Thursday, 29 December 2011

Resident Evil: Afterlife

Is Milla Jovovich the female Rutger Hauer?

The blond Dutchman burned an indelible image into the mind in Blade Runner. Since then, barring the odd exception, Hauer has ground out a living in unexceptional sci-fi flicks. Continuing to trade on the diminishing cache of his role as the psychotic replicant Roy Batty.

Jovovich career mirrors Hauer’s. An early appearance in the acclaimed sci-fi flick The Fifth Element has been followed by the middling Ultraviolet and the soon-to-be five strong Resident Evil franchise.

I’d like to think 15 years from now she’s still going to be ploughing away in the genre. Widely recognised as the undisputed Queen of low budget sci-fi.

Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010) is the fourth entry in the series. In brief, Alice (Milla Jovovich) is continuing her mission to destroy the Umbrella corporation as she seeks out other survivors who are heading for the virus free outpost of Arcadia.

Probably not unreasonably, the film makes little allowance for viewers who might be joining the franchise at this point. Having once played the computer game which spawned this franchise little prepares you for what is going on.

Resident Evil: Afterlife felt a bit like it’d been bolted together in an Umbrella laboratory. Take a smattering of characters from the earlier films. Borrow liberally from The Matrix, The Thing and Dawn of the Dead (2004) and overlay with enough Resident Evil lore to keep the fans happy.

It‘s not terrible just utterly unexceptional. That said Jovovich has a certain impassive faced cool as Alice which I kind of like. Action cinema is sadly very short of bona fide female leads and Jovovich is definitely one.

While there’s little original offered here, director Paul W S Anderson keeps makes sure there’s a shiny and slick gloss to all the action. This was released in 3D in the cinemas. I was watching this in good old fashioned 2D so certain sections are made completely redundant.

One of the big action set pieces opens the film. Alice infiltrates an Umbrella base in Japan in a particularly Matrix-lite sequence.

Umbrella’s evil mastermind Wesker (Shawn Roberts) escapes in a cool double rotor bladed helicopter which looks a bit like a stealth fighter plane. Unbeknownst to him Alice has sneaked onboard. The two shape up to have a show down, but Wesker is a bit of a dim witted evil mastermind. He fails to properly engage the auto-pilot and the chopper goes crashing into the side of a cliff before he and Alice can get it on.

We then have to wait for the end of the film before we get any further chopper fireball action. This time it’s Alice’s turn to be a bit dim witted. Having bested Wesker in the film’s climatic fight, Alice locks him into a massive laboratory come warehouse. Only she locks him in with some of those cool choppers we saw earlier.

Flying off he thinks he’s outfoxed his opponents at the last. Using his patented ‘evil mastermind remote control unit’ he sets off the self destruct system on his base. Only Alice in a seemingly pointless piece of chicanery Alice has put the explosives onboard his craft. Cue predictable moment of confusion as Wesker hears the countdown begin rather closely to where he was sitting than he’d planned.



Artistic merit

I can’t say I was too impressed by the helicopter explosions in this. We barely see the first one and have to content ourselves with an impressive amount of burning wreckage. I guess they couldn’t have shown us anymore as otherwise we’d be wondering how anyone managed to survive the crash. Especially as there’s 70 minutes left in the film which Alice and Wesker need to appear in.

Exploding helicopter innovation

Not to great. First known destruction of a helicopter by a human zombie mutant.

Number of exploding helicopters

Two.

Do passengers survive?

Yes, both Alice and Wester survive the first exploding helicopter. It’s also possible Wester also survives the second explosion as some eagle eyed viewers claim to have seen a parachute falling following the explosion. With one eye commendably fixed on the future of the franchise director Paul W S Anderson wisely keeps his options open for the next film.

Positives

Kim Coates plays Bennett a slimy film producer who is one of the survivors that Alice meets. Coates specialises in these roles and I always like to see him play the. He gets to kill a couple of people in particularly callous fashion. It’s a nice turn but you just wish he had a bit more dialogue or a particular scene where he can get his teeth into.

One for instance like this classic scene from The Last Boy Scout (1991).



With this film and a small role in Black Haw Down Coates also has some impressive exploding helicopter credentials.

Negatives

Jovovich adopts a croaky dead pan voice when she’s plays Alice. A bit like she’s trying to do a Clint Eastwood ‘Man With No Name’ type drawl. Sometimes it works, a lot of the time it really grates.

Favourite quote

“Nice landing.”
“Technically, I think it’s called crashing.”

Interesting fact

Much like the T-virus that the Resident Evil world revolves around, this film franchise refuses to die. This, the fourth in the series, is the highest grossing film of the franchise. Unsurprisingly a fifth film is slated for an autumn release in 2012. Two further CGI-only spin-off films have also been produced - Resident Evil: Degeneration and Resident Evil: Damnation.

