Monday, 21 December 2015

Absolute Zero

Rarely has the name of a film summed up the entertainment level of its own content.

Yup. In an unusually honest move, the producers of Absolute Zero (2005) come straight out and tell the viewer everything they need to know about their prospects of being even mildly diverted while sitting through this made-for-cable disaster movie.

Excitement? Drama? Intrigue? Staying awake even, during this derivative piece of tosh? Absolute Zero chance. Handily, the title also proves an uncanny barometer of the film’s rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Well, you can’t say you weren’t warned.

The plot

The Earth’s magnetic poles - those pesky things again! are about to suddenly switch and plunge half the world into an ice age. (Note: Aficionados of this genre will be well aware that, in disaster movies, the magnetic poles, critical to continued life on Earth, are as dependable as a second-hand Amstrad computer).

Realising that chilly catastrophe is imminent, one lone scientist (Jeff Fahey) desperately tries to alert the world. But unfortunately the authorities do not believe his doomsday prophecies.

Can our heroic boffin change their stubborn minds? Are millions of innocent people fated to perish? Is the world going to survive this looming icy disaster? Will all of the above be of absolute zero interest to the viewer? (In all probability, yes. But let's bang on regardless).

Who’s in this?

An early warning of the film’s less than august quality is the presence of Jeff Fahey. He plays Dr Kotzman, a climatologist who must warn the world that it is imperilled.

Once an actor found in decent-ish films (Silverado, The Lawnmower Man, Wyatt Earp), Fahey now works almost exclusively in the DTV and made-for-cable world. He's the guy you call when even Eric Roberts decides a script doesn't quite meet his own quality threshold. Things are that bad.

Jeff Fahey: the best thing in a bad movie
But in fairness to our Jeff, while he has become synonymous with awful movies, he is usually the best thing in them. And to his credit he does another good job here. As Christopher Lee once observed, the trick to surviving a terrible film is never to be terrible in them.

Fahey’s co-star is former Baywatch babe and Penthouse playmate, Erika Eleniak although watchers may struggle to recognise the buxom blonde with her clothes on. And that's understandable.

After all, during her Baywatch heyday, the Eleniak nellies took on much of the acting burden. Their sheer range - up and down, side to side, bursting through wet bathing suits - was phenomenal. If only she had been able to to string whole sentences together, the sky would have been the limit.

Sadly, for Exploding Helicopter there was no repeat of her cake-bursting cameo in Under Siege.

Just how cheap is this?

The film’s penury is ably demonstrated in an early scene which purports to take place in the Arctic. Location filming was clearly beyond the film’s budget. So how did the cash-strapped director create a convincing frozen wasteland?

The answer owes something to the Blue Peter school of improvisation (in which, the philosophy held, there was nothing that couldn't be constructed out of old toilet rolls and sticky back plastic). The cold Arctic tundra is magically achieved by projecting an unconvincing wintery vista on the studio wall while instant 'snow' is created by emptying the contents of a paper shredder on the floor. At least the awful script eventually proved useful.

Exploding helicopter action

Erika Eleniak: sadly no repeat of
her Under Siege 'entrance'
After a gruelling 80 minutes Exploding Helicopter finally arrived at a scene which managed to command our interest: the chopper fireball.

Our heroes are holed up in a laboratory complex to avoid the plummeting temperature. A helicopter flies in to collect the embattled survivors from the roof. But as it comes in to land, the whirlybird is buffeted by icy winds and sent crashing into the top of the office block.

Artistic merit

Exploding Helicopter is going to be blunt: this was an awful chopper fireball. The scene is shot from street-level, so the sight of the chopper’s crash is obscured by the camera angle. We don’t get to see it impact on the roof or any wreckage. All we see is a brief fireball illuminate the top of the building.

You only need two ingredients for a successful helicopter explosion: a helicopter and an explosion. Absolute Zero gives us neither. Outrageous.

Exploding helicopter innovation

You remember what we said about the title of this film describing everything in it?

Favourite line

Jeff Fahey is given a handy catchphrase to shut-down any questions about the pseudo-scientific guff he spouts throughout the film. Whenever anyone doubts the logic of what the good Doctor says his reply is majestic: “Science,” he tells us, “is never wrong.”

Review by: Jafo

Listen to the Exploding Helicopter podcast episode on Absolute Zero on iTunes, Podomatic, Stitcher or YourListen.


Saturday, 12 December 2015

Lockout

“Based on an original idea by Luc Besson,” boasts the credit at the start of Lockout.

But as it turns out, the wily Froggie's only truly creative contribution to the film is the above bold (and utterly bollocks) statement.

That’s because the garlic scented filmmaker’s 'ideas' actually originated from Eighties cult classic Escape From New York. That at least was the view of a court judge after the film's director John Carpenter successfully sued for copyright infringement.

And while Besson may feel hard done by with his 80,000 Euro fine it could’ve been worse. Just imagine if he'd been caught nicking ideas from the risible and totally unnecessary sequel, Escape From LA.

The plot

As may now be clear, Lockout (2012) bares more than a passing resemblance to Carpenter’s futuristic prison movie.

Kurt Russell Guy Pearce plays a sardonic anti-hero on the wrong side of the law. Sentenced to prison, he’s offered a chance of freedom if he rescues the President President’s daughter who’s fallen into the clutches of prisoners incarcerated in a futuristic jail in New York Space. Alongside this mission, our hero must retrieve a cassette tape suitcase containing vital information.

As you can see, this probably wasn't a particularly tough day at the office for that copyright judge. The scale of rip-offery going on here would even make a cinematic magpie like Quentin Tarantino blush.

No wonder Carpenter sued. This after all is a man who’s made such burningly original works as the definitely-not-based-on-another-film The Thing and the couldn’t-be-more-different-to-Rio-Bravo Assault On Precinct 13. Did someone say, 'pot kettle and black'?

Who’s in this?

In an unlikely piece of casting, ex-Neighbours 'big gallah' Guy Pearce plays Snow - the insubordinate CIA agent tasked with rescuing the prezzer’s progeny. With his gaunt face and collar bones you could hook a coat hanger on, the skinny Aussie normally cuts an unintimidating, wraith-like presence in his films.

Pearce: a sort of thinkng man's Jason Statham
But no doubt aware of potential embarrassment, the Aussie thesp has clearly been chugging the protein shakes and punishing his twiglet-like limbs in the gym for this role. For in Lockout he’s sporting the sort of buff bod you'd spot down Bondi Beach. Exploding Helicopter certainly wouldn't dare kick sand in his face.

It's the most compelling weed-to-muscles transformation since Adrien Brody, a man who reportedly had to gain weight to play a Holocaust prisoner of war in The Piano, turned up buffed to the max (though still with a weirdly skinny face) in Predators.

As the imperilled first daughter we have Maggie Grace, an actress who seems to be making an entire career out of being held hostage (see Taken 1, 2 and 3).

And bizarrely for a film about a futuristic American prison, the prisoner’s revolt is led by two thickly-accented Scottish hooligans (Joseph Gilgun and the ‘actually not Scottish’ Vincent Regan).

It continues a curious Hollywood obsession with populating sci-fi films with actors sporting British regional accents. (One only needs to see how often Sean Bean is cast in such fare for proof: Jupiter Ascending, The Island, The Martian, Equilibrium, et al). As Ridley Scott almost put it: 'In Sheffield, no-one can hear you scream, that's a terrible accent.'

