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
Red Heat: a Russian and American cop are forced together to capture a nasty drug dealer that’s killed their colleagues on both sides of the globe. With the opening sequence starting in a nearly-nude Soviet sauna/spa and culminating in a naked snow-fight you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d accidentally bought a gay porno; and when you’re finally settling back in to the movie… BOOM… another homoerotic shower scene with Arnie. The rest of the film is pinned on the culture clash of a stereotyped disciplined and ‘barbaric’ Soviet paired with a schlubby ‘wimpy’ American – aren’t culture clashes funny? LOL! We get everything from misunderstood slang (“You’re shitting me?” / “I’m not shitting on you”) through to plain old “I give up: this whole thing is very Russian!” <rolls eyes>. It sounds hammy, and some of it is, but it’s entertaining and carries the film: distracting you from the generic plot. It’s one of Arnie’s more challenging roles at that point, and he just about pulls it off as an Austrian speaking English with a Russian accent (MIND BLOWN!), which has led to the film becoming a cult movie in Russian speaking territories. It’s light on action, but when guns are blazing it’s satisfactory and brainless stuff like firing a six-shooter 18 times without reloading, and a Chicago bus carnage finale. Tonally, the film straddles a gulf between the wacky and light-hearted cop-pairing, and an ultra-evil bad guy / drugs / violence / nudity angle. Released in the mid-1980s – before the end of the Cold War – I suspect it had more going for it; however, looking back, it’s pretty unremarkable. Red Heat is a buddy-cop movie that ticks the boxes, but isn’t quite funny or action-packed to stand out.
“Moscow’s toughest detective. Chicago’s craziest cop. There’s only one thing more dangerous than making them mad: making them partners.”
Lone Survivor [Title Spoiler: only one of ‘em survives]: follows a Navy Seal team as their recon mission goes south and they’re ambushed by Taliban militia. From the get go it’s a flag-waving military recruitment advert; glorifying the ‘Army Bro’ lifestyle and full of manipulative shots: wide aperture, emotional music, golden hour lighting. It takes a while to get going, but when the action starts the movie completely shifts gear. After a quick round of various viewpoints on killing potentially dangerous civilians (also the only real characterisation we get) there’s an epic, sustained and very intense action scene, that goes on just long enough to become a bit silly; as the protagonists are shot dozens of times but keep limping on, literally throwing themselves face first down massive cliff faces while mowing down seemingly infinite hajis with seemingly infinite clips of ammo. This set piece is grittier than most too, with blood splattering headshots, close-ups of wounds, shrapnel surgery – not much left to the imagination. This kind of action, and the way it’s shot make the film feel more like a HK influenced heroic bloodshed film than a traditional army or Hollywood action movie. The final five minutes are a tribute to the dozens American soldiers that died in this operation; a nice touch, but ultimately raises more questions about why America perpetually sacrifice so many young people to interfere in the middle-east. As a War Movie, Lone Survivor is pretty light, but as a no-brainer action film it works spectacularly, with one of the best gun battles in recent memory.
“Been around the world twice. Talked to everyone once. Seen two whales fuck, been to three world faires. And I even know a man in Thailand with a wooden cock. I pushed more peeter, more sweeter and more completer than any other peter pusher around. I’m a hard bodied, hairy chested, rootin’ tootin’ shootin’, parachutin’ demolition double cap crimpin’ frogman. There ain’t nothin’ I can’t do. No sky too high, no sea too rough, no muff too tough. Been a lot of lessons in my life. Never shoot a large caliber man with a small caliber bullet. Drove all kinds of trucks. 2by’s, 4by’s , 6by’s and those big mother fuckers that bend and go ‘Shhh Shhh’ when you step on the brakes. Anything in life worth doing is worth overdoing. Moderation is for cowards. I’m a lover, I’m a fighter, I’m a UDT Navy SEAL diver. I’ll wine, dine, intertwine, and sneak out the back door when the refueling is done. So if you’re feeling froggy, then you better jump, because this frogman’s been there, done that and is going back for more. Cheers boys.”
