Saturday, October 31, 2009

Top 5 Top 5 Lists Related To, But Not Including, Rio Bravo

Top 5 John Wayne Films:

1. The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
2. Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939)
3. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford, 1962)
4. Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948)
5. The Quiet Man (John Ford, 1952)

Top 5 Howard Hawks Films:

1. Bringing Up Baby (1938)
2. The Big Sleep (1946)
3. Red River (1948)
4. To Have And Have Not (1944)
5. His Girl Friday (1940)

Top 5 Movies Starring Members Of The Rat Pack:

1. The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer, 1962)
2. Some Came Running (Vincente Minnelli, 1958)
3. Ocean's Eleven (Lewis Milestone, 1960)
4. Bells Are Ringing (Vincente Minnelli, 1960)
5. Guys And Dolls (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1955)

Top 5 Pre-1970 Westerns That Were Not Directed By John Ford:

1. Once Upon A Time In The West (Sergio Leone, 1968)
2. Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948)
3. Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954)
4. The Good, The Bad & The Ugly (Sergio Leone, 1966)
5. Devil's Doorway (Anthony Mann, 1950)

Top 5 Films Of 1959:

1. North By Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock)
2. Hiroshima, mon amour (Alain Resnais)
3. Sleeping Beauty (Clyde Geronimi)
4. The 400 Blows (François Truffaut)
5. Anatomy Of A Murder (Otto Preminger)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Me and John Wayne: A Personal History

For the first two decades of my existence I harbored a wholly irrational hatred of John Wayne. Irrational insofar as in I had never actually seen a John Wayne film in those twenty years. Growing up a punk rocker in the Bay Area, lilliputian land for the liberal-minded, my exposure to "the Duke" was more left-wing attacks on the manly man's persona than any tangible work he had done.

The first mention of John Wayne in my slim slice of the stratosphere came when I was thirteen and I picked up the debut album by the punk band MDC. MDC had come to my attention when I discovered that their cassette was on Kurt Cobain's person when he was arrested for vandalism at the age of eighteen. The band mined a similar style to San Francisco's Dead Kennedys, a political punk band whose lyrics zeroed in on corporate crime, animal rights and exploitive evangelism. The catchiest song on MDC's debut album, the succinctly titled Millions of Dead Cops, was the immortal "John Wayne was a Nazi", which posited that Wayne ("just another pawn for the capitalist whore") had a picture of Adolf Hitler hidden in his cowboy vest.

Subtlety was not their strong point. Of course, the song takes John Wayne's conservative views to an extreme edge. Regardless, this embellished tale of racism and violence had a profound effect on me even if I didn't quite understand which statements in the song were exaggerations.

The other item in my casebook against Wayne was much more innocuous, but it too left an impression. The Onion's Thurber Prize-winning book Our Dumb Century pokes fun at the efforts of the House Un-American Activities Committee to expose Communists in Hollywood with the immortal headline:

Ronald Reagan Bravely Turns In 78,342 Hollywood Leftists
Eight Non-Communists Cleared

Among the eight patriots are Reagan himself, Lassie, and of course, John Wayne. It's all in fun but this joke of a headline coupled with the MDC song festered an intense dislike for this man. These songs and faux-articles mined grains of truth. John Wayne was a close-minded, conservative racist. Here he is talking to Playboy magazine in 1971:

"I believe in white supremacy until blacks are educated to the point of responsibility. I don't believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people."

He goes on to talk about how he's not sorry that Native Americans lost their land to whites and to expound the merits of the Vietnam War.

So at the age of thirteen, armed with these blistering attacks to John Wayne's legacy, I swore him off as a bigot and left it at that.

That is until I saw the Searchers a decade later.

I don't think Wayne actually understood what the point of the Searchers was. I think he truly believed his character, Ethan Edwards, who sets off at the beginning of the film on a relentless pursuit to find his Comanche-kidnapped niece Debbie, was the hero. Ethan is driven by his unrepentant racism toward the natives and is horrified that Debbie will be tainted by them. Wayne named his son Ethan after his character. Frankly, not the name I would have given the boy had I known Ethan was the villain.

