Friday, 22 February 2013

Exploding Helicopter - The Losers

New comic book adaptations come around quicker than Usain Bolt desperately searching for the stadium toilet after particularly spicy Vindaloo. Following that trend comes The Losers, a tongue in cheek actioner from the Vertigo stable, a company who make adult comics for people who should be old enough to have moved on to real books by now.

The Losers are not a bunch of spandex clad superheroes though, but a crack commando unit declared M.I.A for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly aim to get revenge on their C.I.A superior after returning from Bolivia to the Los Angeles underground. Today still wanted by the Government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem hiring The A-Team on DVD, maybe you can hire, The Losers.

The motley crew consist of rugged platoon leader Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan looking like Raul Julia’s long lost son), a no nonsense black guy (Idris Elba as Roque), a good looking ladies man (Chris Evans as Jensen) and a crazy, wise cracking pilot (Columbus Short as Howling Mad Murdo….sorry…Pooch). Is this set up ringing any bells for you? Yes, The Losers, a transparent attempt to cash in on the A-Team template with clearly defined squad members screwed over by the system and aiming to clear their names albeit with noticeably less panache.

For once the chopper explosion isn’t just there as eye candy but its an integral part of the “story”. After a botched attempt to take out a Bolivian drug lord the team inadvertently stumble across a gaggle of child slaves who they decide to rescue from his compound. There isn’t enough room in the evac chopper for the entire group so The Losers do the decent thing and let the kids fly off first.

For reasons not clearly explained evil C.I.A honcho Max, then decides to kill off The Losers once the drug lord is dispatched. Thinking they are on board the chopper he orders it to be shot down. A missile is launched from a passing jet which snakes across the sky and arrows towards the helicopter with only one possible outcome.

Artistic merit

This is a very nicely framed set piece. Shot from the ground you see the tiny jet in the corner of the screen fire the missile and follow its trail as it snakes across the sky into the large Chinook on the other side of the screen. The missile thuds into the fuselage and the explosion bursts the chopper apart like a ripe orange, its fiery contents spilling in slow motion to the ground below. There are some nice shots of The Losers picking through the charred debris and finding a burnt out bunny rabbit belonging to one of the kids, you know, just to ram home the pathos.

Having sat through countless hours of indigestible boloney I have come to the conclusion that the quality of a helicopter explosion is inversely proportional to the quality of the film. The boffins at Exploding Helicopter HQ are crunching the numbers as we speak to establish if there are any cold hard facts to back up my hunch. We will keep you posted on the results.

Exploding helicopter innovation

Nothing much really. It’s a standard missile to helicopter face off but it is very nicely done albeit with CGI (you will do well to see an old school honest to goodness explosion these days such are the quality of computer effects in modern cinema)

Do passengers survive?

All 25 Bolivian refugee children are blown to pieces in an agonising, fiery death. Still, what a pretty way to go eh?


Visually the film is very easy on the eye with a strong colour scheme that emphasises its comic book credentials. The action is well staged and the final showdown is ludicrous but attractively presented in all its CGI finery.


No amount of flashy direction, courtesy of Sylvain White, or high production values can mask the fact that this is a misfiring, derivative actioner with as much charm as a case of Chlamydia. Much of this is down to a dialogue so desperately unfunny and formulaic “paybacks a bitch, we got a situation here etc” the actors would have got more laughs had they recited an FSA report on financial mismanagement in the banking sector.

Jason Patric as C.I.A kingpin Max is a badly misjudged piece of casting. Not quirky, evil or funny enough to be a villain you feel he took a wrong turn at the set of Nip/Tuck and ended up here by accident. Idris Elba has made some curious choices since his break out performance in The Wire. His roles have been very hit and miss and proven beyond doubt that the real star of that show was writer/creator David Simon.

Ever the optimists, writers Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt left room left for a sequel. Fortunately the movie underperformed at the box office and hopefully it will never see the light of day.

Sample Quote:

Jensen: Legless Pooch and I are on it!

Pooch: Call me 'Legless Pooch' again, and you're gonna be 'Headless Jensen'

Jensen: I think it's a cool name, makes ya sound like a pirate.

Pooch: Ya mama's a pirate.

Interesting Fact:

Even though various scenes from the film are set in Bolivia, Dubai, Mumbai and L.A. respectively the bulk of the movie was actually shot in Puerto Rico. The producers managed to save money this way as the country’s variable terrain doubled up nicely for the jungle, desert, beach and city scenes needed. I was in P.R. in November and can strongly recommend the rum.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

LIve Music Review -Darwin Deez Brighton Concorde 11/02/13

It's a cold, wintry night outside the Concorde 2.  Only the hardiest of hipsters have been brave enough to schlep down here on a Monday to see if Darwin Deez have retained that off-beat charm that made the eponymous debut album a sleeper hit. It is testament to Darwin Smith's pulling power that the show is still a virtual sell-out.

I've saw Darwin back in 2010, just down the road at Digital, when his first album was making waves and was curious to see how much quirkiness and joie de vivre he had been retained after three years in the cynical spin cycle of the music industry.

Darwin bounds on stage in good spirits, resplendent in powder blue cashmere every inch the cross between a low budget Hassidic porn star and Wierd Al Yankovic's long lost son. Backed by a new three piece band (only the original bassist remains) they are keen to air their new material.