Taken3: when he’s framed for the murder of his wife ‘Dad of the year’ Bryan Mills needs to clear his name, and keep his daughter out of danger. For a blockbuster film the action sequences are frustratingly disappointing – looks like they’d been filmed for a more violent edit, then cut down to get the lowest certificate possible; leaving them disjointed, and Neeson looking like he’s barely trying (Seagal in Russia style). More generally, everything about this is lifted and slightly shifted from the first movie: he meets the wife, but they’re getting on slightly better; there’s a torture scene, but it’s waterboarding instead of electricity; he meets the lads, but they’re golfing instead of BBQ-ing; they have a chase, but instead of a boat, it’s a plane; Kim’s gift it a teddy bear instead of a karaoke machine… There’s too much time spent re-treading overly familiar ground, trying to add depth to one-dimensional (and already established) characters and relationships – at the expanse of time that should have been piling up Eastern-European bodies. Despite being a derivative and inferior shadow of the first movie, Taken 3 is nowhere near as terrible as the 1* reviews would suggest; it’s just that with the first film being so great the sequels taste all the more bitter.
More widely; the Taken trilogy (and Expendables) perfectly sum up the problem with successful “one-hit wonders”. Both were originally Hard-18 blood-and-guts nasty / B-movies, kneecapped to a more timid 15 for the second installment, then a paralysing 12A for the third – removing any semblance of the original films which weren’t actually all that different, but had the edge in terms of violence, and no expectations
FuckYeaPANDA: So long, and thanks for all the dosh
Kung Fury: After being struck by lightning and bitten by a cobra a cop is transformed into a Kung Fu master and swears to protect his city from evil; evil like Adolf Hitler. Not unlike a Zucker brothers comedy, Kung Fury is crammed with a continuous assault of gags – lots hit the mark, some don’t, but the rapid pace doesn’t give you time to dwell on any of them. There are however a couple of big reservations that hit you when watching this: firstly, it all seems overly familiar because the film’s structured like a collage of ‘cool’ scenes, ideas and parodies from lots of great sources – Danger 5 (literally dozens of ideas stolen from this), Iron Sky, Oldboy, MacGruber, Mortal Kombat, ThunderCats, MASK… all of which are welcome, but you’ll have seen elsewhere. Secondly, with the characters being steampunk Nazis, talking animals, Viking babes with machine guns, dinosaurs etc – it feels like box-checking meme-bait: think SuckerPunch distilled into 30 minutes. Aesthetically, it looks beautiful and feels retro – mostly green screen, but all very well done, with seamless editing, and a couple of nostalgic VHS wear / tracking / distortion moments that really play up the 80s setting. There’s no denying that Kung Fury is fun, entertaining, and particularly well-crafted given the CGI-heavy nature – but ultimately it’s let down by a distinct lack of originality content.
You can watch the entire movie on YouTube below
“Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs…”
Die Hard: European terrorists hold up a skyscraper and are issuing a lot of bogus demands; unbeknownst to them, NYPD’s biggest badass is crawling around in the air-ducts. John McClane is undoubtedly one of cinema’s greatest action heroes – the cheeky chap with so many timeless quips that have been ingrained into the general consciousness. For some reason, against all of the cut/paste Communist/Russian terrorists in 1980s movies the fact that the Die Hard baddies are German feels inspired. The film contains everything that was great about that era’s action films – right down to the male toplessness, black/white cooperation, violence, and a boss-fight within a perilous industrial setting. Most interestingly, although you couldn’t imagine anyone else playing the lead roles, this was both Willis’ and Rickman’s first big movies – and McClane had previously been offered to Arnie, Sly, Ford, Gere, Reynolds, Eastwood – so the casting director is an absolute hero. Decades later, this is still one of the best examples of a timeless action movie; and the re-watchability factor alone makes this an instant classic. Not just the best Christmas movie ever, but one of the best movies ever. If you don’t like this, I don’t like you!
Sniper: Reloaded – when his team are ambushed by a single shooter, a marine goes behind enemy lines to draw the sniper out and avenge his fallen comrades. For a b-movie, the action in this is surprisingly strong and intense; unfortunately the filler between these big set-pieces is fairly standard. Unbeknownst to me, this is the 4th film in the series, but you don’t have to have seen the rest to understand this; although they may explain the unprecedented overuse of ‘shoulder touching to convey trust’ symbolism. Most importantly, for a film about snipers, pretty much all of the famous / trick shots are in there: kill through a wall, one shot – two kills, thread the needle through another sniper scope. It’s also aided by some stunning wildlife & nature shots and a gratuitously bad all-holds-barred sex scene. For a no name cast (other than Billy Zane, who kinda feels at home here) and no budget, Sniper: Reloaded shouldn’t be nearly as good as it is, but the action, cinematography and setting make up for shortcomings in the script and story departments.