Luckily the film was helmed by John Ford, a subtle, intelligent progressive who brought out the villain in Ethan with his deft direction. The first time I saw The Searchers I was filled with mixed emotions. I knew the filmmaking was flawless (an opinion that has been reinforced by subsequent viewings) but I was still on the fence about Wayne. He did a fantastic job but having my first exposure to his work be his all-too-convincing portrayal of a sociopath may have not been the best idea. The film did spark my interest enough to pursue other Wayne films.

Next up was Wayne in Howard Hawks' Red River, the film that spurred John Ford to proclaim "I didn't know the big son of a bitch could act!" And act he can. Subsequent viewings of such Western classics as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon only solidified this opinion. But it is Hawks' Rio Bravo that made me fully embrace John Wayne the actor. This leisurely paced film allows Wayne plenty of room to breathe and play off other great performers, particularly Dean Martin and the great Walter Brennan.

Rio Bravo was Hawks' rebuttal to High Noon, Fred Zinnemann's lame allegory for the government's Communist witch hunt. I cite my differing opinion on these two films as a turning point in my growing acceptance of art regardless of its political agenda. If it's done capably, I can now get behind a work of art no matter how much I disagree with its agenda (and vice versa.) Ayn Rand is a crazy old coot but Atlas Shrugged is one hell of a well-written book. In fact, I consider it a masterpiece. It's also completely backwards and evil but...

Sometimes the stubborn idealism of my youth rears its bull of a head, making certain experiences difficult to stomach. I still have a hard time separating Elia Kazan's critically-acclaimed work from the fact that he named names to HUAC. Try as I might, I can't help but get angry thinking about it. Maybe that's because Kazan was himself a left-wing, card-carrying liberal and he betrayed his comrades to save his own skin. He named Zero Mostel for goodness sake! Zero Mostel!

At least John Wayne was honest. He never lied to himself or others and I think there is a purity in that that comes out in his work.

Plus I find this news comforting: after a decade of trying to get the airport located near his ranch shut down for disturbing his tranquility, they named the godforsaken place after him when he died.

Karma's a bitch.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Coming Attractions: Rio Bravo

Wednesday, November 4th at 6:40 & 9:20

Giveaways: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance DVD courtesy of Scarecrow Video and a gift certificate for Rain City Video, respectively.

See you there!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Clint Eastwood And The Myth Of The Last Golden Age

In films like Visions Of Light or A Decade Under The Influence or Peter Biskind's book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, so many of the people who worked in Hollywood in the 1970s talk about what a special time it was: the Last Golden Age in which after the collapse of the studio system in the late 60s, the money men turned over the reins to the young generation to make whatever personal or crazy films they wanted, which resulted in a rebirth and peak of American cinema. The end of the story is usually glossed over, with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas blamed for inventing the blockbuster and bringing an end to the era with their relentless dumbing down of American culture, or alternately, Michael Cimino and Francis Ford Coppola blamed for going on maniacal ego trips wherein they spend inordinate amounts of money on films that fail to meet anyone's expectations, thus proving that artists can't be trusted with money (never mind how good the films are, and by the way, Heaven's Gate is a truly great film).

The thing is, none of this is really true, most of it is self-aggrandizing reminiscing by the most self-aggrandizing subsection of the most self-aggrandizing generation in American history (that would be Baby Boomer Artists). Personal filmmaking didn't begin with Hal Ashby and Bob Rafelson anymore than the blockbuster began with Star Wars or Jaws. In fact, the kinds of films, and filmmakers, who get praised in these stories are exactly the same kind of middle of the road popular filmmakers that get praised in any other era: the ones who make hits and win awards, and they are deemed to have become failures not when they make bad movies, but when they make movies that fail at the box office. For example, William Friedkin is no more personal or original a filmmaker than, say, Michael Bay, yet he made two films in the early 70s that were commercial and critical hits: The French Connection (which won several Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor) and The Exorcist (which was nominated for ten Oscars and won two), thus is he a primary source for these films. When his remake of the classic The Wages Of Fear, Sorcerer, bombed, he became a Hollywood also-ran, a status he's maintained for most of the last 30 years (though he has directed two episodes of CSI, so he's got that going on).

