We Want Action: Drop Zone (1994)

drop zone poster Of all the big action stars of the 80s and 90s, Wesley Snipes is one whose films I’m almost completely unfamiliar with. Sure, I’ve seen Blade — what comic fan my age didn’t see it? — and a few other of his more recent films, but I’m still something of a novice when it comes to his filmography. So, when I came across 1994’s Drop Zone, a skydiving action movie directed by John Badham (Short Circuit, WarGames) I figured it would be worth checking out.

And it was. Kind of. While this movie certainly doesn’t abide by the laws of physics and the acting isn’t the best, I still had fun watching it, thanks mostly to the game, if not overly talented cast. Snipes is all over the place in this film. You’d think he’d be more upset after his brother got killed, but you can’t tell as the movie rolls on. Plus, not for nothing, but he’s not the most natural actor of all time. Then you’ve also got Yancy Butler as the head of the skydiving group. She’s super into this role and has a lot of cool moments. I also liked that she was a complicated female character in an action movie which doesn’t happen all too often.

Meanwhile, Gary Busey plays the bad guy. On the Busey-Crazy Scale he’s somewhere between Lethal Weapon and The Rage. This time around he’s running a gang of skydiving thieves who sprung Michael Jeter’s character — a hacker — from prison to help with their next job. They’re trying to get involved with a Washington, D.C. Fourth of July so they can dive in and rob the DEA. The rest of the cast is rounded out with tons of That Guy and That Woman actors and actresses who have mile-long IMDb pages who, on the whole, nail their parts.

Silly as some of the action scenes can be — one parachuter somehow flies right through the window of a truck that should supposedly be driving away from the scene — I will say that the practically shot skydiving scenes are pretty thrilling. In that regard, it reminded me of Cliffhanger where the reality of the subject trumps my brain telling me that I’m watching a fictional film. Not being a thrill seeker myself, I always get a little antsy when I see people way high up with the potential to come down quick, fast and messily.

Snipes’ aforementioned brother is played by Cosby Show alum Malcolm-Jamal Warner. I realized while explaining part of this story to someone over the weekend that this movie would have been infinitely better if Warner had starred. He’s a far better actor and most of the fight scenes felt pretty tacked on, so they either could have been dropped or Warner probably could have pulled them off.

So, while Drop Zone isn’t exactly a classic action film for the ages, it does have some fun moments that make it the perfect kind of movie to watch with a group of friends while drinking beer and eating pizza. Man, I miss watching movies with my friends!

Computer Movie: Track Down a.k.a. Takedown (2000)

track down poster One of my favorite movie subgenres has to be computer movies (heck, it’s got it’s own Category over there on the right). Favorite examples include WarGames, Sneakers, The Net and Hackers. It might seem inconceivable, but back then, the general public wasn’t sure what to think about all these people talking to each other over a mysterious new invention called the internet. Hackers — people who understood how computers worked and used their abilities either for good or ill — were as mysterious as comic book vigilantes, roaming the online landscape under the guise of colorful aliases. All of this mixed together for a new breed of films, ones trying to capitalize on the rising popularity and mistrust of computers, adding more traditional action elements  to thrill audiences. Some of them are actually solid films, some are fun cultural artifacts and some are ridiculous. I especially enjoy seeing how excited people got about the kind of technology that your phone surpassed about a decade ago.

Track Down, as it’s known on Netflix Instant, or Takedown, which it’s also called is one of these movies. Unlike the movies I mentioned above, I’d never heard of this one directed by Joe Chappelle (Phantoms, Fringe) and starring Skeet Ulrich, Russell Wong, Master P, Amanda Peet, Donal Logue, Jeremy Sisto, Christopher McDonald, Tom Berenger and Ethan Suplee. The film is based on the story of real life hacker Tsutomu Shimomura (Wong) working alongside the government to bring down legendary hacker Kevin Mitnick (Ulrich).

Obviously beefed up and made more theatrical, this is a pretty fun little movie. I like how they made the relatively boring idea of sitting-in-front-of-a-computer look interesting without getting into the craziness of something like Hackers. Ulrich also seems to be channeling his inner Johnny Depp throughout the film as the pressure of running from the government and going up against a talented adversary clearly wears on him. Chappelle also brings some style to the proceedings with the use of filters and whatnot. You might get sick of the color orange from the last 20 minutes or so, but at least he was trying something.

takedown poster

There’s actually a documentary called Freedom Downtime that a bunch of Mitnick’s supporters created in 2001 pointing out the inaccuracies of this film. I’d be interested in checking that out as I’ve been curious about Mitnick’s life for a while (I also want to read his books The Art Of Deception, The Art Of Intrusion and Ghost In The Wires). However, I still think it’s possible to enjoy this flick as its own entity that works as a take on actual events (it’s based on Shimomura’s book called Takedown), an action-thriller movie and a look at Hollywood’s reaction to computers.

