Thursday 27 September 2012


“Let me see if I’ve got this straight: you want me to travel through a rift in time, find and repair a device you lost and broke, while all the trying to avoid rampaging creatures from the future – that about sum it up?”

It most assuredly does. And even I, in my lofty position as the editor of a micro-niche film blog about exploding helicopters, couldn’t have put it better.

Credit for the above succinct summary of Morlocks’ plot goes to its hero, a certain Dr Radnor (David Hewlett). He’s a top boffin scientist who, much like this viewer, seems to be struggling to make sense of things in this turgid time-travelling saga.

With America’s economy on its knees, a top secret military unit – led by the shady Robert Picardo – has developed a time-travelling device called ‘the latch’. They plan to preserve Uncle Sam’s industrial might by bringing technology back from the future, thus preventing the US from becoming an insignificant and irrelevant bit player in global politics, an impotent shadow of its former glorious self. In other words: Britain.

Unfortunately, the grand plan runs into a hitch when the future turns out not to be the giant Apple Store they’d hoped for, but an apocalyptic wasteland inhabited only by murderous creatures (Morlocks).

Things go from bad to worse when the latch – now missing somewhere in the future – begins to malfunction, threatening the present-day world with obliteration courtesy of a massive time rift that no-one can be bothered to explain. That’s presumably because, by this point, even the writers were exhausted by garbling up so much nonsensical pseudo-science.

David Hewlett, looking as happy
as I did after watching Morlocks
As the one scientist with the cranial capacity to save the day, Radnor is sent into the future with a team of soldiers to fix and retrieve the device. Will he succeed? Or will the world end in…in…an undefined, non-specific way. Oh, the drama!

Sadly, given this is a film about travelling to the future, I was left wishing I could travel back in time: ideally to a point 90 minutes earlier, when I first decided to watch this torpor-inducing piece of tomfoolery.

One never likes to be unkind to made-for-cable fare – with all the limitations on time, budget and talent that the genre inevitably involves – but this was just toss. It was so bad, that even those familiar genre clichés, normally guaranteed to raise a smile, failed to entertain.

Normally, there’s nothing I love more than watching a film’s dead meat, sorry, unfortunate extras (here fatally cast as soldiers sent to the Earth’s apocalyptic future) meet predictable and pointless deaths. Note: Star Trek raised this phenomenon to the level of high-art, with ‘landing parties’ proving deadly for anyone who wasn’t a regular character.

However, in Morlocks the senseless extras carnage all has a routine, by the numbers feel. If you’re going to serve up a cliché then it should be delivered with gusto and brio, not sloppily ladled out with the bored disinterest of a school dinner lady.

Denied such pleasures, my only interest comes from trying to work out whether certain characters have crossed the ‘immunity threshold’ – namely, have they established themselves sufficiently to indicate they’ll make it to the end of the film unscathed. Such pursuits provide about the only glimmers of entertainment amidst the dross. Still at least there is an exploding helicopter to talk about.

Yes, the special effects are this good
At the end of the film, the surviving characters have returned from the future. Unfortunately, a bunch of Morlocks have tagged along and are with causing havoc at the military base.

Two of our remaining heroes jump aboard a helicopter to attempt an escape. Hovering just off the ground, a couple of Morlocks jump onto the tail of the chopper, causing the pilot to lose control.

The helicopter crashes into ground and partially explodes, but fortuitously the cockpit remains intact allowing the two occupants to flee the wreckage and dive inside a nearby tank. With the Morlocks occupied on the wreckage of the chopper, our heroes fire the tank’s cannon destroying the Morlocks and what’s left of the chopper.

Artistic merit

This was an every-expense-spared helicopter explosion rendered in grade Z CGI. Much like the rest of the film, it is distinctly underwhelming.

Exploding helicopter innovation

This helicopter explosion is directly caused by Morlocks (who it turns out are actually genetically mutated humans). That’s definitely a first.

Do passengers survive?

Yes, the two occupants of the helicopter who scramble to safety had long since passed the immunity threshold by this point in the film.


Sorry, I just can’t think of one.


As films about time travel are written by Hollywood hacks and not quantum physicists, there’s usually an irresolvable paradox lurking somewhere in the plot: Morlocks is no exception.

Here the insoluble question is: why bother to save the present, when the future’s totally buggered? Inevitably, no-one stops to consider this.

Interesting fact

Morlocks is a very loose adaptation of HG Wells’ The Time Machine, which begs an interesting question: if Wells had possessed the power of time-travel and seen what a mangled dog’s breakfast someone would make of his novel, would he still have written it?

Review by: Jafo

Wednesday 12 September 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

If it were a comic book villain, Hollywood would be a snide little shite whose superpower was sucking the creativity out of innovative film-makers.

And so it is that, with The Dark Knight Rises (2012), bright spark wunderkind Christopher Nolan finally succumbs to the lowest common denominator demands of a Hollywood franchise. More characters! More explosions! More stuff! Less interest.

