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The Ten Most Memorable Moments in the Toy Story Movies

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With the huge commercial and critical success of Pixar’s latest film, Toy Story 4, (it recently broke the global box office record for an animated feature) the Toy Story franchise has marked itself as one of the best and most popular animated series of all time. Having spanned almost twenty five years, a great deal of fans (myself included) grew up with the films and their iconic characters. There are moments throughout the series that have not only become widely renowned within pop culture, but have also been cemented as some of the best moments in cinematic history. Let’s begin the countdown of what are —and likely will continue to be — remembered as some of the best and most notable moments across the Toy Story franchise.*

*Spoiler warning for all four Toy Story movies!

10. Woody and Bo Peep Say Goodbye (Toy Story 4)

The Toy Story franchise is known for having moments with a great deal of emotional weight behind them, and the latest film is no exception. Right from the start, we are given a sombre moment with a flashback to nine years prior, when the toys are still residing with Andy. Woody, Buzz, Bo Peep, and the other toys embark on a rescue mission to save a remote control car named RC when he is accidentally left outside during a storm. The rescue is a success, but just as the gang gets RC back into the house, Bo Peep is taken away to go to a new home, as her owner — Andy’s sister, Molly — has outgrown her and the lamp that she is attached to.

Woody attempts to rescue Bo, but she resigns herself to her fate once she realises that there is no longer a place for her; she isn’t Andy’s toy, and Molly no longer wants her. Bo then suggests that Woody come with her, which he almost does. However, they hear Andy calling out for Woody, panicked at thinking he has lost him. Woody and Bo both know that Woody cannot abandon Andy or any child who needs him. As the two of them share an emotional moment underneath a parked car, it is clear that they think that this is the last time they will see each other. Although their bond is apparent in the other Toy Story movies, this moment proves just how much the two of them mean to each other, and the heartbreak they both feel knowing that Bo no longer has a place in Andy’s life is evident.

This moment is offset by the breathtaking animation (the rain is particularly impressive) that we see in the background of the scene as the storm rages. As Woody lies in the road getting drenched by the downpour, he watches forlornly as the car drives away with Bo Peep on board. Andy finds him and takes him inside, and the audience realises that Woody has given up a significant amount of happiness for the sake of his child. The raw emotion of the scene combined with a brilliant score from Randy Newman and some of Pixar’s best animation creates an unforgettable moment.

9. The Cleaner Fixes Woody — (Toy Story 2)

One of the quieter yet still memorable moments in the series occurs during the second film. When Woody is kidnapped by an obsessive toy collector, he is restored by a professional toy cleaner to touch him up and fix his ripped arm. This moment stands out in that it shows the great detail that the cleaner goes into to fix Woody. You can tell that he is hugely passionate for his craft, from the tiny barbers style chair that he places Woody in, to his shaky hand as he carefully threads a needle to sew up Woody’s arm, to his work case with all kinds of compartments holding different toy parts.

There is also an emotional touch added to the scene when the cleaner lifts up Woody’s boot and delicately paints over Andy’s name. The audience knows how much Woody and Andy mean to each other, and how meaningful that small token of affection is. You can’t help but feel a pang of sadness as the paint is applied. Though only a small and sweet scene, it is still memorable as a moment which displays how toys are important to children and adults alike, and demonstrates the care and craft of maintaining and restoring classic toys. As well as being highly satisfying to watch, the scene also demonstrates fantastic animation and attention to detail, which is even more impressive when you consider that the film is twenty years old.

8. Buzz and Woody Argue — (Toy Story 2)

Woody’s dedication to Andy has been a major part of the Toy Story movies, and this becomes particularly prominent in Toy Story 2 when Woody is given the opportunity for a different life. When Andy accidentally rips Woody’s arm while playing with him, Andy decides to leave his beloved cowboy doll at home rather than take him to summer camp. This leads Woody to begin questioning his purpose. After his kidnapping by Al, Woody is introduced to Jessie, Bullseye, and Stinky Pete, and realises that he is a collectors doll from what was once a hugely popular television show called Woody’s Roundup. Now that Woody is part of their collection, they are due to be sold to a collector in Japan who will put them in a museum where there will stay behind glass for the rest of their lives.

Although this prospect seems unbearable to Woody at first, he starts to come around to the idea when he begins to fear the thought that Andy might discard him if he rips again. When Buzz and the rest of the gang come to rescue Woody, Woody tells them that he has made the decision to go with the roundup gang and become a museum display rather than return and face possible rejection. Buzz’s argument to Woody is incredibly poignant, telling him that Woody was the one who taught him that life was only worth living if a child loves you. He even quotes Woody’s own words back to him (“You are a toy!”), and although Woody is concerned about the roundup gang having to go back to storage should he leave, it is clear that he is frightened of becoming a lost and abandoned toy.

Woody has always been there for Andy, but his fear of being tossed aside makes him question his role in life. This moment is incredibly relatable. As humans, we all fear rejection and losing that which we love the most, but we know that it is a part of life. Woody goes through the same thing here, but he is so afraid that he is willing to give up entirely, shunning that which he cares deeply for due to his fear of being thrown away. Buzz sums up the situation pretty well when Woody attempts to justify his decision by saying that this is his only chance: “To do what Woody? Watch kids from behind glass and never be loved again? Some life.” It is a particularly human moment for the toys, depicting the difficult decision of living a long life with relative ease but no real love or connection, or a shorter and less certain life, but doing so with love and comfort. It also leads in well to our next moment on the list…

7. Woody Leaves — (Toy Story 4)

The core theme of the Toy Story movies has always been the role of a toy and its duty to a child. But what happens when the child no longer cares for a toy? Should they still fulfill the role that they were made for? Toy Story 2 touched on this with Jessie’s backstory, but Andy still very much cared for Woody. Toy Story 4 explores this idea and introduces us to a group of toys who do not have their own children to take care of. They lead a nomadic lifestyle where they live for themselves, and are only played with occasionally. One of these toys happens to be Bo Peep, Woody’s lost love, who has been living freely as a lost toy for many years.

