18 Days of Paranoia #14: The Organization (dir by Don Medford)


Sidney Poitier played Detective Virgil Tibbs for the third and final time in the 1970 film, The Organization.

This time, Virgil is investigating a murder at an office building in San Francisco.  It’s a very odd murder, in that an executive was shot, a security guard was bludgeoned, and even though it looks like there was a robbery taking place, nothing appears to have actually been stolen.  Since neither the company nor the executive were believed to be involved in anything shady, Virgil finds himself perplexed as to why any of this has happened at all.

Fortunately, the local urban revolutionaries are here to help!  They contact Virgil and Virgil reluctantly agrees to meet with the group, which is made up of the usual collection of angry 1970s activists — i.e., a dissident preacher, a reformed drug dealer, a guy who won’t stop yelling, and a woman who is obviously going to be killed before the movie is over.  The revolutionaries explain that they were the ones who broke into the office but they also say that they didn’t kill anyone.  Instead, they broke into the office because they wanted the police to investigate the break-in and discover that the company was a front for a bunch of drug dealers.  “The Organization” is flooding poor and minority neighborhoods with heroin and the revolutionaries want to stop them.  In fact, the revolutionaries have stolen four million dollars worth of heroin.  Now, they want Virgil to help them.

Even though Virgil is sympathetic to the revolutionaries, he’s still a cop and he can’t get directly involved with illegal activities.  Instead, he agrees to not arrest the revolutionaries and to continue his investigation, in the hope of bringing down the Organization.  It’s not going to be easy, of course.  There’s evidence that the Organization may even have agents inside the San Francisco police department.

As far as the Virgil Tibbs movies are concerned, The Organization is slightly better than They Call Me Mister Tibbs! but it’s nowhere near as good as the one that started it all, In The Heat of the Night.  Probably the biggest flaw with The Organization is that Virgil has to share the spotlight with the revolutionaries.  With the exception of Raul Julia (who plays a former drug dealer named Juan), none of the revolutionaries are particularly memorable characters and their plan for taking down The Organization is so unnecessarily convoluted that it’s hard to believe that Virgil would go along with it.

On the plus side, The Organization works fairly well as a conspiracy thriller.  It does manage to create a consistent atmosphere of unease and mistrust.  This is one of those films where people are constantly getting shot by unseen gunmen mere minutes after getting arrested and the fact that even cool and in-control Virgil Tibbs can’t save them does a lot towards creating a nice sense of paranoia.  The films end on perhaps the most downbeat note of all of the Virgil Tibbs movies, suggesting that, in the end, everything we’ve just watched was for nothing.


Other Entries In The 18 Days Of Paranoia:

  1. The Flight That Disappeared
  2. The Humanity Bureau
  3. The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover
  4. The Falcon and the Snowman
  5. New World Order
  6. Scandal Sheet
  7. Cuban Rebel Girls
  8. The French Connection II
  9. Blunt: The Fourth Man 
  10. The Quiller Memorandum
  11. Betrayed
  12. Best Seller
  13. They Call Me Mister Tibbs

 

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

Original Gangstas (1996, directed by Larry Cohen)


Original Gangstas opens with shots of the deserted streets and burned-out store fronts of Gary, Indiana and narration telling us how a once great American city came to be in such disrepair.  The steel plant closed and put much of the city out of work.  While the politicians and the police looked the other way, violent street gangs rose up and took over entire neighborhoods.  Now, Gary is a shell of its former self.  Even the local movie theater has closed down.  The narrators tells us that the last movie to play at the theater was Star Wars.

Led by Spyro (Christoper B. Duncan) and Damien (Eddie Bo Smith, Jr.), the Rebels are the most feared and powerful gang in Gary.  They rule through violence and intimidation.  Talk to the police and your business is liable to get torched and you’re likely to get shot.  However, Spyro and Damien have finally gone too far and now, two men who previously escaped from Gary are returning to town to dish out some justice.

