Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Terror Experiment

I have to thank my friend over at Bad Film Friday for tipping me off about The Terror Experiment (2010) after spotting a helicopter explosion in the trailer. “Let me know if it’s as bad as it looks,” he said. Maybe I shouldn’t thank him just yet.

So, what we have here is a made-for-cable conspiracy thriller meets zombie movie starring two, ahem, giants of the 80s Brat Pack: C Thomas Howell and Judd Nelson.

The plot involves the sinisterly named Concerned Citizens Alliance (‘Angry  housewives of the world unite!’) who set off a bomb in a Government building to further their ill-defined political agenda.

Unfortunately, the building is home to a top secret laboratory where a deadly chemical weapon is being developed. The explosion releases the toxin, which turns anyone exposed to it into a homicidal zombie. It’s basically Die Hard with zombies.

Outside, Howell and Nelson try to contain the situation. Howell’s ‘Honest Joe’ local fire chief wants to rescue the survivors trapped inside, while Nelson’s shady Government agent just wants to blow-up the building and destroy all evidence of the experiments. With the building locked-down, a small group of survivors battle to stay alive while trying to find a way out.

This group form an identikit cross-section of survivors you’ll be all too familiar with from movies of this ilk. There’s the selfish sleaze, the suspicious scientist and several squawking make-weights who are only there to provide zombie fodder. The only two likeable characters are the ones who get to stumble out the building alive. Quelle surprise.

Naturally, our two heroes Cale (Jason London) and Mandy (Alicia Leigh Willis) are attracted to each other. Unfortunately, there’s the small problem of Cale’s ball-breaking ex-wife who‘s also trapped in the building. She becomes an even bigger problem when she turns into a zombie and tries to strangle Cale. Luckily, Mandy turns up just in time and shoots her dead. You really do find love in the most unusual places.

Overall, this film was the worst of all worlds – generic and competent. It wasn’t bad enough to become entertainingly funny and lacked the imagination or flair to make it more memorable. Still, there was one highlight and I’m glad to report it involved a helicopter explosion.

As part of the film’s aspirations to be Die Hard with Zombies, we’d already witnessed a scene where one character leaps to safety using a fire hose. In a further appropriation from the action classic, a helicopter is blown-up as it circles the roof of the building.

With the zombies controlling the lower floors of the building, the survivors head to the roof in the hope they might be rescued. However, the Concerned Citizens Alliance (‘Say no to fortnightly bin collections!’) have predicted such a development and laid a devious trap involving a bomb and a balloon filled with helium.

When a helicopter comes in to land on the roof, the downdraft of the rotors pushes down the floating balloon which had been holding a lever up. The piece of metal drops down, completes the circuit and triggers the bomb – destroying the helicopter.



Artistic merit

After such an elaborate set-up, director George Mendeluk understandably draws out the finale to the sequence.

The chopper isn’t immediately destroyed – rather, the bomb’s blast makes it catch fire, much like a marshmallow that’s been held too close to a barbecue.

The pilot futilely wrestles with the joystick. We get to enjoy a few more moments of the chopper wrapped in flames before it finally explodes – sending debris and rotor blades spinning towards the camera.

Exploding helicopter innovation

We’ve seen plenty of choppers blown-up by explosives, but this is first one we’ve seen with a balloon trigger. Such ingenuity deserves a bigger audience than the one this film will ever find.

Positives

There’s one absolutely laugh out loud scene in this film. At various points the survivors, who’ve sealed themselves in on one floor, need to dart off to other parts of the building. To stop the security door closing permanently behind them, they place a bit of gaffer tape over the tongue of the door lock.

Later, with the zombies hammering away at that very door, one of the characters reassures everyone by saying: “Nothing’s getting through that lock.”

Well, that’s assuming none of the zombies has a credit card with which they can pop the lock in the time-honoured traditions of 70s and 80s TV series.

Negatives

It’s hard to know what got Howell and Nelson involved in this film. All their scenes are in the back of a mobile command centre outside the building and they don’t get to tackle any of the zombies.

