A Movie A Day #356: The Delta Force (1986, directed by Menahem Golan)


Last year, at this time, I set a goal for myself.

I decided that, in 2017, I would review a movie a day and I nearly succeeded. I didn’t review a movie on the day Chris Cornell died.  I missed a few days in March due to a sinus infection.  Including the review that I’m posting below, I reviewed 356 movies in 2017.  According to the year-end stats, my most popular reviews were for Heavy Metal Parking Lot, Slaughter, Body Chemistry 3, Body Chemistry 4, and Beatlemania.

Since tomorrow will be the start of a new year, this is going to be the end of my A Movie A Day experiment.  In 2018, I’ll still be watching movies and posting reviews on this site but this is my final daily review.  For my final Movie A Day, I picked the greatest movie of all time, The Delta Force!

Produced by Cannon Films, The Delta Force starts in 1980, with a helicopter exploding in the desert.  America’s elite special missions force has been sent to Iran to rescue the men and women being held hostage in the embassy.  The mission is a disaster with the members of Delta Force barely escaping with their lives.  Captain Chuck Norris tells his commanding officer, Col. Lee Marvin, that he’s finished with letting cowardly politicians control their missions.  Chuck heads to Montana while Lee spends the next few years hitting on the bartender at his local watering hole.

In 1985, terrorists led by Robert Forster hijack an airplane and divert it to Beirut.  Among those being held hostage: Martin Balsam, Shelley Winters, Lainie Kazan, Susan Strasberg, Kim Delaney, and Bo Svenson.  The great George Kennedy plays a priest named O’Malley who, when the Jewish passengers are moved to a separate location, declares himself to be Jewish and demands to be taken too.  Jerry Lazarus is a hostage who spends the movie holding a Cabbage Patch doll that his daughter gave him for luck.  Former rat packer Joey Bishop plays a passenger who says, “Beirut was beautiful then.  Beautiful.”  Fassbinder favorite Hanna Schygulla is the stewardess who refuses to help the terrorists because, “I am German!”

In America, General Robert Vaughn activates The Delta Force to rescue the hostages and take out the terrorists.  As Lee Marvin prepares everyone (including Cannon favorite, Steve James and, in a nonspeaking role, Liam Neeson) to leave, the big question is whether Chuck Norris will come out of retirement for the mission.  Of course, he does.  Even better, he brings his motorcycle with him.

Anyone who has ever seen The Delta Force remembers Chuck’s motorcycle.  Not only did it look incredibly cool but it was also mounted with machine guns and it could fire missiles at cowardly terrorists.  It didn’t matter whether you agreed with the film’s politics were or whether you even liked the movie, everyone who watched The Delta Force wanted Chuck’s motorcycle.  As the old saying goes, “You may be cool but you’ll never be Chuck Norris firing a missile from a motorcycle cool.”

The Delta Force is really three different films.  One film, shot in the style of a disaster film, is about the hostages on the plane and their evil captors.  The second film is Lee Marvin (in his final movie role) preparing his men to storm the airplane.  The third movie is Chuck Norris chasing Robert Forster on his motorcycle.  Put those three movies together and you have the ultimate Cannon movie.  The Delta Force was even directed by Cannon’s head honcho, Menahem Golan.  (Years earlier, Golan also directed Operation Thunderbolt, an Israeli film about the raid on Entebbe, which features more than a few similarities to The Delta Force.  Golan received his first and only Oscar nomination when Operation Thunderbolt was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film.)

The Delta Force is also the ultimate 80s movie.  It opens with the Carter administration fucking everything up and it ends with the Reagan administration giving Lee Marvin and Chuck Norris the greenlight to blow up some terrorists.  There is not much nuance to be found in The Delta Force but it still feels good to watch Chuck beat the bad guys.  Top that off with a shameless score from Alan Silvestri and you have one of the greatest action movies of all time.

At the end of The Delta Force, as cans of Budweiser are being passed out to rescued hostages, an extra is clearly heard to shout, “Beer!  America!”  Then everyone sings America The Beautiful.

That says it all.

A Movie A Day #329: The Fourth War (1990, directed by John Frankenheimer)


The year is 1989 and the Cold War is coming to an end.  Colonel Jack Knowles (Roy Scheider) was a hero in Vietnam but now, years later, his eagerness to fight has made him an outsider in the U.S. Army.  Most people would rather that Knowles simply retire but, as long as there are wars to be fought, Knowles will be there.  His only friend, General Hackworth (Harry Dean Stanton), arranges for Knowles to be assigned to an outpost on the  West German-Czechoslovakia border.  As soon as he arrives, Knowles starts to annoy his superior officer, Lt. Col. Clark (Tim Reid).  When Knowles sees a Czech refugee gunned down by the Soviets while making a run for the border, he unleashes his frustration by throwing a snowball at his Russian counterpart.  Like Knowles, Col. Valachev (Jurgen Prochnow) is a decorated veteran who feels lost without a war to fight.  Knowles and Valachev are soon fighting their own personal war, even at the risk of starting a full-scale conflict between their two nations.

