Saturday 29 October 2011

The Condemned

Ten convicted murderers are put on a deserted island and forced to fight to the death in The Condemned (2007).
The contestants have been spirited out of prisons all over the world by shady millionaire Breckel (Robert Mammone). He plans to make a massive fortune by broadcasting the contest over the internet.
Amongst the recruits for the contest are the mysterious Jack Conrad (Steve Austin) and ex-SAS soldier McStarley (Vinnie Jones). They’re told that they each have 30 hours to kill all the other contestants with the last man standing earning their freedom. If they don’t comply a bomb attached to their ankles will be detonated killing them immediately.
This was nowhere near as bad as I feared, however, the film does fail on several levels. There is plenty of gritty hand-to-hand action, but many scenes are filmed with angles or camera movements which obscure what’s really happening.
The Condemned’s plot contains undoubted parallels between Battle Royale and The Running Man. Like those films The Condemned attempts a commentary on the public’s appetite for violence. But as The Condemned includes a scene, sound tracked by The Prodigy’s Firestarter, where Vinnie Jones machine guns a room of unarmed people to death you may not be surprised to learn it isn’t altogether successful.
This aspect of the plot is also really unconvincing as it relies on conflict between the members of the production crew putting the contest on. Having signed up to work on a show where 10 murderers try to kill each other it seems a bit late in the day to have a crisis of conscience?
Anyway to the film’s climax and our main point of interest in this film. Breckel attempts to evade capture from the authorities who want to shut the contest down. He rushes to a helicopter pursued by Conrad who opens fire on the chopper with a couple of machine guns.
Conrad runs out of ammunition before he’s able to do any real damage. It looks like Breckel will get away but one of his staff (who’s oddly revolted by all the killing) appears next to Conrad. She hands him one of the explosive anklets which he primes and throws into the chopper. Kaboom!
Artistic merit
It’s always good to see a villain get his final comeuppance via an exploding helicopter. Conrad’s improvised grenade doesn’t immediately explode the helicopter. It bursts into flame then pitches forward and smashes into cliff face before exploding further and plummeting down the rocky outcrop. I couldn’t detect any obvious model work or CGI. Kudos to director Scott Wiper.
Exploding helicopter innovation
First known helicopter destroyed through the use of an exploding anklet.
About the only thing to really enjoy is the performance from Vinnie Jones. He really can’t act, yet here he kind of works in a ‘so bad it‘s good‘ way. Maybe that’s because most of his scenes are with a mute Chinese bloke and another non-actor in the hulking, bullet-headed shape of Steve Austin so there‘s no danger of him being shown up.
Austin could pitch for the Yankees on the evidence of this film. Pitching the exploding anklet into the helicopter perfectly from at least 50 yards. Unerringly accurate.
Favourite quote
“Sounds like you had a hard life. Good thing it’s over.”
Interesting fact
Vinnie Jones was originally the lead in this film with Austin in his role. However, after World Wrestling Entertainment got involved in the production of the casting was switched with Austin taking the lead role.

Wednesday 26 October 2011


We're always looking to expand the canon of exploding helicopter movies, so we're particularly psyched to publish this guest review by the great Ninja Dixon aka Fred Anderson who does a top class job reporting on the outer reaches of exploitation cinema on his own site. Here's his take on cult creature feature DNA.

My relationship with Mark Dacascos is built on a love-hate concept. I hate it when he slums around in more respected borefests like Crying Freeman, or the even more terrible Brotherhood of the Wolf (yes, I think Christophe Gans is the worst living director in our time).

And I love it when he shows his true talent in masterpieces like Steve Wang's Drive and... well, that's his only masterpiece. But hell, I still dig movies like Double Dragon and I Am Omega.

Dacascos wasn't born to star in big budget movies, he's here on earth to grace the DTV-universe. Among my top ten Direct To Video-favourites is DNA (together with Dark Breed, another trashy masterwork!), the last movie directed by visual effects maestro William Mesa.

Shot in the Philippines and with Jürgen Prochnow as the baddie, it's not a movie you suspect to be a good movie. I'm very sure that the majority of viewers would hate DNA, but the few of us who understand the exploitation genre this movie has everything - except nudity.

