Thursday 16 May 2013

Iron Man 3

Let's face facts, once they hang up their cape most superheroes are as dull as ditchwater. Clark Kent is a socially inept wet blanket, Bruce Wayne a reclusive misery guts and Peter Parker a dweeby geek. Put it this way, they'd be deadly dull company if you ever invited them out for a few beers.

Tony Stark on the other hand would be a riot. Loaded, charismatic, with more one liners than Tommy Cooper, he'd be the life and soul of the party.

The success of the character is due in no small part to Robert Downey Jr's suave, sardonic portrayal of the millionaire playboy. You don't feel he's acting, so much as portraying a slightly exaggerated version of himself.

Coming after recent po-faced excursions into the comic book universe (we're looking at you Christopher Nolan) Downey's perpetually cocked eyebrow performance made the first film feel like a breath of fresh air.

Sequels though rarely improve on their predecessors and Iron Man 2 is a case in point. Foregoing the knockabout fun of the original, it’s really just a convoluted excuse to set up Stark's appearance in franchise crossover Avengers Assemble.

And it’s from the end of that film that the action in Iron Man 3 (2013) picks up. Having successfully battled an alien invasion alongside his superhero buddies, a shell-shocked, burnt-out Stark is recuperating in his Malibu mansion - which mostly consists of him tinkering with an army of Iron Mans suits and arguing with Gwyneth Paltrow.

As Stark licks his wounds, a string of terrorist bombings are perpetrated by The Mandarin - a flamboyant Osama-like character played by Ben Kingsley - causing chaos across the US and injuring Stark‘s head of security (Jon Favreau).

Agitated, Stark misguidedly goads the terrorist into taking him on personally and The Mandarin is only too happy to oblige. He sends a trio of heavily laden attack choppers to Stark's hillside hideaway to, let’s say, "redesign" Stark's premises through the medium of air-to-ground missiles.

The lead chopper flies in over the sea and fires off a couple of rockets, blowing a huge hole in the property's art deco frontage. Stark quickly dons his suit and returns fire by launching a huge chunk of masonry at the helicopter. Disappointingly, despite hitting his target, the chopper does not explode and flies out of shot.

A second helicopter swoops in, but this time Stark hits the jackpot. He hurls one of the explosives from his Iron Man suit at the helicopter. Then just as it reaches the chopper Stark uses a blast from one of the jets on his suit to ignite triggering an explosion. The damaged helicopter spins in classic dying whirly-bird fashion. Unfortunately, the stricken chopper crashes straight into the mansion causing the entire building to collapse.

Only a miracle now saves Stark from being crushed in the carnage and the last chopper pilot, thinking his work is done, pootles off for a well-earned pint.

Artistic merit

It’s a juicy set piece, nicely shot with plenty of destruction. But the helicopter explosion is delivered with a reddish glow which betrays its CGI origins. Though the sight of the cliff top mansion tumbling into he sea after succumbing to the helicopter wreckage is a nice touch.

Exploding helicopter innovation

Whilst the destruction of the chopper is pretty routine it’s not often you see a helicopter reduce a mansion to rumble.

Do passengers survive?

Unusually the first chopper pilot, despite being hit by a massive slab of concrete, looks like he may have been able to make an emergency landing. The second chopper pilot would have definitely came a cropper though.


As to be expected with a Marvel adaptation, action fans will feel as satisfied as Lindsay Lohan holidaying in Colombia with the Green Bay Packers for company. All the set pieces are executed with aplomb (I particularly enjoyed the skydiving sequence) and there is more shiny CGI than you shake a stick at.

The producers have also managed to corral an ensemble of great acting talent together so Downey isn’t left to prop up the picture on his own. Guy Pearce delivers another convincing performance as evil mastermind Aldrich Killian that continues to make his time as Mike Pearce in Neighbours seems like a cheese induced dream.

Ben Kingsley, as always, is a delight and delivers an unexpected character twist that is usually absent in this genre. Topping it off we get ultimate movie asshole Miguel Ferrer, of Robocop fame, popping up as the crooked Vice President Rodriguez.


