Saturday 18 June 2011

The Last Castle

In unconventional casting, Hollywood's leading liberal Robert Redford plays a maverick US Army General, who's sentenced to a military prison after disobeying orders.

Unfortunately for Old Sundance, the military prison is run by an autocratic disciplinarian played by James Gandolfini. Initially intent on quietly serving his sentence, Redford resolves to lead a prison coup after his bleeding heart is moved by the inmates brutal treatment.

What follows is a regulation prison break movie with a side-order of Bob's liberal values thrown in. However, the predictable formula is briefly enlivened by a helicopter explosion. 

During the revolt, Gandolfini calls in a chopper to help restore order in the jail's yard. The prisoners, anticipating this move, secure a grappling hook to the chopper to enable an inmate (who's also a pilot) to shin up the chain and takes control of the helicopter.

On a nearby guard tower a sadistic prison officer finds himself face to face with the helicopter's pilot. The guard goes to shoot the pilot who spins the tail of the chopper around, so the rear rotor makes mince meat of the officer, destroying the tower and the rear of the chopper.

Without a rear rotor the helicopter spins round out of control before crashing into the ground. The selflessly compassionate Redford is the first to act and helps the pilot from the chopper which has already caught fire. Moments after they're clear the helicopter explodes.


The helicopter creates some impressive destruction prior to its crash. It's also nice to see the wounded chopper, spin around wildly as the pilot loses control.

Tantalisingly, after it crashed into the ground, it looks like the helicopter isn't going to explode, however, the camera shot lingers just that moment too long, and sure enough, up she goes.

Artistic merit

More attention is spent on blowing up the guard tower and the chopper's dramatic crash landing than the actual explosion. By now the chopper is already in several pieces following its collision with the guard tower and plummet into the ground. There's barely enough left of it to blow up. As they make their escape from the wreckage, Ruffalo and Redford both flinch in time honoured action movie style as the whirlybird finally goes up.

Relevance to plot

If anything it's TOO relevant. The helicopter makes several conspicuous appearance earlier in the film, and Mark Ruffalo's past as a pilot is gratuitously foreshadowed.

Exploding helicopter innovation

None. Director Rod Lurie fails to break any new ground in the art of exploding helicopters, however, it could be the only prison movie which features an exploding helicopter.


You wouldn't think that prison movie genre would be fertile ground for exploding helicopters, but Lockout, Fortress 2 and Escape From LA all feature chopper fireballs. 


Unfortunately, after the excitement of the destruction of the guard tower and the damaged helicopter's crash, the final explosion of the helicopter is disappointingly routine.

Wednesday 1 June 2011

Sub Zero

The world is threatened when terrorists steal a mysterious cube-like device which controls a powerful, laser beam firing, satellite.

However, when making their escape with the gizmo the terrorists have the misfortune to crash on one of the world’s highest mountains, K2.

Keen to regain their cutting-edge weapons-tech, world powers assemble a team of elite climbers and scientists (with incredibly dodgy Russian accents) are assembled to recover the cube.

For some reason - I’ll confess this low quality film didn’t have my full attention - the mountains neighbouring K2 are fortified with artillery guns.

As our team of heroes climb the mountain a saboteur intent on stopping them fires the artillery guns to start an avalanche. Along with creating snowy chaos the artillery also takes out a helicopter that happens to be hovering nearby with a direct hit.


Perfunctory. The helicopter explodes in ‘blink and you’ll miss it fashion’. Completely consumed in a brief orange glow, there’s no outward explosion of wreckage.

Rather than get the hell out of Dodge, the helicopter pilot who is hovering in front of the guns as they start firing - decides to slowly manoeuvre round in front of one of them to conveniently enable its conflagration.

Number of helicopters


Relevance to plot

Entirely pointless. In classic exploding helicopter fashion there’s absolutely no reason why a helicopter had be destroyed in this scene.

Whilst there’s no doubt helicopters would be used by any military force operating in these mountains, there has to be a question mark as to whether they would be able to fly at this sort of altitude.

Artistic merit

Dismal. The director - schlock master Jim Wynorski - disappears the chopper in a moment of z-grade CGI. It’s far more rewarding to spend some time browsing Wynorski’s eclectic CV, which takes in exploitation titles like The Witches of Breastwicke, The Bare Wench Project and The Hills Have Thighs to schlock like Ghoulies IV, The Return of Swamp Thing and Chopping Mall.

Exploding helicopter innovation

The highest recorded altitude for a helicopter explosion.


Pointless and unnecessary, the exploding helicopter does at least tick a box in this otherwise poor film.


Brief and unsatisfying.

Review by: Jafo