Criminal Activities [mild spoilers]: when they get a bad investment tip a group of friends try to settle their debt to a mob boss by kidnapping a rival gangster’s family member. I was pleasantly surprised at how entertaining this crime caper was – the henchmen side-story (which stars the director) is particularly rib-ticking. The script and performances are surprisingly funny, but there are so many “Fucks” in here it feels like the film is going for a Guinness record – which is a bit of a shame, as it distracts from the good jokes. There are also some very well handled and well placed moments of serious tension and drama that really sink the hooks in to the viewer. The big issue is that it completely hangs on a very large and very wild twist that you could never have guessed on your own (and requires about 10 mins of runtime to fully explain). I hate lazy comparisons, but this one’s quite unique: think Lock Stock and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – and you just don’t get many good films in this sub-genre. How much you ultimately enjoy Criminal Activities will depend on your tolerance for a big old slap in the face at the end – although there’s plenty fun to be had on the way.
Boardwalk Empire (Season 1): 1920s prohibition drama mostly following the racketeer Enoch Thompson, who controlled Atlantic City. There are lots, and lots of factions and institutions interacting with each other, not to mention around a dozen well-rounded, complex characters. It’s extremely well-cast; nobody stands out as being too little or too much, and with this many characters, they’re all physically distinguishable – a great job from the casting team. There are too many outstanding performances to mention in this cast of accomplshed actors, but I felt most sorry for Michael Shannon who does a magnificent job with the hardest character, a Prohibition Agent of extreme (almost comedic) faith and morals… Shea Whigam as Sherriff Eli Thompson also impresses with unbelievably great acting, and Jack Huston is superb as a ruined, deformed WWI vet. There’s an impressive level of throwaway period detail in the background, costumes, homes and through conversation. The visual effects to recreate the era are also impressive, and when tag-teamed with some brilliant old-fashioned music/entertainment it’s a solid nostalgia trip. Strangely, there’s an outrageously high level of gratuitous nudity for such a solid TV show, somewhat unnecessary, but hey, I ain’t complaining. This isn’t dip-in / dip-out TV, nor is it for the easily offended or faint hearted – it’s graphic, there’s adultery, sex, debauchery, racism, religion… and that’s just for starters. Boardwalk Empire is entertaining, dramatic, funny, and fascinating for the duration, and never really puts a foot wrong. Must see TV.