Wednesday 30 November 2011

The Spy Who Loved Me

If you had to pick one expression to sum up Sir Roger Moore’s time as James Bond then it’d be ‘from the sublime to the ridiculous. And no film in Moore’s 007 tenure embodies this more than The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).  

The opening scene, where 007 skis down a mountain pursued by Russian spies, is quintessential Bond. The action choreography is excellent, the location stunning, and it all ends with the legendary cliff jump stunt and an unfurling Union Jack parachute. (What the seventies disco soundtrack adds is not clear, but never mind.)

The trouble is, the scene is bookended by end-of-the-pier inspired smut, terrible gadgets (a label printing digital watch) and some awful wardrobe choices (with his day-glo yellow ski-suit Moore looks uncannily like Bob the Builder).   

While Die Another Day, with its invisible cars, kite-surfing hero, and face-changing villains, is commonly thought to be the most ludicrous Bond outing, they should perhaps take another look at TSWLM.  

Lest we forget, the film’s super-villain is plotting to destroy the world so he can live at the bottom of the ocean. Bond is only able to avert disaster through use of an underwater car and hanky-panky with a Russian spy codenamed Triple XXX (ooh, err missus!). Preposterous barely covers it.

Exploding helicopter action 

Still, we have a unique and well-executed rotor-related combustion to enjoy. Stromberg, the villain, orders Bond and Triple XXX to be killed. They flee in a Lotus Esprit pursued by a motorbike with a detachable exploding sidecar. After our heroes despatch these henchman the chase is taken up by a shiny chopper piloted by Caroline Munro (Phwoar!).

At one point, she flies alongside Bond’s Lotus which gives Moore the opportunity to raise an eyebrow. Suddenly, the road runs out so Bond drives straight off a jetty into the sea. At this point, the Lotus Esprit turns into a mini-submarine.

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”.

Activating the car’s weapons system, he fires a rocket out of the underwater Lotus 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.  

Exploding helicopter innovation 

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

No. of exploding helicopters


Earlier in the film Stromberg establishes his megalomaniac credentials by bumping off a couple of businessmen.  

They board their helicopter to fly away from Stromberg's lair, unfortunately he’s planted an explosive in their chopper. It all seems unnecessarily elaborate. Then again, I guess you don't want to over feed a shark.

Interesting fact

The end credits state that James Bond will return in ‘For Your Eyes Only’. While he did ultimately return in this film, Bond’s next adventure was ‘Moonraker’ which was rushed out to capitalise on the popularity of ‘Star Wars’. Oh dear. 

Review by: Jindy

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Monday 28 November 2011

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Ron Perlman returns as the loveable demon who works for a secret agency defending the world against paranormal threats. His team of investigators are called in after an exiled elf prince (Luke Goss) attempts to reclaim the pieces of a crown which will allow him to command an invincible army and overthrow the human race. Can Hellboy stop him?

With cinemas and TV schedules stuffed with so many painfully average comic book movies, Exploding Helicopter wasn’t expecting a lot from Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008). But, we’re pleased to report, this is an immensely likeable and entertaining film.  

Chief among the movie’s attractions is Ron Perlman excellent turn as the titular character. The square-jawed actor vividly conveys Hellboy’s impulsive and impetuous personality which is leavened with a tasty side order in grouchy humour.

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

While the film has a great blend of imagination, humour and action, there are flaws. The script can find no useful role for Hellboy’s colleagues (played by Selma Blair and Doug Jones) in the Paranormal Investigations unit. 

Selma Blair is given a pregnancy subplot, but it doesn’t go anywhere and only adds to the impression no one knew what to do with her character.  

But this is nit-picking. Colourful, imaginative, and 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 the elf 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 lauded Del Toro for his creativity and imagination, he sadly failed to bring those qualities to the sequence.

The explosion is disappointingly brief. There’s no falling wreckage, no rotor blades sheering off, just a fireball which fills the screen. Come on man! You’ve created whole new 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


Who thought making Godzilla pregnant was a good idea?  

The Big G is meant to be a lean, mean, city stomping machine, not a lactating parent with post-natal depression.  

Exploding Helicopter had long delayed reviewing this film because of its infamous reputation, but we thought it was time to find out if it was deserved. Well, dear reader, we can confirm all the charges levelled at this blockbuster are justified.  

Matthew Broaderick is cinema’s least convincing scientist. His romance with Maria Pitillo is hampered by her dreadful performance and at a butt-numbing 2hrs 20mins, the film’s in dire need of a trim.

The plot is packed with the implausible and the impractical. One minute Godzilla is towering above skyscrapers, the next he’s disappearing into underground tunnels that are clearly too small for him. And don’t even ask how a giant, massively destructive reptile repeatedly eludes the world’s best equipped army.

So, what can we sensibly add to the analysis of this film? Why a detailed appreciation of the exploding helicopter action in the film, that’s what.

The fiery rotor action starts with Godzilla chewing up New York. The military have been brought in to save the day and their helicopters are soon on Godzilla trails. Unfortunately, their heat seeking missiles don’t lock on to the scaly monster because reptiles are cold-blooded. Did everyone forget the high school biology? Like, duh!

Despite being a skyscraper sized mutant lizard, Godzilla somehow manages to elude the pursuing choppers. It appears they’ve lost the Big G, but he suddenly comes crashing through a building behind the hovering helicopters. Godzilla lashes out an arm and sends one chopper crashing into the side of a building, before chomping his teeth down onto another one like it is tasty airborne snack.