By the end of the film, Woody makes a major decision, as it had become clear that Bonnie no longer favours him,, as she keeps leaving him in the closet while she plays with the other toys. When Forky comes into the picture, Woody does everything in his power to make him see how important he is to Bonnie, and how special it is to be the favourite toy. Woody realises that he is nowhere near as crucial to Bonnie’s development as he was to Andy, and starts to see that there is a whole world out there where toys can be independent. During the film’s conclusion, Woody, Bo and some of the other lost toys formulate a plan to bring together a lost child and a lonely toy. Their plan works, and it allows Woody to see a new purpose in his life: connecting children with toys, but in a different way. Thus, Woody makes the decision to leave Buzz and his friends in order to stay with Bo. He knows that the situation with Bonnie is not the same as it was with Andy, and that she will not miss him when she realises that he is lost.

Whilst this is a pivotal moment in the series, it is also another incredibly human moment that delves into the idea of living for yourself rather than living for someone else’s benefit. The difference between this and the Toy Story 2 moment wherein Woody almost leaves Andy is that Andy needed Woody, and Woody needed Andy. Bonnie is a different story, and by the end of the film, Woody learns that he does not need Bonnie to be happy. His time as a toy whose purpose is to serve a child has come to an end.  So what does he do now that the person who is meant to love him has forgotten him? He lives his own life. The issues dealt with in the Toy Story movies have grown with its audience, and the message at the end of Toy Story 4 is particularly important. Times change, people change, and your desires and goals can change. It is important to stay true to yourself, even if that truth is vastly different from the life you have been living. With Woody’s departure and Bo Peep’s independence, we are given a new perspective on the toys and what their lives can be when they aren’t bound to a child. This idea, combined with the life lessons we can take from it, make this moment particular important within the series.

6. Revenge on Sid — (Toy Story)

Throughout the series the toys have had a strict rule around humans: they must never show themselves to be alive, and always have to freeze in their toy poses when someone appears. There is only one moment where this rule is broken, and it proves to be one of the most memorable. Destructive neighbour kid Sid is the primary antagonist of the first Toy Story movie due to his hobby of destroying and mutilating innocent toys. When Buzz and Woody find themselves trapped in sadistic Sid’s house, they formulate a plot with Sid’s tortured toys to not only escape, but to teach Sid a lesson. When Sid attaches a rocket to Buzz, and is about to send him into the stratosphere, Woody breaks the golden toy rule and starts speaking to Sid via his voice box without using his pull string. When Sid decides that Woody must be ‘busted’, Woody retorts with “who you calling busted, buster?”

As Sid becomes more shaken by Woody’s talking, the toys that he has abused over the years start springing to life and creeping towards him. A monster truck emerges from a sandbox, a disfigured soldier doll with a nail through its head limps along menacingly, and the infamous baby head with mechanical spider legs drops down on Sid’s head. You’d be forgiven if you mistook this for a scene from a horror movie. The most satisfying part of this comes when Woody (who has been explaining to a terrified Sid that toys do not enjoy being torn apart) decides to go full Exorcist and rotates his head all the way around before coming to life completely, speaking to Sid in person rather than through his voice box. Woody says that the toys see everything, and tops it off with a mildly threatening, “so play nice.”

Sid screams and runs away, and it is all the more satisfying when his little sister, whose toys he has been stealing, torments and chases him with a small doll. Whilst it is enjoyable to see the villain get his comeuppance, it is the way in which the toys decide to do it that makes this moment so perfect. Not only is one of the best moments in the franchise, it’s one of the best and most fitting villain defeats in cinema.

5. Incinerator — (Toy Story 3)

Toy Story 3 is a film that handles relatable human scenarios in a masterful way, such as dealing with growing up, moving on, and the fear of abandonment, but one of the most iconic scenes from the film comes in an unexpected and highly emotional scene. The toys find themselves in the garbage dump after an encounter with villain Lotso-Huggin Bear; after Lotso betrays the gang, Andy’s toys end up plummeting into an incinerator. They scramble to escape, but it quickly becomes clear that their efforts are futile. As Woody makes another attempt at climbing out, he looks around to see his friends joining hands and accepting their fate. Buzz extends a hand out to Woody, and Woody takes it.

Watching the toys that we have grown to love face their own mortality is depressing enough as it is, but watching them join hands in camaraderie is a painful moment that I didn’t ever expect to see in a Toy Story movie. It is a very adult situation for the toys to find themselves in, and as they confront the possibility of their own deaths, it is difficult not to imagine what you might do in that situation. Obviously, they are rescued at the last moment (I’m sure that Pixar didn’t want to be responsible for traumatising countless children and adults by forcing them to watch all of their favourite characters melt before their eyes), but the scene itself is a powerful and emotional moment that highlights the strong bond that Andy’s toys have forged during their time together, as well as being genuinely heart racing.

4. When She Loved Me — (Toy Story 2)

The theme of abandonment is prevalent throughout the Toy Story series, but it is explored most powerfully during a musical montage in Toy Story 2 as Woody is introduced to the roundup gang, including Jessie the cowgirl doll. Jessie is terrified of going back into storage, as she has spent so long locked away in the dark. She also seems resentful towards Woody for having an owner. When Woody says that Jessie cannot understand his loyalty to Andy, she tells him about the child that she used to be owned by, a girl named Emily. This is done in the form of a beautiful song called “When She Loved Me,” written by Randy Newman and sung by Sarah McLachlan. The song tells Jessie’s story of her time with Emily, who initially dotes on her, takes her everywhere, and plays with her constantly.

