Tell me a good yarn, Bennett!

 HD has revolutionized the home movie scene. But it can also show that our heroes, and villains, have feet of clay. Take for example one of my favorite films of all time, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s greatest 80’s action hero flick, Commando. The bad-ass bad guy, Bennett, is played by Vernon Wells, most famous as the mohawked marauder Wez from The Road Warrior, a role he essentially reprises in Weird Science. He sports a Freddy Mercury mustache, a huge knife, and a maniacal attitude that makes him very entertaining, if a bit disturbing to watch. He wears a chain mail vest and bulked up to look intimidating next to Arnold.

But now, if you watch the movie on an HD television- even with the standard DVD- you notice something is amiss. That is NOT a chain mail vest. It’s definitely fabric.Oh. My. God. It’s yarn! It’s knitted! Now, the big question is, does Bennett knit his own sweaters? Or does his grandma? Both ideas are equally amusing. Imagine Bennett in his apartment, planning vengeance on John Matrix. He sharpens his knife. He does some chin ups, some one-arm push ups, and loads his pistol. Then he puts on reading glasses and begins meticulously … knitting!

Or he lives with his old grandmother, who senses something is wrong as he broods in the basement, surrounded by photos of John Matrix with doodles and insults on them. She knows she can’t stop him from confronting his destiny, but as he stalks out, slamming the screen door open, she reaches up from her rocking chair on the poor and hands him a folded, steely gray… sweater vest. “Benny. Take it. The least ye can do is stay warm, on your cold-blooded mission of vengeance.”

Either way, Bennett will never be the same. Not that he was all that manly in the first place…

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Big Bald Black Dudes I admire- 2009 update

As you know (or you should) every Black History Month, I take a moment to reflect on the Big Bald Black Dudes I admire. Perhaps it was growing up in the ’70s with Gordon on Sesame Street, or my favorite movies including The Thing with Keith David, but big bald black dudes are just the baddest asses in cinema, in my not so humble opinion.

Last year I dubbed Keith David, Ving Rhames, Scatman Crothers, Delroy Lindo, Michael Clarke Duncan, and Tommy “Tiny” Lister Jr. in my annual post, where I also made the audacious claim that Stephen King has never met a black person, so this year I came up with a few new nominees for the halls of badassery.

1. Bill Duke
Best known as Mac from Predator, Bill’s been a bad-ass for ages. I first remember him as a bad guy in Commando, where he tells Matrix he’s a Green Beret. Unfortunately, John Matrix eats Green Berets for breakfast and shits toy soldiers, so he gets impaled on a table leg. But not before he trashes the hotel room with Arnie in such a brutal fashion that Rae Dawn Chong is made to exclaim, “you guys eat too much red meat!”

Of course, there’s no such thing as too much red meat, and Bill Duke can probably eat the ass off a brontosaur and ask for seconds. Even though the Predator freaks him out so bad that he sings “Long Tall Sally” in a falsetto, Mac is one of the classic movie bad-asses. My cousin Lou Taylor Pucci got the honor of starring with him in a movie called The Go-Getter, and for that I’m more envious than when he got to touch Kelli Garner’s tit in Thumbsucker. Bill Duke’s given us memorable performances in Menace II Society “you know you done fucked up right?” and The Limey, and I’m hoping someday he’ll get to play a frog.

2. Charles Dutton
Best known as the star of “Roc” in the early ’90s, Charles Dutton has clobbered xenomorphs in Alien3, and gigantic mutant flying cockroaches in Mimic. He’s one of the few redeemable qualities of the “scripted by comittee” shitfest that is the second Alien sequel, that even David Fincher could barely save. Seeing him swing Sigurney Weaver around by the neck, you wonder why they bother trying to trap the alien, when it’s obvious that Dutton could just grab it by it’s li’l mouth and force it to perform oral sex on him, after which it would just kill itself in shame.

3. Samuel L. (the L. stands for le motherfuckin’) Jackson
Last time I disqualified Mr. Jackson because his best bad-ass role- Jules from Pulp Fiction – was performed with the assistance of hair. However, since then Sam has been shorn, and given us the baddest, baldest motherfuckin’ Jedi (despite the festive purple lightsaber), a bald Son of Shaft, a bald Nick Fury, and a mostly bald bad-ass bluesman in Black Snake Moan. So I’m going to induct him into the Big Bald Black Men Hall of Fame. He’s earned his due.

