The Octagon (1980, directed by Eric Karson)


A ninja named Seikura (Tadashi Yamashita) is running a training camp where he shows mercenaries and terrorists how they can use martial arts to assassinate their enemies and disrupt the political system.  Someone has to stop him.

This looks like a job for CHUCK NORRIS!

In this one, Chuck plays Scott James, a retired karate champion who, though a massive series of apparently unrelated coincidences, is drawn into the fight against Seikura’s terrorists.  (Speaking of coincidences, Seikura just happens to be Scott’s half-brother.)  One of the fun things about The Octagon is that there’s no real rhyme-or-reason as to how Scott gets involved.  He just keeps running into people who want him to fight terrorists.  His former mentor (played by Lee Van Cleef) tries to recruit him.  Immediately after turning him down, Scott just happens to run into a woman (Karen Carlson) who is having car trouble and the woman tries to recruit him.  Scott’s old friend, A.J. (Art Hindle) tries to recruit him.  Even a dancer (Kim Lankford) who goes out on a date with Scott is more interested in talking about the terrorists than anything else.  Even when the terrorists decide to go after Scott, it’s mostly just because he keeps talking to their enemies.

Scott does eventually get involved.  He goes undercover, which means that he gives everyone a fake last name while asking them if they know where he can sign up for the terrorist training camp.  (But he doesn’t shave his mustache or anything else so he’s still obviously Chuck Norris.)  Eventually, Aura (Carol Bagdasarian) defects from the terrorists over to Scott’s side and the two of them launch an assault on the terrorist camp.  While this is all going on, Scott has doubts about whether or not he can really defeat his half-brother and we hear them in voice over.  It’s an interesting attempt to show what’s going on in an action hero’s head but, because Chuck was such an inexpressive actor early in his career, the contrast between his worries and his stone face creates a strange effect.

It doesn’t matter, though, that Chuck wasn’t an expressive actor or that the film’s plot is needlessly convoluted.  The fight scenes are frequent and they all rock and that’s what really matters.  Chuck throws a lot of punches and kicks in this film and, as opposed to some of his other early films, the director of The Octagon made sure that we could see every single one of them.  Whether he’s fighting in a small hotel room and fighting off a dozen enemies in the terrorist camp, Chuck’s exciting to watch.  Also exciting to watch is Carol Bagdasarian, who makes her role more than the typical action movie love interest.  At times, she seems like she might even be a deadlier opponent than Chuck himself!

Finally, Lee Van Cleef!  In this one, he drives a truck with a “Have You Hugged Your Gun Today?” bumper sticker.  No film featuring Lee Van Cleef can be that bad.  In fact, most, like The Octagon, are pretty damn entertaining.

The Hitman (1991, directed by Aaron Norris)


When cop Cliff Garrett (Chuck Norris) gets shot by his corrupt partner, Ronny Delaney (Michael Parks), he dies and nearly gets to go to heaven.  However, at the last minute, the doctor’s manage to bring Cliff back to life.  Since everyone believes Cliff to be dead, his superiors come up with a brilliant plan.  What if Cliff changes his name to Grogan, grows his hair long, and goes undercover as a hitman?

Cliff’s up for it and is soon working for an Italian mobster named Marco Luganni (Al Waxman).  Marco wants to eliminate all of the other mobsters in town but he also has to deal with a bunch of drug-dealing Iranians who are trying to move in on his territory.  Cliff soon works his way into the inner circle and plays all sides against each other.  What’s strange is that Cliff manages to fool everyone into thinking that he’s Grogan despite the fact that all he’s really doing is wearing his hair long.  In fact, the only person who he doesn’t fool is his former partner, Delaney.  Delaney is not happy to discover that Cliff is still alive and sets out to take him out once and for all.

Because this is a Chuck Norris film, there’s a subplot where Cliff helps a bullied youth named Tim (Salim Grant) learn how to stick up for himself.  One thing that set Chuck Norris apart from other 80s action heroes is that Chuck always tried to teach all the kids in the audience of his R-rated films a good lesson about staying off drugs, standing up to bullies, and not doubting the American way.  I always have mixed feelings about this aspect of Chuck’s films because the message scenes usually don’t fit in with the rest of the narrative and it’s always questionable if a film featuring Chuck killing people is the right place for a wholesome life lesson but, at the same time, Chuck is so sincere that these scenes usually feature his best acting.  When Tim beats up a bully and then Chuck beats up the bully’s father, it really makes you realize that someone missed an opportunity by not making a movie where Chuck Norris played a computer science teacher who prepared his students not just for a career in STEM but also taught them how to put the members of football team in their place.  In the case of The Hitman, the crime subplot and the bullying subplot come together when Delaney decides to use Tim to strike at Cliff.

