DIRECTOR'S CUT BLU RAY REVIEW (UK, REGION B- RELEASED MAY 2015)
Directed By Mark Lester
Somewhere...... Somehow....Someone's going to pay.............
A new version of Arnold Schwarzenegger's cult 1985 actioner COMMANDO was recently unleashed on Blu ray in the UK. The film is infamous for kick-starting a string of similar tongue in cheek ultra-violent action flicks, further propelling Arnie to stardom, having some of the silliest one liners ever and having absolutely no regard for continuity or the concealment of film-making equipment.
In short despite being a fairly big studio film it's still somewhat of a cult movie. So what's this latest disc edition like? Let's check it out.
The film: Arnie stars as John Matrix, an ex Delta Force Commando whose daughter is kidnapped by a former member of his unit in order to force him to assassinate a foreign official. However you shouldn't really even need to concetrate on such diversions as "plot" with this movie, just turn off your brain for 90 minutes and experience a full pelt 80's actioner which is still surprisingly a pretty mental film even by today's standards. According to the special features Arnie kills 81 people in this movie though because of some of the quick cuts it is difficult to say with any certainty. They are shot, blown up, stabbed, dismembered, impaled, possibly even beaten to death. In the podcast we discussed Vernon "Crazyface" Wells who played henchman Wez in George Miller's wonderful Mad Max 2 (See our Mad Max Special Part 2). He is on fine form here as the completely berserk and incredibly camp Bennett. His facial expressions in his final showdown with Arnie have to be seen to be believed. The film has a good supporting cast of villains including Bill Duke( who also later starred alongside Arnie in Predator) and Patrick David Kelly (T-Bird In The Crow and Luther in The Warriors) playing another of his "full sleazy mode" roles. The film has some absolutely ridiculous scenes and is pure fun, it's definitely an Arnie film at its least cereberal and still one of my all tme faves of his. Importantly though, it knows it's big dumb fun and just runs with it. The film isn't completely stupid without being self aware. Upon re-watching the film I was hoping I wouldn't find it to be one of those films that lost its appeal with age and happily I wasn't disappointed. Though we now live in an age where action films have ramped up the crazy to past 11 Commando still stands as a reminder as to why Schwarzenegger was (and still is) a likeable, larger than life figure and such a role model (Albeit a role model that mercilessly slaughters 81 people, some with the creativity of a cornered serial killer).
The Disc: Although the special features are minimal on this disc they are well worth watching because of some amusing Arnie interviews and a particularly funny chat with Rae Dawn Chong (who comes off as hugely likeable but completely NUTS) and of course the king of gurning Mr Wells himself. In one part of the interview when Chong is taliking about Arnie's perfect physique and how attacted she was to him it keeps on cutting to vintage featurette footage of him talking about his arsenal in the film and how "well equipped" he was as if he is referirng to his package instead. Chong also points out something I always discussed with a group of close friends years ago about how there is a definite homoerotic vibe in this film. To drive the point home (no pun intended) Chong talks about the close physical proximity of Bennett and Matrix in the final scene intercut with footage of Arnie talking about the knife and saying "You want to put it in me don't you?" the way this featurette is cut together is hilarious and just so happens to contain some truly great interviews with the cast. I also really enjoyed the way they didn't cut a lot of Chong's potentially incendiary comments choosing instead to make them a focus. Did she even consult her agent before giving this featurette the greenlight? The deleted scenes really aren't anything special and are basically just slightly different versions of what's already there. Although you do get to check out some alternate lines for the famous "Let off some steam Bennett" one liner which will be of interest to fans no doubt. The biggest selling point of this Blu though is the fact it has both cuts of the movie, the standard theatrical cut (which at one point was trimmed slightly in the UK) and the Director's cut. The Director's cut doesn't have too much to get excited about, it mostly has some extended dialogue and alternate takes and a tiny little extra bit of violence but nothing too spectacular. Most of the added violence is brief and was trimmed just a tiny bit before the original theatrical release to avoid a higher rating in the US (Probably the dreaded NC-17). However the print of the film is beautiful and I'm glad to own what is undoubtedly a childhood favourite in fantastic high definition quality. The commentary is a welcome extra though unfortunately it's just director Mark Lester solo and none of the cast. I guess Arnie was probably too busy to do it but I'd hope they could have dug someone else out for a chat! Anyhow it does have some informative anecdotes and points of interest however solo commentaries rarely work for the entire running time and inevitably it doesn't maintain your interest the whole way through.
