Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Spy Who Loved Me

When Sir Roger George Moore departs this mortal coil, a statue should be erected in his honour. The bronze edifice should be clad in a flared safari suit and depict a man standing, hand on one hip, right eyebrow raised with an epitaph reading ‘From the sublime to the ridiculous’. And no film in Moore's career as Bond embodies this more than The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).

I’d long thought that Die Another Day was the most ludicrous Bond outing in living memory. A film where invisible cars, a solar satellite, and villains with interchangeable faces are mangled together with a plot involving North Korea invading the South.

Then I watched The Spy Who Loved Me again. A film where a super-villain named Stromberg plots to destroy world before going to live at the bottom of the ocean. Disaster is only averted when Bond foils the scheme through clever use of an underwater car and hanky-panky with a Russian spy. Preposterous barely covers it.

TSWLM does have its moments though. The opening scene, where 007 skis down a mountain pursued by Russian spies, is vintage Bond, and brilliant cinema for any genre. There’s scant use of gadgets, other than a ski-pole-cum-rifle, a stunning location and some excellent action choreography – the camera work for the henchman ‘point of view’ shots are really worth seeing.

It all ends with the legendary stunt where Bond skis off the edge of a cliff, seemingly to plummet to his death until a parachute unfolds. (I’m not sure what the seventies disco soundtrack adds but never mind.)

The problem with TSWLM though, is foreshadowed in how this opening scene is bookended. It’s preceded by Bond relaxing in a chalet with a beautiful woman who he's kissing in that peculiar wiggly-headed way that only Roger Moore can. Suddenly he receives an urgent message on his watch which seems to double as a label printer. He then slips into a day-glo yellow ski-suit with a bright red backpack, that looks as if it’s been designed by Bob the Builder.

It’s all forgotten during the thrilling alpine chase, but lapses into comedy again when Bond’s parachute opens into a giant Union Jack. Now I’m no espionage expert and I’m willing to give Bond some leeway, but what international spy would carry a giant flag of his home nation in his backpack? Sure, it’s supposed to be an amusing aside, so why not have a subtle reference to Q branch or a bow-tie motif?

This typifies Moore-era Bond. The little in-jokes aren’t really little in-jokes. They’re just cheesy gags that give the films the feel of a bawdy British sex comedy, leaving you wondering whether Robin Askwith is going to suddenly appear in a comprising position with a suburban housewife.

The plot, typically for Bond films of that era, has more holes than a colander. Bond teams up with Major Anya Asamova, a beautiful Russian spy codenamed Triple X (sigh).

Intriguingly, we discover that Bond murdered Anya’s lover. Enraged she immediately promises to kill Shagger Roge after their mission is over. But this interesting premise is frittered away when she promptly falls for him and enjoys a bit of ‘Confessions of a Soviet Spy’.

One of the highlights though is a unique and well delivered rotor based combustion. Stromberg invites Bond and Asamova to his underwater lair, with Bond posing as a marine biologist. After Stromberg reveals his master plan he naturally allows Bond to leave before ordering his henchmen to kill them.

What follows is classic Moore Bond. He and Anya jump into a Lotus Esprit, and are immediately pursued by a motorbike with a detachable exploding sidecar, Jaws and the other henchmen give chase in what looks like a black Ford Cortina, as does a shiny chopper piloted by Bond girl, Caroline Munro (Mmmm).

At one point, she flies alongside Bond’s Lotus which gives Moore the opportunity to do his classic ‘double-take, eyebrow raise and smile’ manoeuvre (see our review of Tomorrow Never Dies). Suddenly Bond and Anya run out of road so Bond drives straight off a jetty into the sea whilst asking “Can you swim?”. At this point, the Lotus Esprit turns into a mini-submarine. See what I mean?



TSWLM scores well here, I must say. With the delicious Munro hovering above the sea in a low-cut dress looking for the Lotus Esprit, Moore decides it’s “time to get rid of an uninvited guest”, in that distinctive voice that sounds like his vocal cords have been soaked in honey and cognac.

He calls up his targeting system, and hey presto, a rocket fires out of the underwater Lotus, emerges from the sea, and turns poor old Munro into a fireball.

