Thursday 20 June 2013


Munich (2005) can be summarised in just two words: everyone dies.

Steven Spielberg’s film tells the story of how Israel took revenge for the murder of its athletes at the 1972 Olympics. And bodies start piling up from the start.

We open with a graphic replay of the Munich massacre, as both hostages and terrorists are bloodily killed during the siege and a bungled police ambush.

Thereafter, the death toll rises inexorably. The Palestinians who masterminded the attack are hunted down and killed by a team of Israeli hitmen (led by Eric Bana), who are then in turn slowly killed off by the Palestinians in retaliation. Any resemblance in this endless cycle of violence to the ongoing Middle East situation is of course coincidental.

Suffice to say, by the end of the film, pretty much every character has either been shot, stabbed or blown up. (And sometimes, more than one of those things.) Still, it does save the trouble of having to remember everyone’s name.

For such a daunting mission, you might imagine Mossad would select a group of conscience-free, stone cold killers. After all, what’s needed here is a band of reptilian-blooded assassins who can maintain a laser-like focus on their job.

This, though, is a Steven Spielberg film. So, rather than a glamorised exercise in revenge-porn what we actually get is an earnest study in the morality of vengeance. Unfortunately, this requires Bana’s hit squad to be made up of quibbling aesthetes who quarrel endlessly about the ethics of their mission.

And boy, can they argue. There’s barely a scene without a bout of tetchy bickering as they tie each other up in existential knots, even while they’re supposed to be booby-trapping the hotel room of their next victim. In parts, it’s more Hollyoaks than Holy War.

The assassins bicker about ethics over a spot of lunch
As our dysfunctional team of stroppy assassins grimly continue their squabbling, I began to wonder what this mission might have looked like had it been given to Larry David, Woody Allen and Dustin Hoffman. Sure, there’d have been the same quotient of arguments and neurotic self-doubt, but at least there’d have been a few laughs.

All this intellectual self-flagellation makes Munich seem like a bizarre edition of The Moral Maze, only one where the panel punctuate their philosophical musings with an occasional car bombing.

Miraculously, despite the maelstrom of death around him, Eric Bana makes it through to the end of the film. That’s no mean feat for an actor who’s made a career out of playing characters who meet with a sticky end (Star Trek, Troy, The Time Traveller’s Wife, Hanna, et al).

Ultimately, this is good news both for Bana and for exploding helicopter fans, since he plays a pivotal role in one of the most bizarre chopper fireball scenes ever committed to celluloid.

So what happens?

After completing his mission, Bana returns home to the loving embrace of his wife but is haunted by his murderous actions. This being the Seventies – an age before psychotherapy and counselling – our Eric attempts to exorcise his demons in time-honoured male fashion by having some rumpy-pumpy with his wife.

While engaged in conjugal congress, a grim-faced Bana has a flashback to the bloody massacre at the airport during the 1972 Olympics. We see the hostages and the terrorists aboard a helicopter they’ve been given to fly out of the city. Unfortunately, the inept German police force choose this moment to start shooting at the terrorists, causing a gun battle to break out.

Bana: about to enjoy the 'helicopter explosion'
As the sequence develops, the action cuts between Bana’s increasingly sweaty thrashings and the unfolding disaster at the airport. Literally, it’s non-stop chopper action. As Bana pulls his best Eric-Clapton-playing-a-guitar-solo sexy face, the camera cuts to one of the terrorists pulling a pin from a grenade and rolling it underneath the chopper.

At this point, the scene reaches its (ahem) climax. As an impressively gurning Bana glories in his moment of orgasmic ecstasy, doubtless so do legions of exploding helicopter fans, writhing on their single men’s bedsit sofas as the aforementioned grenade blows up and destroys the chopper.

Spent, both Bana - and indeed chopper fireball fans - slump back in post-coital bliss.

Artistic merit

A giddy cocktail of sex, death and exploding helicopter - this is possibly the finest moment in Spielberg’s much lauded career as a director.

I’ve often wondered what I prefer most: sex or exploding helicopters. And now I know. I prefer my sex with exploding helicopters.

Exploding helicopter innovation

Totally unique. This is the first, and indeed only, time a helicopter explosion has been combined with a sex scene. More please.


In a film that’s a near three-hour murder-fest some light relief is provided by the cast who serve up an indigestible dog’s breakfast of accents.

The primary offenders are a curiously bewigged Daniel Craig, who jack-knifes violently between Afrikans and a dulcet northern brogue, and Eric Bana whose efforts at a Germanic lilt sound like he’s modelled it on Gruber, the camp as knickers Nazi from Allo Allo.

