Saturday 26 April 2014

The LEGO Movie

Of all the places you'd expect to find an exploding helicopter, The Lego Movie (2014) is perhaps not the most obvious - a surprise moment in a surprisingly enjoyable film. This is despite, on the face of it, looking like it's a recipe for disaster.

Littered with cameo appearances, parodies of much-loved film characters, and a repeatedly-played annoying sounding song, this looked like it was going to be a gruelling 100 minutes.

Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) is just an everyday generic Lego construction worker. He lives in a world where every day is the same and everything operates like clockwork. Everyone follows the instructions of their overly-chirpy leader, President Business, watches the latest episode of a repetitive sitcom and joins in a daily singalong of 'Everything Is Awesome'.

But all is not as it seems. President Business is actually the evil Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrell), who has grown tired of a rogue band of rebels (led, sort of, by Vituvius, voiced by the Almighty Morgan Freeman) that like to construct Lego in their own more interesting way.

Business plots to end the plastic brick universe as we know it by unleashing an ancient relic - the Kragle - to cement all the Lego blocks in place - permanently. The only thing that can stop this evil OCD plan is The Piece of Resistance (a seemingly plain bit of red plastic) that a prophesied special one will pick up. That someone turns out to be Emmet.

With the help of Vitruvius, Wyldstyle (voiced by Elizabeth Banks), Batman (voiced  by Will Arnett) and other Lego characters from the last few decades, Emmet must escape capture by Business's two-faced cop (voiced by Liam Neeson) and save the universe.

The plot is so utterly bonkers it's like a child wrote it, but it actually holds together extremely well. The screenplay and direction come courtesy of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the minds behind the similarly mad Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs.

It's easy to dismiss the film just as a cynical money generating exercise to get kids' to mass-purchase Lego (which they certainly will), but the film is full of heart and subtle comedy. And frankly it was a great film for nostalgia too. As someone that grew up with Lego (pirate ship and governor's fort, Robin Hood set, random spaceman set etc), the appearance of past Lego characters were a nice addition.

Crazy plot, a world made of Lego, engaging characters, and an exploding helicopter to boot? Yes indeed, everything is awesome. The helicopter explosion occurs when Emmet is pursued by Bad Cop's police squadron. Making for what appears to be the edge of their world (a big wall) it seems there's nowhere to escape to. But wait! A gateway appears just at the right time for the escapees to speed into. This promptly closes - with the pursuant cars smashing into the wall. A moment later, the police helicopter follows them into the wall, before falling on top of the cars - causing a smattering of flaming wreckage.

Artistic merit

This fireball marked the end of a decent chase scene, where Lego pieces fly everywhere. The explosion is pleasingly understated - just a simple crash and fall into some other Lego pieces, with a dash of flames.

Exploding helicopter innovation

This is undoubtedly the inaugural cinematic Lego chopper explosion.

Do passengers survive? 

Inconclusive. For starters, there didn't seem to be any resultant melting, which from my childhood experience usually happens with the addition of fire to Lego. There is death in the film though, with one character returning as the classic ghost Lego Man, however there were no other ghosts visible on screen.


Chris McKay, who is best known for his work on Robot Chicken, was also involved in the film which might help to explain why I found it so hilarious. There are some particularly good scenes where Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill voice Superman and the overly attentive/annoying Green Lantern, notoriously one of the lamest of superheroes. Superman' discomfort is a pleasure to watch. But really Batman steals the show - Will Arnett is straight in above Kilmer & Clooney on the Best Batman list.


One of the random highlights features a scene where the Millennium Falcon pops up. It's a really small scene, with a really small number of lines. Anthony Daniels voices C3P0, and Billy Dee Williams voices Lando. Han Solo is disappointingly not voiced by Harrison Ford, who the directors described as "too busy" to record one or two lines for that scene. Sadly, Ford wasn't too busy to appear in last year's woeful Ender's Game.

Favourite quote 

Batman: "I only work in black...and sometimes very, very dark grey."