It’s like the film’s going on around them but without them being remotely involved in it. Maybe they took the roles because it was a chance to shoot the breeze about the 80s.

Favourite quote

I love the contradictory logic of this line: “You’ve heard of Area 51? It’s been top secret since the 60s.”

Interesting fact

The film seems to have numerous alternative titles. It’s also variously known as Infected and Flight Or Fight.

Review by: Jafo

Monday, 13 February 2012

SWAT

SWAT is a Meccano movie. Functional, bolted together, and with all the joins and moving parts clearly visible.

Surprise! The disgruntled SWAT team member who’s fired at the beginning of the film is the man who Colin Farrell - our SWAT team hero - must go up against in the film’s finale.

Surprise! Samuel L Jackson is a kick-ass SWAT team commander who whips his team of newly recruited bucks (Farrell, LL Cool J and Michelle Rodriguez) into shape.

Surprise! Their boss is a ‘pencil-pushing punk’ who’s going to have Jackson’s badge and ‘hand him his ass’ if he messes up.

And surprise! The SWAT team member who mentions he likes champagne is the one who sells the team out after they’re offered a huge bribe.

Like the children’s construction toy, it works and it’s effective. It’s just not very attractive to look at.

Once the film’s finished establishing its ball-achingly predictable plot strands, we get to the most interesting aspect of the film - the helicopter explosion.

The SWAT team have to move an international terrorist to a federal prison. Unfortunately, the dastardly villain has offered a $100m prize to anyone who can free him from captivity.

Farrell and his SWAT team buddies are set to helicopter their captive to the prison from the roof of the police station. However, Farrell’s former partner-cum-nemesis has got hold of a long-range sniper rifle and shoots outs the engine on the chopper.

Unable to control the helicopter, the pilot takes the chopper down for a crash landing on the street. Only it’s too hard and heavy and the helicopter explodes on impact.

Artistic merit

In a film which religiously conforms to cop movie stereotypes, it’s good to see they didn’t try to get clever by excluding the helicopter explosion.

While it’s fairly routine, there are some nice touches. For instance, as the helicopter begins the crash landing, it clips the top of the police station, which causes one of the rear tail rotors to sheer off and embed itself in a wall - narrowly missing the SWAT team.

We also get to see some of the main rotor blades spin off after the chopper crashes in the street.

Exploding helicopter innovation

Er, that’s a negative.

Positives

At the beginning of the film Farrell splits with his girlfriend. We never see her again, but there’s a curious throwaway line about her in a later scene. That, combined with the go-nowhere flirting with Michelle Rodriguez, makes me suspect a romance sub-plot was filmed but subsequently cut.

Frankly, there’s nothing I hate more than a tacked-on, romantic sub-plot. Directors take note.

Negatives

Oliver Martinez, who plays villain Alex Montel, has to be one of the dumbest criminal masterminds in cinema.

His attempt to slip quietly into the US come immediately unstuck when he tries to slip a penknife through customs.

Staggeringly, despite being filmed after 9/11, the immigration officials let him off with a warning and allow him to enter the country.

His next idiotic blunder is to kill his uncle in a restaurant full of bystanders, before taking his dead relative’s car. Martinez manages to drive two blocks before he’s stopped by a policeman who arrests him for driving the car without the proper paperwork.
“I borrowed it from my uncle,” pleads Martinez.
“We’ll just need to confirm that with him, sir.”
Doh!

Favourite quote

“What, no roll, Hondo?”
“They only roll in John Woo movies, not real life.”

Interesting fact

The litany of directorial talent that turned out to be ‘busy on other projects’, tells you a lot about the quality of this film. Zack Snyder, Michael Bay, John Woo, Joel Schumacher, Rob Cohen and Antoine Fuqua all passed on helming duties. Clark Johnson was eventually signed, having previously only directed in TV.

Review by: Jafo

Still want more? Then check out the Exploding Helicopter podcast episode on SWAT. Find it on iTunes, YourListen, Acast, Stitcher or Podomatic.


