Month: April 2016

Special Correspondents

null

Special Correspondents (2016) – Comedy

Directed by: Ricky Gervais

Starring: Eric Bana and Ricky Gervais

How I Watched: Netflix

Best Line: “Kill everybody. Greetings from New York.”

Ricky Gervais is a funny man. Deny it all you want, but really, his projects have influenced comedy in every format over the last decade. He’s had more than his hand in both versions of The OfficeExtrasLife’s Too ShortAn Idiot Abroad, and in my opinion, the critically underappreciated The Invention of Lying. Some of you out there may have seen the extremely British dramedy series Derek on Netflix, which showed Gervais stretching his acting chops into the Forrest Gump-ish, man-child arena and polarized its viewership.

When I read that Gervais was creating a Netflix original movie, I was pretty excited as a fan of his work. The cast was pretty impressive and the premise at least sounded like it could be funny. Ghost Town was alright, and as mentioned above, I thought The Invention of Lying was clever and had some moments that were funny as hell. Since Special Correspondents was produced strictly for Netflix, I knew that Gervais had free reign with the content, leaving him with some really great comedic opportunity. Sadly, the script and the rest of the film really missed that mark.

Let’s start with the cast. Gervais is of course, Ricky Gervais in the film. He has neuroses about everyday issues and is just funny enough to keep the film from drowning as the film’s co-star. Eric Bana coasts through the film, playing the poster-boy, lady-killer and is at times, unbearable. Scottish born Kelly MacDonald, who I know best as Carla Jean Moss in No Country For Old Men, is questionably in the film as Gervais and Bana’s American co-worker and it seems that this role could have gone to anyone that has less acting skill than Macdonald.

Vera Farmiga, though, steals the show from the rest of the cast as Gervais’ greedy wife. I can tell a good amount of the creation of the script was based around her character as she develops a scheme to get money from the everyday American based on a false kidnapping narrative. I think the devout Atheist Gervais was going for a bit of a metaphoric commentary here, as he is never shy on social media concerning American Christianity and its many faults. This was one of the only funny storylines in the film and receives depressingly too little screen time.

I can tell what Ricky Gervais was going for when he developed the idea for Special Correspondents. The two main characters of the film work for New York based news radio and come up with a scheme that will get them listeners. They make up a story about getting kidnapped in Ecuador, which clutches the attention and sympathies of the American public, but the story goes virtually nowhere. I can imagine that Gervais wanted to make the next Stripes or even Tropic Thunder, but instead, this movie is more like a bad Adam Sandler film.

This movie is saved (and I use that term very loosely) by Gervais’ ability to make a conversation uncomfortable. He is much better in Extras and The Office, but there’s just enough from him in Special Correspondents to make you chuckle. He plays off Bana’s mannequin-like character very well, and leaves plenty of opportunity for the rest of the cast to shine. Unfortunately, they just don’t. There is an underwhelming amount of Gervais’ usual cameos in his work, which surprised me since I can imagine Netflix gave him a relatively long leash.

To say Special Correspondents is disappointing is an understatement. There is a wealth of talent on hand and plenty of opportunity for creator Ricky Gervais to run wild. I really don’t know what happened, but this one seemed to be dead on arrival from the opening scene. Those that enjoy Gervais’ work as much as I do won’t find much here to enjoy. In fact, I think if you are one of those that enjoy his work, you will be even more disappointed than those less familiar with the man behind The Office.

Final Score: 1.5/4

_____________

Similar Films: Tropic Thunder, Ghost Town, Stripes

Advertisements

Crimson Peak

crimson

Crimson Peak (2015) – Horror | Drama

Directed by: Guillermo Del Toro

Starring: Mia Wasikowska and Tom Hiddleston

How I Watched: Amazon Instant Video

Best Line: “A house as old as this one becomes, in time, a living thing. It starts holding onto things. Keeping them alive when they shouldn’t be.”

Let me begin by warning you that this movie is not scary in the way that you’d expect an R-rated haunted house flick directed by Guillermo Del Toro to be. Crimson Peak is at times, uncomfortably frightening but it just manages to avoid terrifying you into oblivion. Its story instead grows increasingly insidious as it progresses and is almost surgical in its mental burrowing of the viewer. What it will not do however, is cripple you into fear like some scenes in The Conjuring or The ExorcistCrimson Peak is a classically well-told ghost story built upon the back of a Victorian era love affair.

