Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead: two brothers struggling with debt hatch a plan to knock-off their parent’s jewelry store, but it doesn’t go down as planned. This must have had origins in a play or theater; it doesn’t feel remotely cinematic. Technically, it has the look and feel of a film-school project or directorial debut – not from the person that has brought us 12 Angry Men, Serpico, Network etc. It contains the worst use of zooming and jump-cutting in the history of cinema. Worst of all, the film thinks it’s smarter than it is, and spends the duration flopping all over the timeline – and assuming the audience is too dumb to follow, it brands the time on screen at the start of every scene. For such a respectable cast (Hoffman, Hawke, Finney, Shannon, and Marisa Tomei’s tits) they’re all hamming it up – but every character is completely one-dimensional. The gratuitous crass language annoyed me more than it should have – mostly because it felt sledge-hammered in to make the film marginally more outrageous. This hasn’t aged well at all: made in 2007, feels like a film from the 90s. Nihilistic, boring, pompously-theatrical claptrap.
The Iceman: biopic / mobster film based on the notorious hitman Richard Kuklinski – who has killed over 100 people (believed to be nearer 300). This is definitely a post Killer Inside Me / Killing them Softly type film, a real focus on keeping things real, and when they need to be, graphic. The biggest problem is that film is that it’s essentially an indie re-telling of the Goodfellas story arc, but based on a hitman – so when the focus is on his life collapsing in the last act, you don’t care much because… well… he’s a hitman, and he should be in jail long before then; the film seems to make him a little more sympathetic. Otherwise, it’s a fairly standard Mobster piece, that doesn’t stray far from the path – other than a random scene of political opinion thrown in for no good reason (Vietnam war). Seriously!? Who the fuck casts David Schwimmer as a badass gangster? As soon as he opens his mouth, BOOM, character ruined! Quick note for Ray Liotta – change it up bro, this is getting hella boring. Winona Ryder’s decent, but flaunts her boobs an awful lot (distracts from her good performance). Chris Evans is really good – could have done with more of him. But the biggest, and most obvious, outcome of this is to cast Michael Shannon in as many films as possible – he can, and does, act with every single muscle in his face and body. In the end, The Iceman is a decent enough gangster film that focuses more on the hitman himself than his actions – but Shannon keeps this watchable with a captivating depiction of the cold-blooded mobster.
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.