For the makers of Lockout it seems nothing can quite convey the horror of a dystopian post-industrial hell more than a Gorbals accent. Presumably they’ve been to Glasgow.

Is this any good?

In space no-one can hear..... anything other than
regional British accents
Despite the onslaught of cliches and familiarity of its plot, Lockout nonetheless a ruthlessly efficient piece of action-adventure. The whole thing rattles along at a commendable clip, Pearce amusingly quips his way through a series of bone-crunching fist fights, and the credits roll after an economic, but entertaining 90 minutes.

None of which should really be a surprise. After all, Lockout is another film from Luc Besson’s Europacorp production line. For over a decade his company have specialised in knocking-out generic, action floss with just enough of a stylish gloss to elevate them above the DTV fare they so closely resemble.

In many ways, with their commitment to producing superior but undemanding genre fare, Europacorp are the natural heirs to Cannon who patented this approach back in the Eighties.

Exploding Helicopter action

In a film crammed with familiar action tropes Exploding Helicopter was delighted to see that the director did the decent thing and squeezed in an exploding helicopter. This occurs early in the film before the action moves into space.

Pearce finds himself pursued by police after a clandestine deal he’s involved in turns sour. Making his escape on a motorbike, he’s chased by a futuristic-looking helicopter.

Our hero roars down a motorway, weaving in-and-out of traffic. Foolishly, the chopper tries to follow at low altitude. With pleasing inevitability the whirlybird clips some electricity cables which are stretched across the street.

The helicopter spins out of control and crashes into the tarmac, cartwheeling across the ground as it bursts into flame. Kaboom!

Artistic merit

It’s not bad, but it’s not exactly good either. The whole pursuit sequence is rendered in low-quality CGI making it look more like something from a computer game than a feature film.

Exploding helicopter innovation

Little to report. We’ve seen power lines and cables bring down choppers many times before, for example in The Dark Knight.

Favourite line

“Here’s an apple and here’s a gun. Oh and don’t talk to strangers.” Guy Pearce offers Maggie Grace tips on staying alive.

Tagline

Take no prisoners.

Review by: Jafo

Thursday, 5 November 2015

The Beast Must Die

The horror movie is no stranger to unusual marketing gimmicks.

Back in the Sixties, B-movie shlock king William Castle pioneered the form with vibrating seats, ‘supernatural viewing’ devices and swinging skeletons that would suddenly appear above the audience.

But even the legendary shock-master himself might have blanched at the bizarre promotional ploy that rests at the centre of The Beast Must Die (1974).

In a cinematic first – and, admittedly, last – the movie features a ‘werewolf break’, a clunky device that offers the viewer an opportunity to actually take part in the movie themselves. Blimey!

The plot 

A wealthy businessman and expert hunter invites an eclectic group of well-to-do friends to his country mansion.

But as his guests prepare for an evening of convivial hospitality, the dapper host drops his bombshell: one of them is a werewolf.

Which one of them is it? We don’t know, and it soon transpires that neither does the punter throwing the whole bash – but he intends to find out. Crikey. It’s a monster mash-up of a werewolf horror movie and a whodunnit. A weredunnit, if you will.

Who the hell’s in this?

Our hero and werewolf hunter extraordinaire, Tom Newcliffe, is played by Calvin Lockhart. A stage actor of some note, he was the first black actor to perform in the Royal Shakespeare Company. We’re talking serious acting chops here.

Calvin Lockhart wondering when he might be able
to get back to acting in some Shakespeare
However, given this was the Seventies – a period not entirely synonymous with opportunity for black actors – Lockhart’s cinematic career mostly consisted of pimp roles and blaxsploitation films. Still, at least he wasn’t in Mind Your Language.

(Interesting movie nerd note: Exploding Helicopter was thrilled to learn that Lockhart played dreadlocked drug-lord King Willie in Predator 2 where he mutters the immortal line: “There’s no stoppin’ what can’t be stopped; there’s no killin’ what can’t be killed.”)

Given this is a low budget horror romp, it’s no surprise to find Peter Cushing camping it up among the dinner guests. He plays Dr Lundgren, a German werewolf expert (naturally) who delights in treating his companions to the gory details of Lycan lore.

Also round the table is the redoubtable Charles Gray. A specialist in imperious toffs and suave villains (see his turn as Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever) he’s in entertainingly sardonic form here. 

A young Michael Gambon also appears as a down-on-his-luck musician. Well, we say young, but the bloodhound-featured thesp, here only in his early thirties, already looks around two decades older and well on his way to that glorious ‘bag of spanners’ visage we know so well.

So what’s this gimmick all about? 

The Beast Must Die is not so much a ‘whodunit’, as a ‘you sodding work out whodunit’. That’s right: it’s up to the viewer to solve the mystery, by means of a mysterious cinematic device dubbed the ‘werewolf break’.

The 'werewolf break'  countdown clock
Here’s how it works. The movie opens with a title screen announcing that one of the cast is a werewolf. The viewer is also told it’ll be their job to work out who the furry villain is.

So, the film trundles along, liberally dropping clues all over the shop. Then right at the end, the action pauses and a big question mark appears on the screen. A narrator purrs: “Have you guessed who the werewolf is?” and a brief shot flashes of each character’s face. Next, a big clock appears on the screen and the viewer is told they’ll have just 30 seconds to come up with an answer.

Quite who the viewer is supposed to give their answer to, or to what purpose, is never quite made clear. Given Exploding Helicopter watched this film sat alone in his boxers in front of the telly, there was a significant lack of ‘edge’ to this pseudo-excitement. But it’s hard to imagine the experience would have been much more exciting in an actual cinema.

Exploding helicopter action 

We’re given an early whiff of possible chopper conflagration entertainment when we see Newcliffe using a helicopter as part of his werewolf hunt. After tracking the furry menace from the air, the pilot lands the whirlybird so Newcliffe can pursue the beast on foot.

The gimmick 
The wary werewolf evades his hunter and doubles back to the helicopter to attack the pilot who, in the traditional manner of horror movies, has just voluntarily left a safe environment to ‘have a look’, thus placing himself in imminent, and fatal, danger.

Our hero arrives on the scene and shoots at the loping lupine. But despite his reputation as a crack hunter Newcliffe misses both man and beast, and succeeds only in hitting the helicopter which promptly explodes into flame. D’oh!

Artistic merit 

Despite the film’s low budget, the fireball is nicely handled. A realistic-looking helicopter is set on fire and from the way it fearsomely burns, no expense was spared on the paraffin.

That said, the fuselage of the helicopter remains disappointingly intact. Exploding Helicopter always feels it adds extra drama if we see the chassis blown apart.

Exploding helicopter innovation 

Lycan-related chopper fireballs are very scarce indeed. The only other known example is the lamentable Battledogs (2013). But this helicopter explosion does have one truly unique quality.

In accordance with werewolf lore, Newcliffe is hunting the beast with a gun loaded with silver bullets. So when the big game hunter strafes the helicopter and it explodes, it’s the most bling chopper fireball Exploding Helicopter’s ever seen.

Interesting fact 

Robert Quarry was originally cast in the role of Tom Newcliffe. But the film’s producers, keen to cash-in on the booming Blaxploitation genre, parachuted Calvin Lockhart into the lead role and tacked on a groovy, funk-tinged, score. Despite that, there’s no danger of anyone mistaking this film for Shaft.

Favourite line

“I’m no voyeur,” claims Calvin Lockhart, having just installed cameras and listening equipment in every room throughout his mansion in order to catch the werewolf.