If you dug the more serious elements of Sneakers and the look and feel of Hackers, then I think you’ll dig Track Down/Takedown.

80s Odyssey: Black Moon Rising (1986)

black moon rising It doesn’t take much to draw me towards a movie. If you’ve got a flick, especially one from the 80s, starring a few people I already like and don’t take more than 100 minutes of my time, I’ll probably watch you on Netflix Instant. That was the case with Black Moon Rising, a movie I’d never heard of but featured Tommy Lee Jones, Linda Hamilton, Bubba Smith and Robert Vaughn as well as a futuristic super-car. I’m in, let’s do this.

Tommy Lee Jones plays a thief who steals some financial records and winds up getting followed. To avoid his would-be captors, he hides the information in the aforementioned super car which happens to be parked outside a restaurant. While he’s inside, Linda Hamilton and her crew of car thieves lock the door of the place and drive off with lots of expensive cars. Jones follows and discovers that Hamilton works for Vaughn, a big time, evil corporate guy. Jones then starts working on Hamilton to get on her good side while also trying to find out more about the car from its creators who are skittish of the whole thing at first. Of course, he gets everyone on board and leads a pretty exciting assault on a high rise to get both the car and the information back.

I realized while watching this movie that it was probably the youngest I’ve ever seen TLJ on film. It’s not that he looks so much different than he did in the 90s or even now, just fresher. It was cool seeing him running around, fighting guys and getting to wear the cool looking black leather suits instead of playing the jaded veteran. Meanwhile, Hamilton plays a very similar role to the one she did in the Terminator movies. She’s tough and bruised on the inside but keeps a hard exterior to the world that’s knocked her around. For his part, Vaughn really nails his role as the business bad guy. He really reminded me of 80s and 90s Lex Luthor from the Superman comics. He basically plucked Hamilton off the street and formed her into who she is today for good and ill solely to have someone who would absolutely follow his orders. He also tends to monitor and record nearly everything which is kind of an interesting aspect back then. He basically uses all the technology available no matter how expensive to keep his criminal empire in check.

I’ve already writen about Black Moon Rising for three paragraphs now and haven’t mentioned the most interesting part: John Carpenter wrote the movie. I haven’t been able to dig up exactly why he didn’t want to direct it, though it looks like Big Trouble In Little China which came out the same year and Prince Of Darkness which came out the following might have taken up his time. Instead, Harley Cokeliss jumped into the director’s chair. I’m not very familiar with his other works, but do believe I have Battletruck somewhere in my pile of to-be-watched DVDs and think I might have come across Malone starring Burt Reynolds at some point. It’s interesting comparing this movie to some of Carpenter’s others, especially Christine which also focused on a special car, though a far more supernatural one and also stars a real bad ass as the lead just like Big Trouble, Escape From New York and They Live. On the other hand, this is a much more real-world and technology-based film than you might expect from the creator of those other stories. It would have been really cool to see what he would have done with the movie had he actually directed.

black moon rising german poster

Before closing out I wanted to say one last thing about this film, I think it’s ripe for the remake mill. I think this one has a lot of potential and would piss off almost no one. Of course, you’re also dealing with a movie that doesn’t have nearly the existing audience, fanbase and name recognition that some of Carpenter’s other movies do. On the other hand, you’re dealing with a really solid, yet open framework for a story that can easily be transferred to the current day. I’m not saying this would be a multibillion dollar blockbuster, but a pretty good vehicle (heh, puns!) for an action movie that has room for improvement and modernization. This could be something like the Jason Statham remake of The Mechanic which worked out pretty well if you ask me. As it happens, I’d also like to see Statham in this one. Heck, the dude already has experience with driving fast cars. Let’s make this happen Hollywood!

Casting Internets

My buddy Brett White offered an excellent companion piece to his CBR piece about why Orson Scott Card shouldn’t be writing Superman about the real comics community. He’s right and it’s important to remember that the negative side of the internet is most often the very vocal minority.

Here’s another piece about the OSC/DC debacle from The Carnival Of The Random that explains why this is not a freedom of speech or legal issue, but a moral one.

We need more movies that utilize hyper details models instead of bad CGI. These Star Wars folks know where it’s at.

I’ve been a fan of Ashton Kutcher’s since That 70s Show, but haven’t followed him much since the series ended. It was fun catching up in this lengthy Tom Chiarella article on Esquire.

