Thursday 21 February 2013

A Good Day To Die Hard

…aka A Bad Day To Go To The Cinema.

Expectations were never high for the fifth instalment of the Die Hard franchise – Bruce is getting old, and the basic premise was creaking badly even last time round – but this risible tosh is a whole new kind of bad. It’s the cinematic equivalent of being tea-bagged by portly, minor-bothering Liberal MP Cyril Smith for and hour and a half. Only worse.

Given Willis’ age, they’ve inevitably gone for the ‘lost son’ angle. The what, you ask? Basically, this means the producers have employed a young beefcake to do all the ‘action’ stuff that Bruce, as the nominal star of this action movie, is meant to be doing.

(Anyone who saw Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, and witnessed the unedifying sight of Harrison Ford gingerly treading about in the background while the always-punchable Shia Lebouf threw himself under lorries and off cliff ledges, will recognise the form.)

The story, as always, involves our chrome-domed hero blundering unawares into the middle of bullet-strewn bedlam. This time, Bruce goes to Moscow to rescue his son, who’s been arrested as a terrorist but is really a top secret agent. Yippe-ki-CI-Yay, in fact.

Obviously, everything starts blowing up as soon as Willis sets foot at the scene, then the usual terrorists-apparently-wanting-nuclear-armagedon-but-really-just-thieves-after-all plot (copyright: Alan Rickman, 25 years ago) cranks into gear once more.

Exploding Helicopter has no idea who the actor playing the son is, having never seen him in a movie before. And on this evidence, it may well be some time before he troubles our screens again. Indeed, one of the less bearable aspects of the movie is watching the estranged pair’s torturous journey from flinty awkwardness to ‘I love you too, Dad’, delivered on both sides with a copper-bottomed lack of conviction.

But here’s the really troubling thing: the more the son punches and shoots and falls and gets stabbed, the louder grows that nagging, existential question: what does an action hero do when he has next to no action in his own movie?

Bruce Willis: Occasionally acts in his own movie
The answer: stand around uncomfortably while occasionally firing a machine-gun or delivering yet another lame quip. That’s largely why this is such a terrible movie. These days, Brucie chirping ‘Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker’ (yes, he does) has all the grace and novelty of Chesney Hawkes getting up at a pub karaoke night to belt out ‘The One and Only’.

Put it this way: if you showed this film to someone who didn’t know who Bruce Willis was, they’d wonder who that old bald guy was who kept standing around in the middle of all the scenes?

He’s become like one of those drunk fans who run on to the pitch in the middle of a Premiership game – right in the centre of things but not really part of it at all. Aged 57, he’s a spectator in his own movie and it’s painful to watch.

And sadly, no-one else is there to take up the slack. Granted, they probably cast an unknown as the son because the famously prickly and egocentric Willis didn’t want a younger star stealing his fading limelight, but you could always at least count on a colourful baddie in the Die Hard movies. The absence here of a ‘name’ villain speaks volumes about the franchise’s decreasing power. Where Rickman and Irons led, there’s now an assortment of beardy Russians from central casting. Nyet, thanks.

Incredibly, Willis has already confirmed there will be a Die Hard 6 – and it won’t necessarily see that it will end there. Mock if you like, but one day you’ll most likely pay good money to see Die Hard 9, where Bruce’s no-name grandson biffs the baddies while a wheelchair-bound Brucie, looking entirely like one of his own octegenerian testicles, pulls off his oxygen mask and yells ‘Yippee-ki-kolostomy-bag!’

The weird thing is, that would probably be more entertaining than this steaming pile of ordure.

Exploding helicopter innovation

So, to the explosion. It might be pertinent to warn there are spoilers ahead, but it’s doubtful anyone could ruin the plot any more than the writer already has, so let’s plough on.

The beardy Russian conscientious objector incredibly turns out to be the baddie, so – in a moment typical of the film – the no-name son gets shot and does the actual legwork of throwing him off the top of a building in Chernobyl (don’t ask) while Bruce skulks off camera somewhere having a fag / phoning his agent / demanding a bigger trailer.