Mark is Dr. Ash Mattley, a very ambitious young doctor who works at a hospital for the poor in some remote jungle town. He's of course brilliant and has some fantastic ideas about a medicine that would cure cancer, aids... yeah, everything under the sun.

One day Greedy Evil German Dr. Carl Wessinger (Our buddie Jürgen of course) visits him and offers to help him with finding the rare bug that is an important ingredient to produce the formula. But because he's a Greedy Evil German Doctor (Copyright Ninja Dixon 2011) he shoots Mark and takes the bug - and some monster bones - and leaves.

But Mark survives, goes on with his life until one day a woman, Claire Sommers (Robin McKee) asks him to follow her out in the jungle to see what happened to the Greedy Evil German Doctor. When they arrive at the doctor’s jungle camp they soon realise that SOMETHING HAS GONE TERRIBLY WRONG!!!

You get the idea, yeah? This is hardly a unique movie in any way. It rips-off Predator and Alien and every other action/monster film cliché in the book. It even has an annoying little boy as a stand in for Newt (from Aliens, if you remember) and an Alien-style creature who uses the ventilation shafts to get to his (or hers?) victims.

But this film differs from many of the Alien and Predator-clones out there by being creative, gory and with a lot of action and pure stupidity!

Artistic merit

DNA has probably the single most absurd helicopter crash in modern movie history. It's both hilarious in a bad way, and very charming in a retro-fascist way. Fascist because we're forced to watched something that looks extremely bad, but kind of attractive in an evil way.

Exploding helicopter innovation

The whole scene with the helicopter is 100 % innovation. Our heroes are first chased by a miniature helicopter (pretending to be a real one of course), they shoot it down and then suddenly they are chased by a stop-motion 'copter which rolls through the jungle and then explodes. It has to be seen to be believed.

Number of exploding helicopters


Another, less cool, exploding helicopter takes place earlier in the film as Dacascos tries to escape Prochnow's secret jungle base. During a gun battle between Dacascos and Prochnow's goons, fuel tanks nearby a parked chopper are hit and blow up. The explosion starts a chain reaction which sees the static whirlybird consumed in flame and explode.


William Mesa probably understood that the material he was working with was less than good, and focused on giving us a creative, bloody and fun action/monster movie which uses the jungle and the camp very well. It's very well-made and the actors seem to have fun.

Jürgen Prochnow is still the leading DTV baddie and he's excellent, and a good counterpart to the boyish Mark Dacascos. The gore is not in any massive amounts, but the stuff that we see - including the monster - are executed with perfection by the experts at K.N.B. Effects Group.


It's terribly generic. The story is a mix of everything we've seen so far in both mainstream cinema and cheap DTV from all over the world. That can be very negative for some people, but for me it's more a matter of something well-known and safe. I like it, what can I say...

Favourite quote

"You never said anything about using it as a weapon!" (said by one of the scientists after participating in creating a unstoppable human-eating monster named Balacau!)

Interesting fact

One of the local actors name is Pong Pong. I find that pretty interesting.

Want more? Then you can listen to Exploding Helicopter and Fred Anderson discuss DNA on our podcast show. You can check out the episode on Podomatic, Stitcher, YourListen, or iTunes

Sunday 23 October 2011

Cobra Mission

Cobra Mission (1986) is another of those films where a group of gung-ho Americans return to Vietnam to rescue prisoners of war. This short lived action movie sub-genre existed almost exclusively in the 1980s, and is perhaps best exemplified by Chuck Norris' Missing In Action series.

Cobra Mission, also known as Operation Nam, begins with a bunch of old Vietnam buddies kicking back at the wedding of Roger Carson’s (Christopher Connelly) daughter.

Roger and his buddies don’t care for the niceties of civilian life, preferring to swap ribald stories of nights out in Saigon. Roger’s stuck-up wife complains that their guests can hear their salty tales, prompting the gang to walk out of the wedding.

With nothing else to do, they look up their old commanding officer. They learn that he's been kicked out of the military for making waves about the existence of American POWs in Vietnam. Confronted with this shock revelation, the old comrades decide there’s only one thing to do: head immediately to Vietnam and bring the POWs home themselves. Huah!

