The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Commando (1985)

 photo commandocov_zps7c0640d8.jpg

I told this movie I was going to review it last.  I lied.  Commando, 900th post, let's do this.

Commando stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as Colonel Matrix, the greatest army guy in the history of army guys.  Shit goes bad when baddie Dan Hedaya, deposed dictator of a Banana Republic, has Vernon Wells and some other bad dudes kidnap Arnie's daughter, Alyssa Milano, and he'll kill her if Arnie doesn't kill the current leader of Hedaya's country.  Arnie won't take this shit lying down though, and now he's got 11 hours to get to Hedaya before the plane he's supposed to be on lands there and they realize Arnie's not on it.  Luckily he has help in the form of flight attendant/beginner pilot Rae Dawn Chong.  All fucking hell is going to break loose, and nothing will be left but the bodies.

 photo commando3a_zpsfd90d454.jpg

Do you need me to tell you that this is a 90-minute awesomefest?  It's my all-time favorite action film, just for the pure actioness of it.  First off, you have the great hero in Arnie's Colonel Matrix.  How do you not want this guy to prevail?  Then you have fantastic baddies in not only Hedaya and Wells, but also Bill Duke as a lower-down baddie, and David Patrick Kelly as the heel.  Rae Dawn Chong is only a damsel in distress as far as her being kidnapped initially by Schwarzenegger, but beyond that she's his partner, and is a lot of fun to watch too.  Finally the action is there, from the great scenes in the mall and Arnie's house, to the fantastic finale that ups the kill count exponentially.  I could write on how amazing this movie is until I'm dead tired.

One of the fascinating things about Arnie's career is that, while other stars like Seagal and Van Damme went into DTV flicks, he became governor of California.  But this was before then, when he really only had the Conan films and Terminator to his credit, and after Commando he exploded in stardom.  A movie like this starts and ends with the hero, and Arnie sells it from the moment his biceps are on screen holding up an enormous log.  Larger than life, one-liner after one-liner, this is what we want from our action lead, and his Col. Matrix is one reason why I'm so hard on current action films that don't give us a hero this great.  Would we root for Arnie today if he were mean-mugging in a white tank top and telling us he lives his life a quarter mile at a time?  No chance.

 photo commando15a_zps7b586cb8.jpg

One thing I've never understood about the modern action flick is that they cast women in the classic "lead's lover/damsel in distress role", but then in the behind the scenes featurettes try to tell us her character is something bigger than that, like she's a strong woman and not just window dressing for the hero, when glorified window dressing is often all she is.  The reason why I've never understood that, is that we only have to look at Rae Dawn Chong's character in Commando to see a real female lead in a male-centered action flick who isn't just window dressing.  She's barely a damsel in distress only by virtue of the fact that Arnie catches her, and she's not his love interest.  Instead, she's a well-rounded, fully developed character who contributes to Arnie's quest in vital ways that made his success possible.  I'm not saying an action film can't have a female lead who is de facto window dressing or the classic damsel in distress; but don't sell us that she's Rae Dawn Chong in Commando when she isn't.  Sometimes I can't believe this macho bullshit...

Vernon Wells as Bennett is probably the most memorable baddie in Commando, especially because of his name being attached to one of the most famous lines in the film: "Let off some steam Bennett".  I think in 2013, we aren't sure what to do with him, because he's pretty sinister, but he's also wearing a chainmail tank top over a black shirt with leather pants and big boots.  As much as it's 80s leather bar enforcer crossed with Philippine post-apocalyptic exploitation flick extra, it's also very unflattering to Wells's ample frame.  That's the thing though, when the rest of the movie is that awesome, Wells's outfit becomes awesome too.  Besides, he does need to be a little off, because anyone who turns down $100,000 to do a job for free isn't playing with a full deck and is likely the kind of guy who dresses like Bennett does.

 photo commando16a_zpsca5c5809.jpg

I asked my friend, who's about seven years older than me, what he thought about Commando while we were rock climbing today-- or rather, he was rock climbing and I was belaying him while flailing ineptly on the rock when it was my turn to climb-- and one thing he mentioned was the music.  He liked the fact that Commando didn't have any hit popular music or a soundtrack it was trying to sell (he forgot about "We Fight for Love", but I know what he's saying).  Let's look at the music in Commando then, because music seems to be a big deal in modern action films.  What was that sound in there for most of it, a xylophone, or steel drums?  And a fucking saxophone too.  Wait, you mean it wasn't a bunch of asshats in a Sevendust knock-off playing the same three guitar chords and the same scratchy, screaming lyrics?  That's right, one of the best (and in my opinion the best) action films of all time rocked your ass with a fucking xylophone (or steel drums) and a saxophone.  That's the thing, you don't need to dress your movie up with silly crap when the action is as fantastic as it is here.  I am a mountain, surrounded by your love you are a fountain.  That's all you need.