Review by: Jafo

Monday, 26 December 2011

The A Team

You'd think the makers of this film had pulled their trousers down and taken a dump over the faces carved into Mount Rushmore, such is the opprobrium heaped on The A Team (2010).

Now I loved The A Team tv series when I was a kid. But that doesn't mean that nearly 30 years later I can't recognise it's flaws. It was formulaic and often silly to the point of farce. But to criticise the suspension of reality in this reboot is to pretend the tv series was something it never was.

Yes, the laws of physics do seem to be temporarily suspended in this film. Flying a parachuting tank is clearly ridiculous. But it's no more ridiculous than firing thousands of rounds of ammunition without killing anyone. Or being conveniently imprisoned in a warehouse with a old car and a welding torch. Not once, but every single week.

Don't get me wrong I am not about to launch a full scale defence of this film. The plot is a confusing, unengaging mess, but the idea that the film is some act of sacrilegious act of desecration is to assign an utterly undeserved status to the source material.

The film signals it's intent right at the start and you either buy in then or it's best to just abort. Interestingly for us the sequence is the key one for us as it includes a helicopter explosion.

The newly assembled A Team having requisitioned an old chopper from a hospital to affect their escape from Mexico. They're pursued by some corrupt Mexican army officers in another helicopter.

Unfortunately, the old air ambulance the A Team are in has no weapons so all they can do is take evasive action. This involves an aerodynamically impossible 360 roll along with an equally implausible deliberate stall to avoid some missiles.

Having used up all their tricks it looks like the A Team's chopper is about to be picked off out the sky. But unbeknownst to the Mexicans pursuing them they've now crossed into US airspace. A jet fighter appears out of nowhere and blows the pursuing helicopter to smithereens.



Artistic merit

I enjoyed the helicopter chase sequence even if it borrowed it's aeronautic acrobatics from Blue Thunder and Die Another Day.

The explosion was well executed but it's incredibly brief and director Joe Carnahan cuts straight to the whooping reactions of the A Team in the other helicopter.

Exploding helicopter innovation

While the fighter plane's missiles are the direct responsible for the helicopter's destruction, the ultimate cause was clever use of international airspace. First known usage as far as I can tell.

Number of exploding helicopters

One.

Do passengers survive?

No. If we were talking about the tv series the answer would obviously be, 'but of course'. However, unfortunately for everyone in the chopper we're no longer in the 80s.

Positives

I'll admit I'm struggling with this one. All told this is a pretty derivative actioner. Nothing's too great, nothing's too bad.

Negatives

Liam Neeson. Does the man ever enjoy himself? He always looks pained in everything he appears in. Every time he smiles it looks like he's been cued to do it by someone shoving a hand up his backside.

Favourite quote

"Overkill is underrated."

Interesting fact

Bruce Willis was originally considered for the role of Hannibal Smith. I reckon he could have done a George Peppard impression in his sleep. Hitting that tone between levity and seriousness, much more easily than the taciturn Neeson.

The script for The A Team was written by Skip Woods who is quickly carving out a reputation as a guarantee of exploding helicopter action. He also wrote the screenplays for X Men Origins: Wolverine and Swordfish which both feature helicopter explosions and chopper sequences.

Review by: Jafo

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Day After Tomorrow

The Day After Tomorrow (2004)…or The Day Hollywood Cashed In On All That Angsty Eco-Concern.

Twentieth Century Fox, never slow to recognise a cash-cow, cannily exploited growing popular sentiment on global warming by creating a movie specially designed to highlight the key concerns of green-minded people. Naturally, having seen Independence Day and Godzilla, they decided Roland Emmerich was just the man to handle such a sensitive job.

(Incidentally, the explosion-happy German later made 2012, in which pretty much everything gets destroyed, but for me the most upsetting aspect of that movie remains how closely John Cusack’s tiny mouth resembles a dog’s bum.)

So, in a nutshell: a second Ice Age is on the way and only Dennis Quaid knows it. That’s despite snowstorms in India, killer hailstones the size of medicine balls in Tokyo and tornadoes in Los Angeles. Which, at the very least, ought to have given other people a hint.

This time Dennis is a paleoclimatologist, if you’re interested. But, regardless of whether he’s buff and desert-sweaty (Flight of the Phoenix), cadaverous and louche (Wyatt Earp) or, as here, freezing his nuts off in full action mode, the dead-eyed Texan always brings an identical Will this do? quality to his roles. If acting were colour-coded, he’d be beige.

Early on, he’s repeatedly portrayed as a maverick figure, shocking high-level (even Presidential) meetings with his profound geo-revelations, but for all the tension raised he could be reading a prescription for haemorrhoid cream.

Still, that’s largely missing the point. Along with Aaron Eckhart, Quaid is one of those handy go-to men for action movies where the budget has already been spanked on special effects and the studio doesn’t want an actual personality getting in the way of all that expensive CGI.