For the most part, the generation of American filmmakers who came of age in the late 60s and 70s either saw their careers derailed by drugs or illness (Ashby died young, Dennis Hopper went crazy), burnt out and became less ambitious (Coppola and Altman, at least until his 90s renaissance) or were exposed as more hype than substance (Friedkin, arguably DePalma). But four have managed to put together careers with the kind of longevity that can compare to the great directors of earlier generations, the ones from true Golden Ages in American film: Chaplin, Lubitsch, Ford, Hawks, Minnelli, etc. Martin Scorsese has been the most celebrated and rightfully so as he's managed the most consistently outstanding output, both critically and popularly. Woody Allen is a special case, who for most of his career has existed largely outside the Hollywood world. Steven Spielberg has been one of the most popular filmmakers of all-time, but has at times suffered critically for the middleness of the brow in his serious films and his sheer laziness in some of his popcorn films (I'm looking at you, Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull).

The fourth is one who almost never gets mentioned in these 70s hagiographies, and that is Clint Eastwood. Eastwood has always been more famous as an actor than director, and his performances (The Man With No Name, Dirty Harry) are iconic in American culture. But he got his start directing in 1971, at the height of the studios-throwing-money-at-the-young-and-crazy era and has been consistently making quality movies ever since. Though he started making genre films (Westerns, action movies), they have always been personal ones: one of Eastwood's great themes as an auteur is the varying facets of the American image of masculinity and how it has been manipulated and changed over time. Being one of the most iconic representations of that ideal, his films often function as deconstructions of his own image, especially in three of his Westerns: High Plains Drifter (a replaying of A Fistful Of Dollars as a satanic comedy), The Outlaw Joesy Wales (the Man With No Name as community-builder and peacemaker) and Unforgiven (the apocalyptic End Of The West, with the hero exposed as little more than a murderer for hire). In White Hunter Black Heart, he gave one of his finest performances in a film that mercilessly explored the persona of the ultra-masculine film director (his character is a thinly veiled John Huston). Most recently, in last year's Gran Turino, he attempted a rehabilitation of his Dirty Harry character playing an old man who takes a young Hmong boy under his wing and engages in some good old fashioned vigilantism to protect the kid's family. This is the kind of filmmaking the likes of Lucas, Friedkin or John Milius talks about (and Scorsese and Allen actually made), but Eastwood is rarely acknowledged as this kind of personal filmmaker, at least by the talking heads in these documentaries.

Why is Eastwood overlooked by his generation? Partly because in the 70s he wasn't really a part of the fast-living cocaine Hollywood that most of these guys like to recall (the ones who survived it, at least). In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Eastwood hated most of those guys (can you really see him hanging out with a pot-smoking hippie like Hal Ashby?). Partly because during that decade his filmmaking was restricted to genre films, and in genres that didn't get the kind of lavish critical praise that Friedkin and Coppola's did. Partly because he was so famous as an actor that it overshadowed his directorial work; it wasn't until his acting for other people pretty much stopped in the late 80s that people began to notice his directing (In The Line Of Fire in 1993 only film in the last 20 years that he starred in that was directed by somebody else). Mostly, though, Eastwood isn't included because his story doesn't mesh with the one this generation likes to tell about itself. His ability to keep working within the system gives the lie to their excuse that when the corporations came in, the Golden Age, and with it personal filmmaking in Hollywood came to an end (as does, of course, the careers of auteurs who began their work in the 80s, while these 70s folks were flailing: Jim Jarmusch, Spike Lee, Hal Hartley, John Hughes, Gus Van Sant; and conversely the stories of those established auteurs who couldn't get funding for their films in the 70s: Orson Welles, Samuel Fuller and Nicholas Ray). What this generation never seemed to understand is that what made the auteurs of earlier and later eras great was not the they were given free reign over vast studio resources and allowed to make whatever films they wanted, it was that they were strong enough artists that they could be given any material, story, actor, crew, and shape it to their own personal vision of what a film should be, how it should look, and what themes it would reflect. They didn't need a vacuum in the wake of systemic collapse in order to get their visions on screen, they were artist enough to make their films regardless of where the money came from. It was the directors who never understood this that burned out and faded away. But this side of the story doesn't get told in these retrospectives: the people who would tell it are too busy working.