The Fourth War was one of the handful of films that John Frankenheimer directed for Cannon Films.  Much as he did with The Manchurian Candidate, Frankenheimer mixes serious thrills with dark satire in The Fourth War.  Frankenheimer gets good performances from the entire cast, especially Scheider and Prochnow.  The real star of the movie is the snow-covered landscape, which Frankenheimer turns into a metaphor for the entire Cold War.  When Knowles and Valachev end up throwing punches on a frozen lake that’s breaking apart underneath their feet, it is not hard to see what Frankenheimer’s going for with this film.  Released shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Fourth War is an underrated thriller that deserves to be rediscovered.

A Movie A Day #320: Dangerously Close (1986, directed by Albert Pyun)


Vista Verde, an exclusive suburban high school in California, has a problem.  Some of the students have a bad attitude.  Some of them are experimenting with drugs.  Graffiti is showing up all over the school.  What better way to return peace to Vista Verde than for a bunch of WASPy rich kids and other jocks to organize into a secret vigilante force?  The headmaster thinks that it’s a great idea and soon “The Sentinels” are holding mock trials and shooting the other students with paintball guns.  One bad kid even turns up dead.  Graffiti is no joke.

The leader of the Sentinels is a rich kid named Randy (John Stockwell, who also co-wrote the script).  Randy knows the importance of good PR so he befriend the editor of the school newspaper, Donny (J. Eddie Peck).  Donny may not be rich but, because of his amazing journalism skills, he has been allowed to attend Vista Verde as a magnet student.  At first, Donny is skeptical of The Sentinels but he soon finds himself seduced by not only Randy’s wealthy lifestyle but also by Randy’s beautiful girlfriend (Carey Lowell).  Meanwhile, Donny’s friend Krooger (Bradford Bancroft) not only listens to punk music but also has a mohawk so he naturally becomes the latest target of the Sentinels.

A teen film with a conscience, Dangerously Close was one of the better films to come out of the Cannon Group in the mid-80s.  The script is smarter than the average 80s teen film and Albert Pyun’s slick direction captures the appeal of being young and rich in the suburbs.  Stockwell, Peck, and Lowell all give better than average performances  and there is actually some unexpected depth to Stockwell and Peck’s friendship.  Stockwell does not play Randy as just being a typical rich villain.  Instead, he is someone who thinks he’s doing the right thing even when he’s not.

The cast is full of faces that will be familiar to anyone who has ever been a fan of 80s high school films.  Keep an eye out for Thom Matthews, Don Michael Paul, Gerard Christopher, Miguel Nunez, Jr., and DeeDee Pfeiffer, all doing their part to keep the halls of Vista Verde safe.

 

A Movie A Day #319: Northville Cemetery Massacre (1976, directed by Thomas L. Dyke and William Dear)


You can’t always tell a book by its cover and that is the case with the Spirits, the nicest motorcycle gang to ever roll across America’s highways.  When they come across an old couple on the side of the road with a flat tire, they don’t rob the couple.  Instead, they change the tire.  When they come across a young man named Chris (David Hyrly, who is overdubbed by a young Nick Nolte), they invite him to join them on their journey.  When they are arrested, they sit in jail and roll a joint.  The Spirits are solid dudes.  But because they are rebels who live outside of straight society, they will always be picked on by the Man.  After a redneck deputy rapes the Chris’s girlfriend, the deputy blames the Spirits.  Soon, the Spirits find themselves under attack and are violently picked off one by one.  In self-defense, the Spirits start to arm themselves.  It all comes to a head in a violent confrontation in Northville Cemetery.

Made for a miniscule budget. featuring a largely amateur cast, and graphically violent, Northville Cemetery Massacre is an overlooked masterpiece, the type of movie that Sam Peckinpah would have made if he had worked on AIP biker movies instead of westerns.  The Spirits are innocent and, as long as no one hassles them, peaceful but the rest of the world only sees their motorcycles and their leather jackets.  The rapist deputy is one of the most evil lawmen in film history but because he wears a uniform and know the right people, he knows that he will never have to face justice.  The ambiguous ending proves that the filmmaker’s had more on their mind than just cashing in one the tail end of the biker genre’s popularity.  Adding to the film’s strength is a country-rock score from former Monkee Mike Nesmith and the casting of members of a real-life motorcycle club, the Scorpions.  What the Scorpions may have lacked in acting ability, they made up for in authenticity.

Northville Cemetery Massacre was made in the early 70s but it wasn’t released by Cannon Films until 1976, at which point the biker genre was close to dead.  Northville Cemetery Massacre provided audiences with one last chance to get their motor running, head out on the highway, and look for adventure with smoke and lightning and heavy metal thunder.

A Movie A Day #316: 52 Pick-Up (1986, directed by John Frankenheimer)


Harry Mitchell (Roy Scheider) is a businessman who has money, a beautiful wife named Barbara (Ann-Margaret), a sexy mistress named Cini (Kelly Preston), and a shitload of trouble.  He is approached by Alan Raimey (John Glover) and informed that there is a sex tape of him and his mistress.  Alan demands $105,000 to destroy the tape.  When Harry refuses to pay, Alan and his partners (Clarence Williams III and Robert Trebor) show up with a new tape, this one framing Harry for the murder of Cini.  They also make a new demand: $105,000 a year or else they will release the tape.  Can Harry beat Alan at his own game without harming his wife’s political ambitions?