4. Isaac Hayes
(pre-Adventure Club)
Before he got suckered into thinking our souls were H-bombed in volcanoes billions of years ago, Isaac Hayes was a groundbreaking musician and one of the biggest bald black bad-asses around. to mourn the passing of his reason that happened so many years prior to his death, I would like to posthumously induct him in. The evidence: The Duke of New York, A number One, from Escape from New York. He gave super bad-ass Snake Plissken a run for his money, and that’s saying a lot. He was also the star of Truck Turner. This was after writing the amazing score to Shaft and composing great soul albums like Hot Buttered Soul and Black Moses. He also served as Chef for many years before his handlers got to him, obviously in a time of weakness, since he passed on not long after. We forgive you Isaac. Rest in peace.

Note: Tony “Candyman” Todd
Last year I got flack for not including Tony Todd. Well, I finally watched Candyman, and I will concur that Tony Todd is a fucking bad-ass. However, it must be noted that he is not bald. He would be even more bad-ass if he’d been bald, with some crazy facial hair, maybe shaped like a hook. Todd’s also been in the Final Destination movies, Platoon, and The Crow, so he’s a shoo-in for badassery. If only he’d take a Wahl clipper and polish up his noggin, he could join the club.

That’s all until next year, where it will get even harder to find nominees for this post. I might even have to include Elmo:

48 Hrs. – Sully likes his Porsches!

I hadn’t seen 48 Hrs. in years, so when it came on cable in the highest definition possible I had to watch it again. I was pleasantly surprised. I like this movie a lot better than the more successful Beverly Hills Cop, because I get sick of Murphy’s annoying laugh in it. In this one, he’s still funny but everything is much more gritty and serious. “Jolty Nolte” is Jack Cates, the gravelly, grungy cop who needs his help tracking down a vicious escaped convict.

Like Jack Cates, I drive a shitty inconvenient gas-guzzling
convertible and never comb my hair.

The movie’s got some good songs- Walter Hill manages to get some good songs recorded for his movies. “In the City” by Joe Walsh from The Warriors; the songs from Streets of Fire, and “The Boys Are Back in Town” here, which became a minor hit. It’s a good rockin’ R&B song with honky tonk piano, and gives the Thin Lizzy song a run for its money.

The movie takes itself just seriously enough- the gunfights are like old Westerns where the revolvers have upwards of 12 rounds, cops pop out of nowhere to give the bad guys some cannon fodder, and our heroes break as many laws as the criminals in their pursuit of justice … or revenge.

The film is pretty brutal. The convicts start out by blasting a few chain gang guards and then a few cops on their tail; Nolte is backup for two of the cops, and he gives up his gun when they’ve got another cop dead in their sights. They shoot the cop with Nolte’s gun, but he escapes, and relentlessly pursues them. Eddie Murphy comes into the game straight from Saturday Night Live, in his first starring role. He’s brash, crude and funny without embracing the persona he’d use from Beverly Hills Cop onward; in 48 Hrs. and Trading Places he was less sure of himself and wasn’t marketed as a star, so he plays a real character. Billy Ray Valentine and Reggie Hammond are two of his best.


The film is one of the last I remember where the n-word was thrown around with relative abandon by whites and blacks alike. It stares the racial divide right in the face, and lets Nolte and Murphy brawl it out right in the streets. Even the black police chief, played perfectly by Frank McCrae, uses it. Eddie Murphy calls himself one to a bar full of rednecks. The movie records the late-70’s early-80’s cowboy craze, where every other bar seemed to have a mechanical bull and fucking Kenny Rogers on the jukebox. Cates gives Reggie his badge so he can rough up the bar and get the location of Billy Bear, the American Indian who broke the main bad guy Ganz out of prison.

Another suspect who helps lead them to Ganz is Luther, played by David Patrick Kelly- Sully from Commando. He’s actually sympathetic here, the sad sack who gets a Cadillac door to the crotch from Reggie, and later has his girlfriend held hostage by the bad guys. Sully is just one link to Commando in this movie; it also has a steel drum soundtrack by James Horner, and Sully drives a Porsche! Sure, it’s Reggie’s car and a different model, but I wonder if Mr. Kelly takes these roles based on whether he gets to drive a Porsche or not.

