New Releases for the Week of November 9, 2018


THE GRINCH

(Universal/Illumination) Starring the voices of Benedict Cumberbatch, Rashida Jones, Angela Lansbury, Kenan Thompson, Pharrell Williams. Directed by Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier

Based on the beloved Christmas book by Dr. Seuss, a lonely and angry creature decides to spoil life for the Whos of Whoville by stealing Christmas, their most favorite time of the year.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, 4DX, DBOX, DBOX 3D, Dolby, IMAX, RPX, XD
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for brief rude humor)

The Girl in the Spider’s Web

(Columbia) Claire Foy, Sylvia Hoeks, Lakeith Stanfield, Stephan Merchant. Once again, computer hacker and iconoclast Lisbeth Salander finds herself caught in a deadly game of government corruption, cybercriminals and betrayal

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Mystery
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for violence, language and some sexual content/nudity)

The Last Suit

(Outsider/Strand) Miguel Angel Solá, Angela Molina, Martin Piroyanski, Natalia Verbeke. An aging Jewish tailor from Buenos Aires whose children want to put him in a nursing home decides to run away instead to Poland and find the man who saved his life from the Nazis. This is being screened as the closing film in the Central Florida Jewish Film Festival.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater (Monday only)

Rating: NR

Overlord

(Paramount) Jovan Adepo, Bokeem Woodbine, Iain De Caestecker, Wyatt Russell. A pair of American soldiers find themselves way behind enemy lines on D-Day and discover a terrifying Nazi secret.

See the trailer, interviews, video featurettes and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, IMAX
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, disturbing images, language, and brief sexual content)

Prospect

(Gunpowder and Sky) Sophie Thatcher, Pedro Pascal, Jay Duplass, Sheila Vand. In the future, a prospector and his young daughter discover a fortune in gems underneath the ground of a toxic forest. However, they aren’t the only ones interested in the find.

See the trailer and interviews here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for some violence/bloody images)

Thugs of Hindostan

(Yash Raj) Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan, Katrina Kaif, Fatima Sana Shaikh. The story of Ameer Ali, a thug whose gang caused the British Empire fits between 1790 and 1805.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Cinemark Universal Citywalk, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Faberge: A Life of Its Own
Here and Now
River Runs Red
Sarkar
To Love Some Buddy
Trew Calling
Welcome to Mercy
Wildlife

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

A Private War
The Breadwinner
Lez Bomb
Outlaw King
Sarkar
Wildlife

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

In a Relationship
River Runs Red

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Sarkar
Thunder Road

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

The Girl in the Spider’s Web
Overlord

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Central Florida Jewish Film Festival, Maitland/Orlando
Miami Shorts Film Festival, Miami
Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, Fort Lauderdale

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Avengers: Infinity War


The latest Avengers movie, starring…everyone. Heck, you’re probably in it too!

(2018) Superhero (Disney/Marvel) Robert Downey Jr., Chris Pratt, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Zoe Saldana, Chadwick Boseman, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Josh Brolin, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston, Tom Holland, Don Cheadle, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Idris Elba, Danai Gurira, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Peter Dinklage, Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff and a cast of thousands. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo

 

This is to date the biggest and most epic Marvel movie ever – until the next untitled Avengers movie, filmed concurrently with this one and scheduled for release in May 2019.

The mad Titan Thanos, seeing that the Universe is dreadfully out of balance, believes that he has a solution that will restore balance: to kill half of the entire population of the universe at random. There’s no practical way to do that so he has to do something that has never been done – he must retrieve all six of the Infinity Stones, gems created by the Big Bang and each with control of a different aspect of the universe – space, time, the mind, the soul, and so on.

Of course, the superheroes all oppose this plan and they come from all over – nearly every Marvel movie preceding this one is represented here from the spacefaring Guardians of the Galaxy to the high tech Black Panther and of course the various and sundry Avengers films. It’s a colossal undertaking and quite frankly I didn’t expect them to pull it off. There are an awful lot of characters here and a lot of them really don’t get much screen time.

Thanos (Brolin) gets a ton of screen time and it’s no joke the best portrayal of a comic book villain since Heath Ledger won an Oscar for playing one. Thanos is truly the Big Bad of the Marvel Universe and while the heroes valiantly take him on, things don’t look too good. It’s an epic tale that is taking two movies to tell.

