Strike Back: Vengeance (Season 3) – when a billionaire acquires four nuclear triggers in order to re-shape Africa, only section 20 can stop him. Continuing with the UK/US collaboration, this takes everything that worked about ‘Project Dawn’ and made it all bigger/louder/better. Every episode is wall to wall action; with dozens of set pieces, hundreds of deaths, and a load of whiz-bang sex scenes. The entire season is 100mph, and it’s simply great fun. The characters feel more rounded, the leads’ chemistry is fantastic, and it’s very professionally made – but things like ‘character development’, ‘plot’, and ‘direction‘ are background noise to the explosions, gunfights, stunt driving, and spec ops that march the show forward. It’s hard to believe that such a ridiculously intense level of action (huge set pieces every 10 mins or so) can be done on a TV budget – the 10 episodes are paired off into FIVE 90-minute long mini missions that run together. In a world of toned down and heavily edited 12-rated action films, the swearing, sex, and sensational action makes this feel like something from ‘the good old days’. Completely knowing, and aimed directly at young male action fans, Strike Back Vengeance is a show that only really does one thing (infinite ammo, high-octane action turned up to 11), but does it brilliantly – making it a truly unmissable show for action fans
Sicario: a young SWAT member joins a ‘special activities’ task force that may or may not be as legitimate as they first appear. The acting, direction, and visuals are gorgeous and often spellbinding; the characters and plot however… not so much. Very little new ground is covered, particularly with the characters: a naïve by-the-book agent (Blunt), mysterious and dangerous man-with-no-name (del Toro), the charismatic but cynical and amoral team leader (Brolin), questionable American operations, yada yada yada. The central character – who is already an unnecessary audience surrogate – has an even more redundant BFF to more explicitly vocalise her thoughts and attempt to let the dummies at the back know what may be happening (not much is actually revealed until the last 20 minutes). There’s a few nerve-shreddingly intense scenes like the border crossing, tunnel raid, and the last supper; which are paired with bursts of ultra-bleak violence and very graphic gore, which make the movie more grisly – although these felt like they were chasing notoriety, and ‘sexing up’ the otherwise flat tone. The daytime scenes look fantastic, downside being that some of the low-light or night-vision scenes are harder to follow. While Sicario looks fantastic, has the big names, and some dark and memorable scenes it’s far less effective than a straight-up drama like Prisoners: it feels a bit like a Steven Seagal/SWAT plot viewed through another character, and with an arthouse guise – leaving me with the impression that it’s more a film for the critics than the public. Like the pacing, story, shots, and characters, Sicario is intentionally slow and steady.
The November Man: a lethal ex-CIA agent is brought back in for a simple extraction that tangles him up with a Russian politician, the CIA, and his former protegé. It’s one of those films set in the Soviet Bloc in which ‘everebadee talkz Eengleesh‘. It also boasts two former James Bond stars reprising the best bits of their roles – and for what it’s worth, it’s great to see Broz’s charisma again as he pouts and shouts his way from scene to scene in a antiheroic fashion. For a political/thriller there’s more than enough solid action scenes: car chases, foot chases, gunfights (complete with some John Woo style jumping / slow mo). There’s a shape-shifting plot that’s fun to follow, especially because the entire film is back to back plot-action-plot-action, that only briefly dips in the middle. It’s not all roses however; some of the sub-plots (like the mentor / master angle) feel very clunky, there’s a couple of weird directorial choices (like mad Dutch angles everywhere), and the woeful title isn’t explained until last 10 minutes – and it barely makes sense. Most importantly, there’s very little to distinguish this from a thousand other similar sub-Bourne movies based on shady CIA operations. The November Man is a solid – but unremarkable – Spy Thriller that sits just above the middle ground with entertaining performances and action.