48 Hrs.Commando

The movie is a bit formulaic but the action is very good, and I’d put it up there with the first Lethal Weapon as a buddy movie. The chemistry is that good, though the races are reversed as to who the funny man is. The sequel, Another 48 Hours wasn’t nearly as good, but wasn’t as terrible as Lethal Weapon 3 and 4. If you haven’t seen this in a while, or have only seen it cut for TV, give it another try. It’s a damn good movie.

80’s Trash of the Week: Commando

Sully, remember when I said I would kill you last?

Only Arnold Schwarzenegger could say something so stupid and make it so damn awesome. Commando is the pinnacle of the Arnie movie, and has never been topped. Sure, he’s been in better action movies, like The Terminator movies (the first two at least), but Commando is the paragon of the One Man vs. Army of Cannon Fodder movie. It embodies the utter ridiculous of it, never takes itself seriously, and does so with just enough camp to sustain the perfect balance of comedy, energy and mayhem. It has been released in a gorier Director’s Cut that every red-blooded male must own.
I once heard someone say Stallone’s movie Cobra is better, because it is worse. Hipsters who ironically like bad movies need to choke on a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, preferably inserted into their throat through the anus by vigorous ass-kicking. By me, or a sexually frustrated psycho gorilla with crabs. Either/or, not that there’s much difference. Stallone shot his wad with First Blood, kickstarting this genre, and never topped it in my opinion. But enough about everyone’s favorite marble-mouthed, steroid-sucking tough guy. We’re here to talk about that other musclebound charismatic actor with a speech impediment, Arnie the Governator.

Let me gif you wood.

Commando begins with Bill Duke, yet another Big Bald Black Man I Admire, assassinating three men. When we meet Arnold, he is walking down a hillside carrying a chainsaw and lugging a redwood tree over his shoulder. We think he’s about to be attacked as he’s chopping wood, but when he whirls around it’s just his daughter Chenny sneaking up on him, played by Alyssa Milano (She was like 12, you perv). From there we go into a charming montage that shows his family life with his daughter. Fishing, teaching her commando kill moves, feeding a deer by hand that he later strangles off screen to make venison burgers out of, and letting her mush ice cream into his face with no violent repercussions. John Matrix is a nice guy, really.

Chenny, I’ve got your numba…

A helicopter shows up with General Kirby, who warns John that someone is killing his old squad. He leaves a few soldiers to defend the house, but they are killed a few seconds after he leaves. Men spring from nowhere to machinegun his house to shreds. He tells Chenny to hide under the bed, and goes to his Secret Murder Shed to collect weapons and exterminate his new visitors. In the few short seconds it takes, Chenny has been captured and a lone villain remains to tell John the deal.

Bad Guy: My people, they got some business with you. And if you want your kid back, then you gotta co-operate, right?

WRONG!

When John is finally captured, he meets his old buddy Bennett, played by Vernon Wells from the Road Warrior doing his best Aussie Freddy Mercury impersonation. Seriously, Bennett wears what we always thought was a chainmail vest, but it turns out that it’s a mithril Cosby sweater. He’s one of the most flamboyant villains of the 80’s, and we’re not sure whether he wants to gut Matrix like a hog or put up some damask curtains in his living room.

That is the gayest sweater vest I have ever seen, mang.

He’s working for a South American dictator named Arius, played by Dan Hedaya- you know, Carla’s greaseball husband from Cheers. He does a great job with an over the top Hispanic accent, and definitely does better than Pacino in Scarface. So he’s more authentic than Carlos “Ned the Joke-Stealing Douche” Mencia. He wants Matrix to assassinate the elected leader of Val Verde, a fictional country that has its own wikipedia entry. If he doesn’t do it, Chenny will be fed to Bennett in a tangy Vegemite sauce. I think her name might be Jenny, but when Arnie calls someone Chenny, I assume that is what he named her.