Links: The Outlaw Josey Wales

Shooting Down Pictures has a compendium of critical quotes on the Outlaw Josey Wales.

A lengthy article on Clint Eastwood's supreme body of work can be found at Senses of Cinema.

Henry Sheehan posts an essay originally written for Film Comment on Eastwood and the Western.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Top 5 Top 5 Lists Related To, But Not Including, The Outlaw Josey Wales

Top 5 Clint Eastwood-Directed Films:

1. Unforgiven (1992)
2. White Hunter, Black Heart (1990)
3. Flags Of Our Fathers (2006)
4. High Plains Drifter (1973)
5. A Perfect World (1993)

Top 5 Clint Eastwood-Starring Films Not Directed By Clint Eastwood:

1. The Man With No Name Trilogy (Sergio Leone, 1964-66)
2. In The Line Of Fire (Wolfgang Petersen, 1993)
3. Kelly's Heroes (Brian Hutton, 1970)
4. Dirty Harry (Don Siegel, 1971)
5. Where Eagles Dare (Brian Hutton, 1968)

Top 5 Actor/Directors:

1. Orson Welles
2. Buster Keaton
3. Jacques Tati
4. Charlie Chaplin
5. Woody Allen

Top 5 Post-1970 Westerns:

1. Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch, 1995)
2. Unforgiven (Eastwood, 1992)
3. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman, 1971)
4. Heaven's Gate (Michael Cimino, 1980)
5. Silverado (Lawrence Kasdan, 1985)

Top 5 Films Of 1976:

1. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese)
2. Marathon Man (John Schlesinger)
3. The Bad News Bears (Michael Ritchie)
4. All The President's Men (Alan J. Pakula)
5. Bound For Glory (Hal Ashby)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Coming Attractions: The Outlaw Josey Wales

Wednesday, October 28th at 6:40 & 9:15

Giveaways: Unforgiven DVD courtesy of Scarecrow Video and a gift certificate for Rain City Video, respectively.

See you there!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Top 5 Top 5 Lists Related To, But Not Including, Commando

Top 5 Arnold Schwarzenegger Films:

1. The Terminator 1 & 2 (James Cameron, 1984)
2. Conan The Barbarian (John Milius, 1982)
3. Predator (John McTiernan, 1987)
4. The Last Action Hero (John McTiernan, 1993)
5. Total Recall (Paul Verhoeven, 1990)

Top 5 Hollywood Action Movies Of The 1980s (no Sci-Fi or Sports):

1. Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1989)
2. Top Gun (Tony Scott, 1986)
3. Beverly Hills Cop (Martin Brest, 1984)
4. Lethal Weapon (Richard Donner, 1987)
5. First Blood (Ted Kotcheff, 1982)

Top 5 Films Starring Dan Hedaya:

1. Blood Simple (Joel & Ethan Coen, 1984)
2. Joe Vs. The Volcano (John Patrick Shanley, 1990)
3. Clueless (Amy Heckerling, 1995)
4. A Life Less Ordinary (Danny Boyle, 1997)
5. Dick (Andrew Fleming, 1999)

Top 5 Films Written By Steven de Souza:

1. Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1989)
2. 48 Hrs. (Walter Hill, 1982)
3. Die Hard 2: Die Harder (Renny Harlin, 1990)
4. The Running Man (Paul Michael Glaser, 1987)
5. Hudson Hawk (Michael Lehmann, 1991)

Top 5 Films Of 1985:

1. Ran (Akira Kurosawa)
2. The Purple Rose Of Cairo (Woody Allen)
3. Out Of Africa (Sydney Pollack)
4. Police Story (Jackie Chan)
5. Silverado (Lawrence Kasdan)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Links: Commando

"Commando is the greatest film of all time", says Mark Lester, director of Commando.

Need to share that Crayola portrait of Arnold with the world? is the go-to place for all of your obsessive needs.

Lastly, there are apparently 87 life lessons to be gleaned from Commando and one man dared to list them all.

