Saturday, 15 August 2009

Shooter


Mark Wahlberg is a former Marine sharp shooter brought in by the Secret Service to prevent a Presidential assassination. However, he finds himself framed for the hit he was hired to stop, and goes on the run to seek revenge on those behind the conspiracy.

Wahlberg tracks down the assassin, only to end up trapped, with an elite team of troops ready to take him out. Wahlberg retreats to a nearby ridge under heavy fire from the soldiers and a helicopter that is providing air cover.

Hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned, things look grim for Wahlberg until he spots a fuel tank placed directly below the low flying helicopter. One well placed shot later and the helicopter is out of commission. Permanently.

Verdict

A rather uninspired helicopter explosion. As soon as the fuel tank appears in Wahlberg's rifle sights you know how he's going to deal with the chopper.

That said, the explosion is nicely handled. The copter doesn't explode immediately, flying on, out of control, and consumed by flame, for several more seconds, before eventually crashing behind some trees. However, the first rule of exploding helicopters is you see them explode. Obscuring their detonation is anathema to the art of exploding helicopters.

Number of exploding helicopters

1

Relevance to plot

Solid. There's every reason to believe that the soldiers would have air support.

Artistic merit

Some. The flying, fireball of helicopter is cool, however, failing to fully show it explode is a grave crime, and should be illegal in Hollywood. It is not known whether director Antoine Fuqua ever received censure from the Directors Guild for this grave error.

Exploding helicopter innovation

Nice piece of improvisation from Wahlberg to blow it up with the fuel tank.

Positives

We're teased briefly as the helicopter resists its ultimate destruction.

Negatives

Those damn trees.



Review by: Jafo

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Stone Cold

Hollywood has a long and proud tradition of improbably turning American footballers into actors.

Perhaps only in the City of Dreams could someone watch a hulking NFL player lumber their way monosyllabically through a post-game interview and think: Hey, he’d be great in the movies!

But that’s what happens. The trend started way back in the Sixties with Jim Brown, often considered the NFL’s greatest player. Big Jim menaced his way through such gems as The Dirty Dozen, Ice Station Zebra and The Running Man after retiring from the game.

Tough tackling defender Fred ‘the Hammer’ Williamson (Black Caesar, From Dusk Til Dawn) and the Oakland Raiders’ Carl Weathers (Rocky, Predator) also made largely successful switches from mangling bodies to mangling lines.

More interesting is the case of OJ Simpson. For many years, the former running-back enjoyed a long and largely undistinguished screen career. Or at least until real life intervened. After his ex-wife and her friend were murdered, Simpson suddenly found himself the star of his own a televised legal drama.

Fortunately, The Juice had saved his most convincing performance in front of a camera for an LA courtroom. Most observers thought his role as an innocent man impossible to pull-off. Luckily for him the jury begged to differ.

All of which, by way of roundabout introduction, brings us to the big, brash, mullet-king: Brian Bosworth. When injury prematurely ended the career of this colourful Seattle Seahawks line-backer – equally beloved and loathed by a nation’s sports fans – Tinseltown naturally tapped him up for an ‘acting’ career.

So let’s head down to the line of scrimmage and get ready to tackle the Bozza’s big screen debut, Stone Cold (1991).

The plot

Brian Bosworth plays Joe Huff, a maverick cop who - in a stunning twist on genre conventions - plays by his own rules. Big Bri’s unassailable position on the maverick-ometer is quickly established by the fact he wears a leather jacket, rides a motorbike and has a komodo dragon as a pet. You get it, right? He’s like totally craaaazzzeeeee man!

He’s also the policeman with the most biker-related arrests in Alabama. (Apparently, law enforcement officials keep extensive statistics on these things.) This makes him the perfect man to go undercover with the Brotherhood, a bunch of white supremacist Hells Angels who are up to their necks in drugs, prostitution and murder.

After infiltrating the gang (a cunning ruse that involves our Bri just turning up at a bar dressed in his own clothes), Bosworth learns that they’re planning to assassinate a politician who has promised to crack down on the biker problem.

As plots go, tough-guy-goes-undercover-with-more-tough-guys is hardly epoch-breaking territory. ‘Acting’ is not a big priority here. But then, this is a movie starring a violent redneck who had literally spent the past decade listening to nothing more sophisticated than a quarterback shouting out random numbers on a scrimmage line before he punched people. What were you expecting: Sense and Sensibility?

