The Purge Anarchy: America remains a prosperous and healthy nation thanks to the continuation of The Purge – a 12-hour window where, once a year, all crime is legal. Instead of a single home invasion this is spread over a metropolitan ‘downtown’ area over several families & plots, which come together in order to form a ‘multi-racial, rich-and-poor misfit bunch fighting against the odds’ scenario – luckily for the gang there’s a gruff anti-hero among them. This leaves the film creeping into more generic survival thriller territory; however what’s lost in immediate plot is compensated for with a more interesting take on the purge itself, seeing the bigger picture with military contractors, organised protection, organised crime, class wars, and flat-out buying poor people to butcher all coming into play here. Retaining its real-world and ‘realistic’ roots really help generate and maintain a sustained sense of threat, and the world is unquestionably dystopian and off-kilter enough to feel creepy throughout – other than the central characters everyone else feels like a dark caricature. Ultimately, The Purge movies work best if you buy into the conceit; for me the concept is brilliant and Anarchy is more ambitious and interesting than the previous purge, but in doing so becomes a little bit more familiar.
Enemy At The Gates: Stalingrad is being attacked by the Nazis, and after a Russian sniper terrorises the Germans, they send their top marksman from a Berlin Sniper School in for an epic sharpshooting duel. How could a film about a sniper battle be so boring? There’s only a handful of kills and the rest is hammy, over-sentimental, schmaltzy war boringness and distracting “human element” side-story shite. The cast are confusing as shit too: there’s English people with cockney accents playing Russians, American’s doing German “Vith and Ak-scent”, and Ron Perlman (American) trying an English accent in order to fit in with ‘team Russia’ – accent-mageddon. I’m also pretty sure that no Russian ever spoke about “tea and a biscuit”. The look, feel and tone of the movie all reek of something from the 1950s – including bad acting, a poor script, the worst / most awkward love scene of the 2000’s, and a terrible “classic cinema” score that tells you exactly when you should be excited, crying etc. This is a film that starts off like Private Ryan on a budget and goes downhill from there. Utter war-pants.
Strike Back (Season 1): When he takes the blame for a failed mission, Spec Ops soldier John Porter is kicked out of the SAS, but re-hired seven years later to catch a familiar face. After the briefest of setups Strike Back is pretty much just action-action-action with the odd scrap of plot – it has to be one of the most action-centric, kick ass, blood splattering, neck-snapping, omni-exploding pieces of TV badassery out there. Richard Armitage (as John Porter) holds his own and really makes the show, as the central Damaged Hero, and total badass – channeling guys like Rambo & Mclean – and could probably take on Jack Bauer in a fight; not even kidding! As the series sprints forward, the main backstory becomes more intricate, and interlinked with the current missions. The episodes which are decadently overflowing with set-pieces, deception, betrayal, action, adrenalin and politics – are all surprisingly believable, at least until the Scottish hacker pops up in the final mission. All-in-all Strike Back is like a mythical unicorn hiding in the TV Schedule: an action-heavy, huge-budget, Movie-styled TV show consisting of 3 interlinked adrenaline-soaked 90-minute episodes that truly raise the action bar. Action fans rejoice!
Savages (mild spoilers): when two pro pot dealers have their shared girlfriend kidnapped by a cartel for leverage, they don’t take it lying down. This one is absolutely packed to the brim with torture, violence, action sex, drugs and rock & roll – it’s all turned up way past 11. All the characters are all pretty broad stereotypes, however it’s the cast and story that raise this above your standard gang-banger flick. Hell, it’s worth watching this just to see the scene with Del Toro and Travolta – each doing their thing and loving every second of it. For a 2hr30 film, it’s so packed with action and plot that it never drags: as it plays out like a dramatic chess match. Savages barely puts a foot wrong until it doubles back on what would have been a powerful, Shakespearian out-of-the-blue ending – instead copping out at the last second for a crowd-pleaser. The only real downer for me was a sloppy, grating, “ike-OMG-totally-I-was-like-and-she-was-all” So-Cal voiceover that does nothing more than point out the obvious – and annoy the shit out of viewers. After a couple of duffers, this one definitely puts Oliver Stone back on the cinemap, and with ample style to spare.