Despite the acting chops on display not everything is rosy in the Iron Man universe. Director Shane Black may be responsible for writing the classic Lethal Weapon series, but its wise-cracking buddy formula doesn't work so well here.

Stark befriends a precocious brat (Ty Simkins) whilst investigating the dubious explosions that maybe linked to the accident that befalls his head of security. Their "banter" during these scenes feels forced and not a little ridiculous.

The pacing of the film is also questionable, lurching as it does between knockabout one-liners and gruesome deaths with nary a gap in between. Whilst the original film had its moments of levity rooted in Downey's louche portrayal of Stark, here the comedy is overdone giving the film a schizophrenic character.
Also, the technology in the original movie felt like it was grounded in reality. But here the audience is required to take a greater leap of faith. Stark's new remote control Iron Man suits and Killian's DNA regeneration programme feel like one step too far and possibly a case of jumping the shark.

Overall the film is more enjoyable than Iron Man 2, but fails to capture the magic of the original. I wouldn't go out of your way to see it.

Favourite quote 

Brandt: “Is that all you've got? A cheap trick and a cheesy one-liner?”
Tony Stark: “Sweetheart, that could be the name of my autobiography.

Interesting fact

Shane Black is a bit of a jack of all trades. Not content with being a mere screenwriter or director he has also dipped a toe in the acting world. Keen eyed exploding helicopter fans might recognise him as the bespectacled radio operator Hawkins from the action classic Predator. This bit of trivia is just an excuse for me me to quote the following lame joke:

Hawkins: Billy. Billy! The other day, I was going down on my girlfriend, I said to her, "Jeez you got a big pussy. Jeez you got a big pussy." She said, "Why did you say that twice?" I said, "I didn't."
[Billy stares blankly]
Hawkins: See, cuz of the echo.

Bonus fact

Hang about till the end of the credits to see Stark on the psychiatrist couch with Dr David Banner. Worth waiting for.

Review by: Neon Messiah

Listen to the Exploding Helicopter podcast episode on Iron Man 3. Find the show on YourListen, iTunes, Podomatic and Stitcher

Friday 10 May 2013

Olympus Has Fallen

Fallen asleep, more like.

Rarely has an action movie seemed so lazy. No doubt pitched as ‘Die Hard in the White House’, this generic piece of floss also plunders plot lines, characters and whole scenes from a dozen other movies. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a hoary tribute band, ruining old classics and expecting applause for it.

Adding to its woes, the star is Gerard Butler – a kind of Scottish Steven Seagal, only with less emotional range.

The movie’s high standards of verisimilitude are established at the outset when a bunch of North Koreans manage to fly a lumbering military plane right to the centre of Washington, largely unchallenged.

As the plane blasts DC to smithereens, a crack team of 40 enemy agents, disguised as tourists, quickly overwhelms the famously not-well-guarded White House and takes the President hostage in his own underground bunker.

Luckily, disgraced Secret Service agent Butler also manages to blast his way in, kicking off what will become a truly prodigious body count. Once inside, he establishes phone contact with acting President Morgan Freeman (I know, I was surprised too) and the inevitable conference room full of worried politicos and grizzled generals.

Will our Gezza be able to single-handedly despatch all the nasty Norks, save the President and stop the USA’s nukes going off with seconds to spare? Obviously, Exploding Helicopter wouldn’t dream of spoiling things so you’ll just have to go see for yourself. (But yes.)

Hokum it may be, but there’s some entertainment to be gleaned from playing ‘Spot the Steal’. Look! There’s that close quarters choke-fight-in-a-tiny space from Air Force One. Hey! Aren’t those the hooded hostages in identical overalls from Inside Man?

Butler: uber-violence specialist
More impressively, entire scenes – the snatched phone call to the missus, unknowingly befriending the baddie, jumping off an exploding building – are lifted wholesale from Die Hard without the merest attempt to put a fresh gloss on them.