But as the song goes on, Emily gets older and begins losing interest in Jessie. Jessie falls under Emily’s bed, and is left there for years to watch Emily outgrow her from afar. She watches as her horse and cowgirl memorabilia switches to more grown up interests, such as make up and dancing. Emily eventually finds Jessie, who is overjoyed when she smiles at her. The most heart-breaking moment of the song comes when we see Jessie happily sitting in Emily’s purse, smiling as Emily holds her and ecstatic that she is being loved again. We then see that Emily is only holding Jessie as she is taking her to be donated. Jessie watches in shock and sadness from the donation box as Emily drives away, leaving her alone.

This song is a fantastic insight into the fear of being abandoned that we all inherently have within us, but told through the perspective of a toy. It also explains Jessie’s fears, and gives her a well-developed and believable backstory all within the frame of a three minutes. It’s a strong character moment, and one of the saddest scenes in the whole franchise. If you can make an entire generation of children think twice before abandoning their toys, you know you’ve created something meaningful.

3. You Are A Toy! — (Toy Story)

The original Toy Story is full of great moments that have been remembered by cinema fans, and this particular scene is one of the best. When Woody and Buzz find themselves stranded at a gas station, the two begin to argue as to whose fault it is that they’re in this situation. Buzz lets loose a tirade as to how his rendezvous with star command has been delayed, and that Woody is stopping him on his important mission to save the galaxy. Woody merely stares at him for a moment before uttering one of the best lines of the whole series: “You…Are…A…Toy!”

Most of the humour in the first film comes from Buzz’s obliviousness to the fact that he is indeed a toy and not a real space ranger, so this outburst from Woody is a hilarious culmination of his building frustration. Again, it is a great interpretation of human behaviour through the guise of a toy. Tom Hank’s delivery is so perfect that it is impossible not to feel anything when he delivers it. Buzz’s retort to Woody makes the scene all the more iconic: “You are a sad, strange little man. And you have my pity.” In what has become one of the most quotable lines from all the Toy Story movies, this scene firmly places itself as one of the funniest and most memorable of the series.

2. So Long — (Toy Story 3)

Andy has finally grown up in Toy Story 3, and is leaving for college. After a long journey which involves his toys being given to a day-care, escaping, and facing death, they finally end up back with Andy, who donates them to a little girl named Bonnie. When he gives them to her, he gives each toy a moment to shine, and recounts the various personalities and back stories that he has given to them over the years. When he gets to Woody, he is surprised to see him, as he was planning to take him to college with him. Bonnie reaches for Woody, but Andy instinctively pulls him back. This is a nice touch, as it shows Andy clinging to the last lingering thread of his childhood, something that we have all been guilty of.

Andy then realises that Woody will be adored and played with by Bonnie, so he opts to hand him over, but not before he gives Bonnie a tear-jerking description, saying that Woody will always be there for you, no matter what. This is made all the more emotional by the fact that Andy does not know just how true this is. All Woody has ever done has been for Andy; he has loved him and cared for him from afar, and has acted as his protector his whole life. Andy has one last playtime with his toys and Bonnie, and as he goes to leave, he says goodbye for a final time to the toys, thanking them. In doing so, he is bidding farewell to his childhood, and moving on to a new chapter in his life.

The Toy Story films have a brilliant way of creating relatable moments through the toys’ relationship to Andy, and this one is particularly hard-hitting in that it is something that happens to everyone, no matter who you are or where you are from. There will always be a point where you have to leave your childhood memories in the past and move on. This moment is the most relatable that I personally have experienced in the franchise, and one that has gone down as one of the most fitting conclusions to a story arc in film. It is a moment that made grown men cry, and if you didn’t feel even the slightest tinge of emotion when Woody said, “so long, partner,” then you are an emotionless robot incapable of human feeling. That’s in my humble opinion, of course.

1. Falling With Style — Toy Story

It was difficult to choose which moment would be at the top of this list, so I decided to think on what moment could be considered a cinema classic that most people would know. What scene provides us with an image that could be considered a good representation of the series? Even though the other moments in this list have their own strengths, the climax of the first film has to be number one, as it brings together various elements to create a scene that is a cinematic triumph.

At the end of the film, Buzz and Woody chase Andy as he and his family are in the process of moving house. As they chase the van, the toys within soon realise that Buzz and Woody are attempting to reach them. When they are unable to catch up with the truck, they light the rocket that is still attached to Buzz’s back after their encounter with Sid. Buzz flies up into the sky as he holds onto Woody and just before the rocket explodes, Buzz extends his wings. The rocket detaches, and the two appear to fly through the air. Woody exclaims that Buzz is flying, but Buzz returns a statement that Woody said to him earlier in the film during Buzz’s attempt at taking to the air: “This isn’t flying. This is falling, with style.” As the two glide towards Andy’s car, Woody provides another of the most well-known lines from the series: “ To Infinity and Beyond.” They land in Andy’s car, and as Andy hugs them, excited that he has found them after assuming them lost, Buzz and Woody give each other a knowing wink before returning to toy mode.

Though this moment is simpler than some, it is a perfect representation of the series, as well as a great way to show the development of the characters. The visual of Buzz holding Woody as they fly through the air shows their new-found friendship. From bitter rivals at the start to best friends who have saved one another at the finish, the relationship is validated by this image. Their friendship becomes an essential part of the franchise, and it is highlighted most in this scene. The phrase “To Infinity and Beyond” is also hugely well-known across pop culture, and whilst it annoyed Woody to begin with, he now says it with sincerity, which also shows the extent of the character development. The ‘falling with style’ scene is a fantastic moment that emphasizes several important elements that run throughout the Toy Story series, such as friendship, loyalty, and going above and beyond to make a child happy. The first film was a technological marvel, being the very first computer-animated feature-length movie, but it was also a marvel of storytelling. This moment is one that is highly recognizable, and will be remembered by cinema fans for many years to come.