Who’s in this?

Given no-one outside the US cares about American football, you’ve probably never heard of Brian Bosworth.

The Boz, as he liked to style himself, was a colourful and controversial gridiron star in the Eighties. Famous for outrageous hairstyles, trash-talking opponents, and countless run-ins with authority, the mullet-haired meathead was one of the game’s most recognisable faces.

So in many ways, Stone Cold was the perfect vehicle for him. Playing an insufferable attitude monster with a preposterous haircut wasn’t really a stretch even for Bri’s modest acting skills, which is just as well. As a bitchy English thesp might put it, he lacks ‘range’.

Still, he does an excellent job in this movie – assuming, of course, you define excellent as mouthing your words in broadly the right order and not tripping over the furniture. Remember: these were the early Nineties, when many of the era’s top action stars – Arnie, Dolph, Sly, et al – literally couldn’t manage a comprehensible sentence. (‘Hay-dree-ennnnnne!’ ‘Ah’ll bee beck!’ ‘Yu vill looze…’). Judged against that incredibly low bar, Bosworth comes across like Sir Laurence Olivier, though admittedly with Hulk Hogan’s haircut.

The biker gang’s leader is played by B-movie legend, Lance Henriksen (forever typecast as Sigourney Weaver’s creepy android pal from the Alien films). With his cadaverous, unconventionally handsome face, and cigar-smoke smooth voice, Lance is one of those rare actors who can effortlessly convey both menace and charm. And he can chew scenery with the best of them.

One minute he is cackling wildly with his biker buddies, the next he’s malevolently mangling a man’s hand in the spinning wheel of a motorcycle. If acting were a McDonald’s menu choice, Lance definitely chose to ‘go large’.

And if that isn’t enough overacting for you, further colour is provided by William Forsythe as Henriksen’s mentally unhinged right-hand man.

Along with Gary Busey, Bonkers Bill was one of the twin titans of Nineties ‘screen crazy’. When a film needed someone who could lose their shit in an entertaining way, they were the men casting agents called. (At least until Nicolas Cage cornered the market)

And Forsythe is in prime ordure-scattering form here, snorting, swearing and sneering his way through the film like a coked-up Tasmanian Devil. Indeed, such was Boardwalk Empire star’s commitment to authenticity he refused to wash his clothes during the film’s four month shoot. By the end, the King of Screw-loose’s trousers were as pungently over-ripe as his performance.

Is this any good?

By rights, Stone Cold should have been a disaster. After four weeks of production, original director Bruce Malmuth (Hard To Kill) was fired and everything filmed to that point was junked.

But cometh the hour, cometh, er, the stuntman. Into this chaos stepped veteran stunt coordinator and occasional director Craig R Baxley, the film’s true hero. Behind schedule and already way over budget, Baxley decided to take a radical, albeit simple, approach.

Turning up on set, he informed the cast and crew that they were going to “blow shit-up and kill people until all the money runs out”. (This was a strategy that may have lacked finesse, but certainly not clarity).

Judged against that mission statement, Stone Cold is an unqualified success – for this is one of the most conflagration-filled films Exploding Helicopter has ever witnessed.

No single opportunity to blow up a car, truck or motorcycle is missed. Even an innocuous looking fender-bender is enough to send the vehicles in this movie erupting into fiery piles of debris. And

even on the rare occasions when vehicles manage to avoid other traffic, there’s always a handy petrol station for it to crash into. (Some tropes never get old).

And that’s the point, really. Stone Cold may be just another derivative and clich├ęd cop movie, but it serves up the genre’s well-worn conventions with real gusto and a nitro-glycerine-soaked brio. The whole thing is best approached as a sort of action film cartoon. Just sit back, unplug your brain and enjoy.

Exploding Helicopter action

Exploding Helicopter feels it best to spare the reader the intricacies (and indeed inanities) of how we reach the film’s crucial scene. Suffice to say, we’re on the fifth floor of an office building and there’s a motorcycle speeding down a corridor towards a window. In case you haven’t guessed, outside that window is a helicopter and a regulation dim-witted pilot.

Before the viewer can ponder just how unlikely this set of circumstances is, the iron horse smashes through the glass into the whirlybird, which instantly explodes.

