Monday, 30 January 2012

Mega Shark Vs Crocosaurus

Hollywood used to call them creature features. Over the decades there have been prestigious, big budget affairs like King Kong and Jurassic Park. And there's also been a noble tradition in b-movies with films like Them! Unfortunately, there's also celluloid cack like the subject of this review.

Shark expert Jaleel White and big game hunter Gary Stretch are recruited to a crack military unit - led by Robert Picardo - to slay the two beasts. There’s no explanation as to why either the mega shark or crocosaurus exist. They just lumber into the film as fully formed, homicidal creatures.

Our heroes pursue the beasts which, when they’re not destroying the US Navy or stomping over American coastal towns, are intent on destroying each other.

The film’s been produced on a shoe-string so we only ever briefly glimpse the eponymous creatures. A longer look would have required cash not at the film-makers’ disposal, and only exposed the shoddy CGI further.

Budgets for sets must also have been at a premium, since one all-purpose control room serves as the nerve centre of an aircraft carrier, two submarines and a nuclear power station.

Finally, we end up off the coast of Hawaii where the mega shark and crocosaurus are finally defeated in some kind of underwater volcanic explosion. I’ll confess I wasn’t too sure what was going on at this point as the film was doing little to command my attention.

Still, there were moments of fun along the way, with both monsters gobbling up a fair few extras. They also munch on an impressive amount of the American navy, with the mega shark even swallowing an entire nuclear submarine.

But it’s the crocosaurus who gets to the coup de grace in this film as it stomps around Florida. A TV helicopter, covering the creature’s rampage, hovers too close and is clipped by the tail of the scaly fiend. The chopper spins round wildly and disappears behind a building, before we hear an explosion and see a plume of flame shoot up into the sky.



Artistic merit

You’ve got to love the chutzpah of having the chopper disappear behind a building before exploding. It’s such an old trick to avoid special effects work that its blatant and unashamed deployment here can’t help but raise a smile.

Exploding helicopter innovation

We’re talking about a helicopter destroyed by a crocosaurus. Rest assured you are witnessing movie history being made here, people.

Do passengers survive?

You’d be justified in assuming not, but as we don’t witness the actual destruction of the helicopter we can’t be 100 per cent sure. Possible, but highly unlikely.

Positives

No-one can fault America’s ability to deal with a crisis. A hare-brained scheme to stop the crocosaurus involves deliberating overloading a nuclear power station to create a massive energy flash.

The captain of a US destroyer phones up the nuclear power station and asks them to overload their circuits. The power station chief doesn’t ask who’s phoning, question the safety, or authority of the request.

Perhaps people phone him to make such requests all the time?

Negatives

So as not to land itself with an adult certification, the shark and crocosaurus kills are disappointingly gore-free.

Favourite quote

“No, no, no. They have to stop shooting at the shark. It’s got a nuclear submarine inside her. She’s a nuclear bomb now!”

Interesting fact

The film is directed by Christopher Ray, who’s spent his entire career making these kind of schlock features like Almighty Thor, Two Headed Shark and Zombie Apocalypse.

He’s clearly a frame off the old celluloid strip though, as his father is Fred Olen Ray – the man behind Hollywood Chainsaw Massacre, The Brain Leeches and Alien Dead.

Review by: Jafo

Monday, 23 January 2012

On Deadly Ground

On Deadly Ground (1994) is the film which brought Steven Seagal’s career to a juddering halt. He’d graduated from martial arts thrillers to box office star courtesy of Under Siege. He could have consolidated his new-found status by churning out a few conventional cop thrillers. Instead he chose to save the planet.

It’s easy to mock Seagal for this. But you know what? You can’t knock the cause. We are damaging the planet. And what have any of Seagal’s peers in action cinema – Stallone, Van Damme, Schwarzenegger – done to help?

There is, though, plenty you can mock in this film. For starters there’s Seagal’s bizarre over-identification with Eskimo culture, which sees him wander through the film wearing an eccentrically fringed, animal skin jacket.

This culminates in a surreal dream sequence where Seagal becomes the Eskimos’ spiritual warrior. He uundergoes a hallucinatory rite of passage where topless women gyrate in front of him, before he’s required to kill a bear in hand-to-paw combat, and be ‘reborn’ in a lake.

This is all before the film’s closing scene where Big Steve delivers a five-minute monologue on the evils of the oil industry, and outlines a conspiracy to prevent the development of renewable energy.

Yes, it’s bonkers. But it’s also brave and ballsy, with enough demented energy and over-the-top brio to make it one of my favourite Seagal films.

And while Seagal’s primary concern with this film is protecting the environment, he still finds time to deliver on the conventions of the action film – including a helicopter explosion.

A team of mercenaries fly in to eliminate Seagal and stop him interfering with the oil-drilling operation. However, like a deranged survivalist, Steve keeps a remote cave in the wilderness chock full of explosives and weaponry.

The mercenaries track Seagal to his armoury. But having grabbed the equipment he needs, Whispering Steve blows up the cave – and the helicopter gets caught in the blast.

