Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Iron Eagle IV

Where does it go wrong for some actors? In 1982 Lou Gossett Jr won an Oscar for An Officer and a Gentlemen.  

After a career spent mainly in TV, the role and acclaim he received should have been the launching pad to silver screen success. Unfortunately, Lou chose to make Jaws 3 and the prospect of a glittering career quickly evaporated. 

By 1986 his unerring ability to involve himself in middling films took him to Iron Eagle. It was a ridiculous – although likeable - film about a teenager who steals a fighter jet so he can daringly rescue his father who’s being held hostage in the Middle East. (Gosset plays a retired air force colonel who assists the kid).  

Dismissed by critics as a jingoistic fairy tale, the film somehow spawned three sequels. And Gossett, ever the glutton for punishment, signed up for each and every one of them, including Iron Eagle IV (1995). 

The plot sees Gossett’s character running a flight school with a bunch of misfit teenagers for pupils. They stumble upon some corrupt air force pilots who are dealing in toxic waste. Naturally, there are no federal or state agencies interested in these murky shenanigans, so it falls to the teenagers to foil the conspiracy. 

Anyway, to the exploding helicopter. This occurs as the toxic waste plot unravels. The corrupt General decides it’s time for his men to make a retreat when the airfield he’s operating from is shot up by one of Gossett’s flight cadets in an F-16. 

One of the General’s men grabs a machine gun and jumps on board a waiting helicopter. As it takes off the F-16 comes in for another pass on the airfield. The soldier desperately tries to shoot down the F-16, but is hopelessly outgunned by the fighter jet which turns it into a chopper fireball. 

Artistic merit 

A nice juicy looking fireball. And we get to enjoy it again and again, as the editing allows us to see the same explosion repeated from different angles. However, the helicopter stays largely intact. It would’ve been nice to see it properly blown apart. 

Exploding helicopter innovation 

Director Sidney J Furie doesn’t advance the exploding helicopter genre. That’s disappointing as The Ipcress File is one my favourite films and he did such a good job on that. 

Number of exploding helicopters 

1. 

Positives 

The helicopter is the corrupt General’s personal vehicle, and delightfully he’s taken the trouble to stencil his name on the side. A nice touch. 

The chopper in question is also pleasingly featured on the poster for the film. 

Negatives 

 You do have to wonder if any soldier would be stupid enough to try and escape in a helicopter with a F-16 buzzing around. Is this what they teach at West Point? 

Interesting fact 

Iron Eagle IV features the character Doug Masters who might be familiar to viewers as the guy who was shot and killed in Iron Eagle II. What makes it even more bizarre is that the revived Doug Master isn’t played by the same actor. As he isn’t integral to the plot why bother resurrecting him? 

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Codename: Wild Geese

Yee gods. The things we do for this website. Having slogged our way through the other two films in this loose trilogy the completist in us felt duty bound to watch Codename: Wild Geese (1984) in the hope of another exploding helicopter.

Despite the title, Codename: Wild Geese is not related to The Wild Geese or it’s sequel, erm Wild Geese II. It is in fact the first of three action films, all starring Lewis Collins and directed by Antonio Margheriti, that were knocked out in rapid order in the mid 80s. (The previously reviewed Commando Leopard (1985) and The Commander (1988) complete the triptych). 

Collins plays Captain Robin Wesley. He’s hired to lead a team of mercenaries into the Thai jungle to destroy an opium factory run by a corrupt army General.

Alongside Collins we have veteran character actor Ernest Borgnine as devious DEA agent and legendary German wild man Klaus Kinski as the enforcer for a shadowy Hong Kong businessman. 

But before the mission can start, Wesley must find a pilot. He uses the Government connection to arrange the release of 'China' (Lee Van Cleef) an ace pilot. 

The group head off up river into the jungle. They meet up with some rebels who lead them to the an army base where they plan to steal a helicopter they need to complete their mission.

After pinching the chopper, they fly to the corrupt general's drug factory. They launch their attack and destroy the labs. However, the small squad hits some trouble and Van Cleef is forced to leave his helicopter to help a wounded colleague.