Those of you that are now planning to avoid this one due to the words, “Victorian era love affair,” hey, I don’t blame you. From the trailers, I could tell that this one was possibly more Jane Eyre than Del Toro’s exceedingly brutal Pan’s Labyrinth or The Devil’s Backbone. When all is said and done though, trust me, it works. Fear not, thy testosterone. There’s enough tense moments in Crimson Peak to get at least a couple nods out of even the most jaded Horror film aficionado.

If you’re familiar with Del Toro’s track record, you know he’s made some pretty solid films. Including the two mentioned above, he’s credited with the insane Cronos, the Hellboy series and Pacific Rim. Sure, Mimic and Blade II weren’t exactly Citizen Kane, but c’mon. Everybody is allowed to slip up once in a while. While The Devil’s Backbone is his only other true ghost story, there were plenty of horrifying scenes in Pan’s Labyrinth, as well as movies he helped produce like The Orphanage and Mama, so I was not worried that he could handle the task of scaring us again.

For a little background on the film itself, the story features a young American writer that is swept off her feet by a mysterious entrepreneur that lives in a haunted British estate. For a bit, I felt the movie was going to be like 2012’s The Woman in Black. English accents swept over the lines and it started to seem as it was going to be a costume-themed period piece, until it really began to pick up once the story moved to this British estate. Those that have picked up on it might have already realized that the estate is called ‘Crimson Peak.’ I won’t tell you why but really, the more I think about it, the stranger this story gets.

The cast in Crimson Peak is pretty good, but it’s not exactly something to write home about. I was a bit disappointed that Del Toro didn’t manage to slip stalwart Ron Perlman anywhere in the movie, but hey, Doug Jones made it in so I guess I can forgive the man. Leads Wasikowska and Hiddleston do enough the keep the story going, but I really think this one belongs to Jessica Chastain. Del Toro is famous for his absolutely stone cold, evil villains and Chastain does not break this chain. It’s pretty refreshing to see her play a character that is not emotionally or morally confounded in a muddled thriller and she definitely steals the show from the rest of the cast.

As I mentioned above, this movie isn’t going to turn your blood cold. A few scenes will have you gripping the arms of the couch (if you’re in the right mood), but honestly, Crimson Peak is just more of a really cool movie. The cinematography is absolutely stunning and though I felt Guillermo was a bit liberal with some of the CGI effects, it was not enough to take away from the tale itself. Del Toro weaves his story intricately with those scares and avoids the easy jump-frights that a good number of recent horror films are guilty of. He instead takes the opportunity to build the terror like a layered cake, until those final few moments when he knows he has you roped in and invested in the storyline.

Final Score: 3.5/4

_____________

Similar Films: The Others, The Devil’s Backbone, The Shining

Cathy’s Take on ‘Stealing Harvard’

steal

Stealing Harvard (2002) – Crime Caper | Comical

Directed by: Bruce McCulloch

Starring: Jason Lee and The Freddy Guy

How I Watched: Well, the first time was renting it on tape at the downtown Blockbuster but yesterday I watched it on Netflix and you can too so you should

It’s that time of the month again. Time to start binge watching all the great movies that will be leaving Netflix at the start of May. I always dislike this feeling, like seeing a friend die from some incurable disease while you are stuck at work cause you already used all your vacation days visiting a Thomas Kinkade museum (RIP Snaps) (Also highly recommended museum). So for this column, I decided to highlight one of my favorite films that will soon no longer be on Netflix.

The crime caper is as old as film itself, spanning from the Disney animated film, Robin Hood to Ocean’s 13. And all the crime capers seem to be the same; some guys want money and they want to steal that money from someone else. There is some killing and usually they get the money. Now, I have never had a lot of money, mainly because I got my paralegal degree from Roni Lynn Deutsch and it was later nullified as a scam, but I learned some good things in those courses and have yet to use them in the real world. But can you imagine me, Cathy, as a paralegal, rubbing elbows with lawyers and judges? Anyway, I have never even thought of stealing money from someone else. That’s their money. They worked hard from it. Stealing is wrong. But I still love crime capers, especially when they have a heart, and not a lot of violence.