Surrounded by such linguistic butchery, Geoffrey Rush obviously concludes that the safest course is not to be pinned down by anything identifiable, and instead opts for an accent that can only be described as ‘foreign’.


Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but unfortunately in Munich it makes for a chilly and remote film. While the filmmaking is stately and elegant, it is ultimately a cold, hollow exercise which fails to deliver either an emotional or intellectual punch.

Interesting fact

The fact Munich doesn’t quite work may in part be a result of its hectic production schedule. Filming and editing took place simultaneously in order to get the film out in time for Oscar consideration. Perhaps fittingly, given the subject matter, it bombed.

Review by: Jafo

Listen to the Exploding Helicopter podcast episode on Munich on iTunes, Stitcher, Podomatic or YourListen. Or listen here and now on the embedded player. 

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

After a 12-year manhunt – which involved a pain-staking sift through thousands of leads, countless hours of interrogation and no small amount of brutal torture – it turns out the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks was the old beardy guy living quietly in a small house who no-one suspected.

If, like me, you’ve grown up watching Scooby Doo, you’d have known this was precisely the culprit and spent the entire film pointing at the screen shouting, “Him! It’s him!”

In fact, this is just one of many uncanny parallels Zero Dark Thirty (2013) has with the children’s TV cartoon. As the film’s hero, ball-busting CIA agent Maya (Jessica Chastain) combines the willowy, flame-haired looks of Daphne with the intimidating intelligence of the chunky knitwear-loving Velma.

The ‘mystery van’ in this instance turns out to be a jeep, which eventually leads the CIA to Bin Laden’s hideout, the sort of scary darkened house that Scooby and the gang timidly skulked around on a regular basis. Indeed, such is the overwhelming sense of déjà vu, that when the soldiers finally confront Osama I fully expected him to lament how he’d have gotten away with it were it not for those pesky Special Forces death squads.

Jessica Chastain: Daphne's hair and Velma's brains
Still, for all that, there are some notable differences. Unless I’m mistaken, Fred, Shaggy and the rest of the gang never actually resorted to torture to solve the mystery. (Of course, I here exclude any episodes featuring Scrappy Doo, each one of which represented a particularly base form of psychological torment. Had the US military only had the sense to play Scrappy episodes on a loop at Guantanamo, they’d have had the whole thing wrapped up in a fortnight.)

On the film’s release, there was much media discussion about the film’s depiction of what is euphemistically known in the intelligence world as ‘enhanced interrogation’. Famously, the movies trumpets a proud ‘Torture works!’ message, whereas the guy the fictional torture victim is based on in fact told them nothing more useful than: ‘This is very painful. Please stop stamping on my testicles and pretend-drowning me.’

Equally unconvincing is the black wig that Maya uses to disguise her flame-haired tresses and sneak inside a CIA ‘black site’. For a moment, I thought Morticia Addams had joined the war effort.

In fact, Kathryn Bigelow seems to have a special affinity for dodgy weaves in general. At the Agency’s own Langley headquarters, senior spooks Mark Strong and James Gandolfini both seem happy to sport the most unconvincing hairpieces seen in public since Sean Connery donned a steel brillo pad in The Hunt For Red October.

But of course, all this casual water-boarding and tonsorial tomfoolery would be as nothing if it weren’t for our primary interest – the helicopter explosion. For that we have to go back to the raid on Bin Laden’s compound.

Mark Strong disguised as a man with a full head of hair
The Navy Seal team are sent in to terminate Bin Laden with some good old fashioned extreme prejudice. As the mission involves surreptitiously sneaking into Pakistan they’re given a couple of prototype ‘stealth’ helicopters which officially don’t exist (but demonstrably do given their use here).

As they’re about to start the raid, one of the helicopters develops an unspecified technical fault and crash lands. However, the soldiers are not to be diverted from their task and the attack continues as planned.

After killing ‘the Big O’ the special ops team now have to make a speedy escape. But before making their evacuation, they need to cover their tracks and plant explosives on the wrecked aircraft – presumably to stop its secret technology falling into foreign hands (although given the chopper’s lamentable safety record it‘s hard to think they‘d want it).

However, further quibbling about aviation safety is abruptly ended when the explosives are detonated and the helicopter is consumed in lovely yellow flame.

Artistic merit

You don’t win an Oscar without knowing how to blow up a helicopter, and director Kathryn Bigelow ensures a suitably fitting conflagration for the downed chopper.

