Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Lawnmower Man 2

“I’m still a little unclear as to how all this fits together,” asks one of the characters in this dire sequel. Unfortunately it’s not a question that I, despite having watched the film, will be able to provide any enlightenment on.

Now I will confess it’s not unusual for me to preface reviews with the observation that the plot makes no sense. However, with Lawnmower Man 2 we are working in a different order of magnitude. We are talking cryptic incomprehensibility. The film’s subtitle is ‘Beyond Cyberspace‘. It should perhaps have been ‘Beyond all sense‘.

From the fragments we are intermittently offered by writer/director Farhad Mann I was able to discern the following.

Jobe (Matt Frewer), the simple gardener who was turned into a genius courtesy of a mad scientist, is revived - explanation impossible - following his death at the end of the first film. Jobe is put to work by the head of sinister corporation to create a chip which will allow the company to control the world’s computers.

Meanwhile some street kids who are also computer hackers stumble on what Jobe is up to. They seek out Benjamin Trace (Patrick Bergin), a retired virtual reality whiz, who is the only man who can stop the dastardly scheme.

Realising who is working against him Jobe makes numerous attempts to kill Bergin (who spends the whole film dressed like he’s in an extra in Dances With Wolves) and his team of unlovable street urchins.

The effort of most interest to us comes around two-thirds of the way into the film. At Bergin’s mountain hideaway the heroes plot their next move without realising that Jobe has tracked them down.

Using the ‘power of the internet’ - hell it was 1996 nobody really knew what it was back then - Jobe takes control of a helicopter that happens to be flying nearby.

He steers it on a crash course towards Bergin’s wooden cabin, but the tell-tell ‘thwacka thwacka’ of the rotor blades alerts the inhabitants who flee as the chopper bears down on them. The helicopter crashes into shack with the blades making a pleasing wood chip out of the roofs and walls.

However, as Bergin and the pesky scamps flee out the back of the cabin the danger isn’t over. The chopper’s momentum takes it skidding through the hut, now resembling some kind of burning sleigh the wrecked copter pursues the heroes who are only able to avoid being mown down by diving into a ditch as the helicopter’s burning shell passes harmlessly overhead.

Artistic merit

Surprisingly good. Despite the low budget quality of the bulk of the films special effects the sequence is actually pretty good. The crash into the cabin looks like it might be model work, whilst the skidding burning chopper looks computer generated. However, both a reasonably well rendered to leave it an exciting sequence.

You might justifiably have higher expectations given that when Lawnmower Man was released in 1992 it’s special effects were widely praised, despite now looking incredibly dated. But as Lawnmower Man 2 is a cheap cash-in, with budget notable by its absence, it should be judged on its merits.

Exploding helicopter innovation

It’s a nice idea to turn the burning chopper wreckage into a skidding sleigh that pursues the heroes. It’s probably been done before, but it’s the earliest example I can remember.

Relevance to plot

Shaky. Let’s just say it’s mightily convenient that the helicopter was nearby and could be turned into a remote controlled kamikaze chopper.

Interesting fact

Intriguingly for a film about computer generated realities Jobe is played by Matt Frewer who was the face behind 80s video jock Max Headroom. Director Farhad Mann directed an episode of the series which presumably led to his casting here.

In the first film Jobe was played by Jeff Fahey. He like Pierce Brosnan wisely decided not to return for this piece of celluloid drivel. Austin O'Brien is the only person to feature in both films.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Thing

Kurt Russell plays MacReady a hard drinkin’, risk taskin’, beard totin’ scientist marooned out in the frozen wastes of Antarctica with a rag-tag team of scientists who suddenly find a shape-shifting, bodysnatching alien in their camp who is taking them over one by one.

Too many films are giving the “classic” epithet but horror supremo John Carpenter’s The Thing justifies the hype with his low-budget sensibilities remaining intact despite the Hollywood gloss. He superbly conveys the paranoia and fear of group cut off from help with a monster in their midst who could be any one of them.

An understated Morricone score combined with great ensemble acting and some mind blowing special effects from Rob Bottin whose imagination was allowed to run riot ensures the film stands the test of time.

At the very start of the film we see a sniper mounted in a Norwegian helicopter attempt and fail to shoot a dog after chasing it across the frozen wastes of Antarctica. They touch down at MacReady’s base camp in order to finish off the job. The sniper attempts to throw a Thermite grenade at the dog but comically loses his grip and lets it slip out of his hand. We see him desperately scrabble about in the snow to retrieve it while the pilot legs it. The grenade goes off followed a split second later by the helicopter.