Tuesday, 7 February 2012

GoldenEye

Bond films seem to be highly fertile territory, not just for helicopter explosions but highly creative helicopter explosions.

Bullets and surface-to-air missiles are apparently far too mundane for Bond screenplay writers and GoldenEye doesn’t disappoint, with yet another unique combusting chopper. (Oo-er. If Roger Moore were writing this piece, that would be worthy of a cheap double-entendre.)

GoldenEye re-invigorated a franchise that had become stagnant during a six-year legal dispute over licensing rights. During this period, Timothy Dalton quit as Bond having been harshly deemed a failure – mainly due to the poor commercial performance of License To Kill.

Although his first Bond film, Goldeneye also represented the zenith of Pierce Brosnan’s stint as 007 – which soon descended into self-indulgent tripe, culminating in the risible Die Another Day. This movie managed to convey was a tense climate of post-Cold War espionage, with redundant or retired spies using their skills in other pursuits.

But enough cerebral chit-chat. GoldenEye is just a bloody cool film. The opening scene, with a sort of metallic Eastern Bloc soundtrack, was electrifying and quintessential Bond: bungee jumping off an enormous dam into a Russian chemical weapons base, before meeting up with 006 (Sean Bean as Alec Trevelyan) and wiring the place to explode.

During the mission, and throughout the film in fact, there is unintended light relief in the form of Sean Bean’s posh accent. Posh, that is, if you’re from East Yorkshire and Bean is from Harrogate. Just before his faux execution, Bean shouts at Bond: “Do it fer Englund, James. Blow ‘em all t’hell!” If he’d added: “Ecky thump” at the end, you could have sworn you were watching a lively episode of Last of the Summer Wine.

The high-point of the film though, is Robbie Coltrane’s scene-stealing turn as Valentin Zukovsky. It’s easy to imagine Coltrane licking his lips while reading the script for his part as an ex-KGB agent turned arms dealer and gangster.

His lines are delivered with a charisma and venom that make him utterly convincing as a ruthless Russian crime boss, still bitterly nursing a permanent limp after Bond shot him in the leg years ago.

His first scene with Bond has a fantastic exchange that’s worth repeating. After Bond asks for a favour, Zukovsky says: “You want ME to do YOU a favour?” (Ironic Brian Blessed style bellow, then a pause).  “My knee ACHES every day. Twice as bad when it is cold. Tell him how long the winter lasts in this country, Dmitri.”
[Weedy voice of Dmitri off screen[: “Well, it depends on…”
Zukovsky: “SILENCE!!!”

Coltrane, however, only narrowly pips some other inspired pieces of casting in the effort to refresh the Bond brand: Judi Dench brilliantly portraying M; Samantha Bond as a sassy, modern day Miss Moneypenny; and Famke Janssen as sadomasochist assassin, Xenia Onatopp.

Janssen’s Bond girl, in particular, was a brave move. The sadomasochistic elements, including tight leather outfits and crushing a man to death mid-coitus, are quite explicit for what people had come to expect of a Bond film. She even appears to orgasm while laying waste to some innocent civil servants with a machine gun.

As a youngish man at the time, I found her character a little confusing. Confusing in the sense that I was unsure whether it was okay to really fancy a murdering dominatrix and find her proclivities a bit of a turn on. It was a bit like when the seven-year old me saw a woman in a bra for the first time - in my mum’s Littlewoods catalogue. In both instances, I eventually decided it was more than okay.

Back to the film though, and its back-to-basics plot. Bond and Alec Trevelyan (Bean’s 006) infiltrate a Russian chemical weapons plant with the intention of blowing it up. It all goes wrong when 006 is captured and seemingly executed by a cruel-looking Russian general.

Bond escapes in magnificent style, motorcycling down a mountain runway and skydiving without parachute into a plummeting Cessna, which he eventually brings under control and flies away as the plant explodes. Several years later, a plot unfurls in which the same renegade general steals a secret Russian space weapon on behalf of a sinister but unseen criminal mastermind, Janus.

