Sunday, 22 July 2012

Exploding Helicopter - Avatar

James Cameron is a man who doesn't like to do things by halves. His recent penchant for leviathan movies makes early output such The Terminator look like twee Arts Council small fry by comparison. Not content with breaking box office records with Titanic, Cameron had the Avatar concept on ice from as long ago as 1994 until the technology caught up with his expansive vision.

It might be the most expensive movie ever made, clocking in at a wallet busting $280 million, but wrapped up in all that beautiful CGI lies the heart of a bog standard outsider redemption story. A very, very expensive Dances With Wolves starring lanky blue alien hippies if you will.

In the future mankind is running out of natural resources so nasty corporations having begun mining valuable minerals from distant planets, such as Pandora, a lush jungle covered planet that has a very rare and valuable material called Unobtainium (Jesus, really!?).

In order to persuade the native Na'vi that raping their planet is in their best interests scientists have tried to ingratiate themselves with the locals by creating Na'vi-human hybrids called Avatars which they can inhabit in order to blend in with the population and show that we're not really just greedy bastards only interested in taking advantage of their planet for financial gain.

When the locals sensibly refuse to be bullied or bribed the troops are sent in to change their minds with some good old fashioned "shock and awe". Seriously, as an allegory for the Iraq war Avatar is about a subtle as a stiletto through the ball bag.

So when the shit eventually hits the fan Cameron goes absolutely bananas on the exploding helicopter front. I'm talking record territory here. As benefits the most expensive movie ever made it contains the most helicopters blown up in a movie with no fewer than six of these bad boys obliterated in the space of five hectic minutes. I can see why over at EHHQ there weren't too many takers to review this behemoth. Lucky for you dear readers someone has big enough brass cojones to deliver on a payload of this magnitude.

Towards the end of the film the massed ranks of the Marines launch an all out assault on the Tree of Souls, the spiritual home of the Na'vi. In their way is Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic marine, who has gone rogue and thrown his lot in with the tree huggers. He and his new buddies face a squadron of heavily armoured attack helicopters on nothing more than a bunch of emaciated pterodactyls armed only with bows and arrows. Despite these unfavourable odds they manage to achieve the greatest ever helicopter destruction committed to film. Who needs Stinger missiles eh?

First sees Sully flying a huge dragon called Toruk (the Bentley of dragons) into the melee of choppers and space ships that have arrived to dispatch a six pack of whoop-ass on the natives. He grabs hold of the chopper in the dragon's talons and swings it around like a hammer thrower and launches into a floating island where it goes up in delicious ball of flame. The 2nd flicks across the screen so fast you almost miss it but gets similar rock/flame treatment at the hands of another smaller Ikran.

The 3rd and 4th destroyed are perhaps a cinematic first: two helicopters actually flung into each other. In a similar technique one of the Ikran grabs and chopper and flings into off course into the path of the other making it split apart and fall to the ground in a plume of flame.

Lastly Hispanic-hardass turned deserter Chacon (Michelle Rodriguez ) plays a cat and mouse game with Colonel Quartich's (Stephen Lang) gunship behind a huge floating island. She manages to dodge and weave wave after wave of missile and gunfire before inevitable succumbing to the colonel's fury. The stricken chopper is finished off with a missile that sends the machine to chopper-heaven in a rich tangerine burst of flame.

Artistic merit

I remember watching this at the cinema in 3D and for the first time in a long time (maybe not since Cameron's other groundbreaker Terminator 2) felt truly blown away by a film's special effects. Part way through this film I distinctly remember realising that my mouth had been open for the last 45 minutes. That is how immersive it felt at the cinema.

Yes, much of the plot is hackneyed feel-good fluff with a lot of clunky dialogue thrown in for good measure but boy is it presented with panache. 3D movies are almost always gimmicky cash-ins designed to squeeze another £3 out of the punter whilst forcing them to do their best Buddy Holly impersonation but this one really is worth the money. The CGI blends seamlessly with the live action and you have to look very, very carefully to spot any glitches.

All the helicopter explosions are richly textured and authentically realised even though they all started life on a computer. The nine Oscars it won in 2011 including awards for Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects and Best Art Direction show a lot of care, skill an attention was taken to realising this alternate universe

Exploding helicopter innovation

Take your pick. Most helicopters destroyed in a film, helicopter killed by a dragon and two helicopters destroyed simultaneously by each other. This film is a ground breaker.

Do passengers survive?

Even the good guys die here. Chacon is sacrificed in the name of pathos and the rest of the anonymous pilots will surely not have survived the flames and impact of falling thousands of feet into the jungle canopy. This isn't Air America.