Up and at them.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Big Fan: The Interview

A few weeks back, while scouring the nerdnet for websites related to our current Connections series, I stumbled upon, an exhaustive and entertaining place for all things Commando. It's a treasure trove of quotes, trivia, and fan-created art all linked to lil Arnie Schwarzenegger's greatest acheivement. The website was created and is currently maintained by a nice chap named Andrew. In honor of this week's Classic, I conducted a brief interview with Andrew hoping to get to the bottom of this man and this movie. What prosperous fruit could be stolen from the grocery cart of this man's mind? Let's watch!

--When was the first time you saw Commando?

I was 19 years old, and in college (circa 2001). I had always been a fan of Arnie's work in The Terminator and T2, but had never delved into his earlier movies. I picked up Commando on DVD at Wal-Mart one day and gave it a watch. It was one of those magical moments where I knew that I was seeing something special. I immediately went onto and started chatting with other people similarly afflicted with Commando-love. When I created the website, lots of those other posters came over and started posting on our message board. It kinda just grew organically. People just found the site and were hooked immediately. 500,000 visitors later, it's still a lot of fun.

--How many times have you seen the film?

I've officially lost count, but well over 100 times.

--How far does your Commando obsession extend (beyond hosting the website of course)? For example, do you own any seasons of either Charmed or Who's the Boss?

Ha, I never got into Alyssa Milano, but I've tracked down and watched several other classic films with Vernon Wells; i.e. Max Max 2, Weird Science, Fortress, Innerspace, Circuitry Man, and several MacGyver episodes. I own autographed photos of Schwarzenegger and Vernon Wells, press kits, lobby cards, scripts, posters, magazine articles, production stills, the soundtrack, and of course I run the Commando Fans website. I've met several message board members around he world and we've had drunken Commando viewings. We were able to track down Vernon Wells, who recorded a brilliant introduction video for the website. I've also corresponded with Director Mark Lester via e-mail. Very cool stuff.

--What is your favorite color??


--How would you rate Arnold Schwarzenegger as a governor?

I don't live in California, so I can only go by news reports and friends who live there. I think he's done as best as he could with the system that's in place. California has an insane constitution whereby the people can change the law with a majority vote on initiatives. They basically bypass the Governor and State Legislature. I've heard it said that California is "ungovernable", something repeated by both Democratic and Republican administrations. The jury's still out, but I'll always feel that he belongs on the silver screen.

--In your opinion what would be the best Commando-themed attraction, if Universal Studios decided to build one?

Probably a dark boiler room where an oiled up Austrian bodybuilder launches steam pipes through an animatronic RoboBennett. Either that or a Canoe with Wings. Literally.

--Why is there not already a Commando-themed attraction at Universal Studios?

True action films are less in fashion now, plus studios are always looking to attract families to their parks with CGI penguins and other bullshit. Commando has a huge cult following, but I'm guessing the majority don't visit theme parks. This one doesn't.

--Should we write Congress and/or Universal demanding a Commando-themed attraction?

I doubt it would do any good. However, we DID get the Director's Cut DVD through an online petition. We were even included in the special feature credits! So sure, write your congressperson. Tell them to finish healthcare first though. And maybe work on the economy too.

--If you could have the ability to fly or be invisible, which would you choose?

Being a guy, I should naturally choose invisibility due to the incredible opportunity to spy on naked women. However, I think I'll go with flying. Sully thought he could fly. He thought wrong...

--What is your favorite line from Commando??

"Welcome back, John. So glad you could make it!"

Friday, October 16, 2009

Commando: It's Like Arnold Coming At You... With No Brakes

Guest columnist Elicia Sanchez is much cooler than Sean and me. I know, hard to believe. For proof let's just check the back of her trading card: heavy-hitting rock 'n' roll drummer (Sorry Safari: Olympia or Bust Tour 2008); comic aficionado (Greg Rucka based a character on her, no foolin'!); and expert on vintage action cinema. Dig her Seagal-style self-portrait:

Oh, did I forget to mention her art credentials? Behold the spot-on portraits of Sean:

And me:

Like I said, much cooler than us. Despite feeling utterly inferior in her exalted presence, we mustered up the courage to beg for Elicia's esteemed opinions on Commando, this week's Classic. She kindly assented. Cheers resounded throughout our kingdom. Rejoice!