My ultimate judge for how good an action film is is how many fist pumps it evokes from me.  For instance, Fast Five did one: that scene at the end when all hope appears to be lost, and Vin Diesel asks his crew who's with him to get the money back, and after none of them say anything, we hear The Rock in the background say "I'll ride with you Toretto."  Commando has more fist pumps than I could count, sometimes multiple fist pumps for one moment.  Even now, seeing it again for this review after having seen it myriad times before, the fist pump quotient was still high.  This might be why I'm so hard on a lot of action movies from the 2000s, not because so few are Commando, but because so few realize how good Commando is, or what makes Commando good.  Maybe it's wrong that I'm so hard, but on the other hand, I think when I say a movie is good, you at least know this is the kind of standard I'm measuring it against.  I don't think I'm unreasonable about that though, especially when both action fans my age and younger action fans all agree that it's the Commando and not a lot of these modern flicks that is the superior product.  Hey, it's not like I'm expecting World War III.

 photo commando19a_zps3c950f5b.jpg

I'll finish this by being a little self-indulgent.  In 2007 when I started this thing, I guess I saw us getting to 900 posts, but not to be here over 6 years later, interacting with all kinds of great people on not only the site, but Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook too.  Fellow bloggers, indie directors looking for publicity, low-budget movie fans, and even higher ups like screenwriters, directors, and actors of these films I review.  It has been a fantastic experience, and hopefully it'll continue for another 900.  I want to thank all of you for your support and readership, because without you it would just be me and my buddies and Russian spammers.

As of this posting, this is available on Netflix Instant.  If you haven't seen it before, go, now, it's only 90 minutes.  If you already have-- and I'm sure you have-- then I'm sure you know why I think it's so amazing.  Again, my favorite action film of all-time.  Now I'll let you go.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088944/

14 comments:

  1. An insanely good film. Congratulations on the 900 mark, Matt!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Woah, was not expecting this! Awesome review Matt. This is such a good action movie. I think it's mostly down to Mark Lester's tongue-in-cheek direction. I'm going to try and do a series of reviews about him soon.

    Here's my top ten best bits of Commando.
    1. Opening credit montage, feeding baby deer, daughter pushing ice-cream in his face
    2. The garden shed massacre
    3. "You remember when I said I'd kill you last. I lied."
    4. (garbled) "I eat green berets for breakfast and right now I'm very hungry."
    5. "Do not wake my friend, he's dead tired"
    6. "You'd better cooperate, right?" "Wrong."
    7. Swinging across shopping mall and landing on elevator
    8. Shaking Sully out of the phone booth
    9. "Let off some steam, Bennett."
    10. Ripping out car seat to hide himself 2 inches lower in the car

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're absolutely right, I should've mentioned Mark Lester. He was great directing this, as well as Showdown in Little Tokyo. Just a great action director.

      Delete
  3. Commando is an undisputed classic.

    In addition to the other points you make, I think another reason why Commando is so good is the simplicity of the plot.

    Too many films from the 2000s onwards have these complex and convoluted plots which leave you caring or understanding little about what's happening.

    Congrats on your 900th post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's funny, because it's simple, yet deceptively complex with that construct of him having to beat the plane to the island before they realize he's not on it. But I agree, that overarching simplicity of saving the kidnapped daughter, gets us as viewers in quick, and requires very little exposition. I also liked that, because it's the daughter who's kidnapped, Rae Dawn Chong didn't have to be the standard damsel in distress. All great stuff, and thanks for the congrats!

      Delete
  4. Commando is one of the greats of action cinema. Excellent write-up.

    Congratulations on your 900th post!

    ReplyDelete
  5. A true action classic by every measure. Love this film. Love this blog! Congrats on 900, Matt! You're one of the guys I looked to model when I was first coming up and I'm glad the DTVC is alive and well. I can speak for a lot of us when I say that I admire your productivity and coverage of so many movies that might have otherwise fallen by the wayside.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Karl, I really appreciate it. Hopefully we'll be able to keep this thing afloat well beyond 900, but I really appreciate your support.

      Delete
  6. Congrats!

    Great review of an undisputed classic. I love seeing all the stock actors (Bill Duke, Bill Paxton, Vernon Wells, David Patrick Kelly etc.) who pop up in Joel Silver's action movies in the '80s and '90s.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you man, I appreciate it! Yeah, that Bill Paxton manning the radar is one of the best. He was just waiting for Twister to come along...

      Delete
  7. What I remember most from that movie was the awesome soundtrack. The steel drums were great. That an Alyssa Milano escaping through an old board in the window.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Lester got together a film crew, and decide to capture 110% raw animal testosterone on film. The result is this insane classic. Vintage shred-week-physique Arnold, we all remember how massive and puffed-up he look in Terminator. Arnold probably could of won every world war, and most likely ran his campaign with snippets of Commando along with bits of war footage from CNN. I bet he destroyed that bearded dude in that cave in an epic knife fight too. After all this, I believe that Jenny was sent to boarding school, and John used his callsign "Dutch", and called up Kirby for one last job. The bloodlust came back, and he most likely will need a new home, since his weekend country retreat home was hammered. "It's been a long time, General!"

    ReplyDelete