Monday, November 25, 2019

Fool's Views (11/1 – 11/15)

"Eleven #$%@&% Chuck Norris movies??? Are you out of your mind, boyo??????"

Well, with the crush of Scare-A-Thon 2019 behind us, the past two weeks have felt nearly luxurious. And by luxurious, of course, I mean we got to watch more movies! In addition to polishing off the handful of first-time views I’d grabbed as potential October Challenge selections, I finally got around to seeing Avengers: Endgame, had a Robert Pattinson double feature, and (drum roll please), embarked upon my first – and probably only – Chuck Norris film festival… affectionately dubbed Chucktober.™

You see, back in June, my buddy Dan Kiggins and I got together for a little movie day and randomly pulled The Octagon off his creaking video shelves. The wave of ’80s nostalgia sparked viewings of Invasion USA and Lone Wolf McQuade later that week, as well as the dawning realization that I hadn’t seen a majority of The Man Who Would Be Walker: Texas Ranger’s cinematic efforts, despite the fact that he cranked out at least a movie a year for over a decade before launching his nine-year television run.

It took a few months to work up the nerve, but the first weekend in November, I took the plunge into the pool of bad hair, dodgy fight scenes, and dodgier plotlines as a means of revisiting my youth (when His Blondeness was the spin-kicking champion for pre-teens across the country) as well as attempting to understand how someone with such limited screen presence and acting ability somehow managed to will himself into the realm of movie stardom. 14 films later (with another 5-6 still to go), I’m not sure I’m any closer to an answer, but it’s been an interesting journey to be sure.

As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.



Damien: Omen II (1978) d. Taylor, Don (USA) (4th viewing)


The Fan (1981) d. Bianchi, Edward (USA) (2nd viewing)


The Lighthouse (2018) d. Eggers, Robert (USA) (1st viewing)

In his follow-up to The VVitch, Eggers delivers another stunning visual feast with exaggerated aesthetics (black-and-white, isolated setting, period trappings, ancient vernacular) and while it may not be as strong from a narrative standpoint, it’s decidedly confident and captivating in its own right. Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson go toe-to-toe with each other and the elements as two lighthouse keepers slowly descending into madness, serving up Oscar-worthy performances that rival anything they have done before. Arty and cerebral and challenging.

Marrowbone (2017) d. Sanchez, Sergio (Spain) (1st viewing)

Solid little ghost story from the writer of The Orphanage, featuring several familiar faces such as Anna Taylor-Joy (The VVitch), Charlie Heaton (Stranger Things), and Mia Goth (Suspiria 2018). George MacKay stars as the eldest brother of a family of shut-ins who keep away from the prying eyes of the local community due to a dark secret in their past. Worth tracking down.


Hellfest (2018) d. Plotkin, Gregory (USA) (1st viewing)

High-concept piece about an obnoxious group of party kids heading to an “extreme” haunted amusement park, where they are prime pickings for a local psycho who has decided to use the environment as a perfect cover for an evening of mass murder. It’s exactly what you think it’s going to be and delivers several decent kills, but it’s hardly breaking new ground nor does it seem interested in doing so.

The Little Stranger (2018) d. Abrahamson, Lenny (UK) (1st viewing)

More a drama of social manners than full-on scarefest, Domhall Gleeson (seemingly everywhere these days) is a small-town doctor with a personal connection to the strange Ayres house and family and its dark past. Ruth Wilson (I am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House), Will Poulter (Midsommar), and Charlotte Rampling make up the curious brood in this adaption of Sarah Waters’ (The Handmaiden) acclaimed novel.

The Ranger (2018) d. Wexler, Jenn (USA) (1st viewing)

While it got a lot of love on the festival circuit, for my money this yarn about a gaggle of criminal punks (like, literal punks) who head off to the woods to hide out in a cabin while the heat blows over suffers from a crew of unlikeable and cartoonish characters and an indulgence in slasher clichés. Yes, it’s a low-budget venture and yes, it’s from a female writer/director and yes, it manages to do a lot with a little… it just doesn’t manage to do anything new or inspired. Here’s hoping longtime indie producer Wexler’s next time at bat swings for the bleachers now that she’s shown us she’s capable of getting on base.

Slice (2018) d. Vesely, Austin (USA) (1st viewing)

By contrast, this delightful effort known in certain circles as the “Chance the Rapper Werewolf Movie” is a wildly innovative yarn about a small city where ghosts and humans interact on a daily basis and where a serial killer is bumping off pizza delivery drivers with a scooter-riding werewolf as our main suspect although it’s really a group of witches seeking to open the portals of Hell behind it all. Got all that? It’s funny and clever and original and shot in Chicago and why aren’t more people talking about it????


Avengers: Engame (2019) d. Russo, Anthony / Russo, Joe (USA) (1st viewing)

To my mind, the highest grossing movie of all time shouldn’t have me asking, “Wait a minute…” every 15 minutes. Not nearly as satisfying as Thor: Ragnarok or Avengers: Infinity War and twice as gimmicky (Fat Thor? Smart Hulk?), though I appreciated the fact that they actually had the courage to let some main characters actually DIE this time instead of the huge fake-out THAT WE KNEW WAS A FAKE-OUT from the previous film.