Artistic merit

Whilst the film is a tour-de-force from its stark beginnings to the nihilistic denouement the helicopter explosion is decidedly lacklustre and is about as impressive as a lit fart.

Exploding helicopter innovation

A stationary helicopter is blown up in the snow. Poorly. The end.

Do passengers survive?

The idiot who cack-handily drops the Thermite deservedly ends up in a million fiery pieces. The pilot who is outside of blast range lives a few minutes more until he is shot through the eye by Garry (Donald Moffat) who thinks all this shooting and grenade throwing is an understandable danger to the camp. If only anyone spoke Norwegian they would have heard the sniper shout:

"Get the hell away! It's not a dog! It's a thing! It's imitating a dog! It's not real! Get away you idiots."

and this whole sorry mess could have been avoided.

Positives

The scene is great even though the explosion is not. The helicopter chase across the frozen wastelands sets us for the isolated paranoia that is to follow.

Negatives

As Macready picks through the mangled remains of the chopper he spots at least 15 tanks of kerosene in the wreckage that could have made this a monster fireball yet the explosion we see is pathetic. John Carpenter fumbles the ball on this one.

Favourite quote

After the disembodied head of Norris (Charles Hallahan) drops off the table, sprouts legs and attempts to crawl it’s was out of the room Palmer (Dave Clennon) utters the immortal line

“you’ve got to be f*****g kidding!”

Interesting fact

At the end of the film Macready sits in the blazing remains of the burnt out camp with Childs (Keith Davids) both of whom unsure if the other is a shape-shifter and know that when the fires go out they will probably freeze to death.

Due to its macabre ending film editor Todd C. Ramsay suggested filming a happy conclusion for test audiences that sees Macready rescued and given a blood test proving he was human. The scene was shot but Carpenter didn’t like it and it has never seen the light of day.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Hugh Jackman returns as Wolverine in this X-Men franchise prequel. Sporting a look familiar to British soap opera viewers as uncannily like Amos from Emmerdale Jackman goes in search of revenge for the death of his girlfriend.

In order to exact said vengeance Wolverine signs up for the Weapons X programme and allows himself to be transformed into a hairy metal alloy. Jackman expresses the pain, confusion and inner turmoil of his character by keeping his brow furrowed throughout the entire film.

When Wolverine learns that he's about to be double-crossed he escapes from the clutches of the Weapon X's evil mastermind Stryker (Danny Huston).

A naked Wolverine takes refuge on the farm of an elderly couple. Fortunately the implausibly generous old folks are used to finding naked men hiding in their barn and quickly invite Wolverine in for dinner and offer to dress him in the old clothes of their son. By some miraculous quirk of Hollywood fate the clothes are a perfect fit.

Meanwhile Stryker despatches Agent Zero (David Henney) to hunt down and kill Wolverine with a couple of hummers and a helicopter. Having established themselves as kindly pensioners the couple are swiftly despatched by Agent Zero, providing Wolverine with the excuse he needs to exact some merciless revenge.

Making good his escape on a motorbike Wolverine makes short work of the first hummer and swings onto the top of the second. With Wolverine in his sights the chopper pilot decides to take out both Jackman and his poor colleagues in the hummer and comes in low to fire a rocket the vehicle.

With milliseconds to spare Wolverine jumps from the top of the hummer straight at the chopper as it makes its low pass. With his claws he cuts off a rotor blade and the stabilising wing of the helicopter causing it to plummet towards the ground. With another precipitously timed leap Wolverine is able to avoid the crash and explosion as the chopper smacks into the ground rolling over several times.

Miraculously Agent Zero has not been killed by the crash or explosion. Wolverine wanders over to the helicopter wreckage and uses his radio to banter with Stryker, before strolling off. Unfortunately Agent Zero can't help but bait Wolverine after being lectured about his evil ways.

Without looking back Wolverine clinks his metallic claws against the stony ground creating a spark which ignites aviation fuel which has spilled from the chopper. It ignites in a huge fireball perfectly silhouetting Wolverine as he walks away from the explosion in slow motion.

Verdict

Hero back lit by the exploding helicopter as he walks in slow motion towards the camera, that‘s a text book chopper fireball if ever there was one.

Exploding helicopter innovation

First known helicopter to be destroyed by a half wolf, half alloy, half human mutant.

Do passengers survive?

Agent Zero survives the initial crash and explosion but talks himself into an early grave by reminding us that no-one likes a smart aleck.