One minute you're at a wedding, the next you're off to South Asia to lead an unsanctioned paramilitary operation against a sovereign nation. Well, the reception did look a little dull.

After sneaking into the country, the gang find the POWs with surprising ease. Bizarrely the prisoners aren't keen on being freed for reasons the plot doesn’t make clear. Nevertheless, our heroes and the POWs try to make their escape from Vietnam. However, along the way they meet heavy resistance and most of the POWs get killed off.

Finally, only one POW remains, and it looks like they’re all going to be killed when the Viet Cong finally corner them. But wait! Suddenly a US army helicopter flies into view with a high ranking Colonel onboard. He tells Roger and his buddies out he'll fly them all to safety, but only if they leave the POW. Taking him along would blow the conspiracy. Roger and his friends reluctantly board the chopper and the POW is taken off by the VC.

It’s a surprisingly downbeat ending, but it worked for me. It was nice to be thrown a curve ball by the plot when you're expecting a victorious ending for the heroes.

Anyway, to the key scene in the film. Our heroes are trying to escape with the POWs in a stolen truck when they find themselves pursued by a helicopter. They drive into an open field and circle round crazily trying to avoid the gunfire from the chopper. Finally, someone has the brain wave of firing back at the chopper with a machine gun. And the rest is exploding helicopter history.

Artistic merit

In a word: lousy. The helicopter bursts into flame then plummets straight down like an express elevator. It disappears out of shot and we hear an explosion whilst the camera cuts back to our heroes in the truck. It's enraging. Just show the bloody thing exploding properly goddamnit!

Exploding helicopter innovation

Not sure it’s innovation but the helicopter catches fire like it’s been soaked in kerosene. You’d think a military helicopter would be able to sustain a certain amount of damage without combusting like a firework.


Cobra Mission is a European financed flick and produced by exploitation hack Erwin C Dietrich. The film stars the usual hotch-potch of actors to ensure marketability in the maximum possible countries.

On board for this is the wonderfully grizzled Christoper Connelly, veteran of exploitation flicks like (1990: The Bronx Warriors). Ethan Wayne, son of John, who enjoyed a short lived acting career of the back of his dad’s name. And in the way he relishes machine-gunning the Viet Cong he really does look like a chip of the old block.

It was also good to renew acquaintances with Manfred Lehmann again, who’s a veteran of Dietrich productions. Lehmann always has a twinkle in his eye and a rangy, worldly wise charm. Definitely the kind of guy you’d want to go to war with.

And Donald Pleasance appears in a brief cameo as a French priest who happens to keep a weapons arsenal in the crypt of his church.


The early part of the film might be too slow for some people’s tastes. However, the exposition is hilarious with clichéd plot points delivered with such gusto and conviction that I’m inclined to be forgiving.

Favourite quote

“Forget about it man, it’s Vietnam.”

Interesting fact

Manfred Lehmann is better known to German audiences as the voice artist for Bruce Willis and Dolph Lundgren.

Friday 14 October 2011

Die Another Day

Pierce Brosnan always wanted us to believe that he was the heir to Sean Connery’s Bond. But after Die Another Day we discovered he was a lot closer to Roger Moore than he may ever have cared to admit. 

Like one of Roge’s latter appearances in the role, the film is full of implausible gadgets and a relentless stream of sexual innuendo, that made the ageing Brosnan resemble an inappropriately flirtatious uncle at a wedding. 

The other major problem with Die Another Day is the action set pieces. They’re as grand we’ve come to expect from the series, however, there’s never a sense of jeopardy. Whenever Brosnan’s in trouble there always a clever gadget to hand (invisible car? Puh lease!) and he can sail suavely on his way. It all feels a little too easy.  

This issue was brought into sharper focus by the release of another espionage-flavoured action film a few months earlier. The Bourne Identity offered a darker, more serious hero, who was reliant only on himself.  

Brosnan and the Bond producers had discussed doing a further film after Die Another Day. But the disappointing box office and critical reception nixed that, and the franchise went into mothballs. Bond, it seemed, had lost his licence to thrill. 

