Commando (1985) Review

Director: Mark L. Lester

Genre(s): Action

Runtime: 90 minutes (theatrical version), 92 minutes (director’s cut)

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

I hesitate to call Commando, one of the all-time great “comfort films,” a so-bad-it’s-good picture, because it seems like the filmmakers and whatnot are somewhat in on the joke. The story is about former special forces member John Matrix (Arnold Schwarzenegger) coming out of retirement after his daughter, Jenny (Alyssa Milano), is kidnapped by a group of mercenaries who want Matrix to reinstall Arius (Dan Hedaya) as dictator of the fictional Latin American country of Val Verde.

This movie is rip-snortin’ fun, playing out like a live-action cartoon, as John Matrix performs absurd feats of heroism and eliminates countless faceless baddies. Matrix has a female companion here, in the form of Cindy (Rae Dawn Chong), but, fortunately for the audience, it’s not exactly a romantic relationship. The entire thing’s pure camp, with the highly memorable villain, Bennett (Vernon Wells), hamming it up to an unsafe degree. Actually, all of the characters are terrific, especially the wonderful henchmen, including Sully (David Patrick Kelly), Cooke (Bill Duke), Diaz (Gary Carlos Cervantes), and Henriques (Charles Meshack). You just want to learn more about every person that inhabits the Commando universe.

This hysterically funny cult classic is also a veritable one-liner machine, featuring some of the best dialogue in action movie history. James Horner provides the rockin’ musical score, which keeps things moving along smoothly, and no review of Commando would be complete without at least mentioning the ludicrous song “We Fight for Love” by The Power Station that plays over the end credits. The whole thing is fast-paced and expertly made for maximum impact.

The action scenes here are top-drawer, each one carefully building up to the high-octane climax. I believe I temporarily go insane from the adrenaline rush this sequence gives me every time I watch it. Schwarzenegger’s character is just cycling through weapons like he’s in some sort of video game. The montage of Matrix suiting up prior to the finale is also incredible.

One of the most pure action pictures ever released, Commando is action film nirvana (make sure you watch the director’s cut). It instantly puts a grin on my face. That being said, lots of people refer to this flick as a “guilty pleasure.” This is wrong. Why should I feel guilty about loving this movie? If you enjoy a motion picture, fully embrace it and don’t worry about feeling ashamed.

My rating is 10 outta 10.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) Review

Director: Steven Spielberg

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Comedy

Runtime: 122 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Almost twenty years after the release of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), a fourth Indiana Jones picture was sent to theaters: the heavily-criticized Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. So, should’ve this movie been made in the first place? Probably not, but it’s here and there’s nothing we can do about it. For what it’s worth, it’s really not that bad. In fact, if it had not been an Indiana Jones film at all, but rather the start of some new action-adventure series, I think it would have been received much more warmly.

The plot is about archaeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) being forced to uncover the mystery of a crystal skull before the Soviet Union can. Indy is occasionally forced, at gunpoint, to collaborate with the communists, and this just doesn’t feel right. Anyway, the picture starts off on a fun, energetic note, with Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” blaring. Although the opening scene ruins the mystery of the ending of the first Indiana Jones movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), it’s still a sight to see. In fact, for the most part, the flick chugs along fairly smoothly for the first three-quarters. After that, it sort of runs out of steam. The action scenes are generally excellent, typically relying on old-fashioned choreography to excite, rather the quick edits, shaky cam, and close camera angles that were all the rage at the time of its release.

Harrison Ford is still Indiana Jones here, and nobody manages to steal his thunder. John Williams’ musical score is rousing, but the “shiny” cinematography of this increasingly far-fetched film makes everything in it look like it was created using computer-generated imagery (CGI), even stuff that probably wasn’t. This means that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull‘s special effects don’t really feel like much of an improvement over the ones in the original trilogy. Most of the comedy works, but the movie lacks the sense of wonder and danger that made the original three Indy pictures classic.