Evel Knievel, eat your heart out.

Artistic merit

If there is a finer sight in movie history than watching a helicopter being fierily brought-down by a flying motorcycle, then Exploding Helicopter would like to know about it.

The use of a motorcycle as a vehicular cannonball is truly inspired. Without question, one of the all-time great helicopter explosions.

Exploding helicopter innovation

First known use of a motorcycle to blow-up a helicopter.

The only other example Exploding Helicopter is aware of is in The Expendables 2 where Sylvester Stallone uses a dirt bike to shoot down a bothersome gunship.

A variation on the form can be seen in Die Hard 4.0, where Bruce Willis destroys a chopper using a police car as an improvised projectile.

Favourite quote

The one-liners in Stone Cold are distinctly hit and miss, but Bosworth gets this bona fide corker as he’s about to administer the last rites to Lance Henriksen: “Imagine the future, because you’re not in it.”

Review by: Jafo

Still want more? Then check out the Exploding Helicopter podcast on Stone Cold. Listen to it on iTunes, Stitcher, Acast, Podomatic, or YourListen.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Die Hard


When terrorists seize control of a tower block, an FBI team led by the great pock-marked villain Robert Davi, are brought in to free the hostages.

Davi’s plan involves cutting-off power to the building “then we give them helicopters up the ass.”

Davi and his FBI colleague fly-in, ostensibly to fly the hostages out, but really to shoot the terrorists. Unbeknownst to them, the terrorists have rigged the roof with explosives which are detonated, destroying the buildings upper floors and taking out the helicopter.

Number of exploding helicopters

1

Positives

There‘s a pleasing Vietnam reference when Robert Davi yells: “Just like f---ing Saigon!” as they begin their low level chopper assault.

Negatives

Robert Davi never gets to deliver “helicopters up the ass” which surely would have been an anatomical first.

Exploding helicopter innovation

First known usage of a tower block to explode a helicopter.

Artistic merit

Disappointing. The helicopter’s explosion is overshadowed by the detonation of the tower block’s roof.

Relevance to plot

Good. There’s no reason to question the presence of helicopters.


Favourite quote

"Hey, I read the papers, I watch 60 minutes, I say to myself, these guys are professionals, they’re motivated, they’re happening. They want something. Now, personally, I don’t care about your politics. Maybe you’re pissed at the camel Jockeys, maybe it’s the Hebes, Northern Ireland, that’s none of my business. I figure, you’re here to negotiate, am I right?"


Interesting fact

The film is based on a book by Roderick Thorpe - a sequel to a previous novel he had written called The Detective. A film of that novel was made in 1968 with Frank Sinatra. 


A clause in Old Blues Eyes contract, meant Sinatra had to be given first refusal on Die Hard - despite the fact he was 73 at the time. 


Review by: Jafo

Still want more? Then check out the Exploding Helicopter podcast episode on Die Hard. Available on Podomatic, iTunes, Stitcher or YourListen


Monday, 22 June 2009

Blue Thunder

Roy Scheider plays a burnt out, Vietnam veteran, working for the Los Angeles police department. 

We know Scheider is borderline nut-job as he has suffers from cool, helicopter related Vietnam flashbacks which force him to check his sanity using his wristwatch (of all things).

Anyway, whilst flying helicopters for the air support division, he's recruited to test a new high-tech, ultra sophisticated chopper. However, Scheider soon discovers that the state-of-the-art whirlybird is part of a high level political conspiracy.

Ultimately, his attempt to expose the secret plot leads him into a helicopter dog-fight with an old Vietnam comrade, played with icy sangfroid by Malcolm McDowell.

When Scheider's chopper malfunctions our hero looks doomed. Fortunately, he's been given a back-story that involves looping a helicopter. Before you can say "looping a helicopter is an aerodynamically impossible feat", our boy Roy has pulled a 360 allowing him to exorcise his Vietnam demons by blowing McDowell out of the sky. 


Verdict

One of the most satisfying helicopter explosions in cinematic history.

Scheider's aerobatic trickery makes McDowell’s copter a satisfyingly easy target. Riddled with machine gunfire it explodes whilst travelling vertically up. It’s forward momentum checked, it drops like a stone to the ground.


If this wasn't enough for exploding helicopter connoisseurs, Blue Thunder includes a further treat - train vs helicopter action. 