Artistic merit

The explosion is meaty and the director resists the temptation to have the chopper turn into a million pieces. Instead, there’s a decent fireball, and lots of smoke before it disappears from view. Perhaps they needed to re-use it. Or perhaps it would have been too traumatic to see the lovely Munro’s charred corpse plunge into the sea.

Exploding helicopter innovation 

Well, destroyed by an underwater car. What more can I say?

No. of exploding helicopters

Two.

Earlier in the film Stromberg establishes his megalomaniac credentials by feeding an irksome bimbo to a shark via a trapdoor fitted into a lift. The bimbo's demise is witnessed by two businessmen who become understandably nervous when Stromberg tells them they're free to leave - by the lift.

Despite their reservations the businessmen survive their trip in the lift. They board their helicopter to fly away only Stromberg's planted an explosive in there which destroys the chopper. It all seems unnecessarily elaborate. But then again I guess you don't want to over feed a shark.

Positives

The sequence leading up to the chopper fireball is a classic action set-piece. The combination of rocket sidecar, Jaws in a Cortina and Munro in a chopper is excellent entertainment. Bravo. I’d also add at this point, although it bears no relation to the scene, that ‘Nobody Does It Better’ is surely one of the best Bond themes of all time. No?

Negatives

The tired Moore puns - when the motorcyclist crashes through a lorry of exploding chickens and off a cliff, Moore remarks “All those feathers, and he still can’t fly”. It would also have been nice to see more of Munro. Maybe she’s done a saucy romp flick with Robin Askwith? (Just checked Google. She hasn’t.)

Interesting fact

There’s plenty in this one. Firstly, TSWLM is the only Bond film to show female nipple, when Agent ‘Triple X’ takes a shower. Secondly, this is the film that Alan Partridge neurotically improvises when his Bond VHS tapes are destroyed by some rogue orange juice.

Thirdly, this is the first appearance of Jaws, the memorable and mute assassin. Lastly, the end credits state that ‘For Your Eyes Only’ will be the next Bond film. This was later hastily changed and ‘Moonraker’ was rushed out to capitalise on the ‘Star Wars’ effect of the time. Oh dear.

Review by: Jindy

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Monday, 28 November 2011

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

I really wasn’t expecting a lot from Hellboy II (2008). I hadn‘t seen the first film, and I‘ve seen too many poor films based on comic books to have much faith in this. I could easily have not bothered to watch this.

But I love it when a film takes you by surprise. And Hellboy II snuck up behind me and stuck an ice cube down the back of my shirt. This is a really good film.

Ron Perlman returns as denizen of hell who works secretly for the US government. His team of paranormal investigators are called in after Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) - who lives in a parallel unseen world - attempts to reclaim all the pieces to a crown which will allow him to command an invincible army. Nuada’s ultimate aim being to reclaim the world from humans. Can Hellboy stop him?

This is an immensely likeable film. Ron Perlman is excellent as Hellboy vividly drawing him as impulsive and impetuous with a nice sideline in grouchy humour. A decidedly un-heroic hero.

Guillermo Del Toro has a wonderful gift for creating imaginary worlds and rendering them on screen. And there’s plenty of his artistic hallmarks on screen where mechanical objects can become organic, living, breathing things.

While it is has a great blend of imaginative fancy, humour and action, it does still have flaws. The script can find no useful role for Hellboy’s colleagues in the Paranormal Investigations unit. Selma Blair as Liz Sherman has absolutely nothing to do in the film as does Doug Jones as Abe Sapien.

Indeed Sherman’s pregnancy subplot seems like a desperate attempt to give Blair some reason for being in the film. It adds nothing, goes nowhere, and all told is a complete irrelevance.

But this is to nit pick. Colourful and imaginative, entertaining throughout, Hellboy II is a film which wears its many qualities lightly.

So we come to the most important aspect of the film, the helicopter explosion. Our heroes track down Prince Nuada, who unleashes a forest demon, which looks a gigantic, stick of celery with tentacles. Alerted to the havoc being wrought on the streets a news crew in a helicopter fly past. The forest demon picks up a car and hurls it at the chopper which unsurprisingly bursts into flame.

Artistic merit

Having rightly lauded Del Toro for the creativity and imagination he’s realised this film, I have to say he didn’t bother too much with this sequence.

The explosion is disappointingly brief. There’s no falling wreckage, no rotor blades sheering off, just a fireball which fills the screen and a cut back to events on street level. Come on man! You’ve created how world’s couldn’t you have expended just a little bit energy on this chopper fireball?