Tagline 

One of these eight people will turn into a werewolf. Can you guess who it is when we stop the film for the WEREWOLF BREAK? See it ... solve it ... but don't tell!

Review by: Jafo

Want more? Then listen to the Exploding Helicopter podcast episode on The Beast Must Die. Check it out on iTunes, Podomatic, Stitcher or YourListen.


Saturday, 10 October 2015

American Ninja 4: The Annihilation

The term “cinematic universe” has become all the rage recently.

This rather highfalutin concept is used by moviemakers and nerdy films buff to bundle together films and characters as a single, coherent, body of work. (Although to the cynics at Exploding Helicopter it’s just a pretentious way of saying sequel or spin-off).

But long before Marvel’s avengers assembled or the Fast teamed up with the Furious, the makers of the American Ninja series were boldly expanding the cosmos of the stealth assassin franchise.

It may have been in somewhat less celebrated circumstances. But, as we’ll explain later, the manner in which they did it was no less convoluted.

The plot

A renegade British army officer and a militant Muslim Sheik plan to blow up New York with a nuclear bomb. While they engineer their scheme the unlikely duo (who have as much in common as Woody Allen and Osama Bin Laden) hide out in a secret base in Africa surrounded by an army of highly trained ninjas.

Desperate to stop radioactive Armageddon, the US Government sends in a team of Special Forces.
But when their mission is thwarted they form an unlikely alliance with a post-apocalyptic S&M biker gang (who just happen to be skulking about in the African veldt).

Will the Big Apple be reduced to a charred cinder? Can a bunch of gay bikers help our heroes? And will any element of the plot make sense? (Don’t ask me, I’m just the reviewer)

The Cinematic American Ninja-verse

While American Ninja may have started off a straight-forward franchise, it quickly become a complicated mess of recasting and returning stars.

Dudikoff inexplicably teams up with the Village People
The first two films featured Michael Dudikoff as the karate-pyjama wearing hero. But when he declined further involvement, the series was rebooted with David Bradley as the new lead (American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt). Though, it wasn’t until American Ninja 4 (1990) that things really became complicated

Despite bailing on the series, the producers were still hot for Mikey Duds and persuaded him to return to start alongside David Bradley. Unfortunately, it quickly transpired that the American Ninja-verse wasn’t big enough for Dudikoff’s ego.

Clash of the egos

Legend has it (or at least IMDB trivia) that Dudikoff only agreed to participate in AN4 if his character was portrayed, at the expense of Bradley, as the real hero of the film.

So, rather than watch our two heroes work together to save the day, Bradley is captured so that the Dude can prove his alpha male status by rescuing him. In fact the film is almost derailed by Mikey Boy’s desire to trump his co-star.

Take for instance the scene where Bradley uses super-human reflexes to catch an arrow that’s been fired at him. Not to be outdone, the ‘koff proceeds to catch the arrow between his teeth. Honestly, I don’t know why they didn’t just get their cocks out and have done with.

Verdict

Dudikoff giving it the full 'hai-ya'
By every conventional critical measure American Ninja is a mess. With a lopsided structure, an incoherent plot and warring co-stars it should be all but unwatchable. Yet, with its mismatched villains, nonsensical storylines, and bickering heroes it has a surreal anarchy that is unique.

I hesitate to call American Ninja 4 a good film. But it’s not a film you’d ever forget watching.

Exploding helicopter action

Despite so many films demonstrating their dangers, helicopters remain a curiously popular getaway vehicle amongst villains. And we’re given another illustration of that point here.

As his plan falls to pieces, the evil Sheik attempts to abscond in a chopper. As battle rages across his fortress, one of the rebels shoulders an RPG and fires it at the whirlybird. Striking its target the doomed helicopter explodes in a fiery eruption. Well, the film’s not called American Ninja: Annihilation for nothing.

Artistic merit

Frankly, this was a disappointing chopper fireball. Sadly, the helicopter doesn’t really explode. Instead, an image of an explosion is cut in over the helicopter that was previously onscreen. The camera then cuts to the wreckage of a model helicopter falling to the ground. The director, no doubt conscious of the shonkiness of this sequence, wisely does not linger on this scene and hastily cuts away.

Exploding helicopter innovation

Erm, we’re stuggling with this one. Only the second known film with the word Ninja in the title to include an exploding helicopter.

Favourite line

My favourite line occurs during the rogue Sheik’s failed getaway bid. As he jumps into the chopper’s cockpit, the pilot asks, “Where too?”

The answer, showing no little knowledge of the Islamic faith, is simplicity itself. “Mecca,” comes the reply.

Interesting fact 

In a further expansion of the cinematic universe, David Bradley returned three years later for American Ninja 5 (1993) - although it’s debatable whether it should really be considered part of the series.

Having starred in entries three and four as the character Sean Davidson, observant viewers will notice that Bradley’s name in this film has mysteriously changed to Joe Kastle.

That’s because this ‘sequel’ was actually filmed as American Dragon and meant to be entirely unrelated to the Ninja series. But, just before release, wobbling producers hastily rebadged it as another American Ninja sequel on the grounds it’d be easier to market.

Review by: Jafo

Check out reviews of American Ninja 4: The Annihilation by our friends at Comeuppance Reviews and DTV Connoisseur.

Still want more? Then check out the Exploding Helicopter podcast episode on American Ninja 4. Listen via iTunes, Stitcher, Acast, Player FM or right here


Sunday, 30 August 2015

Fortress 2: Re-entry

When Apollo 9 was launched in Cannes, one wag shouted at Tom Hanks that it was the most realistic space movie he'd ever seen. 'Absolutely no atmosphere', he said.

In much the same way, this may be the most credible 'innocent gy in prison' movie ever made. Because sitting through it feels exactly like serving a ten-year stretch for a crime you didn't commit.

In a more just world, this sequel to the barely serviceable sci-fi action flick Fortress (1992) would be locked up in solitary for crimes against entertainment. But instead - for you, dear reader - Exploding Helicopter kept its head down and did the time.

The plot

Our hero is John Brennick. He’s on the run having escaped a high-tech prison run by the evil Men-Tel Corporation (which is what happened in the first film).

Unfortunately, within minutes of the start of Fortress 2 (2000), Brennick is recaptured and sent to Men-Tel’s swanky new, even-more-top security jail.

Naturally our man resolves to escape. But breaking-out this time looks infinitely trickier. Certainly, it looks like tying together bedsheets might not work this time.

That’s because Men-Tel’s latest penitentiary is orbiting the Earth. Yup, that’s right. They’ve given it a sci-fi upgrade and stuck it [adopts booming, echo-laden voice] in space.......

The cast

Brennick is played by Christopher Lambert, beloved star of Highlander (and frankly not much else). While his cinematic oeuvre may be forgettable, the French thespian does possess a most unusual voice. His stereotypical Gallic purr is tempered by a constricted, raspy tone - as if someone were slowly throttling him. (There’s a joke here about Frogs croaking, but thankfully Exploding Helicopter is above such things).

Our Christopher is also utterly incapable of not sounding very French. You possibly saw him shouting 'Och aye, le noo!' in Highlander. And in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan even his gorilla grunts have a pronounced Gallic flavour. Short of stringing some onions round his neck and wearing a stripy jumper, his Le Tarzan couldn't be more French.

Patrick Malahide: hammy entertainment
In the role of the cruel and villainous prison warden (aren’t they always?) is veteran TV actor Patrick Malahide. Normally found in prestigious small screen series like The Singing Detective, The Pickwick Papers or more recently Game Of Thrones, our Pat is clearly aware that these are not his finest moments before a camera.