Imagine a world where your niece was just accepted at a great university, say Harvard, and you don’t have the money to pay for it. Now stop imagining and just go watch Stealing Harvard, cause that’s what that movie is about! Stealing Harvard is a film that is leaving Netflix in May and is my selection this week. It stars Jason Lee, who you may remember from the Alvin Chipmunks movies and being the brother of Jennifer Jason Lee. Also it has the Freddy guy from Freddy Got Fingered, a film I watched with my nephew, Nathan, over a weekend when his mother was getting divorced from his dad. So, they play two friends who are trying to come up with ways to get money. In order to pay for the niece’s college education, Jason Lee and his friend, must resort to thievery and heists. They aren’t gangsters or ruffians. Just a couple regular guys like you’d find any Friday night at Applebees, so they are pretty ill-equipped for the hijinks that ensue.

Stealing Harvard is a fun family romp with a lot of laugh out loud moments that will catch you off-guard, so be careful when drinking a Sprite or other beverage. Often times, the relationship between the two friends has too much chemistry and you really feel like the cast had a lot of fun on the set when the cameras weren’t rolling (If anyone knows of a gag reel for this movie, please send it to me). The ending is really funny, in a raunchy way, but that’s comedy these days.

My one complaint is that the name Stealing Harvard makes me feel like they are actually “stealing a college,” which, to be honest, attracted me to the film. How can two guys with water pistols steal the best and brightest minds in this nation? That is still a film I’d love to see. I guess, a better title might have been Stealing to Fund a Harvard Education or Stealing so My Niece Can Go to Harvard, but everyone wants a quick and witty title for their movies, so those may not work. Any suggestions for better titles, please comment.

For this film, I give it 10/10 mortarboard hats, cause congratulations for getting into Harvard, Jason Lee’s niece. Definitely check it out.

Cathy Gives It: 10/10 Mortarboard Hats

_____________

Similar Films: Alvin Chipmunks, Robin Hood, Non-Violent Heist/Crime Capers

Prisoners

prisoners-film

Prisoners (2013) – Thriller | Drama

Directed by: Denis Villenueve

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman

How I Watched: DVD

Best Line: “They didn’t cry until I left them.”

I don’t know what it is, but Jake Gyllenhaal does a wonderful job slipping himself into fantastically creepy films. From Donnie Darko, to Nightcrawler, to Villenueve’s own Enemy, he always seems to be somewhere on the bill in these type of films. Now, if you saw Enemy, you might be expecting Prisoners to be REALLY weird. It’s not, but it’s got enough of that Lynchian, otherwordly line-walking to make you want to turn on the lights.

Prisoners is not a feel good movie. I will tell you that now. It’s dark as hell, mostly brown and grey throughout and the characters are permanently scared and/or yelling the whole movie. But holy shit, is it vicious. From the onset, Hugh Jackman quietly utters the lord’s prayer as a deer takes its last breaths and it does not let up from there. Every scene seems to be bathed in a perpetual dusk that the entire cast seems trapped in. It’s a very claustrophobic film that is precise in its efforts of making you feel like shit. I can really see a lot of people not being able to handle some scenes in this one.

If you watch the trailer for Prisoners, you can tell what this story is about, so no worries about this spoiler. Two families lose their daughters in the middle of the day and Gyllenhaal investigates their disappearance. Hugh Jackman is Hugh Jackman in this one, and you get about what you expect from an ‘unsettled Jackman’ performance. However, Gyllenhaal and Paul Dano are magnificent and really carry the film. Dano does his best “creepy guy in a van” at the beginning, but as time passes, he becomes so much more than that. His soft-spoken demeanor is terribly discomforting beneath those wire glasses that are so typical in child-kidnapping films.

Gyllenhaal, though is really the barometer of the film’s emotion. From the beginning, the viewer is challenged to make a choice between Jackman’s outbursts as a frantic father and the situation that Dano finds himself in after the girls disappear. Gyllenhaal is always there, dividing the two parties, testing your limits as a viewer. It’s not a simple choice to make and the movie does everything in its power to throw your emotions into a blender.