Exploding helicopter innovation

First known helicopter destroyed by a giant piece of celery.

It should be noted that this is not the first helicopter to be destroyed by the use of a car as a projectile missile. Die Hard 4.0 demonstrated just how such a sequence should be done.

Interesting fact

Hellboy II stars a barely recognisable Luke Goss as Prince Nuada. Goss was an 80s pop star in the group Bros before turning his hand to acting. For a short time they were massive - in the UK at least - single handedly starting a craze where people wore Grolsch bottle tops on their shoes. Bizarre.

Before this film Goss had worked with both Perlman and Del Toro before on Blade II.

Review by: Jafo

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Godzilla

Whose idea was it to make Godzilla pregnant? Godzilla is a lean, mean, building stomping machine. Godzilla is not a lactating parent with post natal depression. It’s the most ridiculous pregnancy plot since Arnold Schwarzenegger gave birth in Junior.

Despite being around for awhile I’ve never watched Godzilla (1998) before. It’s not a film with a good reputation. In fact I tried to offload this review on to one of Exploding Helicopter’s other scribes. Unfortunately, he told me that while happy to review a film with an exploding helicopter, he wasn’t prepared to review ANY film with an exploding helicopter. So sadly the task fell to me.

I can confirm all the charges levelled at this blockbuster are justified. Matthew Broaderick doesn’t convince as the scientist. Why would a guy who studies worms for living repeatedly risk his life to save New York?

The romantic sub plot with Maria Pitillo was bad enough without being saddled with her dreadful performance.  And at 2hrs 20mins the film’s in dire need of a trim.

If there were any plausible plot points in the script someone rounded them all up, paid them off, and told them they were never going to appear in this film.

For example, one minute Godzilla is towering above buildings the next he’s disappearing into underground tunnels presumably too small for him. Equally as problematic is the question of how a giant, massively destructive reptile repeatedly eludes the world’s best equipped army.

And that’s without mentioning Jean Reno and his merry band of French special forces. Why are they so intent on destroying Godzilla and saving New York? I can only guess this was filmed before the French became cheese eating surrender monkeys who wanted nothing more than the destruction of the US. But anyway I digress.

So what can I add to the body of criticism for this film? Why a detailed appreciation of the exploding helicopter action in the film, that’s what.

So Godzilla is now chewing up half of New York and the military have been brought in to save the day. Some helicopters pick of trail of the Godzilla. Unfortunately their heat seeking missiles don’t lock as everyone’s forgotten their junior school biology lessons which would’ve taught them that reptiles are cold-blooded. Doh!

It appears like this scene is a subtle homage to Star Wars. The whole sequence is reminiscent of the trench run scenes in Star Wars. The graphics for the helicopter targeting system and lines of dialogue are very similar.

But that aside, despite being a massive sky scraper sized mutant lizard Godzilla manages to elude the pursuing choppers. They think they’ve got him cornered but he suddenly comes crashing through the building behind the hovering helicopters. Godzilla lashes out with his arm and sends one chopper crashing into the side of a building, before chomping his teeth down onto another one like it’s tasty airborne snack.

The remaining chopper tries to flee chased by Godzilla. The helicopter looks certain to be caught, but suddenly Godzilla disappears. The pilot radios in that he’s managed to shake off the beast. Phew!

Only somehow Godzilla has got in front and underneath the helicopter and suddenly rears upwards and chews up the third and final chopper. Who would‘ve thunk it!



Artistic merit

Excellent. This is an action set piece in a big budget blockbuster so director Roland Emmerich makes sure he wrings as much juice out the sequence as possible. Having Godzilla smash through the building behind the choppers was a genuinely good sleight of hand. And who doesn’t want to see a helicopter get eaten?

Number of exploding helicopters

Three.

Exploding helicopter innovation

First known destruction of helicopters by a giant, mutant, reptile.

Positives

We’re no fans of CGI but in the $100 million plus production it’s no surprise that all the explosions are well executed.

Negatives

A regular grumble of exploding helicopter sequences is pilots making decisions which defy logic, but are mightily convenient for the plot. For example, when being chased by Godzilla why doesn’t the helicopter pilot simply increase his altitude and take himself out of harm’s way? Equally, how can Godzilla keep pace with an Apache attack helicopter which has a top speed of 182mph?