The action is as you’d expect spectacular and the effects seamless. There are even some poignant moments, most of them occurring in the last twenty minutes of the film. Who knew that Marvel knows pathos? In any case, this is an emotional rollercoaster that every Marvel fan is going to be overjoyed to take – even the usually hard-to-impress fanboys have been singing the praises of this one.

Yes, I realize you’ve probably already seen it and if you haven’t you likely aren’t going to and frankly you’re probably not reading this review in that case. So you’ve seen it. Maybe you’ve already purchased a digital copy (the Blu-Ray and DVD editions were just released) and likely you’ll be getting one of those. This isn’t the best Marvel movie yet but it’s damn close.

REASONS TO GO: Brolin gives a game-changing performance as Thanos. The action is non-stop and without peer. There are some very poignant moments.
REASONS TO STAY: There are too many characters to keep track of.
FAMILY VALUES: There is nearly non-stop sci-fi/superhero action and violence, some crude references and some scenes with disturbing content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: At the beginning of the film, the distress call from the Asgardian ship is the voice of Kenneth Branagh, the director of the first Thor film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Movies Anywhere, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/15/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 83% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Captain America: Civil War
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Songwriter

Thor: Ragnarok


Chris Hemsworth and the Thor franchise turn to a not-so-serious sci-fi emphasis.

(2017) Superhero (Disney/Marvel) Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch, Taika Waititi (voice), Rachel House, Clancy Brown (voice), Tadanobu Asano, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Georgia Blizzard, Amali Goldon, Sam Neill, Luke Hemsworth, Ashley Ricardo. Directed by Taika Waititi

 

Of all the Marvel superhero franchises, in many ways the Thor franchise has been the most disappointing. While it has done very well at the box office, it hasn’t done billion dollar well like the Avengers, Iron Man and Captain America franchises all have. The first two Thor movies were slow and ponderous and overly-serious, never or rarely utilizing star Chris Hemsworth’s natural comedic talents. Thusly, the new Thor movie wasn’t as highly anticipated as much as it might have been.

Furthermore, the franchise was being entrusted to New Zealand director Taika Waititi who had never worked a big budget movie before and was known for comedies like What We Do in the Shadows and Florida Film Festival favorite Hunt for the Wilderpeople. With audiences demanding bigger and bolder superhero films, could Waititi deliver?

You bet he has. Thor: Ragnarok is the biggest box office success of the three Thor films and while it certainly is paving the way for Thor’s next appearance in The Avengers: Infinity War, it also stands alone as great entertainment. Taking his cues from James Gunn and ;John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China, Waititi has crafted a film that is light in tone, high energy in execution and thoroughly action-packed.

Asgard is being invaded by Hela (Blanchett), Thor’s big sister that he didn’t know he had. The Goddess of Death had ambitions for taking over Asgard and reigning death and chaos throughout the various dimensions from there but her father Odin (Hopkins) put a stop to it and imprisoned her. With Odin dying, Hela is able to make her escape and she resurrects the dead warriors of Asgard to fight the living warriors. During the ensuing battle, she destroys Thor’s mystical hammer Mjolnir and sends him to Sakaar, a garbage heap of a planet where he is captured and forced to fight in the Arena against a big green Hulk (Ruffalo) who was last seen piloting a jet at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron.

The planet is ruled by Jeff Goldblum…I mean, the Grandmaster who is essentially Jeff Goldblum playing Jeff Goldblum which is a wise and wonderful thing. Thor knows he must escape to rescue Asgard and in fact the entire universe from the ravages of Hela but in order to get out he must team up with Hulk and Valkyrie (Thompson) who has a connection to both Asgard and Hela herself. It won’t be easy and Thor, always the immature hot-head, will have to grow up along the way.

Waititi makes sure that the film doesn’t take itself too seriously, something that failed to occur in the first two Thor movies. The tone is lighthearted and funny throughout; there are plenty of jokes at the expense of superhero films in general and Thor in particular but the movie never devolves into parody and is respectful of the core audience rather than making fun of those who are comic book lovers. It’s a smart move and cements Waititi as a gifted and savvy director, paving the way for him to move out of the independent ranks and work on films of all sorts (with one of them reportedly being a sequel to What We Do in the Shadows), almost certainly including some high-profile studio films.