Calculating that the only way to salvage his professional reputation is not to be caught taking this part seriously, Malahide delivers a performance of pure panto dame proportions. Cue over-the-top line-readings and theatrical eye-rolling. Shameless hamming it may be, but it does provide what little entertainment there is to be gleaned here.

Adding to the eclectic mix of stars is Seventies blaxsploitation legend Pam Grier. Given that Fortress 2 was made just three short years after her career-revitalising turn in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, her appearance here is a reminder of how quickly the air can go out of your comeback. Just ask John Travolta. It's true: supposedly 'hot' actors can turn tepid faster than a half-filled February bath in Barnsley. It's a cruel old business.

What prison movie clichés are there?

Let’s see, is there an argument over who gets the top bunk? Yup.

Does a fight between two prisoners escalate into a mass brawl in the canteen? Affirmative.

And what about the obligatory scene where the warden warns inmates about doing their time ‘my way or the hard way’? But of course.

I could also mention the gratuitous shower scene where we watch a shapely female prisoner lather her nellies, but you knew that already.

Fortress 2's helicopter in its natural cinematic state
Exploding helicopter action

Having regurgitated ever prison movie cliche imaginable, the makers of Fortress 2 at least have the decency to include every budding pyromaniac's favourite film trope - the chopper fireball.

This happens early in the film while Lambert is being recaptured. After his hideout is discovered, croaky Christopher attempts to flee in a jeep. As a helicopter pursues him, Lambert brings out a (handily loaded and available) bazooka and shoots at the chopper.

Artistic merit

This is a nice fuselage-destroying explosion. We get to see the wreckage fall to the ground behind Lambert who does not look at the burning debris, because as we all know, heroes never bother looking back at explosions. The very idea....

Exploding helicopter innovation

Despite the general cinematic popularity of missile-bothering rotary aircraft, it is in fact unusual to see one in a prison movie.

The only other such film to include a chopper fireball is The Last Castle (2001) starring Robert Redford and his amazingly preserved head of hair (which really should have its own screen credit).

Favourite line

In order to escape, Lambert enlists the help of a small number of fellow inmates. His plan involves hacking into the prison’s communications system using a radio type device. This ends up with one of the prisoners boasting: “I can build a radio out of a milk carton and two condom wrappers.”

Sadly, as the prisoner fashions the device out of obviously more useful items, we don’t see them make good on this outlandish claim.

Interesting fact

Arnold Schwarzenegger was at one time attached to star in the original Fortress. But after the Austrian word-mangler dropped out (to make Last Action Hero of all things) the generous $60m budget was cleaved to a modest $15m.

Review by: Jafo

Check out other reviews by our friends at Explosive Action

Monday, 24 August 2015

The Hunt For Eagle One

…..or, to give the film a more accurate title: The Fruitless Search For Anything Vaguely Resembling Entertainment.

Yee Gods. At Exploding Helicopter we know our job will involve watching some right royal stinkers. But, even by the sorry standards of the worst works we’ve ever endured, The Hunt For Eagle One (2006) is stupefyingly dull.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a towering work of tedium; a monument of mundanity; or if you want to get really poncey, basilica of boredom. In other words, it’s not very good.

The plot

Al-Qaeda terrorists are hiding out in the Filipino Jungle plotting a chemical weapon attack, so a squad of American soldiers are sent in to assassinate them.

But when the hit squad are captured, a rescue team is sent in to complete the mission and get our boys back.

Can our heroes rescue the prisoners? Will they stop the terror plot? Or will we all just turn off the TV and go and do something less boring instead?

Will the hostages be brutally slain? Can the villains’ terror plot be stopped? Or will we turn off the TV and go and do something less boring instead?

Who the hell’s in this?

There’s a predictably low-rent cast in this straight to DVD actioner. Leading the heroic rescue team is martial arts nearly-man Mark Dacascos. Over the years, our Mark has made some good films (Drive), some cult films (the gloriously daft DNA), and a shed load of fantastically boring films. (No prizes for guessing which camp this one falls into).

Which is rather a shame, as Dacascos is a great martial artist and a decent actor to boot. Sadly, he’s never regularly married those talents to a quality film. It’s probably why lesser lights have enjoyed better careers.

Mark Dacascos: nearly man
And talking of wasted talents, the film also stars perennial B-movie presence Rutger Hauer (who briefly appears as an army General). Despite a magnetic screen presence, the blonde Dutchman has spent the last 30 years working almost exclusively in DTV dreck.

You’d have thought he could have enjoyed a profitable and prestigious career as a supporting actor in better grade Hollywood fare. Indeed, ten years ago it seemed Hauer was trying to reorient his career in this direction, with small but memorable turns in Batman Begins and Sin City.

But it proved a false dawn, as Rutger was soon back on the DTV treadmill and pimping-out his mellifluous voice for television adverts. Today, he’s probably best known as ‘the bloke what does them butter adverts’.

Just how dull is this film?

The Hunt For Eagle One was so mind-numbing that at several points in the film I contemplated self-harming to check if my nervous system was still functioning.

It’s not that nothing happens - there’s a typical quotient of gun battles and explosions - rather that a lifeless malaise infects the production.

Many a predictable plot has been enlivened by a colourful villain, inventive action or a wise-cracking hero. Here, the filmmakers eschew all that in favour of the bland or lacklustre. It all adds up to an anaemic action movie.

Exploding helicopter action

After the assassination squad are captured, the army initially tries to rescue them by sending in a couple of helicopters. Unfortunately, given that we’re only 20 minutes into a 90 minute movie we can be pretty certain this mission isn’t going to end successfully. Sure enough, the guerrillas are armed with some rocket launchers which they use to shoot down the rescue helicopters.

Artistic merit

Frankly, there’s very little merit to these chopper fireballs. The explosions are brief and the fireball effects are inserted over the top of the helicopters. Clearly they couldn’t afford to actually blow them up.

Number of exploding helicopters

Two. We get to see another crash, but it doesn't explode.

Favourite line

Exploding Helicopter loves the cod military bollocks characters spout in these kind of films. In keeping with the film’s universally bland approach, the soldiers’ mission is unexcitingly codenamed “Operation Housekeeping”.

This allows one actor to memorably declare the line: “We are go for Housekeeping.”

Which, ultimately, is good advice. Certainly your time would be more profitably and entertainingly spent doing the hoovering than watching this rubbish.

Interesting fact

A sequel, The Hunt For Eagle One: Crash Point was filmed the same year. Mercifully, after fast-forwarding through the film Exploding Helicopter, was relieved to find that it did not feature a chopper fireball sparing us the need to actually watch this ordure.

Review by: Jafo

Monday, 10 August 2015

Ant-Man

Not another bloody Marvel movie...

Avengers: Age of Ultron is barely out of cinemas, and we already have the next installment of the Marvel cinematic universe.

Crawling into this superhero-stuffed environment is Ant-Man (2015) — someone who wants to use the power of being really, really, small to do something more than simply float around Martin Short's digestive tract.

The plot

Dr Hank Pym has invented a suit that can shrink its wearer to the size of an ant, whilst increasing their strength and power.

Fearing his invention will fall into the wrong hands, Dr Pym buries the research and, conveniently for the plot, decides to keep the suit locked-up at home.

But when his unhinged former protégé nears inventing his own suit (the yellowjacket), Pym enlists ex-con Scott Lang to become Ant-Man, and aided by his estranged daughter tries to stop this tiny invention becoming a massive problem.