It's always a risk playing new songs to punters who haven't had the chance to absorb your new music. Darwin's new album Songs For Imaginative People was only released the day of the show and you could tell by the volume of crowd chatter that the new songs were struggling to make an impact. Sadly, the attention span for your average indie kid is only marginally higher than that of a goldfish on Rohypnol.

Nice to see the ironic synchronised dancing is still on the menu (think Spike Jonz video for Fatboy Slim's Praise You). Its a diverting but  inconsequential bonus to the music.  On reflection despite all the  signs indicating its business as usual Darwin may be suffering from "second album syndrome" as little of the new material has the immediacy of Bad Day or Radar Detector. These two along with DNA

"It's 3 years old but it's still got it."

get the biggest cheers of the evening.

Perhaps the new tracks will benefit from multiple listens.  Moonlit has more than a hint of Prince circa Controversy with its funky licks and 80's synth-soul flourishes.  Midway through the song Darwin blasts out an impressive guitar solo that would do the purple funker proud.  In fact Darwin's axe skills have come on leaps and bounds as a number of the new tracks feature clever guitar work complete with Santanaesque facial grimaces.

Alice shows promise with a big chorus that stays in the memory and first single Free (The Editorial Me) sounds like an Graham Coxon album track with its unconventional song structure and jagged guitar. Redshift is positively anthemic and in danger of straying into Bon Jovi territory.

However just as you expect certain songs to go a  certain direction they dive away from convention and leave you wrong footed. You have to applaud his musical ambition but it ensures his performance struggles to gain momentum.

Final track (800) HUMAN, a meandering ode to the work of Dinosaur Jr, is probably  misjudged as a curtain closer.  You can feel the crowd want to get involved but Darwin's left turns keep them at arms length. The general public can do kooky but weird is a more of an acquired taste.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Why Amercian Football Will Never Be More Popular Than "Soccer"

I watched last nights Superbowl between San Francisco 49'ers and Baltimore Ravens with the same curiosity British suburbanites growing up in the 70's would have had for spaghetti i.e. a supposedly exotic alternative to the prosaic diet of pie and mash that is association football.  

Despite my best efforts I gave up and went to bed at half time feeling emotional unfulfilled. To extend the culinary metaphors I would liken the NFL to a Big Mac. Once you scrape off the relish, gherkins and flashy packaging you are left with a pretty unsatisfying flaccid grey burger of content with little nutritional value.

My biggest "beef" with American Football is that the whole event is an exercise in style over substance.  The bombastic trails, the warbled national anthem, the constant stream of advertising, the extravagant half time show.  All of these things are the relish to cover up the lack of action.

The actual game is constantly peppered with interruptions the like of which would cause cardiac arrest in those who think goal line technology is going to disturb the flow in football. Mark Chapman commentating for the BBC asked one of his guests to hang around until the next break only to cut back to him some 9 seconds later when the action stopped again. Ludicrous.

Who can blame the spectators for constantly popping away from their seats to grab a hot dog or a beer?  There isn't much for them to really focus on.  I went to a Houston Texans game a couple of years ago and I constantly had to get up and let a steady stream of spectators file in and out of the seating.  A visit to the stadium is more of a chance to see how many nachos you can ingest in a 3 hour period rather than enjoying the drama only skilled sportsmen can provide.

I also found the atmosphere at the game to be strangely dispassionate. Distances being what they are in the US there isn't the tradition of away fans and none of the frisson of partisan support you get between rival fans acting as counterpoints, taunting their opponents or cheering on their team. This is intrinsic in football and part of the charm of the beautiful game.

For those of you thinking I'm a whining limey scumbag with a couple of fish and chips on his shoulders lets look at the cold hard stats. The Wall Street Journal conducted a study on NFL games to establish how much actual play time takes place over the 3 hours it takes to complete a match.  Their findings showed it was only 11 minutes.  In comparison if you strip out substitutions, free kicks and game breaks a 90 minute football match has 60 minutes of actual play in it. If I wanted to waste 3 precious hours for only 11 minutes of action I would go to

I concede that the intricacies of American football will be missed by those who only have a passing knowledge of the game. Whereas a great bit of skill or a thunderous shot can be appreciated by someone who has never watched football before American football puts a greater emphasis on strategy, tactics and "plays" the execution of which will no doubt will be appreciated by the purists and completely missed by noobs.

You don't need me to tell you there is no contest between the two sports.  Football is played in over 200 countries by over 250 million players. American Football is currently played professionally in just one.  The NFL have tried desperately to extend the "franchise" but the feedback has been underwhelming.

The European developmental arm croaked in 2007 after years of gasping for the oxygen of attention.  For a while in the early 90's American football held a certain novelty value in the UK with the likes of William "The Fridge" Perry publicising the game for the London Monarchs. Fashionable for a couple of years like paisley hooded tops and Joe Bloggs jeans the league slowly disintegrated as fans slipped away.  Like the sporting equivalent of David Hasselhoff the league only retained a semblance of popularity in Germany.

The Superbowl may be the most watched club event in the world but I would rather watch my local park team play real football. Oh. and don't called it soccer. You'll sound like a tit.