Beardface plummets to a splatty end. Outraged, his sexy villainess daughter gets all Al Quaeda on our heroes’ asses and deliberately rams a huge military helicopter straight into the glass-fronted building where they stand helpless. And misses them. As the chopper smashes in to the building and explodes, Bruce and No-name jump out beside it and naturally land in a swimming pool that happens to be directly below them. The whole scene looks like the computer-generated nonsense it so patently is.


Do you know this man?
For the first time ever, Exploding Helicopter actually fell asleep for five minutes in a cinema during this movie – and has to report it was the most fulfilling five minutes of the whole enterprise.


How long have you got? Let’s just do the script. Exploding Helicopter has seen a lot of bad movies, both blockbusters and small fry, but never one where such a huge budget has been coupled with such a piss-poor script. It makes The Chronicles of Riddick look like Citizen Kane. Every single aspect of the plot is so by-the-numbers, it seems to have been written by a computer programme – possibly an Amstrad home computer, circa 1985.

Special mention goes to the scene where Bruce starts emotionally unloading to a Russian bloke he’s literally only just met about how he wishes he’d been a better dad but still can’t express his paternal love, while the lumpen son listens in round the corner trying to pull off a ‘looking emotional’ expression. I’ve seen school plays with more conviction.

Favourite quote

“You know what I hate about Americans? Everything.”

Interesting fact

In the week of the UK premiere, Bruce put in a notoriously foul-tempered tour of British TV and radio studios, snipping at interviewers and petulantly refusing to answer questions across a variety of formats. It all sounds much more interesting than the film.

Review by: Chopper

Wednesday 20 February 2013

The Losers

New comic book adaptations come around quicker than Usain Bolt searching for the stadium toilet after a particularly spicy Vindaloo. Following that trend comes The Losers (2010), a tongue-in-cheek actioner from the Vertigo stable, a company who make comics for people old enough to have moved on to real books by now.

The Losers are not a bunch of spandex clad superheroes though, but a crack commando unit declared M.I.A for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly aim to get revenge on their C.I.A superior after returning from Bolivia to the Los Angeles underground. Today still wanted by the Government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem hiring The A-Team on DVD, maybe you can hire, The Losers.

The motley crew consist of rugged platoon leader Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan looking like Raul Julia’s long-lost son), a no-nonsense black guy (Idris Elba as Roque), a good looking ladies man (Chris Evans as Jensen) and a crazy, wise cracking pilot (Columbus Short as Howling Mad Murdo….sorry…Pooch).

Is this set up ringing any bells for you? It should be, because The Losers is a transparent attempt to cash in on the A-Team template with clearly defined squad members screwed over by the system and aiming to clear their names (albeit with noticeably less panache).

Unfortunately, no amount of flashy direction, courtesy of Sylvain White, or high production values can mask the fact that this is a misfiring, derivative actioner with as much charm as a case of Chlamydia.

If you have a problem hiring The A Team on DVD,
maybe you can hire The Losers
For once though, the chopper explosion isn’t just there as eye candy, but an integral part of the “story”. After a botched attempt to take out a Bolivian drug lord the team inadvertently stumble across a gaggle of child slaves who they decide to rescue from his compound. There isn’t enough room in the evac-chopper for the entire group, so The Losers do the decent thing and let the kids fly off first.

For reasons not clearly explained evil C.I.A honcho Max, then decides to kill off The Losers once the drug lord is dispatched. Thinking they are on board the chopper, he orders it to be shot down. A missile is launched from a passing fighter jet which snakes across the sky and arrows towards the helicopter with only one possible outcome.

Artistic merit

This is a very nicely framed set piece. Shot from the ground, you see the tiny jet in the corner of the screen fire its missile. We follow its trail as it snakes across the sky into the large Chinook on the other side of the screen. The missile thuds into the fuselage and the explosion bursts the chopper apart like a ripe orange, its fiery contents spilling in slow motion to the ground below.