Which assortment of misfits are involved in these antics?

Marvel's superhero films follow a routine formula. Take an already-popular male star (e.g. Robert Downey Jr), add an attractive actress in support (e.g. Scarlet Johansson), throw in an experienced actor (e.g. Sir Anthony Hopkins), and line them up against a mediocre villain (e.g. Mickey Rourke).

Our star here is Paul Rudd who dons a grey mask with red eyes to play a swaggering outlaw who becomes a reluctant hero. (An idea that may strike anyone who’s watched Guardians of the Galaxy as slightly familiar).

As the suit's inventor and chief ant-whisperer, you have Michael Douglas as Dr Hank Pym, looking at his most science-y with grey beard and clear glasses. His estranged daughter Hope van Dyne is played by Evangeline Lilly, fresh from her role as the elf Tauriel in the bloated Hobbit trilogy.

A trio of comic relief is headed up by Michael Peña, while Corey Stroll, best known as ‘That Congressman from House of Cards’, plays Pym's former assistant Darren Cross.

Should we call pest control, or does this nest among the better Marvel flicks?

Thus far, Marvel has fired out an impressive run of popular hits. But Ant-Man's pre-production woes put this record in serious jeopardy.

The film suffered a major setback after Edgar Wright, who had penned a script with Joe Cornish, got ants-in-his-pants and suddenly left. He was replaced by Peyton Reed, a director with little of note to his name.

So, with an uninspiring hero, a journeyman director, and superhero saturation, Ant Man had the potential to be an awful, uncoordinated catastrophe.

Happily, it’s anything but. The dialogue is smart and snappy, littered with comedy, and unafraid to poke fun at itself. The performances are equally assured with the cast delivering enjoyably understated performances.

And unlike recent Marvel offerings, the plot is mercifully simple (an uncomplicated caper), with appropriately small scale set pieces (the third act ends on a child's train set). The gossipy tip-montage scene involving lip-synching to Michael Peña's character is a joy to watch.

Negatives

As entertaining as this film is, it’s let down by an unforgivable crime against the art of helicopter explosions.

When a helicopter arrives at Cross's research lab, you know it's going to see some key action later on. Sure enough, Ant-Man and his nemesis yellowjacket duly battle it out in the air on board the chopper.

With the pilots killed in crossfire and the helicopter taking a battering, all the ingredients appear to be in the mixing bowl. We just need Peyton Reed to put this promising mixture into the oven and set it for gas mark ‘chopper fireball’.

Criminally, the battling duo drop out of the chopper, and we are left sitting there wondering: "where the hell is my helicopter explosion?" Inexcusable.

Exploding helicopter action

What's doubly disgraceful is that the audience if left to make do with a token piece of helicopter fireball action. Controversially, it comes in a promotional video for what the yellowjacket suit could do when fully operational — the choppers involved are therefore computer fabrications, the lowest of the low on the exploding helicopter scale.

In the promo video, we get to see the military prowess of the yellowjacket suit. In a blink and you’ll miss it sequence we see a running soldier miniaturise followed by the explosion of three helicopters — presumably from the yellowjacket jumping into each? But who knows — as we don't linger long enough to find out.

The scene also features in one of the film's teasers.

Artist merit

Like the cause of the choppers' destruction, minuscule.

Exploding helicopter innovation

This isn't the first film that's had computer-simulated chopper casualties (see Fire Birds), but this is the first where we've seen one explode as a result of an insect-sized man.

Favourite line

"This is the work of gypsies!"

Interesting fact

The film uses some impressive special effects work to de-age Michael Douglas back to his eighties pomp. They’re incredibly well done with the recovering sex addict looking like he’s just stepped off the set of Wall Street. It’s certainly more successful than our Mike’s own attempts via the plastic surgeon’s knife.

Review by: Jafo

Friday, 31 July 2015

Jurassic World

Like Tony Blair, grunge and TFI Friday, some things are best left in the nineties. So when I saw the trailer for Jurassic World (2015), I groaned.

Surely the dinosaur franchise, with all its CGI velociraptors and dino-shenanigans, was something best left in the ‘cultural attic’ along with all those discarded Furbies, Tamagotchis and Vengaboys CDs?

But, contrary to my jaded cynicism, it turns out I was wrong. Because far from being an embarrassing rehash Jurassic World is a rollickingly good action film. Maybe that big screen reboot of Saved By The Bell wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all. Then again…..

The plot

The dinosaur theme park envisaged in the first film is now a reality. Visitors can watch giant sea-beasts perform in an aquarium, tour fields of grazing diplodocus or cuddle baby triceratops in the petting zoo. (Surprisingly, the death and destruction depicted in the first three films proved no barrier to Jurassic World opening).

But with tourists growing bored of the prehistoric attractions the only way for the park’s owners to keep selling tickets is to unveil new and evermore exciting monsters. So, in a secret laboratory, a sinister scientist has created a genetically modified uber-dinosaur: the Indominus Rex.

Naturally, the hybrid-o-saur escapes its escape-proof cage and begins treating the theme park like a giant all-you-can-eat buffet. Caught up in the carnage are two young brothers visiting their flaky aunt, who is also the park manager. They team-up with the film’s hero, a former Navy Seal turned dino-researcher (apparently the skills are very transferrable).

Can the good guys survive? And will the villains be torn apart by monsters from millennia past? Well, if Jurassic Park one, two and three are anything to go by, then very possibly yes.

Who’s in it?

As the muscular, pecs-flexing hero, Chris Pratt bounces through the film with cocksure confidence of someone who’s read the script and knows they’ll make it safely to the closing credits.

He’s cast alongside Bryce Dallas Howard who follows up wretched turns in Terminator Salvation, Lady In The Water, The Village - frankly just about everything she’s ever been in – with another stinker.

She plays a cold-hearted corporate-wonk who makes an unconvincingly transformation into a fluffy bunny family-type. The scene where her frosty reserve finally melts at the sight of dying diplodocus is so feeble it makes her dad’s turn as Richie Cunningham seem positively Shakespearian.

Meanwhile, a paunchy Vincent D’Onofrio huffs and puffs his was through a role as a Machiavellian military officer. Our Vince once played a svelte soldier in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. But, with his gut straining at his army fatigues, these days it’s clearly more Full Metal Corset.

There’s also an interesting supporting turn from Omar Sy in what’s traditionally known as the ‘black best friend’ role. Hollywood convention would normally dictate that Sy’s character provide a nice snack for a hungry dinosaur. But, in a surprising break with movie cliché the token black die man doesn’t die. Whatever next? Movies with interracial couples?

Favourite bits

The death of the park manager’s painfully English assistant is simultaneously hilarious and gruesome. Posh, sniffy and slightly rude, she appears to have wandered onto set from an episode of Downtown Abbey. Plucked up by a pterosaur, the unfortunate archetype is tossed around a few times before a mososaur emerges from the aquarium and swallows the screeching cliche and pointy-beaked bird whole.

That’s good, but the ending is even better. This sees the Jurassic Park’s iconic T-Rex released from his cage to battle the hybrid-o-saur. Although not without help from a raptor and the mososaur.

Victorious, the T-Rex heads to a hilltop overlooking the park before roaring in triumph. It’s the dino-equivalent of Sylvester Stallone running up the steps in Rocky to celebrate that he’s still the champ.

