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Arnold Schwarzenegreview #2 – Commando

Commando is another of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s films that has had untold effects on society as a whole. It is the tale of John Matrix – played by Schwarzenegger – and his quest to rescue his kidnapped daughter from the clutches of a South American ex-dictator and his chainmail-wearing partner (who also happens to be Matrix’s former special forces squadmate, and who is definitely not gay). But how has Commando shaped the very world around it? How has it made us all dance a merry dance to its particular brand of whims? Read on, dear… reader.

In a similar way to Orwell’s essay on the written use of English, in the same way Bukowski managed to tear down the walls of conventional poetry and make it as accessible as it was poignant, Matrix tantalises the part of our brain that appreciates language. He toys with the very notion of what meaning is, and while he is always saying things with a nod and a wink to the audience (an invisible one, natch), he never tells a lie or goes out of his way to befuddle either his compatriots or the audience. When Cindy asks what happened to the tiny bad guy Sully, Matrix responds: “I let him go” – not only is this hilarious in the extreme, it is also a direct reflection of the situation we as an audience have just witnessed. It isn’t a lie what Matrix says, but it is worded in such a fashion to make Cindy believe Sully has been released back into the wild, where he belongs, when in actual fact he has been dropped off the edge of a cliff.

This magnificent, double-edged use of language occurs on numerous occasions throughout Commando: “He’s dead tired”, referring to a man who Matrix has just snapped the neck of (it’s hard to see why out of context, but the play on words there is ‘dead’, as the man is literally dead); “let’s take Cook’s car, he won’t be needing it”, it is a statement of fact that he will not be needing his car, but what Matrix leaves to the audience to figure out is that he won’t be needing the car because he is deceased; and of course, the classic: “Let off some steam, Bennett!” where Matrix is referring to the duality of the situation – both that Bennett (recently impaled with a length of steel piping, which has ruptured through a high-pressure steam vent behind him) has literal steam rushing from his chest wound, and that Bennett needs to calm down a bit, as he is quite angry (and clearly repressing his homosexuality).

It’s safe to say that Commando doesn’t offer us the same kind of life lessons that Predator does, but all the same it has a valuable place in the history of humanity. Without Matrix and his quips, would we have ever recognised the potential for plays on words, dual meanings or intentionally ambiguous statements? I think not. And without these lessons, it is likely that comedy in its current form would simply not exist. After all, it is the greatest comedian of our times, Stewart Lee, who stated: “The flexibility of the English language allows us to imagine that we are an inherently witty nation, when in fact we just have a vocabulary and a grammar that allow for endlessly amusing confusions of meanings.” He didn’t go on to add – but probably should have – that this would not have been possible were it not for the trailblazing wordsmithery of Commando’s Matrix.

So thank you John Matrix. You have made the world a happier place by teaching us how language can be used so effectively and how it can be tamed in order to do most of the work for us. I’d just like to let you know we appreciate it.

Every day is a school day: John Matrix’s daughter, Jenny, is played by Alyssa Milano. She went on to play Phoebe in the popular witch-based TV show ‘Charmed’.


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Arnold Schwarzenegreview #1 – Predator

*This would have been a lot deeper and longer (yes, even longer than it already is), but fuck off. It’s nearly 11pm and I have too much sleeping to get done. I also haven’t bothered proofing it, which must give you a clue as to how tired I am.*

Predator is a film that has been degraded. It is quoted ad nauseam and reduced down to its base elements, with its meaning forever lost and true value to society boiled away until just a few lines and off the cuff remarks remain. It’s desiccated. An empty shell. Rendered obsolete. But I’m here to stop that from being so – to set the record straight and to show you all the true meaning of Predator. To analyse the depth and deconstruct the social impact this masterpiece of cinematography has had on life as we know it.

