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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/