For years now, Fox and I have had a tradition of once a year, picking a particular actor (professional or otherwise) that we’re fond of, and constructing an elaborate movie night around them. Over the past decade, we’ve covered such cinematic greats as Jean-Claude Van Damme, Hulk Hogan, Dave Matthews, and Prince. This year, though, we decided to make a leap into the genuine A-list by constructing a film night around that most iconic star of 80s and 90s action cinema: Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The main challenge to picking four movies for this night was to pick only four of them. How would we decide on our theme? Fox had seen surprisingly little of Arnold’s filmography, so the field was wide open. Would it be “one per decade”? A balance of comedies and action? Ultimately, I picked four of my sentimental favorites, with little consideration of the throughline. I’ve been an Arnold fan for a solid 30 years; I remember seeing Terminator 2 in the theater, not to mention scouring the TV Guide for late-night showings of Predator that I could sneak downstairs to watch with the sound turned all the way down. How big a fan was I? At age 11, I legit had a 3-foot tall, framed poster of the movie True Lies that I got with weeks of allowance money from Sam Goody, which hung above my bed. (It ruled.)
With our picks in mind, all we had to do was come up with some thematically appropriate food pairings, gather a couple other odds-and-ends, and we could begin!
Film 1: Commando
Our first film of the marathon was the stone-cold classic 80s actioner, Commando. What food, we wondered, screamed Commando? I hadn’t seen the film in full since high school, but I remembered a few things about it: that the villain was a little weird, that the action scenes had a bunch of continuity errors, and that the plot had something do to with Arnold’s daughter being held hostage so that he would go assassinate the president of some South American country.
The South American country in the film — the besieged nation of Val Verde — was fictional, but the South American food we chose to pair with our viewing was very much real. Before kicking off Commando, we took a trip down to Cilantro & Ajo, a restaurant in Pittsburgh’s South Side specializing in Venezuelan street food.
Every single thing we ate probably could have been a meal on its own, but it was so, so worth it to indulge. And the price couldn’t have been better!
Bellies full (and even so with a mountain of to-go boxes nestled between us), we settled in for film numero uno.
…So, I remembered a decent bit about this film, but there was so much bat-shit crazy stuff that I had forgotten! Like how it had noted character Dan Hedaya playing an ousted South American dictator, complete with truly crap faux-Tony-Montana accent. And that Arnold’s daughter was Alyssa Milano! And that the big-bad was a very queer-coded Freddie Mercury wannabe who definitely wanted to get down with Arnold…like, it’s barely tucked away in the subtext! And that Arnold blows up like 80 mercenaries during the climactic fight, and even hacks off a dude’s arm with a machete! (Seriously, this flick was a whole lot bloodier than even I was expecting.)
As the film wound down, we had only one thing left to accomplish before we could move on: recreate, as faithfully as we could, the DVD cover art for the film.
And here’s our recreation! As you can see, we stuck to our movie-night tradition of “prepare as little as possible”…though I will admit that I ordered some plastic grenades from Amazon for the occasion.
With the first film in the books, it was time to prepare for the second film, another 80s schlock classic that also happens to share a name with my favorite elementary playground dance move of choice.
Film 2: The Running Man
Yes, I’m talking about The Running Man. Loosely — and I mean very loosely, like pants-in-a-weight-loss-after-photo loosely — based on a novel by Stephen King (under his pulp-writer pseudonym, Richard Bachmann), The Running Man is set in the far-off dystopian future of…2019. (Yes, the trailer says “2017,” but that’s incorrect for reasons I will explain later.)
To pair with our viewing experience, we decided to go with a restaurant that opened the year the movie is set. Enter…Took-Took 98. This is a little Thai street food restaurant that opened last year near our home. So we called them up and had them arrange…
Now fighting off the warm embrace of a food coma, we took the original movie art for The Running Man…
And then we watched the film. So, because of many childhood viewings on both HBO, and the VHS tape I recorded off of HBO, this is a movie I can pretty much quote line-for-line. But what struck me, viewing it 2020…is how not outrageous anymore the satire is. This is a movie where…in the year 2017, the US experiences economic collapse, allowing the rise of a police state…and where, by 2019, the American populace is so television-obsessed that the Justice Department has its own entertainment division and the most powerful man in America is a game show host. I’m just going to let all that lie there, okay?
Other fun takeaways: the leader of the Resistance in this film is none other than Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac…playing a man named “Mic” who is a former musician. For the first time, I noticed that Mick Fleetwood is wearing makeup to make himself look about 30 years older than he would have actually been at the time of filming…and holy crap, Mick Fleetwood is almost definitely playing a 2019 version of himself in the film.
Film 3: True Lies
As the closing credits of The Running Man rolled, we prepared for our third Schwarzenegger film of the night: the 1994 classic, True Lies. We sort of had to reach for a food tie-in for this one…but given that a couple pivotal scenes take place in a Chinese restaurant…
This film brought no major surprises or revelations like the last two did. It might be because I watch this movie…probably once a year? It’s basically got everything: chases on horseback, mayhem, explosions, a flamethrower…Bill Paxton…
…and yeah, that Jamie Lee Curtis dancing scene, which shaped a generation.
We did our best to do justice to the DVD cover art…
…and came up with this. (And yes, though it’s a little blurry, that’s a fake grenade with an actual engagement ring looped into it hanging above my head…off a meter stick that it’s taped to with Scotch tape. Necessity truly is the mother of invention.)
With three movies down, there was only one film left that could possibly serve as the finale.
Film 4: The Goddamn Terminator
That’s right — the film that launched a superstar: The Terminator.
But is it really so strange that, to pair with a film about the future, we chose the ice cream of the future? (I dunno, maybe it is…but we wanted dessert and we were a little loopy after 9 hours of food, movie art recreation, and Ah-nold quips.)
While the food, in fact, did end up disappointing…the film did not. So many iconic moments; so well filmed and conceived…and can we pour one out for the fact that Michael Biehn never became a huge star? He’s terrific in this movie as young hero Kyle Reese, just as he is in pretty much every other movie I’ve seen him in. Shame.
A brisk 107 minutes later, Arnold Schwarzenegger Movie Night was coming to a close. We did have one last task to accomplish, though.
And that wraps another one of our epic film-and-food-binges. Hope you enjoyed the summary!