The Hitman is one of Chuck’s later films, which means the budget is lower than the films he did for Cannon and the action scenes are not as elaborate.  Chuck’s brother, Aaron, directs and he does okay but he’s no Joe “Missing In Action” Zito or Menahem “Delta Force” Golan.  The fight scenes are competently done in a workmanlike manner but they’re never as exciting as what we’ve come to expect from the Norris brand.  The main appeal here is to see Chuck Norris and Michael Parks in the same movie.  Chuck, as always, underplays while Parks, as always, overplays and it’s always entertaining to watch them go at each other.  Otherwise, The Hitman is for Chuck completists only.

A Force of One (1979, directed by Paul Aaron)


Someone is targeting a squad of undercover narcotics detectives, killing them by taking them by surprise and breaking their necks before they even have a chance fight back.  Lt. Dunne (Clu Gulager) doesn’t like seeing his best detectives getting murdered so he orders all of them — including Mandy Rust (Jennifer O’Niell) and Rollins (Superfly himself, Ron O’Neal) — to take martial arts training so that they can defend themselves.  And who better to train them than karate champ and dojo owner, Matt Logan (Chuck Norris)?  The no-nonsense Logan teaches the detectives a few moves and even starts a tentative romance with Mandy.  But when his adopted son (played by future director Eric Laneuville) is murdered by the drug dealers, Logan goes from being a teacher to being an avenger.

Since today is Chuck Norris’s 80th birthday, it only seems appropriate to review one of Chuck Norris’s better films.  A Force of One was made at a time when Chuck was still trying to make the transition from being the karate instructor to the star to being a star himself.  Norris had been disappointed by his previous few starring vehicles, all of which strangely played down Norris’s martial arts skills.  After his friend and student, Steve McQueen, told Chuck that he needed to specialize in playing strong, silent types, Norris followed his advise with A Force Of One, which features considerably less dialogue than Norris’s previous films but also a lot more fighting.

Though the character may be named Matt Logan, Chuck Norris is basically playing himself in A Force of One.  In the scenes where he’s training the detectives and talking about why he’s personally so opposed to drugs, Chuck comes across as so earnest that it doesn’t matter that he’s not much of an actor.  What he’s always lacked in range, Chuck makes up for in general badassery and A Force Of One features him at his most badass.  Chuck’s final fight with the ninja assassin is one of his best.

Jennifer O’Neill got top billing in A Force Of One and she and Chuck actually have decent romantic chemistry.  She seems to bring him a little bit out of his shell and she’s also actually believable as a tough cop.  Because this was early in Chuck’s career and the script was co-written by police procedural specialist Ernest Tidyman, A Force Of One spends as much time following round the other cops as it does with Chuck and the squad’s camaraderie is believable.  The cops are all played by good character actors like Ron O’Neal, Clu Gulager, Pepe Serna, and James Whitmore Jr. and they all give pretty good performance while, at the same time, not upstaging Chuck.

One final note: There’s a scene where Chuck and Jennifer O’Neill are in an evidence room.  Keep an eye out for a box that is labeled K. Reeves.  That’s a reference to director Paul Aaron’s stepson, Keanu Reeves, who worked as a production assistant on this film.

The German version of A Force Of One

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Chuck Norris Edition


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today is the 80th birthday of the greatest living American, Chuck Norris!  For those who doubt that power of Chuck, consider this: Chuck Norris is a year older than Bernie Sanders and he could still beat him in a fight.

In honor of Chuck’s birthday, here are 4 shots from 4 of his best.