All in all if you don't already own Commando this is the best edition yet. I believe the features already existed on a previous American Region 1 DVD release which I'd not owned before. If you want this much loved flick on your shelf this would be the one to get if you want to see Arnie's antics in high definition. Highly recommended for those who love nostalgia, Arnie, action and don't mind movies that don't make you think too hard.
Directed By Gordon Hessler
The film: The last good Sho Kosugi Ninja film and one of the most violent. It came out at a time when the 80's ninja craze was dying down and films of its type were no longer rolling off the conveyor belt. The film was heavily censored in the UK and also in the US (although slightly less so).
In the movie Kosugi plays Akira Saito. A native Japanese who at the request of his wife moves his family to America to start a business and a new life. Oh yeah! Did i mention that secretly he's a member of an ancient ninja clan?. Not even his family know of his training and he is never supposed to reveal the existence of the ninja sect as warned by his master and surrogate father. However not long after arriving in the USA he falls foul of some gangsters led by the sinister and ruthless Mr Limehouse who have stolen a valuable necklace and hid it on Saito's property. When corrupt cops working for Limehouse decide to double cross him and steal the necklace for themselves they set off a chain of events that leads to Akira's family being targeted by the hoods. However Limehouse doesn't anticipate that he's not dealing with a mild mannered man he can just push around....he's dealing with a ninja killing machine.
The thing that sets Pray For Death apart from other ninja movies is that it's a bit harsher in tone than many films of the genre. The violent surburban setting and revenge theme allows for a lot more gore and grue than some of these films usually show. In fact a great deal of ninja films despite being full of deadly weaponry often show no blood or gore despite a pretty high body count and a lot of bladed weapons flying around.
Kane and Shane Kosugi (Sho's real life sons) play his onscreen sons Takeshi and Tomoya. In a pretty cool reveal the film opens with a black ninja battling various different colored ninjas only to pull away and show us that the action is actually occurring on a TV set with Takeshi and Tomoya watching a TV show called "The Black Ninja". This is pretty funny as at this point of the movie they're still in Japan and watching this show before their breakfast. Considering it shows bad guys being butchered with Shurikens to the head it kind of paints a poor picture of Japanese TV standards!!!.
Sho Kosugi was a much better actor than a lot of other action stars making movies at the time. He may not exactly be oscar winning material but he definitely has something approaching decent range. Unfortunately like many asian actors in Hollywood at the time he has to work with some poorly written lines that border on racist stereotypes . Speaking of dialogue this film has one of the most needlessly misleading and unintentionally awkward lines I've heard in a film. In a scene in which Akira is berating a police officer for being unable to protect his wife and son after they are attacked in the hospital He delivers the following line “This is America. Land of the free!. Free to do what? Free to rape women and children?”. Okay..... his wife was raped and murdered and his son almost killed but newsflash Sho: nobody in the film tries to rape the kid!. I can only assume the line escaped people's attention in the finished print.....talk about awkward. It's a shame because he has some acting chops despite not having the best English speaking voice at the time.
The Disc: Currently the film is available in 2 different editions on Blu ray. A barebones budget release in the UK from cheapie label 101 films or a nicer edition from cult video label Arrow films in the US that has multiple covers and a sho Kosugi interview. Previously all versions were censored in english territories however these recent releases contain an uncut version. Collectors will prefer the nicer artwork of the US version but it doesn't contain any other features to get excited about and the interview is archive footage that can be viewed online. Still it's nice to see this finally get an uncut release as even the censored version has been MIA on home video for some time.
All in all Pray for Death is a silly but enjoyable martial arts romp with a bit of a harder edge than many of the films of its era. The crazy finale where Akira dons an armoured ninja suit complete with helmet and mouth guard (and an ornate dragon and shuriken decoration) is the sort of thing that could only come out of the 80's. Oh and I have to mention it has one of the cheesiest (but memorable) theme songs of all time. So much so that they use it not once, not twice but THRICE. I had some fond teenage memories of this film and hadn't seen it in about 15 years. Many people will class it as a terrible film but as far as American martial arts movies go it is one of the better ones.