Interesting fact

Jean Reno doesn’t understand English. Apparently. This nugget was mentioned in the audio commentary to the Rollerball remake. Yes, masochist that I am I didn’t think I’d punished myself enough by watching that dreck, I thought I’d watch the whole thing again with cast members wittering away over it.

Review by: Jafo

Monday, 21 November 2011

Fifty / Fifty

Jake Wyer (Peter Weller) and Sam French (Robert Hays) are friends and mercenaries working on opposing sides of a civil war in the imaginary South Asian country of Tengara.

Weller, who’s working for Tengara’s tyrant General Bosavi, is ordered to kill Hays after he leads an attempted overthrow. But Weller can’t kill his old buddy and Bosavi orders them both to be shot. However, the pair manage a daring escape before the orders can be carried out.

Weller and Hays wash up in Singapore where they meet CIA man Martin Sprue (Charles Martin Smith). He hires them to arm, train and lead the under funded and poorly equipped revolutionaries on the island to depose Bosavi as the US is looking for an ally in the region.

The pair head back to the island, hook up with revolutionaries, and whip them into some kind of shape. However, just as they’re about to launch their coup the American Government betrays them to Bosavi who wipes out the revolutionary forces.

Sprue tries to pay off Weller and Hays, but too much blood has already been shed even for these soldiers of fortune. Despite the seemingly impossible odds the duo decide to see the job through and get rid of the dictator.

With a combination of daring, ingenuity and luck they launch a successful raid on the General’s palace and install the people’s champion as the new President.


With two B-list leads, a low budget and a generic plot Fifty / Fifty doesn’t sound too promising, but this is a good film. One that doesn’t need to be appreciated with a large side-serving of irony. This is that most old fashioned of things - a simple story told well.

Take for example the films opening. The first five minutes are excellent, quickly setting up the film and the main protagonists whilst delivering two action sequences. Weller and Hays are both great as the bickering old war buddies, and the script gives them plenty of good lines. The story is really generic and you can pretty much predict everything that happens. But the story never drags whether they’re dramatic, comedic or action every scene entertains.

I found Robert Hays something of a revelation in this film. I don’t think I’d seen him in anything other than a comedy before. On the evidence here he could easily have handled more leading roles, but his CV shows mostly television work and not one film of note after Airplane! Anyway, in this he acquits himself well delivering his sarcastic one liners with aplomb and handling the dramatic scenes.

Charles Martin Smith (The Untouchables), who also directed appears in a supporting role. For a spell in the 80s he seemed to be the go to guy for when you needed someone to epitomise geeky, niave, or weak bureaucrats. Kind of like the Zeljko Ivanek of his day.
Sure, it won't win any awards for originality but this is a well acted, well written, well directed film that's nothing less than entertaining from start to finish. What more do you want from a film?

Exploding helicopter action

I’m not saying I knew this scene was going to happen. But when one of the characters says they’re safe in the valley because General Bosavi doesn’t have any helicopters you know some choppers are going to turn up and wreak some havoc.

Anyway, the General’s helicopters attack the rebel convoy. The revolutionary’s pile off the bus so that the helicopter gunners can enjoy some target practice.

After a suitable number of Tengara freedom fighters have been shot up Hays fires off an RPG from his machine and blasts away a low flying chopper which crashes to the ground in slow motion.

Weller then gets in on the act by machine gunning on of the other choppers. It starts to trail smoke behind it and disappears behind a rocky outcrop and seconds later hear a loud explosion, but see nothing.

The remaining helicopter lands to put down some Army soldiers presumably to mop up the rebels. A female rebel, who Hays and Weller have been trying to crack onto, gets back on board the bus they’ve been travelling in and drives it straight at the helicopter.

Despite trundling forward at 5 mph giving the pilot ample time to take off again, and the gunners plenty of time to blow it to pieces the truck still smashes into the chopper blowing both vehicles to smithereens.



Artistic merit

The explosions are a combination of model work and sets, switched in for the real helicopter, with a bit of judicious cutting.

These chopper fireballs are served up like juicy steaks. Simple, but big, meaty, and very tasty.

Exploding helicopter innovation

First known helicopter rammed by a bus.

Number of exploding helicopters

Three, although only two are witnessed.