4 Shots From 4 Films

An Eye For An Eye (1981, directed by Steve Carver)

Silent Rage (1982, directed by Michael Miller)

Code of Silence (1985, directed by Andrew Davis)

The Delta Force (1986, directed by Menahem Golan)

Delta Force 2: The Colombian Connection (1990, directed by Aaron Norris)


Cocaine is flooding the United States and only one man is to blame!  Ramon Cota (Billy Drago) is so evil that, after killing a group of DEA agents, he appears on closed-circuit television just so he can taunt their superior, John Page (Richard Jaeckel).  When Ramon drives through his home country of San Carlos, he kills the peasants, rapes their women, and murders their babies, just because he can.  He’s one bad dude.

Ramon is untouchable as long as he stays in San Carlos but occasionally he does have to leave the country so he can conduct business.  A frequent flyer, Ramon always buys every seat in first class so that he and his bodyguards can have privacy.  However, what Ramon didn’t count on, was Delta Force’s Col. Scott McCoy (Chuck Norris!).  McCoy and his partner, Maj. Chavez (Paul Perri), aren’t intimidated by that curtain separating first class from the rest of the plane.  As soon as Ramon’s flight enters American air space, they burst out of coach, knock out Ramon’s bodyguards, and then toss Ramon out of the plane.  Being an experienced skydiver (not to mention that he’s also Chuck Norris), Col. McCoy is able to catch up to Ramon and grab him before he plummets all the way to the Earth.

Unfortunately, arresting Ramon in America means that you run the risk of a liberal, Carter-appointed judge setting a low-enough bail that Ramon can go free.  Having taken advantage of America’s own legal system, Ramon murders Chavez and returns to San Carlos, leaving Col. McCoy and the rest of the Delta Force to seek vengeance for their fallen comrade.

Only Chuck Norris returns for this sequel to the greatest movie ever made.  Unfortunately, Lee Marvin died shortly after the release of the first Delta Force.  Even though John P. Ryan (as General Taylor) and Richard Jaeckel both seem to be attempting to channel Marvin’s grim, no-nonsense spirit in their performances, it’s just not the same.  What made the first Delta Force so memorable was the mix of Marvin’s cool authority and Chuck Norris’s general badassery.  Norris is as tough as always but the film still has a Lee Marvin-size hole in the middle of it and, without Marvin glaring at the bad guys and barking at the Washington pencil pushers who think they know how to keep America safe, Delta Force 2 could just as easily be a sequel to one of Norris’s Missing In Action films.  This is a Chuck In The Jungle movie, with drug dealers replacing the usual Vietnamese POW camp commandants.

If you can see past the absence of Lee Marvin, Delta Force 2 is an okay Chuck Norris action movie.  It’s typical of the movies that he made for Cannon but the fight scenes are well-directed by Chuck’s brother and Billy Drago is a loathsome drug lord who gets what he deserves.  Chuck gets a few good one-liners and you’ve got to love the film’s final shot.  Delta Force 2 never comes close to matching the original but at least it’s got Chuck Norris doing what he does best.

Bruce Lee vs. The Star Whackers: Game of Death (1978, directed by Robert Clouse)


Billy Lo (played by archival footage of Bruce Lee and two stand-ins) is the world’s biggest film star and the Syndicate (represented by Dean Jagger and Hugh O’Brian) want a piece of the action.  When Billy refuses to allow the Syndicate to take control of his career, the Syndicate responds by threatening both Billy and his girlfriend (Colleen Camp).  After a Syndicate hitman sneaks onto the set of Billy’s latest film and shoots him in the face, Billy allows the world to believe that he’s dead.  Using a variety of disguises, Billy seeks revenge on the Syndicate and all of its assassins, including the 7 foot tall Hakim (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).

Lee’s original plan for the Game of Death was that it would feature him as a retired martial artist who, in order to save the lives of his family, had to make his way up a five-level pagoda, defeating a different guardian on each floor.  Each guardian would represent a different fighting style and the journey up the pagoda would allow Lee to discuss his beliefs regarding the principles of martial arts.  Serving as both director and star, Lee did during the making of the film, of cerebral edema though some said Lee was either murdered or that he had faked his own death.

