Release Date: May 19th, 1982 (Cannes)
Directed by: Mark Lester
Written by: Tom Holland, Mark Lester, John Saxton
Music by: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: Perry King, Merrie Lynn Ross, Timothy Van Patten, Lisa Langlois, Stefan Arngrim, Michael Fox, Roddy McDowall
Guerilla High Productions, 98 Minutes
“Life… is pain. Pain… is everything. You… you will learn!” – Peter Stegman
What’s odd about my history with this film is that there isn’t any. Yes, I’ve known about it since it was fairly current but for whatever reason, I never got around to watching it, even though I knew it’s something I’d probably dig quite a bit.
Well, I’ve finally seen it and it’s pretty entertaining and a damn cool flick.
This uses a popular formula from the ’80s and ’90s. It’s a story about an educator trying to do his job to the best of his ability while the school is infested with violent degenerates. This may be the first movie of its type but this simple plot became a widely used trope in action flicks, drama movies and even comedies.
In this one, we’ve got Perry King as the star. And man, he’s simply awesome, as he tries to be the teacher the school needs but quickly learns that he’s going to have to push back against these inhuman teens that are willing to kill, rape and do hard drugs just for quick thrills. I’ve always liked the hell out of Perry King but this may be my favorite role he’s ever played.
We also get Roddy McDowall and Michael J. Fox in this, which both surprised me and delighted me. McDowall is in so many damn films, some great, some awful, but he always adds something wonderful to whatever production he finds himself in. Yes, even the bad ones. In this, he actually gives two of his greatest single scene performances of his lengthy career. McDowall is just dynamite in this and your heart breaks for him, seeing what he has to go through just trying to do his job in a school full of monsters.
Michael J. Fox’s role isn’t too big and this movie was made before he’d become a big star on the television series Family Ties. Still, for a young actor with little experience in front of the camera, he does pretty good in this.
The primary antagonist in this is played by Timothy Van Patten. I like that they actually gave his character depth, instead of just making him some basic shithead. You come to learn that he has real talent and is the best pianist in the entire school. However, in spite of his gift, he still chooses to make the music teacher’s life a living hell until he gets what’s coming to him.
The supporting cast in this is also really good and all of the characters leave an impression on you, which is impressive for a film like this, which could’ve easily just been exploitative schlock.
Class of 1984 is a better movie that it probably should have been. I think that has a lot to do with the casting but I’ve also got to point out that this was written by Tom Holland, who would go on to direct Fright Night, Child’s Play and be involved in some other cult classics.
Additionally, this was directed by Mark Lester, who would go on to make Commando, Firestarter, Showdown In Little Tokyo and a semi-sequel to this movie with a sci-fi twist, Class of 1999.
Pairs well with: other teacher/principal versus the school movies.
Release Date: September, 2019
Directed by: Oliver Harper
Written by: Oliver Harper, Timon Singh
Music by: Peter Bruce
Cast: Scott Adkins, Shane Black, Ronny Cox, Steven E. de Souza, Bill Duke, Sam Firstenberg, Jenette Goldstein, Matthias Hues, Al Leong, Mark L. Lester, Sheldon Lettich, Zak Penn, Phillip Rhee, Eric Roberts, Cynthia Rothrock, Paul Verhoeven, Vernon Wells, Michael Jai White, Alex Winter, Graham Yost, various
When this popped up on Prime Video, I got pretty excited. Especially, because I had just watched Henchman: The Al Leong Story and felt that ’80s action flicks needed more documentary love.
Overall, this was enjoyable and it covered a lot of ground but it also had a beefy running time. However, I felt like they jumped from movie-to-movie too quickly and nothing was really discussed in depth.
Still, this gives the viewer a good idea of how broad, vast and popular the action genre was through the ’80s and into the first half of the ’90s.
I guess the thing that I liked best was that this interviewed a lot of people that were involved in the making of these iconic films. You had actors, directors, writers and stuntmen all taking about their craft and their love for a genre that hasn’t been the same since its peak, a few decades ago.
Now this was a crowdfunded project and with that, you can only do so much. But I wish that some distributor or streaming service saw this and decided to make it much broader like a television series where episodes can focus on specific films or at the very least, spend more time on each era or topic.
Maybe someone will see this, take the bull by the horns and actually do that at some point. But this could be a solid pop culture documentary series like Netflix’s The Toys That Made Us.
For those who love the action flicks of this era, this is certainly worth checking out. Had I known about it when it was raising funds, I would’ve backed it.
Pairs well with: other recent historical filmmaking documentaries, most notably Henchman: The Al Leong Story and Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films.
Minty Comedic Arts looks at Commando and goes through ten things that most fans might not know.
Also known as: Sgt. K (script title), Yakuza (working title)
Release Date: August 23rd, 1991
Directed by: Mark L. Lester
Written by: Stephen Glantz, Caliope Brattlestreet
Music by: David Michael Frank
Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Brandon Lee, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Tia Carrere, Professor Toru Tanaka, Al Leong
Little Tokyo Productions, Original Pictures, Warner Bros., 79 Minutes
“Listen, will you do this right? Clean? Like a cop in the 20th century, not some samurai warrior? We’re gonna nail this guy. And when we get done… we’re gonna go eat fish off those naked chicks!” – Johnny Murata
This is one of those movies that came out when I was middle school age and I didn’t know about it because it never came to my local theater. But once I caught wind of it on video, I would rent it almost bi-weekly for about a year.
