Strike Back: Shadow Warfare – when an undercover Section 20 agent is executed in cold blood Scott and Stonebridge set their sights on the killer and his terrorist organization. For this first time, this season pulls out some big names with the likes of Martin Clunes (best death face ever), Dougray Scott, Robson Green, and Rhona Mitra. And when you thought it wouldn’t be possible, everything is EVEN MORE ridiculous, funny, cheesy, trashier and sensational than the previous outings: a sexy Russian agent-babe is introduced in one scene, and literally a having vodka sex (with Scott, obvz) in the next one; a gay transvestite pensioner hard-man starts prison riot; and only Strike Back could have the Real IRA team up with Muslim terrorists and get away with it. This is the first season where the different directors stand out as the opening two episodes have computer-game / John Woo slow-mo vibe, with epic music and everything exploding; the middle six feel more ‘traditional’ action episodes, and the final two play out more like 24 episodes with the focus being on twists and reveals (and some poorly handled shaky cam action). The overall story and structure stick to previous season formulas, but hey, every plot thread in Strike Back is just chasing McGuffins to serve up more action scenes. When things aren’t being blown to shit, the drama stuff is well handled, characters get a bit more time to develop, and the show still isn’t afraid to pull punches or shock the viewers with main cast killings. I’ve pretty much ran out of superlatives and phrases to describe how good Strike Back is because it’s so consistent in delivering five top-drawer action B-movies season after season. The show gives its audience (14-40 year old boys) exactly what they want: action, babes, guns, nudity, explosions, gadgets… and the fact that this rollercoaster series ends with a sex scene says it all really. The tagline for this season is “The world’s not saving itself”; but Strike Back is definitely saving the action TV genre.
STRIKE BACK REVIEW
STRIKE BACK: PROJECT DAWN REVIEW
STRIKE BACK: VENGEANCE REVIEW
Predestination [no spoilers]: an elite time-hopping agent who has saved thousands of lives by preventing disasters is struggling to catch his final target – the Fizzle Bomber. After one brief action scene the 50-minute setup is a big gamble that could potentially lose the audience… however, it pays off big time as bucket-loads of seemingly throwaway details come together to form a sublime ‘penny-dropping’ finale that may well melt your tiny, panicking brain. It’s a very tight story, played out through an exceptional pair of performances from both Hawke (who is making some great film choices at the moment) and Snook (who comes out of nowhere); proving that, although difficult, you can fuse both high-concept sci-fi and low-level personal drama. Storytelling aside, the film looks and feels fantastic – given the modest ~$7M budget – with stylish retro, retro-future and retro-sci-fi vibes, paired with strong framing and camerawork / camera tricks. I also liked the subtle references to other time travel movies, but to mention them may be spoiler-tastic. Put this all together and you have the most complex and intelligent time travel story since Primer, that feels like something a young Christopher Nolan would have done. Predestination is a fresh, original, and smart time-travel thriller: if most movies had even a 10th of this film’s ambition, the film industry would be a much better place. If this sounds up your street don’t read another word or review before you check it out.
Generation Kill: an honest and accurate account of the 2003 Invasion of Iraq – told from the perspective of a journalist riding with an elite Marine battalion. Several things come together to make this an exceptional miniseries: i) the ensemble cast is phenomenal – you don’t for a second feel like they’re not real soldiers or real people spittin’, shittin’ and singin‘ their way through a dangerous and unfamiliar country; ii) the dialogue, interactions, plot and shooting style make this feel ultra–realistic: you’re sitting in the Humvee with the battalion; seeing their choices, struggles and the ‘greyness’ of the scenarios in which they’re left to operate in – corpses everywhere, very little action, not much heroics, and all part of the larger, poorly-led mess of an invasion. You also get a warts and all picture of the military: how the chain of command has the wrong people are in the wrong places; how some degenerates make it to the front line; the misuse of army personnel and equipment; and how they have the power to wipe out entire villages with a single decision. Despite the eye-opening shocks, action, and tension the most enjoyable parts are the inane chat and time-filling banter between the troops – and moments like the unit singing Drowing Pool’s “Let the Hajis hit the floor“ , “Teenage Dirtbag”, or “Sk8er Boi” are pure television. The only gripe I have is that some of the night-time scenes are infuriatingly dark and impossible to see anything – let alone follow what’s happening. Generation Kill is everything that you want from television (entertaining, informative, political) and everything you’d expect from the man behind The Wire and Homicide: Life on the Streets. Credible and incredible television.