Body of Lies: while hunting for a big fish terrorist, power and the upper hand continually shift between the Americans, Jordanian secret service and the man on the ground trying to bridge the cultural gap. It has the look and feel of an action thriller, but there’s not a whole lot of action (although when it’s on, it’s fairly violent). There’s a romance corner, an espionage corner, a cultural differences corner – it juggles quite a few things, which are all are done reasonably well, and fused together nicely. The problem is that with all of these things going on, it feels less focused than something like Zero Dark Thirty – the peripheral stuff detracts from the central terrorist plot. Also, because the whole Jihad genre has had a lot of material lately, they all sort of blend in to one – it took took well over an hour to realise I’d already seen this. Acting wise, you completely buy in to Di Caprio‘s conflicted character; Crowe properly gets on your nerves as the brash and cocksure US agent; and you marvel at Strong’s portrayal of an old-school espionage master. Body of Lies looks and feels as slick as you’d expect from Ridley Scott; it’s also acted beyond what you’d expect from A-listers; unfortunately the plot feels completely borrowed and unimaginative. Despite looking a little worn and generic these days, it’s still completely serviceable modern jihad-thriller.
2 Guns: two undercover agents go in for a big drug bust, but neither knows the other is also wearing a badge! With Wahlberg playing a flirty street-smart, wisecracker and Denzel going for the moderately stoic sensible man-with-a-plan it’s safe to say neither is out of first gear, but if it were two unknowns, you wouldn’t have even heard of this – so they’ve already earned their pay cheque. In other departments, the quirky bromance is quite fun to watch, the plot is standard, but entertaining enough to keep you interested, and the action is serviceable for a movie like this. The biggest problem with 2 Guns is that it’s just so forgettable, and about as edgy as an 8-ball: you’ve seen everything in here elsewhere, and better. It feels like the kind of film that was made to fill in a space in the schedules, or because there was some spare cash that absolutely had to be used. While it’s not as good as it should be with two massive stars splitting the bill, it’s another just-above-average entry into the surprisingly difficult to nail “Action Comedy” genre.
The Double: a retired CIA operative is paired with a pen-pushing rookie – both specialists on a hitman called ‘Cassius‘ – who is believed to have re-surfaced, years after his apparent death. Cassius (ka-see-us) – for some unbelievably annoying reason pronounced “cashus” for the runtime – if I ever hear that name again it will be too soon – it would make a great drinking game. Gere is OK here, but it’s not outside his comfort zone. Topher Grace gets enough screentime to shine, but doesn’t shine because his acting is terrible. Everyone else it a footnote. The story could have been quite interesting – but doesn’t start twisting and turning until it’s far too late – and you’ve lost all interest. The action is sub-standard, and overall – there’s not a whole lot of anything likeable, or even admirable to be found in here. It’s a bad film, but mostly because it plays its hand after 30 minutes and spends the rest of the runtime carelessly smashing through every spy/thriller cliché imaginable. Not good. Not good at all.
- Why are we here again? - I need a new house...
The Cold Light of Day: when his family are kidnapped near Madrid an everyman has to find a briefcase and return it to the captors in time. This is a strange one: coming out of the cinema it felt like a serviceable ‘nuts and bolts’ action movie, however, two days later the only parts i can recall are the Nike, Blackberry, Coca Cola, Audi, Land Rover, Fabrik Nightclub co-promotion scenes. There’s a couple of night-time action scenes that were too shaky and poorly lit to be even remotely coherent – although there are a few interesting flares of camerawork, and it fades in and out of attempting to have the atmosphere and music of a classic Boir thriller – it’s just not consistent enough. The story is quite derivative, sloppy, and predictable genre writing – and everything down to the title feels focus-grouped to death. God bless Cavill for trying, but there’s next to nothing for anyone to work with – all characters are like concentrated stock. The Cold Light of Day is one of the laziest films I’ve seen in a long time; it just wants to coast on the back of the names involved – although the biggest (Sigourney and Bruce Willis) phone in two of the sleepiest and offendingly unremarkable paycheck performances of the year.