First of all, this features Dolph Lundgren and Brandon Lee, as buddy cops out to stop the Yakuza in Los Angeles. Plus, the Yakuza in the film were led by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa!
So this was like Ivan Drago teaming up with the Crow to kill Shang Tsung!
Plus, this had Tia Carrere in it and I was crushing hard on her back then. And what made this especially awesome was the nude scenes. Sure, I now realize that she had a nude body double due to how those moments were shot but when I was a kid, as far as I knew, I got to see one of my dream girls naked.
This is pure late ’80s/early ’80s toxic masculinity at its absolute finest. This is a balls out, violence festival with solid humor, hot chicks, martial arts and explosions. What more could a middle school boy want in 1991? And frankly, what more could a grown ass man want in 2019? Just because a bunch of crazy busybodies frown upon escapism like this in modern entertainment, doesn’t mean that I have to change to appease people that I don’t even want to talk to.
One thing that I always loved about this film is how the white guy is completely immersed and influenced by Japanese culture while the Asian guy is pretty much just some dude from the Valley. Granted, the Asian dude from the Valley knows a good amount of martial arts.
Additionally, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa was dynamite as the Yakuza boss that the good guys had to squash. Tagawa just has that look that makes him feel like a genuine evil bastard. He spends a great deal of his most badass moments, shirtless, showing off his Yakuza tattoos. He just feels like the final boss of a side scrolling beat’em up arcade game from the same era.
I love this damn movie. For what it is, it’s pretty close to perfect. Lundgren and Lee both have charm, solid charisma and it sucks that Lee died because I could’ve watched countless sequels to this movie. But then again, Hollywood rarely gives us sequels to movies like this unless they were Cannon Films properties.
That being said, this is probably the most Cannon film that wasn’t actually made by The Cannon Group.
Pairs well with: Commando, Rapid Fire, Black Rain, Tango & Cash and Dark Angel.
Release Date: October 4th, 1985
Directed by: Mark L. Lester
Written by: Steven E. de Souza, Jeph Loeb, Matthew Weisman
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rae Dawn Chong, Alyssa Milano, Vernon Wells, James Olson, David Patrick Kelly, Bill Duke, Dan Hedaya, Bill Paxton, Drew Snyder
Silver Pictures, 20th Century Fox, 90 Minutes
“These guys eat too much red meat!” – Cindy
Commando is the quintessential 80s Schwarzenegger flick. This is the standard bearer for any motion picture featuring Arnie, where he isn’t a Terminator or a barbarian. It is straight up action with the right balance of Arnold’s style of comedic delivery. I mean, you could really even make the argument that this is a comedy – not to take away from the fact that it is balls to the wall bad ass.
Arnold Schwarzenegger plays John Matrix, a swollen and hard manly man that is a purebred killing machine. However, Matrix loves his daughter, the very young Alyssa Milano – before she was every 80s boy’s crush on the sitcom Who’s the Boss?
Matrix’s home is attacked and his daughter is kidnapped by bad men that have ties to his past. The bad men want Matrix to carry out an assassination. However, Matrix doesn’t take any shit whatsoever and he evades the bad guys and starts picking them off, one by one, in a race against time to save his daughter before the baddies discover that he didn’t carry out his mission.
What we get with this film is a big beefy charming bad ass with great one-liners and an arsenal that would make the Punisher weep in shame. In fact, just about everything in this movie explodes. Even Rae Dawn Chong, his cutesy fish out of water sidekick, gets to fire a rocket launcher a few times.
This movie also has a plethora of great actors. The evil and very homoerotic Bennett is played by Australian heavy Vernon Wells, probably most known as Wez from Mad Max 2 a.k.a. The Road Warrior and a parody of Wez in John Hughes’ Weird Science. You also have Bill Duke, who got to star alongside Schwarzenegger as Mac in Predator. Then there is the always enjoyable David Patrick Kelly, the leader of the bad guys in The Warriors and known for his time on Twin Peaks. The cast also includes Dan Hedaya, a guy who never gets enough props, and a small role by a young Bill Paxton.
Commando has just about everything you want in an 80s action flick without a lot of the stuff you don’t want. It isn’t an artistic masterpiece, per se. That is, unless you consider an intense crescendo of exploding buildings and flying bodies to be fine art: I friggin’ do. If that’s the case, this is true art in a classical sense that rivals the Sistine Chapel. Director Mark L. Lester is Michael-friggin’-angelo and Arnold is Adam reaching out to touch the finger of God.
The film is also only ninety minutes, so a bunch of boring character development and filler doesn’t get in the way of Schwarzenegger waving his peen around like a lasso trying to capture the hearts of 80s action fans.
The plot is simple, that is all you need to blow up an island fortress. Movies today try to get overly complicated and seem to have a guilty conscious about gratuitously shooting bullet holes in everything and everyone. Commando doesn’t have time for that horse shit. It throws its dick on the table and says, “Yeah, let’s fuckin’ rage!”
Commando was the perfect template for all Schwarzenegger movies going forward. Predator took it and added in a bad ass alien killer. The rest of his movies fell a bit short and tried to fill up the running time with annoying things like plot and character development.
If you watch Commando and you don’t have a fun time, we probably can’t be friends. Growing up in the 80s, this is one of the greatest things that ever happened to me that didn’t involve Harrison Ford or ninjas. It is actually a good thing that this didn’t have Harrison Ford or ninjas because it would have literally shattered the Earth’s crust with its intensity and the weight of its gargantuan gravitas.