Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Commando



Title: Commando
Director: Mark L. Lester
Released: 1985
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rae Dawn Chong, Dan Hedaya, Vernon Wells, James Olson, David Patrick Kelly, Alyssa Milano, Bill Duke,

Plot: Retired Commando John Matrix (Schwarzenegger) has settled into an isolated life with his daughter (Milano), only to find himself being forced to carry out a political assassination when his daughter is kidnapped. Now Matrix has eleven hours to rescue his daughter from her kidnappers.


Review: Having launched himself into the public conscious with the Conan movies and “The Terminator” with this film we really started to the see the foundations of the Arnie formula starting with his introduction in this film consisting of close up shots of his muscular frame which only seem to make everything seem bigger and more impressive than it is. Even the chainsaw which looks pretty tiny when we see it, looks like its 6 ft long in its vanity shot.

The opening shot of Schwarzenegger carrying a log over his shoulder is such an iconic shot and feels almost like the studio introducing a major star being introduced  and it could be considered so seeing how compared to the films which came before it, it’s tonly very different with Schwarzenegger trading in the sword and sorcery antics of his early films (Conan / Red Sonja) being changed out for one liners and heroic gunplay which would become the foundation of the classic Schwarzenegger movie formula. Its only on rewatching the film that you also realise just how bonkers that opening title sequence is as we go from shots of the all powerful, man of the earth to shots of Matrix and his daughter getting ice cream and hand feeding a deer, which while important to show the life that Matrix has made for himself since his retirement from the special forces tonely is just such a random switch.

The plot itself is paper thin and really only serves to guide the audience from one exciting moment to the next, especially when Matrix has to do very little work to find his way to the villain Arius’s (Hedaya) hideout on the fictional Val Verde which was also referenced in both “Predator” and “Die Hard 2: Die Harder” which like this film needed a Spanish speaking country like Cuba or Nicaragua but at the same time wanting to avoid any potential diplomatic issues. Sadly the film really lacks a defined villain so it ends up that the henchmen here are actually more interesting than Arius with of course the most key being Vernon Wells “Freddie Mercury on steroids” Bennett another stone cold psycho as Wells channels the same kind of driven intensity which made “Wez” in “Mad Max 2” such a memorable villian, though the questionable fashion choices remain present as here he trades in his ass-less chaps for a chain mail vest! His knife fight with Schwarzenegger though at the finale is the stuff of action movie legend.

Of course the Arnie formula isn’t quite perfect at this point as Matrix is not only shown as being the muscular badass but also capable to superhuman feats of strength such as the ability to tear phone boxes out of the ground or throw nine mall security guards through the air. The strength element is always played down usually with Schwarzenegger’s body size being more of a key element than any kind of strength. These moments as a result end up being pretty jarring when they occur though this film more than nails is the ridiculous elements of heroic gun play which in turn would form the blueprint for the action movie genre.

The action scenes are unquestionably the best parts of the film and only build as the film goes on from a hotel room fist fight with Bill Duke’s green beret (he eats them for breakfast) hanging David Patrick Kelly (who looks comically short throughout) off a cliff. The grand finale being the now legendry shootout with Arius’s personal army which see’s Matrix not only getting to pull out all the “War Toys” but also fire countless bullets without ever having to reload but also find something to turn into a weapon regardless of how cornered he appears to be. The body count alone for this finale might be one of the largest ever filmed.

The other noteworthy aspect of this film and certainly its most overlooked come from Rae Dawn Chong’s unlikely sidekick and air hostess Cindy who is initially unwillingly coerced into helping Matrix get his daughter back only to turn out to be surprisingly resourceful let alone perhaps the first ever member of the “Girls with Rockets” club by taking out a police truck with a rocket launcher. Why is it so rare to see women firing rocket launchers or similar in films? Certainly its a question which came to me when I was on the “Exploding Helicopter Podcast” discussing “Hard Ticket To Hawaii” and lead to me creating a list on Letterboxd to log every film this happens (feel free to name your ideas) so its safe to say thats this film should also get a credit for being so forward thinking to have her weld such a traditionally male weapon with just as much competence as her male counterpart….even if she does initially have it the wrong way around.