 

Antonia Haynes resides in a small seaside town in England where she has lived her whole life. She's a simple girl with a passion for zombies, writing, film, television, drawing, superheroes, Disney and, of course, video games. Her ideal day would consist of junk food, fluffy pyjamas and video games because quite frankly going outside is overrated. Follow her on Twitter on @RainbowMachete

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25 Years Later: ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ is Still Prison Cinema’s Gold Standard

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Shawshank REdemption

When the topic of Stephen King film adaptations gets raised, the very mention of the author and his movies often conjure images of pulpy horror villains and frightening locales. It’s not an unfair thought either, as the guy absolutely dominated the arena for a number of years with genre-defining films like The Shining and Carrie adapting his stories. With the recent release of It: Chapter Two, the situation may feel as though the modern master of terror is a one-trick pony, but it’s important to remember the success that his other dramatic stories have also enjoyed. Of these, the most notable and critically acclaimed is The Shawshank Redemption, a 1994 prison drama that set the gold standard for cinema behind bars.

Taking place in the titular prison, The Shawshank Redemption’s story of friendship, hope, and the mental toll of incarceration is both haunting and inspiring. While on the surface the narrative centers on maintaining hope and faith in the face of adversity, the larger picture incorporates a number of religious themes and life lessons to offer quasi-religious advice for those seeking freedom from whatever prison they find themselves confined. Even without these themes, The Shawshank Redemption is still a film worthy of repeated viewings, never losing its charm because of its spectacular story, skillful actors, and awesome cinematography.

Prison Bound

At its very core, Shawshank Redemption centers around the relationship between Andy and Red, two convicts in the Shawshank State Penitentiary. Andy, who has been sentenced for the murder his wife in response to her infidelity, is an offbeat character who never seems to bow under the weight of his situation, and Red, another convicted murderer, just seems to make the best of things. Together, they build a friendship behind bars, struggling against the systemic corruption of the prison system and the dehumanizing position in which Shawshank’s inhabitants are forced to live.

Uniquely King

In its treatment of male friendship and portrayal of the bonds between characters, The Shawshank Redemption feels spiritually akin to another Stephen King penned work, Stand by Me. Both stories put close bonds between male characters at the center of focus, stepping away from the traditional narrative devices like romantic leads and thrilling action. Although one is a coming of age story and the other is a stark prison drama, both films feel linked through the growth and emotional development of their characters without relying on the classic horror motifs that traditionally punctuate works by King. Instead, they share a deep understanding of the underlying workings of humans, telling stories through their psyches rather than their baser emotions.

For the most part, these thematic similarities stem from the fact that the text inspirations for both of these works come from the same King collection, Different Seasons. This bundle of novellas includes “The Body” (Stand by Me), “Rita Hayward and the Shawshank Redemption” (The Shawshank Redemption), “Apt Pupil” (later made into a film by the same name), and the unused “Breathing Method.” Together, these novellas all share a number of closely related meanings, with all centering around the concept of the character molding journey. In the collection, this idea is explored in relation to the changing of the seasons, illustrating the evolution of emotions and the human experience in various stages of life.

The Shawshank Redemption

As always, Freeman steals the show

The highlight of The Shawshank Redemption is, without at doubt, Morgan Freeman’s portrayal of Red. Although at the time he wasn’t as well known for his narrative gifts, Freeman’s role is certainly an early hint at the type of work that would characterize his later career. As the film’s story is predominantly told from Red’s perspective, Freeman gets ample opportunity to showcase the generally beautiful tone of his voice, and the thoughtful emotions that the actor can imbue it with.

Ironically, Freeman was never supposed to play Red in the first place. In the text, Red was supposed to be a redheaded Irishman (hence the name), but the producer actually pushed for Freeman instead. The film even makes a subtle nod to this inaccuracy, as Red jokingly says that he gets his name because “maybe because I’m Irish.”

Honestly, the inclusion of Freeman works to The Shawshank Redemption’s advantage, adding another layer of depth to the friendship of Andy and Red because of their racial differences. Although it is not overtly explored as the story progresses, the intersection of race and the struggle of incarceration leads to interesting possibilities about interpretations and makes their friendship feel more genuine and unique.

Making history

Although The Shawshank Redemption was initially slow at the box office, it was nominated for seven Academy Awards and became the highest-grossing rental in the year it was released. Despite being released among incredibly tough competition, most notably Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump, the film also generally ranks above those movies in critics polls.

Regardless of all the critical acclaim, there’s a certain quality to The Shawshank Redemption that lingers. It’s so touching in its treatment of friendship and cold in its treatment of prison that these opposite extremes make for an unrivaled experience in prison dramas. If you haven’t seen this movie, do so, and if you have, watch it again. It’s surely worth the two-hour run time and then some.

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‘First Blood’ is Still the Absolute Best Rambo Film

They drew first blood.

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First Blood Review

First Blood, directed by Ted Kotcheff, is not only a first-rate action film, but also boasts one of Sylvester Stallone’s best performances as Rambo, a sympathetic, misunderstood anti-hero suffering from PTSD. On the surface, it’s an epic survival thriller, but beneath the layers of bloodshed lies a smart social commentary that confronts the ill-effects the Vietnam War had on the home front. First Blood may not be credited as the film that skyrocketed Rambo to iconic stature, but unlike the sequels, it succeeds as both a psychological thriller and a riveting actioner. Thanks to Stallone’s stoic performance and Kotcheff’s tight direction, First Blood is still to this day the absolute best entry in the series.

Rambo First Blood Review

A Bit of History

For the unfamiliar, First Blood was based on the best-selling novel by Canadian academic David Morrell. The movie rights were snatched up shortly after the book’s release, and for much of the decade, First Blood was stuck in production hell. The script jumped from studio to studio and underwent numerous re-writes (18 to be exact), while various filmmakers like Richard Brooks and Sydney Pollack were tasked to direct.

At the time, Stallone was desperately searching for his next big break. Sure, he had three Rocky films under his belt, but not much else in terms of a starring role. After several high-profile actors such as Steve McQueen, Al Pacino, and Dustin Hoffman reportedly turned down the part, Stallone agreed to star in the film asking if he could help co-write the screenplay and make his character more likable, less “psychotic.” While many believed it to be a bad career move on Stallone’s part, First Blood went on to become a box office hit that made an action star of Stallone. The rest, as they say, is history.

