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.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (3D) – Jack Sparrow and Barbossa set sail for the Fountain of youth, but have to outrun Blackbeard and the Spanish. The story gets from A-Z coherently enough, but clunks from segment to segment, with very little flow. Being the 4th film in the series, the old-fashioned adventure feel of the original is all but gone – drowned out by big/loud CGI. The one thing that does remain impressive is the original score, which is about the only fully effective aspect of the film’s components. Cast-wise, the mammoth franchise reels in some equally big names, and while they all earn their money you get the feeling that they’re nobody’s really trying any more – there’s also the most gratuitous Cruz cleavage since Volver. The 3D’s pretty sharp & impressive, and more subtle than other recent flicks. In the end, Pirates 4 is passable, but not much more than a quite boring, overlong money spinning, summer blockbuster.
London Boulevard: the story of an ex-con fresh out of a stretch in the joint, determined to go straight, and avoid the trap of falling back into London’s underbelly. This has two too many stories playing out, in separate dedicated chunks, that never really come together: we’ve got Farrell and Knightley’s relationship, the gangster aspect, beggar’s retribution and sister saviour – any of which could be the main plot of a normal film and would have made a solid story – rather than being side-stories all competing for prominence. As the locations flip between the streets of London and a country manor you realise that this is an outsider’s rose-tinted view. On the upside, it’s rather well shot and the acting’s pretty good: David Thewlis is indisputably the most watchable (and has the best lines, including “if it weren’t for Monica Bellucci she’d be the most raped actress in European cinema” quote of 2010 for me). Farrell‘s also pretty decent – despite regressing into a South African accent now and again. Ray Winsone‘s growing a bit tiresome, and needs to branch out or give it up – he plays the same character, with the same lines (just changing the names) in pretty much every film – the likability factor isn’t helped when these characters are outrageously racist. The final product is a Guy Ritchie imitation, but with less flare, less interesting characters and too many strands. Other than the memorable ending, the rest of London Boulevard is passable at best.