The violence here mostly has less bite than it did in previous installments. Some of the more ridiculous ideas in the film needed some serious fine-tuning to work properly. There’s also some talky moments and half-baked ideas. Still, it’s mostly a very watchable actioner that holds up better than its reputation. Don’t expect it to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the first three flicks and you might just be entertained.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) Review

Director: Steven Spielberg

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Comedy

Runtime: 127 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Director Steven Spielberg, ideas man George Lucas, actor Harrison Ford, and composer John Williams manage to catch lightning in a bottle for a third time in a row with the third entry into the Indiana Jones saga, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – the previous two films being Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). This time, archaeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) must team up with his father, Dr. Henry Jones, Sr. (Sean Connery) to track down the Holy Grail.

Last Crusade is far jokier in tone than its predecessors, lacking the hard-boiled edge that the two previous flicks had. Frequently considered the second best of the franchise, after Raiders of course, I actually find it to be my third favorite of the series. It repeats a bit too many notes from Raiders and plays it a bit on the safe side to overtake Temple of Doom in my rankings. While humor has always been an important part of the Indiana Jones films, Last Crusade is the first one that could be considered a true action-comedy (it’s funnier than just about any straight comedy). This sometimes comes at a cost, with Indy sidekicks Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) and especially Dr. Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott), both of whom also appeared in Raiders, being largely reduced to buffoons here. The violence is also noticeably toned down (though still a tad on the graphic side by modern PG-13 standards).

John Williams’ musical score works wonders, but you’re probably wondering about the action scenes. Have no fear, because they’re top-notch. The special effects are generally great, but a scene or two look like they were made on the cheap. I’m talking primarily about the biplane escape scene, which doesn’t look as good as a similar airplane scene at the beginning of Raiders.

I hope I’m not coming across as too harsh here, because this flick is remarkable entertainment. Despite some familiarity with the first movie in the franchise, Last Crusade has a secret weapon (okay, maybe it’s not so secret) that allows it to establish its own identity. This is, of course, the film’s father/son dynamic, which makes for an interesting addition to the Indiana Jones pictures. The relationship between Ford and Connery’s characters gives the movie a lot of heart.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is one of my all-time favorite flicks. Some similarities with Raiders of the Lost Ark don’t really diminish it, for this clever movie is still a spine-tingling adventure. It ends the original Indiana Jones trilogy on a perfect note.

My rating is 10 outta 10.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) Review

Director: Steven Spielberg

Genre(s): Action, Adventure

Runtime: 118 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the second film in the Indiana Jones series, after Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), is a rampaging roller coaster of excitement that may be too far off-the-deep-end for many viewers. It’s actually a prequel to Raiders, being set in 1935, and features archaeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) fighting a revival of the Thuggee cult, portrayed here as the Hindu equivalent of a Satanic cult, deep in the jungles of India.

With a creepy, ominous atmosphere, Temple of Doom plays out like a horror picture at times. Exotic and sinister, the tone is pitch-black at times. The movie’s sets are astounding, and the special effects still hold up. John Williams’ musical score is fabulous…truly one of the best of all time. For a film that director Steven Spielberg would later basically disown, he really directed the Hell out of it. The highly cathartic action scenes come extremely close to reaching the heights of the ones in Raiders, with the entire last act (or so) of the movie being one sequence of mayhem after another.

Many criticize the film for Indy’s two sidekicks, Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) and Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan). Willie, who can scream with the best of ’em, is constantly yelling her head off and Short Round is also an incessant source of humor. Yes, the comedy here is the broadest of the original Indiana Jones trilogy, but I think that it works more often than not. Willie’s reactions to the insanity going on around her are indeed loud, but I think that they’re believable.

The motion picture’s primary baddie, Mola Ram (Amrish Puri), is my pick for the best movie villain of all time. The guy’s just pure evil. The hyper-intense human sacrifice scene(s?) involving him is a show-stopper. Sure, Raiders is overall the better flick, but Mola Ram is just something else.