I believe any success in life is made by going into an area with a blind and furious optimism.”

Sylvester Stallone

 

What stands out most when revisiting First Blood is Stallone’s performance. He may not be known as a great actor, but he is perfectly cast here as the Special Forces Green Beret war hero, John Rambo. In retrospect, it is hard to imagine anyone other than the Italian Stallion in the part, and his capabilities as an actor should not be overlooked. In preparing for the role, Stallone underwent intense training in hand-to-hand combat, and even performed many of his own stunts, resulting in several serious injuries that nearly halted filming. His dedication cannot be questioned, and is on full display in scenes such as when he dives off a steep cliff, or takes off in the riveting action chase riding a motorbike. He truly is great here, which is why I was surprised to learn that Stallone hated the first cut of the film so much that he tried to buy the print back so that he could destroy it. When the producers refused his request, he suggested that they cut much of his speaking parts and let the rest of the characters tell the story instead.

“Audiences are harder to please if you’re just giving them effects, but they’re easy to please if it’s a good story.”

– Steven Spielberg

The second thing that stands out most when watching First Blood is how tight the script is. Working from David Morell’s novel, screenwriters Michael Kozoll, William Sackheim, and Stallone whipped up a screenplay that understands Rambo’s appeal is not just limited to his muscular physique. Yes, First Blood is oozing with machismo, but unlike the over-the-top and ridiculous sequels that made the character an unstoppable killing machine, First Blood is far more grounded and hits plenty of emotional beats with a message about how returning Vietnam soldiers had been marginalized by a divided country. What at first appears to be just another muscle-flexing ‘80s actioner soon reveals itself to be a thought-provoking feature, and one of the first genre films to really tackle post-traumatic stress disorder.

In First Blood, Rambo isn’t a hero; instead, he’s a man who is suffering, and he’s a victim of a society that has turned their back on him. “He’s wounded,” says Col. Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna), Rambo’s former superior officer and the man who trained Rambo to be a killing machine. In a strong supporting role, Crenna’s Trautman (the only actor other than Stallone to appear in all three films of the original trilogy) serves as the voice of reason. He’s the only man who understands John Rambo, and knows how dangerous he is. As Trautman puts it, he’s not here to save Rambo from the cops — he’s here to save the cops from Rambo.

Richard Crenna First Blood

One Man War

John Rambo raised the bar significantly higher for action heroes, and looking back decades later, it’s easy to see why. As Roger Ebert wrote, when John Rambo “explodes near the beginning of First Blood, hurling cops aside and breaking out of jail with his fists and speed, it’s such a convincing demonstration of physical strength and agility that we never question the scene’s implausibility.” A suspenseful chase takes up the majority of the running time, with Rambo hiding in the woods and setting traps for his would-be pursuers while shooting down helicopters, fighting off wild dogs, and eventually taking on the military backup who are all armed to the teeth with heavy ammunition. As hard as they try, the one-man wrecking crew is hard to stop, and by the time Rambo arms himself with a massive M-60 machine gun, it’s obvious that the lawmen stand no chance as he continues his frenzy through town, blowing up everything that stands in his way.

Not as Violent as I Remember…

At the time of its release, First Blood was widely criticized for its level of violence, and while the Rambo series has come to be associated with copious amounts of brutality, First Blood is relatively tame in comparison to its sequels. In fact, the body count is quite low when compared to First Blood Part II which features 67 deaths, and Rambo III,which features 108 kills. It’s also worth noting that Rambo doesn’t intentionally kill anyone in First Blood; instead, he uses his military training for self-defense, and unlike the novel — in which John Rambo is portrayed as a straight-up psychopath who kills 250 law enforcement officers without hesitation — only one character in First Blood dies onscreen. The rest of the men are never confirmed dead.

As a result, John Rambo is obviously a much more sympathetic character in the movie than he is in the novel. It should also be noted that the original edit and final theatrical release of the film is said to be extremely different. The first cut was almost three hours long, and in the end, Rambo dies as he does in the novel. The final theatrical cut is a lean 97 minutes, and yes, our hero survives thanks to producers who believed that audiences would reject the decision to kill him. With an international gross of roughly $125.2 million from a budget of $16m, the decision to sway away from the original source material is something the producers would not regret, since it allowed them to kickstart a successful franchise which spawned numerous sequels, an animated television series, and a series of comic books, novels, video games, and even a Bollywood remake.

He Never Fought a Battle he Couldn’t Win

That’s not to say First Blood doesn’t feature any grisly moments of terror — because it does — but most of them come in the form of brief flashbacks in which we see Rambo as a prisoner of war being tortured. Other than that, First Blood is a lean, mean thriller that consistently finds ways to raise its stakes and place John Rambo in moments of peril. And that’s why I love this film so much — unlike the sequels, First Blood is actually frightening at times, and builds a decent amount of suspense while showing the effect war and bigotry can have on its heroes and the country as a whole. By the time Stallone is given a long, impassioned speech to deliver, he earns every second of it. And while some will argue that this scene is a bit heavy-handed or clichéd, in my eyes it is one of Stallone’s most effective performances.

First Blood is an often-overlooked war classic that is anchored by Stallone’s effective, surprisingly low-key performance, along with an exceptional villain in Brian Dennehy as Teasle, the over-zealous town sheriff who will stop at nothing when hunting his prey. The rest of the cast is uniformly great and the cinematography by Andrew Laszlo (The Warriors) is remarkable given the hellish shooting schedule, which mostly took place outdoors in British Columbia during the cold winter. Meanwhile, the iconic score by legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith is one of his very best. It may not be as grand or bombastic as some of his other soundtracks, but in the grand scheme of Rambo’s character arc, the foreboding score seems especially fitting. His mournful main theme “Home Coming” for example, perfectly captures the anguish of Sylvester Stallone’s protagonist, while also setting the tone for what is a depressing, albeit thrilling film.