This bloated conclusion to his gritty Batman reboot is a misfiring attempt to tie up the trilogy’s loose ends by burying them in a morass of a plot, and hoping the audience will be too distracted by Christian Bale’s grating Barry White impersonation to notice.

Batman (Bale) is now a Howard Hughes-esque recluse, having retired from the crime-fighting game following the death of Harvey Dent and the misguided backlash from Gotham’s citizens. He cuts a pitiful figure as he mopes about Wayne Mansions eating Coco Pops in his pyjamas.

He’s awakened from his reverie by muscle-bound psychopath Bane (Tom Hardy) who, in traditional comic book fashion, has an inexplicable urge to blow up Gotham City – perhaps to compensate for his steroidally shrunken genitalia.

The pontificating beefcake steals one of Wayne Enterprises very own fusion reactors and holds the city to ransom. Of course, only one man can save them. Cue much chop-socky action, car chases and close ups of Anne Hathaway’s PVC-covered derriere.

This is a very long film – into which much plot, action, location-hopping and plot-twistery is squeezed – but precious little of it engages the audience, and there’s a rudimentary, by-the-numbers feel to much of it.

Similarly, the attempts to inject a meaningful credit-crunch zeitgeist into the carnage-strewn plot – with Bane’s socialist masses rising up to crush their bourgeois oppressors in a sub Occupy Gotham angle – feels largely like an clumsy attempt give the numerous fight scenes a worthy edge.

Finally, just as Gotham is about to be reduced to rubble, Batman hooks the nuclear bomb by cable to the underside of his one-of-a-kind Batcopter (a design inspired by crossing a V-22 Osprey and an AH 64 Apache) and rushes away from Gotham out to sea. As the timer ticks down, Batman gets further away until he is a mere speck on the horizon. Just then, the foreground is filled with a familiar mushroom cloud and it’s goodnight Vienna.

Artistic merit

There is no massive explosion, no aftershock, no carnage – just a puff of white smoke in the distance. The destruction of this helicopter and the hero within could have been the mother of all fireballs yet we are left with an almost zen-like explosion. The scene is completely at odds with the general ethos at Exploding Helicopter HQ, but in a perverse way you have to admire Nolan’s restraint and avoidance of cliché.

Exploding helicopter innovation

A helicopter killed by nuclear explosion. Seen it before, but perhaps not like this.

Do passengers survive?

That would be telling, wouldn’t it? But there are some clues towards the end that indicate there’s more cash left in the cow yet.


As you would expect from a mega-normous action blockbuster there are some adrenalin-pumping set pieces – such as the opening mid-air hijacking – which are delivered with Nolan’s customary directorial panache. The last five minutes of the film almost redeem Nolan’s reputation with the plotline twister par-excellence, but by this point you may have already slipped into a deep sleep.


Despite a $300 million budget and a raft of top-notch actors, it renmains a severely underwhelming film. It’s way too long, pretty po-faced and contains some of the least plausible behaviour since Bean: The Movie.

For instance Bane, instead of stealing the bomb and detonating it immediately, decides it’d be more practical to just meaninglessly drive it round the city in the back of a transit van until the good guys have time to track it down before detonation. To further assist the good guys, there is a handy red LED countdown timer on the bomb conveniently informing the world how long it has until its impending combustion. Do they make these things at Argos?

Anne Hathaway is no Michelle Pfeiffer and really should stick to The Devil Wears Prada fluff leaving challenging roles to real actresses who are able to do more than just look good in a catsuit. Why Batman trusts her, despite being repeatedly double-crossed, can only be attributed to either deep-seated mental illness or an overwhelming urge to get into her pants.

Tom Hardy is a great actor but tragically wasted playing the one-dimensional Bane in a face-covering mask that forces him to act only with his eyes (I acknowledge Roger Moore did make a career out of similar restrictions). His voice is also overdubbed in post-production so really they could have just hired Ross Kemp and saved a few quid.

Favourite quote

Lucius Fox (on Batman’s one-of-a-kind helicopter): “Nothing like a little air superiority.”

Interesting fact

Nolan said that each of the Batman films have a central theme underpinning the story. For Batman Begins it was ‘Fear’, The Dark Knight deals with ’Chaos’ and this film's overarching emotion is ‘Pain’. After three hours trying to make sense of this mush with a surly 11-year- old absent-mindedly kicking the back of my chair, I couldn't fault the director for not delivering his promise.

Review by: Neon Messiah

Tuesday 4 September 2012

True Lies

Looking back, we can see True Lies (1994) as the zenith of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 30-year career.

A deft blend of entertainment and action, the film was a critical and commercial success. Moreover, it was the culmination of Arnie’s efforts to become a genuine box-office star rather than a simple purveyor of violent action thrillers.

Here, Schwarzenegger plays Harry Tasker, seemingly a dull office equipment salesman living out a bland suburban life with his wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) and daughter. In reality though, he’s a top secret agent out to stop Art Malik’s terrorist group setting off a couple of stolen nuclear bombs.

Unfortunately, Arnie’s personal and professional lives become messily entangled after he is forced to reveal his double life to Curtis. It’s then up to Arnie to save the world and his marriage – a feat the maid-bothering philanderer was sadly unable to repeat in real life.

