‘7 Days in Hell’ Review

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By Will Ashton

If there’s one advantage the tennis mockumentary 7 Days in Hell has in its swing, it’s this: in a day-and-age where comedies seemingly go on for hours on end, this HBO comedy gets itself off the court in just 42 minutes time. It just barely qualifies as a feature film, and yet even in its brevity it tediously feels at least 25 minutes too long for its own good. Perhaps this Andy Samberg vehicle would have best been suited in even shorter form on Funny or Die, because this TV movie is sadly a swing-and-a-miss even with its only slightly longer running time.

Mimicking the HBO Sports documentary mold, Jake Szymanski’s (several FOD skits) film looks at the “infamous” seven-day match between two legends, the American party boy Aaron Williams (Sandberg) and berated British prodigy Charles Poole (Kit Harington). The two dim-wited racket players manage to make the most astounding game in the game’s history during their 2001 Wimbledon event, dragging out their match with sex, violence, drugs and general foul-play, all of which mostly happen on the court.  Figureheads both real and fake lend their insight into the story, including Aaron’s sister Serena Williams,  Aaron’s best friend David Cooperfield, Jim Lampley, John McEnroe, as well as biographer William S. Sandy Pickard (Will Forte), former All England Club chairman Edward Pudding (Fred Armisen), Charles’ ex-girlfriend Lily Allsworth (Karen Gillan), the Duke of Kent (Howie Mandel), Charles’ mother Louisa (Mary Steenburgen) and Aaron’s brief Jordache Jeans sponsor Lanny Denver (Lena Dunham), with everyone trying to make as much sense as they can of the mayhem.

Each one plays it fairly straight-faced and unbridled, and although they don’t have a lot to work with, it’s at least commendable of the cast — also including June Squibb as the Queen of England, Michael Sheen as the naughty talk show host Caspian Wint and Jon Hamm as the narrator — to try to make this as reasonably entertaining as they could. The problem isn’t the commitment but the overextended execution. It’s a cute idea that doesn’t really have anywhere to take itself beyond a handful of jokes. Tired dick jokes, sex gags, poor stereotypes and one-joke characters comprise the majority of the  film, making everything the most blunt and unappealingly brash as they can. It drags the entire thing out, making the less-than-one-hour film feel longer than it should, and not as sure-handed as it needs to be.

It’s not a disaster by any means. Writer Murray Miller (Girls) does put some good jokes in the movie, and one bit involving Williams’ overly strong hit early on in the movie earns this movie it’s one hearty laugh. Plus, by the end there are some good chuckles earned simply by how ludicrous the premise gets as its stretch almost as long as the main tennis match. It’s really the middle where things begin to waver, and even though it’s as short-lived as it is, there’s not denying this thing could’ve — and should’ve — been trimmed down to a tight 25 or so minutes. It’s basically a one-off Adult Swim segment trying to parade around as a meager movie, and its simply too flimsy to fly. It has the upper body strength to provide a powerful hit, but not quite the will power to make it happen.

It’s entirely watchable, though. It wraps itself up just before it really becomes a bore, and it’s harmless and inefficient enough to not really warrant any violent reaction. But that doesn’t make it any less disappointing. It’s nice to see Harington try to stretch himself beyond stiff action roles, and Samburg gives this as much passionate as he gives anything he’s involved in. It’s not enough, though, and unfortunately this is a foul that easily could’ve been a full-force whack. If tennis really is a head game, however, making something as sophomoric and uncharismatic glib as this is indubitably frustrating.

Rating: C

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Top 5 Episodes of ‘Silicon Valley’ Season 1

By Will Ashton

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Among the most engaging new TV comedies of 2014 is Silicon Valley, the newest work from Mike Judge centered on an up-and-coming tech company centered in the titular town. While the season has been somewhat up-and-down, if not undeniably wobbly, there is still a lot of good here, it just might need a season or two to really nail itself down. Much like Community did between its first and second seasons.

While there were only eight episodes within the first season of this new HBO sitcom, there were enough good ones that deserved to be singled out and looked favorably upon. So, with that in mind, let’s look at the top 5 episodes of Silicon Valley, season one.

HM: Third Party Insourcing

5. Fiduciary Duties

Directed by Maggie Carey

While certainly not the best episode in the season, this episode is successful at making good use of the little things. Particularly, through Big Head—who is mostly forgotten about in the rest of the season, sadly—and Peter Gregory, who, in my opinion, is the show’s best character, and certainly its most fascinating. It is clear that the showrunners had some big, big plans for this character, but, unfortunately, due to actor Christopher Evan Welch’s untimely passing, they had to awkwardly find ways to not get the character involved inside the show. Which is a shame, in more ways than one of course, but more so when reflecting on how great he was in episodes like this.

4. Signaling Risk

Directed by Alec Berg

Again, not the best episode of the season, but this was one of the ones that was the best at establishing the communitarian nature of these guys, especially in witnessing them come together to form a team. While not the funniest episodes, this is one with a little more heart than most, which is certainly needed in a show that makes its fun through the dry, computer-savvy generation of 20-somethings today.  This is one the episode with the best one-liners or the funniest gags, but it is definitely the most heart-felt episode as far as I can remember.

3. Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency

Directed by Mike Judge

After a couple of wobbly, unfocused episodes, this season finale finally was able to focus on what the show was establishing itself about, while also making sure that they bridge the gap between what they needed to finish and what they needed to establish for the time to come. With what could be one of the funniest and oddly smartest recurring dick jokes in television history, along with some great character moments throughout, this episode is able to bring the show back its brains and its laughs in a success one-two punch. Above all, however, it brings the hope back that this show will continue to be a promising and hilarious show for our time.

2. Articles of Incorporation

Directed by Tricia Brock

Following the inconstant second episode, this third one was what brought things back together—if even for just a brief period of time. With the writing back and perhaps sharp as it ever is this season, along with great jabs and character moments all around, this episode was definitely one of the show’s biggest successes and high notes thus far. This is when the show started to pull together its great one-liners and building on its chemistry between its cast, while also at least somewhat sure-footing what the show should make itself out to be.

1. Minimum Viable Product 

Directed by Mike Judge

Of course, however, there is no denying that the pilot was the strongest, funniest and refreshing episode of the season. With a confidence that sadly started to disappear with the rest of the season, and a sharpest that would eventually come and go, this was when the show truly was at its peak and most inspired. The writing is the best, the one-liners are to die for, and the story is definitively at its tightest and most focused here. All rather rare for a show to do at once, let alone one that is a comedy. That is what made this pilot so special, and showcased what greatness this show could truly be.