There are some nice shots of The Losers picking through the charred debris and finding a burnt up bunny rabbit belonging to one of the kids, you know, just to ram home the pathos. Overall, it’s first class helicopter explosion.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan, or possibly
Raul Julia
Having sat through countless hours of indigestible boloney – including two more hours here - I have come to the conclusion that the quality of a helicopter explosion is inversely proportional to the quality of the film. The boffins at Exploding Helicopter HQ are crunching the numbers as we speak to establish if there are any cold hard facts to back up my hunch. We will keep you posted on the results.

Exploding helicopter innovation

Nothing much really. Whilst it’s very nicely done, it’s a standard missile vs helicopter face off done with CGI (you will do well to see an old school honest to goodness explosion these days such are the quality of computer effects in modern cinema).

Do passengers survive?

All 25 Bolivian refugee children are blown to pieces in an agonising, fiery death. Still, what a pretty way to go eh?


Visually the film is very easy on the eye with a strong colour scheme that emphasises its comic book credentials. The action is well staged and the final showdown is ludicrous but attractively presented in all its CGI finery.


Much of the dialogue is desperately unfunny and formulaic “paybacks a bitch, we got a situation here” stuff. The actors would have got more laughs had they recited an FSA report on financial mismanagement in the banking sector.

This isn’t helped by Jason Patric as C.I.A kingpin Max who was a badly misjudged piece of casting. Neither quirky, evil or funny enough to be a villain, you feel he took a wrong turn at the set of Nip/Tuck and ended up here by accident.

Idris Elba has made some curious choices since his break out performance in The Wire. His roles have been very hit and miss and proven beyond doubt that the real star of that show was writer/creator David Simon.

Ever the optimists, writers Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt left room left for a sequel.  Fortunately the movie underperformed at the box office and hopefully it will never see the light of day.

Sample quote

Jensen: Legless Pooch and I are on it!
Pooch: Call me 'Legless Pooch' again, and you're gonna be 'Headless Jensen'
Jensen: I think it's a cool name, makes ya sound like a pirate.
Pooch: Ya mama's a pirate.

Interesting fact

Even though various scenes from the film are set in Bolivia, Dubai, Mumbai and L.A. respectively the bulk of the movie was actually shot in Puerto Rico.  The producers managed to save money this way as the country’s variable terrain doubled up nicely for the jungle, desert, beach and city scenes needed.  I was in P.R. in November and can strongly recommend the rum.

Review by: Neon Messiah

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Green Zone

Many men have a man crush on Matt Damon. By many men, I of course mean me. Now that I think about it, it’s not so much a man crush on Matt Damon as it is Jason Bourne. A lone wolf assassin possessed with superhuman abilities, fighting his own demons as well as the entire CIA – but underneath it all, a good man, a man of his word and ripped. Who doesn’t have a crush on Bourne?

But sadly this isn’t a review of Jason Bourne (I’m still to find the niche film review site that will let me write lengthy homages to everyone’s favourite blank faced, amnesiac killer) but it’s not far off though.

Directed by Paul Greengrass, who also helmed The Bourne Ultimatum (the third instalment in the series), Green Zone (2010) features Damon playing a character that has more than a trace of Jason Bourne: Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller is a tough, relentless and hard man, in a race against time. Nothing will get in his way, not even jerky, handheld camera work.

The plot is an interesting premise and based on a collection of real life events relating to the US invasion of Iraq and the search for weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Roy Miller heads a team tasked to search WMD sites based on CIA and military intelligence. After turning up potless several times, he begins to dig deeper into the source of the intelligence, an Iraqi insider codenamed Magellan. What he uncovers is a deal brokered with a senior Iraqi general who confirmed the absence of WMD and has kept quiet in return for a place in the ‘new Iraq’ after the invasion. Instead, he ends up becoming a patsy for the conspiracy and on the Army’s deck of playing cards as a key figure for kill or capture.