This is a very particular type of action thriller. Where Bruce Willis brought quips, Van Damme the corny kung fu and Arnie a bovine semi-comedy, Butler unapologetically specialises in uber-violence. Within minutes of entering the White House, he’s bludgeoned one baddie and tortured another two to death. Knives going into necks – and actual heads – quickly becomes a common feature, almost a calling card.

Unsurprisingly, there’s nary a giggle to be had. Butler, realising every three seconds spent crafting a witty aside is a lost opportunity to stick a skillet knife into a Nork’s right temple, largely lets his bladed instruments do the talking. It’s pretty artless stuff.

Still, there is a solid, if predictable, supporting cast. Aaron Eckhart (who seemingly stole Dennis Quaid’s career overnight) is suitably lantern-jawed and stoic as the kidnapped President. Robert Forster turns in a heroically hammy turn as the gun-happy General who, in time-honoured fashion, bungles a military rescue and has to be given a public dressing down.

The magisterial Morgan, meanwhile – who exclusively seems to play either the President or God these days – churns out his lines with a pained look that suggests the actor beside him has just dropped one. But we all know that what really stinks is the script.

Like many modern action films, Olympus suffers badly for want of a half-decent villain. The muscle-bound Kang (Rick Yune) is a bland presence, largely reduced to explaining plot points. In the absence of a personality, his calling card also (oh, happy coincidence!) turns out to be uber-violence. His stand-out scene revolves around him repeatedly kicking a 60-year-old woman [the Secretary of Defence] in the stomach. Alan Rickman, this is not.

Equally dull is Dylan McDermot, playing the good agent gone rogue who, when asked why he’s turned sour, yelps: “Wall Street! Globalisation!’ Really? The existence of a financial sector and the steady growth in international trade agreements is what finally tipped him over the edge? Deep stuff, indeed.

Freeman: Cast exclusively as God or the President
The fact that McDermot, with his moany, equine features, looks more like Ross from Friends with each passing day only makes him all the more slappable. Against all the odds, our Gezza ends up stabbing him in the throat.

But, to the helicopters. General Bob Forster, his voice so gravelly it’s being picked up on nearby submarine sonar equipment, orders six military choppers to land on the White house roof. But Kang, taking a brief respite from pummelling pensioners in the lower abdomen, has worked out how to use the White House’s own ‘Hydra Six’ defence system – essentially a huge automated machine gun.

By the time Butler stabs his way to the rooftop, the Hydra gun has already biffed five choppers. Our Gezza heroically blasts the Hydra with a rocket launcher, but the final helicopter smashes into the White House right where he’s standing. As the flaming vehicle explodes, our anti-hero leaps off the flaming ledge (Die Hard), falls through a few storeys of the collapsing building (Die Hard 5), then is trapped on his back as the rotor blades come swishing down and stop just before his meaty features (Mission Impossible). So: not at all derivative, then.

Artistic merit

Very weak. The whole scene plays out at night, the editing is Michael-Bay-on-acid fast, the CGI is hazy and, frankly, it’s not at all clear what’s happening for most of the time. Note to Hollywood: this scene probably cost hundreds of thousands to put together, and yet was met with a palpable sigh by the cinema audience.

Exploding helicopter innovation

You’re joking aren’t you? This is a film that has been constructed exclusively from the scenes of other films.

Number of exploding helicopters


There’s a second helicopter explosion to enjoy when the terrorists try to make their getaway from the White House. Seemingly all set to fly to safety aboard a chopper that’s been provided for them, the whirlybird mysteriously blows up. Turns out the whole scene has been deliberately staged to cause enough confusion for the terrorists to make their real getaway.


Has anyone seen Monica?
Ah, Gerard. What will movie historians say of his schizophrenic movie career? No other actor in Hollywood has so effortlessly straddled the contrasting genres of rom-com and gut-wrenchingly violent thriller, while seemingly being equipped for neither. His ripe awfulness, almost McConaughey-esque in places, makes for compulsive viewing.

You’re never sure whether he’s going to be breaking limbs or mending hearts. In Law Abiding Citizen, for example, he (inevitably) stabs someone in the neck then continues a steak dinner as blood pumps fitfully out of the corpse beside him. But that film came only shortly after P.S. I Love You, where he lolled like a puppy and boyishly charmed Hilary’s Wank (sic) with a crashingly bad Oirish accent. At this juncture, it’s still not clear which of the two was the more distressing.