The rest of the cast is just kind of there, though. This is perhaps the film’s greatest flaw. Both Jackman’s wife (played by Maria Bello) and the other mother in the film (Viola Davis) are understandably grieving the whole film, but that’s really all they do. Terrence Howard attempts to show emotion, but it’s not very convincing. Melissa Leo is pretty good as Dano’s aunt, but again, Dano and Gyllenhaal really steal this one away from everyone else.

At times, Prisoners really rides the line of the supernatural. Not ghosts and witches, but more like the end of the first season of True Detective; that awful feeling that I know you got when the detectives entered Carcosa in the finale is present in a few scenes in this film. It does not really stick to that, but still, Villenueve definitely has some skill in discomfort.

I feel bad about this, but I did not see Villenueve’s 2015 Sicario. Trust me, I really want to, I just have not gotten around to it yet. Seeing that he is taking the helm for Blade Runner 2 (due out 2017) makes me really excited, though. Enemy was an awfully creepy little story full of doppelgangers and Kafka-esque suggestions that will fit into the Blade Runner universe perfectly.

While I definitely would not suggest Prisoners if the kiddies are around or you had a rough day at the office, it’s perfect for those nights where you want to watch a scary movie that’s not that kind of scary movie. The performances from Gyllenhaal and Dano are excellent and while the story was a few hairs away from being epic, it’s a moral brain-twister that will have you talking when the credits roll.

Final Score: 3.5/4

_____________

Similar Films: Mystic River, The Lovely Bones, Zodiac

 

A Recap of Thrones: S6, E1: The Red Woman

got

A Recap of Thrones: Season Six, Episode One: The Red Woman

By Holly Hill (@hollishillis)

A strong beginning to what is sure to be a spectacular season. Two meaningful deaths, two pairs of boobs (sort of), and two people redeemed.

Let’s start east of Westeros, in Essos.

Dany is stuck with an entire horde of Dothraki on a long walk through what we can only presume is the Dothraki Sea (called so because of the tall grass that ripples in the wind). Of course being white and blonde, the men doubt she can speak their language. The men walking by her suggest sexual things in Dothraki, and when Dany is finally introduced to the Kahl she impresses him with all that Dorthraki she has up her sleeve with a look of, ‘Yeah I heard you asking if the carpets match the drapes.’ Dany plays her cards too early, admitting that she is the widow of a Kahl as well as, you know, queen of everything ever. It seems that she will get special treatment and a ride back to Mereen for a moment, but come on, these are the same people that poured liquid gold on her brother’s head, and made her eat the heart of a stallion like it was a giant gummy bear. They will be sending her to the holy temple where all widowed Khalessi live out their days. Yawn. Can we fast forward through this storyline?

Jorah and ‘that guy Dany is sleeping with’ find the ring she dropped when the Dothraki circled her at the end of season five. Not much happens here except ‘that guy Dany is sleeping with’ brags to Jorah about how he is totally getting some, and Jorah watches his grayscale progress and his venture into the friend zone.

Tyrion and Vary’s walk around Mereen without guards, which seemed a little hard to believe considering the state of Mereen last we saw it. Looks like the Lord of Light cult has found its way into Mereen as the two walk in on a prayer session. The last thing we need is another Red Woman predicting the wrong future. The best humor of course is in this scene, and the quote of the episode goes to Vary’s who says that Tyrion ‘walks like a rich person’, which now is impossible to ignore. Their bit ends with the harbor of Mereen on fire, with no great explanation as to how or why that has happened. Looks like no one important is leaving Essos this season. At least the writers are letting us know early on. Prepare to zone out on Essos as we get even more disappointed in Bravvos.

We start to get a sad glimpse into what Arya’s storyline will look like this season. I have a feeling we will be waiting a long time for something interesting to happen. Looks like she’s going to spend the entire season blind, and getting beaten. I’m sure by the end of the season we will have an expert assassin who is ready to go out into the world and get some revenge, but until that happens I think we are in for a boring streak.

