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In the picture

Rambo: Last Blood is hardly the last stand; Brad Pitt delivers career-best performance in Ad Astra.

In the picture

Rambo: Last Blood**

*ing: Sylvester Stallone, Adriana Barraza, Yvette Monreal, Paz Vega, Sergio Peris-Mencheta

Directed by Adrian Grunberg

For a man who grew up in jungles, fought wars for most of his life and has been an American hero since the eighties, John Rambo deserved a better end.

In Rambo: Last Blood, Sylvester Stallone’s iconic character is cut off from the world, not because of some PTSD but because he is growing old, and still running from his past. It is not who he fights that matters to the audience; it’s how he fights that has kept the audience away from cinemas.

Rambo was never a killer until provoked. In First Blood, he disabled soldiers to save himself whereas, in the next three installments, he did so to save his countrymen or those who couldn’t save themselves. Every time he came out of retirement, the country (or his mentor Colonel Trautman) needed him but here the agenda was personal and that is where he lost it.

When the granddaughter of his caretaker and family friend Maria (Adriana Barraza) is kidnapped, Rambo decides to take them down with his customized knife, but then he realizes he is in 2019. He recovers from his injuries, goes back and returns with Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal), earning the wrath of a sex-trafficking racket across the US-Mexico border.

What happens next is typical Rambo stuff, but it is dipped in blood and gore instead of skill and action.

With the help of an independent journalist and the mother of one of the victims, Carmen (Paz Vega), Rambo finds the bad guys but from there, it’s a journey downhill.

NOS_IMG510-17No one from the villains except their leader Hugo – played by Sergio Peris-Mencheta – has something to do on the screen except getting killed. It’s a predictable ride that could have had a couple of twists that would’ve excited the audience than making them wonder where they lost Rambo. Paz Vega’s role could have been extended but even after so many years, Stallone does it alone and the elder audience might accept it but the younger one won’t.

For a character that knew how to go stealth, when to strike the final blow and was angry most of the time, this Rambo was different. The way he killed people was almost like the 1970s film, Death Wish where Charles Bronson went all out to avenge his family. It could have passed as heroic in the 1970s but 50 years later, things have changed.

Apart from a couple of scenes where he remembers Vietnam, Last Blood is as distant from the War as Earth is from the Moon. No dialogue, no action sequence, no threat was worth remembering and that’s something Stallone should have remembered while co-writing the script. Along with director Adrian Grunberg, he has made an effort to humanize the iconic character but sadly he has failed because Rambo isn’t just human, he is a bad guy’s worst nightmare. In Last Blood, he became ‘that guy’ for the audience.

Ad Astra***

*ing: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga

Directed by James Gray

NOS_IMG510-14Ad Astra is one of the contenders for Oscars, especially in the technical departments, but it had the potential to be much more than that had the director not mixed Apocalypse Now, 2001: Space Odyssey and Gravity together and chosen actors who have ‘ventured’ into outer space before. Director James Gray went for Liv Tyler, (Armageddon), Donald Sutherland, Loren Dean and Tommy Lee Jones (Space Cowboys) for some strange reason but his main focus was more on the technical side. That’s why the cinematography was perfect, the score impressive and the audience left the theatre content after watching a modern-day film.

The film is set in the near future and looks cool from the word go. Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography steals the show as Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is knocked down from a transmitter tower situated in outer space, and survives. The calmness with which the actor handles the scene is pivotal to his character whose pulse never breaks the 80bpm barrier. That’s one of the reasons why he is chosen for a difficult mission to Neptune; the other being the son of the guy (H Clifford McBride, played by Tommy Lee Jones), who had captained the earlier mission to that planet some decade and a half ago.

What works for Ad Astra is the fact that not since Gravity, the audience has seen a dense space adventure. Like Solaris and The Martian, it teaches us a lot about humanity, emotions and above all, how sons tend to follow their fathers’ footsteps, unknowingly.

NOS_IMG510-15Brad Pitt plays that son here who must convince his ‘lost’ father to quit the project he was heading and return home so that the government can deal with dangerous power surges emerging from Neptune. What follows is an adventure in outer space where the protagonist meets ‘rhesus pirates’, unstable colleagues and deception that nearly costs him his life.

The film is strictly for science fiction fans out there and action fans should stay as far away as possible. For them, it will be a journey into the unknown; not a journey to self-discovery that highlights the pain and suffering of an individual who not only has to leave his home, kids, and friend but even his planet for the sake of exploration and then live with it. Top marks go to the technical department who presented ‘space’ as both unfriendly and mysterious at the same time. Brad Pitt gives his career-best performance here and it would be a tragedy if he doesn’t win accolades for playing a man who doesn’t lose his calm at times when others would go berserk.

– Omair Alavi is a broadcast journalist and can be contacted at [email protected]

Rating system:  *Not on your life  * ½ If you really must waste your time  ** Hardly worth the bother  ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only  *** Good enough for a look see  *** ½ Recommended viewing  **** Don’t miss it  **** ½ Almost perfect  ***** Perfection

Omair Alavi

omair alavi
The author is a freelance journalist. He may be contacted at [email protected]

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