Exploding helicopter innovation

First known destruction of a helicopter which “officially doesn’t exist”. And, after the explosion, one that actually doesn’t exist either.

Do passengers survive?

Yes, the crew of the helicopter survive the crash landing and escape in the other chopper.


I have to give some credit to Mark Boal for writing a script that is, at times, an impenetrable litany of acronyms, short-hand, and military slang.

A regularly gripe of mine is the great mouthfuls of lumpen exposition that screenwriters feel compelled to put into the mouths of characters simply because they don’t believe the audience has the intelligence to follow the story.

It was thus refreshing to see Zero Dark Thirty making no such concessions to the viewer. It simply trusts you to either understand what’s happening or work out the answer for yourself.


The film is easier to admire than love. With an aspiration to document the hunt for Bin Laden rather than moralise, and with Jessica Chastain’s character an impenetrable void at the centre of the film, there’s actually very little to enjoy. There’s equally little to learn if you bother read the news.

As is well known, the film was originally conceived before Bin Laden was discovered and killed and had to be hastily rewritten. I can’t help but wonder how the politics of the film would have been interpreted had Bin Laden never been found and the film made as it was first conceived. I can’t help but suspect it would have given the depicted events an existential power. Instead, they’re just grinding towards the inevitable conclusion.

Favourite quote

Despite the combined efforts of the CIA’s brightest minds, the latest in high-tech spy satellites, and cutting edge communication intercepts, I loved how the manhunt ultimately boiled down to a Delta Force soldier creeping around the spooky compound whispering, “Osama..? Osama..?”

I can only assume it was his years of elite military training which stopped him from adding: “…come out, come out, wherever you are.”

Interesting fact

Apparently James Cameron was at one time mentioned as a possible director for the film, but instead chose to make two sequels to Avatar. Well, he probably needs a few extra quid.

Review by: Jafo

Tuesday 4 June 2013

The Delta Force

That’s Delta Force: the elite of America’s armed forces.

Trained killers. Experts with guns, knives, and their bare hands. Specialists in covert operations, hostage situations, and clandestine missions of testicle shrivelling dangerousness.

So, when I sat down to watch this movie, I was ready. Ready to be shocked and awed by the military prowess on display. Ready to be wowed by the cold, calculating, precision with which this team of highly-trained special forces would execute their mission.

I certainly wasn’t prepared for a display of military bungling so inept that, had there been a scene where Barbara Windsor’s bra unexpectedly whizzed off as Sid James ha-ha-ha-ed in the background, I’d have happily believed I was watching a particularly flaccid entry in the Carry On series: Carry On Commando, if you like.

But before we embark on an unexpurgated post-mortem, let’s briefly deal with the cookie-cutter plot.

A group of Middle East terrorists from Central Casting (a little known disputed territory near the West Bank) hijack an airplane full of American disaster movie clichés. You know the ones – pregnant lady, nuns, gung-ho jocks, stoic pensioner and an implausibly happy married couple celebrating, with ill-timed misfortune, their silver wedding anniversary. (Perhaps they didn’t have the budget for a plucky dog who you think has died but turns up at the end unscathed.)

So, with the hostages facing death at the hands of the stereotypically swarthy Arabs, it falls to the titular Delta Force led by Chuck Norris (for it is he) to kick rag-head butt and rescue the unfortunate airline passengers.

Chuck Norris wearing a pubic wig
As we’ve remarked before, our Chuck is one of the most singularly odd-looking men ever to enjoy a Hollywood career. Not least because his trademark beard – an unkempt thicket of wiry, straggly hair – makes him look he has a pubic wig attached to his chin.

And given this movie was made in the Eighties, Norris’ own physical oddity is naturally accentuated by some truly horrific wardrobe choices. Having previously rocked an ill-advised ‘double denim’ outfit in VHS classic Invasion USA, Norris here throws any last vestiges of restraint to the winds and boldly goes where no style icon or fashionista has gone before: triple denim.

Yes, TRIPLE denim. In one remarkable scene we get to witness Charles in denim jeans, denim shirt AND a denim jacket. Had Chuck at this precise moment dropped his trousers, I’ve no doubt we’d have found him resplendent in a pair of stonewashed denim budgie-smugglers.

Sadly for any stylists in the viewing audience, Norris soon switches into combat fatigues (regrettably non-denim) to get on with the urgent business of rescuing the hostages. And it’s at this point that the Delta Force’s elite military expertise is revealed to be nothing more than a thin veneer hiding a distinctly shabby amateurism.