Exploding helicopter action

With the mongrel-rex wreaking havoc, the park’s owner (Irrfan Khan) decides he has to act. Jumping into a chopper with a couple of soldiers he flies off to locate the mutant dinosaur.

After tracking the beast down, they unleash a hail of bullets which makes Indominus run straight into a giant aviary (a sort Centre Parcs for pterosaurs). In a frenzy, the birds fly out the hole and start to attack the helicopter with one spearing their beak through the chopper’s windscreen.

Panic in the cockpit ensues, and the chopper spirals out-of-control, crashing through the roof of the giant glass dome, before exploding on impact with the ground. “You’ve just been made extinct,” quips the pterosaur. Or possibly not.

Exploding helicopter innovation

I can say with confidence this is the first time a chopper has been destroyed by a pterosaur.

Favourite quote

While Chris Pratt explains the hierarchy of the velociraptors he’s training, a small boy asks him, “Who’s the alpha?”
“You’re looking at him kid,” comes the cocky reply.

Interesting fact

The giant sea creature in the film is known as a mosasaur. These massive sea lizards weighed as much as 15 tonnes - roughly half the weight of the money this film has made (almost $1 billion so far).

Sure, there’s a few bum notes, wooden acting and highly improbable plotting, but this is a terrifically enjoyable movie.

Review by: Jindy

Want more? Then listen to the Exploding Helicopter podcast episode on Jurassic World. Tune in on iTunes, Podomatic, YourListen or Stitcher.


Saturday, 18 July 2015

Fire Birds

In 1986, Top Gun took the breath away (geddit?) of films fans around the world.

An exciting tale of testosterone-fuelled fighter pilots engaged in death-defying aerial dogfights, the film did however sport one noticeable flaw: no helicopters.

Fortunately, that grave error was corrected a few years later with the release of Fire Birds (1990) - or Wings of the Apache as it’s sometimes called.

This not-entirely-original film is ‘inspired by’ (Hollywood parlance for bare-facedly nicked from) the plot of Top Gun. Still, at least here they’ve made the obvious improvement of swapping all fixed wing aircraft for everyone’s favourite rotor-bladed model. Only makes sense, really.

The plot

America is losing the war on drugs. Narcotics are being smuggled across the border with impunity, as the evil (ie. foreign) cartels have hired a mysterious helicopter ace to shoot down US air patrols.

With their men outgunned and out-flown, Uncle Sam sends his top pilots to an elite flight school. Their mission is simple: prepare for a deadly and visually entertaining attack on their deadly foe.

Will our heroes complete their demanding training? Are they equipped to defeat their lethal enemy? Can they become Top Gun? (Well, would you want to ‘become a Fire Bird’? It just sounds ridiculous.)

Who the hell’s in this?

Given the numerous similarities to Top Gun, it’s perhaps easiest to outline the Fire Birds cast in relation to the original players.

Nicolas Cage: horse faced, hair replacement enthusiast
So, who’s playing the cocky, hot-shot pilot who has more to learn about humility than flying a helicopter? (In other words, the Tom Cruise role.) Yes, it’s everybody’s favourite horse-featured over-actor, hair replacement enthusiast Nicolas Cage.

As Cage’s love interest - the surrogate Kelly McGillis - we have Sean Young, who you’ll remember from Blade Runner – and frankly, nothing else.

That’s because the stroppy moppet was famously so crashingly horrible to work with, even by Hollywood’s own risible standards, that the entire film industry shut her out.

Meanwhile, Tommy Lee Jones stars as a gruff military task-master who belittles, berates and bullies his charges into finding their true potential as crack pilots. (Of course, any similarity to Tom Skerritt’s character in Top Gun is entirely intentional).

Normally a reliable and classy presence in any film, TLJ gives possibly the worst performance of his career. Forced by a duff script to deliver turgid mouthfuls of macho claptrap, the baggy-eyed thespian seems to visibly throw in the towel. Rarely have lines been recited on film with such monotone disinterest.

The only convincing moment comes when an ashen-faced Tommy quietly reflects on the horror of war. Though perhaps he was merely contemplating his next page of dialogue.

Just how similar is this to Top Gun?

Extended aerial training montage? Check.

Alpha male meatheads engaging in testosterone-fuelled braggadocio? Check.

Soft-focus sex scene sound-tracked by a sax-heavy pop song? Check.

We hope those knickers were clean from the wash
Fire Birds even goes so far as giving Cage a dead best friend to grieve over. We all know Goose died in Top Gun. And it’s clearly where this film’s ideas of originality did too.

Mercifully, Fire Birds does spare us the sight, not to mention sound, of Nic Cage performing an a cappella version of a beloved Sixties pop hit.

But given the film’s sole attempt at an original scene involves Cage running around with a pair of scarlet coloured knickers over his head, maybe they should have just stuck to the karaoke.

What is the level of ‘Cage rage’?

Ah, Nicolas Cage. It’s quite possible that somewhere inside him is an actor of subtlety and craft.

Unfortunately, film fans remain stuck with the scenery-chewing show-off who has become a byword for actorly excess. Al Pacino could feasibly watch Cage’s movies and complain that, really, this is all a bit much.

From the moment the film begins, our leading equestrian seems determined to unleash the full range of his dubious talents. There are frequent outbursts of shouting, unexplained goofing, and the kind of exaggerated emotional responses generally only seen in an attention-seeking toddler.

All this grandstanding comes to a head in a marvellous scene of spectacularly unrestrained ‘Cage rage’. Practicing in a flight simulator, our Nic becomes so enamoured of his own abilities that he starts wildly shouting ‘I am the greatest’ over and over again.

Possibly the only thing more bizarre than Cage’s performance in this sequence is the fact that the director, and others responsible for this film, looked through this footage and agreed: “Yes, this is good. We can use this.”

Exploding helicopter action

Fire Birds contains the mother lode of exploding helicopters. And viewers don’t have to wait long before striking chopper fireball gold.

The film immediately throws us into an air combat duel between US pilots and the rogue ‘copter ace. After out-flying his opponents, the villain uses his chopper’s machineguns to shoot two whirlybirds out of the sky.

We also get two further helicopter explosions in the film’s big aerial finale, including Cage dramatically shooting down the villain after an extended dogfight.

And while you might expect the middle of the film to dip slightly, with too many ‘talkie’ bits and little of interest for the true chopper fireball fan, you’d be quite wrong.

In order to hone his skills, Cage is required to practice destroying enemy aircraft in a flight simulator. During the sequence, we get to see the Shergar’s less handsome brother shoot down nine – yes, nine – CGI helicopters.

Artistic merit

The real exploding helicopters are pretty good. Fire and wreckage fill the screen, but there are none of the thrills that the chopper combustion cognoscenti appreciate. For instance, we don’t get to see flaming wreckage fall to the ground, or rotor blades violently sheering off.

Meanwhile, the flight simulator fireballs are basic in the extreme. Little more than pixelated yellow splodges. In fairness, this was 1990 when even cutting edge computer graphics looked little better than a crayoned drawing.

Number of exploding helicopters

This is the point where Fire Birds becomes one of the most controversial films Exploding Helicopter has ever reviewed. Should the computer graphic helicopters destroyed in the flight simulator be counted in the final total?

It’s an important question as, were they to be included, Fire Birds would have a record breaking 13 exploding helicopters (Battleship is the current record holder with eight).

Having cogitated at length on this issue, Exploding Helicopter has felt it improper to include these chopper fireballs in the final tally.

