30 for 30: Angry Sky

30-for-30 Angry Sky movie poster

Release: Thursday, July 30, 2015 (Vol. II, Ep. 30)

👀 Netflix

Starring: Nick Piantanida; Felix Baumgartner

Directed by: Jeff Tremaine

Distributor: ESPN Films

***/*****

Tom Petty wrote a song once called “Learning to Fly.” One lyric in particular stands out: ‘Coming down is the hardest thing.’ The song’s harmless of course, but that part of the chorus seems hauntingly apt for the experiences of one Nick Piantanida, amateur parachute jumper and all-around daredevil in the 1960s.

Angry Sky features the New Jersey chutist’s three attempts to break the world record for highest sky dive, using a manned balloon that would achieve a height of 123, 500 feet (20+ miles) above the Earth. On each attempt something would go wrong and, tragically, the problems only became more complex and life-threatening with each effort.

Because of the malfunctions, Piantanida never technically accomplished his goal of becoming the first person to jump from the stratosphere. However he did set the standard for highest manned balloon flight, a record that stood until October 2012, when Austrian BASE jumper Felix Baumgartner, backed by Red Bull in an event that has to be seen to be believed, successfully broke the sound barrier by falling 24 vertical miles.

Jeff Tremaine is once again on hand to deliver a story about sensational extreme sports enthusiasts, constructing an adrenaline-spiking piece that, while never revolutionary in its delivery, puts a very human spin on a story and subject matter that seems alien to anyone else not caught up in the culture and science of this kind of boundary-pushing thrill seeking. Tremaine interviews family, friends and colleagues who reflect back on the life of a man who could never be convinced not to do the thing he was trying to accomplish.

In some senses Piantanida could be viewed as a selfish individual. Attempting such a jump, not once but three times over the course of a year, necessarily carried with it the implication that he may be saying goodbye to his wife and three children on each occasion. The drama builds in such a way that it’s impossible to ignore a sense of egotism and impatience over becoming world famous.

Angry Sky has little interest in demonizing anyone. Its purpose doesn’t amount to calling someone crazy (even if he is). Like any documentary with its head in the right place, it aims to explore the things that make a person complex. You could make the argument he is a man of simple pleasures, always seeking the most powerful adrenaline rush possible.

But we’re also introduced to a guy who never quite grasped the concept of team sports. He could have been a great basketball player but he had to do things his own way. He joined the Armed Forces after high school and earned the rank of corporal. Afterwards he got into rock climbing, and with a friend established a route up the north side of the 3,000-foot Auyántepui, the mighty Venezuelan plateau over which the world’s tallest waterfall spills.

Tremaine manages to straddle the line between being specific with the information he chooses to keep and appealing to a broad audience. Skydiving is a rather obscure sport yet he knows it’s a pool well worth wading into. Piantanida’s story may be the first (and it may ever be the only) documentary on the sport in this film series, but that question, the one we’re all thinking — what makes a person want to put themselves at such a risk? — more than justifies the film’s existence. Why so high, Nick? Why so high?

Baumgartner also briefly features, and though he doesn’t say much, he offers some context for the ambitions of this young man. If his iconic free fall a mere two years ago was enough to take away the world’s collective breath — and it really was quite the incredible thing to watch — remember some guy had tried to do this with much less technology nearly a half century ago. Yeah, that was Nick Piantanida.

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Nick Piantanida about to attempt a world-record skydiving jump

Moral of the Story: Obscure, but fascinating. Story may well appeal to more extreme sports junkies than any other group but it’s one of the more interesting stories detailing how a strong personality and danger-courting pursuits often go hand-in-hand. Well worth a watch if you’re into action sports. 

Rated: TV-G

Running Time: 77 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.tribecafilm.com

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

bad-grandpa-movie-poster

Release: Friday, October 25, 2013

[Theater]

In this episode, Johnny Knoxville is back as Irving Zisman, the vulgar old man with a big fake. . . well, you know where this is going.

Only this time around, instead of interacting with one of the worst-looking grannies ever (Spike Jonze never ceased to amaze me in those skits in the show) Zisman has been saddled up with his grandkid, whose mother just got sent to prison on drug charges. Now Irving finds himself with no other option but to drop young, impressionable Billy (a surprisingly entertaining Jackson Nicoll) off at his pop’s place, all the way across the country in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Along the way Irving will get his genitals caught in a vending machine, hit on black male strippers, kill a penguin and crash a funeral, a wedding and a beauty pageant. 90 percent of what I just listed can be seen in the trailers, but should you assume that there will be more, perhaps better skits throughout the movie, indeed you won’t be letdown. (Oh yes, and for those who are local, how’d you like that shot of the Henley Street underpass heading into downtown Knoxvegas??)

I got giddy over a two-second clip of my home town because it was far more than what was expected. And speaking of, this movie was actually quite good. Not only are the stunts suitably hilarious with this tandem of old-gramps with a cute, “innocent” little kid working together, but their hidden camera road trip is outfitted with a somewhat heartfelt story as well.

Where plot and prank combine in this outrageous film, this is where Bad Grandpa manages to rise above something more than the montages of ball-busting, stomach-wrenching skits that somehow called for three full-length motion pictures. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for what these guys are doing. . .sort of. I just have always been amazed they managed to put together three such films, on top of the show they had been doing for some time.) Really, it’s pretty impressive to see Knoxville’s 42-year-old body (in an 86-year-old man costume of course) jettisoning through a store window on a coin-operated kiddie ride.

At first Irving can’t stand the thought of having Billy clinging to his side now. After his wife has passed away, Irving’s finding himself a free man for the first time in over forty years. Not even the strongest of Viagra formula is going to be of assistance to him, now that he’s got a grandkid by his side. There’ll be no chatting up the honeys with Billy around. . . or will there be? As the story and journey unfold, Irving and the kid begin to bond over a series of ridiculous situations and you can’t help but find yourself enjoying their camaraderie. The fact that you’ll be feeling something else other than the pee in your pants might surprise you, too.

The other element that Bad Grandpa benefits generously from is the heavy usage of reaction shots. Unlike the other Jackass films, where all of the comedy was confined within the group, this expedition relies heavily on how innocent bystanders take to Zisman’s “parenting” skills. True, there’s always been a few skits here and there where Knoxville will harass some random people for a minute or two, but here’s a movie that completely runs away with that concept. And it works brilliantly. I’d even argue that this film is far funnier because of the way certain people respond to what goes on. Some are so good you want to believe they were directed to act a certain way. But the end credits sequence will reveal that in fact, no one is in on the joke other than Knoxville, Nicoll and the camera crew.

Taken altogether, with clever camera placements, a good performance from the very young Nicoll, and a premise written by fellow jackasses Preston Lacy and Jeff Tremaine that actually enhances the selected stunts, Bad Grandpa is one of the better conceits the crew has concocted. Consider it the ultimate “big” prank, similar to how their other films always concluded in some elaborate scheme — only this time with a lot more loose skin.

sorry-as-hell

3-5Recommendation: This section should be pretty self-explanatory this time! You’ll either be there laughing your fool head off or you’ll be at home, skipping over channels that are showing the previews for this thing. Very little I can say or do to convince the latter kind, which is completely understandable. I’m just relieved this movie actually worked.

Rated: R

Running Time: 92 mins.

Quoted: “You are sorry, you’re sorry as hell, Mister!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com