Friday, January 13, 2017

Commando: The Director's Cut (1985) [Midnight Movie]

No, Commando isn't as good as Terminator, Predator, or Total Recall, but it's better than just about any Schwarzenegger vehicle which came out after True Lies. It's better than his comedies, too, but I'm biased because I'm not a huge fan of Twins or Kindergarten Cop. (I appreciate the effort, but I get it already: he's playing against his masculine image... is that really funny enough to carry multiple movies?)

All you really need to know about Arnie's role in Commando is he's a special forces type whose daughter (Alyssa Milano) has been kidnapped by Dan Hedaya, who plays a pretty good bad guy. In fact, most of the bad guys in this movie are pretty good bad guys. You won't believe any of them are appropriate matches for fist fights with Schwarzenegger, but that's beside the point. The point is Schwarzenegger's going to kill them all and that's enough for me.

It's been so long since I've seen the original cut of Commando I'm not entirely sure what the uncensored cut reinstates. If I had to guess, it's probably the brutal scene in which a handful of henchmen trap Schwarzenegger in a garden shed and he comes out hacking and slashing with circular saw blades and a sling blade. It's a flurry of insanity and Savini-level gore effects which seem to be taken straight out of a Friday the 13th movie. Brief as it is, I doubt I'm going to see anything as awesome from any movie which comes out in 2017.

No, I'm not here to lament about how awesome movies were in the 80s because, overall, they really weren't. Commando, like so many of the other movies I feature here, is an exception to the rule. I'm perfectly happy that we still get great exceptions like Ex Machina, Arrival, and The Witch—three movies I think we'll also remember in thirty years. Every decade has exceptions in the overwhelming pool of shit and I happen to think this decade is the best for exceptions in a long time.

Having said that, you just can't dispute the fact Commando contains an absurd amount of entertainment value, which makes me all the more likely to watch it again instead of the movies I mentioned above. And I'm not even ignoring the fact that Commando is a dumb movie... really dumb. In one scene, Schwarzenegger is tackled by a dozen security guards who he casts off of him with Superman-strength. He rips seats out of cars, carries trees on his shoulder, and easily rights flipped sport cars. Bad guys who clearly have the tactical advantage conveniently can't shoot worth a shit, even when they get the drop on him, and when one bad guy finally manages to clip him, it's only a flesh wound. Then you've got Rae Dawn Chong's character, who has absolutely zero motivation and proves completely pointless until she has to fly a plane, but she's actually pretty great at doing nothing.

It's easy to look past the movie's faults because it's is an unstoppable machine with one function and it performs that function very well: dazzling its audience with great explosions and decent stunts. Legendary producers like Joel Silver hadn't yet figured out Schwarzenegger could carry smarter roles (perhaps he couldn't yet), but he was getting better with almost every movie he made and it's always fun to see him at the various points of his career.

I'll be first in line for John Wick 2, but that's just a throwback. Commando is the real deal.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) [Trailer]

This would have been the first Blu-Ray I bought this year if it weren't forty friggin' dollars. On the other hand, I'm surprised it got a Criterion Collection release. So that's something.

Edit: One day after posting this, the movie went on sale for $27.99, Amazon, which rivals the cheapest price I saw on eBay... and it became the first Blu-Ray I bought this year after all.

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Specialist (1994) [Midnight Movie]

Sylvester Stallone and James Woods used to be explosive experts for the CIA, specializing in assassinations. Yet when James Woods attempts to blow up a vehicle which will claim a little girl's life, the two split ways. Stallone becomes a freelance assassin while James Woods falls in with a crime syndicate run by Rod Steiger and his son, Eric Roberts. One day, Stallone is contacted by a mysterious woman (Sharon Stone) who wants to put a hit on the men who killed her parents, who happen to be the aforementioned criminals. And if that sounds a little too clunky to you, you're right, but at least things explode.

The difference between the deaths in a PG-13 and an R-rated movie are usually minor. The Specialist, which isn't cram-packed with wall-to-wall action, features violence which could have easily passed in a PG-13 movie if not for its perfectly timed (and briefly executed) close-ups. In one scene, a booby trapped door blows a bad guy across the room, which would have been tame enough for a Jason Bourne movie, only there's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it close-up of the victim's head smashing through an aquarium. In another scene, you don't just see a car blow up, you can actually see the detail on the driver's face as he tumbles out of the fireball.

These are tiny creative decisions, but they make all the difference in the world. It's why action movies today just don't have the same bite to 'em. (I'm reminded of the comically timed cutaway of a bullet-riddled corpse in Schwarzenegger's Total Recall getting trampled by bad guys and panicking pedestrians alike... and yet studio executives still wonder why no one went to see the PG-13 remake.) And although the action sequences in The Specialist are few and far between, they're more exciting—if not a lot more ludicrous—than the kind of movies which are too eager to blow their loads. There's an unexpected restraint on display here, an effort to rise above the usual reckless pace and non-stop violence. Unfortunately, the questionable plot twists and far-fetched feats drag the movie right back down again.

For instance, Sylvester Stallone is wearing nothing more than a towel when he's informed the bad guys are on their way up to his hotel room to kill him. He not only manages to get dressed (in a suit, no less), but he rigs up a complicated booby trap which surgically blows the room off the side of the hotel without causing any collateral damage whatsoever. Never mind the fact the interior and exterior shots of the hotel are completely at odds with one another (the doorways seen in the hallway would have to be on an outside wall), it's a pretty dazzling sequence which climaxes with a bad guy's death that seems brutal even by Stallone's standards.

Then there's James Woods' character, who strolls right into the police station and builds a bomb to convince the department he should lead the manhunt for Stallone's character. Completely unbelievable, yes, but Woods is so nutty in the role it's better to let such absurdities slide. Stallone might be the one who calls the shots and makes all the money in his movies, but the villains have more fun.

Let's not gloss over the real reason people went to see The Specialist: the love scene between Sly Stallone and Sharon Stone was hyped through the roof shortly before release... and the hype is real, my friends. The filmmakers don't gloss over it with blurry images or bullshit dissolves, either—it's where they really earn the R-rating. I love memorable screen couples and this is a surprisingly great one, hampered only by a cheesy montage and some poorly worded dialogue, both of which feel like leftovers from Cobra. Doesn't matter. The scene itself is the kind of stuff you'd expect to see roped off in a museum. It's as if they filmed The Vitruvian Man and The Birth of Venus getting it on.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Death Race 2050 (2017) [Trailer]

No, I don't think it'll be any good, but it looks a helluva lot better than the Hollywood remake.