However, in a pointless but convenient plot twist, one of the rebels who has accompanied them on the raid is a double agent. He sneaks up on the helicopter and, using the butt of his rifle, smashes the helicopter's fuel tank.

He retreats a few yards and sets fire to the petrol before one of Wesley’s men, realising the betrayal, shoots the rebel dead. Too late though, the helicopter is consumed in a fireball. Looks like our heroes will have to walk their way out the jungle.

Artistic merit

This is a poor helicopter explosion. The producers clearly couldn’t afford to actually blow a helicopter up, or even a realistic looking prop. Instead they set off some explosives which are clearly in front of the chopper.

When the smoke clears we can make out the tail end of a helicopter next to a burning fire. Quite where the rest of the helicopter has gone I don’t know. Maybe it evaporated?

Exploding helicopter innovation

Despite blowing up trains, bridges, laboratories, cars and trucks director Anthonio Margeriti never really expends any effort on blowing up helicopters in creative ways. It’s almost like he doesn’t think they’re worth the effort. How wrong can a man be?

Positives

There’s some good helicopter action at the end of the movie when Collins fixes a flame thrower on the runners of a requisitioned chopper. He then flies around the enemy’s jungle lair turning many of the villains to toast.

There’s also a good helicopter scene where Collins and the surviving members of his team are pinned down in a hanger with the helicopter they need to escape.

Kinski decides to use an old lorry to smash his way into the hanger driving it at doors to the building. Collins, knowing that the only chance of escape past the soldier outside will be to make a rapid exit from hanger, plants a box of grenades by the hanger doors.

With the helicopter revved up and ready to go he explodes the grenades destroying the doors to the hanger and allowing them to swoop out of the hanger just before the lorry smashes into the hanger and where the chopper was sat only moments before. It’s nice to see a bit of imagination used here.

Negatives

The scene where the helicopter’s fuel tanks are bust open with the butt of a rifle were a surprise. I can’t say if this is accurate or not, but it’s hard to believe that any chopper’s fuselage is made out of metal as flimsy as baking foil.

And if Lewis Collins is supposed to be the bad ass mercenary that he is, would he really pin his entire escape plan on a helicopter that could be taken out with blowpipe?

Favourite quote

“Are you ok?”
“We’re only screaming to scare them.”

Interesting fact

The film co-stars Ernest Borgnine, an exploding helicopter legend for this work in the TV series Airwolf. Borgnine was 67 when he made this. Unbelievably, he is still a working actor today at the grand old age of 94, appearing last year in the film RED.

Review by: Jafo

Still want more? Then read the review of the film by our buddies DTV Connoisseur or listen to our podcast episode on the film. Listen via iTunes, Sticher, Acast, Spotify or right here.


Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Commando Leopard


Commando Leopard (1985) is the second of three action films that British tough actor Lewis Collins and exploitation legend Antonio Margheriti made together. 

Once again - the plots of these films are largely interchangeable - Collins leads a ragged band of mercenaries on a mission to kill a villain played by past-it actor looking to earn a quick paycheque (this time it’s Klaus Kinski who’s pimping out his name).

Despite regular and admittedly well-staged action scenes, the film is rather dull. It’s not helped by a storyline that fails to explain why our heroes are trying to overthrow the unidentified country’s president. 

Still, the special effects throughout are rather good. These include a spectacular airplane crash and exciting sequence when an oil refinery is blown up after a train is turned into a railway-rolling bomb. 

Anyway, at the start of the film Collins and his team fight their way into a power station with the aim of blowing it up. However, the defending troops summon reinforcements including a helicopter gunship. As the helicopter passes overhead Collins opens fire with his machine gun causing the chopper to explode.

Later in the film Kinski and his henchmen fly in choppers to shoot up a hospital, giving Collins the chance to use a grenade launcher on his rifle to take out the aircraft. 

Artistic merit

The first helicopter explosion is shown in slow motion - always a nice touch. But it’s shown from behind, so it feels like you’ve missed out on the best angle to view it.

The sequence is also edited in a very confusing way. Collins is clearly shown firing at the rear of the chopper. But after it explodes, we cut back to Collins who is now in front of the wreckage. Did he teleport at some point in proceedings?