by Elicia Sanchez

The 80s were filled with many notable and not-so notable over-the-top action flicks (Over the Top starring Sly Stallone being one of the them). Many of them starred the same faces, you know, the ones that brought us Planet Hollywood; where you were able to enjoy a “Roadhouse burger” and a “Pretty in Pink mocktail” whilst you and your family pondered over the whimsical placemats featuring a guess-who of Hollywood stars' yearbook pictures, is that really Oprah? Planet Hollywood was where I found out Tom Cruise and I had the same size hands, and no I don’t want to talk about it…One of my favorite of these action-packed entrepreneurs was Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose last name we will always be a little uncomfortable pronouncing. Arnold was the perfect action star: he was huge, he could pick up large objects and throw them over long distances, he was not picky about plotlines and dialogue and he was a horrible actor…but he didn’t give a shit. He never really tried to be any better (like Harrison Ford) and I always respected that. Commando is a perfect example of Arnold’s ability and that cocky style of film…we know this isn‘t good and we don’t give a shit.

The story is simple, retired army Colonel John Matrix (Schwarzenegger) is living peacefully in a picturesque mountain cabin with his 11-year old daughter Jenny, a young precocious non-tattooed Alyssa Milano. He is a bad ass which is explained to the viewer by his opening intro, close-ups of his sweaty, shiny muscles as he carries not just a log, but what I’m sure is an entire tree. He is also a sweet family man which is shown to the viewer via a montage with his daughter, which includes obvious clichés such as shared ice cream cones and the feeding of an orphaned fawn (and no I did not make that last part up). Suddenly, an army helicopter flies in and General Kirby steps out warning Matrix that the men from his former platoon are being assassinated and he may be next in line. Matrix isn’t worried though, after all he has nothing to lose but his helpless young daughter. Not surprisingly the minute Kirby takes off, Matrix is ambushed and Jenny is taken hostage. The man in charge of the ambush, Matrix’ ex-commando buddy Bennett demands Arnie help his boss take down the current president of Cuba or Jenny is done for. Initially Matrix goes along, but eventually escapes and the rest of the film is Matrix as a one man army against everyone and everything in his way until he rescues Jenny.

Commando began development like any real man does, in the Playboy mansion. Director Mark L. Lester and writer Joseph Loeb III met at a party at Hef’s place and began discussing the possibility of making the picture. According to Lester, he was very intrigued by Loeb’s pitch and asked him to view the script to which Loeb replied, “If you see the script, you’ll never make this movie.” On the contrary, one of the best things about this film is the dialogue. Action films are often rife with trusty one-liners, most of the clever ones being given away in the trailers, but Commando is a film whose dialogue is simply ammunition for a machine gun assault of one-liners. Here are five of my favorites:

5. Arnold has cornered the bad guy who has his daughter. The bad guy brandishes a gun. Arnold suggests he drop the “chicken shit“ gun and they fight mano-a-mano or at the very least with knives. Arnie holds up a knife and says, “I know you want to look me in the eye and see what‘s going on in there just before you turn it.”

4. Arnie walks away from an exploding building, General Kirby says, “Leave anything for us?“ Arnold replies, “Just bodies.“

3. Arnold is asked by companion what he did to the punk he was questioning. The truth is he held the guy up by his foot then dropped him down a canyon. Arnold’s answer: “I let him go.”

2. Arnold is being attacked by a bad guy who says, “This Green Beret is going to kick your big ass.” To which Arnie replies, “I eat Green Berets for breakfast.” Begins punching the bad guy and says, “And right now I’m very hungry.”

1. Arnold impales a bad guy with a large pipe which immediately begins gushing steam. Arnold says; “Let off some steam, Bennett.” Brilliant. As a side note, apparently this was the first quip created for this scene, but the director tried a few more before he went with this one. Some of the others included; “Couldn’t handle the pressure, could you Bennett?” and “I’m tired of small talk.” How could they not see how ridiculously brilliant and simple the steam comment is the first time? The pressure comment was too scientific. It involves thought. Steam is right there coming at our face! At least they eventually figured it out.