Temple of Doom‘s approach to non-Western cultures is on the “politically incorrect” side, but not genuinely racist, as some have suggested. Due to Indy having the objective of saving a foreign land from unspeakable evil, the film has a unique Wilsonian edge to it that doesn’t really exist in the other Indy pictures. It’s interesting to note that this is one of the movies that inspired the MPAA to introduce the PG-13 rating, because that organization didn’t really feel like its gruesome violence belonged in either the PG or R ratings that were in place at the time (in the end, it was issued the former rating).

All in all, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom contains all the thrills, chills, spills, and kills that one could ask for in a movie. It has a masterful sense of atmosphere and the numerous action scenes are top-of-the-line. It doesn’t top Raiders of the Lost Ark, but that’s certainly not for a lack of trying.

My rating is 10 outta 10.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) Review

Director: Steven Spielberg

Genre(s): Action, Adventure

Runtime: 115 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

I’m not going to beat around the bush. Raiders of the Lost Ark is my favorite movie of all time. Is it the “greatest” film of all time? Mmmmmmaybe. However, it’s certainly the one that brings me the most joy. This ultra-pulpy action-adventure flick just puts a big, dumb smile on my face and totally captures my imagination.

Archaeologist Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones, Jr. (Harrison Ford) is recruited by the U.S. government in 1936 to go on a globe-trotting adventure to obtain the lost Ark of the Covenant, the gold box rumored to contain the original Ten Commandments, before Nazi Germany can. Stop and think about the plot too long and you might find it preposterous. Why is the American government so concerned about this artifact? Why are the Nazis in Egypt, which occupied by the British at the time? All of this being said, these thoughts won’t ruin the film for you, as the movie fully embraces and revels in its pulp origins. The motion picture’s enthusiasm is infectious and it clips along at a breakneck pace, thanks to its razor-sharp editing.

It should be noted that Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first entry into the Indiana Jones series, it not just some cheapo actioner that somehow acquired a cult following, explaining its popularity today. This mega-iconic film has phenomenal production values that makes it look like more than just some rough-and-tumble beat-’em-up. The aforementioned editing makes sure there’s not a wasted second and the genius musical score from John Williams is one of the very best ever composed. To say that the comic relief is effective is a dramatic understatement. I laugh frequently while watching this masterpiece. The film works magnificently as an action-adventure, but also contains strong elements of comedy, drama, romance, suspense, and even horror. There is also some great use of shadows and silhouettes, and the special effects are timeless. An appropriate sense of awe in the supernatural is instilled in the audience.

Of course, one of the primary reasons people watch an action-adventure movie is for the action scenes, and, boy, does Raiders deliver. The choreography, cinematography, editing, sound effects, special effects, daredevil stuntwork, tempo, music, etc. of these sequences are essentially perfect, creating an unforgettable adrenaline rush of an experience. These just may be the most well-rounded action scenes ever committed to film. The occasional Spielbergian time-stretching is only the icing on the cake.

Another key reason people watch action movies is for the hero, and Indiana Jones is simply the coolest fictional character of all time. College professor by day, and badass action hero by night, he’s tough, yet vulnerable, grounded, yet intellectual, competent, yet reliant on luck. Harrison Ford’s performance as this character seems effortless. To accompany him on his journey is Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen). Now, I usually don’t like romantic subplots in my action pictures, but I have no problem with Indiana and Marion’s relationship in this flick. They’re partners, they need each other, and both can handle themselves in a tough situation. The romance is natural and unforced.

What good is a fantastic hero if there’s no great villain? Well, Raiders has the entire Nazi Empire for Indiana Jones to take on. RenĂ© Belloq (Paul Freeman) is a sneaky French archaeology with a sense of class who serves as Indy’s rival. Arnold Toht (Ronald Lacey) is a ghoulish and sadistic Nazi agent on our heroes’ trails, while Colonel Dietrich (Wolf Kahler) is the Nazi officer in charge of the excavation of the Ark.

From its atmospheric introduction in Peru to its amazing, spine-tingling ending, Raiders of the Lost Ark is cinematic ecstasy. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

My rating is 10 outta 10.