Interesting fact 

It's Morgan Freeman's very first appearance in an animated film. Which given he seems to add his voice to virtually everything is rather surprising to find out.

Review by: Joseph Clift

Saturday 19 April 2014

A View To A Kill

The one thing that really strikes you when watching A View To A Kill (1985) is just how old Roger Moore looks.  

Whatever your thoughts on the relative merits (or otherwise) of Sir Roger’s portrayal of the world’s leading upper-class psycho-thug, you can’t deny that he made the role his own, and to a generation or two, he was Bond. But here, his craggy features and greying hair almost overshadow his 'double 0' swansong. Not that there’s a great deal to overshadow. 

That's because A View To A Kill encapsulates most of what was wrong with ‘classic’ era Bond: dull storyline, terrible humour, whiney, screaming Bond girls and good actors wasted in villainous roles. 

The plot, such as it is, sees Bond uncover a scheme by the usual, foreign sounding bad-guy, Max Zorin. For reasons the film never bothers to explain, he plans to do some unspecified skulduggery having just designed a microchip capable of withstanding an electromagnetic pulse (a plot point the writers liked so much they revived it for Goldeneye). Quite why MI6 consider this a problem is unclear; surely the government would want to cut a deal with the guy for some fat juicy military contracts?

So, Bond is sent to Paris, because he’s never been there before. After mingling with some French stereotypes, he has lunch up the Eiffel Tower (not a euphemism) before watching Grace Jones skydive off the spindly iron landmark and smash up a Renault 5 (the least sexy Bond car ever).  

Later Bond pays his obligatory visit to the villain's mansion and stud farm (fnarr!) and new characters are introduced to advance the plot. Events continue to happen for no other reason than this is a Bond movie.  

Now, I can accept the 007 films have a successful formula, but this is so by-the-numbers it could be a kids TV show: Bond meets a woman, Bond snoops around, Bond fights a henchman, Bond escapes death because someone decides to engineer an elaborate demise rather than simply shooting him, and so on.  

Moore looking every one of his 57 years
But to make matters worse, having exhausted the Gallic scenery the action moves to San Francisco where the whole French section gets effectively replayed: Bond meets a woman, Bond snoops around.... It's like Groundhog Day remade as a spy film.

Which is a shame, because interesting ideas are cruelly dangled in front of us before being quickly whisked away (like the lovely Fiona Fullerton). There’s a mildly diverting interlude where Zorin torches an entire building to kill Bond, but it’s not long before we have another derivative and pointless car chase. Still at least this one gets everyone to the finale, where Bond discovers that Zorin is going to destroy Silicon Valley to corner the market in microchips… seriously. The whole sorry mess ends with Bond and Zorin having a pretty novel fight atop the Golden Gate Bridge (complete with exploding blimp!). 

All told, A View To A Kill just doesn’t work. We are firmly in deus ex machina territory here, so rather than anticipating events or investigating them Bond just finds himself in the right place at the right time, over and over again. 

The whole film is basically an eighties retread of Goldfinger, even down to the ‘hoods convention’ scene complete with rotating diorama, but with none of the charm, innovation and pizzazz of the earlier film. There’s a fair bit of action, but it’s all marred by the inclusion of schoolboy humour: the use of a Beach Boys sound-a-like playing California Girls as Bond snow-surfs away from some baddies is a series low.  

The Golden Gate climax features some fantastic stunt work, as two stuntmen really do fight on top of the bridge (but were forbidden to actually throw punches), but once again the good work is undone by the accompanying dodgy back projection. And the less said about shagger Roge's shower scene with Tanya Roberts the better. 

Still, it's not all bad. Christopher Walken is rather brilliant as Zorin, clearly enjoying, nay relishing, the opportunity to have fun with a character who is so poorly written.  He also produces one of the most truly shocking moments I’ve ever seen in a PG rated movie, as he and a lackey mow down hundreds of mine workers with Uzis.  