Death Wish: A respectable architect becomes a crime-slaying vigilante after his family are assaulted by street punks. For a film this dark and serious, the acting is nothing short of comedy. Championed by the daughter, who looks like she’s winding up a pantomime audience. Everyone else involved – up to Bronson himself – doesn’t really aim much higher; unfortunately the wife’s short-spiel is the best in the movie. Given the atrocious crimes committed, the first group of antagonists (Hi Goldblum!) also feel like parody/goofy stereotypes. Still, the main scene of violence is brutal, graphic and unsettling – like a punch to the gut, which doesn’t happen to me very often. Hard to miss the overall critique of violence, and considering how much more this has to say than the average crime b-movie; just a shame that it falls down due to the poorly-drawn characters and bad acting. I don’t say this about many ‘classic’ movies, but Death Wish would greatly benefit from a modern, more serious, re-telling.
The Informant!: follows ADM executive Mark Whitacre, and his turbulent relationship with colleagues and the FBI during a global corporate price-fixing conspiracy. What hits you first is the lo-fi, softly lit yellow hue’d, old-skool, late 1960s TV aesthetic that dominates the style – no film has looked like this for decades, which makes it stand out. To match this there’s a snappy, finger clickin’ jazzy soundtrack with a hint of old spy movie about it – no coincidence there. Damon is superb as the conflicted lead in both his performance and physical transformation – a tubbier frame, moustache and wig puts decades on him. The supporting cast are interesting choices given the number of out-and-out comedians giving restrained performances – but it works. The Informant! boils down to being a two-man show: one at each side of the camera lens. Soderbergh has taken a massive corporate crime story and turned it into a quirky little white-collar caper – and whilst it’s entertaining enough, the story would have had more impact as a flat-out documentary.
The Artist: follows a silent film star struggling to cope with the advent – and subsequent dominance – of sound in Hollywoodland after 1927. It’s black and white, there’s almost no digetic sound, the picture is box ratio… yet it’s in crystal clear HD! Definitely missed a trick with ‘worn footage’ or ’genuine reel’ look, feel and sound that would have polished off the aesthetics perfectly. Despite this, the film looks sublime, is beautifully shot and full of bold, striking, iconography and period detail – all packed in to the stunning mise en scéne. The charisma of both leads leaps off the screen – genuine eye candy – particularly Dujardin who without saying a word effortlessly entertains for the duration, while guiding you through his highs and lows better than most ‘talkie’ actors can. The story is simple, and drawn out in parts, most noticeable in the mid-section (Valentin’s struggle), giving the film quite a large, over-emphasised, centre-sag. The original score feels authentic, old-timey, and carries the movie during the slower parts. Above all else, The Artist is an adorable love-letter to ‘classic’ cinema in both its style and content; the opening theatre-in-theatre is silver-screen gold. However, because of this – and in the same vein as films like Cinema Paradiso – it feels like most critics, reviewers and cinema enthusiasts have been hypnotized by the cinematic history/nostalgia (combined with the non-standard formatting) and are clambering over each other to gush the highest praise imaginable. It’s a cute period piece, no doubt, but ‘Film of the Year’ is a big stretch for me. Equally good and novel (if you never watch B/W/Silent films), The Artist is enjoyable, entertaining and undeniably unique sitting in modern cinema listings; but the more steps back you take towards objectivity, the lighter, fluffier and style-dependent it begins to look.
The Princess Bride: a beautiful princess is captured and her childhood sweetheart (now a pirate!) must embark on a quest to save her. What elevates this above all other films in this genre is a high-quality script that’s saturated with witty, understated and dry jokes that you could easily miss. There’s also some rather good action for a motherflippin’ fairytale – the swordfights are all decent – first proper one in particular is immense – and we get to see WWF star Andre the Giant get sleeper’d out!!!WTF!!! As you’d expect, the acting’s quite hammy – although Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) is an absolutely legendary comedy character – for expressions and use of language alone. There’s a cheap / budgety vibe given off by the sub-standard scenery and props; which combined with everything above creates more charm than most high-end films could wish for. The Princess Bride most reminded me of the fabulous TV series Blackadder in that its ‘historical’, hysterical in parts, and much smarter & aware than it first appears. Definitely one of the best anti / post-modern fairytales I’ve seen!
Hello. My Name is Inigo Montoya. You Killed My Father. Prepare to die
Matador: a struggling salesman and troubled hitman meet in a bar… no it’s not a joke! First thing’s first, Brosnan absolutely owns this film as an alcoholic, borderline psychopathic, burn-out, jaded, lonely, vulgar assassin with homosexual undertones, including a wicked tache and fashion sense. He is nothing short of pure entertainment, with great comedy timing and black comedy vibe, effortlessly creating an unforgettable character. Greg Kinnear’s also rock solid, and plays the straight-laced guy perfectly – because there’s only two mains they’re both fleshed out well. There’s a great off-kilter tone throughout and it harks back to the classic screwballs – which keeps the film interesting. Visually, it’s delightful with lots of bright colours, tourist-friendly cinematography and some unique direction. There’s a few great songs masterfully inserted too. Of all the decent things that Broz has ever done, this is the one film that put him up for a Golden Globe – make sure you see why! Bottom line, it’s a well-made, very funny, black screwball comedy with two great characters at the centre.