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