Artistic merit

A crackerjack chopper fireball. In the time-honoured tradition of exploding helicopter movies, the chopper pilot hovers at just the right distance to allow the copter to be consumed in the explosion.

And as the explosion goes off behind Seagal, we get to see him dive away in slow motion, in vintage, action movie fashion.

Exploding helicopter innovation

First known use of a cave to blow up a helicopter.

Positives

In keeping with the extraordinary over-the-top quality of the film, there’s a fantastic, scenery-chewing performance from Michael Caine.

With a bizarre slicked back, black hairstyle, Caine’s every third word consists of “sonofabitch” as he erratically attempts an American accent. And, in one particularly memorable scene, he leaves us with an extraordinary image, raging: “I’m gonna have Eskimos and environmentalists probing every orifice of my body for the next two weeks.”

Negatives

Sadly, On Deadly Ground remains the only film Seagal has ever directed. Today Steve concentrates on the routine cop thrillers his agent was probably always telling him to do. We can only hope that Seagal will one day go behind the camera again, and gift the world a further classic.

Favourite quote

The film delivers a conveyor belt of classic dialogue. Corking lines are scattered throughout the script like confetti.

There’s the bizarre from Seagal: “You tell your father I’m nothing but a mouse hiding from the hawks in the house of a raven.”

The crude from the henchmen: “I want you to protect this rig like it was your sister’s cherry.”

And, of course, mind-blowing, epic, mouthfuls of bollocks. [Talking about Seagal]: “He's the kind of guy that would drink a gallon of gasoline so he could piss on your campfire! You could drop this guy off at the Arctic Circle wearing a pair of bikini underwear, without his toothbrush, and tomorrow afternoon he's going to show up at your pool side with a million dollar smile and fist full of pesos. This guy's a professional, you got me?“

Interesting fact

Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kershner cameos as the director of a cheesy TV advert that Michael Caine films to highlight his green credentials.

Review by: Jafo

Still want more? Then check out the Exploding Helicopter podcast episode on On Deadly Ground. Download the episode from iTunes, Podomatic, YourListen, Stitcher, or acast.


Sunday, 22 January 2012

Midnight Run

Here at Exploding Helicopter HQ, we sit through a lot of cinematic turkeys in order to catalogue the fiery delights that light up their otherwise turgid bowels. So, imagine our sheer joy at being able to review a film that was enjoyable from start to finish. We almost wept real tears.

Bobby DeNiro plays embittered bounty hunter Jack Walsh out to do one last big money job (it’s always the last job isn’t it?). He has to track down and escort mob accountant Jonathan “The Duke” Mardukas (Charles Grodin) from NY to LA. All whilst avoiding the attentions of the Mafia, FBI and rival bounty hunter (John Ashton). Think of it as Beverly Hills Cop meets Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Kudos should be given to director Martin Brest for the inspired casting. Despite intense pressure from Paramount to ditch Grodin in favour of a bigger name, he stuck to his guns. And Brest is utterly vindicated in the film, as the chemistry between the emotionally repressed DeNiro, and Grodin’s laconic Mardukas, is a joy.

As with all great actors, the pair are able to say more with a couple of looks than a lesser thespian would with a page of dialogue. As they lurch from disaster to disaster the duo's sparkling turns elevate the film from routine 'road trip' territory to bona fide classic.

Greatness, though, is no guarantee of entry into the hallowed vaults at Exploding Helicopter. Luckily for cast and crew, the powers at be had the good sense to include a chopper fireball in order for us to allow their admittance to our hallowed hall of fame (or, in our case, hall of flame).

DeNiro, Grodin and Ashton find themselves on the wrong end of machinegun fire, as their car is peppered by trigger happy enforcers in a helicopter. The goons manage to force the car off the road and Grodin winds up in the river, totally exposed to the hovering chopper and its impressive firepower.

Just as the Mob is about to finish off the job, DeNiro takes careful aim at the copter’s rotor arm and with a couple of well placed shots from his pistol causes the chopper to spin wildly out of control like a mechanical bucking bronco set at the wrong. It veers too close to the cliff face and WHAM!  It goes up like a shell-suit on bonfire night.



Artistic merit

A pleasingly large, CGI free, explosion with some nice supporting shots of the debris rolling down the cliff side and a lingering pyrotechnical aftermath.

No surprise that Beverly Hills Cop director Martin Brest is at the helm as the film also contains his familiar mix of action and humour.  However he has cut back on the Gorgonzola as the movie has a surprising amount of pathos, morality and sensitivity amongst the normal helping of cheesy one liners, wailing guitar soundtracks, and formulaic car chases that are the staple diet of this genre.

The scene involving Walsh’s daughter and the final goodbye between Walsh and Mardukas are genuinely moving moments.

Exploding helicopter innovation

Nothing of any real note, but the whole set piece is nicely shot and handled with enough skill to satisfy most exploding helicopter enthusiasts.

No of exploding helicopters

1

Do the Passengers survive?

Unless they are made of asbestos, no.