What? You've never heard of Rolling Vengeance? I'm not surprised. I hadn't either until earlier this year. It's a B-movie that is so obscure that IMDB has its poster mixed up with something else that shares its alternate title.
In a nutshell it's (as you might have guessed) a revenge movie. When a local criminal gang of redneck inbreds led by the oh-so ironically named "Tiny Doyle" (Ned Beatty) kills Joey Rosso's wife and child the family's world falls apart. The Doyles are well known scumbags in the area who run a sleazy bar and strip joint but unfortunately for Joey and his remaining family the bastards get off scot-free in court. In a bit of clumsy foreshadowing prior to the murder of Joey's loved ones we heard Joey mention a "special project" he was working on as a mechanic. Well.... grief stricken and filled with hate for the Doyles he decides to modify his pet project (an 8 ton monster truck) for a special purpose........ turning it into a tooled up death machine to exact his own unique brand of justice.
Rolling Vengeance is a TV movie and it looks and feels like one from the outset. It has the same kind of static camerawork you would associate with movies of its kind. Some of the acting isn't exactly award winning and the content, despite its dark themes, falls firmly in the PG-13 category. However if you like crazy, weird and wonderful shlocky entertainment don't write it off as a complete failure based on the description above. Despite its flat direction Rolling Vengeance can be a true spectacle at times. The pace of the film coupled with its crazy and inventive scenes of destruction and hillariously stereotyped redneck characters make it a very entertaining ride.
I feel sorry for Ned Beatty, he's played a ton of sleazy, stupid hateful rednecks and I half sympathise with him for his role in this and simultaneously find it hilarious. One of my (many) favourite bits in the film is when he and his inbred sons are eating a meal in his bar and he's shouting at them for being so damn useless. Enraged, he picks up handfuls of mashed potato and starts flinging it at them until he exhausts most of his meal and then screams to an off-screen waitress in trademark southern drawl "We need some more mashed potato out here". It's every bit as surreal, poentially offensive and funny as it sounds.
The monster truck itself is a sight to behold. Never has the moniker of monster been more fitting. In addition to its huge size the front is mounted with a deadly drill and it shoots bursts of flame from the cab as it drives. When Joey sets out on the warpath he basically just drives over EVERYTHING the Doyle family has. Their homes, their cars, their business and of course.....the Doyles themselves. There are some incredible scenes of destruction where the truck just smashes entire buildings to pieces by just driving right through them till there's barely anything left.
Leading man Don Michael Paul who plays Joey isn't the world's best actor but he's not the worst either and carries the film well enough. The audience can't help but root for him because the bad guys are so thoroughly unpleasant. Immediately after the verdict in the court scene the family celebrates their victory without any sense of respect for the deceased whatsoever and then antagonise Joey and his father outside of the court room. Shitbags.
The film's biggest flaw is undoubtedly its music for me. The songs chosen for the soundtrack simply do not fit the scenes they're played in....not even remotely. The most obvious example of this is the one which should be the best use of music in the film (at least as far as most 80's films go) the 80's staple: the montage. The film's montage sequence is the very A-Team esque "modifying the truck" scene. You would expect something of a soft rock track, perhaps some stadium rock or something synth-like or "Dancey" with a frenetic beat?. Nope, they play a slow droning awful track (called "coming up on you this time" by Anthony Della'Reese- It's about trucking I guess?) that honestly is kind of painful to listen to. This track is so ill-fitting I couldn't think about anything else for minutes after watching it and had to kind of focus to get back "into" the film for a while.
As silly and bizarre as some aspects of the film are it is VERY entertaining if you're in the right mindset for this sort of "trash cinema".
My verdict? If you're looking for a friday night "watch with friends beer and takeaway flick" you could do worse. Just don't think too hard.
AVAILABILITY STATUS: Not available on DVD/Blu I'm afraid. Its last release was on VHS. However I know where you can get hold of a copy if you'd like to see it for yourself.
Click on one of the titles below to see the article or review.
Every once in a while we come across something we'd like to review that feels appropriate for the site but not for the podcast itself. In such cases we put a little text review on this page here. Things on this page will be a bit more varied for example it could be a movie themed book or some kind of tie-in product or maybe even a new DVD or Blu ray release of a classic film that deserves attention. Whatever it is if we find it interesting you'll find it here!