The movie finally utilizes Hemsworth’s charm more than any other Marvel movie has to date; this is the Chris Hemsworth we have seen glimpses of from time to time and always knew he could be. This is the muscular action star becoming a charismatic movie star before our very eyes. If nothing else, Thor: Ragnarok should serve as a means for Hemsworth to grow into the kinds of roles offered to guys like Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and Matt Damon in years past.

But despite the humor there is no skimping on the action with several major battle scenes, plenty of CGI and some good old-fashioned brawls. Several major characters in the Thor universe don’t survive to the end of the movie and we finally get to see Thor as the true heir to Odin. There is also plenty of Loki (Hiddleston) who in many ways has been the most interesting character to come out of the Thor movies as he allies himself with Thor to save Asgard, although the trickster does manage to set events in motion that directly lead into the coming conflict with Thanos, set for this May.

Some movies are roller coaster rides; Thor: Ragnarok is a whole effin’ theme park. It remains in some theaters (and if you haven’t seen it in one, by all means do so – this will play best on a big screen) but will shortly be available on home video. You can bet it will be joining the ranks of the Cinema365 home video library just as soon as it does.

REASONS TO GO: Hemsworth is at his most likable. The action sequences are downright spectacular. Goldblum plays Goldblum which is a high recommendation.
REASONS TO STAY: Fans of the traditional Marvel Thor may be put off by the lighthearted tone.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s a whole lot of violence and superhero action, as well as some brief sensual material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Led Zeppelin classic rock track “Immigrant Song” is featured in both the trailer and the film (perfectly). The British hard rock band is notoriously picky about who they license their music out to; in fact, this is the first feature film they’ve licensed one of their songs to that didn’t feature former journalist Cameron Crowe in some way.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/11/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 92% positive reviews. Metacritic: 74/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Guardians of the Galaxy
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
I, Tonya

New Releases for the Week of November 3, 2017


THOR: RAGNAROK

(Disney/Marvel) Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch. Directed by Taika Waititi

The God of Thunder finds himself without his mighty hammer and imprisoned on the other side of the Universe. Forced to fight former ally Hulk, he must figure out a way to survive and return to Asgard which has been taken over by Hela, the Goddess of Death who plans to wipe out the civilization of Asgard and install a new one that is centered on death and evil.

See the trailer, interviews, featurettes and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX, IMAX 3D, DBOX, Dolby Atmos
Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material)

A Bad Mom’s Christmas

(STX) Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Christine Baranski. Ah, Christmas! Memories of beautiful decorations, amazing light displays, scrumptious feasts and of course perfectly wrapped gifts. Who makes all that happen? Why, the moms of course! But some moms are rebelling against expectations as they realize that being a supermom isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. However, their plans to take things down a notch are suddenly in question when their own moms come to visit for the holidays.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for crude sexual content and language throughout, and some drug use)

LBJ

(Electric) Woody Harrelson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bill Pullman, C. Thomas Howell. Lyndon Johnson is most remembered for being the president who succeeded JFK after he was assassinated. However, the fiery Texan had a story of his own that is as larger than life as the man himself. Harrelson stars in the title role.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Cobb Plaza Cinema Café, Epic Theaters of Claremont, Regal Oviedo Mall, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs

Rating: R (for language)

Most Beautiful Island

(Goldwyn/Orion) Ana Asensio, Natasha Romanova, Nicholas Tucci, Larry Fessenden. An undocumented woman with a tortured past struggles to survive and find redemption while playing a dangerous game.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene
Next Nuvve

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI:

Blade of the Immortal
Fanny’s Journey
Human Flow
Jane
Wonderstruck

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA:

Angel
Human Flow
Ittefaq
Next Nuvve
PSV Garuda Vega 126.18M
Villain

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

BPM
PSV Garuda Vega 126.18M

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

A Bad Mom’s Christmas
Thor: Ragnarok
Wonderstruck

Doctor Strange


He's a magic man, he's got the magic hands.

He’s a magic man, he’s got the magic hands.