Positives

The casting director should be applauded for a fantastic ensemble cast. If the alchemy between DeNiro and Grodin doesn’t wet your whistle then you have Yaphet Kotto chewing up the screen as the menacing Agent Mosely (you might remember him as Parker in Alien), slime-ball loan shark Joe Pantoliano (Eddie Moscone AKA Francis Fratelli in The Goonies), John Ashton (lunk-headed rival bounty hunter Marvin Dorfler AKA Sgt Taggart in Beverly Hills Cop) and Dennis Farina as badda-binging Mob boss Jimmy Serrano. You might not know their names but you definitely know their faces.

Negatives

If I were hyper-critical I would question the Mob’s decision to use a machine gun and a helicopter as a means of discretely eliminating a missing fugitive. I guess the Mafia isn’t synonymous with subtlety.

Despite being a corker of a film, it was perhaps the catalyst for DeNiro’s subsequent slippery descent into the legacy-threatening light comedy, and the hell that has been Analyze That, A Shark’s Tale and Little Fockers.  Don’t get cocky kid.

Favourite quote

Jonathan Mardukas: No I don't have to do better than that, because it's the truth. I can't fly. I suffer from aviaphobia.
Jack Walsh: What does that mean?
Jonathan Mardukas: It means I can't fly. I also suffer from claustrophobia and agoraphobia.
Jack Walsh: Well if you don't shut up, pretty soon you're gonna suffer from fistaphobia.

Interesting fact

Grodin decided to take a 13yr hiatus after starring in Beethoven and eschewed the Hollywood lifestyle to be a stay-at-home dad to his kids. Aaah, what a bloody nice bloke.

Review by: Neon Messiah

Still want more? Then listen to the Exploding Helicopter podcast all about Midnight Run. You can listen or download via iTunes, Podomatic, YourListen, Stitcher or Acast.


Monday, 16 January 2012

Operation Delta Force 2

Chuck Norris is not in this film. That’s because the Operation Delta Force series is unrelated to the plain old Delta Force films. The producers would like it to be known that any confusion is entirely accidental and in no way, shape, or form an attempt to trade on the reputation of the Norris franchise.

So what we get here is a strictly routine military action film. A bunch of no-mark actors, led by Skip Lang (Michael McGrady), are Delta Force. They have to stop international terrorist Lukash (J Kenneth Campbell) who’s hijacked a cruise ship and a Russian submarine.

Unless Lukash gets $25 billion dollars he’s going to fire its nuclear weapons. If anyone attacks him in the sub he’ll sink the cruise ship with all its passengers.

Lang and his team chopper in retake the ship, sneak aboard the submarine, and then kill Lukash and prevent nuclear Armageddon. In an extra twist the captain of the cruise ship is Lang’s estranged father. As if the mission wasn’t tough enough Lang’s got to reconcile his relationship with his Dad.

There’s an impressive amount of action in the film, but it never really gets the blood pumping. The acting is turgid and the script flaccid. Everything is one beat off, with the delivery of dialogue and the cutting of scenes needing to be quicker. It leaves the film feeling longer than it actually is.

Campbell: Panto villain
The film’s directed by Yossi Wein who’s spent his entire career in DTV and who in various roles has worked on Cyborg Cop I-III, US Seals, and American Ninja IV. He’s got some decent pedigree and I thought he’d be able to deliver at this level, but he seriously flunks out here.

That said, the film isn’t without its compensations. The hijacking of the cruise ship is great in a ludicrous way. Lukash’s mercenaries infiltrate the ship's crew as waiters, biding their time as waiters until the ship is out at sea and they can take over the vessel.

It makes you wonder what kind of recruitment policy the cruise line are running that a bunch of burly, crew-cut mercenaries can all get hired on the same ship. Still it’s not often you get to watch a film where all the villains are wearing nice red velvet dinner jackets.

J Kenneth Campbell puts in a suitably pantomime villain turn as Lukash. But he’s got no one to spark off and he’s just left high and dry by everyone around him.

Probably the best scene is the one which opens the films and introduces us to Lang and his team. We meet them as they fly into Iraq to rescue some American soldiers.

They fight their way into a compound meeting heavier resistance than they expected. A helicopter flies firing on our heroes. However, they rake it with enough machine gun fire that it comes crashing down on top of a building, whereupon it blows up in spectacular fashion.



Artistic merit

A great fireball. It actually looks like they blow something up and there’s an impressive scale to the explosion. Although confusingly, after making it look like the chopper and building have been blown to smithereens, in a later scene we can see the semi-intact helicopter on top of the flattened building.

As they like to say in action films: “What the…..?”

Exploding helicopter innovation

In a film that is the dictionary definition of routine I sadly have to report no exploding helicopter innovation.

Michael McGrady: aka the superb Rusty Galloway
Positives

While his performance in this is uniformly wooden I was very excited to see Michael McGrady in the lead role. He’s spent most of career in TV and is currently enjoying a higher profile as a character in the series Southland.