Yes, Stallone’s gun-toting, knife-wielding antics are on full display, but the darker tone, tight direction, and raw emotion make First Blood one of the best films of 1982, and a genuine classic that shouldn’t be missed.

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Film

‘Rambo: Last Blood’ Suffers From Action Anemia

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After 2008’s surprisingly intense and entertaining Rambo, it was hard not to be curious as to what sort of bloodbath would be cooked up for the reluctant warrior’s next outing. Alas, the familial revenge story portrayed in Rambo: Last Blood feels like it was written for another character entirely — a much luckier and stupider one — and not the cunning, lethal combatant we’ve come to know and love. Suddenly introducing a pseudo-family life and the ability to express emotions beyond morose murmuring (Rambo smiles!), the story gets too bogged down in its half-baked drama before finally remembering the reason everyone came to see a movie about a guy who used to fire two machine guns at the same time in the first place. And by then, it’s too rushed, too little, and too late.

For those looking to get to the pulpy meat of the matter, be warned that Rambo: Last Blood instead takes its sweet time telling the hackneyed story, with a few false starts just to keep action fans frustrated. So, having mowed down hundreds of people across the world (especially in Burma), John Rambo has unceremoniously returned to the good ol’ U.S. of A. in search of that peaceful life that always seems to elude him in war-torn countries. To that end, he has somehow acquired a large ranch, where he for some reason is good at training horses, and somewhat okay at being an “uncle” to the 17-year-old Gabrielle, who is ready to leave her life on the ranch with her grandmother and this grizzled veteran, and head off to college.

When Gabrielle makes the idiotic (but understandably teenage) decision to disobey the guy who actually knows what he’s talking about when he says that the world is full of black-hearted people, she winds up drugged, kidnapped, and held prisoner in Mexico by sadistic creepos who deal in the sex slave trade. Sure, Rambo: Last Blood takes a little too long to get here, but the hostage scenario is ripe for the kind of one-man assault upon a bunch of dudes who more than deserve a serrated knife to the chest that this franchise specializes in (for reference, see Rambo: First Blood Part II, Rambo III, and Rambo). As Rambo gets that familiar crazy look in his eye, it appears that’s exactly what’s going to happen, but writers Matt Cirulnick and Stallone have other ideas.

Audiences have grown accustomed to the stealthy, sneaky tactics of Sly’s special forces soldier, and so when Rambo — who has rarely made a misstep in his pursuits of killing folk — blunders like a naive fuddy-duddy into an obviously unwinnable situation, the result is both a jarring and disappointing setback from which the script is never able to recover. Had Rambo: Last Blood foreshadowed this critical brain fart by depicting an aging lethal weapon losing control over his mental faculties (popping some glossed-over medication doesn’t do the trick), perhaps this behavior might have flown. But the labyrinthine tunnels and later booby traps (oh yes, there will be plenty of booby traps) suggest that this guy has still got it. Except for that one time, apparently.

The majority of Rambo: Last Blood is wasted on trying to get audiences to care about Rambo’s thinly constructed relationships with people they’ve never met, as if that will somehow make the multitude of deaths to come more personal. But because of the shoddy build up — including an underused Paz Vega as an “independent journalist” also affected by this crime ring — it just doesn’t seem to matter why these thugs need to die. They’re cartoonishly evil; let’s get to it already.

Unfortunately, by the time the action arrives, Rambo: Last Blood operates as if it’s on the clock, already needing to wrap things up. Whereas now would be the time to revel in the catharsis of blood-spattered stabbings, steel poles through the head, and grisly dismemberment, impatient editing cycles through each killing as if quickly ticking off boxes. Cringe-worthy moments are cut short, never allowing the gruesomeness to sink in, to affect. Add to that a disorienting lack of proper staging that splits up the dumbest assailants ever and allows Rambo to appear out of thin air right behind nearly all of them as if he were everywhere at once, and the whole thing end’s up a confusing, unsatisfying mess.

Director Adrian Grunberg — whose much more interesting Get the Gringo knew how to use violence for shocked giggles — also hurts the effort with a bland visual style that is annoyingly claustrophobic. Seemingly unable to place his camera anywhere that might visually enhance a scene, Grunberg instead pushes in too far on the action, and winds up showing little that’s comprehensible. He carries this tendency into conversations as well, getting overly intimate with craggled faces and greasy beards, sacrificing blocking in the process. There’s not much to look at here outside the beautifully deserted, southwestern ranch setting, but do you think Rambo: Last Blood will use this intriguing, open prairie environment for a different take on jungle warfare? Even the horses don’t pay off.

This is all a shame, as Stallone still has that dour Rambo charisma when he’s not trying to be a father figure, and few characters can perform such gruesome deeds with an audience still behind them. But though the beleaguered battler at one point insists that he hasn’t changed, Rambo: Last Blood drains some of the edgy fun from the franchise. If it truly is the end, then it’s a dull finish for one of cinema’s keenest he-men.

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Anime

‘Promare’ Feels Like the Younger Brother of ‘Gurren Lagann’

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Gurren Lagann is a cult classic directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, and written by Kazuki Nakashima. It has over-the-top action, constant bravado, quotable lines, and non-stop escalation into madness. Subtly is not a common word used in Imaishi and Nakashima’s vocabulary, and luckily, fans of their work will not be disappointed with their newest animated movie, Promare. Hot-headedness (literal and metaphorical) and grandiose speeches are rampant when Promare kicks logic to the curb and goes beyond the impossible in its own unique way. What it lacks in a cohesive story, it makes up for in elaborate visuals, eye-popping action, and charismatic characters.