The two performances that really caught my eye were not the leads but in the supporting roles. Giovanni Ribisi's hilarious passive-agggresive performance as Parker Selfridge, RDA's head asshole, has echoes of Paul Reiser's corporate scumbag Carter Burke in Aliens. As is the norm with amoral corporate money men he only really is interested in the company's bottom line no matter how many lives he has to ruin. His comic interludes inject some much needed humour in a script that does stray into cliché territory from time to time.

"You throw a stick in the air and its gonna land on some sacred fern"

The other is Stephen Lang as Colonel Quartich a caricatured dick-swinging bullet-headed Marine who must be a distant cousin to Robert Duvall is Apocalypse Now such is his passion for "The Core" and his desire to blow stuff up. He is an irredeemably nasty piece of work with a nice line in military hard-assery

"You let me down son! So, you find yourself some local tail, and you just completely forget what team you're playin' for?"


Whilst the movie ticks most blockbuster boxes it is overlong and there is a enough New age eco-bullshit to have even the staunchest of environmentalists regurgitating their mung beans

Favourite Quote:

Col. Quaritch: This low gravity'll make you soft. When you get soft Pandora'll shit you out dead with zero warning.

Interesting Fact :

On average each CGI frame of the movie, equivalent to1/24 of a second, took 47 hours to render. With a running time of 178 minutes and with 60% of the film shot using CGI you start to see why the film had such a high price tag.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Film Review - Killer Joe

Too many exposed vaginas. 

It's not something I say everyday and not what I was expecting to see when I pootled off for a matinee screening of Killer Joe. In fact at times, as I sat in the darkened cinema, I felt a bit like one of the tragic rainmac brigade silently shuffling themselves into celluloid oblivion such was the sleaze on offer.

Adapted from a play by Tracy Letts much of the plot centers around the grubby interior of the Texan trailer where white trash scumbags Ansel, Sharla and Chris Smith (Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon and Emile Hirsch) concoct a scheme to bump off Ansel's ex in order to cash in on her life insurance policy.  They employ the services of demented detective Joe Cooper (Mathew McConaughey) to do the deed but get more than they bargain for when things go pear shaped. 

Killer Joe is stylishly shot and has its moments but its not smart enough to challenge the Coens and not funny enough to rival Tarantino, both of whom have made a career in this down-at-heel story telling territory. William Freidkin, never the most understated of directors, instead sticks to what he is good at; shocking extremes. Violence comes in it all its visceral glory and the sex is a sleazy as it gets. 

A gratuitous scene involving Gina Gershon fellating a chicken drumstick will have you laughing and cringing in the space of of a minute.  McConaughey relationship with Ansel's underage daughter Dottie (Juno Temple) is also particularly unsettling. You do question some of Freidkin's choices.  Does he push the limits in order to further the story or is he just trying to provoke a reaction? Whatever the reasons, as a whole, the film lacks that certain charm or intelligence to balance out the darkness.

Killer Joe's deficiencies are not down to a lack of acting talent.  In a stiff middle finger to his critics McConaughey's Johnny Cash crossed with Red Rock West-era Hopper shows that there is more to him than just a toned six-pack and mega-watt smile. Emile Hersch continues his fabulous run of acting performances (Into The Wild is a must see) and Thomas Haden Church wins the award for dumbest lunkhead since Mr Bean

It is a shame the good performances are let down by some unrealistic character behaviour (Gershon gets clocked and then calmly sits down to eat the rest of her chicken with a smile on her bloodied face) and a shock ending that tries a little too hard to stay in the memory.

Still, kudos to Freidkin for doing something different and for managing to get a film through the creatively bankrupt studio system that isn't a sequel, a comic book adaptation or a Disney animation.

7 out of 10

Saturday, 7 July 2012

An Alternative Visitor's Guide To Wimbledon

With everyone’s favourite Sco...Englishman Andy Murray finally getting to the Wimbledon Final (the first since Major Humprey Winstanley lost to domesticated chimpanzee Herculius in 1559), and wildcard Jonathan Marray defying the odds and winning the Doubles it is perhaps fitting that as someone who has been lucky enough to be granted entry into hallowed grounds of the All England Tennis Club for the past 3 years, I give you the inside scope on this creamiest of English institutions.


If Michael Jackson was to rise from the grave and perform a one night only concert playing the Thriller album from start to finish, dressed appropriately as a zombie, it would be easier to snag at ticket then it would for Wimbledon. The ticketing system so archaic you would think it may have started life in Khruschev-era Russia.

