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
The Condemned: ten of the toughest death-row prisoners from around the world are dumped on a remote island for 30 hours – the last person standing wins their freedom. Sound familiar? The plot is essentially Battle Royale, right down to the explosive jewelry. Leading man “Stone Cold” Steve Austinis pretty stale, but as an ex-wrestler, expectations weren’t massive – I can’t believe there’s not a single stone cold stunner, fan-appeasement FAIL! Vinnie Jones (and most other people) are laughably typecast and/or wooden, 2D, flat characters. A few other things to mention: lots of bad RAWK / Nu Metal songs; a piss-weak attempt to add a morality angle to the story; and some forced lines about kewl stuff like the internetz, bloggerz, and gamerz!!! The only real positive is that because it’s a WWE and Lionsgate film, the bad taste / violence etc is more than you’d expect. As a brain off, mindless, plotless, characterless, action film, The Condemned is alright – but there’s absolutely nothing that stays with you after the fireworks.
Route Irish: named after the most dangerous road in the world, this film follows a soldier‘s family and friend as they try to establish how he died working at a private security firm in Iraq. It’s one of the most directed films I’ve seen in a while, and has Ken Loach all over it – a micro-drama that feels realistic, with a docu-drama TV aesthetic and an unambiguous socio-political viewpoint (all in a good way !). Being ‘Lochean’ it also means that ‘Fuck‘ is every second word and most people prefer to shout in each other’s faces rather than talk. The story’s very strong, and the last half hour in particular is a total powerhouse, peaking during the most intense interrogation scene I can remember watching. Emotions are heightened throughout with some harsh footage of the focal incident, and some unpleasant, genuine war aftermath footage. The small cast are all watchable, although they’re left in the shadow of Mark Womack – who plays a brilliant self-destructing soldier armed with his smarts and an insatiable appetite for the truth. Being a modern anti-war film, it does well to play through a jaded soldier’s perspective – and it doesn’t have many positive things to say about private contractors. Gritty and believable no-holds-barred look at the effects of Iraq back home.