Our multi-helicopter crash scene occurs just as the world’s weather systems collapse into freezing, snow-flurried chaos. It is also set in Scotland, which poses an obvious problem: how would they be able to tell the difference? (In fact, as the first chopper hits the ground, if you press pause you can just make out a scrawny figure wearing a short-sleeved Celtic shirt and carrying a can of Tennants in the background.)

Three RAF helicopters, helmed by the type of plummy-voiced Englishmen never heard of outside modern Hollywood movies, are heading for Balmoral Castle to evacuate the royals. But it suddenly starts to get a bit demmed perky out there, dontcha know, to the tune of minus 150 degrees.

One pilot cries out: “Bladdy fuel lines are starting to freeze, sah!” Then the rotor blades themselves quickly ice up and stop turning. A second pilot, sounding even posher, bleats: “Come on, you bar-stard!”

All three copters then spin in descending circles before crashing down onto the very soft snow at speed. Obviously, given all the fuel is frozen solid, they don’t actually explode. Clearly aware that this non-spectacle looks boring, the effects boys instead have the choppers send up huge jets of spraying snow and even have one of them come crashing directly towards the screen. As a final garnish, one of the pilots opens his door to peek out and we see him actually freeze solid before our eyes. Lummy.



Exploding helicopter innovation

It’s a decent idea. The notion of the weather suddenly turning so cold it can literally halt the rotors of a helicopter might be scoffed at as just another Wednesday by vest-wearing Neds in the Gorbals, but for the rest of us it’s a novel concept.

However, the only sweat and tears generated in putting this scene together most likely belonged to a few over-weight, under-deodorised geeks wedged in front of mammoth computers on a LA studio lot. None of it looks even remotely real, there’s zero sense of actual danger and the impossibly close angles scream out CGI botch-work.

Number of exploding helicopters

Three. (Or none, depending on how pedantic you’re feeling.)

Positives

Forget the encroaching ice, the real danger here is getting buried in clichés. Action movie buffs with a love of the obvious can sit back and relax. Cute dog. ‘Character’ vagrant. Baldy kid with cancer who makes it. Best buddy of hero who doesn’t make it. Cynical politician who admits he ‘got it wrong’. Unlikely teen crush that works out. Rousing orchestral music at the slightest provocation. It’s all here.

Negatives

Quaid – who could mangle the finest lines - is given some appalling eco-platitudes to spout. In fairness, even De Niro would struggle with such fare as: “Our climate is fragile. At the rate we're polluting the environment and burning fossil fuels, the ice caps will soon disappear.” Hearing Quaid deliver such lines, you’ll want to set fire to the nearest forest.

Interesting fact

To promote this eco-movie and its save-the-planet mantra, the leading cast members were flown, separately, around the globe on private jets, monstering up enough fossil fuel to power a small country for a year. But hey, it’s all about the message.

Review by: Chopper

Monday, 19 December 2011

Diamonds Are Forever

Is this the worst James Bond film ever? I’m not certain. There’s been a bit of competition for that title down the years. But one thing’s for sure this is a really shoddy effort.

The film is almost studiously unglamorous. It’s set almost entirely in the sterile environs of Nevada. There are scenes in a funeral parlour and a petrol station forecourt. And the grand finale takes place on an oil rig. Compare that with Blofeld’s volcano hideout and mountain retreat in the preceding films You Only Live Twice and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Sean Connery returned to the 007 series with this film after agreeing a whopping $1.2m pay check. That was an unheard of sum for a film in 1971, apparently about $15m in today‘s money. It’s said his inflated fee meant other aspects of the film’s budget had to be trimmed, most visibly in the special effects.

There’s also evidence of short cuts in the terrible opening sequence. In a series of short scenes Connery travels the globe violently interrogating people in the hunt for Blofeld. We don’t see Connery and can only hear his clearly overdubbed voice.

Perhaps the producers wanted to delay Connery’s entrance for dramatic effect. But I can’t help being suspicious. The sequence reeks of footage hastily slung together at the last minute to cover a problem found in testing or the edit suite. The absence of Connery from the shots is more suggestive of the fact he wasn’t available to film them, than a desire to tease the audience.

Little effort seems to have been expended on the story which has a pedestrian quality about it. Until the end there’s little urgency to how events unfold. And for the most part the plot has all the scope of a private eye novel.

Charles Gray puts a nice turn in as Blofeld. He’s got a deliciously expressive voice and effortlessly oozes urbane, regal, charm. However, he’s barely in the film.

The same can be said for Mr Wint and Mr Kidd who are equally wasted. I enjoyed what there was of their campy double act. But their lines aren’t sharp enough and don’t really convey enough menace to make them worthy sparring partners for Bond. They really could have been made much better villains.