So many of Script’s 7 Deadly Dialogue Sins drive me bonkers. Worth a read for all writers.

hackers

Hackers changed my brain when it came to computers. Chris Sims’ Wired piece “What We Supposedly Learned About Technology From 1995’s Hackers” is hilarious and dead on. I can’t wait for ones about The Net and Sneakers. Damn, now I want to watch Hackers and Sneakers again…

I’m a huge fan of Todd Philips’ Old School starring Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, so I’m pretty jazzed for their upcoming movie The Internship.

Greg Pak writes very enjoyable comics, so I’m curious to see what his first DC work Superman/Batman with Jae Lee will be like. (via USA Today)

I would very much like to see a Jay-Z/Justin Timberlake show. Anyone want to buy me tickets to the show at Yankee Stadium? (via Rolling Stone)

kirby argo

I’m gonna end with the Jack Kirby artwork that’s tied to Argo as seen on Buzzfeed. Hope that film winds up on Netflix Instant soon.

Friday Fisticuffs: Universal Soldier: The Return (1999) & Sudden Death (1995)

universal soldier the return After being so impressed with Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning, I wanted to go back and check out the other movies in the Soldier franchise, just to remind myself of what had happened. I didn’t expect them to be as good as the latest installment, but I was curious to see what had been done in those other films and how the mythology had been handled. The first movie isn’t on Netflix Instant and neither is the third, but The Return was, so naturally, that became the next one I watched. Turns out it wasn’t terrible, but definitely has a very 90s vibe to it.

What was so 90s about it? Well, one of the central figures in the film is a computer called Seth (or more likely S.E.T.H., though I don’t feel like looking up the reason) who spends the first part of the movie existing as a cube in a ball at the end of some kind of robot construct. He basically looks like a Trapper Keeper from the same year, but sounds like Michael Jai White. There’s also a character named Squid who plays the hacker in the movie. He has blue hair, fancies himself some kind of cyber anarchist and makes every character in Hackers look GQ. Oh the 90s.

Anyway, the film follows Jean-Claude Van Damme’s character from the first film, Luc Deveraux. For some reason he’s not a UniSol anymore, though I don’t know if they every explain how or why. I remember almost nothing from my first viewing of that movie, so this was a curious development. He does hang out with and train UniSols, though, with a few pals. Everything’s going okay until one day — a day when a news crew is in the building, of course — SETH figures out that the program is going to be shut down. He then unleashes all of the Soldiers from the military’s command and sets them against Deveraux and company. The local General wants to just blow the building up, but Luc can’t allow that because,  yup, you probably guessed it, Seth kidnapped his daughter. SPOILER WARNER, the following video is the final battle from the movie, so watch at your own discretion:

Hokey, contrived and over-used plot lines aside (what do you really expect from a 90s action movie?), I had a pretty good time with USTR. In his prime, Van Damme was one of the best action guys around, not the greatest actor in the world, but able to play concerned father while kicking ass at the same time. I was also impressed with both White and Bill Goldberg’s performances. Why didn’t either of these guys really hit in the film industry? They both cut imposing figures — Goldberg is like sculpted meat in this thing — and can handle themselves in a fight scene, so what happened there? Anyway, if you’re in the mood for a mostly fun action romp, give this movie a look, but don’t expect the greatness seen in Day Of Judgement which gets better and better in my memory the more “just alright” and downright-bad action movies I watch.

sudden death

For me, JCVD’s movies are like potato chips or whiskey and sodas, I can’t have just one. While clicking through Netflix Instant I saw that Sudden Death had been added to the list of flicks. I have trouble remembering which of these movies is which and it doesn’t help when Netflix claims the film takes place in a baseball stadium (it’s a hockey game).

Van Damme stars as the difficult to kill Darren McCord, a firefighter in Pittsburgh who had some bad luck with a blaze. After that, he’s having a hard time of things and has taken a safer job as the fire marshall of the Civic Arena. Or something. There’s a lot of details in this movie that seem way too complicated, but we’ll get to that more in a bit. McCord takes his son and daughter to the last game of the Stanley Cup finals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Chicago Blackhawks, game that the Vice President is also attending. Powers Boothe takes this opportunity to kidnap the VP and hold him for ransom. That’s the simple version. There’s more about unfreezing bank account numbers and setting the time table of the caper to the game itself, but all you really need to know is that Powers Boothe is the bad guy, something that becomes eminently clear the moment you look at this guy. Have you seen him on Nashville? He’s gotten more evil looking as he ages. I think he’d make Hannibal Lecter uncomfortable at this point.

Because he’s awesome and because his daughter gets dragged into things — what is it with JCVD’s kids movie getting involved with villains? — McCord has to face his fears and fight…ahem…fire with fire (ie violence with violence, sorry, couldn’t resist the pun). This leads to a series of fights with individuals in various parts of the arena including my personal favorite, one with a woman in the penguin mascot costume. It sounds goofy, but it actually makes sense given the plot.

