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 #355: F.I.S.T. (1978, directed by Norman Jewison)

Sylvester Stallone is Jimmy Hoffa!

Actually, Stallone plays Johnny Kovak, a laborer who becomes a union organizer in 1939.  Working with him is his best friend, Abe Belkin (David Huffman).  In the fight for the working man, Abe refuses to compromise to either the bosses or the gangsters who want a piece of union.  Johnny is more pragmatic and willing to make deals with ruthless mobsters like Vince Doyle (Kevin Conway) and Babe Milano (Tony Lo Bianco).  Over thirty years, both Johnny and Abe marry and start families.  Both become powerful in the union.  When Johnny discovers that union official Max Graham (Peter Boyle) is embezzling funds, Johnny challenges him for the presidency.  When a powerful U.S. senator (Rod Steiger) launches an investigation into F.I.S.T. corruption, both Johnny and Abe end up marked for death.

Obviously based on the life and mysterious disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, F.I.S.T. was one of two films that Stallone made immediately after the surprise success of Rocky.  (The other was Paradise Alley.)  F.I.S.T. features Stallone in one of his most serious roles and the results are mixed.  In the film’s quieter scenes, especially during the first half, Stallone is surprisingly convincing as the idealistic and morally conflicted Kovak.  Stallone is less convincing when Kovak has to give speeches.  If F.I.S.T. were made today, Stallone could probably pull off the scenes of the aged, compromised Johnny but in 1978, he was not yet strong enough as an actor.  Far better is the rest of the cast, especially Conway, Lo Bianco, and Boyle.  If you do see F.I.S.T., keep an eye on the actor playing Johnny’s son.  Though he was credited as Cole Dammett, he grew up to be Anthony Keidis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

The box office failures of both F.I.S.T. and Paradise Alley led Stallone back to his most famous role with Rocky II.  And the rest is history.


A Movie A Day #354: Lolly-Madonna XXX (1973, directed by Richard C. Sarafian)

In the backwoods of Hicksville, USA, two families are feuding.  Laban Feather (Rod Steiger, bellowing even more than usual) and Pap Gutshall (Robert Ryan) were once friends but now they are committed rivals.  They claim that the fight started when Pap bought land that once belonged to Laban but it actually goes back farther than that.  Laban and Pap both have a handful of children, all of whom have names like Thrush and Zeb and Ludie and who are all as obsessed with the feud as their parents.  When the Gutshall boys decide to pull a prank on the Feather boys, it leads to the Feathers kidnapping the innocent Roonie (Season Hubley) from a bus stop.  They believe that Roonie is Lolly Madonna, the fictional fiancée of Ludie Gutshall (Kiel Martin).  Zack Feather (Jeff Bridges), who comes the closest of any Feather to actually having common sense, is ordered to watch her while the two families prepare for all-out war.  Zack and Roonie fall in love, though they do not know that another Feather brother has also fallen in love with Gutshall daughter.  It all leads to death, destruction, and freeze frames.

Lolly-Madonna XXX is a strange film.  It starts out as a typical hicksploitation flick before briefly becoming a backwoods Romeo and Juliet and finally ending up as a heavy-handed metaphor for both the Vietnam War and the social upheaval at home.  Along with all the backwoods drama, there is a fantasy sequence where Hawk Feather (Ed Lauter) briefly imagines himself as an Elvis-style performer.  (Hawk also dresses up in Roonie’s underwear.)  Probably the most interesting thing about Lolly-Madonna XXX is the collection of actors who show up playing Feathers and Gutshalls.  Along with Steiger, Ryan, Martin, Bridges, and Lauter, everyone from Randy Quaid to Paul Koslo to Scott Wilson to Gary Busey has a role to play in the feud.  Lolly-Madonna XXX is too uneven and disjointed to really be considered a good movie but I can say that I have never seen anything else like it.

One final note: Lolly-Madonna XXX was directed by Richard Sarafian, who is best known for another early 70s cult classic, Vanishing Point.

A Movie A Day #353: The Public Eye (1992, directed by Howard Franklin)

New York in the 1940s.  Leon “Bernzy” Bernstein (Joe Pesci) is nearly a legend in the city, a freelance news photographer with a police radio in his car and a darkroom in his trunk.  Bernzy is a solitary man who lives for his work, the type who has many acquaintances but few friends.  He gets the pictures that no one else can get but his dream of seeing a book published of his photographs seems to be unattainable.  As more than one snobbish publisher tells him, tabloid photographs are not art.

Bernzy is invited to a meeting with Kay Levitz (Barbara Hershey).  Kay is the widow of one of Bernzy’s few friends.  She has inherited a nightclub but now a mysterious man is claiming to be a former partner of her husband and says that he owns half of the club.  She asks Bernzy to discover who the man is.  Bernzy agrees and soon finds himself a suspect in a murder.  Even as Bernzy tries to clear his name, he never stop looking for the perfect shot.

Joe Pesci made this neo noir shortly after winning an Oscar for GoodfellasThe Public Eye was an attempt to elevate Pesci from being a character actor to a leading man.  It may not have accomplished that but it is still one of the better neo noirs of the 90s.  Howard Franklin does such a good job of recreating the style of film noir that the movie seems like it’s in black-and-white even though it’s in color and Barbara Hershey is perfectly cast as a sultry femme fatale.  The tough but eccentric Bernzy turns out to be a perfect role for Joe Pesci, who gives one of his best performances.  This overlooked film is one to watch for.