Mr Wint and Mr Kidd though do at least get to be involved in the film’s first helicopter explosion. They hatch a nice little double cross to intercept some diamonds, planting an explosive inside the jewels which a helicopter has come to collect. Having flown off to a safe distance, and a distance which requires minimal special effects work, the chopper explodes in the time honoured fashion of a double cross.

Whatever my disappointment at the lack of grandeur of a finale set on an oil rig, it does though involve an attack by a squadron of helicopter. The oil rig’s defences try to hold off the attack and machine guns manage to shoot down two of the attacking helicopters.



Artistic merit

Diabolical.

Helicopter explosions had successfully and authentically been blown up in previous Bond efforts. They’d used clever model work to achieve the helicopter explosion. Here the helicopters just disappear behind orange blobs which suddenly appear on top of them. An effect obviously achieved by overlaying another piece of a film with the image on. In a word, risible.

Exploding helicopter innovation

There’s no innovation on offer in this film. If anything Diamonds Are Forever seems to be trying to take the art of exploding helicopters backwards.

Number of exploding helicopters

Three.

Positives

I love the guy who sits passively in the control room on Blofeld’s oil rig intoning the audible countdown in a thick, deadpan, German accent: “Zyx min-eeets und koun-ting!”

Negatives

Connery’s bloated pay check estimated to be around 20% of the film‘s budget. Would the helicopter explosions have looked to shoddy if they handed over so much cash?

Interesting fact

The James Bond franchise could have looked very different as the potential casting for Diamonds Are Forever shows.

George Lazenby was offered the film, but declined as he was didn’t want to sign a lengthy contract to appear in further sequels.

The producers then tried to get Michael Gambon who declined on the basis of ill health. Batman Adam West also turned down the role because he felt Bond should be played by an Englishman. American TV actor John Gavin was then signed to the role. But Gavin subsequently had his contract paid in full after the record breaking deal with Connery was struck.

Review by: Jafo

Friday, 16 December 2011

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

I was ready to hate this. A film based on a children’s toy screams ‘cynical marketing ploy’. But I don’t want to hate films, where is the pleasure in that?

So I kept an open mind when I watched this. And so dear reader I have to confess. I enjoyed this.

Yes, I know the dialogue is horrendous, with the script often operating as a conveyor belt of exposition. Yes, I know that the film is populated with identikit cross section of characters: tough guy hero with a dark secret, irritating wise-cracking best mate, ultra professional hot babe, mysterious silent type, along with a leathery commander to inspire them.

But you know what? I still liked it. Even with the flimsy, clichéd back stories the characters are given to add dramatic depth to the plot.

Let’s remember this is an action film for kids. It’s not to say you can’t have a beautifully scripted film with original characters but I’m not sure those are the deciding factors for a 9-year old.

What director Stephen Sommers delivers is regular amounts of glossy action against a clearly delineated good vs evil backdrop. In that regard GI Joe is no better or worse than, dare I say it, Star Wars.

So anyway, if you haven’t seen the film the plot involves the theft of an unstoppable super-weapon. Channing Tatum and Marlon Wayans find themselves recruited to a top secret task force to retrieve the stolen super weapon. However, the theft of the weapon isn’t perhaps all it seems and is merely a ruse to distract attention from the a much larger and more ambitious plan.

The film opens with the theft of said super-weapon. Tatum and his men are transporting the weapon in a convoy supported by two helicopters when they’re set upon by the forces of Cobra. As the film is set in the near future some of the aircraft in this movie futuristic. So the attack is led by a vehicle which look like the shuttle craft you see in science fiction films.

The helicopters open fire on the Cobra vehicles but their bullets aren’t able to pierce the armour. The Cobra craft return fire using a strange percussive weapon which seems to fire a solid sound wave. They crunch in the front of the first helicopter which caves in and forces the rotor blades off. It bursts into flame and plummets to the ground in front of the convoy.

The second helicopter attempts to continue the fight, but its weapons are useless. It launches missiles which are simply shot down. The Cobra craft fires another round of it’s odd weapon.

The helicopter pilot just has time to say “Oh my god” before his chopper is destroyed. The helicopter plunges to the ground in juicy glowing orange chopper fireball.



Artistic merit

I love the reaction of the pilot just before the second helicopter is destroyed. You can’t beat a good “What the….” moment when someone realises they’re about to meet an untimely death. I also loved the crumpling effect which destroys the choppers.

Exploding helicopter innovation

First known destruction of a helicopter using a sonic gun perhaps? Certainly the crumpling of the front of the helicopter is a *ahem* wrinkle I’ve not seen before.

Number of exploding helicopters

Two

Positives

The film finds a decent role for Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Heavy Duty. I’ve previously only seen him in the TV prison drama Oz. He played the fearsome Simon Adebisi with a thick Nigerian accent so it was really weird to heart his normal British accent.