Released seven years after his death, the final version Game of Death has little in common with Lee’s original vision.  Only about 11 minutes of footage from the original film was used in the revised version and most of Lee’s philosophical concerns were abandoned for a plot that, today, feels like it could have been lifted from Randy Quaid’s twitter timeline.  (Also, when watching the film today, it’s also impossible to watch the Syndicate’s assassins disguise Billy Lo’s shooting as an on-set accident without being reminded of what would happen to Brandon Lee on the set of The Crow.)  Game of Death opens with footage lifted from Lee’s battle with Chuck Norris at the end of Way of the Dragon and the other fight scenes are full of close-ups of Lee that were obviously lifted from other films.  There’s even a scene in Billy’s dressing room where a cardboard cut-out of Lee’s face has obviously been taped onto a mirror.  After Billy fakes his own death, footage of Bruce Lee’s actual funeral is shown, including a shot of Lee in his coffin.

If you can overlook the ethical issues of making a Bruce Lee film without the actual participation of Bruce Lee, Game of Death is actually a pretty entertaining movie.  Director Robert Clouse had previously directed Enter the Dragon and obviously knew how to direct a fight scene while even stock footage of Bruce Lee has more charisma than the average action star.  Best of all, Bruce Lee battles Kareem Adbul-Jabbar, in an epic scene that Lee himself directed for the original version of Game of Death.  When the 7’2 Kareem Abdul Jabber plants his foot in the middle of Bruce Lee’s chest, Game of Death achieves pop cultural immortality.

Thorny ethical concerns aside, Game of Death proves that Bruce Lee will live forever.

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 #313: Lone Wolf McQuade (1983, directed by Steve Carver)


Chuck Norris is J.J. McQuade, Texas Ranger!

J.J. McQuade is a former Marine who keeps the peace in El Paso through a combination of karate and machine guns.  McQuade lives in a house in the desert, with only a wolf and refrigerator full of beer to provide companionship.  He prefers to work alone, even though his captain (R.G. Armstrong) insists that McQuade partner up with a rookie named Kayo Ramos (Robert Beltran).  Ramos is eager to prove himself but Lone Wolf McQuade has to work alone.  Otherwise, his nickname would not make any sense.

Things change when McQuade’s teenage daughter (Dana Kimmel) is put in the hospital by an arrogant and sleazy arms dealer named Rawley Wilkes (David Carradine).  McQuade is out for both justice and revenge and Ramos’s knowledge of how to turn on a computer proves to be helpful.  Also teaming up with McQuade: an FBI agent (Leon Isaac Kennedy), a retired Ranger named Dakota (L.Q. Jones), and Rawley’s former lover (Barbara Carrera), who now happens to be McQuade’s current lover.

The predictable storyline is not what makes Lone Wolf McQuade a classic. Instead, it’s that this movie features both Chuck Norris and David Carradine at the height of their abilities.    The whole film is directed like a grand western, with Norris and Carradine taking the roles that would usually go to Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef.  The plot may be full of holes but when these two face off, none of that matters.  Neither Carradine nor Norris used stunt doubles for their fight scenes and it makes all the difference.

This was one of the first movies to feature Chuck Norris with the beard that’s become his trademark.  Wisely, Chuck doesn’t say much in the movie and leaves most of the heavy-duty acting to his co-stars.  (Though he may be an icon of cool, Chuck has never been anyone’s idea of a great actor.)  Carradine’s performance as Rawley feels like an early version of his best known role, Bill in Kill Bill.  L.Q. Jones and R.G. Armstrong both bring their own history as members of the Sam Peckinpah stock company to the film while Barbara Carrera livens up her part with a sultry spark.  Keep an eye out for both William Sanderson and Sharon Farrell in small roles.  Speaking of small roles, Daniel Frishman almost steals the entire damn movie as a rival arms dealer.

Though it wasn’t produced by Cannon, Lone Wolf McQuade is an essential for fans of Chuck Norris.

A Movie A Day #304: Code of Silence (1985, directed by Andrew Davis)


It’s life and death in the Windy City.  It’s got Chuck Norris, Henry Silva, Dens Farina, and a robot, too.  It’s Code of Silence.

Chuck plays Eddie Cusack, a tough Chicago policeman who is abandoned by his fellow officers when he refuses to cover for an alcoholic cop who accidentally gunned down a Hispanic teenager and then tried to place a gun on the body.  This the worst time for Cusack to have no backup because a full-scale gang war has just broken out between the Mafia and the Comachos, a Mexican drug gang led by Luis Comacho (Henry Silva).  When a cowardly mobster goes into hiding, Luis targets his daughter, Diana (Molly Hagan).  Determined to end the drug war and protect Diana, Eddie discovers that he may not be able to rely on his brothers in blue but he can always borrow a crime-fighting robot named PROWLER.