This, it turns out, is Yorkshire’s finest secret agent, Alec Trevelyan, who is revealed as the son of Lienz Cossacks. (Who knew the Soviets had colonised Pontefract?). Anyway, via a series of glamorous locations, Bond ends up in Cuba with the attractive but fairly dull Izabella Scorupco - although she’s perhaps unfortunate to appear as a computer programmer in a 007 film where the other main Bond girl is a leather-clad, murdering, sex maniac.

In the process of looking for Trevelyan’s base in the Cuban jungle, a chopper appears of out nowhere. A rope drops down, followed swiftly by randy vixen Onatopp, clearly in the mood for some more murder-sex.

As she squeezes the life out of Bond and screeches with desire, he manages to reattach her to the jump-rope and uses her gun to shoot at the hovering chopper. The panicking pilot loses control, and Onatopp is violently wrenched away only to become anchored to a tree.

She lets out a blood-curdling scream as the chopper vs. tree combination crushes her to death. She remains pinned to the tree, acting as a kind of human anchor for the ‘copter, which plummets to the ground and explodes in a massive fireball.

But we shouldn't forget another equally interesting helicopter explosion. Earlier in the film Bond and Natalya are captured and tied up inside a special stealth helicopter that's been booby-trapped.

Its missiles automatically fire and loop round to come straight back at the vehicle. Luckily, Bond manage to headbutt the ejector seat button and our heroes are shot out of the stationary whirlybird seconds before the missiles hit.

Artistic merit

Quite strong. Some thought clearly went into these fireballs. If it were a steak, it would be a nice, meaty sirloin. Not quite a filet mignon, but a luxury cut nonetheless.



Exploding helicopter innovation

Much like our blog on The Spy Who Loved Me’s underwater car-to-chopper rocket and Tomorrow Never Dies’ rusty washing line, I can’t recall another chopper being brought down by being attached to a human anchor. Well done, James.

Also we have never before seen anyone escape from a helicopter via ejector seats. As you can imagine the presence of 20-foot long, whirling metal blades makes ejecting from a helicopter a tad problematic. But in this chopper the blades are first ejected before Bond and Natalya are thrust into the sky inside a self-contained pod from which parachutes eventually emerge.

If none of that sounds terribly plausible, please try and remember this is a Bond film so why would it.

Number of exploding helicopters

Two.

Positives

The sheer originality and brutality of what brings the chopper down. No expense is spared on the black and orange fireball either.

Negatives

Frankly, the sad demise of the horny Onatopp. And the really bad pun from Brosnan afterwards: “She always did like a good squeeze”.

Interesting fact

Not that interesting and quite well known, but the film was named after Ian Fleming’s estate in Jamaica. The film was also the first in a three-film product placement tie-up with BMW, which saw Bond driving a sky blue Z-3, probably much like the one your mum’s hairdresser has. It was controversial at the time, and still is frankly.

Review by: Jindy

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


Sunday, 5 February 2012

Deep Blue Sea

'Bigger. Smarter. Faster. Meaner.’

So trumpeted the poster for this Jaws-on-acid yarn, thus raising the audience’s expectations before they’d even entered the cinema. Fortunately, the poster also proclaimed ‘Directed by Renny Harlin’, which brought expectations right down again.

There are so many reasons why this film shouldn’t work. First, it’s a crap idea: mutant brainy sharks swimming amok in a flooded oceanic research centre. Then there’s the cavalcade of rubbish actors, including poor-man’s-Stallone Thomas Jane and the reliably awful Saffron Burrows. Adding to the stink is the inevitable rapper-trying-his-hand-at-acting turn, this time courtesy of portly playa LL Cool J.

Anything else? Yup, the CGI is appalling in places. The basic premise, that a bunch of brainy sharks are deliberately trying to sink the research facility so they can jump to freedom at the surface, is nothing short of risible. (Presumably they sat down first and studied the design plans.) And, of course, holding the whole creaking mass together is the hapless Harlin.