Positives

The bus ramming explosion is shot in delightful slow motion. Peter Weller runs towards the bus to stop the suicidal charge by the rebel babe he’s got the hots for. Obviously he fails to get there and we get to enjoy his distress in classic action movie style.

Negatives

I’m guessing budget or limited set up time meant they couldn’t afford to show that other helicopter actually blow up. The first rule of exploding helicopters, is show the damn thing blowing up.

Favourite quote

“I told you all we had to do was shoot down the helicopters.”

Interesting facts

Among the actors who were at one time lined up for this project were Eddie Murphy, Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris.

Review by: Jafo

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Charlie Wilson's War


Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) is little known member of Congress who uses his relative obscurity to enjoy a playboy lifestyle of women, alcohol but definitely no drugs. However, in reality as a member of the committee overseeing covert operations for the CIA he wields great influence in foreign affairs.

Believing Afghanistan to be the key battle ground in the Cold War, he creates an unlikely coalition of bedfellows to fund and supply more sophisticated weaponry to the outgunned Mujahideen.

In a zippy montage the newly equipped Afghanis kick Commie butt out of the country. The demoralised Soviet Union fails to recover from this dent to national prestige. Within a few short years Communism collapses and the Cold War is won.

That may sound like a trite summary. But any liberties taken with the plot or history have been made by the film makers and not me, because this is a very peculiar film.

On the one hand it is a political tale about recent events in our history which have shaped the world we live in today. Essentially how the Cold War became the War on Terror.

On the other, it’s a glossy comedy where those self same events are told as if they’re simply a rattling good yarn about some long forgotten diplomatic incident of minor importance.

These contradictory elements are thrown into acute focus when the film attempts to explain Wilson’s motivations. Wilson is converted to the Afghani cause by the tales of horror he hears in a refugee camp.

Given his role overseeing CIA covert operations would he really be so moved by the humanitarian plight in front of him? It’s not like the CIA weren’t adverse to propping up the odd murderous dictator if it was politically expedient.

Unfortunately such simplicity runs throughout the film. Director Mike Nichols (The Graduate, Catch 22, The Birdcage) and scriptwriter Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) attempt to acknowledge the context and consequences of the events their showing in a few cursory scenes tacked on the end. It’s a case of too little, too late.

In an early scene in the film a character talks to Wilson about a TV programme he’s trying to pitch as “like Dallas but in Washington DC“. It’s almost a coda for the film. Charlie Wilson’s War is like Cold War shot as Dallas.

But hey, for all this the film revolves around arming the Mujahideen so they can shoot down Soviet helicopters so it can‘t be all bad.

The culmination of Wilson’s efforts to support the Mujahideen is the scene where a group of Afghani’s bring down three Hind helicopters with rocket launchers.

The Hind’s are busy shooting up civilians and chatting over the radio about dating. The Afghani’s fire off their newly acquired stinger missiles on a nearby hill top and destroy the choppers.

We then see a further three helicopters destroyed. Two certainly look like archival footage which is incorporated into the film throughout. Whilst a third looks a combination of old news reel plus a contemporaneous footage.





Artistic merit

Director Nichols is most at home in the field of dramatic comedy and seems at a loss with how to shoot action sequences. The scene where the trio of helicopters are shoot down are cut and shot in the kind of way you’d see the scenes done in the mid 80s.

You have to wonder how comfortable Nichols - he was 76 when he made this - was with modern special effects. Especially when long shots and extreme close ups serve to obscure rather than illuminate what’s happened. It sounds impossible, but Nichols has somehow made a scene with three helicopters blowing up a disappointment.

The other three helicopters explosions are archival footage. As we are in all likelihood watching real people die it is not becoming of a blog, even Exploding Helicopter, to provide an artistic critique.

Let’s just end by saying that with six Charlie Wilson’s War is contains the most exploding helicopters of any film to date.

Number of exploding helicopters

6.

Positives

Philip Seymour Hoffman is predictably excellent in his supporting role. His introductory scene makes it seems like it’s going to be a histrionic performance, but it soon settles down into a low key acerbic portrayal of his character.

Negatives

Julia Roberts plays a wealthy Texan neo-con who wants American to intercede on the side of the Afghanis. Her performance descends into grotesque caricature and is not aided by a face nearly which appears paralysed by botox injections.

