Whiplash: an ambitious and cocksure jazz drummer comes head to head with an abusive conductor that will do anything to push his students beyond their limits. It’s an interesting film in that the focus is on two very unlikable and unsympathetic characters; and a couple of Jazz songs dominate the soundtrack – both of these elements have the potential to isolate viewers. A film set around jazz band performances and rehearsals could have used more visual flare and flashy camera tricks, but the way it’s all cut together helps squeeze every last bit of tension and drama out of the big moments. All the actors live in the shadow of J.K. Simmons’ band leader, who is portrayed as venomous, dangerous, and borderline sociopathic individual… although it’s frequently hinted that – despite his extreme methods – he is genuinely trying to push his musicians into greatness. An examination of ‘how far is too far’, Whiplash is a unique teacher/student drama that’s adequately made, but elevated by huge performances, a booming audio track, and the fist-pumping finale.
And here comes mister gay pride of the Upper West Side himself. Unfortunately, this is not a Bette Midler concert, we will not be serving Cosmopolitans and Baked Alaska, so just play faster than you give fucking hand jobs, will you please?
Party Down (Season 2): Henry, Ron, Casey, Kyle, and Roman are still working L.A’s weird and wonderful functions, along with new team member Lydia. The episodes are more of the same, but a lot slicker, more refined, more outrageous scenarios, more product placement snuck in, and more great comedy cameos. The characters all feel more defined and rounded, and the writing in general is a lot better as the episodes aren’t as self-contained. Everything’s generally improved, except for one small aspect… it’s not quite as funny, with only a couple of big laughs per episode. The main reason appears to be that Season 1 was based on observational/awkward comedy moments, whereas this feels far more like a straight-up sit-com with elaborate and more ridiculous functions to cater for. Worse still, the writers criminally dropped Henry’s fantastically awkward catchphrase “Are we having fun yet?!”, which was by far the best source of cringe-inducing laughs in S1. Roman and his associated ‘Hard Sci-Fi’ get a lot more mentions – even a whole episode – which appealed to me. Season two of Party Down is still very good TV; it’s smart and funny, but easy to watch and good for dipping in and out of, the only downside is that it feels a tad over-written, and all of the rough/raw edges have been taken off. Still, can’t deny that it’s a great sit-com.
Contraband: a struggling ex-con must secure his family’s safety by doing one final smuggling run. Being a re-make of Rekjavik-Rotterdam, Hollywood does what it does best and strips out a lot of the smaller background stories, characters, undertones, and relationships that thickened up the original plot, and raised the stakes a little more. Wahlberg‘s steady, but disappointingly typecast as the everyman, and costume-wise, could be from any previous film. This is all minor compared to Giovanni Ribisi, what the fuck is he doing!? His lines were delivered in the most ridiculous accent I’ve heard in years. The rest of the supporting cast really do keep the film propped up, although nobody’s particularly stretched. It’s well-directed, with the urgency maximised and lots of nice shots that play with focusing – it feels quite European / independent. There’s a decent gunfight in the middle (audio is immense) and in true modern heist fashion lots of loose ends are tied up in the final 15 mins. Unfortunately, New Orleans felt like an excuse for decent music, and nothing more. As expected, this is pretty much a cut-down, edges-smoothed, version of the original. It’s decent, but I’d suggest seeking out the original instead.
Party Down (Season 1): 10 episodes – follows a dysfunctional catering team of failed/upcoming Hollywood actors and writers. With most episodes having the team cater for a bizarre sub-set of society – pensioner dating / gangsters / porn awards ceremony – there’s plenty of material to work with. Every character serves a purpose; two of the team (Scott/Caplan) provide most of the drama – and there are some moments that really sneak up on you – whereas the rest serve up the laughs in abundance; everyone’s perfectly pitched with their own style of humour. Crucially, the writers have done a fantastic job of creating a well-written, fast-flowing, smart script, packed with wit that’s both genuinely funny and awkward in equal measures. Technically, there’s no frills, fads, or tricks which gives the show an air of plausibility that most comedies lack. The only real downside is that it’s not instantly lovable, and probably best enjoyed on your own – it’s quite dry, some of the subtle running gags take a while to pick out, and it takes an episode or two to properly tune in. Overall, I’ve gone from being unconvinced a few months back, to watching the entire season in 3 days. Party Down’s a bit of a TV gem, and with a movie being green-lighted, it’s clearly winning enough people over in the longer term!
Jennifer’s Body [Blu Ray]: when a slew of horrific murders hit a sleepy town, Needy starts to think her best friend is a blood-thirsty vampyre. On the surface this appears to exists as a Megan Fox bootay appreciation vehicle, which is fine by me, especially because she plays a sexy femme fatale – with some brilliantly lewd lines. Fortunately, there’s more here than just foxy Fox. The film is laced with a good dose of black humour and absurdity; just enough to confirm that it’s not taking itself too seriously – 8675309 / Goths at a Funeral / Emo band story arc etc. It’s also ‘teen horror’ to the core: with an emphasis on ‘hip’ music, high school setting, sexually charged ‘teens’, pop cultural references, slang vocabulary… right down to the Prom Night finale. The direction’s strong, and BD picture and audio quality are both very good – also the directors cut is apparently far superior to the theatrical version. I was more than surprised as I watched this with a constant smile, and some proper belly laughs; it’s one of the best in its genre since the likes of the Faculty and Idle Hands. After its initially poor cinematic reception Jennifer’s Body will hopefully shine a lot brighter on DVD/Blu Ray as it’s far better, runnier, sexier, more violent and smarter than it looks, and you’d expect.
Postal: Living in a shitty town drives one yocal to ‘go postal’, and sees him take on terrorists, a religious cult, villagers and the police… all in the name of sanity. A film that opens with two Muslim plane hijackers calling Osama Bin Laden to ask how many virgins there will be waiting for them, then accidentally flying into the WTC probably won’t be for everyone… Knowing that this is one big farce, director Uwe Boll pops up as himself, joking about being aroused by crowds & children, and that his films are really being funded by Nazi Gold – it’s mental. The story is more like a series of skits / ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…’ scenes, but that’s OK as there’s a ton of gags and minor detail, almost like a David Zucker film. It’s visually striking; with tons of bright and poppy colours, not unlike classic Russ Meyer. Despite using a cat as a silencer, Zack Ward makes a pretty cool ginger action hero, and WTF is JK Simmons doing in this?!?! If you like your films crude, violent, brimming with hot babes, and full of kid / terrorist / nazi / midget / hippy / redneck / fat people jokes then Postal is the film for you. Despite everything being deliberately outrageous, I enjoyed it and will no doubt whore the DVD out to a bunch of people, then watch it again down the line. Totally ridiculous, but watchable tasteless caper.