Grace Jones: best henchperson of the Moore tenure
Stacey, too, is dreadfully written, but as Roberts is not an Oscar-winning actor, she just resorts to channeling the spirit of Britt Ekland and screaming “James!” whenever the dialogue runs out (which is frequently). The surprise casting highlight is Grace Jones as Zorin’s henchperson Mayday. Easily the most compelling physical nemesis of the Moore tenure (yes, even Jaws) Jones belies her lack of acting depth by producing a genuine character performance, and one which actually progresses throughout the story.

It’s a sad fact that Moore, like Connery before him, and Brosnan would after, went out on a low. It's easy to think A View to a Kill would have been better with another - crucially younger - actor playing Bond. However, given the campy tone, Moore is actually the perfect Bond for the movie. The real problem is this is just an awful movie, and it's tragic that Moore's finale in the role saw him forced to creak his way through so many sub-Benny Hill gags.  

But, whatever the flaws there's still an exploding helicopter to enjoy, and this one's right up front in the film, finishing off the pre-credits sequence. Before Bond can have his first shag of the day he has to escape some goons who are pursuing him through snowy wastes. 

We're treated to a ski-chase which have been a feature of Bond films from as far back as On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Having shaken off most of his pursuers, a circling helicopter causes our hero some bother. Finding himself without a weapon Roge improvises and fires a flare gun at the whirlybird. As it cockpit fills with smoke, the pilot loses control and crashes into an icy cliff wall.   

Artistic merit 

It’s a nice combination of miniatures, full-size and composites, with the explosion itself towering over a Siberian (actually Icelandic) vista. 

Exploding helicopter innovation  

The Bond producers like to boast about they always try to give the audience the familiar, but in a way they’ve never seen before. It’s fair to say that in 1985 using a flare gun to blind the helicopter pilots was pretty original. Bond also discovers a new element: bulletproof snow. 

Do passengers survive?  

Not a chance, even though they had a couple of opportunities to jump out, as the helicopter bounced around the ground a few times. Maybe they were taking tips from Bond himself, who failed to leap from the Blofeld-controlled chopper at the start of For Your Eyes Only when he had the chance. 


The whole snow bound sequence, despite not being anywhere near the best in the series, is the highlight of the movie, comedy musical accompaniment aside. John Barry also effectively recycles his theme from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, creating a brilliant, exciting recurring theme for the movie. 


I never had a problem with Bond mowing down hordes of faceless boiler-suited goons, but when he’s murdering people who are just doing their job in their own country (Bond kills a couple of Russian soldiers) it leaves a sour taste.  

Given the diplomatic brouhaha he caused by storming an embassy in Casino Royale, I would imagine killing troops in their own country would get him something more than a slap on the wrist. It’s also not the most secret way for a secret agent to behave. 

Favourite line 

“You amuse me, Mr Bond”. Not so much the line, but Walken’s delivery is exemplary. You can tell he’s waited his whole life to say dialogue like that. 

Interesting fact  

The producers’ first choice for Max Zorin… David Bowie. That could have been brilliant, but it means we would never have had Walken.

Review by: Joe Scaramanga

You can read more of Joe's work on his own website Now, That's What I Call A Music Blog as he journeys through 30 years of Now compilations. 

Wednesday 2 April 2014

Resident Evil: Retribution

Impervious to criticism, immune to public opinion, and seemingly impossible to stop, the Resident Evil franchise lumbers relentlessly onwards in a manner uncannily similar to the zombies which populate its films.

Staggering into cinemas in 2002, the first instalment was met by near universal indifference. Since then, each successive film has received the kind of critical clobbering that would normally kill off anything living and breathing. Yet, like the undead, sequels have continued to rise from the grave with chilling regularity.

So, why won’t this series just lie down and die? Hard as it is to believe, the Resident Evil films have raked in a mind-boggling $1bn in global box office. No wonder instalment number six is set to lurch into cinemas later this year.