Chopper fireball fans want to see real helicopters blown-up in all their fiery, rotor-bladed glory, not badly rendered computer graphics. Therefore, the final total has been officially ratified as four.

Exploding helicopter innovation

Only known destruction of a computer graphic helicopter.

The only similar examples we’ve seen are the animated chopper fireballs in Dreamworks’ Monsters vs Aliens and one in 22 Jump Street’s closing credits.

Favourite line

Sean Young uses a rocket launcher to shoot down a jet fighter before unconvincingly delivering the line: “Snort that, sucker.”

Tagline

In keeping with a film full of empty bombast, the tagline is the entirely fatuous: ‘The best just got better’.

Review by: Jafo

Still want more? Then you can listen to our discuss Fire Birds on the Exploding Helicopter podcast. Listen on iTunes, Podomatic or YourListen.


Saturday, 6 June 2015

San Andreas

Nothing says summer’s here like the arrival of an end-of-days’ apocalyptic blockbuster in your local multiplex.

Last year, we had not one, but two disaster epics threatening humanity - especially those unfortunate enough to have actually watched those sorry spectacles. (Super-tornado CGI-fest Into The Storm blew in-and-out of cinemas leaving only the wreckage of several careers in its wake, and volcano period piece Pompeii famously failed to erupt at the box office.)

So, given recent form, San Andreas – Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s 3D earthquake extravaganza – looked a decidedly *ahem* shakey prospect. Happily, dear reader, the film bucks the recent trend for disastrous disaster movies.

Gripping from the outset, director Brad Peyton pulls no punches in his quest to satisfy your thirst for action. The opening scene features Ray (Dwayne Johnson) rescuing a damsel in distress from a car dangling over a cliff edge, and the drama doesn’t stop until the final credits roll.

Cynics will be initially fooled into thinking there is a superficial narrative running alongside the disaster quake storyline, when they discover Ray (soon to be a divorcee) is struggling to come to terms with his wife and teenage daughter moving in with their new partner.

But that’s only because there’s an even more superficial parallel narrative.

Oh yes! Ray is also tortured by the death, some years earlier, of his other daughter. Obviously, we don’t want to spoil things for you, so let me assure you that this backstory in no way foreshadows events that take place later in the film. IN ABSOLUTELY NO WAY, ALRIGHT?

Naturally, by the unwritten rules of these movies, The Rock’s surviving daughter Blake finds herself at the quake’s epicentre with Mum’s new ‘boyf’ when disaster strikes (Said boyf, meets a splatty end after deserting Blake in her hour of need conveniently opening the door for a family reconciliation).

A brief encounter with a couple of stereotype Brits - think wannabe Hugh Grant type, and a less nerdy Harry Potter - ensure that Blake has a couple of allies whilst she waits for Dad to ultimately rescue her.

The Rock: only the second biggest chest in the movie
For those not interested in watching San Francisco be destroyed in spectacular 3D special effects, there’s always Blake ample cleavage to admire. Especially as she’s invested in a good bra (cool your boots Germaine).

But the busty babe is also resourceful, putting into action survival skills she has learned from her father. When a fellow companion is wounded she uses her vest to improvise a tourniquet, helpfully revealing more of her wonderful assets. And when a tsunami finally rolls ashore, the poor girl’s undergarments have become very wet. It’s not often that you watch a film with Dwayne Johnson where he doesn’t have the most impressive chest on display.

Exploding helicopter action

While desperately searching for their daughter, Ray and Emma are forced to make a crash landing when an engine on their helicopter fails. With the vehicle spinning out of control, they smash into a clothes store. Miraculously unhurt, the pair have to effect a panicky evacuation as they're both doused in fuel. The viewer patiently waits for fiery payoff, as the wrecked whirlybird inevitably ignites, but....... nothing happens.

There's no fireball, no flames, not even a whiff of smoke. Blasphemy!

In a film whose raison d'etre is the gratuitous celebration of mass destruction it is baffling that director would miss a golden opportunity to add to the carnage by providing the punchline we all expect to this sequence.

There's a time and place to play with audience expectations. This wasn’t it.

Who Knew? 

Helicopters have cruise control? Apparently so, as we learn when The Rock has to rescue his wife from the top a building.

You'd think flying the chopper and operating the rescue winch in the fuselage would be impossible, as no-one can be in two places at the same time. But for The Rock the impossible is just another item to be ticked off the to-do list. He simply presses a button labelled HOV and an unexplained autopilot takes over. Despite watching hundreds of films with helicopters this is the first time we've ever seen such a function.

Interesting fact

Despite playing her father, The Rock was only 14 years older than Alexandra Daddario who played his onscreen daughter, Blake.

Review by: Shirley Bellinger

Sunday, 24 May 2015

American Ninja

“Ninjas, thousands of ‘em.” As Michael Caine might have observed had he ever visited a video shop.

That’s because during the Eighties VHS boom, video store shelves groaned under the accumulated weight of films with titles like Ninja Dragon, Ninja Terminator and Ninja Hunt. Or Bionic Ninja, Clash of Ninja, Rage of Ninja…..you get the point.

Suffice to say, filmmakers' imaginations were limited only by the number of verbs and adjectives that could be sensibly (and in many cases, not so sensibly) bolted to the magical ‘n’ word.

Sniffing the opportunity to make a quick buck, those masters of action exploitation the Cannon Group came up with a cunning plan. Why not give the oriental, black-clad, stealth assassin formula a stars ‘n’ stripes makeover? And so the American Ninja (1985) was born. Hii-yaa, motherfucker.

The plot

Michael Dudikoff, a star of the VHS action era, plays an army private with a mysterious past. (In fact it’s a mystery even to him as a bout of amnesia means he can remember nothing of his childhood).
After arriving at his new posting, Dudikoff quickly finds himself entangled with illegal arms dealers and his commanding officer’s comely daughter (Judie Aronson).

Can Dudikoff stop the baddies? Will he get the girl? Or, in an unexpected break with convention, will our hero be romantically rejected moments after the villains happily complete their dastardly scheme? (Sadly, this is not that film, but we long to see it).

Please explain the ludicrous overly complicated sub-plot?

Exploding Helicopter loves films which give their heroes’ byzantine backstories that later, through a succession of unlikely twists, prove surprisingly relevant to present day proceedings.

Michael Dudikoff
So, of course, one's cliche antennae can't but start twitching during a hilarious early scene - ripe with clunking exposition - that reveals Dudikoff was actually raised on a remote Pacific Island under the care of a Japanese soldier who was unaware World War II had ended. Just fancy.

Such an outlandish personal history would normally take some explaining. But fortunately, the amnesia gimmick means the scriptwriters don't have to explain a thing about these extraordinary circumstances (though frankly we’d love to have heard it) or shed any light on how Dudikoff came to be supernaturally skillful at martial arts. Look, it just happened right?

This colourful biography appears entirely irrelevant, until we meet a wily old Japanese gardener who seems just a little too interested in our hero. Wait! No! Don't say it’s the man who raised Dudikoff all those years ago? And if that wasn’t preposterous enough, it turns out the oriental horticulturalist is working for the villainous Mr Big’s Dudikoff’s trying to stop.

Honestly, what were the odds? (Seriously, what were the odds? Because you could stick a fiver on that beauty and retire a rich man.)

Just how nuts is this film?

Let’s start with the villain. He’s an illegal arms dealer who - rather than lead a low key, incognito sort of life, away from the scrutiny of law enforcement - lives on a giant estate with a private army of highly trained ninja. Ludicrous this may be, but it does provide plenty of karate savvy, pyjama-wearing butt for Dudikoff to kick.