Despite the presence of a crime-fighting robot, Code of Silence is a tough, gritty, and realistic crime story.  Though Chuck only gets to show off his martial arts skills in two scenes (and one of those scenes is just Eddie working out in the gym), Code of Silence is still Norris’s best film and his best performance.  The film draws some interesting comparisons between the police’s code of silence and the Mafia’s omerta and director Andrew Davis shows the same flair for action that he showed in The Fugitive and Above the LawCode of Silence‘s highlight is a fight between Chuck and an assassin that takes place on top of a moving train.  Norris did his own stunts so that really is him trying not to fall off that train.

Davis surrounds Norris with familiar Chicago character actors, all of whom contribute to Code of Silence‘s authenticity and make even the smallest roles memorable.  (Keep an eye out for the great John Mahoney, playing the salesman who first introduces the PROWLER.)  Norris’s partner is played by Dennis Farina, who actually was a Chicago cop at the time of filming.  After Code of Silence, Farina quit the force to pursue acting full time and had a busy career as a character actor, playing cops and mobsters in everything from Manhunter to Get Shorty.  As always, Henry Silva is a great villain but the movie is stolen by Molly Hagan, who is feisty and sympathetic as Diana.  To the film’s credit, it doesn’t try to force Eddie and Diana into any sort of contrived romance.

Unfortunately, none of Chuck Norris’s other films never came close to matching the quality of this one.  Code of Silence is a hint of what could have been.

A Movie A Day #161: The Way of the Dragon (1972, directed by Bruce Lee)


Bruce Lee vs. Chuck Norris in a battle to the death!

That alone makes The Way of The Dragon worth seeing.  This was Bruce Lee’s only completed directorial effort and it was the last of his films to be released during his lifetime.  (Lee’s best known film, Enter the Dragon, was released 6 days after Lee’s death.  When Lee died, he was directing Game of Death.)  In Way of the Dragon, Lee plays Tang Lung, a martial artist who travels from Hong Kong to Rome to help protect the owners of a restaurant from the Mafia.  At first, everyone dismisses Tang Lung as being an unsophisticated bumpkin and he does little to convince them otherwise.  But when the Mafia tries to intimidate him, Tang reveals how dangerous it is to underestimate him.

The only version of Way of the Dragon that I have seen is the badly dubbed version that was released in the United States so it’s hard for me to judge either the script or the acting, through Bruce Lee was a natural-born movie star and, even when dubbed, as charismatic as ever.  During the first half of the film, there is so much humor that it almost seems like a comedy but, unless you find Bruce Lee begging someone to tell him where the bathroom is, a lot of that humor falls flat.  Far more interesting is the scene where Tang and a waiter debate the merits of Japanese vs Chinese martial arts.  This scene reveals that Lee was just as serious about the philosophy behind the martial arts as he was about the actual fighting.

Most people who watch The Way of the Dragon will do so for the fighting and the film does not disappoint.  The Way of the Dragon features some of the best martial arts action ever captured on film.  The Mafia hires three martial artists to take on Tang, which means that, along with the usual collection of Mafia thugs, Bruce Lee also fights Bob Wall, Hwang In-shik, and Chuck Norris.

Bruce Lee’s final battle with Chuck Norris is The Way of the Dragon’s most famous scene and perhaps one of the greatest scenes in the history of world cinema.  Both Norris and Lee are in top physical form and the two real-life friends held nothing back.  The fight was filmed in the Roman Colosseum, confirming that Norris and Lee are meant to be modern-day gladiators, battling to the death but never viewing each other with anything less than respect.  Neither Norris nor Lee say a word during their climatic face-off.  They let their fists and their feet do the talking.  It’s a brutal battle between not just two men but also two different philosophies of fighting.

The Way of the Dragon was Lee’s biggest hit during his lifetime.  A modest success when first released in the west, it was re-released following Lee’s death and was retitled The Return of the Dragon.  While the American co-production Enter The Dragon is a bigger and slicker production, The Way of the Dragon is the best of Lee’s Hong Kong films and his final battle with Chuck Norris remains the perfect showcase for his skill as a fighter.