The Rover (2014) d. Michod, David (Australia) (1st viewing)

Okay, after seeing this, Good Time, Cosmopolis, and The Lighthouse over the past 12 months, I’m here to say that Robert Pattinson is the real friggin’ deal. Here’s hoping that between his residuals from the Twilight Saga and his upcoming turn as The Batman, he can afford to keep making these kinds of bold artistic choices. He is well-matched by Guy Pearce as a vengeance-and-vehicle-seeking force of nature in the wind-swept Outback. Michod (Animal Kingdom and the upcoming Oscar bait Henry V adaptation, The King) directs with a sure hand and a brutal heart.


Breaker! Breaker! (1977) d. Hulette, Don (USA) (2nd viewing)

This enjoyable slice of low-budget hicksploitation follows a nefarious group of moonshiners who divert traffic into their little burg so they can fine and extort big rig drivers. When their latest victim resists, he is soundly beaten and thrown in the clink to rot. Unfortunately for the baddies, Chuck is said victim’s brother and he strolls right into town and whups the tar out of everyone and everything. Goofy and fun, with Chuck providing the fight choreography (as he would for his next three films) and beating the hell out of his real-life prize karate student Ron Cedillos in the finale. Before becoming an Oscar-winning screenwriter (Schindler’s List), Steven Zallian served as an editor on this film as well as the William Shatner thriller Kingdom of the Spiders!

Good Guys Wear Black (1978) d. Post, Ted (USA) (1st viewing)

Backed by a legitimate director in Post (Magnum Force, Beneath the Planet of the Apes), a strong supporting cast (James Franciscus, Anne Archer, Dana Andrews), and a script co-written by future Tony Award-winner Mark Medoff (Children of a Lesser God), Chuck hit the big time as a former Army commando whose former team members are quietly being bumped off by a corrupt government official. Plenty of solid action sequences, including the famous scene of Norris jump-kicking through the windshield of a car. Thanks to American Cinema’s brilliant saturation marketing (via late-night television and radio ads) and its star’s willingness to promote his latest effort to anyone with a microphone, the film became a colossal box-office smash.

A Force of One (1979) d. Aaron, Paul (USA) (2nd viewing)

Chuck stars as a professional karate champion (nice stretch there) who is recruited by the LAPD to train their officers in order to combat a serial killer using martial arts to slay his victims. It’s a fairly flimsy plot, but somehow they convinced Oscar winner Ernest Tidyman (The French Connection, Shaft, High Plains Drifter) to take a stab at it and shored things up by surrounding our star with another solid ensemble (Jennifer O’Neil, Clu Gulager, Ron O’Neal, Eric Laneuville). Real-world karate champ Bill “Superfoot” Wallace makes his big screen debut as Chuck’s nemesis in and out of the ring.

An Eye for an Eye (1981) d. Carver, Steve (USA) (1st viewing)

In arguably the best of his early martial arts extravaganzas, Chuck plays an undercover narcotics cop whose partner (Weekend at Bernie’s’ Terry Kiser) is killed when a bust goes south. But the plot thickens after his late partner’s wife (Rosalind Chao) is also murdered following a series of investigative news reports, so he teams up with her father (Mako, in fine form pushing 50) to track down the culprits. Christopher Lee also stars as a newspaper magnate who just might have connections to the smuggling operation (ya think?), with Matt Clark and Richard Roundtree as Chuck’s fellow badges. The dim spot is Maggie Cooper as the ostensible love interest, all secret smiles and coy looks, but the wingding finale fight with professional wrestler Professor Toru Tanaka more than makes up for it. Director Carver (Big Bad Mama) would reteam with Norris two years later for Lone Wolf McQuade.

Silent Rage (1982) d. Miller, Michael (USA) (2nd viewing)

This represents one of Chuck’s few forays into horror (Hellbound and Hero and the Terror being the other two that I can think of, though I haven’t seen either firsthand yet) and even if it’s not exactly good, it’s never boring. Thanks to mad scientists Steven Keats, William Finley (in a rare non-De Palma appearance), and Ron Silver, human guinea pig Brian Libby becomes an unstoppable killing machine with Wolverine-like healing powers and it’s up to small town sheriff Norris and his dopey deputy (Stephen Furst) to track the monster down and take him out. Director Miller (Jackson County Jail) and one-and-done screenwriter Joseph Fraley attempt to juggle violent horror set-pieces, yuk-yuk humor, and sensitive family bonding moments (kudos to Silver and onscreen wife Toni Kalem for trying) without much success.

Forced Vengeance (1982) d. Fargo, James (USA) (1st viewing)

After serving as first AD on The Outlaw Josey Wales and The Eiger Sanction, Clint Eastwood tapped Fargo to direct The Enforcer and Every Which Way But Loose, both of which were hits, but then things seemed to lose steam. Fargo had only directed one other movie since when he landed the gig directing Chuck as a glorified casino bouncer who gets dragged into his employer’s son’s shady business dealings with a competitor (veteran character man Michael Cavanaugh at his sleazy best). Everything feels just a little lazy, including the opening titles which utilize a backlit fight scene that shows up again (in its entirety) later in the movie!