Ordinarily, a chop-socky action flick featuring a ninja warrior hero who has to battle an army of similarly skilled opponents use the services of an actor with a solid knowledge of martial arts. Think Jackie Chan; Jet Li; er, Steven Seagal. (Well, you get the point.)

But ordinary is not a word you'd ever associate with this film. Bizarrely, Michael Dudikoff was cast despite having no knowledge of ninjutsu, karate, or aikido (although I understand he’s a black belt in origami). It should have been a disaster. Incredibly, it works.

Is American Ninja worth watching?

It may be goofy, it may not even approach anything like making sense, but if you’re looking to relax, crack open a beer, and be entertained for ninety minutes then you really can’t go wrong.

In many ways, American Ninja is a microcosm of everything that was good about eighties action films. It creates a world where anything can happen, populates it with larger than life characters and gives them an easily understandable mission to complete. It’s a formula so simple you wonder how filmmakers today make such a mess of so many films. (Wachowski brothers - or sisters, or whichever gender you are this week: watch and learn.)

Exploding helicopter action

Chopper fireball fans have to be patient as our favourite fiery delight doesn’t take place until the film’s denouement.

Dudikoff enjoying a helicopter ride
With Dudikoff and his army buddies closing in, the villain tries to make a getaway by grabbing Dudikoff’s girlfriend hostage and escaping in a helicopter.

As the chopper lifts into the skies, our Mike grabs on to the landing skis of the whirlybird. Clambering up the outside of the craft, he swaps a few blows with the nasty desperado.

After freeing his squeeze, the ‘Dude’ leaps from the aircraft onto the roof of building over which it is conveniently hovering.

Back on the ground, a solider has whipped out a rocket launcher which he fires at the helicopter. You’ve likely been reading this website long enough to know what happens next. (Hint: the helicopter explodes).

Artistic merit

What’s not to enjoy? The fireball’s nice and juicy and we get to watch the wreckage crash to the ground in time honoured fashion. Yes, the helicopter’s is clearly a model, but it’s pretty convincing. Overall, it’s a winner.

Exploding helicopter innovation

None to report. Method and style of destruction have all been done many times before.

Do passengers survive?

As already mentioned, Dudikoff and Aronson survive. Leaping from an exploding helicopter is a fairly common occurrence and there’s certainly some fun to be had with it.

Angels & Demons, which featured the novel sight of Ewan McGregor playing, yes, the Pope as a weird sort of Catholic Obi Wan Kenobi, his McHoliness safely parachuted from miles up after disposing of a nuclear bomb. In helicopter escape circles, this perhaps remains the high watermark.

Sadly, in American Ninja, our heroes only have to jump about six feet from a helicopter that has no good reason to still be hovering so low in the first place.

Favourite line

Exploding Helicopter always enjoys filmmakers attempts to disguise exposition as a clumsy piece of dialogue. And there’s a wee gem to enjoy here.
“Have you ever heard of ninjutsu sir?”
“What's that?”
“The secret art of assassination.”
“Yeah of course I have!”

Interesting fact

Chuck Norris was originally cast in the lead role, but declined at the prospect of having to obscure his face by wearing a ninja outfit. “If I'm going to be in a film,” he loftily declared. “I don't want my face hidden.”

Given that Chuck has spent the majority of his career hiding his face behind a straggly pubic wig, some readers might find such a position of principle odd.

Review by: Jafo

Listen to the Exploding Helicopter podcast on American Ninja via iTunes, YourListen, Stitcher or Podomatic

Read reviews of American Ninja by our friends at Comeuppance Reviews and DTV Connoisseur.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

The Interview

Depending on your view of the comedic merits of Seth Rogen, the pulling of The Interview’s (2014) release last year could be the most humane act ever connected with the North Korean regime.

As we all know, the film was famously canned after mysterious computer geeks hacked Sony’s computers and threatened attacks against any cinemas showing the film.

In response, liberals the world over suddenly became fully fledged Seth Rogen fans (at least until the moment they actually saw the movie) and supplied Sony with more free publicity than they could have ever possibly imagined.

The plot 

A celebrity chat show host and his loyal producer manage to land an interview with North Korean leader Kim Jung-Un, after discovering he’s a massive fan of the show. This piques the interest of the CIA who recruit the pair to use the interview as cover for a covert assassination attempt.

Who the hell is in this? 

Seth Rogen plays Aaron Rapaport, producer of the Skylark show which is fronted by Dave Skylark (James Franco). Rogen and Franco have appeared in a whole host of films together.

When they first teamed-up it seemed that Franco was giving a leg up to the more junior Rogen, but now the roles seem to have reversed with the comedian helping to give his homeboy a pay check.

The good 

Whether you ultimately like this or not will really depend on your taste for Seth Rogen, but Eminem’s cameo role as a guest coming out on the Skylark show was a high point. For the rest of the movie Rogen plays his usual loveable bear character who eventually triumphs and gets the girl.

While many can’t stand Seth Rogen films – his mere involvement proving a turn off - he has expanded his repertoire somewhat (admittedly not in this film) and is very likeable. Although Franco’s turn is a major downside to the film his bonding with Kim Jung-Un over father issues, a mutual love of margheritas and Katy Perry is very well done.

The bad 

Rogen goes for some easy ‘me so sorry’ laughs early on that really let the film down and do nothing to combat accusations of racism. There’s also an unnecessary section set in China after Rogen’s character is summoned to meet with Kim Jung-un’s representatives to discuss a possible interview.

The only conceivable reason for its inclusion is that Rogen (who is always in charge of a Rogen film) wanted to see China, because the punchline the gag builds to is really not worth it. There’s also some weirdly over the top blood splattered goriness that comes from nowhere.

The unwatchable 

Two words. James Franco.

I get that he is playing an over the top celebrity chat show host but Franco’s performance contains more ham than a high street butcher’s shop. The gurning and extreme facial expressions are bad enough but what seems to be ad-libbing (and I really hope it can be put down to ad-libbing) shows the paucity of Franco’s comedic chops.

Seth Rogen could have been kinder to his mate and employed a harsher editor – or just made sure he stuck to the script.

Exploding helicopter action 

After the initial plan to kill Kim Jung-un with a slow releasing poison goes tits up, the good guys eventually assassinate the supreme leader by firing a rocket from a tank into a helicopter. Seconds away from setting off a nuclear attack, the grinning Kim Jung-un’s face turns to horror as he realises his impending doom.

Artistic merit 

As the missile is fired we see the attack in slow motion to a soundtrack of Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’ (I obviously wasn’t aware of this song before watching this movie). After an explosion that turns the North Korean leader into a human fireball we see the chopper fall from the sky behind the heroes’ tank. And then there’s some more awesome explosions.

Favourite line 

Again it depends on whether you go for Seth Rogen’s brand of humour – and I generally do – but the gallery of the Skylark Show shouting “Eminem is gay on our show” worked for me. As did the “McConaughey goat fuck!” shout after hearing of another celeb story.

Those of a slightly more cerebral nature might enjoy the “How many times must the USA make the same mistakes? – As many as it takes” exchange.

Tagline 

‘Their Trip to North Korea Just Went South’ is pretty ho-hum but the alternative ‘From the Western Capitalist Pigs Who Brought You Bad Neighbours and This is the End’ is a nice touch.

Review by: Dan Roberts (@lasvegasWI) you can find more of Dan Roberts ramblings at DanRobertsRambling.

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