It should be a disaster. So why do I like it so much? The answer, I believe, is that it is earnestly bad. There have been a lot of ‘ironically’ bad movies in recent years (I’m looking at you, Snakes on a Plane), which have given self-reverential nods to their own shitness while actually being shit. Which is just…well, shit.

This movie isn’t one of them. The script has a ripe terribleness that couldn’t be faked, Harlin’s lumpen direction really is THAT BAD, and the same goes for the actors. As ever, Jane is deadly earnest in the ongoing struggle to scowl and say his words in the right order. Burrows also plays it straight, though unquestionably she’s the funniest thing in the whole movie. When I saw this at the cinema, the audience howled at almost her every line.

Only Samuel L Jackson seems to have realised that he’s mired in premium cinematic fromage, and has the chops to act accordingly. He gives an entertainingly hammy performance that always seems to be tipping a sly wink to the audience.

But, before all the submarine carnage can happen, the research facility first has to start sinking. Cue a CGI helicopter approaching the CGI facility during a furious CGI storm. The chopper pilots lower a winch to collect a stretchered casualty who’s suddenly an arm short, thanks to the sharks. As he dangles a few feet above the swirling waves, the winch suddenly breaks for absolutely no reason whatsoever and sends the poor sod back into the briny.

The winch cable is then pulled sharply from underwater by an invisible shark, which drags the chopper into the station’s control tower. Ba-doom.

Exploding helicopter innovation

Non-existent. The whole episode is merely a CGI-heavy plot device to get the facility sunk. Hilariously, when the chopper hits the tower, a long shot shows huge fake explosions ripping apart whole sections of the structure, regardless of their vicinity to the crash site. Remember, this is an ocean-borne facility during a fierce rainstorm, being hit by a single helicopter gas-tank. They’re essentially using a match to blow up a swimming pool.



Do the passengers survive?

Do you mean the two extras in helmets who are on-screen for three seconds saying: ‘The winch is stuck.’? No, I don’t think they do but, on the whole, I’ve been surprisingly sanguine about it.

Positives

What follows immediately after the helicopter explosion is so majestically bad it borders on genius. The submerged cast are stood before a giant glass screen separating them from hundreds of tonnes of ocean. Suddenly, a big shark approaches fast with the be-stretchered casualty between its jaws and flings the unlucky patient at them.

As huge cracks start to appear across the glass promising immediate death, the cast – instead of running – stand there gawking at it for a full 58 seconds (yes, I counted). When it finally shatters, Samuel is standing less than ten metres away. But he still manages to outrun the ocean. Sublime.

Negatives

Even someone as dopey as Harlin realised 90 minutes of Burrows droning on about science in a white coat (“membrane integrity’s improving”) would be more than the movie’s teen-male demographic could bear. Much like hungry mutant sharks, they would be baying for cleavage.

That’s why, when cornered by a giant shark, Burrows does the obvious thing and rips off her diving suit. Breasts heaving with far more conviction than any facial expression she can muster, our Saffron stands on her insulated rubber suit then uses an electrical cable to fry the watery fiend.

Result: Baps, 2: Shark, 0. And the worst filmed excuse to get an actress’ nellies out ever committed to celluloid.

Favourite quote

“Tell me I did not just see that.” I know exactly what you mean, Samuel…

Interesting fact

Some of these people actually managed to get work again.

Review by: Chopper

Want more? Of course you do. So why not listen to Exploding Helicopter discuss Deep Blue Sea on our podcast. You can find us on iTunes, Stitcher, YourListen and Podomatic


Friday, 3 February 2012

Sheena: Queen of the Jungle

In brief - a witch uses her mental ability of control over animals to ignore due legal process and begin a separatist movement in a nameless African country.

It’s difficult to know where to start with a film of this magnitude. Within moments of it starting you know you're in the presence of something truly special but like all good life lessons, it takes its time to come to its full power.

