is spent introducing the characters in their mundane lives while the leader is convincing them to join the heist.

Overall, while the action kept me on the edge of my seat, it’s really an unrealistic movie with a lot of plot holes that kept distracting me.

Spoiler Alert

Just listing one: When the helicopter crashes in a jungle village, they have this huge pile of cash in bags that they need to carry over the mountains. They procure some mules to pack it out. But the journey is treacherous and nearly impossible. Why would they do that? They could simply hide the money in the mountain wilderness, take a single backpack full of cash, hike out without a load, and then return with a proper helicopter for the loot. That does not seem to occur to any of them.

In the last scene, one member of the team hands another a slip of paper, which sets the movie up for a sequel.

I also don’t understand why the movie is titled “Triple Frontier.” The title makes no sense to me, and I’ll likely have forgotten it in a few days.

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I have mentioned the movie Rambo: First Blood many times in this blog over the years. Just search for the keyword and you can find the various posts. The first time was all the way back in 2008, when I listed it as one of Three Timeless Movies. But I never gave it the honor of a review in all that time.

Rambo came out in 1982. It was based on the 1972 novel First Blood by David Morrell. John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is a returned Vietnam veteran who is drifting in the Pacific Northwest while looking for a buddy from he war. When he finally finds his home he learns that he had died of cancer a year before. Rambo learns he is the last survivor of his group of Green Berets, and he is devastated. He walks into the nearest town when the local Sheriff picks him up and immediately starts pushing him around. He eventually gets wrongfully arrested and abused by the small-town police force. Triggered by flashbacks of torture, his instincts take over, he overwhelms the untrained cops, and escapes the jail with nothing but the clothes on his back and a knife. As they chase him into the woods they quickly realize that they are not hunting him, he is hunting them.

Consistent with the cliché of what we’re expecting Rambo to be, we find a one-man army with nothing but a knife facing hundreds of local cops, state police, national guard and military all trying to contain him. One of the famous quotes of the movie is “Don’t push it or I’ll give you a war you won’t believe.” And exactly that he does.

There is a lot of shooting and brutal attacks in the story, but despite his notorious reputation, Rambo doesn’t actually kill anyone in First Blood. He just severely wounds and disables many people trying to hunt him down.

After Rambo: First Blood in 1982, there were many sequels. Rambo does a lot of killing in those. The franchise went on with Rambo: First Blook Part II, which Reagan saw and was famously recorded saying “Boy, after seeing ‘Rambo’ last night, I know what to do the next time this happens,” which was picked up by microphones placed in his office for a television and radio speech in 1985 but not carried in the broadcast.

Rambo: First Blood, in my opionion, is a surprisingly good movie. It’s a good innocent hero versus very bad cops story, where the hero kicks ass, gets justice, but eventually goes out with a whimper and the audience gets to feel good.

All other Rambo movies that followed it are no comparison at all, not even in the same league.

I watched Rambo: Last Blood a couple of days ago, and that prompted me watch Rambo: First Blood again and finally write the review it deserves, 38 years after it first came out.

 

 

Here is a good summary and review on Reddit with some excellent comments.

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It’s been almost 40 years since John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) had someone draw “first blood” on him when we has a young Green Beret who had come back from Vietnam, lost and abused. Here is my review of First Blood

Now an old man, Rambo lives on a dude ranch in Southern Arizona where he trains horses and raises the teenage daughter of a friend who calls him uncle. She was abandoned by her abusive father when she was young and lost her mother to cancer. When she finds out that her father lives in Mexico, she wants to visit him and get to know him. Against Rambo’s best advice, she slips away and finds her father. He cruelly rejects her, and in her grief, while barhopping in town, gets kidnapped by human traffickers.

Rambo is left with no choice but come and find her. What ensues is a one-man-war against an entire Mexican band of organized crime. While Rambo does not actually kill anyone in First Blood, he does not hold back in the subsequent movies, and Last Blood is full of gory detail, from decapitations to impaling, shooting, burning, and disemboweling. Revenge sees no limits in Last Blood. The demons that haunted the young Green Beret forty years ago are still torturing the old man.

I am sure they always will.

 

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