Exploding helicopter action

Still, the film isn’t without any merit, especially if you’re into exploding helicopters. Bond impersonates a arms dealer in order to assassinate a North Korean Colonel. However, after 007’s true identity is discovered, the Colonel decides to reveal his hand in flamboyant fashion.  

Taking a tank buster gun, supposedly to demonstrate it to Bond’s, he fires a depleted uranium shell at Bond’s helicopter blowing it to smithereens. Bond it seems, will need to walk home. 

Artistic merit 

Director Lee Tamahori earns points for showing the helicopter explode from a number of different angles. However, irritatingly the viewer is deprived of the full exploding helicopter experience by cutting to reaction shots from Bond and the Colonel's staff. 

Exploding helicopter innovation 

Whilst we’ve seen helicopters taken out by grenade launchers before, but this is the first known destruction of a helicopter with a depleted uranium shell. 


There is other pleasing helicopter sequences in the film. During the film’s finale Bond and Jinx (Halle Berry) escape the fatally damaged transport plane they’re aboard. 

They fall out the back of the airplane in a helicopter which Bond desperately tries to start whilst plummeting to the ground. In classic nick-of-time style, Bond is able to start the rotor blades and prevent the chopper becoming a helicopter pancake. 


Little demonstrates better that the fact the Bond franchise had lost its way than the scene where Bond’s return to the UK is soundtracked by London Calling by The Clash. 

This clunking lack of imagination is evident throughout the film. Did any thought go into naming one of the henchmen “Mr Kill”? 

Interesting fact 

Even Roger Moore, a man who made no apology for Moonraker, thought Die Another Day was rubbish.  

Sunday 9 October 2011

The World Is Not Enough

After GoldenEye’s successful critical and commercial reboot of the James Bond franchise, it didn’t take long for the rot to set in.

The World Is Not Enough was only Pierce Brosnan’s third outing. However, bad traits from the fag end of the Roger Moore era had not just crept back in, but almost taken over.

Embarrassingly crude double-entendres, ham-fisted comedy, and an over reliance on preposterous gadgets litter the film like the wreckage of previous 007 entries.

Evidence that the franchise was now stuck in a redundant arms race with itself can be seen in the film‘s opening scene. It is the longest pre-title sequence in the series history. The need to ‘better’ the previous instalment cripples all the subsequent Brosnan Bonds.

We’re then whisked from location to location each merely serving as opportunities for more thrill-less action sequences which seem like a greatest hits collection of Bond films of yore.

We have a ski pursuit, submarine exploits, bomb defusing, and an action set piece in a mine. In between we have Brosnan’s gratuitous sex gags and truly dismal comedy involving Q (Desmond Llewellyn) and R (John Cleese).

The plot, such as it is, involves attempts to control the world’s oil supply via, the preferred method of Bond villains, the usual theft of nuclear weapons.

Bond heads to a caviar canning factory to pursue a lead on villain Elektra King’s (Sophie Marceau) plans. However, she’s tipped off about his presence and sends in two helicopters from her mining operation to dispose of Bond.

The choppers are equipped with giant rotating blades which hang from the bottom of the aircraft and cut through the buildings where Bond’s conducting his interrogation.

After a bit of dashing about Bond uses a remote control to drive his car to where he’s temporarily holed up. He get’s inside and activates the onboard missile system, targets the first of the helicopters and then takes it out with a missile.

The helicopter blows up and plummets vertically to the ground, crashing into some oil drums which create a further explosion.

Whilst Bond’s admiring his handiwork the second helicopter comes in and chops his car in half. After some further dashing about Bond opens a gas pipe which shoots a plume of highly flammable vapour into the air. Using a handy flare gun he ignites the gas which causes the second helicopter, which is conveniently hovering above it, to explode.

The explosion sends the cutting wheels shooting off in different directions like lethal throwing stars.

Artistic merit

Underwhelming. There’s an absence of danger to this - and many other -scenes in this film. The destruction of the first helicopter using Bond’s onboard missile system is all too easy. It almost feels like he’s cheating.

The destruction of the second helicopter requires some improvisation from Bond, but it feels like exploding helicopters by numbers. For me the trouble is that Brosnan remains miraculous groomed throughout the entire scene.