Best of all is The Ugly Truth, a magnificently mis-judged rom-com in which Butler plays a lothario shock-jock, but with some of the latent nastiness intact. Poor Katherine Heigel never looks sure whether he’s going to kiss her cheek or snap her tibia with a single, well-aimed kick.


In the initial attack, the plane bombs Washington in a taboo-busting fashion that is plainly meant to evoke 9/11. (The collapsing Washington Monument, for example, falls exactly like the Trade Center buildings). There’s something genuinely distasteful about a middling piece of cinematic whimsy using America’s largest modern tragedy to try and grasp at ‘edginess’.

Also, there’s a bizarre (and mercifully brief) ‘Home Alone’ sub-plot, involving the President’s cute kid being trapped in the White House. Presumably, even the makers of this film realised how creepy it was – if not downright weird – to have Butler offering avuncular advice to the young boy, before filleting a screaming Nork in front of him. The child is quickly allowed to escape via a drain, to everyone’s relief.

Favourite quote

“They’ve opened the gates of hell…”
Morgan Freeman has presumably just seen the script for Olympus Has Fallen 2.

Interesting fact

In Hollywood, no idea is so bad that it can’t be done twice in quick succession. Expect to see White House Down (essentially the same movie but starring younger, less Scottish beefcake Channing Tatum) at a cinema near you very soon.

Review by: Chopper

Saturday 4 May 2013

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

Bill Murray is Steve Zissou, a puffed up Jacque Cousteau wannabe. Once the toast of the movie world his star status is now on the wane.

In years gone by his glamorous undersea adventures had made him into a famous public figure. Zissou's face adorned the cover of magazines and he enjoyed lucrative celebrity endorsements (Adidas no less).

But the Zissou we meet cuts a pitiful figure. The public have grown tired of his oceanic explorations, forcing our Steve to scrounge a living by releasing kitschy documentaries to ever diminishing returns.

As if this wasn't a heavy enough blow to Zissou’s self-esteem, his wife (Angelica Houston) is on the verge of leaving him and his successful nemesis Alistair Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum) seems to pop up everywhere just to rub his nose in his decline.

But just when it seems life can’t get any worse for Zissou it administers another sharp bony knee to the balls. During the making of his latest documentary his best friend (Seymour Cassel) is eaten by the elusive, and perhaps even fictional, Jaguar Shark.

This leads Zissou and his ragtag crew of oddballs on one last adventure to track down the mysterious creature, avenge his friend and perhaps find some kind of redemption.

Director Wes Anderson follows Rushmore and The Royal Tenebaums with another bittersweet comedy/drama dealing with his usual preoccupations of age and strained family relationships.

The story’s gentle humour and trademark quirks won’t be to everyone’s tastes, and the plot does meander along. But - to use an appropriately watery metaphor - it’s rather like being on a rolling river in a foreign country. You can look at the strange flora and fauna passing by and be pleasantly surprised by every quirk that emerges around the next bend.

One such curveball is the helicopter explosion that gets thrown at us during the film’s finale. Zissou and his long lost “son” Ned (Owen Wilson) fly out to sea in search of the Jaguar Shark in a bright yellow chopper.

Unfortunately, due to Zissou’s funding problems it seems the helicopter has not been maintained in quite a while. As soon as it reaches cruising altitude there’s a loud snap as the rotor mechanism breaks. There are no histrionics or flashy pyrotechnics, just a shot of Zissou’s trademark Adidas as the sea looms in front of them. The stricken chopper and its passengers then complete their journey to Wetsville.

Artistic merit

Shoe's eye view of the helicopter crash
As to be expected from Wes Anderson the scene is chock full of imagination. Rather than use flashy CGI or old school pyrotechnics to create an explosive climax, Anderson chooses a ‘less is more approach‘.