It’s nice to see him get a big part in a high profile film because he was brilliant in Oz. He played Adebisi with a the lazy, swaggering, confidence of the biggest bully in the school playground. If you’ve never watched the series I can’t recommend it, and his performance, enough.


Negatives

The script. It really is an atrocity.

Favourite quote

“You’ve really tossed the caber out the park with that one.”

This bonkers line is uttered by Christoper Eccleston who plays the villain McCullen. Presumably, the original line was something like “Hit that out the park.” I’d like to hear more common idioms given Scottish makeovers.

Interesting fact

Apparently Channing Tatum was initially not keen on taking the role in GI Joe because he didn’t want to glamorise war. Fortunately for the makers of the film he had no moral objections to shamelessly glamorising children’s toys.

Review by: Jafo

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Black Hawk Down

Black Hawk Down depicts events which shaped American foreign policy, and thus the world, for a decade. Not that you’d know it from this film.

In 1993, US soldiers attempted to capture the senior figures of a militia aimed at overthrowing the government of Somalia. But the operation went tits-up and the ensuing debacle - subsequently named The Battle of Mogadishu - left 19 American soldiers, and an unknown number of Somalis, dead.

Greater still, was the psychological damage of this disaster. Scarred by television pictures of dead soldiers being dragged through the streets, America became wary of foreign intervention. The consequences of this loss of national self-confidence were keenly felt in Rwanda and the Balkans where hundreds of thousands died before peacekeeping operations could finally be launched.

All which suggests the potential for an interesting film. Unfortunately, someone asked Jerry Bruckheimer to make the film and we got Black Hawk Down (2001) instead.

Any idea of providing a political or historical critique is swiftly abandoned, and instead we get a straight-out shoot ‘em-up. As an intellectual statement it’s just one big, “Huah!”

Still, on the level it aspires too, Black Hawk Down is a marvellously effective piece of cinema. Directed by Ridley Scott, the film portrays conflict in a gruesomely visceral way. The violence is brutal, sudden, unpredictable, and confused. And you can imagine that war may actually, in some small way, be like this, probably only worse.

The cast is also excellent featuring early roles from many actors (Eric Bana, Tom Hardy and Orlando Bloom) who would go on to be stars in their own right.

Among the established heavyweights are Tom Sizemore who plays Lieutenant McKnight. It’s a fabulous turn. He doesn’t so much act, as simply saunter through the film impersonating Robert Duvall’s napalm snorting, surf enthusiast Lieutenant Kilgore in Apocalypse Now.

Also faultless is the amount of helicopter action. Indeed helicopters are central to the film (The title itself is a reference to the mission’s turning point).

But in the first half of the film it looks as if the film isn’t going to deliver. We see two Black Hawk helicopters shot down, but neither of the damn things explode.  However, with members of the crew still alive US soldiers move towards the crash sites to try and rescue their stricken comrades.

After fighting their way to the one of the crash sites they find that the Somali’s have got their first. With no-one to rescue they plant a charge inside the wreckage of the helicopter to stop it providing anything of use to the enemy.

As the soldiers scuttle away a large shower of sparks fly into the air. Exploding Helicopter expected rather more. Surely there was some aviation fuel on board?

The second helicopter explosion is much more satisfying. After freeing a trapped crew member a soldier uses a grenade to blow-up the helicopter which explodes with a rich, amber-orange fireball.

Artistic merit

Given the film features innumerable explosions it’s disappointing that the destruction of the first helicopter is fluffed. It’s even harder to understand when no less a figure than Ridley Scott is in charge of the film.  However, his attention was clearly only momentarily distracted as the second chopper fireball is a fine sight for any aficionado.

Exploding helicopter innovation

It’s pretty unusual to see an already wrecked helicopter explode, however, Courage Under Fire currently lays claim to being the first film with this distinction.

Number of exploding helicopters

Two wrecked helicopters are destroyed.

Do passengers survive?

Yes, I’m pretty sure some do, however, the sprawling nature of the film made it hard for me to work out exactly who’d died and survived.

Positives

As befits a film entitled Black Hawk Down there’s a juicy helicopter crash scene to enjoy. After the whirlybird’s tail rotor is damaged, the pilot desperately tries to maintain control of the stricken aircraft. The scene is sound-tracked by ‘mayday’ calls and angry bleeping warning alarms.

Negatives

Ewan McGregor plays Grimes a desk jockey who’s pressed into frontline service by the crisis. Exploding Helicopter has never been convinced that the Trainspotting star can actually act. And there’s more evidence where, where our Ewen’s extraordinary attempt at an American accent only serves to make him sound more Scottish.

Favourite quote

“We got a Black Hawk down, we got a Black Hawk down.”

Interesting fact

Eric Bana’s part was originally offered to Russell Crowe. However, he was unable to do the film and lobbied for Bana to get the part.

