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.
Wolf of Wall Street: based on the memoirs of a drugged-up banker that did a load of bad things. Most obviously, three hours is just far, far, far too long for this story, which is essentially: motivational speech, loads of drugs, party harder than Andrew WK, repeat x20. The premise is classic Scorsese – rise-and-fall – but they way in which it’s told, what he chose to film, and how he chose to film it is anything but. There’s so much skin, sex, sensationilsm, and alpha-male testosterone in here that it felt like Michael Bay defiling a Scorsese sceenplay. Another huge problem is that the main character – Jordan Belfort – isn’t even remotely likeable or interesting; just a one-dimensional, remorseless asshole. On the plus side the script it great, the casting is magnificent and Scorsese really gets the most from them. It’s also very funny, funnier than most comedies, although it does have a lot of time to play with. Sadly, it feels a bit cheap coming from someone that’s brought us films like The Departed, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, Taxi Driver… and it made me remember how good a film Boiler Room was. Scorsese – you’re above this. Studios – no director is above cutting empty & pointless scenes from! Not Scorsese, not Tarantino, nobody.
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.
Silver Linings Playbook: after a mental breakdown and bi-polar diagnosis, Pat Solitano strikes up a relationship with an equally challenged family friend. STOP PRESS! HOLD THE PHONE! Someone somewhere managed to find a very good performance in Robert De Niro, how the hell did they do it? Both leads are also way above what’s required and expected from ‘rom-com’ standards, and both deliver solid, believable, performances as afflicted people. The story’s engaging and interesting, right up until the final act where it runs through the entire checklist for clichéd movie endings. In saying that, you don’t really grudge the ending as the laugh-count in the first two-thirds of the film was ridiculously high (again) compared to what you usually get in a rom-com. The only thing that kept pinching me was that both leads are ridiculously good-looking Hollywood A-listers, centered around an interesting, unconventional relationship – those two roles could have been brilliant breakthrough fodder for unknowns, but in a way, they still are eye-opening performances, and you wouldn’t want to change the casting of Cooper or Lawrence. Silver Linings Playbook is a surprisingly funny and enjoyable quirky rom-com.
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.