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
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
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.
American Sniper [Spoilers]: follows the life of America’s deadliest sniper from childhood hunting and adolescent rodeos through four tours (+1,000 days) in the Iraq war. Unsurprisingly, this film boasts typical Eastwood directing hallmarks; it’s taut, oppressive, fairly downbeat, and contains superfluous racism; told with no-frills direction or distractions from the story, which is heavily centered around emotions and individuals. The one thing that’s most problematic – at least to foreign audiences – is the cheesy portrayal of Kyle’s blindly patriotic all-Americanism, and although it’s not a particularly glamorous account, the film feels like a glorified highlight reel of a war and sniping ‘legend’. Even the ending – after showing Chris Kyle graphically kill dozens of men, women, and children, and mention 100s more – the film couldn’t even show his fate, at the other end of the barrel. The biggest reason to watch this is Bradley Cooper’s magnetic performance, showing the highs and lows of being a famous/infamous killing machine. All things considered, American Sniper comes out as somewhat mediocre; it tries to show a fresh – personal – perspective of the effects of war, but uses the full range of war film clichés like the worried wife, absent father, soon-to-be-married guy getting his shit ruined, and a crow-barred-in big action finale; which is poorly shot and difficult to follow. If you have the time to spare something like Generation Kill (which this references at least a couple of times) is a far more effective, balanced and entertaining way of seeing America’s role in the Iraq war.
John Wick: after his wife dies thugs steal his car and kill his dog, which forces former assassin and ‘bogeyman’ John Wick to go on a rampage of Archer proportions. No need to worry about the Bechdel Test with this film – as the only two women with dialogue appear as a video recording, and a sassy female hit-woman. No need to worry about the plot either, as it’s based around a hotel where assassins live and party with each other – and gold coins are the preferred payment method. Whilst Keanu isn’t the most watchable of frontmen he handles is action scenes with style, and Nyqvist, McShane, Dafoe fill in any gaps with fun roles. Reminiscent of 90s European / Asian action movies like Taxi, District 13, Hard Boiled etc – this is all about the guns, cars, pounding techo music and hyper styalised violence, of which there is shitloads. The action scenes are second to none: graphic and wild gunplay (most villains get ‘double-tapped’ – chest then head), there’s excellent combat which incorporates wrestling holds and slams, and a couple of nifty car chases. One of the directors is a stunt man, which shows as the action scenes are a cut above your standard affair. John Wick is a rarity these days – a no-brainer, balls out, gritty revenge / action film, that sticks to its R-rating and doesn’t claim – or try – to be anything more. It’s the kind of film that Taken 3 wishes it was.
Special ID (Tè Shū Shēn Fèn, 特殊身份): an undercover cop finds himself in danger when he’s set on a collision course with an old protégé. Tonally, this film is an absolute mess; there’s Loony Tunes style moments of slapstick comedy in the middle of realistic MMA-Style fight scenes; despite it being a big-budget movie with slick intentions it continually returns to the super-cheese with bawdy music and silly melodramatic over-acting; there’s also a few sleep-inducingly boring scenes (one about Tattoos in particular). The timeline is all over the place, jumping around with no explanation, unaided by the lax direction and editing. There’s some woeful Volvo product placement: not satisfied with having their ‘City Safety’ mode blatantly pimped, there’s an entire fight scene AROUND THEIR CAR – it also doesn’t blow up when it’s dropped from height, unlike those rubbish Land Rovers!!! Ppsschhhtt!!! On the plus side, the action is generally impressive (particularly the two elongated fights at either end of the movie) despite some superhuman abilities being thrown in to the mix here and there. I love Donnie Yen and will watch anything he’s in, but he’s going for a Jackie Chan style cheeky-chappy role here, and doesn’t quite have the charm/charisma to nail it. In the end, this is amounts to little more than another completely forgettable Asian undercover cop film – with two decent fight scenes.
Sabotage: a D.E.A. legend and his off-the-rails team of undercover NARCs are being hunted down by a cartel for skimming off $10M of the gang’s money in a recent raid. I know, I know, this one’s never going to win any awards – but in a world where studios are pussying out of 18-rated movies right, left, and center this is like a breath of fresh (or rotten) air. A dark, violent, dingy film that harks back to the 70s–90s cop films that had plenty of grit and edge. From the writer of Training Day, Street Kings and End of Watch you know you’re in good hands here. Machismo’d to the rafters, there’s a whole lot of big-dick swinging, heavy swearing, ‘cop banter’ – and the women in here are strippers, ‘sluts’ or a general nuisances to the lads. The story’s not as black-and-white as it first seems, and neither are the characters – as the film balances both intense action scenes with a well-crafted thriller storyline. You either love these sort of films, or you hate ‘em; and for me, Sabotage is a decent, violent cop film with a rock-solid ensemble cast and an interesting enough story to keep you tuned in.