Back to the action in Westeros. Trystane and his father are our first ‘main character’ deaths this season. Unfortunately it looks like we haven’t seen the last of the worst character development ever, and we will be stuck with more sand snake scenes. They kill Trystane, and then kill his father in a mutiny that didn’t make a whole lot of sense. The entirety of what makes the Dorne storyline good in the books is being thrown out the window with poor acting and character development. Looks like the moronic sand snakes will be trying to lead Dorne into battle with the Lannisters.

No sign of Tommen this episode, so it’s safe to assume he is probably off in a courtyard somewhere being the worst ruler ever and playing with Ser Pounce. We do get to hear that he ‘misses’ Margaery, as the High Sparrow let’s her know, while reminding her she better get her shit together and confess. Loras isn’t seen, but Margaery asks after his well being which we are told is ‘fine’. I will predict now that the Lannisters will want to go to war, but the Tyrells won’t help out until Margaery and Loras are free. Cersei might have to let this revenge on the young queen slide to get what she really wants (which is everyone in Dorne dead).

Speaking of Cersei, she continues to be one of the best characters on the show. We hate her, we love her, we feel for her, we laugh at her alcoholism, and her witty comments. It’s quite heartbreaking to see her reaction when she gets excited about seeing Myrcella, only to be greeted with her coffin. After all she’s been through she thought she might have something good left. Jamie and her embrace and speak of a new house motto called “Lannisters: Fuck Everyone Who Isn’t Us”. Jaime says they are the only people who matter (Tommen who?), and they will work together to destroy all their enemies.

Up in the north we get a sweet moment with Ramsey where he reminisces over the dead body of his psychotic girlfriend. He talks about how they met, how she was fearless, and watch as he requests that since she is good meat she gets fed to the dogs. This ‘almost, kind of moment of humanity’ has been brought to you by Ramsey Bolton: Unredeemable in all of our eyes, yet still making us laugh. What a guy.

No word on Stannis, but I think we can assume that ship has sailed, and that daughter burning psycho is dead by the large, but capable hands of Brienne. Shame we didn’t get to see it.

Moving on to our best character of the week announcement: Brienne of Tarth! After an entire season of having no one to pledge her sword to, stupid Sansa Stark has finally accepted it. Just as it seems she will be dragged back to Ramsey, and Theon will be dead, Pod and BADASS FEARLESS LOYAL WARRIOR, BRIENNE OF TARTH come out of nowhere and slay the Bolton men. The most satisfying scene we’ve had in a LONG time. Finally some good news. Looks like Theon, Brienne, Pod, and Sansa are the new fantastic four. Can’t wait to see how this storyline progresses. It’s safe to say that all the help Sansa asked for from Reek has been redeemed in Theon becoming himself again. And Brienne once again is redeemed in finally getting to pledge herself to Sansa Stark . Easily the best moment of the episode.

Boob alert! First of the season, and it’s a two for one deal. It seems that The Red Woman has been keeping beautiful all these years through her faith. She seems to have given up completely in her quest to see Azor Ahai reborn. Having figured out she sucks ass at predicting the future, Melisandre takes off her clothes (boobs #1), and stone necklace and we see her true form (boobs #2). Unfortunately it is that of a very old woman. It seems that without the faith, she is nothing more than an old shell of herself. She goes to lay down without the stone or her faith, presumably hoping to die. WILL SOMEONE GO REVIVE HER? SHE NEEDS TO SAVE JON SNOW.

Jon Snow is dead. For now. His remaining loyal Nights Watch bring him to Davos’ room who is pretty shocked as to what has gone down. We all felt the feels when Ghost was howling into the dawn at Jon being dead. Davos gets himself and five others to hole up with Jon’s body and Ghost, to come up with a plan. It looks like they might be enlisting the help of the Wildlings to take over Castle Black and kill the traitors. With that smug look on stupid Olly’s face this episode, we can only hope that Ghost ends up eating his face off. Slowly.

Fingers crossed for some Bran Stark action next episode. I have a feeling this is where the flashback to Ned Stark’s younger days will take place, through the weirwood visions.

Overall it was a great kick off to what sure is to be a great season, but still a bit of a disappointment for the great characters stuck in Essos.

