Wednesday 21 September 2016

Hickey & Boggs

It may be hard to imagine now, but there was a time when the idea of Bill Cosby as a repellent sleazebag with an enthusiasm for drugging then groping women would’ve been unthinkable.

He seemed as cuddly and harmless to US audiences as Rolf Harris was to Brits. No, wait. As trustingly avuncular as that weather chap off This Morning. Hang on. As chucklingly innocent as Dave Lee Travis. Oh, sod it. You know what we mean.

Things went badly south for ‘America’s Dad’ a couple of years ago when scores of ignored but persistent women with strikingly similar sexual assault allegations, like brave little Lilliputians, brought the celebrity giant crashing down.

All of which makes Hickey & Boggs (1972) a fascinating curio. Especially as you may be more than a little weirded out to learn that Cosby’s character in Walter Hill’s buddy cop movie has a singular hobby – illicitly spying on people when they’re asleep. Who knows: maybe this is the flick that first gave him those alleged ideas.

The plot

Hickey and Boggs (Bill Cosby and Robert Culp) are two down-at-heel private investigators who are hired to find a missing woman.

It seems a routine job. But when the people they interview start turning up dead, the pair realise they’re pawns in a much bigger game. One that involves rival criminal gangs and the search for the missing loot from a big bank robbery.

With our heroes caught in the crossfire between warring gangsters and with the police content to blame them for the escalating body count, their quest becomes less about solving the mystery than simply finding a way to stay alive and stay in business.

The cast

The stars of the film are Robert Culp and everyone’s favourite comedian-cum-allegded-pharmacist Bill Cosby.

Here Cosby plays a depressed private investigator who likes to sneak into the home of his estranged wife so he can stare at his children whilst they’re asleep. So definitely not creepy.

The duo had previous worked together on the ground-breaking Sixties espionage series, I Spy (it was the first TV drama to feature a black actor in a lead role).

Robert Culp
Much of the series’ popularity rested on the easy chemistry between Culp and Cosby, who famously ad-libbed much of their dialogue. That easy rapport can be seen in this film. Culp certainly looks relaxed. Perhaps Bill fixed him one of his special cocktails we’ve heard about.

As for the supporting cast, it’s a veritable who’s who of reliable character actors: Jack Colvin (the dogged Jack McGee in The Incredible Hulk), Michael Moriaty (The Last Detail, Law & Order) and Vincent Gardenia (Death Wish). Not to mention Ed Lauter who it seems was contractually obliged to appear in every TV series filmed during the Eighties (Magnum, The A Team, Murder She Wrote, Automan, and The Equalizer to name but a few).

Eagled-eyed film fans should also keep an eye out for a disturbingly fresh-faced James Woods in what was only his second big-screen role. At the time, ‘Woody’ must have only been in his early twenties – which coincidentally is also the age of most of his present day girlfriends.

Is this any good?

Assuming you can put aside some of the casting issues, Hickey and Boggs is a great neo-noir. The genre has always been concerned with the darker side of humanity. But few entries in the canon are as bleak, or so utterly lacking in the possibility of redemption.

Our under-gunned and under-manned heroes survive shoot-outs and police harassment to make it through to the end of the film. But it’s not by dint of their own resourcefulness. Ultimately, it’s their insignificance to the more powerful forces around them that saves them.

As the pair cynically observe at the end of the film,
“Nobody cares.”
“Nobody came.”
“It’s still about nothing.”

Exploding helicopter action

At the end of the film the two competing groups of gangsters look to cut a deal over the missing loot.
They arrange a meeting on a deserted beach but, natch, one of the gangs plans a double cross. (In fairness, they are gangsters.) Machine gun-wielding henchmen arrive in a helicopter to wipe out their rivals. A gun battle breaks out, bullets fly and the chopper is inevitably damaged.

It spins around out of control and crashes into the sand. A fire breaks out on board as some of the crash survivors try to escape. But before they can clamber out of the wreckage, oh no…the helicopter explodes! Fiery death for unnamed characters ensues.

Artistic merit

This is an unexciting helicopter explosion. The confusion on board the damaged whirlybird is decently done but the lack of exterior shots betray the film’s lack of budget.

This scene also features the cardinal sin of low budget action movies - the off-screen crash. What? No money for special effects? Don’t worry, just don’t show a crash at all. No-one will notice! (Note to film-makers: EVERYONE notices.)

What we get here are a few frenzied interior shots as the ‘bird’ goes down followed by an incredibly brief glimpse of something approximating a helicopter fuselage, then a big non-descript explosion. Poor. Very poor.

Exploding helicopter innovation

None to report. The circumstances and method of destruction are very routine.

Favourite line

“I gotta get a bigger gun. I can’t hit anything.”

Tuesday 6 September 2016

Suicide Squad

‘If all our goodies are so bad, then maybe our baddies might turn out to be good..?’

This, clearly, must have been the thinking at DC Towers when they green-lit this movie. After the massive, almost global-level, raspberries that were blown at its recent Superman and Superman vs Batman movies, something had to be done. So the bigwigs at Marvel’s ailing rival decided to get down and dirty.

