Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Drop Zone

Image result for drop zone 1994Pete Nessip (Wesley Snipes (Demolition Man)) and his brother Terry (Malcolm-Jamal Warner (American Horror Story)) are escorting a computer hacker (Michael Jeter (Waterworld)) that worked for the mob, or something, via commercial airliner.  While they’re cruising bad guy Ty Moncrief (Gary Busey (Predator 2)) (what a fuckin’ name by the way) and his gang of assholes take the plane over, nab the prisoner and skydive the hell out of there.  The situation would’ve been bad enough for Pete to obsess over and go rogue ‘n shit until he gets his man but Terry gets killed in the process so now it’s personal.

This movie guides us through the undiscovered/under-recognized/mysterious world of skydiving.  And what a vast world they have too, I mean skydivers have their own bars, language, attitude and even look.  Like right before Nessip is about to walk into a sky bar he’s warned he’ll stick out like a sore thumb and stir up trouble.  Sure enough Nessip isn’t in there one minute when some brawny ass dudes in matching track suits confront him.  They pick him up and throw him over the bar, but don’t worry he fights them off by kicking one of them in the balls.

The whole betcha-didn’t-know-skydivers-were-way-cool-tough-as-nails-outcasts kinda vibe is fun and sorta interesting.  This idea of highlighting a very specific culture and promoting their badass-ness is done from time to time and sometimes it works (surfers with Point Break), sometimes it doesn’t (break dancing with Breakin’ (although I do kinda like that movie)) and sometimes I don’t quite know what to feel (arm wrestling with Over the Top).  So they’re saying skydivers, like so many others, are a misunderstood people that just wanna do their own thang and not be hassled by the man.  Sure I guess so.

Image result for drop zone 1994 gary buseyAnd to the film’s credit they stick to the skydiving angle to the bitter end.  We see a lot of jumps, a lot of non-skydiving parachute use (like BASE jumping and sneakily deploying someone else’s chute on the ground to fuck with ‘em), a lot of nifty freefalling stunt work and so on.  So while I would definitely classify this as an action picture there isn’t a ton of traditional action oriented stuff because most of the thrilling scenes involve people falling rapidly towards Earth.  It seems you can’t do a whole lot else while that’s happening.

Snipes is his usual very confident self but just insecure enough to get you in his corner which is always engaging to watch.  The woman who he teams up with, Yancy Butler (Hard Target, Kick-Ass), is the best damn skydiver there is so naturally you’d expect them to get together.  But they don’t.  Strangely it’s not even hinted at that they’re into each other which is really odd.

Image result for drop zone 1994 yancy butlerSo is there something more going on here?  Of course not every action movie has their male and female leads hook up but after thinking about it for a minute I realized that Virtuosity and Eraser are two other 90’s ones with interracial casting that don’t have the romance aspect.  Maybe I’m reading into it too much but it seems like at that time Hollywood thought we weren’t ready to have two people from different races become involved with each other in our action films.  That’s some serious bullshit Hollywood.

In the end this is only an ok picture which is weird considering on paper it hits all the notes you’d want like a cop playing by his own rules, a villain who kills one of his own henchmen to tie up a loose end, a flashy gimmick that’s used to its full extent, a prison break at 30,000 feet, a wailing melodic electric guitar soundtrack, clearly shot action sequences, etc.  Yet the whole thing feels a bit dull and it’s a little hard to pinpoint why.  I dunno I always felt there was a B movie quality to this one but that doesn’t make any sense.  It was totally an A picture when it came out and Snipes and Busey were still fairly popular.  The answer could be unremarkable cinematography choices by Roy H. Wager who had shot and continues to shoot mostly TV.  Back in the 90’s TV wasn’t anywhere near as cinematic as it is today so making the leap to features was probably more difficult.