Review by: Jafo

Friday, 9 December 2011

You Only Live Twice

When I was a kid I watched a lot of the Bond films over and over again. My dad had taped most of them off TV and during the long summer holidays I’d work my through the films, go back to the beginning and start again.

Having seen these films so many times perhaps I’ve burnt myself out. It’s not that I don’t like them, but I just don’t feel a need to watch them. So I reckon it must be the best part of 25 years since I’ve seen You Only Live Twice (1967).

It’s exactly how I remember, yet different. The level of sexism, and frankly smut took me by surprise. Sean Connery’s very first line in the film is: “Why do Chinese girls taste different from other girls?“ sets the tone for relentless innuendo. This was something I more associated with the Roger Moore era than Connery‘s.

Talking of the opening I loved the beginning where senior figures from the world’s great powers are gathered to debate the crisis prompted by the disappearing spaceships. The Soviets and Yanks hurl threats at each other, before a crusty, plummy, voiced Brit gently patronises the willy waggling diplomats. It’s a delicious moment. A reminder that there was once a time when Britain was a genuine world power. How far we have fallen since then.

The other thing which jumped out at me from this revisit was the hilariousness of Connery’s Japanese conversion. It’s the least convincing Japanese fake I’ve seen since I had a Matsui TV. Central to Sean’s remodelling is the donning of a wig. The Bond producers already insisted he wear a hair piece to hide his receding hairline. Now they give him a plot which requires him to wear an absolutely daft one. No wonder Connery said this was going to be his last Bond film.

The great John Barry provides the score. If you ask for my tuppence worth, some of the incidental music is among his best work. The theme song, sung by Nancy Sinatra, is also one of the best of the series.

The plot is pretty loose on this one. It even halts during the scenes where Bond gets married and trains as a ninja. It’s like the scriptwriters went outside for a cigarette and told everyone to carry on without them for 20 minutes.

One bit really puzzled me though. After Bond infiltrates Blofeld’s volcano he disguises himself as an astronaut in order to board the rocket that’s about to launch. What was Bond thinking? He’s not an astronaut. It’s the worst plan ever. Anyway, Blofeld (Donald Pleasance) spots him which gets everyone out of a hole.

So, let’s wrap up these random jottings with the some exploding helicopter talk. Bond has to find Blofeld’s base. He gets Q to come over to Japan with Little Nellie, a heavily armed flat pack helicopter.

Bond’s reconnoitre appears to be fruitless until he suddenly finds himself pursued by four helicopters which open fire on him. In the earlier scence Q had handily briefed Bond and the audience on the different weapons Little Nellie has.

Bond goes with the flame throwers to despatch the first helicopter. A little bobbing and weaving puts Bond above one of the other choppers. So now it’s time for the aerial mines which gently float down on little parachutes blowing up the helicopter and its bemused pilot.

Bond continues to make short work of Spectre’s chopper squadron by blowing up the next with his rockets, before completing the full house by destroying the last with his air to air heat sinking missiles.

Artistic merit

Top notch. You don’t often get to see an aerial dogfight played out just between helicopters. Little Nellie’s range of weaponry means we get to enjoy four, yes four, helicopters being blown up in different ways.

Yes, back projection is used for Connery’s cockpit shots, but this was 1967. It was a different era in special effects. These stunts had to be done for real. This sequence was particularly difficult to film with Little Nellie nearly crashing twice and one cameraman had his foot severed, so let's give director Lewis Gilbert and everyone else involved the credit they're due.

Exploding helicopter innovation

First known use of a do-it-yourself helicopter. And aerial mines. I’ve never seen them before or since.

Number of exploding helicopters

Four. Which ranks it highly in the list of exploding helicopter films alongside, Broken Arrow, Rambo III, and Independence Day.

Positives

Helicopter fans get a nice treat earlier in the film when Bond is being pursued in a car chase. Agent Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi) calls up a big Chinook helicopter equipped with a huge magnet. It scoops up the villains car, carries it off and drops it into the ocean.

Negatives

Even by Bond’s standards the speed with which he moves in on his new Japanese wife after the murder of Aki is rather unseemly. Christ man, she still warm in her grave!

Favourite quote

“Little Nellie got a hot reception. Four big shots made improper advances towards her, but she defended her honour with great success..”

Interesting fact

You Only Live Twice is the only Bond film where 007 does not drive a car.

Review by: Jafo

Still want more? Then listen to the Exploding Helicopter podcast episode on You Only Live Twice. Listen via iTunes, Acast, Sticher, Spotify or right here.


Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Half Past Dead

Of the actors from the classic era of action films – the 80s – Steven Seagal is for me the most interesting.

Seagal made his name with a series of classic films: Out For Justice, Hard To Kill, Above The Law, Marked For Death.

Then he tried to use his fame to save the planet by highlighting environmental issues in his films (On Deadly Ground, Fire Down Below). And promote his spiritual beliefs by regular championing Buddhism (The Glimmer Man, Out For A Kill).

