Wednesday, August 08, 2012

I Just Want My Kids Back

Commando (1985)
directed by Mark L. Lester
rating: 3 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

I can just imagine the sort of high stakes technical jargon we'll be treated to in Zero Dark Thirty, but in Commando the only skills a decorated covert operative like Arnold Schwarzenegger needs to know are twenty-four ways to beat the daylights out of poorly trained mercenaries.  He reads latitude and longitude on a map once, but lets Rae Dawn Chong pilot the seaplane out of San Pedro Bay.  It's a buddy comedy that earns Arnold's daughter a new, much younger mom, without explanation of where the original went in the first place.

In some ways this might be the ultimate Schwarzenegger film, if far from his best.  It includes a winning Bill Paxton cameo, plenty of steel drums on the soundtrack, and an opening credits montage with tame deer and ice cream cones.  Arnold prefaces each scene by telling someone - usually Chong - exactly what he's about to do.  He follows his plans to the letter, whether in a shopping mall, at San Simeon, or inside an army surplus store.  The characters never leave the state.

Early on, the script dips its toes in some questionable political waters involving US intervention in South American coups d'etat.  A military bigwig goes so far as to claim that the grateful residents of said country made Arnold - essentially a killing machine - "the hero of the revolution."  But the onetime governor of California sets things right by bailing on his own 11-hour victory lap before the jet leaves the runway, focusing his attention instead on matters closer at hand.  The man's a patriot, and home is where the heart is, after all.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Two Martinis Late

Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)
directed by Jimmy T. Murakami
rating: 2 out of 5 cravats
watched on Netflix Instant

I used to gripe about the titles that disappear from my Instant queue at the end of every month, but now I see each expired Netflix license as a good excuse to watch a movie I might otherwise have put off indefinitely.  There's always a week's lead, at least, before one more Roger Corman production returns to the ether.  I'd rank Battle Beyond the Stars somewhere between Forbidden World (effectively atmospheric) and Galaxy of Terror (that of the unfortunate rape scene).

John Sayles wrote the script, James Horner scored it, and James Cameron designed miniatures.  At some point in the future I hope that Sayles is more famous for his Corman contributions than his solo career, but I doubt he will be.  The miniatures are great: organic, strange, slug-like.  The story, built on Seven Samurai, cribs from Alien (androids), Star Wars (space cowboys), and 2001 (wide-eyed awe of stars).  Corman no doubt insisted on the subplot in which a Geppetto-like maker of robots gives away his daughter to the first pilot he can breed her with, but Murakami keeps the usual sexual hijinks to a series of polite teases.

Sayles' premise is that bad guys can all agree on hating really bad guys together, and nothing's so romantic as a handful of scoundrels with their own spaceships.  George Peppard, as "Maverick," is the most memorable, in part because he looks sweaty and drunk and ill at ease on set.  Corman was cheap but paid for marquee names every now and again.  If a tuneless "Streets of Laredo" isn't enough of a return on the initial investment, there's always Maverick's boat, the General Lee with a FTL drive (this is a drive-in movie, after all).  Not the career that John-Boy from The Waltons probably had in mind, but you can't stay young forever.