Instead of the normal fire and flame combo as the chopper crash lands in the water, the explosion is depicted in avant-garde fashion. Rapidly cut shots of fizzing bubbles fill the screen spliced with flashes of red and a bizarre a flashback sequence with Owen Wilson in a cinema auditorium.

In place of the usual crash-bang sound of an explosion, there is just a high-pitched hum and some weird atmospherics. Once the chopper has “exploded” we cut to Murray, cradling a stricken Wilson as burning debris bob around them. Exploding helicopter purists may be aghast at the sight of so many genre conventions being subverted, but I found it all rather refreshing.

Exploding helicopter innovation

Its not often we see choppers crash due to matters as mundane as inadequate maintenance. It’s hard to see the insurance company paying out on this one, assuming Zissou could even afford to keep up the policy.

Do passengers survive?

Tragically, and in contravention of Exploding Helicopter’s Second Law of Filmmaking, one of the good guys gets killed. Overcome by his head injury, Ned drowns in the arms of the helpless Zissou after first making a few oblique metaphysical references.


Fully intact: the helicopter used in the film
On top of fabulous performance by Murray and Goldblum, this is an ensemble piece for which you would struggle to put together a better cast. Zissou’s crew of misfits includes a rare comic role for Willem Dafoe as German engineer Klaus and Cate Blanchett as a National Geographic reporter imbedded within the team.

Michael Gambon pops up as louche film producer and musician Seu Jorge appears as safety expert Pele dos Santos, who spends most of his time randomly playing samba versions of David Bowie songs on deck. It is completely bizarre but it works.

Mercifully this film is a CGI-free zone with Anderson aiming for a handmade look with his emphasis on colour saturation and stop motion animation for the undersea elements. The whole thing feels like a pop-up movie made in kindergarten by toddlers with film degrees.

While I found it charming I can easily see why this film would not appeal to a mainstream audience. You either buy into Anderson’s whimsy or you don’t. For those who didn’t enjoy it I’m sure another Adam Sandler movie will stink along in the near future which will better satisfy your tastes.


When a movie shows this much charm and innovation it would be churlish to criticise it, so I won’t.

Favourite quote

Festival Director: (asking a question about the Jaguar Shark): That's an endangered species at most. What would be the scientific purpose of killing it?

Steve Zissou: Revenge.

Interesting fact

Most of the film was shot on the Italian Riviera where Bill Murray became a certified diver during the filming of the movie, logging over 40 diving hours between takes. And he got paid. Tough business this acting lark.

Review by: Neon Messiah

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

Friday 3 May 2013


In the 50’s, low budget genre films were all the rage. In the US, to feed the boom in drive-in theatres, studios churned out movies with simple plots, stock themes, and reliable shock effects to satisfy punters more interested in copping a feel than character development. Let’s not mess about - most of these films were crap.

A popular staple of these genre efforts were alien invasions, tapping into the public’s Cold War paranoia and the suspicion that those dirty Commies were lurking somewhere in the laundry basket waiting to take over.

Amongst the B-movie dross a few classics did emerge, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, It Came From Outer Space and War Of The Worlds remain enduring examples of the genre.

The reason I’m waffling on about these second tier features is because Skyline (2010) is a direct descendent of those exploitation efforts. In fact, Skyline is little more than a pedestrian retread of War Of The Worlds but with added special effects gimmickry.

Unfortunately, for a film which has decided to put the emphasis on providing smorgasbord of special effects, the aliens are poorly designed and look about as convincing as those in Plan 9 From Outer Space.

The end result is neither scary, funny or remotely thought provoking. Indeed, the whole film feels like nothing more than a straight-to-DVD X-files spin-off.

In an effort to cover-up the entertainment vacuum, the directors have piled on the CGI in much the same way a budget fast food joint uses melted plastic cheese to mask the flavour of your three day old donkey burger.

Confronted by this utterly disinteresting sorry affair, I struggled to write even a single page of notes. Fortunately, my torpor was briefly alleviated when an army helicopter hovered into view and with it the impending prospect of a chopper fireball.