A Recap of Thrones: Season Five Recap

jonsnow_9possdw

A Recap of Thrones: Recapping Season Five

by Holly Hill (@HollisHillis)

It’s that time again. The birds are chirping in the mornings, the days are starting to get longer, and HBO starts to release ten episodes of Game of Thrones for our viewing pleasure. Every year we blink, the season ends, and we are left wondering, “WHY DID THAT CHARACTER I LOVE HAVE TO DIE?” and “WHY DO I WATCH THIS SHOW?” So what better way to make the Game of Thrones season last a bit longer, than to relive the episodes the day after they air?

Check back in the next few days for the first recap of season six, episode one, but first let’s start with a quick recap of season five. It will be a good reminder of where all of our favorite and least favorite characters have ended up.

Let’s recap:

Danny rode away from a 1990’s Compton-like Mereen on her fiercest dragon, Drogon. Drogon dropped her off in the middle of nowhere, just like that kid did with Air Bud, and she was then picked up by a herd of Dothrakis.

Jorah, and ‘that guy Danny is sleeping with’ went off to try and find her, but Jorah has Grayscale which ensures that he isn’t going to make it very far this season.

Knowing that Tyrion can’t really join in on the fight, he was left behind with Grey Worm and Missandei which was about to guarantee an incredibly boring sixth season for him, except then Vary’s showed up at the last minute (whew, that was close). The two most well read and clever minds of the generation will be ruling Mereen together, which should make for an interesting plot line.

Over in Braavos, Arya’s story line is CRAWLING along at a snail’s pace, while she is trained as an assassin for the many faced God. Last we saw, she broke the rules and took some awesome personal revenge, but got punished with blindness for misbehavin’. Let’s hope she actually gets to do something interesting this season.

Meanwhile back in Westeros, Dorne was hosting Cersei and Jamie’s daughter Myrcella who was betrothed to Doran Martel’s son Trystane. Jaime and Bronn were on their way to take the two love birds back to Westeros for a visit , but before the boat left the harbor, Jaime watches his daughter die of poison by that really annoying group of ‘sand snake’ women. Will they turn back and get revenge? Or sail on to Westeros with Trystane as prisoner?

Over at the Red Keep, Tommen plays with Ser Pounce and attempts to sort of kind of not really rule, while Cersei walks naked through the streets because of the High Sparrow/The Faith to atone for her sins. She is picked up at the end by The Mountain Zombie.

Badass vixen, Margaery Tyrell and her brother Loras are locked up by the Sparrow, which probably won’t end well now that Cerci is on the path of revenge.

Up in the north, Stannis burned his daughter alive, and his wife hung herself. He goes to fight Ramsay at Winterfell anyway, and unsurprisingly loses spectacularly.

Brienne has abandoned Sansa (remember she missed her candle in the window by like .2 seconds…SO ANNOYING) and finds Stannis. Last we see, she swings a sword down on him, but we don’t see if it strikes him. He MIGHT still be alive.

Sansa meanwhile, was abandoned at Winterfell to marry/get assaulted by Ramsay all season. Last we saw she jumped off the outer wall of Winterfell with Theon, and the two are presumably on the run to some sort of safety.

The Red Woman aka Melisandre abandoned Stannis after realizing she burned a child alive for no reason, and we HOPE she took off for the wall because the TRUE lord of light (Jon Snow who CANNOT BE DEAD, PLEASE JEEEBUSS) is there. She may need to do some reviving.

Davvos also is at the wall and will be extremely pissed off when he finds out Melisandre ordered the burning of his favorite Shireen.

Up at The Wall, Jon sent Sam and Gilly to Old Town so Sam could train as a Maester. Let’s all hope we don’t have to follow that storyline this season. The reanimated white walkers are headed down to fight the living, and Jon was stabbed 20 times “for the watch”. Where was his direwolf Ghost when all this happened? No one knows. Maybe Jon warged into him? Maybe the Red Lady will save Jon’s life somehow?

All we know/hope is that Jon cannot possibly be dead.

And lastly we will be picking up on Bran Stark’s storyline again this year. We last saw him in a cave with a weirwood tree, seeing the future/past/present or something weird like that. No word on what Rickon Stark is up to (who?), but we can all be assured that Hodor will continue Hodoring.