The remaining chopper tries to flee. 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 snuck underneath the helicopter and he suddenly rears upwards to chew up the third and final chopper.

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


Exploding helicopter innovation

Nothing particularly novel here. Godzilla has destroyed helicopters on multiple occasions over the years.  


The helicopter chase scene is more than a little reminiscent of the trench run scene in Star Wars. The scene’s staging, the graphics of the helicopters targeting system, even the dialogue are all uncannily similar. If you’re going to steal, steal from the best.


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 itself 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

Peter Weller and Robert Hays play friends and mercenaries working on opposing sides of a civil war in the imaginary South Asian country of Tengara.

Weller is ordered to kill Hays after he tries and fails to overthrow the island's dictator, General Bosavi. But Weller can’t bring himself to kill his old buddy and the pair end up fleeing the island pursued by Bosavi's men. 

Our heroes wash up in Singapore where they meet CIA man Martin Sprue (Charles Martin Smith). He hires them to return to Tengara to train arm and lead the rebel forces in deposing Bosavi. 

After whipping the revolutionaries into shape, the pair are just about to launch their coup when the American Government betrays them to Bosavi who wipes out the rebels.

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 second tier stars in the lead roles, a low budget, and a generic plot, Fifty/Fifty sounds a far from promising film. But, much to Exploding Helicopter's delight, it's actually terrific fun. 

The film sets off at a cracking pace and doesn't let up. Weller and Hays are great as the bickering old war buddies, and the script gives them plenty of good lines. The story may be generic, but it never drags and there's a nice balance between comedy, action and drama. 

Robert Hays is a revelation. For those who only know him from Airplane! he acquits himself convincingly as a soldier of fortune. 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

We're not saying we 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. Ultimately, we can't include this as a chopper fireball.

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



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.


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. But in reality, he wields great influence as a member of a secret committee overseeing covert CIA operations. 

Believing Afghanistan to be the key battle ground in the Cold War, he creates an unlikely coalition of bedfellows to supply the Mujahideen with more sophisticated weaponry to fight the Russian invasion. 

In a zippy montage, the newly equipped Afghanis quickly defeat the Soviet Union. Within a few short years Communism collapses and everyone in America and Afghanistan lives happily ever after. Only, of course they don’t.  

And there’s the rub. Because this is a very peculiar film.  

The story retells the political events that shaped our recent history. Essentially how the Cold War became the War on Terror. 

Yet, this is presented as a glossy comedy as if those self-same events were about some long forgotten diplomatic incident with no real-world consequences. 

These contradictory elements are thrown into acute focus when the film shows us Wilson’s conversion to the Afghani cause. Visiting a refugee camp, he’s moved by the tales he hears of the war’s horror.  

Quite why Wilson, a man overseeing the CIA’s covert operations to prop up murderous dictators as long as they were helpful to Uncle Same, would be overcome by the humanitarian plight in front of him is never explained.  

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. But it’s a case of too little, too late. 

But hey, for all this the film’s plot hinges on arming the Mujahideen with weapons to shoot down Soviet helicopters so it cannot be all bad. 

The culmination of Wilson’s efforts come when a group of Afghani’s bring down three Hind helicopters with rocket launchers. 

As the Hinds open fire on a group of civilians, the Afghanis fire off their newly acquired stinger missiles, blowing them up. 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 has made some terrific comedies and dramas, but he is at a loss with how to shoot an action sequence. The choice of shots and editing are painfully dated, with Nichols somehow making a scene with three helicopters blowing up a disappointment. 

As for the archival footage showing another three helicopters exploding, we are watching real people die. Therefore, it is not becoming for Exploding Helicopter to provide an artistic critique. 

Number of exploding helicopters 



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. 


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)? You might as well ask why they bothered making Cobra Mission 1? 

This ‘in name only’ sequel stars charisma-free beefcake Brett Baxter Clark as a retired soldier sent by the US Government to a South American country to help overthrow a corrupt dictator.  

For the most part, the film is excruciatingly boring. The slack editing, torpid direction, and perfunctory action sequences numb the mind like a heavy sedative.  

Still, it does at least have an exploding helicopter. This is saved for film’s conclusion. The rebels hatch a plan to kill the dictator which involves Clark disguises himself as the El Presidente’s personal helicopter pilot and flies into his stronghold. However, the ruse is quickly uncovered.  

But wait! It turns out being discovered was part of the plan! And after the rebels launch a sneak attack, the dastardly dictator tries to escape by jumping aboard the helicopter. Unbeknownst to him Clark has stashed an explosive on the aircraft which he detonates via remote control. 

Like the rest of the film, the scene is completely run of the mill. But there is one startling moment. 

Emerging from the explosion comes a body. Well, it’s meant to be a body, but it’s clearly a dummy. It’s just a strange detail to throw into the mix. 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, we’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. 


Exploitation cinema nearly always contains nudity. So, when the rebels suspect there’s a female traitor in their midst it’s not long before someone’s ripped her blouse off to find evidence of her treachery. It seems owning a pair of very presentable breasts is the worst crime a revolutionary can commit because it’s not long before she’s shot by the rebels.  


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

Favourite quote 

“There’s half an army on our tail.” Says Clark 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


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

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.