John Bookman (Fred Williamson) is a former football player who wants to avenge the shooting of his father.  Jake Trevor (Jim Brown) is a boxer who once killed a man in the ring and who wants revenge for the death of his son.  When they were young men, John and Jake were the original Rebels and now they’re getting the old gang back together again.  With the help of Laurie (Pam Grier), Rev. Dorsey (Paul Winfield), Bubba (Ron O’Neal), and Slick (Richard Roundtree), the original gangstas are going to take back the streets of Gary.

Original Gangstas was released at a time when, largely thanks to the influence of Quentin Tarantino, people were just starting to feel nostalgic for the old blaxploitation movies.  The main appeal of the film, not surprisingly, is that it brings together so many of the great blaxploitation stars and sets them loose in what was then the modern era.  (Jim Kelly is missed.)  When John and Jake talk about how they’re responsible for the Rebels, they could just as easily be talking about how they’re responsible for both all of the independent crime films that came out in the wake of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction.

Original Gangstas is a tribute to both the Blaxploitation genre and the oversized personalities that made that era so memorable.  Neither Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, nor Richard Roundtree were particularly good actors but they all had so much screen presence and such an innate sense of cool that it didn’t matter whether they could convincingly show emotion or not.  (Original Gangstas gives all of the big dramatic scenes to Pam Grier, who was not only naturally cool but a damn good actress to boot.)  The minute Fred Williamson lights his cigar, he control the entire movie.  He and Jim Brown make a good team and Original Gangstas is an entertaining and violent trip down memory lane.

A Movie A Day #196: Mercenary Fighters (1988, directed by Riki Shelach Nissimoff)


Everyone’s favorite hippie action hero, Peter Fonda, plays Virelli, a long-haired Vietnam vet turned mercenary who is hired by a corrupt African general (Robert Doqui) to protect the construction of a dam that will result in the flooding of a native village.  Got all that?  Though Fonda is top-billed, he is not the star of the film.  The star is Reb Brown, who plays T.J. Christian.  T.J. starts out as a member of Fonda’s team but then he falls in love with a nurse (Joanna Weinberg) and he switches sides.  The villagers need someone to lead their revolution and all it takes is hearing Reb Brown do one of his trademarks power yells to know that he’s the man for the job.  Reb Brown was famous for yelling whenever he did anything and he yells a lot in Mercenary Fighters, even more than he yelled in Space Mutiny.

Mercenary Fighters is a typical Cannon film from the late 80s.  Like many of Cannon’s mercenary movies, it was covertly filmed in South Africa, at a time when apartheid was still being enforced and Nelson Mandela was still sitting in a prison cell.  (Cannon was not the only film company to secretly make movies in South Africa during the Apartheid Era.  They were just the most blatant about it.)  Richard Kiel apparently turned down Peter Fonda’s role.  It’s hard to imagine Kiel in the role but perhaps that’s because Virelli is a quintessential Peter Fonda-in-the-80s role.   Fonda glides through the film, delivering his lines like a California surfer who just smoked the kine bud.  The presence of Ron “Superfly” O’Neal and James “son of Robert” Mitchum serves to elevate the film’s cool factor while Robert Doqui brings some “I’ve worked with both Robert Altman and Paul Verhoeven” credibility to his one-note role.  Mercenary Fighters is good for anyone who is into either mindless Cannon action movies or Reb Brown yelling while shit blows up behind him.

A Movie A Day #42: Hero and The Terror (1988, directed by Steve Tannen)


hero_and_the_terror_posterDanny O’Brien (Chuck Fucking Norris!) is a tough Los Angeles cop who has been nicknamed Hero.  Danny hates it when people call him “Hero.”  Maybe if Danny knew what people usually call cops, he would not complain so much about his nickname.  Three years ago, Danny captured Simon Moon (Jack O’Halloran), a neck-breaking serial killer nicknamed “The Terror.”  After he was captured, The Terror faked his own death and disappeared.  He ended up living in a deserted theater and not bothering anyone until the Mayor of Los Angeles (Ron O’Neal, Superfly himself!) decides to tear down his new home.  The Terror does not take kindly to urban renewal and goes on another killing spree.  Can Hero track down and beat the The Terror while also making it to the hospital in time to see his girlfriend give birth to their baby?