Okay, so maybe it’s a little bit of a Schwarzenegger does Rambo, but the difference is Commando doesn’t take itself seriously. I’m fairly positive Joel Shumacher ripped off the close-up fitting-on costume armor scenes from the later Batman films from this one. Though there’s no latex cod piece shot, Arnie does strap on some huge round grenades right in front of his crotch, obviously implying something more subtle and more manly than latex (it’s all about the mystery Val Kilmer). Commando is still one of the best, the quintessential 80s action flick. If you’re still not convinced, I’ll break it down for you in numbers, because like this film it’s simple and I‘m not tired of it.

1. Explosions, explosions, explosions
Buildings, houses, boats, cars and even some dudes. The only thing that doesn’t explode in this movie is Arnie’s shirt, oh wait, never mind that comes off too.

2. Main character has a name that sounds like a term of endearment for a penis.

3. Cast
Arnold Schwarzenegger (as John Matrix), Bill Duke (as Green Beret), Vernon something (as Gary Glitteresque ex-commando in purple mesh top and leather pants, the Australian accent helps make up for this), David Patrick Kelly as punk enforcer (“Warriors…come out and play-ay!”) and even a cameo by Bill Paxton as Coast Guard guy who threatens to shoot down Arnie’s plane (whatevs, Coast Guard. Save the threats for the bad ass military branches).

4. One-liners
See above paragraph.

5. Rae Dawn Chong
Need a unnecessary love interest for your film with a little bit of an exotic edge, but nothing you know, too racy? Just call the essential harmless ambiguous ethnic of the 80’s, Rae Dawn Chong. Although every time she looks stressed or angry I imagine her turning into a gargoyle (if you haven’t seen that movie, you should).

6. Racist stereotype villain
Arius, the villainous, emotionless, killer Cuban dictator who wishes to become president is brilliantly played by Italian actor Dan Hedaya. With a horrible Spanish accent, a few unnecessary Spanish phrases thrown in and a Scarface-like demise, how could this be racist?

Though there are some great deleted scenes and commentary (mostly by Rae Dawn Chong) and tapes of Arnold filming at the time on the Director’s Cut DVD (by the way, Arnold does the best DVD commentary. Be sure to watch Conan The Barbarian with the commentary on, you won’t regret it) this movie is larger than life and is best seen on the big screen. The explosions are bigger, the clever quips are louder and Arnie’s muscles shine like they could never shine on your stupid, puny, girly man television set. Thank god Metro Classics is doing this film justice, or I suppose I should thank Mike and Sean. Thanks guys. Remember when I said I’d thank you first... I lied.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Coming Attractions: Commando

Wednesday, October 21st at 7:00 & 9:00.

Giveaways: Total Recall DVD courtesy of Scarecrow Video and a gift certificate for Rain City Video, respectively.

See you there!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Top 5 Top 5 Lists Related To, But Not Including, Enter The Dragon

Top 5 Kung Fu Films:

1. The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin (Lau Kar-leung, 1978)
2. House Of Flying Daggers & Hero (Zhang Yimou, 2004 & 2002)
3. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000)
4. A Touch Of Zen & Come Drink With Me (King Hu, 1969 & 1966)
5. Once Upon A Time In China (Tsui Hark, 1991)

Top 5 Chinese Films Not About Kung Fu:

1. Chungking Express & Fallen Angels (Wong Kar-wai, 1994 & 1995)
2. Millennium Mambo (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2001)
3. Hard-Boiled (John Woo, 1992)
4. Days Of Being Wild, In The Mood For Love & 2046 (Wong Kar-wai, 1990, 2000, 2004)
5. Yi yi (Edward Yang, 2000)

Top 5 Films Starring Actors Named "Bruce":

1. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
2. Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988)
3. Unbreakable (M. Night Shyamalan, 2000)
4. The Evil Dead Trilogy (Sam Raimi, 1981, 1987 and 1992)
5. The 'Burbs (Joe Dante, 1989)

Top 5 Movies With A "Hall Of Mirrors" Sequence:

1. The Lady from Shanghai (Orson Welles, 1947)
2. Mad Detective (Johnnie To and Wai Ka-fai, 2007)
3. The Circus (Charlie Chaplin, 1928)
4. Face (Tsai Ming-liang, 2009)
5. Hamlet (Kenneth Branagh, 1996)

Top 5 Films Of 1973:

1. Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese)
2. Badlands (Terrence Malick)
3. Don't Look Now (Nicholas Roeg)
4. Sleeper (Woody Allen)
5. The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Links: Enter the Dragon

Turner Classic Movies has a nice essay on the creation of Enter the Dragon.