A fun side note is that originally this film was going to have a sequel which would have been a reworked version of “Die Hard” and seen Matrix being hired to head up a security team at the big corporation were his daughter is also working as a lawyer. Matrix would make up a team of the toughest and most dangerous people he knows only for them to turn out to be inline with the company he’s working for which is really just a front for illegal arms deals. Matrix of course ending up to fight through all the people he hired to rescue his daughter again which sounds like a great plot but at the same time its hard to argue against how “Die Hard” ultimately turned out. Who knows maybe this will be the plot of “Expendables 4”

For mindless fun this is unquestionably one of the key Schwarzenegger films and one whose cult status has only increased in recent years. Here though we get everything we want from an Arnie movie and while it might not be perfect there enough mindless violence and action to make for the perfect popcorn movie.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Buffalo '66



Title: Buffalo ‘66
Director: Vincent Gallo
Released: 1998
Starring: Vincent Gallo, Christina Ricci, Ben Gazzara, Mickey Rourke, Rosanna Arquette, Jan-Michael Vincent, Anjelica Huston

Plot: Released from prision after serving five years for a crime he didn’t commit, Billy (Gallo) is keen to get his life in order starting with a visit to his parents. However to maintain the lie of his whereabouts all this time he kidnaps tap dancer Layla (Ricci) to play the role of his fiance.

 

Review: The debut film from the man of many talents Vincent Gallo and who here writes and directs the film, though if your to believe Gallo he was also responsible for the cinematography aswell.

Made on a shoestring budget of $ 1.5 milion this aggressive little indie film is not one for those of use who watch films for escapism or to generally not feel like garbage by the end credits for this is far from the happiest film as Gallo crafts a film full of hate and vitriol as Billy is introduced angry and carries it through for nearly the whole film as he angrily searches for a bathroom, argues with his parents and even gets angry at Layla for daring to actually have feelings for him. That being said though in Gallo’s world view everyone is seemingly just as angry.

A favourite of not only the critics where it appears frequently on the top 50 lists of independent cinema but also the majority of Letterboxd reviewers whose glowing reviews for this film made me wonder if I’d stumbled into a different movie as this was far from the most thrilling cinema going experience as instead I found myself feeling like I was locked in a filthy room with only a single Kleenex to clean up. Honestly I wasn’t sure what there was to enjoy about a film were for the first hour it just seemed to be a stream of people determined to let each other know just how much they hated each other.

Of course there have been other equally grim movies such as “Requiem for a Dream” and “Irreversable” that dare I say I’ve enjoyed, but with those it was clear that there was a destination they were heading towards and that it wasn’t just some demented experiment in endurance that the director was seemingly trying to craft. It’s here of course that I find the biggest question mark about the film in that its unclear what Gallo is actually trying to achieve here other than fuelling his own ego as throughout Gallo ensures that he constantly the focus of the film while the now legendary fallout from the film which saw Gallo claiming that he carried Ricci while refering to her as being a “Puppet”, he also blamed Anjelica Huston for the film being turned down by the Cannes film festival.

As a lead character Billy makes this far from the easiest experience to get through as there is no one that he won’t pick an argument with or shout abuse at and while Gallo might with painful tedium strip aware these layers of aggressive armour as the reasons are revealed from the abusive family home which is layed on thick for if you couldn’t tell by the general bitterness around the family table Gallo throws in a flashback to Billy’s father killing his puppy when he didn’t clean up after it. We also flashback to the events surrounding his imprisonments was he’s interrogated by his bookie Mickey Rourke whose surprise appearance here was one of the spattering of high points scattered throughout the film.

Ricci’s Layla makes an interesting counterpart to Billy as represents the light in this world, even though her lack of concern for her situation let alone willingness to go along with Billy’s plan remained a sticking point for myself especially when Billy is just so continually aggressive towards her only to suddenly fall for her in a moment of sickening smaltz because of course she’s the only one who can save him from his own darkness. Still despite the cliché path for her character here Ricci still manages to craft several moments throughout the film such as a spontaneous tap dance at the bowling alley. But with her doe eyes and general manic-pixie-dream girl aura around her its hard to not like her character

While the film might be a slog to get through it does however incorporate some interesting visual ideas into its cinematography to hold your attention with the best of these coming at the finale were we get to enjoy freeze frame gunshot wounds as the camera moves freely around the frozen figures. For all the flashy camera work though, it often feels like more of a distraction for the general unpleasent tone throughout this film.

Sure this fans might have its fans but like its leading man this was one film whose appeal was lost on me.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

MBDS Showcase #49 - Dog Soldiers / Cannibal Holocaust



Fellow Brit Zoe (Zobo With A Shotgun) joins me for this latest episode to share her love of all things dark and twisted which formed the basis of her site. 

On this episode we look at British horror with Neil Marshall's "Dog Soldiers" aswell as the notorius former video nasty "Cannibal Holocaust"

We also discuss the censorship and the darker side of horror, living near horror movie sites and Zoe reveals which horror icon she'd most like to take for a pint.



You can find the full MBDS Showcase movie list here

Opening Theme: "Hyperfun" - Kevin Macleod (http://incompetech.com/)

End Theme: "Out of Limits" - The Marketts


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