No matter how many times Spider-Man or Superman saves someone from a burning building, the real heroes are the firefighters; they are the ones on the ground, first on the scene. In the world of Promare, firefighters are not just stopping regular old fires; they are tasked with extinguishing supernatural infernos caused by the Burnish — humans mutated to become pyrokinetics. Called the Burning Rescue, they heroically save any and every civilian threatened by these eternal flames, doing so with advanced gear, amped-up water cannons, and hand to hand combat. In addition, they have high-tech equipment that includes drones, an armory of ice and water-powered firearms, and numerous models of mech suits.

These heroes are tasked to stop the flaming terrorists and the havoc they wreak, and in the first act of Promare, a Burning Rescue team led by a young man named Galo take on one of the most feared Burnish terrorists. They use their pyrokinesis to give themselves black, spiky armour and motorcycles that would make Ghost Rider jealous, and after a rousing success with eleventh-hour powers, Galo floats in his victory. Soon, the more militaristic, anti-Burnish organization called Freeze Force barges in and detains the Burnish, taking some of the credit and diminishing Burning Rescue’s efforts. This testosterone-driven act kindles a small spark in the back of Galo’s head, later pushing him to discover a conspiracy that suggests not all is as it appears to be.

Galo is essentially a carbon copy of Kamina from Gurren Lagann. He’s a shirtless, blue-haired, brash young man who jumps in head first to save everyone, and makes sure he looks cool doing it every time. His peers and rivals mock his intelligence and audacity, but in a rare twist, Galo immediately proves that his not simply all bark; he is also a talented rescuer, and is able to stop multiple Burnish solo. Eventually, he develops a rival with Lio, a blonde-haired, light-eyed, somewhat effeminate villain with his own code of honour. He also runs across Kray Foresight, the governor, who is appreciative of Burning Rescue and all their work. However, though Burning Rescue is comprised of many equally talented members, they are mostly pushed to the background outside of being given a few moments to shine.  

Promare takes advantage of new animation styles, and combines both hand-drawn and computer-animated designs. The vapourwave art style is bombastic and chaotic, while the angular designs of the Burnish’s powers add a little edge to the action scenes, guaranteeing that there is no wasted space on screen. The movie runs from inferno-hot to sub-zero cold with no in-between; one would expect nothing less from Imaishi and Nakashima.

Walking into this film and expecting some kind of subtly, even when it comes to the most mundane of actions, is expecting far too much. In classic fashion, the filmmakers keep making every scene more grandiose and epic. Fight scenes aren’t simply adding an extra bad guy or giving the hero a handicap; everything grows to an exponential scale. The moment you expect that Promare has reached its limit, suddenly everything goes to the extreme. But this does has its disadvantages, as subtly and clear explanations of events go by the wayside. The plot moves fast and glosses over the details of the world, history, and lore. Instead of questioning “why is this weird thing happening,” it’s better to accept that it’s happening simply “just because” — far better to just watch the bonker visuals and series of events. This pacing also makes it difficult for character growth, where relationships are created and destroyed on a whim, yet could have benefited more with extra content. It’s like the difference between the Gurren Lagann series and the movies. Sure, the movies cover a lot of ground, but they are very much more loud, operatic spectacles rather than the growing confidence of a young shy boy into a full-fledged legend.

Promare is certainly a movie that stimulates the lizard-brain neurons. It’s flashy, over the top, and outright ridiculous. The heroes and villains are operatic, and there is no nuance stored anywhere in the character’s development. But that’s why the movie is wonderful; the creators are able to depict these extreme levels of silliness, then lampoon and expand on it. There are even moments where the characters themselves have to acknowledge that this level of weirdness is actually happening. But that’s why this movie is spectacular — it’s loud, it’s big, but it’s 100% unfiltered fun.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on August 4, 2019 as part of our Fantasia Film Festival coverage. 

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TIFF

TIFF 2019: Best of the Fest

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The Lighthouse

Have a conversation about movies with your family or coworkers late in the year and there’s a good chance someone will break out this old chestnut: “There just weren’t many good movies this year.” It’s a statement that says more about the speaker than the state of cinema; there are more great movies in any given year than anyone can manage to see. One of the great qualities of the Toronto International Film Festival is that the massive slate of films includes its own high-profile premieres, as well as screenings of festival favorites that bowed to acclaim earlier at places like Cannes and Venice. It’s a clearinghouse of sorts that gives one of the most well-rounded glimpses into the year’s best movies. Below are the ten best films we caught at the festival.

Anne at 13,000 ft

Anne at 13,000 ft

This world premiere, directed by Kazik Radwanski, initially presents the eponymous Anne (an astounding Deragh Campbell) as a daycare attendant having her first experiences with skydiving. Though Anne is alternately blissful and ecstatic when she’s jumping out of a plane, something is amiss at work, where she’s more interested in playing with the kids than supervising them. As she starts a new relationship with a man she met at a wedding (Matt Johnson), cracks in her façade start to appear. Radwanski keeps Anne’s breakdown front and center by putting her up close in the frame; she’s on screen almost every second of its brief 75-minute runtime. Featuring an astounding, aching lead performance, Anne at 13,000 ft sympathetically captures the moment the world starts to tilt for one woman. (Brian Marks)

Crazy World

Crazy World

With an extremely low budget and hearts of gold, the Wakaliwood movement in Uganda is a force of nature waiting to be fully unleashed on the world. Director IGG Nabwana’s Crazy World is the latest film to be translated for western audiences, having been originally produced in 2014. It showcases an international action scene that desperately needs to be seen by those who love films packed with ingenuity, comedy, and a genuine love for the medium that exudes from the screen. A fever dream of martial arts and absurdity, Crazy World is the kind of gonzo-action that can’t be denied its place in the pantheon of international action cinema. Placing this as the closing night film for the Midnight Madness program only ensures it gets a bigger audience than it otherwise would have. (Christopher Cross)

