Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Black Mass

   Based on the true story of Boston criminal, James "Whitey" Bulger, this new drama aspires to be in the same league as "Goodfellas" but lacks the energy that director Martin Scorsese infused into that classic. It does, however, star Johnny Depp transformed to look like Bolger but actually looking more like Ray Liotta channeling James Bulger.

      Makeup aside, Mr. Depp does disappear into the role and it's one of the best things he's done in years. Unfortunately his co-star Joel Edgerton steals the movie right out from him as Bulger's childhood friend, John Connolly, now a rising star in the FBI. If we are to believe the script as factual, Connolly managed to make Bulger an FBI informant thereby keeping him safe from prosecution, even while he ran a criminal empire out of South Boston. Connelly uses Bulger for his own ambition but convinces himself it's a just and legitimate cause.

       Benedict Cumberbatch also co-stars  as Billy Bulger, Jimmy's  brother, a politician who became a Massachusetts senator. Mr. Cumberbatch, while a wonderful actor, seems out of place in the role. Other familiar faces in the film are Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Corey Stoll, Dakota Johnson (who disappears halfway through the film), Julianne Nicholson, Adam Scott and Rory Cockrane. Aside from Mr. Cumberbatch, the rest of the cast does an admirable job as the friends and enemies of Mr. Bulger.

          The story is compelling and even though there are many violent scenes, Mr. Depp is magnetic to watch. Director Scott Cooper keeps things moving in a slow and deliberate pace creating a constant state of dread and paranoia. It's a true American crime story of greed and corruption where everyone gets what they deserve.

Sunday, September 27, 2015


    Based on the true story of an ill fated expedition to Mount Everest in 1996, this new film is best seen in IMAX 3D to be appreciated. The screen play is based on the Book "Left For Dead" by Beck Weathers but the story has been told before in the book  and the film "Into Thin Air" by Jon Krakauer. 

     Mr. Krakauer's first hand account of the tragedy that left nine people dead was an absorbing read that gave the reader insight into many of the real life people on the mountain. This new film is focused more on a few characters in the drama, primarily Rob Hall, played by Jason Clarke, Doug Hansen, played by John Hawkes, and Beck Weathers, played by Josh Brolin. There are many other recognizable stars in the film including Jake Gyllenhaal, Sam Worthington, Michael Kelly (as Jon Krakauer), Keira Knightley, Emily Watson, and Robin Wright. 

     Most of the actors are just fodder for the mountain or the women left behind to anguish over their men.  The real star of this film is the cinematography and special effects that literally immerse the viewer into the film, especially in IMAX 3-D.  You literally feel like you are on the mountain with danger at every turn.
     There is not much thought given to character development and with the exception I made earlier, we don't know much about these people or what drives them. The story itself is simplistic.  People climb up to reach the summit and then climb down. What happens along the way makes for an harrowing adventure but an unfortunately tragic story as well.

Sunday, September 20, 2015


      Summer is over and the serious fall films are starting to emerge. This new crime thriller from director,  Denis Villeneuve, will satisfy fans of "Traffic" and the TV show, "The Bridge". The story centers on our government's involvement with the Mexican drug cartel.

      The film stars Emily Blunt as Kate, an idealistic FBI agent who is recruited into a mysterious unit led by Matt, played by Josh Brolin, working off the grid to find a Mexican crime boss. It's a bit confusing at first, especially when Alejandro, played by Benicio Del Toro makes his appearance. The confusion, however, is clearly deliberate as we see the story unfold through Kate's eyes and it's easy to understand how the lines blur and everything is not as it seems. Ms. Blunt is excellent but her character is underdeveloped, acting more as our window into this violent world, more than anything else. Far more interesting characters are Matt and Alejandro, especially as motives become clearer.

       There are some riveting sequences as well as quiet moments but the film propels itself towards a climax we don't expect, yet fully understand as the credits role. There are many violent scenes and yet, Mr. Villeneuve shakes us with violence that takes place off screen as well. The cinematography is by Roger Deakins, and he makes great use of the desert scenery and a particularly tense sequence shot through the lens of night goggles. The musical score is haunting and serves to keep the audience unnerved throughout the film.

        It lacks the scope of "Traffic" but it's an authentic and suspenseful drama that exposes the ambiguity and grey lines that sometimes have to be crossed for the greater good. There are no easy answers when the wolves at the door end up everywhere.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Irrational Man

      Woody Allen's latest ruminates on questions and ideas he has expressed far better in films like "Love & Death" and "Crimes & Misdemeanors".  His themes are the same old questions of meaning of life and what motivates us to action. His voice this time is  represented by Joaquin Phoenix  and Emma Stone.

      Mr. Phoenix plays an philosophy professor at a small college in Newport Rhode Island. Ms. Stone is one of his students who falls for him, even though he is an alcoholic, overweight and depressed. Parker Posey plays another professor, married but lonely who also becomes involved with Mr. Phoenix. The cast work very well together and do a good job expressing Mr. Allen's ideas.

       The first half of the film is dialog heavy as Mr. Allen sets up the plot twist that turns the story. Newport is a lovely setting and the score, mostly Ramsey Lewis, is infectious. Things pick up rapidly in the second half and  play out to a logical and what some would think, a surprising conclusion. It's entertaining enough but Mr. Allen doesn't have anything new to say.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

No Escape

      Owen Wilson and Lake Bell star as a couple, along with their two young daughters, caught up in a coup in an unnamed Asian county. The film belongs to the genre "run for your life movies" as it's a variation on trying to survive in a very hostile environment. The problem here that there is no real justification for the trouble they are in and the film comes off racist and fairly ridiculous.

       The saving grace is that the film is pretty suspenseful with some truly intense moments as the family find themselves in danger just about right from the start.  As silly and irrational as it seems, you find yourself rooting for everyone to survive. The action sequences are pretty much non-stop with not much thought as to how or why. Ms. Bell and Mr. Wilson are credible as a scared mom and dad doing whatever it takes to protect their kids. Pierce Brosnan plays a mysterious figure in what amounts to a cameo, but he does get at least one big scene.

          The unnamed country is obviously Thailand and I suppose they were so upset at the end result they fought to have any reference removed. The trailer does a great job sucking you into the action but taken as a whole, if you must, wait for cable or Netflix to catch this one.