Not surprisingly, Hero and the Terror is one of the films that Chuck made for Cannon Films in the late 80s and, along with Chuck and Ron O’Neal, it features Cannon regulars Steve James and Billy Drago.  (Billy Drago actually plays a good guy, for a change.)  It’s obvious that Chuck was trying to broaden his horizons with Hero and the Terror: with the exception of the final confrontation between Hero and the Terror, there’s less kung fu action than in his previous films and a lot of the movie is dedicated to his relationship with his girlfriend and his struggle to handle her pregnancy.  That’s all good and well and the Chuck Norris of Hero and The Terror is a much better actor than the Chuck Norris who could barely deliver his lines in Breaker, Breaker but, ultimately, a Chuck Norris movie with more human interest and less roundhouse kicks just feels wrong.

(On Netflix, there’s a whole documentary about how Chuck Norris’s roundhouse kicks led to the collapse of Nicolae Ceaușescu’s communist dictatorship in Romania.  It’s called Chuck Norris vs. Communism.  Communism didn’t have a chance.  Hopefully, Chuck will never turn against capitalism because, if he does, it’ll probably lead to another stock market crash.)

I once read an interview with Gene Hackman, in which he was asked to name his least favorite of the movies that he had made.  Hackman selected March or Die.  “I can’t believe I was in something called March or Die,” Hackman said.  If he thought March or Die was a bad title, he should be happy that he didn’t end up in Hero and The Terror.  Give Chuck Norris credit.  Even if he’s not Gene Hackman and even if the movie does not really work, he is the only actor who could credibly star in something called Hero and the Terror.

That’s Blaxploitation! 8: SUPER FLY (Warner Brothers 1972)


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Pimpmobiles, outrageous fashions, and the funkiest score in movie history are only part of what makes SUPER FLY one of the best Blaxploitation/Grindhouse hits of all time. This low-budget film by director Gordon Parks Jr. captures the grittiness of 70’s New York in a way few larger productions ever could in its portrait of a street hustler yearning to get out of the life.

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Priest is a New York City coke dealer with all the outward trappings of success. As his partner Eddie puts it, he’s got “8-Track stereo, color TV in every room, and you can snort a half piece of dope every day… that’s the American dream, nigga! Ain’t it?”. To Priest, the answer is no. He’s tired of the hustle, the rip-off artists, and the deadbeats like Fat Freddie, and he’s got a plan to get out for good by scoring 30 keys through his mentor Scatter, selling…

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Review: Red Dawn (dir. by John Milius)


“I don’t know. Two toughest kids on the block I guess. Sooner or later they’re going to fight.”

[guilty pleasure]

Anyone who grew up during the 1980’s would say that some of the best action films were made and release during this decade. I won’t disagree with them and probably would agree to a certain point. This was the decade when action films evolved from the realism of the 70’s to the excess and ultra-violence of the 80’s. This was the decade which ushered in such action heroes as Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Willis. It was also the decade which released one of the most violent films ever released by a major motion picture studio. It’s a film that has been remembered through the prism of nostalgia. I speak of the 1984 war film by John Milius simply titled Red Dawn.

John Milius is one of those filmmakers who never conformed to the stereotype of liberal Hollywood. He was an unabashed Republican (though he considers himself more of a Zen anarchist) in a liberal studio system who happened to have written some of the most revered films of the 1970’s (Jeremiah Johnson, Apocalypse Now, Dirty Harry). He came up with a follow-up to his hugely successful Conan the Barbarian in the form of a war film set in current times (mid-80’s) America that he called Red Dawn. It was a story which takes an alternate history of the Cold War where Soviet forces and it’s allies launch a successful preemptive invasion of the United States. Before people think that this was the idea born of a conservative, warmongering mind it’s been documented that Milius’ inspiration for this film was a real Pentagon hypothetical exercise of what would happen if the Soviet Union conducted a conventional invasion of the United States and how the government and it’s population would react and resist such an occupying force. The  story would finally get it’s final treatment with major input from screenwrtier Kevin Reynolds’ own story which added a certain Lord of the Flies vibe to the group of teenagers who form the bulk of the film’s cast.