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a man named ‘Dutch’: boss-man of an elite rescue squad and smoker of fine cigars. He and his squad are asked to go into the South American jungle to rescue some kidnapped diplomats, alongside his old friend and current pencil-pusher ‘Dillon’. Aside from anything else, this opening shows us two things: one, that Dutch is not a racist as he has whites, blacks and native Americans in his squad, and two, the he’s well good at mid-air arm wrestles. It’s a metaphor for the struggle we all have to take on in life, and it’s one that Dutch gives us confidence to overcome.

The lesson we learn almost immediately after arriving in South America, though, is to never trust CIA operatives who used to be your friends and now are pencil pushers. This may not apply to you all, but it can certainly be taken to mean “the man”. Don’t trust him. He will set you up and use you as an unwitting participant in the systematic elimination of a dissident group based in the middle of a thick jungle setting, which will in turn attract the attention of an intergalactic killing machine hell-bent on hunting the fuck out of the best prey he has ever laid his weird alien eyes on. Don’t trust the man.

Blain’s death is the first to really have an effect on the human side of things, and shows us how we should all try and handle our grief: eliminating shrubbery. Different people of different nations and faiths deal with the deaths of friends and loved ones is myriad different ways, but it is Mac (and latterly his squad of pals) who shows us how we should deal with this bereavement. A minigun and a forest: it’s all you need to let out a lifetime of mourning in about a minute. These are the kind of things we can only learn through the magic of Hollywood – through the magic of cinema.

As the squad become aware of the perils facing them – Blain’s earlier quip of “you lose it here, you’re in a world of hurt” offering particular resonance considering the situation – it is Dutch who keeps everyone together. Organising a group tree-pulling exercise (disguised as a ‘trap-setting exercise, just to keep the chaps thinking they’re doing something worthwhile) is just one way in which morale is kept high, and a deleted scene alludes to a hearty rendition of Kumbayah around the campfire. Once again though, the dignity of the human spirit is challenged by the foreign invader who runs in and wrecks up all of their carefully laid netting. Once again the Predator shows us that the human struggle is never over – that we must always be vigilant in case the “netting” of our “soul” becomes “frazzled by a plasmacaster”. We can all learn from this.

It goes without saying that more of the squad die, and there are more lessons to be learned here. If you are a psychopathic-looking Native American chap, you should probably strip half-naked, mutilate your chest with an obscenely large combat knife and then scream when your friends are out of sight. We should all remember that one, not just our Indian friends. Poncho’s death reminds us of how unfair life can be, and how much it insists on shitting on you until you are killed by a laser blast to the head. This section was difficult for me to watch, as many friends and family have actually died in this exact fashion. Still, it’s the films that ask the most of their audience that really are the classics.

As the final battle looms we have time to reflect: are we, as a species, any different to this being of another world? We are ostensibly hunters – predators, if you will – so maybe we aren’t all that different to this seven-foot two-inch beast with protruding mandibles and the ability to see our heat signatures. Alas, it is not Dutch’s job to consider this – it is his job to eliminate this threat from the world.

You wouldn’t think it from the incredible display through the majority of the film, but Dutch is more than capable of showing a side of humanity we can all relate to. He offers the Predator a helping hand; a shove in the right direction, commanding the beast to: “DO IT! I’M RIGHT HERE! KILL ME!” It shows that not only is he a selfless human being, but that he has a deep sympathy and understanding for the Predator’s mission – to kill him.

Obviously Dutch is deeply disappointed – if not outright upset – when he mistakenly dislodges a log trap, dropping a hefty chunk of wood straight on top of the extra-terrestrial. Fortunately though the big guy survives the ‘logging’ incident and offers Dutch one more chance to entertain him: “run faster than a nuclear explosion, and I will die happy.”

Dutch obliges. He leaves on his helichopper with Maria and goes on to star in some other fantastic films. Fade to credits.

Every day is a school day: the first names of Dutch and Dillon are Alan and George, respectively (this is absolutely not a joke).

I aim to make this another series of posts, all analysing the sheer impact the films of Arnold Schwarzenegger have had on the world as a whole. To try and put into words how Terminator 2: Judgement Day raised humanity to another plateau of existence will be hard, but it’s a challenge I simply have to tackle.

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