Positives

Whilst little new ground is broken it’s enough sometimes to see a good job done well. Director Gavin Hood doesn’t flunk his lines.

Negatives

You have to ask why on earth the helicopter’s attack run was so low thus allowing Wolverine to leap on to it. It’s a error which many helicopter pilots have made to their eternal cost.

Review by: Jafo

Still want more? Then check out the Exploding Helicopter podcast episode on X Men Origins: Wolverine. Listen on iTunes, Podomatic, Stitcher, YourListen or Acast.


Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

As the title suggests, this is the much-anticipated prequel to the classic Planet of the Apes films. It stars James Franco as the scientist with questionable ethics, Freida Pinto as the girlfriend of the scientist with questionable ethics, John Lithgow as father of the scientist with questionable ethics, and the motion-captured movements of non-human actor Andy Serkis.

James Franco's character works at a San Francisco lab called “Gen Sys”, which quickly becomes apparent has incredibly lax security and non-existent ethical approval mechanisms. In a race against time to find a treatment for Alzheimers for his father (and to make the head of Gen Sys, played by David Oyelowo, a lot of money), he trials a new drug on chimpanzees which seems to increase cognitive function considerably.

After a slight boardroom mishap involving an escaped chimp going nuts at the exactly the moment the board are considering if the drug is safe, the research is halted and all the apes are ordered to be destroyed. The super-intelligent offspring of one such doomed chimp, Caesar (Serkis), is spared after being smuggled out of the lab by James Franco, who proceeds to raise him for a number of years.

Following several months in a primate “sanctuary” after biting off the neighbours finger, Caesar ultimately escapes, stealing some of the drug that Franco also smuggled out of the lab. The brainiac chimp then returns to the sanctuary to use the drug on the other apes. His band of super-intelligent apes escape, in a PETA-esque rampage through the lab, and head for the Golden Gate bridge.

Oyelowo secures a helicopter and heads to the bridge to take out Caesar. After machine-gunning down a few apes, it looks like Oyelowo is about to succeed. But as they move in for the kill, an enormous Gorilla bravely puts himself on the line, taking a round of bullets before diving up into the helicopter – which is now flying at a foolishly low altitude. The helicopter loses control before spinning into the edge of the bridge, resulting in a partial explosion with several pieces of helicopter strewn on the road. Another ape kicks the charred remains of the helicopter off the bridge and into San Francisco Bay.

Artistic merit

The explosion was not huge, but this is perhaps reflective of the small altitude/speed to ground ratio. The bridge would almost certainly need repainting in the area around the explosion though.

Exploding helicopter innovation

First helicopter explosion caused by a motion-captured super-intelligent Gorilla.

Do the passengers survive?

Oyelowo is certainly still alive and potentially savable post-explosion. His hopes of survival (and those of the remaining passengers) are quickly dashed by one of Oyelowo's apes from the lab, who carefully considers the situation before kicking the helicopter to its watery doom.

Positives

Gorilla vs Helicopter is a match-up film-goers have been crying out for.

Negatives

When Sarah Palin shoots wolves from a helicopter in Alaska, it's unlikely that even she is stupid enough to shoot from an altitude that a vengeful wolf could jump up to. The same cannot be said of Oyelowo and his pilot.

Favourite quote not in the film

Helicopter pilot: “Get your stinking paws off my helicopter, you damned dirty ape”

Interesting fact

At the time of the apes' escape, news coverage is focusing on the launch of a manned flight to Mars. As the film is supposed to be set in the present day, this appears to have been set in an alternate universe where NASA has not recently had its funding cut.

Review by: Joseph Clift

Monday, 15 August 2011

From Russia With Love

Thunderball has always been my favourite Bond despite its obvious flaw of having not a single exploding helicopter in it.

And while the Disco Volante spectacularly crashes at the end, this blog is not called Exploding Yacht So I am left to review From Russia With Love.

This is Sean Connery’s second outing as 007 so he’s without the toupee and corset that he would sport with distinction in later Bond entries.

We pick up the action with Connery having bested Robert Shaw in the train fight. He’s now making his escape across country in a lumbering truck. Some SPECTRE agents start to buzz the truck in a small Hiller UK-12 helicopter and try to kill Bond by dropping grenades on the truck, but succeed only in disabling it.

Bond grabs a rifle and takes cover behind some rocks where he can take some pot shots at the chopper. Connery manages to shoot the co-pilot in the shoulder just as he’s about to drop a couple of grenades. He clumsily scrabbles around at his feet for the grenade he’s now dropped. But too late the chopper explodes in a delicious orangey fireball.