However, I know him best as the voice of Rusty Galloway in the computer game LA Noire. If you’ve ever played the game you’ll know what a delight the sardonic, embittered, world weary Galloway is.

Negatives

The soundtrack to the film is abysmal. It sounds like it’s been farted out in five minutes on a junk shop synthesizer using only the ‘synth trumpet’ setting. Truly horrendous.

Favourite quote

The very puzzling: “Time to load and lock, and rock n roll.”

Everyone knows it’s “Lock and load” and flipping it round misses the rhyming scheme of lock and rock.

Interesting fact

Operation Delta Force doesn’t seem to have served as much of a career springboard for many involved in it. Except for Danny Lerner who wrote the story. After graduating from the world of DTV he’s gone on to work as a producer on The Mechanic, The Expendables 2 and Conan The Barbarian.

Review by: Jafo

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Escape From LA

Escape From LA (1996) has got a pretty bad reputation amongst John Carpenter fans.

But you know what? Fans are sometimes the worst judges. They can have impossible expectations, impose creative straightjackets, and overreact to anything which differs from their own preconceived ideas.

Waiting 16 years to make the sequel to the classic Escape From New York (1981) probably didn’t help. Making the job of overcoming the accumulated expectation all the harder. But judged in it’s own merits Escape From LA is a good film.

Carpenter has on one level remade Escape From New York but at the same time made a completely different film. While the first was a simple action film set in a dystopian future, this sequel attempts to combine action with social satire.

We’re presented with a grossly exaggerated, gonzoid, comic book LA, but one rooted in the reality of the city and America as whole. Politics, religion, plastic surgery, capital punishment, the environment, the list of targets the film takes pot shots at is lengthy. It’s unsubtle, over the top, but it’s a subversive vision of America that you don’t often see in mainstream movies.

Sure there are flaws. Some of the editing is shocking, in one scene Valerie Golino is simply cut off half way through a sentence. And the special effects leave a lot to be desired. But they have a certain cartoon-ish quality which fits in with the tone of the film.

You can see this in, what we at this website certainly consider to be, the films key scene: the helicopter explosion.

The films villain and de facto ruler of LA Cuevo Jones (Georges Corraface) has blackmailed the authorities into sending a helicopter into LA in which he intends to escape the prison.

Russell though hijacks the chopper to make his own getaway. Seeing his plans about to be foiled Jones fires a rocket launcher at the helicopter. Badly damaged the chopper flies on trailing flames and smoke.

Unable to land the chopper safely Russell bails out at the last moment.  The chopper crashes into the ground and explodes in a massive fireball.



Artistic merit

As I’ve already mentioned the special effects aren’t this film’s strongest quality. The entire helicopter sequence has very obviously been done using miniatures, a decidedly old school specials effects method.

Whether this was an artistic decision or for budget reasons is hard to know. It’s further complicated by the fact a building in the background of the scene has a big sign on it saying “Miniatures”.

The effects used to create the “fire” onboard the helicopter are ridiculous. They’ve clearly been superimposed with little effort to make it look real. It looks like someone’s napalming a tree line in the back of the helicopter yet Russell’s mullet is not so much as singed by the conflagration behind him.

The helicopter’s final seconds of descent are embarrassing. It’s as if someone is pushing the chopper across the screen with their finger. But when it finally crashes the fireball which erupts looks like genuine pyrotechnics. Nor does it look like any expense was spared here as the fireball is huge, dark blood orange in colour, smeared with sooty blacks. It’s very good.

Exploding helicopter innovation

After the helicopter first lands the rotor blades retract into the chassis. Quite what advantage this lends is never clear. Regardless, it becomes the first known destruction of a helicopter with retractable rotor blades.

It could also be the earliest example of someone escaping a chopper fireball by jumping clear of a helicopter whilst its in flight. The only other example I can think of this is in Die Hard 4.0 where a sniper jumps clear moments before his chopper is destroyed by a flying car.

Do passengers survive?

Three survive and five die in a quite complicated set of circumstances.

To make his escape Russell teams up with a rag tag collection of LA residents, including Steve Buscemi, Pam Grier, and some of her gang. Whilst shooting Cuevo Jones henchman from the helicopter, Grier is shot and killed. When Jones goes to fire the rocket launcher Buscemi fearing a fiery doom leaps clear of the helicopter landing safely after falling on to a shop canopy.

Four passengers sat in the back of the helicopter all die in a burst of flame which sweeps across the back of the cabin. Inexplicably the flames are isolated in the back of the helicopter and don’t harm Russell or Utopia, the president’s daughter who’s also on board.

After flying out of LA Utopia and Russell both jump clear of the crippled chopper moments before it crashes and explodes.

Positives

There’s a brief appearance by perennial bit part player Al Leong as one of Pam Grier gang members. Leong’s put in memorable micro-performances in classic actions films like Lethal Weapon, Big Trouble In Little China, Death Warrant, Beverly Hills Cop III, the list goes on.

Perhaps my favourite Al moment is when he sneakily steals a chocolate bar in Die Hard. Here, he puts in one of his stock non-speaking roles. If when he doesn’t do anything special its just nice to see him on screen.