A Hidden Life

A Hidden Life

A Hidden Life is inspired by the true story of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer who was executed after he refused to swear allegiance to Adolf Hitler. Jägerstätter is played by August Diehl, best known to American audiences as the lead Nazi in the bar shootout in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Writer-director Terrence Malick makes a glorious return to fully scripted films after three adventurous, mostly improvised movies that divided critics. Though Jägerstätter was eventually beatified for his stand against the Nazis, Diehl and Malick don’t try to make him a saint — he’s just someone taking a stand when overcome by conscience. Malick’s searching camera makes the Austrian hillside look invitingly gorgeous and lush, turning it into a kind of paradise from which Jägerstätter is brutally snatched. His more improvised films are all essential works of cinema, but A Hidden Life is Malick’s best work since his career-defining masterpiece, The Tree of Life. (Brian Marks)

Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit

Receiving the TIFF Ebert Director Award this year, Taika Waititi came out with two awards, as his latest film, Jojo Rabbit,won the Grolsch People’s Choice Award, as well — and that for a film no other director would probably consider making: a comedy about Hitler. It’s a reductive elevator pitch, which is how many will approach the film when it is officially released, but Jojo Rabbit is hardly that. Instead, Waititi satirizes hate itself, as well as all the ridiculously extreme convictions people have that hold the world back from being peaceful. Easily the most audacious film in the director’s filmography, Jojo Rabbit successfully balances the quirky humor of Waititi’s previous efforts with a dark subject matter. The result is a movie that not only will make audiences laugh, but will have them valuing the importance of laughter and niceties in a hate-fueled time. (Christopher Cross)

The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse

Robert Eggers blew everyone away with his debut feature, The Witch, which ratcheted up the paranoia until there was nowhere to go but supernatural. While his sophomore feature doesn’t feature a Black Phillip-stand in, The Lighthouse trades witchcraft and Satan for mermaids and Lovecraft. The result is another film drenched in paranoia, as its two lead actors give some of the funniest, nuanced, and entertaining performances of their careers. The Lighthouse isn’t just Eggers proving he’s not a one-trick pony — it’s Eggers proving he’s one of the greatest horror filmmakers working today. (Christopher Cross)

Marriage Story

Marriage Story

Noah Baumbach’s newest film, Marriage Story, is partly inspired by his divorce earlier this decade from the actress Jennifer Jason Leigh. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson star as Charlie and Nicole; he’s a renowned theater director in New York, and she’s an actress best known for starring in a popular teen comedy, though in recent years she’s starred in her husband’s productions. The film opens with a touching set of dueling montages, as both characters recite their favorite aspects of their partners — only to reveal that they’re separating, and this is just an exercise cooked up by a mediator to keep their relations positive. Driver and Johansson are at the top of their game, and Baumbach has never been better. He keeps his camera work reserved so as not to distract from his airtight screenplay and the moving performances. No film can convey all the heartache and longing that comes with divorce, but Baumbach may have gotten closer than anyone else. (Brian Marks)

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire began attracting rapturous praise when it premiered at Cannes, and its presence at TIFF has only confirmed its stature. Set sometime in the late 18th Century, Portrait concerns two young women struggling against the stifling societal expectations that govern them. Noémie Merlant stars as Marianne, the daughter of a respected painter who has her own artistic talents. She has been called to Brittany to paint a portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), which her family desires in order to send it to a Milanese suitor they hope to marry her off to. If he finds her beautiful enough, then the survival of their bloodline is guaranteed. But Héloïse has no intention of sitting for a portrait, forcing Marianne to get creative. Over time, she begins to question her role in Héloïse’s future, and the two develop an unshakeable bond. Herlant and Haenel give wonderfully tender performances, perfectly playing off each other for escalating dramatic tension. Sciamma is almost clinical in the way she films the two women, yet there’s a welcome touch of the fantastic that occasionally intrudes. A love story for the ages. (Brian Marks)

Saint Maud

Saint Maud

Rose Glass’s directorial debut, Saint Maud, is a film that wowed many audiences at TIFF, even if it didn’t necessarily win any awards. Picked up by A24 soon after the festival, the film highlights a nurse in private care that goes to extreme lengths to show her devotion to God and curing the world of sickness. A slow-burn that is masterfully handled through character work, this psychological thriller takes its time to get where its going, but is never a bore while getting there. Yet, once it does make its way to the intense final act, there is little room to breathe as Saint Maud moves and moves until its phenomenal conclusion. A strong debut with a fantastic lead performance by Morfydd Clark, this is the kind of film that will have you biting your nails as it sucks you into the mind of someone passionately devoted to God and trying to save her soul. (Christopher Cross)

The Twentieth Century

The Twentieth Century

With his debut feature, The Twentieth Century, Matthew Rankin reminds us of the seemingly limitless possibilities of cinema. The film documents the rise of former Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King in a truly bizarre style, featuring gorgeously saturated yet simultaneously faded colors that evoke the feel of early color films from the 1920s and ’30s. Dan Beirne plays a neurotic version of the future politician, who lives in perpetual adolescence and has a dark secret: he gets his rocks off with women’s heels. Rankin is clearly indebted to fellow Canadian Guy Maddin, and takes the same relish as he pulls from bits of film history while thoroughly deconstructing the traditional biopic. Rankin’s off-putting sense of humor and the movie’s otherworldly visuals will frighten off many viewers, but hopefully, it will delight even more. The Twentieth Century won the award for Best Canadian First Feature, and it’s sure to be a midnight movie classic. (Brian Marks)

Uncut Gems

Uncut Gems

The Safdie Brothers have followed up their grimy, abrasive Good Time with a film that never quite reaches those levels of tension, but is nevertheless cut from the same cloth. With Uncut Gems, the directing duo have crafted something so loud and chaotic — led by a perfectly-cast Adam Sandler — that there is no denying it’s a fun ride, even when it is not so fun to watch. Digging through the grit of loan sharks and a dog-eat-dog world, Uncut Gems is another bonafide hit by the Safdie brothers, but one that works when it piles on the misery — which it often does, rather than find a shred of happiness. (Christopher Cross)

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