Based on a novel by the great Elmore Leonard and directed by John Frankenheimer, 52 Pick-Up is one of the best films to ever come out of the Cannon Film Group.  Though it may not be as well-known as some of his other films (like The Manchurian Candidate, Seconds, Black Sunday, and Ronin), 52 Pick-Up shows why Frankenheimer was considered to be one of the masters of the thriller genre.  52 Pick-Up is a stylish, fast-paced, and violent thriller.  John Glover is memorably sleazy as the repellent Alan and the often underrated Roy Scheider does an excellent job of portraying Harry as a man who starts out smugly complacent and then becomes increasingly desperate as the story play out.

One final note: This movie was actually Cannon’s second attempt to turn Elmore Leonard’s novel to the big screen.  The first attempt was The Ambassador, which ultimately had little to do with Leonard’s original story.  Avoid The Ambassador but see 52 Pick-Up.

A Movie A Day #315: That Championship Season (1982, directed by Jason Miller)


Four former high school basketball players and their coach gather for a reunion in Pennsylvania.  Twenty-five years ago, they were state champions.  Now, they are all still struggling with the legacy of that championship season.  George (Bruce Dern) is the mayor of Scranton and is in a fierce race for reelection.  Phil (Paul Sorvino) is a wealthy and corrupt businessman who is having an affair with George’s wife.  James (Stacy Keach) is a high school principal who is still struggling to come to terms with his abusive father.  James’s younger brother, Tom (Martin Sheen), is an alcoholic who can not hold down a steady job.  The Coach (Robert Mitchum) remains the Coach.  All four of the men still want his approval, even though they know that he is actually an old bigot who pushed them to cut too many corners on their way to the championship.

Though Cannon film may have been best known for producing action films with actors like Charles Bronson, Chuck Norris, and Michael Dudikoff, they occasionally tried to improve their image with a prestige picture like That Championship Season.  Not only is this film based on Jason Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play but Cannon also hired Miller himself to direct.  (Before Miller was brought in, That Championship Season was nearly directed by William Friedkin, who directed Miller in The Exorcist.)  While no one knew the text better than Miller, this was also his directorial debut and sometimes, his inexperience shows.  The first half of the movie does a good job of opening up the play but the second half takes place almost entirely in the Coach’s house and is very stagey, never escaping its theatrical origins.

One thing That Championship Season has going for it is an excellent cast. Dern, Sorvino, Keach, and even Sheen rarely got roles with as much depth as the ones that they got here and four of them make the best of the opportunity.  As for Robert Mitchum, he was known for being a mercurial actor but here, he gives one of the better performances of the latter half of his career.  Because of the efforts of the ensemble, That Championship Season is one of the better Cannon prestige pictures, though Chuck Norris is still missed.

A Movie A Day #314: Body and Soul (1981, directed by George Bowers)


When his little sister falls ill with sickle-cell anemia, Leon Johnson (Leon Isaac Kennedy) has to make a decision.  He can either finish his education, graduate from medical school, and treat her as a doctor or he can drop out of school, reinvent himself as “Leon the Lover,” and make a fortune as a professional boxer!  At first, Leon’s career goes perfectly.  He is winning fights.  He is making money.  He has a foxy new girlfriend (played Leon Isaac Kennedy’s then-wife, Jayne Kennedy.)  But then the fame starts to go to Leon’s head.  He forgets where he came from.  He’s no longer fighting just to help his sister.  Now, he’s fighting for his own personal glory.  When Leon finally gets a title shot, a crooked boxing promoter known as Big Man (former JFK in-law Peter Lawford, looking coked up) orders Leon to take a dive.  Will Leon intentionally lose the biggest fight of his life or will he stay in the ring and battle Ricardo (Al Denava), a boxer so evil that he literally throws children to the ground?  More importantly, will he make his trainer (Muhammad Ali, playing himself!) proud?

Leon Isaac Kennedy, Muhammad Ali, and Peter Lawford all in the same movie!?  No surprise here, it’s a Cannon film.  Leon Isaac Kennedy was best known for playing a jailhouse boxer in the Penitentiary films and he was a good actor with charisma to burn so it probably made perfect sense to not only cast him in a remake of John Garfield’s Body and Soul but to let him write the script too.  The end result is a film that is too heavy-handed to be taken seriously but it is still an entertaining movie.  Body and Soul leaves not a single sports cliché unused but Kennedy was a convincing fighter and the boxing scenes are well-directed.  Muhammad Ali did a better job playing himself here then he did in The Greatest.  All in all, Body and Soul is a good movie for fight fans.

Body and Soul was not a box office success and Kennedy ended his film career a few years after it was released.  He is now the head of Leon Kennedy Ministries, Inc of Burbank, California.