Negatives

The quality of the special effects was widely knocked when this film was released. It probably didn’t help that the “envelop pushing” Independence Day came out in the same year.

Favourite quote

Plissken: “Sad story. You gotta smoke?”

Interesting fact

The film was apparently in the pipeline for over 10 years. A script was commissioned as far back as 1985, however, Carpenter sat on it as he felt it was too ‘light and campy’. Given the end product it’d be interested to know different the final film was from the original draft.

Escape From LA is also unusual as Carpenter made his name making clever remakes Assault On Precinct 13 an updating of Rio Bravo, and The Thing an updating of its namesake The Thing From Another World. This film then is oddly John Carpenter remaking himself.

Review by: Jafo

You want more don't you? Then why not check out the Exploding Helicopter podcast episode on Escape From LA. Listen on iTunes, Acast, Stitcher, Podomatic, or YourListen. Or right here...

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Die Hard With A Vengeance

The first thing you notice is that this movie is explicitly not called Die Hard 3. It’s as if everyone has just collectively ‘ahemed’, looked the other way and tried to pretend Renny Harlin’s piece of shit airplane yawn-fest (Die Hard 2) never happened. Certainly, I’ve tried.

After his tough-cop-on-the-edge character John McClane was confined to a high-rise building and airplane for the first two movies, Bruce Willis clearly decided his mammoth ego needed a slightly broader canvas this time round.

Still, it’s hard to pin-point exactly where the movie is set, because Bruce – entertainingly accompanied by Samuel L Jackson in full sass-mode as an angry shopkeeper – pretty much gets everywhere. First he zooms all over New York (Harlem, the subway, Central Park, Federal Reserve Bank). Then he almost drowns in a big tunnel, jumps off a suspension bridge and gets blown off an exploding container ship. Finally – god help us – he ends up in Quebec.

The real revelation is Jeremy Irons playing Simon Gruber, the revenge-seeking brother of Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) who, you’ll remember, our Bruce yippee-kiyayed out a high-rise window in the first movie. While Rickman’s performance – oily and eloquent – has stood the test of time, in retrospect Irons here gave a display of mackerel-stinking proportions.

It’s a classic look-at-me turn, at once shouty and unconvincing (copyright: Al Pacino). The Allo, Allo accent is all over the shop, his tight powder-blue vest (Irons ‘bulked up’ for the role) looks camp as knickers and at no point did I not think: Oh look, there’s Jeremy Irons doing a funny, stilted voice. Terrible, terrible stuff.

Irons: As camp as knickers
There’s also a surreal moment where, to fool a cop, Irons affects a good ole boy accent. That means we have an English actor doing a not very good Euro accent trying to fake a drawling American accent. There may be words to describe what that actually sounds like but they’re beyond this writer.

The action finally swings to a port in Quebec, where our Jezza is whizzing about in an invincible attack helicopter and shooting merrily at everything. But doesn’t he realise it’s the last ten minutes of an action movie, and nothing’s exploded for a good 15 minutes? The fool!

Exploding helicopter innovation

Pretty standard fare here, with Irons following the time-honoured baddie tradition of throwing away a huge, seemingly unassailable advantage. Poised above pistol-wielding Bruce in a machine-gun helicopter and holding a huge shotgun, he naturally – instead of just shooting the prone figure on the tarmac below – smiles at him smugly for eleven seconds (I counted).

This gives our hero time to notice the chopper is idly whirring under some power cables. D’oh!. Being Bruce, he manages to sever a thick power cable with two quick pistol shots from half a mile away, which sends the chopper spinning into a telegraph pole. Ka-boom.



Do the passengers survive?

No. Jeremy, his evil girlfriend and his powder-blue vest are no more.

Positives

Spectacular and innovative the explosion ain’t, but it at least looks like there is a real helicopter on fire. There’s a nice back-shot of Bruce walking towards the blazing shell, which looks pretty authentic.

Negatives

It’s done professionally enough but the explosion lacks any real ambition, which is also the movie’s main problem. The grubby vest; the ‘Gruber’ villain; the trusty Afro-American side-kick. There’s a distinct sense of laurels being rested on here. (Bruce even says ‘Yippee-kiyay, motherfucker’ when the chopper explodes.) It wouldn’t have hurt to throw in a couple of new ideas.

Favourite quote

While being shot at by a helicopter machine gun, Bruce quips: “I had no idea Canada could be this much fun.” Well, I laughed.

Interesting fact

According to Richard E Grant’s entertaining memoir, With Nails, Bruce is a right tosser.

Review by: Chopper

Monday, 9 January 2012

The Dark Knight

This is a difficult film to tackle, both because so much has been written about it and because of its revered place in the superhero genre. Despite this, lets cover the basics.

The film is the follow up to 2005's 'gritty' (surely one of the most popular movie buzzwords of the 2000's) reboot of the character and story, despite the definitive 1966 production.

I've clarified, and shark attacks on helicopters aren't permissable entries for the blog.