Thingy-me-jig and whats-her-name in Skyline
So, let’s set the scene. Skyline’s two anonymous protagonists Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and Elaine (Scottie Thompson) are holed up in an up-market apartment complex. But, with the aliens closing in, they try to escape by hailing down a passing chopper from the rooftop.

As it approaches, a large alien climbs up the side of the building and shoots two sticky tentacles from its claws which fix onto the chopper’s chassis. There is a short tug of war until the chopper succeeds in overpowering the alien with a volley of gunfire. Unfortunately, it’s here the problems begin.

As the alien tumbles off the side of the building it drags the chopper - to which it’s still attached - down with it. The doomed whirlybird is pulled into the tower block’s glass and concrete structure and goes up in flame, its rotor blades spinning off and narrowly missing the heads of our protagonists.

The rest of the fiery debris plummets to earth and crashes through a glass foyer.
Artistic merit

The exploding helicopter set piece is competently executed and I liked the way the shell of the helicopter comes straight at the camera from above, adding to the impact.

Exploding helicopter innovation

As a mostly innovation free film it comes as a surprise that the destruction of the helicopter is executed in such an unconventional manner. Until a giant chameleon sticks out its tongue and brings down a helicopter this will remain a unique set-piece.

Do passengers survive?

Rule 1 of the helicopters pilot’s character arc: if you haven’t got any lines and you tangle with a bad guy you will only ever end up as slightly charred worm food.


Apart from the helicopter explosion there is absolutely no need to watch this film.


It’s hard to know where to start as this film misfires on almost every level.

A no-mark cast of actors are understandably unable to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Donald Faison (Turk in Scrubs) pops up as a rapper and is mercifully dispatched half way through the film before he can tarnish his resume any further.

David Zayas (who you might recognise as Latino gang leader in prison drama Oz) plays a strangely aggressive concierge who has some awful lines: sample dialogue, “Vaya con Dios, you son of a bitch”. When the aliens come calling Zayas decides he’d rather take his own life and kills himself in a gas explosion. After watching this turkey you might want to do the same.

Despite being an effects driven movie nothing much interesting seems to happen for the bulk of the film. The dialogue is flat and, as most of the film is shot in the confines of an apartment block great swathes of the film are just plain dull.

A one location shoot is not a barrier to a good film. Phone Booth, 127 Hours and Glengarry Glen Ross prove movies with smart dialogue can use their restrictive environments to ratchet up the tension. The directors could have tried to show a siege mentally or evidence of cabin fever, but this is ignored in favour of more shots of clunky looking aliens floating about outside.

There’s no exploration of wider themes, such as the public’s reaction to an alien invasion, the possibilities of societal anarchy, or even why the aliens are there in the first place. No allegories to commercialism, secularism or politics are discussed let alone contemplated. Perhaps I’m expecting too much.

To top it all off the ending, and here we should issue a *spoiler alert*. is complete and utter baloney. The aliens, it turns out, use human brains as fuel. But, when Jarrod is captured and his brain harvested, he amazingly has the power to control the alien he‘s just been ingested by.

No-one else has this ability. And, this point cannot be made strongly enough: THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO F*CKING EXPLANATION FOR HIS SPECIAL POWER! It comes apropos of nothing. All the poor viewer can do is throw up their hands and accept this important plot point like the moron the directors clearly expect you to be.

Favourite quote

(As the aliens revive themselves after being blasted by a rocket)
Jarrod: “They’re not dead. They’re just really p*ssed off!”

Interesting fact

A special mention should go to directors, The Brothers Strause. They have a background in effects work having been involved on the visuals for the Fantastic Four, The Day After Tomorrow and Terminator 3.

They then moved into directing and were responsible for the sh*tfest that was Alien v Predator: Requiem. All in all, tthey have an unenviable record of routinely making bad films.

Out of the $20m this cost to make (chicken feed by today’s mega-budget standards) only 2.5% of the budget went on physical production. The vast majority went on the effects costs.

Despite the thoroughly negative reviews the film made over $78m at the box office and you will probably see a sequel as a result. It goes to show the movie going public are mostly made up of f*cking idiots.

Review by: Neon Messiah