Praise for the film comes courtesy of Big Hollywood.

According to Jump Cut, watching Enter the Dragon can turn you into an invincible killing machine, or something like that.


Friday, October 9, 2009

I Make Moves Like Iron Monkey: Kung Fu Films & Their Influence on Hip-Hop

When the Wu-Tang Clan burst onto the hip-hop scene in 1993, they looked and sounded like none of their contemporaries. Their sound was undeniably gritty, often stark beats laced with minimal samples. Traditional hooks or chorus were rarely seen. The group, which consisted of nine emcees, each with their own larger-than-life persona, spoke in such dense, self-invented slang verse after verse, that initially their music was impenetrable. It took many listens for one to differentiate the styles of each member and the intricate logic behind their inimitable rhymes.

Philosophically as well the Clan approached their music from a wholly different perspective from their fellow artists. While the rap stations of the day overplayed Dr Dre's pop-centric, glossy glorification of the ghetto, which embraced partying and violence over most everything, the Clan mingled their infinitely bleaker vision of growing up in poverty with celebrations of autodidactic education, mostly through their celebration of chess. But it was with their embracement of Kung Fu films that really set the group apart. Their co-option of these frenetic foreign films could have been dismissed as an affectation had the members of the Clan not been so unbridled in their enthusiasm, or so deep in their knowledge. It was clear that these young men gleaned many life lessons from their childhood marathons of Kung Fu films, which played on their local New York City television stations as well as at many of the grindhouse theatres that were around at the time.

From these films the Wu-Tang Clan learned about patience and diligence. The cinematic story of monks training night and day both in body and mind was transposed to the slums of Staten Island (which the Wu would from then on refer to as "Shaolin", after the home of the fighting monks). The Clan called their tongues swords and their daily rap battles, where they honed their craft over several years became their martial arts showdowns. Two members even took their name from characters in these films, Ghostface Killah and Masta Killa. Their debut album, the masterpiece Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, starts not with yet another P-Funk sample but with a piece of dialog from the 1981 Kung Fu flick, Shaolin & Wu-Tang, the amazing Gordon Liu's directorial debut.

Liu's previous starring vehicle, the phenomenal 36th Chamber of Shaolin not only gave the Wu-Tang Clan the title of their debut but the idea that within hip-hop there were 36 steps, or chambers, one would have to go through to become a true master of the art form. The film had such a profound effect on the group that Clan mastermind/producer/chess-champion the RZA provided informed audio commentary for the Dragon Dynasty DVD.

RZA also flexed some of his kung fu knowledge when he directed a music video for his Wu-Tang side project, the Gravediggaz.

On the eve of the fifth Wu-Tang Clan album, the underrated 8 Diagrams, RZA spoke with WIRED Magazine about some of the most iconic Kung Fu samples to crop up on the five Wu albums as well as the plethora of solo works the group has released. Much of RZA's subsequent work has involved Kung Fu in one way or another, the most prominent being his soundtrack work on Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill and Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: the Way of the Samurai, both films that deal with themes similar to their Kung Fu forefathers.

So where does Bruce Lee and Enter the Dragon fit into this? I'm afraid only tangentially. The Wu-Tang Clan was, as they are with most everything, interested in the Kung Fu film in its purest form. For praise of Lee and his outstanding work, one must look to other artists in the world of hip-hop. Hip-hop pioneer Kool G Rap has a great track that steals its title from this week's Classic.

There is also a Korean breakdancer named Bruce Lee. He's pretty good.

But I'm afraid I must leave you where we started. All of the themes, ideas and passions I tried so pitifully to express in the opening paragraphs are conveyed ever more effectively from the mouths of the artists themselves. Enjoy.