The film isn't hampered by the need to provide an original story and so jumps straight into the action. The caped crusader's campaign to curtail the criminal capers (sorry, 60's Batman again) of the locals seem to have gone quite well.

The criminal elite of the city are feeling distinctly threatened and so turn to the dubious assistance of the Joker (Heath Ledger in his last full role) to help them continue in their naughty ways by removing the Batman. As it turns out, the hiring of the mentally unstable for difficult jobs comes with its own set of issues.

Gary Oldman plays Commissioner Gordon, a maverick cop who merrily ignores due process, (although perhaps not in the same way as his role in Leon) in his attempts to bring the criminals of the city to justice.

As the film develops, we follow the District Attorney, Harvey Dent as he works with both Batman and Commissioner Gordon to try to bring Gotham back to a reasonable level of street crime and anti-social behaviour. The film then follows the plots and plot-thwarting of the Joker and Batman respectively, until we get to the main finale, a rooftop showdown.

As it turns out, the finale is not the actual finale at all.  Instead we're treated to another ending (a phenomonon best embodied by Jackson's 'The Return of the King') which ties up the story with Two-Face and sets us up for the series finale.

The film can be thought of as Batman's attempts to plan for his succession. He recognises that he cannot always go on as the illegitimate (but righteous) force of justice in the City and also knows that his successor will need more authority than being simply annointed by the Batman.

The moral difficulties around unaccountable power are acknowledged (if not adequately dealt with) in a plot element around almost Murdochian-levels of phone tapping within the city by Batman. It's a hell of a lot more nuanced than say, 24, in its 'its not wrong if you do it for the right reasons' attitude but is by no means the last word on the subject.

None of this is to say its a bad film, there's so much in there, with some very beautiful shots and solid performances (although I don't think I'll ever engage with the Bale growl properly). Directed by Christopher Nolan, the film really benefits from a determination to do as many stunts and effects shots 'live' as possible.

This culminates in an excellent protracted car chase where the Joker is attacking a police convoy in the hopes of killing Harvey Dent. The whole sequence is superb and includes both a personal movie highlight for me, the flipping of a lorry, and the all important helicopter explosion.

With his control over the route to be taken by the convoy, the Joker manages to plan for the possibility of his plans being thwarted by an apparently unarmed helicopter. As the chase continues, the helicopter drops lower and lower to follow the action. Meanwhile, disposable henchmen string cables across the street between two high rises. The inevitable occurs and the helicopter plunges to earth a tangled mess, before the all-important explosion.



Artistic merit

The actual destruction of the helicopter is nicely teased out. The cables go out in plenty of time for the audience to anticipate the helicopter's impending doom.

Exploding helicopter innovation

Flying into what are essentially tripwires is a credit to the devious mind of the writers.

Number of exploding helicopters

One

Positives

Nearly all the film in truth. This is excellent story telling with a great cast and a great eye to atmosphere and tone.

Negatives

There is a strange disconnect between the two story strands of the Joker and Two Face. So much energy goes into ending the Joker's story that it feels a bit of a challenge to try to crank up the intensity again to get a similarly powerful resolution to the Two Face story.

Favourite quote

"Do you want to see a magic trick?"

Interesting fact

Several scenes were filmed on IMAX film stock meaning those sections of the film are shown at a much higher resolution. If you're looking for them, these scenes/shots are easy to pick out.  And were captivating in an IMAX screen.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

The 6th Day

In the wrong film Arnold Schwarzenegger is like a raisin in a bowl of milk.

You may like milk. You may like raisins. But no matter how long you ponder the contents of your bowl you’re only ever going ask yourself what the hell is that doing there?.

Put Arnold Schwarzenegger in the right film, let’s say Predator, Commando, Red Heat or The Terminator, and he’s an effective actor. Put him in the wrong one and he sticks out like a pork sausage at a Jewish buffet.

Sometimes that ‘cock in a hen house’ casting can work. Much of Kindergarten Cop’s comedy comes from the fact Arnie was the world’s most unlikely children’s teacher. Unfortunately as Arnie’s star rose he found himself too often in settings utterly unsuited to his skills.

The 6th Day is one of those films. It requires us to believe Arnie is a normal Joe. A guy with a job, family, and who’s main worry in life is when he’s going to be able to get some hanky panky with his wife (Not something we now know Arnie ever worried about in real life, but hey let’s not go there).

In the finest traditions of Hitchcock, fate and circumstance conspire to put Arnie at the centre of a gigantic conspiracy. Banned technology is being used to clone wealthy and important people effectively offering them the prospect of immortality.

With another actor this film might have worked better. Unfortunately, Arnie come with too much baggage. He spends most of the film being pursued by villains led by Michael Rooker. Arnie though is someone you expect to take the fight to the enemy at the first sign of trouble.

And while the film is essentially an action film it does attempt some commentary on the ethics of genetic cloning. Unfortunately, giving Schwarzenegger great mouthfuls of dialogue about the morality of science is not a good idea. He delivers the lines, but they tumble from his mouth like rubble from a collapsing building.

