Vice Principals: when a school principal retires and the vice principals are passed over for a promotion they form an unlikely tag team to take their new boss down. Not unlike most Danny McBride projects, the humour in VPs is an acquired taste: it’s stupid and lowest-common denominator stuff, but I’m a fan of the funny to watch the crass swearing, childish squabbling, stereotypes, silly faces etc… McBride’s pretty much been here before in Eastbound and Down with his faded baseball star going back to school to teach; his latest character Neal Gamby is essentially an older, and slightly more filtered/censored Kenny Powers. Goggins on the other hand turns in an against-type effeminate role, that requires a lot of eye rolling, sucking up, and mincing around in pink clothes. Both leads are great at what they do and the core supporting cast notes (Gregory / Whigham / King / Love – GO SCOTLAND! / Patterson) all hit the right comedy notes. The show mostly cruises along, with scenarios that lead to silly and cringe comedy, but there’s a few curveballs in here with surreal moments, weird filming techniques, and the finale feels a little too bizarre and doesn’t fit in with the rest of the show. Vice Principals will go down best with fans of McBride’s trademark style, and he’s firmly in his comfort zone… for regular viewers it may be stray a little too far into crass and unacceptable territory.
End of Watch: two of LAPD’s finest end up with a bounty on their heads after accidentally disrupting the activities of a brutal cartel. From the opening car chase this feels very realistic, shot primarily on dashboard / surveillance / handheld cameras etc. This style not only lends itself to authenticity – glamour is played down throughout – but heightens the drama and urgency of action sequences. Both leads (Gyllenhaal and Peña) are superb, the naturalistic script makes them genuinely feel like friends, and their performances make you believe that they are regular guys – the fire scene in particular shows us that they are real heroes. What sets this aside from most cop films is that the antagonists are painted as being so ruthless and violent that there’s a genuine sense of danger that simmers throughout the film, hitting boiling point at the climax. My only major issue is that because the overall style is ‘handheld’/’genuine’ footage, characters in the middle of drive-by shootings / full-blown firefights / intimate moments are always carrying a camera/phone etc; even when there’s plenty shots in the film that aren’t handheld, so it seems a bit stupid. Also, if the penultimate scene had been cut, the ending would have also been so much more powerful. Niggles aside, End of Watch is a stunning cop film, with a strong ‘buddy’ vibe, real threat and two great performances at its heart. This is easily the best cop film in years, and arguably ever.