(2016) Superhero (Disney/Marvel) Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Scott Adkins, Zara Phythian, Alaa Safi, Katrina Durden, Topo Wresniwiro, Umit Ulgen, Linda Louise Duan, Mark Anthony Brighton, Meera Syal, Amy Landecker. Directed by Scott Derrickson

 

It was Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey who once said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Of course, that’s assuming that there is no magic but then again if there was such a thing it would likely end up being explainable by scientific theory once we understood it. Then again, there’s always the possibility that magic is real.

Dr. Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is one of the top neurosurgeons in the world. He has saved literally thousands of lives and lives in a Greenwich Village apartment that is more palace than apartment although it is somewhat sterile in many ways. Dr. Strange is a bit of an egotist, something that has made his relationship with Dr. Christine Palmer (McAdams) fall apart, although they are still fond of each other – it’s just that Strange is just a little bit fonder of himself.

A terrible car accident puts paid to all of that however. His hands – those marvelous, life-giving hands – hae been badly injured. He can barely hold a scalpel anymore and has zero control over his nerves. His hands shake like an epileptic at a disco revival. He has tried every surgical option and drug known to man but nevertheless his situation remains unchanged.

Desperate, he discovers the case of a man named Jonathan Pangborn (Bratt) who was told he’d never walk again by plenty of doctors, including Strange himself. Amazingly he was not only walking but playing basketball. When asked what his secret was, Pangborn sends Strange to Kathmandu to find a particular order of monks. While searching the streets of Kathmandu for it, he runs into Mordo (Ejiofor), a disciple of the person Strange is looking for. Mordo takes Strange to The Ancient One (Swinton), an ancient Celt who reigns as Sorcerer Supreme, a title of respect and the latest addition to the McDonald’s Value Meal menu.

Despite being unable to accept on faith the powers of the Ancient One being a man of science, Strange nevertheless manages to convince her to train him in the mystical arts, although she’s reluctant at first. She thinks he’s an arrogant close-minded twit and she’s essentially right but arrogant close-minded twits are people too, no?

And she’s in need of all the help she can get. One of her former disciples, Kaecilius (Mikkelsen), has essentially gone mad. He wants to create a world without death and in order to do that, he has to summon Dormammu – an ancient creature from another dimension that predates the Gods and who wants to wipe out all life in our universe. So a world without death is a world without life, right? Those tricky old god bastards!

Kaecilius is a powerful sorcerer and Strange is just learning his way around. As Kaecilius races to destroy all the wards that protect our dimension from beings like Dormammu, Strange discovers that he has been chosen by a pair of powerful artifacts – and that the way to beat a god is to think like one.

After a couple of subpar Marvel offerings, it’s nice to see that they’re back on track with a movie that sums up everything right about the Marvel films. Firstly, this is a movie about characters and not superpowers. Steven Strange is an interesting human being full of human frailty despite having the power to warp reality itself. Cumberbatch does a marvelous job of capturing the good doctor that I remember from the comic books, although I have to admit that he sounds a little bit strange with an American accent. Ouch.

The special effects here are pretty impressive, although they do borrow heavily from other sources. Certainly the reality warping takes a page right out of Christopher Nolan’s Inception and some may find that to be a bit of a cop-out, but at least it’s utilized in a more physical way than Nolan did. The spells look almost scientific in nature just as you’d expect a man of science to relate to casting magic spells. All in all, some of the best effects we’ve seen yet in a Marvel film and that’s saying something.

The relationship between Strange and Palmer doesn’t generate a lot of heat; there’s more of a bromance between Mordo and Strange. Ejiofor is a reliable performer who always seems to get the most out of every role he tackles. Swinton is simply put one of the strongest actresses working today; the role of the Ancient One, who in the comics was an elderly Asian gentleman, was rewritten extensively to suit Swinton who is none of those things (elderly, Asian or a gentleman).

The action is pretty much non-stop once it gets going, although it takes a little while to. In essence, once again Marvel has done it – created an entirely different superhero movie that retains the feel of the comic book, the consistency of a shared cinematic universe but able to retain individual identities for each film. Any franchise filmmaker will tell you how extraordinarily difficult that is. In any case, it’s a fitting lead off to the holiday blockbuster season. I can’t think of a single reason why anyone who likes entertaining movies shouldn’t see it.

