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 clich├ęs 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.

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