Fortunately for us, The Governator plays a helicopter pilot. As the film is set in the future this isn’t just an ordinary helicopter. The rotors can be disengaged and jets activated so it can rocket forward like a plane.

But anyway, Rooker and his goons have taken Arnie’s family hostage. Arnie arranges to pick them up by helicopter in exchange for vital information he’s stolen. However, Rooker intends to eliminate all the loose ends in the conspiracy. When the futuristic helicopter comes in to land Rooker shoots it down using a laser weapon.

The chopper explodes and crashes to the ground where it explodes again. Unfortunately for Rooker Arnie isn’t aboard as he suspected a double cross and was flying the chopper by remote control.

Artist merit

I felt a bit sorry for director Roger Spottiswoode. He wants to deliver a decent chopper fireball but is required by the script not to blow the helicopter up to much. That’s because Rooker has to be able to see that Arnie wasn’t aboard and that he’s been double crossed. So there’s lots of flame and explosions but the chopper remains strangely intact despite all the pyrotechnics.

Exploding helicopter innovation

First known destruction of a remote controlled helicopter.

Michael Rooker: Permanently strangulated
Positives

I love Michael Rooker. Maybe I’m watching the wrong type of films, but he seems to have disappeared from view in recent years. Rooker’s got this coiled intensity that he brings to every role. I also love his voice. It sounds a bit choked and emotional. A bit like he’s being strangulated.

Negatives

As if the casting of Schwarzenegger wasn’t bad enough in this film, the cloning plot requires Arnie to share scenes of dialogue with himself. Double the torture.

Favourite quote

Arnie: “I might be back.”
Shop assistant: “He’ll be back.”

Interesting fact

Kevin Costner could have been the lead in this film. He turned down the role as it conflicted with other films he was working on.

The 6th Day was originally called The Sixth Day, but was renamed to avoid confusion with The Sixth Sense. I know. They really do think we’re that stupid.

Review by: Jafo

Still want more? Then listen to the Exploding Helicopter podcast episode on The 6th Day. Listen via iTunes, Player FM, Stitcher, Acast or right here


Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Transformers 2: Revenge Of The Fallen

Shia LeBeouf (Sam Witwicky), John Turturro (Seymour Simmons) and Megan Fox (Mikaela Banes) are back in this overblown, protracted, charmless, empty-headed, dogs dinner of a sequel that once again sees the Autobots fighting the Decepticons to protect Witwicky who has accidentally acquired ancient secrets, after touching a shard of the destroyed Allspark, that are key to the survival of the human race and harvesting the sun qtyroihafosihdfaifhdrty3454563....zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...oh sorry...I fell asleep on my keyboard typing that.  You catch my drift.

If you thought the first film was bad you underestimate the turd producing qualities of Michael Bay, who manages the seemingly impossible feat of dumbing down one of the dumbest films every made.  Someone should tell him sunsets, CGI and slow motion are no substitute for a well written plot, clever direction and genuine drama.

The attempts at comedy are incredibly lame (the introduction of two wisecracking Autobot twins Skids and Mudflap reach Jah Jah Binks levels of misjudgement), the action is just so OTT you begin to zone out in the first half an hour and the plot is so convoluted only a 5 year old could suspend their disbelief. The whole thing is stuck together with CGI and Megan Fox's cleavage.

Yet, despite an almost universal critical panning, the film made $836 million worldwide, spawned another sequel, and Bay is in final negotiations to make a fourth. You idiots get the films you deserve.

Why do we put ourselves through the torture of watching this garbage? Exploding helicopters of course, and at least Bay has the good sense to include four.

The first fireball involves the Decepticon Demolisher, a huge construction vehicle that is uncovered in Shanghai. As the military attempt to take him down with a phalanx of weaponry, including two Sikorsky Blackhawks, he manages to catch one of the helicopters on the tail with one of his huge arms as it flies by. It breaks in two and flips out of control and out of shot.

The second and third choppers go down in quick succession at the hands of the Decepticons in the deserts of Petra in a slow motion scene which sees the damaged choppers crash through palm trees and onto the desert floor.  There is not much of a fireball but the rotor blades hack nicely into the sand as they grind to a burning halt.

The last chopper is destroyed so quickly that if you blinked you'd have missed it, in fact, helicopter bible Rotary Action did.  Decepticon leader The Fallen has clambered on top of a huge pyramid that contains a Sun Harvester (don't ask) and uses his telekinetic abilities to attract all the tanks and planes to him. Amongst the collection of vehicles that smash against the pyramid are a Sikorsky Blackhawk that slams against the side of the structure and bursts into flame.

Artistic merit

For most directors the inclusion of a chopper fireball is a set piece to be lingered over. The denouement to adrenaline fuelled action sequence. To Bay they are nothing more an afterthought.  For a man who farts out CGI set-pieces in his sleep, including exploding helicopters in proceedings is akin to most directors adding a couple more pretty girls to a crowd scene.

Two of the choppers fireballs happen in a flash with the minimum of fuss or the chance for the viewer to linger over the wreckage. The action is just so busy the explosions become redundant.