REASONS TO GO: The special effects are mind-blowing. The story and characters are as good as any in any Marvel movie. One of the best supporting casts of any Marvel movie.
REASONS TO STAY: The film seems to exist on its own plane outside the rest of the Marvel movies.
FAMILY VALUES:  You’ll find plenty of violence and carnage, some mind-bending changes of perspective and a car crash sequence that’s rather intense.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  The appearance of the comic book character was based on actor Vincent Price and even had the middle name of “Vincent.” In recent years the character’s look has been modernized, with a goatee replacing the pencil mustache he’d had since his inception.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/21/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 72/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Shadow
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: Amanda Knox

New Releases for the Week of November 4, 2016


Doctor StrangeDOCTOR STRANGE

(Disney/Marvel) Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg. Directed by Scott Derrickson

Renowned neurosurgeon Stephen Strange has everything going for him; a thriving practice in Manhattan, a beautiful girlfriend, wealth and privilege. All of that vanishes in an instant when a tragic car accident severely injures his hands and ends his career as a surgeon. Bitter and directionless, he discovers a larger world, one of mystic powers and strange artifacts. That world is under siege by a remorseless villain; Strange, a novice at the mystic arts, must put aside his ego and take up the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme if he is to save the world.

See the trailer, interviews, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi violence and action throughout, and an intense crash sequence)

Hacksaw Ridge

(Summit) Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving. This is the incredible but true story of Private Desmond Doss, an army medic during World War II who believed that while the war was a just one, killing was nonetheless wrong. He refused to abandon his principles and while he enlisted to do his bit while his beliefs got him labeled a coward by his fellow soldiers. Nonetheless he went into battle without a weapon and pulled the wounded from behind enemy lines despite extreme danger to himself. He remains the only conscientious objector to win the Congressional Medal of Honor.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical War Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence including grisly bloody images)

The Handmaiden

(Magnolia/Amazon) Min-hee Kim, Tae-ri Kim, Jung-woo Ha, Jin-woong Jo. This twisted romance from acclaimed South Korean director Chan-wook Park is set in the 1930s and is about a handmaiden who is employed by a beautiful Japanese lady. What the lady doesn’t know is that her handmaiden is secretly involved in a plot to defraud her.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: NR

Stagecoach: The Texas Jack Story

(Cinedigm) Trace Adkins, Michelle Harrison, Kim Coates, Judd Nelson. A former stagecoach robber, reformed and trying to live a quiet, peaceful life, is pursued by a vengeful U.S. Marshall who was maimed during a gunfight with the ex-criminal.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Western
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex

Rating: NR

Trolls

(DreamWorks Animation) Starring the voices of Justin Timberlake, Anna Kendrick, Zooey Deschanel, Russell Brand. In the colorful world of trolls, happiness and optimism reign until the troll village is invaded by hungry Bergens who carry off all the villagers save two – Poppy and Branch, the former the most upbeat troll who ever lived, the latter a curmudgeon who prefers to be left alone. The two mismatched trolls must learn to work together in order to save Poppy’s friends.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a music video and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for some mild rude humor)

 

Black Mass


You don't want to get on Jimmy Bulger's bad side.

You don’t want to get on Jimmy Bulger’s bad side.

(2015) Biographical Drama (Warner Brothers) Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, David Harbour, Adam Scott, Corey Stoll, Julianne Nicholson, W. Earl Brown, Bill Camp, Juno Temple, Mark Mahoney, Brad Carter, Scott Anderson, Lonnie Farmer, Mary Klug, Bill Haims, Erica McDermott. Directed by Scott Cooper

There are certain people that you meet who are corruptors. Any contact with them sends you spiraling down a rabbit hole of bad choices which once taken build upon each other until you are hopelessly lost in it. One day you wake up and realize that you are as corrupt as that which you associated with, without meaning to be.