True Lies was the Governator’s third film with James Cameron. Unable on this occasion to cast him as a monosyllabic robot – and no doubt aware of the potential embarrassment that might ensue when Arnie attempted to ‘act’ like a human being – Cameron was confronted with a problem: what to do with the lumpen one’s ungainly presence?

His solution was both genius and admirably simple: stuff the film with cartoon-ish supporting turns and hope to God no-one notices him.

And so we have Bill Paxton’s loony sleazeball, Jamie Lee Curtis’ awkward housefrau persona and Tom Arnold’s motor-mouthed sidekick – all of them smokescreens to distract you from the Austrian word-mangler’s presence at the centre of the film.

Top that off with a surprisingly foul-mouthed Charlton Heston, a vampish Tia Carrare, and Art Malik’s pantomime terrorist and the overall assault on the senses is almost enough to distract you from the lumbering beefcake’ performance. Almost, but not quite.

Arnie is so wooden, watching him leaves you tugging splinters from your eyeballs. It’s lucky that his role requires so much running and jumping around since, if he stood still too long, someone might be tempted to sand and varnish him.

That said, I don’t imagine anyone in this film ever imagined they were going to be troubling the acting nominations at the Academy Awards. True Lies aims to be nothing more than an unashamed piece of entertainment and in that regard it‘s a rip-roaring success.

The film’s two major action set pieces are superbly handled. The extended opening is a thoroughly enjoyable Bond pastiche, as a tuxedo-wearing Arnie infiltrates an embassy soiree and steals some computer files before escaping with a small army on snowmobiles in hot pursuit.

However, Cameron saves his best work for the film’s final act – an almost continual action sequence, complete with shoot outs, car chase, and crucially an exploding helicopter.

With his scheme unravelling fast, Art Malik absconds to the top floor of an under-construction skyscraper with some stolen nukes and Arnie’s daughter, who he’s kidnapped as a little extra insurance. With the deadline for detonation fast approaching, Arnie borrows a fighter plane and jets off to halt Armageddon and rescue his daughter.

While the terrorists are temporarily distracted, Arnie’s plucky progeny steals the trigger for the nuclear bomb. With nowhere to flee, she clambers onto the girders of one of the cranes constructing the skyscraper. Pursued by Malik, it looks like she’s about to meet a sticky fate, either at the end of Malik’s machinegun or courtesy of a hundred storey fall to the street below.

From here, the precise sequence of events would be fiendishly difficult to explain so I’m going to hit the fast-forward button. Suffice to say, Arnie arrives in time-honoured nick of time style and, before you can say ‘Aaaah’ll be beckkkkk’, his daughter is clinging to the jet’s cockpit and Art Malik is left dangling from one of the fighter jet’s missiles.

If this wasn’t enough jeopardy for the former Mr Universe to contend with, Malik’s henchmen turn up in a helicopter and fire at him before darting round the back of the partially built skyscraper. Spying the chopper through a gap in the building, Arnie hatches an ingenious terrorist two-for-one deal to extricate himself from the situation.

With Malik still hanging from the jet’s missiles, Arnie fires the rocket – complete with the sometime Casualty doctor – at the enemy chopper. Stuck to the missile, Malik is sent whizzing through the under-construction building towards his cohorts, who are only briefly able to register their surprise at the sudden and unexpected reunion with their leader before the helicopter explodes.

Artistic merit

A bravura helicopter explosion. Elaborate, inventive, and executed with verve and panache. Truly superb.

Exploding helicopter innovation

Helicopter destroyed by rocket-propelled terrorist: if you weren’t already sure, I can confirm this is unique in the annals of helicopter explosion.


True Lies is as much a comedy as an action film. While most of the jokes still tickle the funny bone, the passage of history has rendered the gags at the expense of Art Malik’s Islamic terrorist group the equivalent of comedic tumbleweed.

Clearly, the mid-Nineties were a simpler political age for America and the idea that a bunch of religious fundamentalists could hurt Uncle Sam in his own backyard was, well, laughable. Unfortunately, the events of 9/11 and the consequences of two subsequent wars have dispelled that notion. Were it proposed today, it’s hard to imagine True Lies getting made.

Favourite quote

“Have you ever killed anyone?”
“Yes, but they were all bad.”

Interesting fact

There’s a few. True Lies is actually a remake of French film La Totale! (1991).

To many admirers of the female form, the highlight of True Lies will no doubt be Jamie Lee Curtis’ sexy dance scene. Supposedly a demure housewife, Curtis is initially slow to get into full pole-dancing diva mode. But just as she seems to be getting into the swing of it she makes a misjudgement and falls over, much to the viewer’s amusement. Possibly the funniest moment in the film, this was actually a genuine goof which James Cameroon decided to leave in because it worked so well.

I also had a moment of déjà vu while watching the helicopter explosion in True Lies. It was done so well that the makers of straight to video actioner Executive Target re-used a brief shot from it, of the helicopter wreckage crashing to the ground onto a police car.

Review by: Jafo

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