If you happen to be pond scum like myself and don't have a million quid or a knighthood you will have endure the vagaries of the public ballot system. To be fair to the LTA at least there is still a system where Average Joe's can get hold of a ticket but boy do you have to jump through a few hoops to get one.

Firstly you have to send a stamped address envelope to the ticketing committee in order to receive an application form. A STAMPED ADDRESSED ENVELOPE FOR GOD SAKE? This isn't Why Don't You? or The Open University.

Then once you get the form you have to take extreme care to fill it out carefully in the blood of your first born. Woe betide anyone who forgets to fill in the form in the correct font lest they be struck down with the plague and their application banished to the fires of hell.

Interested parties will then face an anxious wait to find out if their name has been successfully pulled out of the top hat. You can't ask for a certain court though. You will get what they give you and like it. Then you have a window of about 23 mins between the receipt of the letter and your chance to pay. Miss this and you miss the tournament or as I did be forced to write a grovelling letter to the LTA telling them I missed the deadline because I was bed ridden on account of a nasty viper bite.

Of course you can just get take your chances on the limited release day tickets by getting there three days early and camping on Wimbledon Common like some fucking climate change protestor but who really is desperate enough to do that?


Coincidentally Wimbledon is held in the borough of Wimbledon (what are the chances of that?), the leafiest of London suburbs where tramps are routinely hosed into gutters and the poor are routinely ground down to make attractive roof tiles for the extremely sought after properties in the area.

It's just a 20min walk up the hill from Wimbledon Underground (10mins by gilded carriage) to the well appointed grounds. Fans of airport customs will be in for a treat when they enter the gates as your bags will be checked in order to check for machetes and RPG missiles. If you are particularly swarthy you will get a good old fashioned pat down. I love a pat down.

Once through formalities newcomers may be forgiven for thinking they have entered Nirvana. Everything is decked out in the traditional dark green and purple livery, the fountains spew Bollinger and the umpires chairs are made of purest gold. Seriously the place is immaculate. If you look carefully you will see an army of oompa loompas picking up Pimms cups between points.

If you have a grounds ticket you can jump on any court minus Court Two, One and Centre. On the outside courts you are literally within a few feet of the players, perfect for the stalkers amongst you. The young ball boys will provide no match for a determined fan who wants to get that little bit closer to their obsession.

Then of course there is Henman Hill or Murray Mound (if you are a shameful turncoat) where you can drink overpriced Pimms (£9 I don't fucking think so) and eat strawberries and cream whilst watching your heroes on the big screen. It’s almost like watching it in your front room!


The first day of play normally takes place during the height of British summer so you can absolutely guarantee it is going to fucking rain. Luckily in a remarkable break from fusty tradition the All England Club opted to put a retractable roof on Centre Court to the tune of £80 million ensuring play even in the wettest of conditions. Of course poor people don't get to go on Centre Court and have to sit it in the rain and go slightly demented listening to tits like Cliff Richard singing We're All Going On A Summer Holiday.


I say demenented as Wimbledon does strange things to people. This year I was on Court 2 and the crowd felt compelled to clap every anodyne stadium announcement like God was speaking to them directly. They even clapped ground staff running on with the covers when it started raining. Then they clapped them off again. If the umpire had decided to sacrifice one of the ball boys in the name of Tlaloc I would not have been surprised if he got a warm round of applause.

Wimbledon is so middle class it isn't even funny. You are just as likely to see a singlet or a tattoo as you are a black person. Oohh that was a bit controversial wasn't it? Controversial but sadly true. Whilst unfortunate it does mean that the atmosphere is somewhat unique. Firstly, everyone is massively happy just to be there. "Its a special club and I'm in" is what we're all thinking.  Add the royal patronage, the reverential BBC coverage and the sprinkling of celebrities (Kylie, John Hurt, Ryan Giggs, Dustin Hoffman amongst others this year) and you begin to understand the lengths people go to to get in.

A place to see and be seen then. The Calistas and Hugos that you can hear burbling about the place would certainly be mortified if they couldn't attend. Mix that in with the pleasant housewives waving Union Jacks, the well brought up children on school trips, the regimented ball boys and I imagine this is what Britain was like in the 50's. All the rules and regulations have kept out most of the modern day riff-raff and have created a very British time capsule.

So next year if you are lucky enough to get in you can see what all the fuss is about for yourself. If it rains all day you will have a shit time but even on a cloudy day it can be glorious at Wimbledon.