Sadly the public didn’t want to hear these messages. Or at least not from Steven Seagal through the medium of action cinema. Now, for many, Seagal is just that stony-faced fat guy who’s in a lot of incredibly bad films that always seem to be on TV.

All this is a roundabout way of getting to Half Past Dead (2002). For those of us who care about Seagal, the film marks a turning point in his career. How the lean, mean aikido machine became the chunky, pony-tailed parody of his former glory.

Excluding his cameo in Machete, this was Seagal’s last US theatrical release. Big Steve’s ‘message movies’ had caused a mid-career wobble temporarily salvaged by the unexpected success of the message free Exit Wounds. With his career on life support Steve followed up with Half Past Dead. It flat-lined at the box office, and Seagal was consigned to the world of DTV.

Seagal plays an undercover cop who nearly dies - hence the title - during the arrest of car thief Ja Rule. Still undercover Seagal and Ja Rule wash up at in the same prison just as a criminal gang led by Morris Chestnut break into the prison. They’re out to get a death row inmate Richard Bremmer, who’s about to be executed, to reveal where he’s stashed millions of dollars of gold bullion.

Ja Rule is cast here as the comedy sidekick. This is a period in Seagal’s career when it was compulsory for old totem face Seagal to be paired with a comedic foil. They are always a sign of decline. It's why no-one likes Scrappy Doo.

There’s a painful scene where Ja Rule attempts to teach Steve how to talk street. Seagal has the good sense here to look embarrassed and pretend he can’t master the patter. Sadly, it was evidence of only a brief flickering of good judgement. In a few films time Seagal was regularly humiliating himself by adopting a bemusing jive talking patois, a language spoken exclusively by him.

The fight scenes in Half Past Dead also display traits we’re to become very familiar with in later Seagal efforts. There’s a paucity of kicks with a heavy focus on close hand-to-hand fighting. There’s a ridiculous fight where Seagal and the main villain swing about on chains. It’s like something out of the TV series Gladiators.

Embarrassingly Steve doesn’t even have the best fight in the film. This falls to Ja Rule who dukes it out with a flashy female bad-ass played by Nia Peeples. It’s far from classic stuff, but it’s still the standout.

I also need to mention the soundtrack. It’s clearly not enough that they’ve paired Seagal with Ja Rule (the Dogg Pound’s Kurupt also stars) they slap hip hop tunes all over the film.  Or at least they do in the first half. As confusingly in the second most of the action is sound tracked by nu-metal which was all the rage back then.

It’s like the producers are desperately targeting these different youth demographics they keep reading about in magazines. All it does is make Seagal look every one of his 50 years and paunchy inches.

Now, Charles Bronson managed to keep grinding out action films into his 70s. He did it by unswervingly sticking to what he did best. He didn’t do it by latching onto punk, new wave and acid house.

OK, so we need to talk helicopters and there’s plenty here for us to get stuck into. Director Don Michael Paul (never trust a man with three first names) throws us a bit of a fake early in the film. The villains plan to escape the prison by helicopter. However, a storm causes the chopper to crash into a guard tower and then through the roof of the prison, where it hangs dangerously above the prisoners heads.

Later, Seagal and Ja Rule use the guns aboard the helicopter in a fire-fight with the villains. A rocket launcher is fired at them, but incredibly Ja Rule manages to shoot the missile before it hits the chopper. The copter then plummets from it’s precarious perch into the ground, where it catches fire but doesn’t explode.

So far so disappointing. But Don Michael Paul is saving himself for the finale. Having blackmailed a helicopter out of the FBI, Morris Chestnut flies away of the prison with Richard Bremmer and a female hostage (Linda Thorson) - pursued by Seagal aboard another chopper.

Chestnut throws Thorson out the chopper to stop the pursuit, but Seagal suicidally dives after her. Only, surprise, he’s got a parachute on and he’s able to save her. Meanwhile, Richard Bremmer rips open his shirt to reveal he’s wired up with explosives. He then blows himself, the villains and the helicopter up.



Artistic merit

Don Michael Paul doesn’t fluff this. Richard Bremmer winks cheekily at Morris Chestnut after he’s signals his intent to blow himself and the chopper up. There’s a warm glow of anticipation as we await the inevitable explosion.

When it comes, it does not disappoint. A nice, dirty, orange fireball erupts and wreckage is thrown out towards the camera engulfing the screen.

Seagal’s sky dive pursuit of the hostage is a delightful little extra. But let’s not forget we’ve seen that sort of thing in a lot of other films (Eraser, Live And Let Die, Point Break amongst others).

Exploding helicopter innovation

We’ve reviewed over 50 films at Exploding Helicopter and this amazingly is the first one we’ve seen where suicide is the method of destruction. I can’t believe it’s really the first, but for the time being it holds that honour.

Do passengers survive?