Image result for drop zone 1994
You thought I wasn't gonna put one single picture of
people skydiving in here, didn't you?
But of course the director had to sign off on everything and surprisingly John Badham who did fucking Saturday Night Fever directed this.  He actually turned into kind of an action guy during this time with Point of No Return, Nick of Time, this and a few others.  He wasn’t really the best at it or at least it didn’t feel like his heart was in the genre.  So that could explain a lot too.

Anyway if you’re looking for some serious 90’s shit (the extreme sports focus, Gary Busey in peak cocaine form where he claps his hands in almost every scene he’s in, Snipes sporting an all white suit with only a blue t-shirt underneath and round sunglasses, computer hacking, that human gyroscope thing where it twirls you in a million different directions, a bar fight and a bathroom fight in the same movie) then dropping into this zone wouldn’t be terrible.  You can find better zones to drop into though.

Monday, April 17, 2017


Image result for walker 1987
William Walker was a real guy in the mid 1800’s who believed strongly in forcing white (specifically American) values on people around the world.  He eventually came to Nicaragua where he took the damn place over by force and established himself as president in a rigged election.  But that only lasted a few years until he was ousted and brought back to the US.  He kept trying to go back to South America to establish these white colonies (called filibustering) but after a few more years shit finally caught up with him and he was executed in Honduras.

This picture focuses on the Nicaragua debacle where Walker seemed to have the most success, no matter how short lived.  Now while the plot is important this is all about just how the story is told.  Director Alex Cox (Sid and Nancy) went for an absurdist approach by turning the movie into a quasi-spoof.  This doesn’t really become apparent though until about half way when Walker commands his tiny army to sack a small Nicaraguan town.  He simply walks through all of the gunfire and chaos while not a spec of dirt or shrapnel touches him.  He even seems oblivious to what’s happening around him.  His men are being torn to shreds while he sits at a broken down piano singing a song.  But if anyone dares to run away Walker shoots him dead so he’s not completely in la la land.

Image result for walker 1987Later in the movie anachronisms like a car, a Coke bottle, a computer and a helicopter show up.  I’m not sure if this shit has meaning.  Either way I think it’s supposed to be played for laughs because Cox claims he originally had a Blazing Saddles type picture in mind.  But what’s strange is the tone is pretty serious overall.  No one acknowledges the out of time items and they aren’t presented in funny ways generally.  So it only feels like the filmmakers are winking at the camera a few odd times rather than all the time.  And I think this confused most folks who saw it so the movie flopped.

But I have to say Ed Harris (The Abyss, Knightriders) plays the lead role in a superbly devious and committed manner.  He does such a good job of believing all of the seemingly high minded, but in actuality iron fisted, shit that he spews.  He plays it mostly straight never batting an eye at any of the strange shit that doesn’t really belong like handheld tape recorders.  But I also love his weird subtle comedy in this like when he giggles after eating some raw human flesh or his semi-goofy smile when he shows off that he made the cover of Time magazine.  Harris tends to go for leadership roles so this one fits very well where he needs to take over an entire country.  When it comes to Ed it all works.  It’s the stuff around him that needed to be a lot sillier in my opinion.

Image result for walker 1987As a whole the experience is mixed.  There are flashes of brilliance like the siege on the small town and the film looks great visually.  But most of the anachronistic and crazier stuff happens in the last third of the film which throws the balance off a bit too much. 

Then there’s the message, ‘cause you better believe this is a message movie.  It’s unmistakable that this piece is strongly against imperialism and everything Walker stood for.  He was a destructive, hypocritical, egotistical and contentious figure that did a lot of harm to a lot of people.  So message received loud and clear. 

But what’s cool is the filmmakers had a pretty fascinating approach to the material by choosing to tell Walker’s most despicably infamous undertaking in not a straight up way.  I applaud them for that.  They did whatever the fuck they felt like doing and hoped for the best.  There aren’t enough mainstream movies like that.  This one’s not totally successful but I would recommend it if you’re looking for something with a helluva sideways bent to it.

(The trailer below does not represent the movie faithfully, it makes the thing seem deadly serious by not including any humorous bits whatsoever)