The Raid: Redemption – a team of elite cops storm a high-rise building in the hopes of capturing a vicious crime lord. I walked in expecting a decent action film, didn’t think I’d be watching cinema history. There’s around 10 minutes of story scattered through the film, and it rarely drops below a sprint for the 80 minute runtime. The cast are championed by a few unbelievably talented action/fighting stars – who deliver scene after scene of lengthy, intricate, and phenomenally choreographed fights, with moves that make you shout ‘HOLY FUCK’ about every 30 seconds. There’s machete fights, close combat, martial arts, wrestling, SWAT raids… it’s all there, in abundance. The violence is pretty brutal, explicit, 18-rated gore – matched by some body abuse from the most insane, dedicated (potentially stupid) stuntmen. Some decent tension is built up in parts, and overall the film is well-shot and stylishly directed – it’s also breaks up the relentless action with flashes of dark humour. With 5 minute long action scenes every 6 minutes and a pile o’ bodies left on every floor The Raid is an action film that truly delivers – it completely re-writes the book on action cinema by cutting through all the guff we have come to put up with and by being all killer, without a single frame of filler. It raises the bar, then kicks it in the face, stabs it, shoots it, loads it into a bazooka and blasts it in to space. I sincerely hope that this opens the floodgates to a barrage of awesome Eastern action flicks, as it beats the shit out of every big-studio Hollywood / UK action movie I’ve ever seen. The Raid‘s better than fantastic; it’s the best, and most important action film I can ever remember watching.
A Lonely Place to Die: [Spoilers] When a group of mountain climbers discover a captive girl their trek takes a turn for the dangerous. The film’s biggest weakness is that it’s totally confused, trying to mix action, horror, thriller, moral drama, hiking and more. The story’s also pretty poorly thought out – given the age of the person the ‘hidden’ back story is fairly obvious; half way through 99% of people would probably do the immoral thing; and the central group are also killed off too quickly, forcing the film to lean on the weaker story toward the end. It’s also fetishly ‘dirty’ by lingering on graphic violence throughout – especially gunshot wounds! Not to mention silly touches of ‘flare’ like the ridiculous pig mask and carnival in the last act. The final blow is that it’s insultingly over-Scottish: bawdy gaelic music, whisky, money jibe, bonnie highlands, bad accents, etc. With all that covered, there’s not a whole lot left to like; Melissa George leads the cast with ease, some of the aerial shots are technically proficient… and that’s about it. If you like homegrown horror this may be for you, although I wouldn’t recommend it.
Luther (Series 2): Detective CI John Luther Thud! Is back on the streets of London Thud! Stopping more bad guys Thud! and saving the day Thud… Hear that? That’s the sound of the BBC dropping the balls of everything that made series one great. 1) Format changed from 1 hour 1 case to 2 hours 1 case – also instead of 6 there are only 4 episodes (and only 2 cases) 2) Bad guys are ridiculous, one is straight out of a Saw film, and the other was just a normal nerd – neither particularly scary, or believable 3) Good, established characters are neglected – most noticeably crazy Alice, who is majorly poo poo’d – and the show suffers big time – and Schenk, who was hot on Luther’s heels in S1 and now his immediate boss. 4) Worst side story ever (Geezers, porn, drugs…) although I strongly suspect it was written as a 2-episode case, but was so bad they cut it in to the others as a backstory. 5) Super-Luther… he was suspiciously good in Series 1, but it’s all a bit too “just one more thig…” this time round. On the up side, there’s some really tense scenes, we get more of Ripley, the acting and production are to a high standard, and it’s still watchable. Don’t get me wrong, Series 2 is still good TV by UK standards, but it’s a mere shadow of the brilliant series 1.