His tailored suit unwrinkled by all the tripping, falling and running he has to do to stay alive. His tie remains perfectly knotted at his collar, indeed once the danger has passed Brosnan makes a point of only then loosening it.

But this is really a glib way of making a serious point. If you don’t believe that Bond can be hurt or feel pain it’s hard to really engage in a scene where he is supposedly in peril.

Like a eunuch the sequence has been castrated, robbed of any vitality or virility.

Exploding helicopter innovation

It’s not the first time that James Bond has destroyed a helicopter using a missile fired from his car. Roger Moore took one out in The Spy Who Loved Me from his submerged Lotus.

Number of exploding helicopters



The rotating cutting tools which dangle from the choppers are quite cool. But they require the helicopters to fly around so ponderously that frankly I’d fancied my chances of avoiding death by their spinning cogs of steel.


Bond films in recent years have turned into extended adverts for luxury brands with prominent product placement in the films. Sadly the exploding helicopter scene in this film is besmirched with this tawdry salesmanship.

The targeting system for Bond’s car mounted rockets is at the centre of his steering wheel and integrated within the logo of a certain well known manufacturer of German cars. We don’t like to see the art of exploding helicopters in films being reduced to a way to sell cars.

There are also some truly shocking efforts at Russian accents in this film. Robbie Coltrane’s (Valentin Zukovsky) broad pantomime accent is the best of the bunch. However, Robert Carlyle’s (Renard) accent appears to be from that little known Russian province called Glasgow and as for Goldie’s (Bullion) it’s hard to know what he’s attempting as he mangles his lines.

Interesting fact

Apparently Joe Dante (Gremlins, Innerspace) was considered as a possible director for the film. Hey, I can’t understand or believe it myself, but I read it on the internet so it must be true.

Review: by Jafo

Still want more? Then check out the Exploding Helicopter podcast episode on The World Is Not Enough. Listen to it on iTunes, Podomatic, YourListen, Stitcher, or Acast.

Friday 7 October 2011

Tomorrow Never Dies

A James Bond film is much like a Christmas pudding. It contains a combination of ingredients that you just don't get elsewhere. Someone will always try to take over the world. A series of zany gadgets will be deployed in exotic locations. Impossibly beautiful women will fawn over 007, and there's always a strong possibility a helicopter may explode.

And, much like a Christmas pudding, you only ever get it once a year. 

Those ingredients are mixed-up and served to us again in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) - Pierce Brosnan’s second Bond outing after the hugely successful GoldenEye. Tantalisingly, the film opens with in an arms bazaar in mountains bordering Russia.

I say tantalising because the impressive array of military aircraft on display suggests that the viewer might be about to witness one of the earliest helicopter explosions in celluloid history.

Alas, it's not to be. Whilst a helicopter lurks enticingly in view, we never get to see it explode - even when the entire mountain top is vaporised whilst Bond escapes in a fighter plane.

This begins a convoluted plot in which a media baron attempts to to boost his fortune by secretly triggering World War III. It's curious plan at best. Especially as Jonathan Pryce’s Elliot Carver seems not to have considered the fact that survivors of a nuclear holocaust are unlikely to see reading a newspaper as much of a priority. No matter, this is Bond after all, so plots as thin as a sheet of newspaper are good enough to carry the film.

So, to the exploding helicopter action. This occurs after Bond teams up with Chinese agent Wai Lin, played by Michelle Yeoh. After escaping Carver's clutches, the pair jump off a skyscraper in central Saigon (this is Bond after all) and race through the city on a motorbike hotly pursued by some anonymous henchmen.

Eventually, they find themselves stuck on a busy street. The chasing chopper pitches forward, using its rotor blades to clear the street and rip through a couple of hundreds of market stalls like some kind of aerial garden strimmer. (It’s unclear why one of the henchmen doesn’t just lean out with his machine gun but as the director didn't trouble himself with this detail we won't either).

Cornered in a dead end street, Brosnan improvises boldly - throwing a washing line into the chopper's tail rotor.

Our heroes take cover while the helicopter very slowly hits a a corrugated iron shack before immediately combusting as if coated in dynamite. We then cut to Brosnan casually taking a post-explosion shower with Yeoh. Well, at least she’s roughly his age.