Sheena: Queen of the Jungle (1984) is essentially a cross between a rejected episode of the A-Team and the film adaptation of George of the Jungle. We open on the tragedy of how Sheena (Tanya Roberts) came to join her isolated tribe. Once orphaned, we get a textbook training montage of Sheena learning to use her mind to control animals under the tuition of a superbly generic shaman.

Unfortunately things don't stay so bucolic - the tribe's sacred mountain is full of valuable minerals and the young prince Otwani wants to get his hands on that cash. Sensing that something is wrong, the shaman makes the journey to the capital to warn the king of this danger. Also making the journey is a pair of American journalists looking to produce a story about King Jabalani.

However not all is as it seems; the evil prince has designs on his brother's throne and arranges a fairly low-key coup at the soiree, intending to frame the shaman for the murder. The reporters discover they have incriminating footage of the murder that implicates the new king and decide to flee the country. Sheena, using her unspecified mental powers, learns of the shaman's imprisonment and sets off to free her.

Psychic powers look a lot like forgetting to buy milk
The prison break scene is the turning point of the film - it is where it becomes obvious that you're not watching a bad film but something special. Sheena attacks the small prison compound with her faithful elephant, some chimps and her 'zebra'.

Chimps versus gunfire goes better than expected and Sheena and her mentor escape into the night. All this is witnessed by the reporters who sense that there's a story in this chimp commander and rush after her into the night.

The rest of the film develops as a protracted chase, with Sheena and Vic Casey always just ahead of the incomprehensibly evil Colonel Jorgenson and King Otwani, before a final dramatic showdown which includes the best helicopter explosion seen so far.

Artistic merit

"A Zebra - or possibly a painted horse"
The explosion is nicely built up over time.  Early in the film, the helicopter is attacked by an elephant which bends the blades, teasing the viewer into expecting an early victory for the militant Dr Doolittle.

The explosion scene proper starts with some of the most ominous music ever put to footage of a flock of flamingos taking off as the director teases us with a 'will he, won't he' as he builds up to the attack itself.  He maintains the tension by using footage of what appear to be seagulls menacing the helicopter - the change unsettling the audience more.

Finally the flamingos attack the helicopter, which consists of people waving stuffed flamingos in front of the camera. This continues for much longer than you'd believe before claiming its first casualty: the queen is thrown out of the helicopter by the sheer force of flamingo-wing-buffeting (I assume).

The pilot is slightly distracted by the feathered fury and accidentally swoops low, allowing Sheena to leap to safety in a tree.  The pilot recovers; remembering the noble stoicism of his profession he attempts to resolve the situation by ignoring the flamingos and assuming they'll migrate at some point.

Unfortunately his plan is cut short by what appears to be blood loss causing him to lose control of the helicopter, which plunges in a straight line into the ground.
Exactly as satisfying as it looks

Exploding helicopter innovation

Surface to Air Flamingos, although with their success I can't see why no one else uses this approach.

Number of exploding helicopters

1 - although it is mauled by an elephant first.

Positives

Sheena is a brilliant film - the sheer variety of things to laugh at, question and debate that are crammed into such a small space is a true achievement. You're never sure which way things will turn next.

You can never be sure whether you're watching something awful, or if the film makers are actually working within some alternative tradition of storytelling and film-making, following rules you just don't know. It has all the usual joy of a bad film, but the flourishes make it something different.

Watch out for some suspected friend of a friend casting with the policeman in the city.

Negatives

The budget for the film seems to have been over balanced towards getting in a lot of animals as much of the acting is misjudged at best. Even with the apparently limitless lion budget, there wasn't enough left over to spend on make-up on Sheena's best friend, a 'zebra'.

There's also woeful under-use of the many lions on the set and, as an examination of post colonial governments in central Africa, the film lacks historical context or complexity.

Favourite quote

"Who would kill such a good king?"
"An enemy."

Still want more? You can listen to the Exploding Helicopter podcast episode on Sheena on iTunes, Podomatic, YourListen or Stitcher.