This is strikingly demonstrated during Chuck’s first attempt to free the hostages. Neglecting to check how many terrorists they’re up against the raid ends in an unmitigated fiasco. In reprisal, the terrorists unceremoniously shoot one of the hostages in the head. Well, at least now we know they’ve got guns too.

Still, this is minor bungling when compared to Chuck’s big rescue plan after the hostages are moved from the jumbo jet to a fortified compound. To ensure the enemy will be taken completely by surprise, he plots a clandestine raid to be carried out in the dead of night.

All hostage situations must include a nun and a priest
Unfortunately, this sneak attack involves staging the biggest beach landing since D-Day. Trucks, jeeps and motorbikes clank noisily ashore, before rattling with an awful din through the streets of the Lebanon. Short of hiring Fatboy Slim to do a set of ‘bangin’ tunes’ from the back of one of the trucks (‘Make some noise, Beirut!’), it’s hard to see how they could have been less discreet.

But, I hear you cry, what about the exploding helicopter scene? Well, my chopper conflagration-fancying friends, I have shocking news to impart: it is, incredibly, the very first event in the film.

It’s true. Delta Force opens with a shot of a stationary helicopter in an empty barren desert. For a few seconds, nothing happens. Then the helicopter suddenly explodes. No exposition, no explanation, no introduction. One minute it’s there, the next it’s been blown to smithereens.

It’s a hell of a way to start a film. And as an attention grabbing statement of intent for a film, it’s as ballsy as any red-blooded exploding helicopter fan could wish for…

 Artistic merit

…but, having said that, I’ve mixed feelings about this helicopter explosion. On one level it’s the single greatest opening to a film I’ve ever seen. The chopper fireball is the very first thing to happen and I wouldn’t be running this website if the idea of helicopters exploding immediately at the start of a film didn’t thrill me in ways which would probably disturb you if I elaborated on them.

But on another level, it’s an unsatisfying experience. Like many of my own first teenage forays with girls, it’s all climax and no foreplay. And it’s so very brief. (Yes, the teen analogy till applies.) Ultimately the whole scene doesn’t really work.

Exploding helicopter innovation

At just five seconds into the film, Delta Force holds the record for the earliest exploding helicopter.

Do passengers survive?

Yes. Norris heroically runs back to the exploding helicopter to save a soldier who’s trapped onboard. There’s a conspicuous absence of camaraderie from the rest of the Delta Force troops though, who seem completely content to let their colleague burn to death. Maybe they just didn’t like him very much.


Smart suit + moustache + urbane manners = terrorist
In recent years any thriller with a Middle Eastern setting has seemed duty bound to have a hideously baffling plot as anyone who’s struggled through Syriana and Green Zone can attest.

Refreshingly, Delta Force makes commendably few intellectual demands on the viewer. Two thousand years of bloody and complex religious, national and political disputes are distilled to a simple message: Chuck Norris good, terrorists bad.

Delta Force aspires to nothing more than uncomplicated, patriotic tub-thumping fun best evidenced by the jingoistic ending which sees all the now rescued hostages singing the star spangled banner while drinking Budweisers. Not wanting to be left out I started chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A” at the screen.


Clueless as they are, Delta Force by no means hold a monopoly on ineptness in this film. No, credit where it’s due – the terrorists also display a finely-curdled crapness as they prepare to hijack the plane.

Hilariously, one of the criminal hijacking masterminds turns out to only have a standby ticket. Since the flight’s full, he’s not allowed to board and is left stranded in the airport terminal. Don’t worry lads, I’ll hijack the next one.

Favourite quote

One plucky hostage manages to find the brighter side of being caught up in a hijacking: “Whatever happens, we’ll always remember our silver wedding anniversary.”

Interesting fact

Oddly, Delta Force is a significant film for a number of actors. Eagle-eyed viewers will spot future Hollywood stars Kevin Dillon and Liam Neeson in uncredited roles as fresh faced Delta Force soldiers.

While they were at the start of their careers, Delta Force proved to be the end of Lee Marvin’s. Possessed of a lean, gaunt look in his heyday, here Marvin exudes all the health of an animated corpse. Which isn’t far from the truth, as the great man died shortly after making this film.

Review by: Jafo

Still want more? Then listen to the Exploding Helicopter podcast episode on The Delta Force. Listen via iTunes, Podomatic, Stitcher, Acast and YourListen. Or even right here.