Artistic merit

After such an elaborate build up, including a stunt in which Yeoh climbs over Brosnan on a moving motorbike, the pay-off is quite disappointing. The chopper seems to explode at the slightest of touches, although the fireball is satisfyingly expensive looking.

Worst of all though, are the clearly visible crash test dummies sitting in the chopper as it goes up. You would think the budget could stretch to some models that don’t have hinges showing.

Exploding helicopter innovation

None at all. It feels as if a day’s shooting needed to be completed so rather than inject a tailspin or a prolonged and dramatic tumble from the air, the chopper just gently pokes a paper house with its nose. It’s all over in about three seconds.

Number of exploding helicopters



The director should at least be applauded for injecting a helicopter into a chase scene in downtown Saigon, when an automobile would easily have sufficed. And I can’t think of many other films where a helicopter has met it’s demise with a piece of washing line.


You have to wonder what seasoned thesp Jonathan Pryce was thinking when he took this role. Perhaps he thought “It hasn’t done Dame Judi Dench any harm has it?”. But then she’s never been asked to wear a despot chic Nehru collar suit whilst trying to take over the world with a small, wireless keyboard.

Interesting fact

Teri Hatcher was three months pregnant when she played Bond’s other love interest, Paris Carver. Are there no depths to which he will not stoop?

Review by: Jindy

Saturday 1 October 2011

Courage Under Fire

I once read Robert McKee’s Story, all about the structure and storytelling devices filmmakers typically use. I can’t remember much about it now, but I suspect Courage Under Fire (1996) is using every trick in the book. It’s one of those perfectly plotted films where everything just falls too neatly together.

So here we have Denzil Washington playing an army colonel who's been sidelined after a ‘friendly-fire’ incident where he accidentally killed his own soldiers. Safely away from the frontline, his new desk job is to investigate soldiers eligibility for medals.

In this role, Washington is asked to look at the case of a Gulf War helicopter pilot (Meg Ryan) who’s been nominated for the medal of honor. However, as Denzel digs into the circumstances, the seemingly open and shut story of heroism starts to unravel. It transpires that Meg Ryan may actually have been killed by ‘friendly-fire’. Oh, the poetic irony.

With the major story elements established, you don't need to be Nostradamus to know that exposing the truth about Meg Ryan's death will require Washington to reckon with his own guilt-wracked past. 

Naturally, by the end of the film all the plot strands have been neatly tied in a pretty bow. Big Denzel apologises to the parents of the soldier he killed, reconciles with his family, while Meg Ryan’s daughter gets to collect her mother’s posthumous medal of honor in teary finale. Yuk.

But enough of this sentimental swill, what of the exploding helicopter action? Well, this occurs during a flashback to circumstances of Meg Ryan’s death. 

We pick the action up with Meg Ryan's pilot flying a team of medics to rescue the survivors another downed helicopter. The ground troops are pinned down by the wreckage of their chopper by advancing Iraqi soldiers. The troops are supported by a tank who pops off a shell which hit’s the already wrecked chopper causing it to explode.


Director Ed Zwick should get kudos for a clever little double bluff here. You think you’ve missed your chance of an exploding helicopter, but actually he’s thrown you a fake and blows the wreckage up in emphatic fashion. Nice.

Exploding helicopter innovation

Blowing up an already blown-up helicopter. I guess it makes retakes easier.

Do passengers survive?

Yes. They already out of the helicopter when it blows up.


Lou Diamond Phillips has a meaty supporting role in the film. It’s always nice to see him on screen. Young Guns seemed like an important film when I was younger. I’ve obviously revised my opinion since then.


Scott Glenn plays a reporter investigating the cover-up of Denzil Washington’s ‘friendly-fire’ incident. He’s an immediately compelling screen presence with his lean, rangey, and craggy features. Sadly, he’s barely given anything to do here. A waste.

Interesting fact

Apparently Matt Damon lost 40 pounds to play the role of one of the medics who survives the chopper crash. I’m not sure why he bothered. It’s hardly a key plot point. More fool him.

Review by Jafo

Still want more? Then check out the Exploding Helicopter podcast episode on Courage Under Fire. Download it on iTunes, Podomatic, YourListen, Stitcher, and Acast. Or listen right here.