Things to remember:

  • Theon has a sister, Yara, and there’s an entire section of Westeros that the Greyjoy’s are trying to rule still
  • The White Walkers/Zombies/Dead guys are COMING. The real question to ask is why. What are they fleeing? What are they hoping to accomplish?
  • Petyr Baelish is off doing something sneaky
  • The Boltons are gaining power
  • Two other dragons are in captivity (Tyrion stepping in for Quentyn Martell’s storyline book readers?)
  • FLASHBACKS are also rumored to be happening this season, from back in Ned Stark days, so keep that in mind too

Now we are all caught up. For the first time, book fans are just as much in the dark as show watchers. Stay tuned for the first recap of season six, episode one. It should be an excellent season.

Black Mass

blackmass

Black Mass (2015) – Gangster | Drama

Directed by: Scott Cooper

Starring: Johnny Depp and Joel Edgerton

How I Watched: Amazon Instant Video

Best Line: “The last thing I would do if I was planning to harm you is to warn you in advance, you dumb fuck.”

One of the most polarizing genres of film is the gangster movie. Loyalists often argue the merits behind the Godfather films and compare those with the absolute perfection of GoodFellas. Personally, I love the first two of the Godfather trilogy and GoodFellas about just as much as the other (admit it, you watch GoodFellas every time you happen upon it clicking through channels). A good gangster flick is just perfect sometimes. While Black Mass can’t really be placed in this higher echelon, it is still a damn good time and may even take its own place as time goes on.

Scott Cooper has only directed two movies previous to Black Mass. Those that saw Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart (for which he won an Oscar) know a bit of what to expect out of a Cooper film; it’s going to be dark, dirty, a bit depressing and there’s going to be some pretty cool music. 2013’s critically under-appreciated (in my opinion) Out of the Furnace continued this trend, but turned those elements up to the max. Woody Harrelson is especially disgusting and I felt like there was definitely a lot more that we were going to get out of Cooper.

Then the trailer for Black Mass hit. Cooper traded the country music and Appalachian meth dealers in for 1970’s Boston gangsterland. Johnny Depp looked like he fell out of a Tim Burton nightmare and I honestly thought it looked too much like The Departed. The more I watched it though, the more I was intrigued. When I learned more about the supporting cast (including Benedict Cumberbatch, Joel Edgerton, Peter Sarsgaard, etc.), I knew I had to check this one out.

Let’s start with what is great about this movie. I love The Departed. The accents, the cast, the crazy ending; all are great about that film. One thing I’ve noticed as time goes on though, is that it feels too chaotic, almost disjointed in its storytelling. Scorcese does some frantic cuts and at times, it’s difficult to keep up, but I think that’s also what makes his movies as exciting as they are. Black Mass, like The Departed is based in Boston, but it spans over a few decades. It does not take the same approach and really paces itself in its build-up of Johnny Depp’s character, Whitey Bulger.

This is important, because I really believe this character is one of the chameleon-esque Depp’s best. From the moment his face appears, it’s clear that this is not going to be the kooky Depp we so often get. This is a character that can stand on its own in the gangster canon, including the Vic Vega’s, the Tommy DeVito’s, the Michael Corleone’s. Depp’s Bulger is downright frightening, and his presence steals every scene in this film.

Something that I felt the movie was missing though, was just a little bit more to the story to make it more exciting. I don’t want to say it lags in the middle, but there was a definite change of tone from where the film started. If you can handle changes like this in movies, you’ll be just fine and appreciate Cooper trying to tell a story, but I could see how some would check out at this point.

There are a lot of moments in Black Mass where I felt like I did watching Out of the Furnace: Cooper is trying some really cool things. There are some awesome zoom shots in Black Mass that I wasn’t expecting and he even seems to be experimenting with some Nicolas Winding Refn-ish, neon-infused backdrops that really breathe some life into the gritty browns I’ve come to expect from Cooper’s films.

If you like gangster movies, you’re probably going to like this one. There’s great one-liners, it’s bloody as hell at times, and it’s got some great characters. It may not stand up as one of the best in the genre, but god damn, it’s worth the ticket alone for Johnny’s Depp’s Bulger.

Final Score: 3/4

_____________

Similar Films: Killing Them Softly, Out of the Furnace, The Departed