Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Iron Eagle IV

Where does it go wrong for actors? In 1982 Lou Gossett Jr starred in the hit movie An Officer and a Gentlemen. Lou won an Oscar for best supporting actor.

After a career spent mainly in TV this should have been his launching pad to better work. Unfortunately he chose to make Jaws 3D and a couple of TV movies.

By 1986 his unerring ability to involve himself in middling films took him to Iron Eagle. A ridiculous but likeable film about a teenager who recruits air force colonel Gossett to steal some fighter planes so they can rescue his father who’s been shot down in the middle east.

As if this project wasn’t bad enough, the film somehow spawned three sequels. Gossett, ever the glutton for punishment signed up for the lot, including Iron Eagle IV.

The plot for this one 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. The teenagers must come-of-age whilst foiling the conspiracy.

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. There’s repeated edits so we get to see the same explosion from a couple of different angles. However, the helicopter stays largely intact. Would’ve been nice to see it properly blown apart.

Exploding helicopter innovation

Director Sidney J Furie doesn’t advance the genre. 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 Westpoint?

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 I do for this website. Having slogged my way through the other two films in this loose trilogy the completist in me 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, which eventually surfaced in in 1985. It is in fact the first of three action films, all starring Lewis Collins and directed by Antonio Margheriti, knocked out in rapid order in the mid 80s.

The previously reviewed Commando Leopard (1985) and The Commander (1988) complete the triptych. And if the plot of Codename: Wild Geese sounds familiar, it’s because it’s almost identical to the plot The Commander.

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.

Collins is offered the job of destroying an opium factory deep in the Thai jungle by Fletcher, a DEA agent played by Ernest Borgnine. Financing the mission is a Hong Kong business man. Klaus Kinski plays his shadowy right hand man Charlton. Kinski is dubbed in this movie with a hilariously upper crust British accent.

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. There could have been a cool scene here. Instead it’s handled with all the tension and drama of a damp sock slowly drying on a radiator.

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

They pinch the chopper and fly on the laboratories and processing plant where the corrupt general is producing the opium. 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 uses the butt of his rifle smashes through the exterior of the helicopter into the 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. 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 prop made to look like one. 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 Anthony 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.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Commando Leopard

Commando Leopard (1985) is the second of three European financed action films starring Lewis Collins.

They were all financed by producer Edwin C Dietrich and directed by Antonio Margheriti, here under the pseudonym Anthony M. Dawson.

The plot’s are largely inter-changable with Collins leading a ragged band of soldiers on a mission against a semi-famous actor brought in to boost the marketability of the film, this time Klaus Kinski.

Collins plays Carrasco who’s leading a guerrilla campaign against the leader of an unidentified South American country. I assumed I’d find out why the guerrillas were fighting and what was so bad about the country’s dictator, however, we’re never offered an explanation.

If anything the dictator is a sympathetic character. He seems tired with dealing with the guerrilla war, and having his military adviser Klaus Kinski (underused throughout) constantly cluttering up his palatial residence.

Despite the regular and well staged action scenes the film is rather dull. It’s hampered by a turgid script and a thoroughly uninteresting storyline about a priest who runs a hospitals.

There’s a also a prison break where a couple of the mercenaries escape, simply it appears, by letting themselves out the jail. You’re left wondering why they didn’t do that earlier.

Despite the questionable pedigree of the film the special affects throughout are good. Apparently half the films budget was spent on the model work which was used to render the large scale action scenes. These include a spectacular airplane crash and the demolition of an oil refinery when a train is turned into a rolling bomb.

Anyway, at the start of the film Collins and his team fight there 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 over head Collins opens fire with his machine gun causing the chopper to explode.

Later in the film Kinski and his henchmen fly in aboard choppers to shoot up the missionary hospital. When Collins arrives with his troops Kinski and his men head back to the choppers. Kinski escapes, but his companions aboard the other chopper aren’t so lucky as Collins uses the grenade launcher on his rifle to take out the chopper.




Artistic merit

The 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.

They way sequence is shot is also very confusing. Collins is clearly shown firing at the rear of the chopper. After it explodes we cut back to Collins with the wreckage of the helicopter directly in front of him. Did he teleport at some point in proceedings?

The second chopper fireball is again juicy and plush as flames consume the wreckage, but 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

2.

Exploding helicopter innovation

Despite a good track record of regularly destroying helicopters director Anthony 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 Anthony Margeriti energies were sadly misdirected on this occasion.

Favourite quote

The dialogue in this film is uniformly awful, full of clunky corkers like:
“Maria, in any other situation this would be a political crime I agree. But in this case it could bring on the collapse of the regime and ultimate victory for us.”

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

Maybe somebody can prove me wrong, but rather like a volcano the disaster movie genre lay largely dormant between its 1970s heyday and it’s revival in the noughties.

Those 1970s efforts were blighted by bloated plots and casts of past-it actors, think Earthquake or Meteor. Recent efforts bloated by the desire show off the CGI wizardry by putting the characters in situations so ridiculous as to evaporate all dramatic tension, think 2012.

Neatly avoiding these two pitfalls is Dante’s Peak, which strikes a fine balance between impressive visual effects and a believable plot. And while there are genre clich├ęs aplenty, the consummate skill with which director Roger Donaldson keeps the film rattling along mean they're never dragged out long enough to irritate you. All told, it’s 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. Brosnan 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

Imagine Die Hard but with Anna Nicole Smith in the Bruce Willis role. Yes, that is the unlikely premise of Skyscraper (1996) a film whose sole creative act is to shamelessly ape its infinitely superior parent.

Nicole Smith plays a helicopter pilot who finds herself accidentally trapped in a skyscraper when terrorists seize the building to seize a computer chip which will allow them to rule the world.