The film actually starts off with an impressive sequence of your typical Midwestern high school day with students seated in their classrooms. One moment this Rockwellian image gets a surprise from soldiers parachuting in the field outside the school. Thus we have the beginning of the Soviet invasion with one of the teachers being gunned down for trying to peacefully interact with the airborne troopers. The rest of the film is about a group of highschoolers led by senior Jed Eckert (Patrick Swayze) and his younger brother Matt (Charlie Sheen) as they flee with a handful of their classmates the massacre at their school and soon their whole town as well.

Red Dawn uses the first half of the film to show the confusion and chaos created by the sudden appearance of foreign soldiers on America soil attacking civilians and, soon enough, whatever American military response that manages to react in the area. We’re put in the shoes of Jed and his band of teenagers as they try to survive the roving bands of Soviet and Cuban soldiers patrolling the plains and countryside surrounding their hometown of Calumet, Colorado. We see American civilians packed into re-education camps and rumors of KGB secret police making certain troublemakers disappear and worst. It’s the America Cold War nightmare scenario where the Soviet Evil Empire has taken a foothold on US soil and the government and military nowhere in sight to help it’s population.

The second half of the film solves this scenario by arming the teenagers led by Jed into a sort of teen guerrila force using their school’s mascot as their rallying cry. It’s the shouts of “Wolverines!” which has become part of American pop-culture as we get to see these teenagers conduct hit-and-run strikes on enemy patrols and forward bases while at the same time arming those they free from camps. It’s during this part of the film where the violence gets ramped up to an almost ridiculous level. It’s no wonder that for almost two decades this film would be considered by Guinness World Records as the most violent film ever put on the big-screen. Milius and his filmmaking crew do not skimp on the use of blood squibs as Jed and his ragtag band of teen fighters gun down Soviets, Nicaraguans and Cuban soldiers by the score every minute during a long montage in the middle of the film.

Red Dawn in terms of storytelling is actually quite good in the grand scheme of the narrative being told, but even through the prism of nostalgia and rose-tinted glasses the characters in the film get the short-end of the stick. With the exception of Swayze’s eldest teen Jed as leader of the Wolverines the rest of the band’s teenage characters look like your typical casting call stereotypes who fill in the required roles in any ensemble cast. There’s Darren Dalton as the high school class president jealous of the group’s leader Jed, but unable to act on it. We have C. Thomas Howell as Robert the mousy one when the film begins who becomes a hardened and cold-hearted killer as the film goes on. Everyone fits in neatly to their assigned role and noen of the young actors (at the time) bring much to their characters.

This film continues to be remembered fondly by it’s fans both new and old because of the “what-if” scenario being played out on the screen. I would say that if there ever was a pure American film I would think Red Dawn manages to fit the bill. It’s a film which highlights the so-called individualism and can-do attitude Americans see for themselves. How it’s up to each individual to fight to protect their loved ones and for what is theirs. Some have called this film as a conservative’s wet-dream, but I rather think it’s a film that should appeal more to Libertarians as it focuses on individual liberties and self-preservation when the government and military tasked to protect them have failed.

John Milius has always been a maverick in Hollywood and his unpopular political beliefs have kept him from doing more work in the film industry, but one cannot deny the fact that he made one of the most iconic films of the 1980’s. Whether one agreed with the film’s politics and thought it to be a good film or not was irrelevent. Red Dawn has become part of American pop-culture and will continue to be a major example of the excess of 80’s action filmmaking for good or ill. Plus, even the most liberal people I know find the basic story of fighting to protect the nation from invaders something that feeds their innermost fantasy of playing the good guys fighting the good fight. Red Dawn is a great example of the underdog film that just happens to have teenagers kicking Soviet military ass.