In the 70s and 80s, James “Whitey” Bulger (Depp) – who incidentally hated that nickname and saying it to his face was a good way to get on his bad side, a place you surely didn’t want to be – was the kingpin of crime in Boston. Something of a folk hero in South Boston where he grew up and where most of the Winter Hill Gang, the crew which he ran, were from, he was known to be less flashy than other criminal bosses but no less vicious, although he could be kind and supportive to those in his neighborhood that he felt merited it, as well as faultlessly loyal to family and friends.

One of those friends was John Connolly (Edgerton) who went into the other side of the law as an FBI agent. A rising star in the Bureau, he was brought to Boston to take down Jerry Angiulo (Haims) and his organization which at the time was the undisputed criminal leaders of North Boston and who were making inroads into Southie which was Bulger territory. The two would form an alliance that in exchange for information about the Angiulo family, Connolly would essentially protect his childhood friend and allow him free reign in Boston, which would come back to haunt him.

In addition, Jimmy’s brother Billy (Cumberbatch) was a state senator and the most powerful politician in Boston at the time. While Jimmy took great care not to involve Billy in his affairs, Billy would later suffer by association to his notorious brother and be forced out of politics.

Jimmy would run roughshod over Boston for more than a decade until an incorruptible Federal Prosecutor, Jimmy’s own hubris and Connolly’s own lies and misinformation would lead to Jimmy going on the run for 16 years until he was eventually captured in 2011 (he has strongly denied that he was ever a government informant, incidentally).

Scott Cooper, most notable for his Oscar-winning film Crazy Heart, has elicited the most powerful performance Depp has given in years and one of his best ever. Barely recognizable in a protruding forehead prosthetic, receding white-blonde hairline and rotting teeth, Depp inhabits his role like it’s a comfortable apartment. Early in the film, he shows a compassionate Bulger – devoted son and father  and loyal friend – but as the film goes on, a vicious and paranoid streak begins to emerge as Bulger, prone to violence, begins to lose control. It’s a riveting performance, not unlike that of Al Pacino in the original Godfather although not quite to that level of accomplishment. Nonetheless, it’s wonderful to see an actor who has been on a bit of a cold streak of late return to form and deliver the kind of performance we know he’s capable of. Hopefully this will mean that Depp will have some really good roles in his near future.

The supporting cast is extremely accomplished. Best of the bunch is Edgerton who is blossoming into an extraordinary actor and building on his performance here and in The Gift is poised to ascend to Hollywood’s A-list. His John Connolly is a Southie street kid who has matured into a federal agent, but whose misguided loyalties and tragic misfire on crime fighting strategy brings the character to an inevitable fall. Cumberbatch, who has parlayed an ability to spot roles that grow his career into stardom, has little to do but when he gets the opportunity to shine makes the most of it. Plemons, Cochrane and Brown as Bulger associates Kevin Weeks, Steve Flemmi and John Martorano respectively are also outstanding as are Kevin Bacon, Corey Stoll and David Harbour as lawmen Charles McGuire, Fred Wyshak and John Morris respectively.

While the movie mainly takes place in the late 70s and early to mid 80s, Cooper doesn’t club you over the head with the era recreation. There is a timeless feel to Southie and it is in many ways much the same now as it was then. Cooper wisely chooses not to mess with that by throwing tons of bell-bottoms, mutton chops and floofy hair. Sure, there are period automobiles and signage as well as home furnishings but it is all rather low-key. Boston itself is given a kind of wintry patina that makes you feel a little bit on the cold side throughout, even when some of the action takes place on beautiful spring and summer days.

While I don’t think this is quite as good as some of the gangster epics of Scorsese and Coppola, it nevertheless merits consideration as a memorable addition to the elite films of the genre, which I think it will be considered as when years go by. Depp will have a good deal of stiff competition this year but his performance here will have to merit at least some Best Actor consideration for next year’s Oscars. It may lack quality women’s roles and might feel a little bit on the long side, but it is the best crime drama you’ll see this year.

REASONS TO GO: Depp’s best performance in years. Likely to become an essential gangster movie in years to come.
REASONS TO STAY: Maybe a bit too long and a little too masculine.
FAMILY VALUES: A fair amount of bloody violence, quite a bit of profanity, some sexual references and some drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Many of the scenes depicting murders in the movie were filmed in the same locations where the actual murders took place.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/26/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 75% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: :Goodfellas
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Cold Nights, Hot Salsa