A Movie A Day #352: Mad Dog Morgan (1976, directed by Philippe Mora)

Though he may not be as internationally well-known as Ned Kelly, Dan “Mad Dog” Morgan was one of the most infamous bushrangers in 19th century Australia.  Much as with the outlaws of American west, it is sometimes difficult to separate the fact from the legend when it comes to Mad Dog Morgan but it is agreed with Morgan has one of the most violent and bloodiest careers of the bushrangers.  Whether Morgan was a folk hero or just a ruthless criminal depends on which source you choose to believe.

In Mad Dog Morgan, Dennis Hopper plays Morgan as being the ultimate outsider.  Though the real Morgan was believed to have been born to Irish immigrants in New South Wales, the film presents Morgan as being the immigrant, an Irishman who ends up in Australia searching for gold and who is disgusted when he sees the way that the colonial authorities run the country.  Addicted to opium and angered by the casual brutality and corruption that he sees all around him, Morgan fights back and soon ends up in prison where he spends years being abused and raped.  It is all intended to break his spirit but, instead, Morgan comes out of prison even more determined to seek revenge on any and all figures of authority.  Working with a fellow outsider, an Aborigine named Billy (David Gulpilil, from Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout), Morgan blazes a bloody and self-destructive trail across Australia.

Mad Dog Morgan was made long before Hopper cleaned up his act and became on of America’s favorite character actors.  This is Hopper back when he was still one of the most unpredictable and dangerous actors around.  By many accounts, Hopper was in the throes of drug-induced psychosis during the filming of Mad Dog Morgan, which makes it all the more remarkable that Hopper still gave one of his best performances as the legendary bushranger.  (For proof of how authentic Hopper feels in the role, compare his performance to Mick Jagger’s in Ned Kelly.)  Hopper was an outlaw playing an outlaw and his full commitment to the role is obvious from the start.  Featuring brutal action and a cast of talented Australian character actors, (Jack Thompson, Bruce Spence, Bill Hunter, and Hugh Keays-Byrne all have roles) Mad Dog Morgan is an essential film for fans of both Australian cinema and Dennis Hopper.

A Movie A Day #351: Moonshine Highway (1996, directed by Andy Armstrong)

The time is the 1950s.  The place is the backwoods of Tennessee.  Everyone is obsessed with three things: cars, sex, and moonshine.  Jud Muldoon (Kyle MacLachlan) served his country in World War II and now he just wants to make a living.  He is the best moonshine runner in Appalachia.  When he gets behind the wheel of a car, no one can outrun him.  As long as he gets his cut, Sheriff Wendell Miller (Randy Quaid) has no problem with looking the other way when it comes to the moonshiners in his county.  Or at least he doesn’t until the feds show up and start breathing down his neck about all the money they’re losing through non-taxed liquor sales.  Complicating matters even more is that when Jud isn’t running moonshine, he’s sleeping with Ethel (Maria del Mar), who just happens to be married to the sheriff.

Though Canada fills in unconvincingly for Tennessee and the movie is full of more  corn-prone clichés than you can shake a stick at, Moonshine Highway is still a fairly entertaining tribute to old drive-in movies like Thunder Road and Moonrunners.  Kyle MacLachlan is surprisingly convincing as a backwoods driver and Randy Quaid was always at his best when playing corrupt Southern law enforcement.  (This was filmed before Quaid’s infamous meltdown.)  This was the only film directed by famed stunt coordinator Andy Armstrong and he does a good job capturing all of the vehicular mayhem.  Moonshine Highway was originally made for Showtime and it is not the easiest movie to find.  It’s available on VHS and on DVD in Argentina.

If you do see the movie, keep an eye out for director David Cronenberg in a small role.

A Movie A Day #350: The Chase (1994, directed by Adam Rifkin)

Why so serious?

Jack Hammond (Charlie Sheen) was just an innocent clown who worked birthday parties.  Then he was mistaken for an outlaw clown and was accused of a crime that he did not commit.  When police incompetence led to the only piece of evidence that could exonerate him being tossed out of court, Jack had no choice but to go on the run.  Now, he’s in a stolen car, being pursued by not just the cops but also the tabloid media, and he’s got a hostage.  Natalie Voss (Kristy Swanson) turns out to be a willing hostage, though.  She is the daughter of Dalton Voss (Ray Wise, playing a character who is literally described as being “the Donald Trump of California) and what better way to act out against her father than to fall in love with her kidnapper and help him as he tries to reach the Mexican border?

What’s this?

A good Charlie Sheen movie that was not directed by Oliver Stone or John Milius?

It’s a Christmas miracle!

Actually, it may be misleading to say that The Chase is good..  By most of the standards used to judge whether or not a film qualifies as being good, The Chase fails.  There’s no real character development.  The plot is as simplistic as a plot can be.  A good deal of the movie could be correctly described as stupid.  But The Chase has got to be one of the most entertainingly stupid movies ever made.  It is about as basic an action comedy as has ever been made.  Almost the entire movie takes place on highway, with jokes mixed in with spectacular car crashes and only-in-the-90s cameos from Flea, Anthony Kiedis, and Ron Jeremy.  The pace never lets up, Kristy Swanson again shows that she deserved a better film career than she got, and Henry Rollins plays a cop.  As for Charlie Sheen, he basically plays the same character that he always plays but at least, when The Chase was made, he was still putting a little effort into it.  Maybe because they had already previously worked together in Hot Shots!, Sheen and Swanson have an easy rapport and make even the worse jokes sound passably funny.

The Chase may not be great and it really would have been improved by cameos from Burt Reynolds and Judd Nelson but it’s still damn entertaining.