Exploding helicopter innovation

First known use of telekinesis to destroy a chopper? To be honest if you haven’t seen a giant robot smash up a helicopter you haven't watched the first film.

No of exploding helicopters

4

Do passengers survive?

In the double helicopter explosion in the Egyptian desert all four passengers emerge virtually unscathed from the downed Blackhawks despite crashing into the ground from a great height. Sand is very helicopter friendly apparently.

Positives

Megan Fox has a nice ass.

Negatives

If the Transformers are supposed to live unobtrusively amongst us as cars, planes and washing machines they spend a remarkable amount of time casually strolling about in their shiny 30ft high finery loudly fighting each other and blowing things up.

Favourite quotes

"We got lost. We tried to get bigger. It's what happens to sequels. It's like, how do you top the first one? You've got to go bigger. Michael Bay went so big that it became too big." Shia LaBeouf

"The real fault with Transformers 2 is that it ran into a mystical world. When I look back at it, that was crap." Michael Bay

Interesting fact

The writing team of Rovert Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Ehren Kruger were paid $8million dollars to come up with this convoluted boloney. Probably the biggest waste of money since producers shot £75 million making the Affleck-Lopez disaster Gigli.

Review by: Neon Messiah

Monday, 2 January 2012

Three Kings

I was talking to a friend the other day and saying that I really needed to get more war movies on the site. Any post-Vietnam war film has got to be a rich source of helicopter explosions.

So with fortuitous timing Three Kings (1999) turned up on TV. It’s set just after the first Gulf War in 1991. A ceasefire is in place and the coalition forces are getting ready to return home.

As they administer the surrender of Iraqi troops four soldiers come into possession of map detailing a buried stash of stolen gold. With a return to the drudgery of their day jobs the soldiers decide that liberating the bullion will be more rewarding than liberating Kuwait.

The four soldiers - played by George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, and Spike Jonze – head out into the desert to track down the gold. Along the way they have run-ins with the remnants of the Iraqi army, freedom fighters and a journalist intent on filing at least one decent story.

Now I always love watching films to see how they attempt to slip something into the story that will later turn out to be key to the plot. Take for example Die Hard which, alongside beginning with a near flawless piece of character exposition, explains why Bruce Willis spends the rest of the film running around in bare feet.

At their worst these types of plot devices are ball-achingly painful. Usually when the director doesn’t trust the audience to pick up on the detail and draws out attention to it with all the subtlety of a knee-capping.

Fortunately the one in Three Kings, whilst by no means perfect, is certainly at the superior end of the scale and, most excitingly for me, central to the films helicopter explosion.

So in an early scene we see the four mismatched soldiers driving out into the desert in a truck. A couple of them are goofing around in the back trying to shoot American footballs which they’re throwing out the back while Ice Cube and Spike Jonze argue about the merits of black quarterbacks.

The plausibility of the scene has already been set-up by conversations earlier in the film about how little action they’d seen as part of the conflict. And with Spike Jonze’s white trash cracker character established you can believe it when he straps an explosive to one of the footballs that he throws out the back.

While the scene makes sense within its self, it’s too distinctive to for you to think the exploding footballs won’t make a reappearance later. Sure enough it does when one of the exploding balls is dropped down a ventilation shaft.

Is that the last we’ve seen them of them though? No. Because when an Iraqi helicopter attacks their position. Ice Cube takes to the roof of the building they’re in armed with one of the exploding footballs which he pitches at the cockpit of the chopper. Touchdown!



Artistic merit

Director David O. Russell doesn’t fumble the ball. He goes the whole ten yards with this helicopter explosion.  Slow motion, multiple angles of the explosion and then when the shattered fuselage crashes into the ground it blows up again. I have nothing but the highest praise for how Russell lingers over destruction of this chopper.

Exploding helicopter innovation

You not seriously telling me you’ve seen another film where they’ve used an exploding American football to blow-up a helicopter are you?

Positives

This is one of those rare beasts – an action film which is both fun and intelligent. The premise of the plot has a lot in common with Kelly’s Heroes. But the plot’s always got a new twist that it’s ready to throw at you to keep you interested. The scripts also got a nice line in subversive humour.

I particularly liked how the political context of the Gulf War is cleverly used in this film. With the civil divisions between the Shia population and Sunni ruling elite adding both a dramatic element to the plot but also providing a subtle commentary on the consequences of this conflict on the Iraqi people themselves.

Negatives

You know what I really can’t think of one.

Favourite quote

“What was that?”
“I rigged a football with C4 sir.”
“Why would you do that?”

Interesting fact

The plot to Three Kings has more than a passing resemblance to Kelly’s Heroes starring Clint Eastwood. Interestingly the part was originally intended for Clint Eastwood but director Russell wanted a younger actor. Nicholas Cage was also considered before Clooney was cast.

Review by: Jafo

Still want more? Then check out the Exploding Helicopter podcast episode on Three Kings. Listen on iTunes, Podomatic, Stitcher or YourListen