Favourite quote

“I told you all we had to do was shoot down the helicopters.”

Interesting fact

Director Mike Nichols was at one time interested in making Rambo’s First Blood but with Dustin Hoffman in the lead. Sadly it's not documented if Nichols ever considered doing The Graduate with Sylvester Stallone.

Review by: Jafo

Still want more? Then check out the Exploding Helicopter podcast on Charlie Wilson's War. Listen on iTunes, Podomatic, Stitcher, YourListen, Acast or right here. 

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Cobra Mission 2

Why did they make Cobra Mission 2 (1989)? The smart aleck response is to ask why they even bothered with the first. But when your sequel contains none of the original actors, and only a wafer thin connection to the previous film you get suspicious.

You suspect that maybe the producers had this limp script about a retired American soldier sent by the US government to a South American country to help overthrow a corrupt dictator. And that they were worried that no-one was going to want to see a film starring the charisma free beefcake Brett Baxter Clark.

Hey, but if we added a lame expository scene at the beginning. One which nodded to that cheapo Vietnam film we made a few years back. Then we could call the thing Cobra Mission 2. That’d sure as hell help with the overseas distribution.

And so, I speculate, Cobra Mission 2 came into being.

I rather enjoyed Cobra Mission. In that film Roger Carson - then played by Christopher Connelly - lead a team of ex-Vietnam buddies back into the country to rescue American POWs. It had some cool scenes and decently staged action sequences. It also had a helicopter explosion which we reviewed.

Here Roger is played by Brett Baxter Clark. He travels incognito to a South American country to help freedom fighters overthrow the dictator. We just have to trust that this is all a good thing. Apparently it’s important that an American is alongside the rebels when they take over. This will show American backing for their coup. But as Roger has gone there undercover who is going to know about his involvement? Oh well…..

The first half of the film is excruciatingly boring. The direction is incredibly slack. We wait an interminable age for people to walk downs paths or trucks to drive down roads. It’s like the director is unaware of the concept of cutting.

The action scenes, when they come, are utterly uninspired. There’s one nice touch when Roger blasts a seemingly empty room to smithereens with a machine gun. For a moment you think it’s another example of the director’s ineptitude. But then a dying man stumbles out of high backed chair his body covered in bullet holes. Aside from this one glimmer of imagination there’s nothing of note.

As bad as the direction and plot is, Cobra Mission 2 could possible have been saved with a better lead actor. Christopher Connelly was great in Cobra Mission. A rugged, gnarly, figure who was engaging and believable. Unfortunately, Brett Baxter Clark is unable to convey anything. He is a blank. A black hole sucking in what little life the film possesses.


I’ve been pretty down on this film. But it does at least have an exploding helicopter in it. And it saves this for the films conclusion. Roger and the rebels hatch a plan to kill the dictator. Roger disguises himself as the dictator’s personal helicopter pilot and flies into his stronghold.

However, his ruse is quickly uncovered by the dictator. But this it turns out was the plan. The rebels launch a sneak attack and Roger is able to evade his guards. The dictator tries to escape the rebel attack by jumping on board the helicopter. Unbeknownst to him Roger has stashed an explosive onboard which he detonates via remote control.

The scene appears to be completely run of the mill. The chopper is only ever going to be incinerated. The fireball is reasonably impressive. But then a totally startling moment.

Emerging, spinning, from the explosion comes a body. We can’t see it any detail and it quickly disappears out of shot. Everything else has been consumed in the explosion. How did this body survive the explosion explosion and fire?

Anyway, the dictator is dead. Viva la revolution.

Artistic merit

A thoroughly routine exploding helicopter until that “what the hell?” moment with the body.

Exploding helicopter innovation

At Exploding Helicopter we live for the unique. Yes, I’ve seen people jump clear of helicopters moments before they’re about to explode (Die Hard 4.0), but I’ve never seen a body emerge intact from within an explosion. What was that guy wearing for underwear? Asbestos?

Do passengers survive?

Possibly. Admittedly, it’s an extremely unlikely chance, but that never before seen ejection of a body from the chopper fireball does leave that question open. Could they survive the explosion? Could they survive the fall. We will it seems never know.