Missing in Action (1984) d. Zito, Joseph (USA) (1st viewing)

I had completely forgotten that Chuck beat Sly to the punch in the “let’s save the Vietnam POWs” race (although technically they were both preceded by Uncommon Valor), but it’s also a much lesser effort than Rambo: First Blood Part Two in every way. The other curious aspect is that it was actually shot after the Lance Hool film as a sequel, but when it was deemed to be the superior of the two, Golan/Globus decided to release it first! Being an early Cannon Group production (the first of nine that Norris did for the company), it’s a little dodgy in the production value departments, the plotting is thin, and the “name” supporting cast is limited to folks like M. Emmett Walsh and James Hong, but there are some fair action sequences and the final freeze-frame is surprisingly gratifying. Trivia: Prior to his own breakout performance in Bloodsport (1988), Jean Claude Van Damme served as one of the film’s stuntmen.

Missing in Action 2: The Beginning (1985) d. Hool, Lance (USA) (1st viewing)

Set in 1982, this de facto prequel chronicles Col. Braddock’s (Chuck Norris) trials and tribulations within a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp, held captive for 10 years, long after the conflict has concluded. The sadistic Col. Yin (Soon Teck-Oh) demands that Braddock sign a confession admitting to committing war crimes against his people, Braddock refuses, Yin tortures Braddock and his men, rinse, lather, repeat for 100 minutes. There’s not a ton of action, mostly confined to internal fisticuffs between Braddock and a turncoat American (Steven Williams, of Jason Goes to Hell fame), and the final showdown between the two main antagonists.

Code of Silence (1985) d. Davis, Andrew (USA) (4th viewing)

Chuck + Haiku = Chaiku

Chuck cleans up Chi-town
Beats up chumps, outs dirty cops
With his robot dog

I have a soft spot for this flick for several reasons: 1) It’s a legitimately solid effort, with no apologies or qualifications required (a rarity for Mr. Norris’ C.V.), thanks mostly to director Davis (The Final Terror) who would go on to direct such fare as The Fugitive, Above the Law, Under Siege, and The Guardian. 2) It was the first film for which I ever wrote a review (for my high school newspaper The Skyline Sun). I don’t have access to said review, but I remember pointing out Chuck’s dialogue was kept to a minimum (good call) as were his martial arts skills (curious, but it works for the story). 3) It’s set in Davis’ hometown of Chicago and he uses the city’s distinctive architecture to great effect. 4) Our “white knight” star – playing a squeaky clean cop surrounded by dirty dealings – is supported by a cadre of fantastic character actors, many of whom were early in their careers and since became staples of Chi-town flavor: Dennis Farina, Allen Hamilton, Ron Dean, John Mahoney, Nathan Davis, Joseph Kasala, and a young Molly Hagan. 5) Henry Silva is on board as the main baddie, and it’s true what they say: A great adventure yarn is only as good as its villain. 6) Davis seems to be the rare director who knew how to bring out the best in Norris (and fellow action-star-not-actor Steven Seagal), playing to their strengths and keeping their limitations at bay.

The Delta Force (1986) d. Golan, Meneham (USA) (1st viewing)

A film at war with itself, starting off as an all-star disaster flick after Robert Forster (playing a Lebanese terrorist, complete with accent and wig!) takes a commercial airliner hostage, doling out the punishment to such celebrated talent as Martin Balsam, Shelley Winters, Joey Bishop, George Kennedy, Kim Delaney, Bo Svenson, and Susan Strasberg. Meanwhile, Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin (in his final screen role) are the leaders of the eponymous task force sent out to save the day, but they don’t really get to do anything until 45 minutes from the end (which is a long wait, considering the two-hour run-time). Once they start blowing things up real good, things pick up considerably, but then we have to contend with Alan Silvestri’s high-energy fanfare (a la The A-Team) which plays over and over and over and over and over until it’s become a death wish drinking game. (Fun fact: it was later co-opted by ABC Sports for their Indianapolis 500 intros!) Chuck’s unintentionally hilarious motorcycle-mounted rear-launching rockets are a great source of amusement, since it basically looks like he’s farting his enemies into oblivion.

Top Dog (1995) d. Norris, Aaron (USA) (1st viewing)

As Dan and I were watching, we just kept yelling at the screen, “Who was the audience for this movie????” When the high concept is “Chuck Norris is tough cop paired with a dog for a partner,” one would imagine we’re in for some easy breezy hijinks… as opposed to a plot (with a higher body count than laughs) about a group of white supremacists planning to assassinate an array of multicultural leaders as part of its grand rise to power. Also, it should have been clear to anyone at this point – especially his brother Aaron – that Chuck ain’t your go-to funny guy. This might have been a funny three-minute SNL skit, but as a feature-length film, it’s just embarrassing.

2019 Totals to Date: 398 films, 184 1st time views, 214 horror, 41 cinema


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