Here, we’re interested in outing number five, Resident Evil: Retribution (2012). The story picks up from the end of ResEvil: Afterlife, with Alice (Milla Jovovich) a prisoner of the evil Umbrella Corporation - the rogue bio-weapons company responsible for the zombie plague. Held in a secret underground facility, Jovovich must escape from the complex if she‘s to defeat Umbrella, save the human race, and star in the upcoming sixth film.

Given there’s no mystery in whether Jovovich will succeed in her task, the only puzzle worth pondering is how to explain the franchise’s continuing appeal? Well, Exploding Helicopter has thought long and hard on these matters and can explain in just two words: Milla Jovovich.

Yup, there’s really only one reason to watch these films and it’s to see the reigning Queen of kick-butt. Action cinema is seriously short of ass-kicking heroines and Milla’s films are about the only place you can watch a scantily-clad former supermodel wreak havoc with John Woo gunplay and Matrix-inspired martial arts.

As a screen presence, she rather reminds me of Clint Eastwood. They both confront danger with the same intense impassivity, and Jovovich’s low, husky, croak is reminiscent of squinty-eyed Clint’s gravelly whisper in Dirty Harry. We’re just waiting for MJ to announce a ‘hilarious’ comedy with a pet orang-utan to complete the impression.

Now, one of the undisputed pleasures of franchise films is seeing how characters from previous films will be incorporated into the story. You only need look at the casting in the Fast & Furious series which operates like a greatest hits album with the most popular actors from previous entries packaged together for another money-spinning outing. However, ResEvil: Retribution takes this getting-the-gang-back together ethos to a new mind-mangling level.

Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory), Rain (Michelle Rodriguez), Shade (Colin Salmon) and Carlos (Oded Fahr) - who all appeared in previous films as good guys - are confusingly resurrected as villains. Meanwhile Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts) the villain of Resident Evil: Afterlife is - in a barely explained plot twist - now a goodie. For an idea of how ridiculous that all is, imagine sitting down to watch a new Avengers movie only to find Iron Man battling the Hulk, Captain America and Hawkeye for no discernible reason.

Jill Valentine: Can you remind me what side you're on?
Even for a hardened ResEvil veteran it’s hard not to feel anything other than utterly lost. And it’s a feeling that isn’t helped by the fact nothing resembling an actual plot occurs until half an hour into the film. Still, while we wait for the story proper to begin, there is at least an exploding helicopter to keep us entertained.

In a flashback to the events which led to her imprisonment, Milla is aboard a freighter which comes under attack from a fleet of Umbrella helicopters. Returning fire with her machine guns, Milla shoots the pilot of one chopper as it heads straight towards her. With the pilot dead, the helicopter careens towards the deck of the ship, crashes and explodes.

Artistic merit

No complaints about the actual helicopter explosions. The Resident Evil films always have a decent budget so the special effects are up to scratch.

What I will grumble about is that we only get to see one chopper explode. During this sequence the sky is thick with Umbrella whirlybirds and an excellent opportunity for a record breaking display of chopper conflagrations is lamentably missed.

Exploding helicopter innovation

Given this is sci-fi, the helicopters in Resident Evil universe are suitably futuristic with two distinctive rotor blades on the end of short wings. However, whilst you get to see a unique looking helicopter blow-up the method and style is yawn-inducingly familiar.


Milla Jovovich memorably announced herself in film by falling butt naked into Bruce Willis’ taxi in The Fifth Element. Since then she’s made frequent costume-less appearances in her films. It’s no different here, where in one scene she appears to be wearing a small tea-towel with no visible means of support.


The first 30 minutes are - in hindsight - entirely pointless. Essentially a drug induced dream experienced by Milla Jovovich’s character, they have absolutely no relationship to the rest of the film. Bizarre.

Favourite quote

Milla summarises the plot for this, and perhaps every zombie movie ever made: “A lot of people died. Trouble was they didn’t stay dead.”

Interesting fact

Apparently this is the first film in the series to not feature zombie dogs. I know, I was disappointed too.

Review by: Jafo