Positives

Exploitation cinema nearly always contains nudity. The rebels suspect that one of their number is a traitor. A female freedom fighter falls under suspicion. In a bid to exonerate her, one of the other rebels rips the front of her blouse off thinking that he’ll reveal torture scars which will prove her commitment to the cause. Unfortunately for her, all there is to see is a very presentable pair of breasts. And sadly for us there isn’t long to enjoy them before she’s shot by the rebels.

Negatives

The direction. It's like Holland. Flat and featureless.

Favourite quote

“There’s half an army on our tail.” Says Roger looking at the solitary truck which is pursuing him and his comrades.

Interesting fact

Director Camillo Teti worked as a production supervisor on Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western classic Once Upon A Time In The West.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

UHF

We're pleased to be able to host this guest post from Danny over at Can't Stop The Movies who do great work reviewing every piece of celluloid that's slid, sped or spooled through a film projector.

"Weird" Al Yankovic is not a man whose career you'd immediately connect with exploding helicopters. A singer and songwriter whose musical career has mostly rested on redoing popular songs with new lyrics that focus on either food or nerdy inside jokes, Weird Al did have his first and only shot at creating a feature comedy in the late 1980's with UHF, and decided to use it as a context to create a series of spoofs for a number of prevalent movies of that day.

These skits are also an easy way to let Al take his brand of parody (i.e. take something popular and change a few words) to the big screen without having to put together a cohesive plot. The clothesline that runs through this one is that Al has been left a rundown television station to handle, and gets an unexpected hit when doofy janitor Stanley Spudowski (Michael Richards) becomes an overnight sensation. It's up to Al, Stanley and a host of other "weird" characters to keep their station from being put out by their scenery chewing rival television station owning nemesis (Kevin McCarthy).

The lengthiest parody sequence in the movie - these sequences are either portrayed as fictional films within this film, or as an elaborate fantasy sequence by Al - involves a recreation of Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rambo III. As these two films are benchmarks for helicopter explosions, it's no surprise that during this parody a helicopter meets its inevitable fate.


Unfortunately, this film had a very low budget. That makes the special effects, as they are, charming, but the fantasy helicopter battle a little underwhelming. Both helicopters used in this sequence are repainted surplus from the looks of it, and the explosion, when it arrives, happens with simply a large explosion on the screen happening in the foreground of the action while the enemy helicopter remains intact behind.

It's obvious that Al along with longtime friend and director Jay Levey had little interest in the legitimacy for the scene, though considering the high camp that was happening all around, this fireball was probably as silly as they could manage.

Artistic merit

Yankovic's brief chopper sojourn results in the destruction of not only a rival helicopter but a great number of landmarks. The Eiffel Tower, the Coliseum and the Hollywood sign are all the victims of a torrent of helicopter fire. I'm willing to wager this is the single most destructive helicopter attack in cinematic history.

Exploding helicopter innovation

The explosion, despite the carnage that follows, is fairly underwhelming. It does kill the main villain of the film, though it's still only in a fantasy sequence, so McCarthy actually manages to live until the end. Hopes that another climactic helicopter battle - perhaps one outside of the confines of Al's limited imagination - are dashed, and the worst of what McCarthy receives is the complete destruction of his life's work and a swift kick in the nads.

Number of exploding helicopters

One.

Positives

The sheer destructive capacity of Yankovic's helicopter, though obviously exaggerated, is nonetheless incredible to imagine.

Negatives

The helicopters as presented are both generic looking and cheap. Orion was running on fumes at this point, and this film's budget seems to be a victim.

For the movie, since the plot relies on a series of pop culture parodies that rely on an intense knowledge of late 80's pop culture, it's a very hit or miss affair. Al sometimes seems out of his depth as an actor, and the film's cheap look is only counterbalanced by some good gags and a generic but sweet message.

Favourite quote

"For those of you just joining us, today we're teaching poodles how to fly. Come here., Foofy. Ah, Foofy. Are you psyched? Are you ready? Okay... Here we go. Get ready. And... FLY! .... Oh, man... You know, sometimes it takes them a little longer to learn how to do it right. Okay, come on. Come on. Cheer up. Cheer up. Eh, eh, eh. Who's next? Ah, Gigi!"

Interesting fact

Originally the part of Philo was written for Weird Al's friend, Joel Hodgson, of Mystery Science Theater and Cinematic Titanic fame. He turned it down; too bad, his unremittingly laconic style would have been fun to watch.