Chess King: For the Stylish Gent

Sully and a dude with a hilarious halfro (that’s half an afro) take Matrix to the airport to send him there. Sully is played by veteran character actor David Patrick Kelly, also known as Luther from The Warriors. He’s wearing a suit that was made from spaceage 80’s material that is no longer produced, and I wish I could own such a suit. Just look at him. Even Arnie is impressed. “I like you Sully. That’s why I’m going to kill you last.”

Arnie quickly dispatches Halfro and jumps off the plane as it takes off, from the landing gear, splashing into a convenient swamp. From there he finds Sully hitting on a hot flight attendant played by sexy Rae Dawn Chong (Quest for Fire) and stalks the stalker, kidnapping her so he can get close to him. I’ll put it in her words:

Cindy: “You steal my car, you rip the seat out, you kidnap me, you ask me to help you find your daughter which I very kindly do, and then you get me involved in a shoot out where people are dying and there’s blood spurting all over the place, and then I watch you rip a phone booth out of a wall, swing from the ceiling like Tarzan, and then there’s a cop that’s going to shoot you and I save you and they start chasing me. Are you going to tell me what’s going on or what?”

No.
It just keeps getting better. He chases Sully down and “lets him go” in the famous scene I started with, where he breaks his promise to him. If you look closely, you can see the cable holding Sully up.

Ruining a great suit.
It just keeps getting better- the movie really never lets up. They track down Bill Duke at Sully’s hotel, where Arnie accidentally throws him into a room full of gratuitous 80’s boobs and impales him on a coffee table. Oops. Matrix is not good at questioning people. Luckily they find a CLUE in the glovebox of his Cadillac and track the nefarious villains to a warehouse with a seaplane.

That was your last mis-stake…

Even though the warehouse is full of weapons including a halftrack and a howitzer, Matrix decides to drive a bulldozer through a gun shop to get supplies. He finds the secret switch to the cool illegal stuff that every gun shop has. Seriously, ask to see the room sometime. All gun owners are fans of Commando, so just say “John Matrix sent me,” and you’ll get to play with the rocket launchers and claymores.

The cops don’t look kindly to driving bulldozers through local businesses, so they throw John in the paddy wagon. Thankfully Cindy reads the rocket launcher manual and manages to save him, and they drive off to the seaplane. Bill “Hudson” Paxton has a small role as an comms officer who tells them to get out of the airspace, but soon afterward Arnie is storming the beach in nothing but a banana hammock. You’d think they’d be fair and show a little Rae Dawn Thong, but no such luck.
If you’re a beast like Arnie, you can carry a small arsenal on your back and wipe out an entire island of lazy extras with mustaches so they look vaguely like South American mercenaries. And that is what he proceeds to do. I counted 4 knives, a battle rifle, a shotgun, a pistol, a rocket launcher, half a dozen grenades and enough explosives to turn half the island to matchsticks. He expends all these in short order, without stopping to even breathe, beginning by blowing up the barracks.

When he runs out of weapons he runs to a convenient Secret Murder Shed like he has at home, and uses pitchforks, axes, machetes and circular saw blades to eviscerate a squad of baddies. If you get the Director’s cut, you get some hilarious extended scenes of them looking at their severed limbs in horror. Trust me, it’s worth every penny.

Wake me up before you go-go, John!

When he finally tracks down Bennett, they have a balls-to-the-wall knife battle through the compound’s Fire and Pipe Room, which is the equivalent to the Dripping Chain Room found on spaceships and space stations. They fight using knives made by Jack Crain, who designed the knives for Predator as well. Bennett’s squeals and facial expressions during this fight are worthy of an Oscar. They really must be seen to be believed. He really does need to let off some steam, and thankfully Matrix lets him.

Includes alternate takes with even worse one-liners.
Commando is not even a guilty pleasure, it’s a straightforward pleasure. It really is the benchmark for the ridiculous action movie, and 23 years later it is still a blast. A lot of 80’s movies have a really cheap look, and this is no exception when we see Sully’s Porsche repair itself over and over, but most of the time it holds up. The soundtrack by James Horner uses Caribbean steel drums and is lots of fun, with “We Fight For Love” by The Power Station over the end credits solidifying it as an 80’s movie. The only downside is if you make your girlfriend watch it, the female equivalent of this movie is The Sweetest Thing, and that has been known to cause testicular cancer.

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