Yes. Linda Thorson's character survives only by dint of being thrown out of the helicopter and subsequently saved by the skydiving Steven Seagal.

Positives

Yes, with her tight leather cat suit and stylised make-up she’s a walking wet dream cliché for movie fan boys but Nia Peeples is still the best thing in this film.

Negatives

Perennial jobbing actor Tony Plana plays the prison warden with pantomime theatricality. To show how 'street' he is, he utters every third line in Spanish. Maybe he just thinks he’s in Mexico?

Favourite quote

“Yeah I was dead. Now I’m back.”

Interesting fact

The film reuses a skydiving sequence from Navy Seals and unused shots of Alcatraz prison from The Rock.

There’s also some random casting in Half Past Dead. Former Pebble Mill presenter Ross King has a tiny role as a FBI officer. Sixties icon Linda Thorson (The Avengers) appears as a judge, and bizarrely Murder She Wrote and A-Team creator Stephen J. Cannell also appears.

The films spawned a little known sequel Half Past Dead 2. Kurupt returns in the lead role, and Tony Plana cameo. It speaks volumes that neither Steven Seagal or, for that matter, Stephen J Cannell returned.

Review by: Jafo

Monday, 5 December 2011

Transformers

Those of you of a certain age will fondly remember wiling away the school holidays watching Timmy Mallett physically abuse minors on the garish Wacaday.

The piece-de-la-resistance was the Transformers cartoon at the end of the programme that introduced a generation of kids to some overpriced but rather ingenious toys.

Keen to cash in…*ahem*...educate a new generation the franchise was “rebooted” in 2007 with a big-budget movie tie-in helmed by director Michael Bay in what turned out to be another fetid gust in his vaults of stink.

The “story” as such involves the Autobots fighting the Decepticons on Earth over the Allspark, some sort of all powerful Rubix cube that could bring their home planet back to life or be used to conquer the universe. Such are the wild leaps of logic, pedestrian dialogue and retina burning action the story is purely incidental as your I.Q. would have left the building within the first 30 minutes.

Shia LaBeouf (Sam Witwicky) plays an innocent dweeb who inadvertently gets caught up in robo-mess.  He struggles valiantly to wangle a few laughs from the morass whilst wooing the delectable Megan Fox (Mikaela Banes) but is quickly engulfed by the all-consuming tide of dreck. You can only imagine that Jon Voight (Defence Secretary Keller) and John Turturro (Agent Simmons) have large alimony payments to fund.  They really should be in better films than this.

Despite being a stinking turd of a movie I was clinging to the hope that a few helicopter explosions could justify the wasted two and half hours of my life. I was sadly mistaken.  Despite over half a dozen helicopter sightings, including a sexy looking Decepticon attack helicopter named “Blackout”, only one gets engulfed in flames.

Leader of the Decepticons, Megatron climbs an LA building in order to retrieve the Allspark from Labeouf. An army chopper hovers at roof level and just as he is about to hand the cube over to the authorities, Megatron launches a couple of heat seeking missiles that slam into the copter and send it spinning out of control. It plummets out of shot engulfed in flames.



Artistic merit

To give Bay credit, Transformers will surely appeal to its target demographic: pubescent boys. In fact Bay has done a remarkable job at visualising the mind of your average 12yr old; a hyperactive, incoherent mess of toys, cars and confusing sexual urges.

Bay had plenty of opportunities to give us a proper chopper fireball yet he drops the ball. There is absolutely no excuse for a downed helicopter not to be shown in its fully exploded glory. Perhaps Bay was combing his fabulous hair. Very, very poor.

Exploding helicopter innovation

Robot shoots down helicopter with missile. Sure it has been done before. Bay hasn’t even got the imagination to do that right.

Number of exploding helicopters

1 (just).

Do passengers survive?

Doubtful, but as we don’t get the pleasure of seeing the copter slam into the floor we will never know for sure.

Positives

The exploding helicopter occurs during the final part of the movie alerting you to the fact that the film is nearly over and you can go and do something more worthwhile with your life such as alphabetising your spice rack.

Negatives

To quote our friend Robert Davi in Die Hard, Michael Bay usually likes “helicopters up the ass”. Such is his penchant for moody shots of choppers riding into and out of the sunset you would bet your house on a top notch explosion.

What we get is an inexcusable abomination.  Also how does a helicopter survive a multiple missile impact without blowing up immediately?

Favourite quote

Jazz: "What's crackin' little bitches? This looks like a cool place to kick it!"
Sam Witwicky: "How did he learn to talk like that?"
Optimus Prime: "We've learned Earth's languages through the world-wide web."

Interesting fact

In the cartoon Megatron used to transform into a Walther P38 pistol that his henchman would be able to pick up and shoot but in the film he inexplicably turns into a plane. More liberties taken but at least they get to sell a bit more merchandise right?

Review by: Neon Messiah