And undoubtedly, on paper Suicide Squad (2016) sounds like a great idea. Simply inject mini-bombs into the necks of a group of super baddies, then send them out to covertly tackle the obscenely hazardous jobs that nobody else can do. Brilliant! But the question is: by this point, is there any idea so good that DC can’t make a complete Horlicks of it?

The plot

With Superman presumed dead, impressively nasty government mandarin Amanda Wheeler has assembled a motley collection of proper wrong ‘uns to tackle any emerging super-powered threats.

The star of her embryonic team is the Enchantress, a polite young lady possessed by an incredibly powerful sixteenth century witch. But it’s okay because Wheeler has the witch’s heart locked in a sealed box, and so can control her. Until the witch steals her heart back within the first ten minutes and starts building a device that will destroy the world. (Though she’d better get a move on if she wants to beat Trump to it.)

The Suicide Squad are unleashed to tackle the new threat, without anyone pausing to acknowledge that their enemy is simply one of their own members gone to pot, the super baddie equivalent of a sacked burger chain worker pissing in the French fries. The stark fact is, if Wheeler hadn’t tried to form the Suicide Squad, the whole mess literally wouldn’t have happened. At source, this is an HR problem dressed up as an action movie.

The cast

First, the good news: the ladies own this movie. Both the bonkers Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and cold-as-ice Amanda Wheeler (Viola Davis) are terrific.

Will Smith, being Will Smith, of course insisted on his Deadshot character having a schmaltzy backstory (he’s a great dad, doesn’t hurt women and kids, quite the gentleman etc) that jars horribly with the rest of the movie. It’s fascinating how the former Fresh Prince, who in real-life literally worships an alien race of giant lizards – Hello, Scientology! – always ensures he plays grounded characters.

Then there’s Joker. During filming, Jared Leto apparently got into his villainous role by sending live rats and dead pigs to fellow cast members, and watching footage of real gangland killings.

All of which sounds a lot more interesting than anything he manages on screen. Admittedly, Heath Ledger’s titanic Joker performance, crystalized by his early death, was always going to be a tough act to follow. But Leto’s turn here, hammy and mannered without the remotest sense of threat, is pure panto. (Perhaps he should have remembered Laurence Olivier’s advice to that other method junkie, Dustin Hoffman: “My dear boy, why not just try acting?”)

Unsurprisingly, given that the rest of the Squad are each given roughly one-and-a-half lines to establish their character, they remain cardboard cut-outs.

Is this movie any good?

Not according to Rotten Tomatoes, which gave the movie a measly 26 per cent. However, Exploding Helicopter suspects that, after the turgid Man of Steel and the unending torture of Batman vs Superman, critics had already decided that the next DC movie was due for a good kicking.

This seems a mite unfair. True, Suicide Squad is crass, simplistic and dangerously uneven, and nicks ingredients from better movies with grave abandon. But there are some good performances and it rollocks along at such an entertaining pace that there’s not time to consider how duff it all really is.

Exploding helicopter action

There are three helicopter crashes in Suicide Squad, though only the second one actually results in an explosion. It happens when a freshly rescued Harley Quinn is smooching Joker on the opened back ramp of a military chopper. Suddenly a missile hits the front of the craft and Harley, back-flipping out on to the roof of a building below, lands in time to momentarily see the flaming craft hurtling earthwards before it disappears behind another skyscraper. Oh, no! Will Joker survive? Yes.

Artistic merit

Precious little. A standard CGI explosion, at night (always a cop-out), followed by a quick shot of the flaming craft going out of sight. This is seriously middling stuff.

Exploding helicopter innovation.

Nada. Niet. Zero. None.

Non-exploding helicopter action

The sorry spectacle of the weak explosion is partially redeemed by the two non-exploding crashes, which once more prove right a pet theory of Exploding Helicopter – that it is technically impossible for a named character to be killed, or even seriously hurt, by a chopper smash, no matter how catastrophic it looks.

Early on, a chopper carrying the whole Suicide Squad is hit by gun-fire. Hurtling fifty feet towards the ground, it crashes onto a concrete city street then rolls over at high speed around seventeen times. There’s even an internal shot of our heroes bouncing around inside, like an old pair of trainers in a washing machine.

Of course, the actual result of such a crash would be smashed bones, cracked heads, massive internal hemorrhage and across the board deadness. But naturally, this being an action movie, everyone emerges without a scratch. Harley Quinn even gets to say: “That was fun!”

Later in the film, a helicopter containing Suicide Squad Svengali Amanda Wheeler (basically the Simon Cowell of super villain groups, only not so vindictive) is smashed out of the sky and totally wrecked. Naturally, everyone else aboard the craft is rendered either dead or unconscious, but our Mandy’s tip-top and strutting around the place again within minutes.

Favourite line

Spoken by a prison guard, as Deadshot holds a gun to his head: “Ames, If this man shoots me, I want you to kill him and I want you to go clear my browser history.”

Review by: Chopper