Scheider, in an effort to prevent the aerial power of his prototype helicopter being used for ill, lands the craft in front of an oncoming train.

For a moment it looks as if Scheider is going to be smashed to pieces along with the helicopter. However, Scheider's able to escape and we're able to enjoy watching the train languorously smash into the helicopter as Roy casually walks away from a deliciously primitive chopper fireball.


Number of exploding helicopters

Two. A number of other helicopters are shot down throughout the film, but sadly they don’t explode.

Artistic merit

Good. We get to see Blue Thunder explode in slow motion. The rotor blades continue to turn in a cool way.

Exploding helicopter innovation

By looping his helicopter, Scheider defies the rules of aerodynamics to blow up McDowell’s chopper. It's the only time I've seen it done in a movie.

Use of a train to explode a helicopter.

Positives

The entire film is about helicopters. What’s not to love?

Negatives


Scheider turns his back on the exploding Blue Thunder, something no true exploding helicopter aficionado would do.

Favourite quote

Malcolm McDowell repeatedly taunts Roy Scheider with the line, "Catch you later" the meaning of which we only learn at the end of the film.

Interesting fact


When a barbecue shack is blown up, chickens are seen to rain down on the street. Apparently real chickens were used in this sequence because rubber ones would have been far more costly to use. 


Review by: Jafo

You can listen to the Exploding Helicopter podcast about Blue Thunder on iTunes, YourListen, Stitcher or Podomatic.


Thursday, 18 June 2009

Predator

Arnold Schwarzenegger leads a team of elite, steroid inflated, troops into the jungle - accompanied by a pen-pushing CIA agent (Carl Weathers) - to rescue some soldiers who are being held captive.

After a failed attempt to rescue the hostages, Schwarzenegger and his team learn that they've been set-up by Weathers. They also learn the first rule of action films: never trust a CIA agent wearing a suit and tie.

Anyway, as they make their escape, the team find themselves hunted ruthlessly by "something like the chameleon".

Everyone dies, apart from Arnie who defeats the Predator by covering himself in mud and using advanced cub scout skills.

During the attack to rescue the hostages, Arnie converts an old broken down truck into a rolling bomb. As fighting breaks out across the enemies lair, one of the rebels attempts to make a getaway in a helicopter.

The doomed pilot flips switches inside the cockpit. As the rotor blades begin to slowly turn, Arnie steps forward and fires an RPG into the grounded whirlybird.

Verdict

A nicely handled explosion. For a fraction of a second the cockpit appears to contain the entire explosion and we see the pilot momentarily writhe in the inferno.

The explosion then balloons out swallowing the machine. The rotor blades continue to turn before folding slowly towards the ground.

The scene exposes one of the limitations of helicopters as escape vehicles - when they are stationary they are utterly ineffective for swift getaways.

Number of exploding helicopters

1

Artistic merit

The helicopter is consumed rather than blown apart by the explosion. The pilots doomed bid to escape and the slowly turning rotor blades add a touch of elegant fatalism.

Relevance to plot

Very little. Whilst not integral to the plot the helicopter makes a brief but plausible appearance.

Exploding helicopter innovation

None.

Postives

Helicopters play a pleasingly vital role throughout the film.

We first meet Schwarzenegger and his team arriving in a helicopter. Arnie particularly appears to savour the experience, lounging in the rear of the chopper as he languorously lights a massive cigar before getting out.

Later, Arnie’s team are flown into the jungle in a helicopter, during which we're treated to one of the greatest male bonding scenes ever filmed.

And finally, Arnie is ultimately rescued from the jungle by a helicopter after bellowing the immortal, “Get to the chopper!”


There's a lot of great helicopter related dialogue in Predator and Exploding Helicopter has actually pulled together a list of it. You can find it over on our Tumblr site.

Negatives

During the film Schwarzenegger’s men find a helicopter shot down by the Predator. Unfortunately we don’t get to see this mouth-watering incident.

Interesting fact

Jean Claude Van Damme was originally cast as the Predator. However, he quit after a couple of days filming apparently unhappy that he would only be seen in the film as a glorified special effect.


Review by: Jafo

Still haven't had enough? Then listen to the Exploding Helicopter crew discuss Predator on the Exploding Helicopter podcast. Find the show on iTunesPodomatic, Stitcher, or YourListen.