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 aviator wearing CIA security men, no-one notices the suspicious looking lorry parking up nearby. A bunch of long-haired beefcake terrorists pile out of it and shoot-up the rendezvous in order to capture the chip.

However, the computer chip they’re after is comprised of four pieces which are conveniently scattered around Los Angeles. With a busy morning of appointments ahead of 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 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.

The long-haired beefcakes, attempting some kind of unidentifiable pan-European accent, takeover a skyscraper in pursuit of the last piece. By now Anna has rumbled their dastardly scheme and, with commendable gumption for a helicopter taxi pilot, endeavours to tackle them single-handed.

Along the way the rooftop plunge from Die Hard is reprised along with some air vent crawling action. The parallels between the two films keep stacking up although they stop short of having Anna Nicole Smith run barefoot over broken glass.

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 to close to the skyscraper the terrorists teams solitary female - a leather vest wearing badass - takes out the chopper with one well aimed shot.



Artistic merit

The helicopter explosion itself is done well enough, a nicely realistic chopper fireball, however, the sequence lacks any kind of tension. The helicopter is purposelessly buzzing around, and never looks like its 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 it’s 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.

Friday, 2 September 2011

The Commander

Lewis Collins was one of the stars of the TV series The Professionals which was made between 1977 and 1981.

The series established Collins’ action man credentials allowing him to enjoy a brief film career before audiences finally realised he couldn’t act for toffee.

His handful of silver screen appearances included Who Dares Wins, a genuine so-bad-its-good exploitation flick cranked out in rapid order after the SAS stormed the Iranian embassy in 1980.

Collins then went on to star in three low quality European financed action films of which The Commander is the last. Here he plays Major Colby a mercenary hired by Colonel Mazzarini (a near dead looking Lee Van Cleef) an arms dealer fronting for the mob.

Colby’s mission is to kill a corrupt Thai General who’s operating a profitable sideline as drug lord. Unfortunately, he’s gone a bit power mad and started jacking up the price the heroin much to the mafia’s displeasure.

Meanwhile a Government anti-drugs agency headed by Donald Pleasance sets out to infiltrate the mission in order to recover a computer disc with information that’d allow him to bring down the drugs ring.

Pleasance films nearly all his scenes in a non-descript office pretending to unconvincingly smoke a cigar. He seems a bit grumpy, probably because Van Cleef got to film all his scenes with the glorious Amalfi coast as a backdrop.

Colby teams up with a rag tag array of other mercenaries - a series of poorly defined characters - and heads into the jungle. A series of unimaginatively staged action sequences occur before finally Colby arrives at the drugs lord’s base.

Colby and his team blow the hell out of the drugs lord base before resolving the utterly uninteresting computer disc subplot.

Early in the film General Dong, played with pantomime Ming the Merciless gusto, decides to convince the mafia that they should pay by killing their messenger.

He sends him off, purportedly with a list of his new demands, but he’s rigged the emissary’s helicopter with a bomb, operated by the kind of remote control switch you just don’t see enough of 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 General Dong, 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 which fills the screen.

However, the real joy is in this scene’s pointlessness. While General Dong could have simply shot the mafia messenger he chooses instead to establish his megalomaniac credentials by blowing him up once he’s back on his helicopter. Brilliant.

The second helicopter explosion though is altogether more unsatisfying. The missile from the rocket launcher hit’s 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”.

Relevance to plot

The first exploding helicopter is wonderfully irrelevant and unnecessary. The second is unnecessary and has a uninspired, box ticking exercise, feel about it.

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

Captain Hiller (Will Smith) and David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) mug their way through this overblown shambles as they try and protect Earth from the worst scum of the universe when aliens invade in giant spacecraft and lay waste to America's major cities. Goldblum manages to save the day using his Bluetooth to install a virus on the mother ship in a plot so hackneyed you would think it was written by a 6 year old.

Bill Pullman deserves special mention as the least convincing American President in cinematic history. He demonstrates all the leadership qualities of a boiled egg.

Director and co-writer Roland Emmerich spent a miniscule four weeks on the script and 13 months on physical production and the results are as expected. The film is the cinematic equivalent of all-you-can-eat buffet with lots on offer but little of any quality or substance.

In fact he deserves an Oscar for managing to distil everything that is bad about big-budget blockbusters into one film: Laughable dialogue, cardboard stereotypes, plot sacrificed for effects overload, cheesy endings and cloying sentimentality.

Top it off with Will Smith in full wise-cracking Fresh Prince mode and you will be praying for aliens to invade you anally if only to stop this assault on your intelligence. The things I do for this blog.

However, the film does deliver on the exploding helicopter front. No fewer then 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 (Robert Loggia sleepwalking through his performance) sends up a "Welcome Wagon" of three Sikorsky S-64's fitted with a bizarre panel of flashing lights to try an communicate to the huge spaceship suspended over Washington, through the medium of disco. As the helicopters approach the saucer it opens up a crack and shoots out a powerful laser blast that destroys each helicopter in quick succession with a minimum of fuss.

Later in the film the First Lady (Mary McDonnell) flees the Whitehouse in a presidential chopper just as the aliens attack. In the iconic shot of the Whitehouse being blown to smithereens her helicopter is utterly engulfed in the all-encompassing explosion that quickly consumes it in an enormous wall of flame.



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

4

Exploding helicopter innovation

A hatrick of helicopters being destroyed by alien laser fire is not something you see everyday. 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 Whitehouse 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

News announcer warns viewers against interacting with the aliens

"Do not fire your guns at the spacecraft. You might inadvertently start an interstellar war"

Interesting fact

Interesting is not a adjective I would use about this film.