It then falls - obviously - from the sky cart wheeling about before crashing into the ground where it explodes twice more for good measure. Connery scuttles back over to the truck where he can be nicely silhouetted against the fourth, final, and biggest explosion.
Verdict

A humdinger of a helicopter explosion. You have to salute director Terence Young and the special effects team for their gusto with which they set about destroying this helicopter. Have Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay ever blown up the same helicopter four times? No sir, they have not.

Exploding helicopter innovation

Nothing particularly innovative, as this was made in 1963 it's the earliest exploding helicopter action I have yet recorded.

The sequence also helps establish a classic exploding helicopter trope where the occupants know they’re doomed moments before consumed in a conflagration. Sadly, as these are Russian agents no-one says “What the?….” before being immolated. Unless of course they’re muttering it in Russian.

Do passengers survive?

They really should have if the klutz in the co-pilot hadn’t spent so long fumbling about for the grenade in the cockpit.

Positives

I doubt any fictional character has been responsible for as many exploding helicopters as 007. Connery gets Bond off the mark in fine style.

Negatives

None. A faultless exploding helicopter sequence.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Swordfish

“It’s easy to pick apart bad acting, short sighted directing and a purely moronic stringing together of words that many of the studios term as prose.” Says John Travolta in the monologue which opens Swordfish.

The trouble with Hollywood he goes on to inform us is the absence of realism which Travolta informs us is, “Not a pervasive element in today’s modern American cinematic vision.”

Indeed.

And if there was ever a film to remind us of this point it is Swordfish where John Travolta plays a super-criminal out to rob the US Government of $9bn dollars. Only he’s not really a super-criminal but a patriot who heads up a secret society dedicated to exacting revenge on America’s enemies.

Along the way there are such object lessons in cinema verite as the scene where Hugh Jackman’s character receives a blow job whilst hacking into US Government computers with Travolta holding a gun at his head.

Or the getaway scene where a helicopter scoops up the school bus Travolta and his team are making their escape in and lands it on the top of a skyscraper where they’ve stashed another chopper to disappear in.

Yes, you can safely file Swordfish in your film collection somewhere between your Ken Loach and Dogme films box sets.

But anyway enough on the dribbling nonsense that constitutes the plot. The climax of the film has Travolta and his assembled henchmen atop the skyscraper ready to make their escape in their backup chopper.

Vinnie Jones is dead, but not before the plot requires him to clumsily reveal that he’s brought along a rocket launcher with a moronic stringing together of words, sorry expository dialogue.

“I know what your thinking. Your thinking if that rocket launcher was a suppository would that bad man stick it up my ass?”

As Travolta and his team jump aboard the waiting helicopter Jackman hot foots it back on board the bus grabs the rocket launcher and without the any knowledge of military weaponry - realism remember - loads, fires, and successfully shoots down the chopper.

Despite being the climax of the film the explosion is underwhelming - some brief CGI - and the short sighted direction means the camera cuts away before the chopper has finished exploding.

Like Travolta all that’s left to do is wonder at the state of modern American cinema.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Battle: Los Angeles

Oh, dear. This is a lurching Frankenstein of a movie, made from successful bits of other films clumsily cut out and stitched back together.

Look! There’s District 9’s spaceship. Wow. There’s Independence Day’s stirring speech to the troops. Hey. Isn’t that the big Hummer from Aliens driving through a confined, tunnel-like structure and mowing down all the, er, aliens?

The film lumbers from scene to stolen scene, each one only reminding the viewer how much better the originals were. Even Aaron Eckhart seems aware something’s not right, and he kept a straight face all through The Core.

And in a movie that lifts so shamelessly from its betters, the odds that each helicopter was going to thrum-thrum its way safely through to the final credits were always narrow.

How we reach the pivotal scene is thus: a small band of marines is, for no good reason whatsoever, sent deep into alien-held LA territory to rescue some people from a police station. (Note for military fans: the latest marine-enemy-incursion technique is to walk full stride down the centre of enemy-occupied streets talking loudly about relationships.)

The aliens – a spectacular piece of filching: essentially District 9 prawns with Predator heads – pretty much let the marines walk to the police station, then lay siege to it (just like in Assault on Precinct 13). Before long, the heroes also catch a live alien and experiment on it (Independence Day again) and escape in a runaway bus (Speed).