The second chopper fireball is rather juicy especially the way the flames consume the wreckage. But it is spoilt by the sudden switch to a model helicopter which is completely different to the real one we just saw take off.

Number of exploding helicopters

Two.

Exploding helicopter innovation

Despite a good track record of regularly destroying helicopters director Antonio Margheriti has never pushed the boundaries of the genre. Once again, he fails to bring anything new to the art.

Positives

There is a hunky chunk of helicopter action for chopper fans to enjoy. A particular highlight is the raid on a village which supports the guerrillas. Choppers, with flame throwers fitted, to them fly in at night to torch the village.

Negatives

It’s a shame that the amount of love, care and attention that was put into realising the explosion of the airplane wasn’t put into the destruction of the helicopter. Director Antonio Margeriti energies were sadly misdirected on this occasion.

Interesting fact

At 15 million Swiss francs this was, at the time, the most expensive Swiss financed film ever.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Dante's Peak


When you think about it, disaster movies are rather like volcanoes. The genre lies dormant for decades before violently and unexpectedly erupting.  

The Seventies, of course, saw the most famous eruption of disaster films. But after a 10-year run of films with bloated plots and casts stuffed with past-it actors (think Earthquake or Meteor), the genre went quiet. 

More recently, efforts to revive films featuring world-ending calamity have hampered by movie-makers desire to show off the CGI wizardry they now have at their disposal. 

Neatly avoiding all these pitfalls is Dante’s Peak, which deftly combines impressive visual effects, a believable plot, and a credible cast. And while there are genre clich├ęs aplenty, the with which director Roger Donaldson keeps the film rattling along means they're never around long enough to irritate you. All told, Dante's Peak (1997) one of the most enjoyable disaster movies I’ve watched.

Pierce Brosnan plays volcanologist Harry Dalton. He’s sent to the small town of Dante’s Peak to investigate some peculiar seismic readings. Brozzer warns that the dormant volcano is about to explode and calls for the town to be evacuated. But his sceptical boss fails to heed the warning until it is too late. Just as the town are finally considering the possibility of a precautionary evacuation the volcano explodes panicking the townspeople. 

A dastardly helicopter pilot, who earlier in the film had demanded a pay bonus to rescue an injured man, offers to fly wealthy residents out the town for a nice juicy cash sum. Brosnan’s boss tries to warn the pilot of the dangers of flying with the skies filled with volcanic ash, but is ignored. 

The mercenary helicopter pilot takes off with the towns well-to-do citizens, but quickly falls prey to the predicted engine problems. Meanwhile Brosnan is desperately racing up the mountain in a truck to save the children of the town's Mayor. 

Out of nowhere the helicopter appears in front of his truck and crashes nose first into the ground before catapulting over the vehicle in a miraculous close shave. The chopper somersaults forward and crashes into a nearby building before exploding. 

Artistic merit 

The exploding helicopter neatly provides a deserved death for the treacherous pilot whilst providing Brosnan with another peril to face. The explosion is well executed but it’s just one big explosion and you can’t see any of the helicopter within it. Full marks for having the helicopter bounce over the truck. Most unexpected. 

Exploding helicopter innovation 

First known helicopter to be downed by an exploding volcano. I’ve also never seen a crashing helicopter bounce on impact with the ground. Perhaps it landed on an unseen trampoline. 

Do passengers survive? 

No. The pilot was marked for death earlier in the film when he started renegotiating his pay rates to rescue an injured man. The passengers were all rich making it acceptable for them to meet a fiery chopper death. 

Positives 

We learned that helicopter apparently can bounce on impact with the earth, opening up the prospect that’s possible to survive crashing into the ground. 

Negatives 

There’s no point surviving the crash into the ground if you finally land on a combustible building.

Favourite quote 

“Send in the chopper right now!” 

Interesting fact

Michael Douglas was originally slated to play Brosnan’s character.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Skyscraper

Have you ever wondered what Die Hard would be like if Bruce Willis had a pair massive breasts? If so, then Skyscraper (1996) is the film that you’ve been waiting. 

The impressively chested Anna Nicole Smith plays a helicopter pilot who finds herself accidentally trapped in the titular skyscraper when terrorists takeover the building in order to steak a computer chip. 

