Tag Archives: Rae Dawn Chong

Commando (1985, Mark L. Lester), the director’s cut

There are a couple good things about Commando–the opening titles and James Horner’s score. Otherwise, I suppose Schwarzenegger isn’t bad in the film, which takes his being Austrian into account, something the majority of his blockbuster roles do not.

What’s interesting about the film–and it’s hard to find anything to keep the brain occupied for the long ninety minutes–is the structure. It’s got three writers credited with the story but all it is, in the end, is a film noir mixed with some Rambo and Dirty Harry. Schwarzenegger’s character doesn’t experience the slightest complication from being, essentially, the Terminator and contrastingly it with Stallone’s take on a similar protagonist is a compelling idea.

It’s too bad it’d mean I’d have to sit through some of, if not all of, Commando again, so it’s out.

Half the movie, where Schwarzenegger’s after a limited number of memorable villains (David Patrick Kelly, Bill Duke), is passable. Then when he robs a gun store and Rae Dawn Chong (in one of her patented awful performances) breaks him out of police custody… it starts to implode. Before, it was at least an action movie in familiar settings, like a Lethal Weapon or Die Hard. Then it turns into a cartoon gunfight on a tropical island. The Green Berets for the eighties or something.

Lester’s a trite director.

Vernon Wells’s villain appears to be gay and closeted, which adds the film’s only layer.

I mean, Commando wastes Dan Hedaya. It’s a real stinker.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Mark L. Lester; screenplay by Steven E. de Souza, based on a story by Jeph Loeb, Matthew Weisman and de Souza; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by Glenn Farr, Mark Goldblatt and John F. Link; music by James Horner; production designer, John Vallone; produced by Joel Silver; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (John Matrix), Alyssa Milano (Jenny Matrix), Rae Dawn Chong (Cindy), Dan Hedaya (Arius), Vernon Wells (Bennett), James Olson (Major General Franklin Kirby), David Patrick Kelly (Sully) and Bill Duke (Cooke).


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The Squeeze (1987, Roger Young)

I was wondering why, for such a cheap-ish movie, The Squeeze looks so good. Its budget almost doubled, allowing for some really expensive looking sequences on an aircraft carrier, a decent amount of New York photography and… I don’t know, something else. It also almost starred Jenny Wright in the Rae Dawn Chong part, which would have been an improvement of sorts (Mrs. Potato Head would have given a more animate performance than Chong) but not enough of one to make the movie work.

Some of The Squeeze, the parts centering around Chong, seem to be an attempt at a 1940s detective comedy updated to modernity. The parts with Michael Keaton (who’s either an artist or an inventor, it’s never clear) make absolutely no sense. His character makes no sense and seems dropped into the movie, rather than the movie being the story of his life’s most interesting four days. It’s too bad the beginning with Keaton opens well, as he rambles on about “Bonanza,” I thought The Squeeze might be some weird forerunner to Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino.

Alas, it is not.

Chong’s performance is so awful, it’d take a line-by-line analysis to appropriately discuss it. Keaton’s okay. He’s best in the first act, when the movie could conceivably go anywhere and at the end, when the conclusion inadvertently shows how the movie could have worked. As Keaton’s friend, Joe Pantoliano is sturdy, but not in it enough. Meat Loaf plays a thug with a sweating problem. It’s a big joke throughout and is maybe the best metaphor for the film’s failure.

On the other hand, Richard Portnow plays a (seemingly) gay Puerto Rican club owner and is great.

As soon as The Squeeze went bad, I had to debate whether or not to finish it. There was nothing compelling me to finish it, so I had to decide if it would be a complete waste of my time….

The big conclusion on the aircraft carrier is kind of neat and the movie, in the third act, all of a sudden decides its going to offer commentary on modern American values… and I guess the close is kind of funny.

But it certainly didn’t live up to the “Bonanza” conversation of the beginning.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roger Young; written by Daniel Taplitz; director of photography, Arthur Albert; edited by Harry Keramidas; music by Miles Goodman; production designer, Simon Waters; produced by Rupert Hitzig and Michael Tannen; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Michael Keaton (Harry Berg), Rae Dawn Chong (Rachel Dobs), Joe Pantoliano (Norman), Meat Loaf (Titus), John Davidson (Tom T. Murray), Ronald Guttman (Rigaud), Leslie Bevis (Gem Vigo), George Gerdes (Joe) and Richard Portnow (Ruben).


Badge of the Assassin (1985, Mel Damski)

Mel Damski, if Badge of the Assassin is any indication, might be the finest TV movie director ever (who never went on to good theatrical films anyway). He understands composition, camera movement, editing–how to let actors do what actors do–beautifully. Badge of the Assassin looks like a TV movie and that description is, thanks in large part to Damski, not at all a pejorative. Admittedly, he has a lot of help. The film’s perfectly as cast, top to bottom. Alex Rocco, Larry Riley, Richard Bradford, all three are particularly good, but there are no bad performances. David Harris is real good too.

But the film really belongs to Yaphet Kotto. Even though James Woods gets a lot to do, he never gets as much to do as Kotto… and he doesn’t get to do it as long. It’s sort of cheap, since the film’s about black militants killing cops and Kotto’s a black cop struggling to understand. Woods’s basically just the driven district attorney, not wanting to disappoint the grieving widow (and the film’s source book is from the real district attorney, so it’d be interesting if the Kotto emphasis was in there too). However, regardless of what a terrible film McQ is… screenwriter Lawrence Roman is of a definite pedigree and his influence is probably significant.

The script is another area Badge really makes a model TV movie. The character content, which is considerable–scenes with Rocco, Woods and Kotto all have a lot of weight–occurs over a really long time. The film’s present action is something like four years. Besides the first act establishing of the characters, nothing is known about what happens in their lives other than in relation to the case at hand. It’s precise, not sweeping. Damski’s a master at knowing how best tell that precise account… and Roman’s script really focuses on the best possible way to get the lengthy period into ninety-four minutes.

Adding to the film–and I’m not not mentioning Woods because he isn’t great, but because it’s depressing how good he used to be (before he came a personality with Casino)–is the location shooting. It helps immensely, forcing the viewer to engage with the reality of what’s on the screen in front of him or her.

In the end, Badge of the Assassin sort of runs out of time. It doesn’t run out of story so much as it runs out of scenes it can enact well. It’s a good looking film, though, with some great acting.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Mel Damski; screenplay by Lawrence Roman, from the book by Robert K. Tannenbaum and Philip Rosenberg; director of photography, John Lindsay; edited by Andrew Cohen; music by Tom Scott; produced by Daniel H. Blatt and Robert Singer; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring James Woods (Bob Tannenbaum), Yaphet Kotto (Cliff Fenton), Alex Rocco (Bill Butler), David Harris (Lester Bertram Day), Steven Keats (Harold Skelton), Larry Riley (Herman Bell), Pam Grier (Alie Horn), Rae Dawn Chong (Christine Horn), Richard Bradford (L.J. Delsa), Kene Holliday (Washington), Toni Kalem (Diana Piagentini), Tamu Blackwell (Gloria Lapp), Richard Brooks (Tony Bottom), Akosua Busia (Ruth) and Alan Blumenfeld (Charlie).


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