What I really liked about this movie is that it took full advantage of the setting, one that you almost never see in films. Even the above penguin-lady fight is unique even though it takes place in a kitchen. I like that kind of ingenuity used in designing the fight scenes. There’s also a nice flow from confined to dangerously huge as not one but two battles take place on the dome of the Civic Arena. It’s nowhere near a perfect film because there are some goofy moments and the occasional bad effect (the showcase one at the end of the film looks 15 kinds of bad), but overall I had a really fun time with the movie and think you will too if you’re jonesing for some vintage Van Damme.

80s Odyssey: Weird Science (1985)

I’ve been doing some writing the past two nights which has been very creatively gratifying, especially because I’ve been slacking a bit in that department of late. When I write, I like to have something on in the background that I can not necessarily ignore, but not really pay full attention to. Now that I think about it, that’s a pretty crummy way of explaining why I watched Weird Science the other night, but it’s the truth. I realized a few minutes in that this was probably the first time I’d actually watched this movie from beginning to end unedited. I actually have this relationship with most of Johns Hughes’ teen-centric movies because they were on TV so much when I was a kid that I’d just catch bits and pieces here and there.

Anyway, I was actually surprised with how silly this flick is. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a bad thing, it’s just something I wasn’t expecting. I mean, I knew that these guys created a girl using a computer that could probably have barely handled solitaire, let alone the incredible feat of scanning images, figuring out what they meant and then incorporating that information into the techno-organic genie they wound up creating out of a Barbie doll. I think the reason the silliness isn’t offensive or boring is because most of it comes from an honest place. Of course it’s silly that Wyatt and Gary shower with their new creation wearing their clothes (and shoes in Gary’s case), but that hints at the sexual confusion and fear many guys that age feel as things change internally and externally.

That’s really the key to Hughes’ films, the honesty found therein. But, while some of his other films might get a little too inside their own teenage angst, this one really has fun with itself. I definitely need to give this film, as well as the rest of Hughes’ flicks, a more concentrated look, but this one served it’s purpose well.

Halloween Scene: Gamebox 1.0 (2004)

After watching Halloween: Resurrection and enjoying it more than I should have, I decided to try my luck with Gamebox 1.0, a movie I thought was positively reviewed on Horror Movie A Day, but apparently wasn’t. I should really have my memory looked at. Anyway, I didn’t write about it yesterday because I was busy with a few other things, plus, I’m not really sure if I would classify this as a horror flick. See, it’s about this dude named Charlie who gets sent the titular video game system which is basically virtual reality. You snap pictures of your friends, people you love and hate, then put a helmet on and you’re in the game. As things go, though, the game starts taking over Charlie’s life and really starts messing with his head. The concept is very Twilight Zone, which I liked, but it had more of a sci-fi thriller feel to it than horror. Honestly, the most intentionally horrific thing about the movie is that awful DVD cover.

I just went back and read the HMAD review of this movie and am now completely baffled why I added it to my queue. Maybe I just recognized the title and added it? Ah well. I understand all of the complaints listed there, but I benefit from not having seen nearly as many “inside a video game” movies. The special effects are terrible, let’s just get that out of the way right now. The game looks like N64 or PS1 era stuff. Oddly enough, I watched this one on Netflix Instant and on the occasions when my service bars dropped down and everything got all boxy and pixelated, it actually looked kind of neat in the context of the film.

But that’s a goofy point. The movie follows Charlies as he goes in and out of the game losing his mind, partially because of the real life murder of his girlfriend by a crooked cop. What did she do? She walked through a chained fence and the dude shot her. Later he tries to frame Charlie for selling drugs and beats the shit out of him. Oh yeah, he also got off scott free for the murder of an innocent girl. It’s one of the more flimsy movie premises around, by far.

So, why did I like this movie? Honestly, I miss the idea of virtual reality. It used to be everywhere! Heck, I remember an episode of Murder She Wrote that had a guy dead in an experimental VR game. I’m sure there are better versions of this movie out there and definitely want to watch Brainscan, which was mentioned in the HMAD review. I also have an undying crush on Danielle Fishel– who plays the girlfriend in reality and the video game version–thanks to her playing Topanga on Boy Meets World.

I’m guessing this is kind like seeing Deep Blue Sea and liking it well before actually seeing Jaws, you know? You like the good elements because they’re from a better movie, but also notice all the bad parts. At the end of the day, Gamebox 1.0 was a pretty good effort by some (I assume) low budget filmmakers who probably should have set their movie a few years in the past thanks to the limitations of the technology available to them. It won’t blow your mind, but it was an okay way to spend a little over an hour.