The film opens with a clandestine meeting between the CIA and a shady businessman who wants to sell the computer chip. Despite the presence of so many serious looking security agents, no-one notices the suspicious looking lorry parked nearby. Within moments a bunch of long-haired beefcakes pile out and capture the chip.

However, the gizmo they’re after is made up of four components which are scattered around Los Angeles. To steal them, the terrorists choose to fly to their various meetings using Anna Nicole Smith’s helicopter taxi service. I guess even terrorists want to avoid the notorious LA gridlock.

As she flies the helicopter, director Raymond Martino repeatedly cuts to shots of Anna Nicole Smith’s hand wrapped around the chopper’s joystick in a decidedly suggestive manner. In the *ahem* hands of Russ Meyer this would have been an amusing visual gag. Here, the execution is fatally hamstrung between smut and embarrassment at such a cheap joke.

As the villains make their way to collect the final piece, Anna rumbles their dastardly scheme. And with commendable gumption for a helicopter taxi pilot, endeavours to tackle them single-handed.

This sets up one of the most shameless Die Hard rip-offs you’ll ever encounter. The iconic rooftop plunge, and air vent crawling action all faithfully reprised. Had Smith at any point run barefoot over broken glass it’d be a shot-for-shot remake. 

Anyway, all the gunplay alerts the police who are prevented from entering the building by the skyscraper’s high-tech security system. The terrorists have also brought along an impressive supply of rocket launchers to further dissuade the police from interfering with their plans. And when a police helicopter gets too close, the terrorists solitary female - a leather vest wearing badass - takes out the chopper with one well aimed shot.

Artistic merit

A nicely realistic chopper fireball, however, the sequence lacks any kind of tension. The helicopter is purposelessly buzzing around, and never looks like it’s going to be anything other than destroyed. And no-one seems bothered when it’s shot down.

Exploding helicopter innovation

This is a shameless Die Hard rip-off. Innovation is not this film’s strong point.

Positives

Despite its obvious low budget, some of the action sequences are surprisingly well handled. The opening alley gunfight being a case in point, despite bearing uncanny parallels to Clear And Present Danger made a couple of years earlier.

Negatives

Various reviews of this film talk about a ‘hot’ shower scene with Anna Nicole Smith, however, this sequence has been cut from the edition which I saw. In fact the trailer I saw also includes clips of scenes not in the version I watched.

And whilst clearly never destined to be a classic this film could have been so much better. I can’t help but return to my earlier thought that in the hands of Russ Meyer this could have been a b-movie classic.

Want more?

Check out the review of Skyscraper by our buddies at Comeuppance Reviews.

Friday, 2 September 2011

The Commander

Lewis Collins made his name with The Professionals. Packed with car chases, fist fights and gun battles, the TV series established Collins as an actor with action man credentials. And when the programme ended in the early Eighties, he was quickly recruited as the lead for a trio of European-financed action films, including The Commander (1988).
 
Here, Collins plays Major Colby, a mercenary hired by another grizzled soldier of fortune (a near dead looking Lee Van Cleef) who’s fronting for the mob. Colby’s mission is to kill a corrupt Thai General who’s operating a profitable sideline manufacturing drugs. 

Foolishly, the General’s gone rogue and started jacking up the price of heroin much to the mafia’s displeasure. Meanwhile, a government anti-drugs agency headed by Donald Pleasance sets out to infiltrate the mission so he can recover a computer disc with information that’d allow him to bring down the drugs ring. 

Truth be told, it’s uninspired stuff. The action sequences are as exciting as a wet weekend in Margate. Pleasance, normally charismatic actor, was clearly only available for one day of filming and is only seen in a nondescript office without any other actor present. As for the computer disc subplot it’s about as interesting as reading a telephone directory. 

The Commander proved to be Collins last attempt to become the next Arnold Schwarzenegger. In fact, he barely acted again before taking up a career selling office equipment. 

Still, there are some exploding helicopters to report on. 

Early in the film General Dong, played with pantomime Ming the Merciless-style gusto, tries to convince the mafia that they should meet his demands. After meeting with the Cosa Nostra's messenger, he sends him off, supposedly with a list of new demands. 

