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


“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.


Take no prisoners.

Review by: Jafo