Having established its cut-and-paste credentials so confidently, by the time a ‘rescue’ helicopter lands next to the station the only real question is how it’s going to be despatched. Now, I don’t want to spoil all the fun, so I’ll just lay out the bare facts and see if you can guess.

The helicopter lands and is loaded full of injured marines – several of whom have been given hastily constructed ‘backstory’ in the opening scenes (pregnant wife, something to prove etc) so we care about them. At the very last moment, Aaron Eckhart runs out of the station holding two young children, but is JUST TOO LATE to get the adorable young scamps aboard the unquestionably safe airborne vehicle before it takes off.

As to what happens next? Well, I was as shocked as you’ll be. The helicopter is barely 50 feet in the air when a District 9-lite spaceship either shoots or goes straight through it. (I’ve rewound three times and still don’t know. The CGI is terrible and the editing so fast-cut that Michael Bay reportedly wrote in to complain.)

The explosion itself is prime computer-generated-tat. Tonnes of burning shards of unconvincingly rendered metal and rotor blades crash down all around the marines and kids. However, given that such a quick death would afford no opportunity for a final ‘Give this to my wife’ / ‘Marines. Ra-hoo!’ emotive speech, no-one is even scratched.

Not that you’re interested, but that woman from Girlfight – here making her turn in Avatar look like Sophie’s Choice – works out that if they can just destroy this one, hard to reach silo then the whole baddie infrastructure will come toppling down (Star Wars, anyone?). By the final scene, I felt like toppling over myself.

This is a deeply unnecessary film.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Under Siege

Steven Seagal stars as Casey Ryback, Hollywoods greatest culinary Navy SEAL, an implausibly lethal cook who single-handedly takes down an entire ship full of crazed terrorists out to hijack its cache of nuclear weapons. Basically it’s Die Hard on a Boat.

It may have been made in 1992 but director Andrew Davis must be given credit for including every 80’s cliché imaginable: gratuitous nudity (thank you Erika Eleniak): check, boisterous frat boy party atmosphere sound tracked to down-home blues: check, important military types sat round an enormous table barking out one-liners: check, group of terrorists marshalled by a demented mastermind (Tommy Lee Jones): check, missile explosion averted at very the last second by the hero who gets a victorious snog: check.

Under Siege should be terrible especially since Seagal has as much acting versatility as a mouldy orange. Despite its supposed flaws the film is something of a guilty pleasure to be enjoyed without the indignity of admitting so.

So, to the exploding helicopter action, and there are two examples of the art to enjoy.

After the villains take control of the ship, Seagal and Eleniak sneak on to the deck of the Missouri which is crawling with terrorists. Seagal spots the huge twin rotor Kawasaki/Vertol KV107, and despite the huge enemy presence waltzes over unseen and decides to blow it up either to cause a diversion or to prevent the bad guys from escaping. Logic isn’t this movie’s strong point so you can take your pick.

He gets some paint thinner and liberally splashes about the helicopter near the fuel tank. He sets it alight and as the chopper explodes to high heaven Seagal jumps ship to escape the blast only to be saved by some handy rope that just happened to be lying around.

Later in the film a team of Navy Seals is called in to retake the ship. However, if Seagal was worried that a chopper full of kick-ass action stars are about to come aboard and steal his thunder, he needn't have been. Tommy Lee Jones uses the Missouri's defence systems to knock the helicopter out the sky with a flick of the switch. Seagal's presence as the biggest action star on the ship is secured.

Artistic merit

The scene where Seagal blows up the deck-bound chopper was nominated for the MTV award for best action sequence losing out to the freeway scene in Terminator 2. There can be no higher accolade than that. Well almost no higher accolade.

Exploding helicopter innovation

It is rare thing to see a stationary helicopter being used purely as an explosive diversion rather then a fiery tomb for its occupants.

The Navy Seals chopper is completely routine.

Number of exploding helicopters

Two.

Do passengers survive?

That's a negative.

Positives

A pleasingly substantial explosion, free from CGI, with the bulky, hatchet faced figure of Seagal neatly silhouetted against the fireball as he leaps to safety.

Negatives

You have to ask yourself was it strictly necessary to blow up a helicopter to prevent an escape on an aircraft carrier full of planes and choppers? As a diversion it is utterly pointless so you can only assume that writer J.F Lawton is a fan of exploding helicopters.

Favourite Quote

Seagal: “What is this babbling bullshit?”

Interesting Fact

The role of ditzy blonde playmate Jordan Tate wasn’t quite such a stretch of Eleniak who herself posed for Playboy in the July 1989 edition, the same month as her character.

Review by: Neon Messiah