So begins a race to get to him first. It’s a conspiracy within a conspiracy, if you will. Miller wants to find him and expose the knowingly false reasons for the invasion; meanwhile, Jason Isaacs’ special ops commander Major Briggs – in cahoots with a Pentagon puppeteer played by Greg Kinnear- is out to kill him. There’s a suitably weary and battle hardened look about all of them. Isaacs, in particular, appears to come straight off the set of Black Hawk Down, and grown a Village People themed handlebar moustache on the way.
It’s a well shot movie with an intriguing premise.

It’s also excellently cast – Yigal Naor who plays General Al-Rawi (Magellan), will be familiar to many for his portrayal of Saddam Hussein in the BBC/HBO House of Saddam mini-series. He is to Middle Eastern army generals what Danny Trejo is to South American street villains.

However, there’s a problem at the heart of it all. The film constantly flits between action blockbuster and a thought provoking, fact based, political thriller. Is it Syriana? Or is it an extension of Bourne? It’s confusing. I recall once seeing the Russell Crowe vehicle Master & Commander described as ‘Maximus Gets A Boat’. Green Zone suffers from the same problem. It smacks of ‘Bourne Goes To Iraq’ or ‘Bourne Hunts WMD’.

Still, Greengrass knows how to explode a helicopter. When Miller finally manages to find Al-Rawi in a hostile part of Baghdad, he’s hotly pursued by Briggs and his special ops team, including a unit in an attack helicopter. Al-Rawi flees and Miller pursues through the streets at night, whilst Briggs and his team close in, all the while watched by the helicopter overhead. With Miller getting close to the general, the ‘copter moves to intercept when Iraqi fighters appear on a rooftop with an RPG….

Artistic merit 

It scores pretty highly. The RPG catches the helicopter flush on the mid-tail section, sending it cartwheeling across the night skies above a Baghdad suburb. There’s a terrific looking explosion as it clips two rooftops and then disappears out of sight. This wasn’t done on the cheap.

What happens next?

An angry mob of local fighters armed with automatic rifles, converge on the unseen crash site, while Miller watches them from his hiding place. When one group of rebels screech to a halt in a hatchback and run off towards the downed chopper, Miller immediately makes a dash for the car – and takes the opportunity to steal a Peugeot 205. It’s as if all those years on a Moss Side council estate finally paid off for Major Miller. The chase scene in the car is tasty although patently copied from the Bourne films.

Exploding helicopter innovation

None at all. RPG is probably the weapon of choice for rotor kill. And even the average cinema goer will recall similar scenes of an American military helicopter spinning across a dark foreign city. That’s right – Black Hawk Down was an entire film dedicated to this premise.


The sight of Matt Damon, tough marine, pinching a Peugeot 205 and joyriding through Baghdad is really quite entertaining.


A confused mix of genres. It’s clearly a well-researched film based on some incredible real events (see below) but would have benefitted from choosing either more action or more intrigue.

Parting thought 

The background real events that inspired the film are worth reading up on. I haven’t read the book that the film was based on (Imperial Life In The Emerald City), but the Magellan character was based on a real CIA insider in Iraq known as Curveball, realn name Rafid Ahmed Alwan.

As a supposed chemical engineer within the Iraqi nuclear program, he claimed to offer details of mobile WMD labs in return for political asylum – this was a key component of the reasons for invasion. His testimony was soon discredited by German, British and American intelligence agencies, and he was shown to be a wholly unreliable source (his friends described him as a “congenital liar” and it was suspected that he was an alcoholic).

Yet despite these concerns, his claims appeared in over 110 US government reports relating to the Iraq war, including Colin Powell’s speech to the UN. Alwan later admitted that he had lied and the CIA acknowledged that he was in fact a con artist with some engineering knowledge but who actually drove a taxi in Iraq. If it wasn’t true, it would be funny.

Review by: Jindy