In actual fact he’s rigged the emissary’s helicopter with a bomb, operated by the kind of remote control device you don’t see enough in movies today. And with one overly theatrical press of the thumb, the mobster is roasted into Peking duck by the chopper fireball. 

Later as Colby and his team head through the jungle to kill the General, they’re attacked by some Thai army helicopters (some suspicious looking stock footage). One of Colby’s team rustles up a rocket launcher and takes out the chopper. 

Artistic merit 

The first exploding helicopter is vintage stuff. The explosion itself is neatly handled, with a nice juicy close up of the fireball. The real joy, however, is the scene’s pointlessness. 

The dodgy General could simply have shot the mafia messenger, but instead he chooses to spectacularly blow him up, thus establishing his megalomaniac credentials. 

The second helicopter explosion though is thoroughly unsatisfying. The missile from the rocket launcher hits the chopper just as it rounds a rocky outcrop. We see a big explosion, but we don’t actually see the helicopter explode. Ever feel like you’ve been cheated? 

Number of exploding helicopters 

Two. 

Exploding helicopter innovation 

There’s no other way to put this. None. It’s too much to expect innovation in a film which is the cinematic embodiment of the phrase “routine actioner”. 

Positives 

We should salute any film which destroys helicopters for no good reason and in The Commander two are blown to pieces in rapid order. 

Negatives 

Whilst I enjoyed the old school remote control detonator, the method of both explosions is actually quite uninspired. I’m stamping “could try harder” on director Antonio Margheriti’s report card. 

Interesting fact 

In the German version of the film Lewis Collins is dubbed by another of the actors in the film, requiring in-turn for his voice to be dubbed by someone else.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Independence Day


Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum mug their way through this overblown shambles as they try to save Earth from an alien invasion. 

Director and co-writer Roland Emmerich an extravagant 13 months on physical production and just four paltry weeks on the script. The result is as you’d expect: laughable dialogue, cardboard stereotypes, and a plot that’s sacrificed for special effects overload. 

Top it all off with a cheesy ending and a tone of cloying sentimentality and you’ll be praying for aliens to invade you anally if it stop this assault on your intelligence. 

And yet, the film does deliver on the exploding helicopter front. No fewer than four of the bad boys are blown up in the name of "entertainment".

In a misguided attempt to welcome the alien invaders to the planet General Gray (a sleepwalking Robert Loggia) sends up a "welcome wagon" of three Sikorsky S-64s. As the helicopters approach the saucer, the spaceship fires a powerful laser blast that destroys each helicopter in with a minimum of fuss.

Later in the film, the First Lady (Mary McDonnell) flees the White House in a presidential chopper just as the aliens attack. The White House explodes (in what has become an iconic shot) and the helicopter is engulfed in the all-encompassing explosion. 

Artistic merit

This is a big budget movie so the CGI explosions look pretty realistic but lack the gritty satisfaction that only a real-life fireball can deliver. Shots of the burning debris as the helicopter wreckage plummets to the ground are a nice touch though.

Number of exploding helicopters

Four

Exploding helicopter innovation

A hattrick of helicopters being destroyed by alien laser fire is not something you see every day. Sadly, it's not as impressive as you might think.

Do passengers survive?

The three pilots in the ‘welcome wagon’ meet-and-greet team are instantly turned to toast. Amazingly the First Lady survives the mother of all explosions only to die later in the film from internal bleeding.

Positives

Emmerich might not know how to make a decent movie, but he knows how to blow things up with the aid of CGI. The White House scene which went some way to win the Best Visual Effects Oscar still looks pretty good 15 years later and the wall of flame that destroys the Presidential chopper is about as eyebrow singeing as it gets.

Negatives

How on earth does the First Lady survive the impact of an explosion equivalent to that of a nuclear bomb and the subsequent crash to emerge with a few scratches and some internal bleeding. In the real world the fireball would have bypassed the need for the President to cremate her.

Favourite quote

A news announcer warns viewers against interacting with the aliens: "Do not fire your guns at the spacecraft. You might inadvertently start an interstellar war"