Black Mass Review: Weak Narrative Derails This Gangster Flick

Black Mass

Director: Scott Cooper

Staring: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard

Running Time: 2 hours 2 mins

Rating: 15

Release Date: 27th November 2015

Johnny Depp‘s fantastic career has seen him play an array of weird and wonderful characters, from swashbuckling heart-throb to a leather clad cry baby. This year, however, he’s swapped fantastic costume for facial prosthetic as he plays Boston super gangster James ‘Whitey’ Bulger in Scott Cooper‘s latest feature Black Mass.

The gangster biopic begins in 1975 and introduces us to South Boston’s most notorious and violent criminal, Jimmy Bulger, as the leader of the Irish-American Winter Hill Gang. When Jimmy’s power position in the South is threatened by rival North end gang the Angiulo Brothers, he becomes an unofficial FBI informant, working with childhood friend and current FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton).

With Connolly and Jimmy working together, both turning to Jimmy’s State Senator brother, Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch) for help, the mission to destroy the mafia goes ahead but soon the entire gang find themselves directly in the FBI’s firing line.

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Cooper takes a pretty traditional biopic route and, unfortunately, the safety doesn’t particularly work in his favor. While Jimmy is an interesting enough character, the  narrative doesn’t feel overly committed to his story as Cooper struggles to juggle both this central narrative and the weaving testimonials of the FBI informants. It leaves the film and its flow feeling a little clunky and disjointing, leading to a rather slow paced narrative.

While the film as a whole is disappointing, the performances are not; specifically Depp’s central role. It’s rather refreshing to see Depp in a role that strays from his more type-cast ‘wacky’ characters, instead seeing him in a new chilling light. His portrayal of Bulger comes with a real hard edge, a sense of unnerving controlled fury but a hot rage that pours from that stern psychotic stare. He plays it very well and it’s easy to see his physical commitment to embodying the terror his character well represents.

Dakota Johnson gives a great performance as the Mother of Jimmy’s child, despite her small screen time. We only really get a quick glimpse at her role in Jimmy’s life and it feels like a missed opportunity and failure on the writers part not to have seen much of their backstory. Still, she’s particularly impressive during the hospital scenes; giving a wonderfully emotive performance with great chemistry between her and Depp.

Alongside him Edgerton and Cumberbatch do a perfectly fine job of giving audiences a glimpse of how else a ‘street kid’ might have turned out. The difficultly with these two characters however is that there’s nobody among Bulger’s gang to empathise with or even truly like. This especially applies to Edgerton’s character, who initially starts out as a little naive but continues to fall deeper into his loyalty with Jimmy; leading him to be completely unlikable.

Without somebody, anybody, to be rooting for, it’s difficult to really care about how the narrative progresses; why should we really care about justice when there’s nobody to want justice for? This really comes down to the writing and direction, as it’s not difficult to see that the cast are doing the best with what they’ve got. However, it often feels like the focus is paid too much on creative a generic gangster flick that the real narrative drive is neglected.

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The film is terribly frustrating as it’s not hard to imagine a better movie if only they’d gone in a different, less predictable direction. Themes like Jimmy’s vastly different career to his Brother’s or his relationship with the Mother of his child peak your interest but they’re never fully explored and it does leave you with a cloudy head to disappointment.

Ones own love for gangster movies perhaps looks upon Cooper’s attempt with harsh eyes and I don’t doubt that Black Mass will find an appreciative audience who will be more than thrilled with his style and direction; I’m just not one of them.

 

 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 Spoiler Review – A Book Faithful But Lukewarm Finale

Mockingjay

Director: Francis Lawrence

Staring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Natalie Dorma

Running Time: 2 hours 17 mins

Rating: 12A

Release Date: 19th November 2015

It’s finally time for the very last installment of THE HUNGER GAMES franchise, MOCKINGJAY PART 2,  and not since the days of HARRY POTTER has a YA book adaptation captured the imagination of so many. With Francis Lawrence back in the directors chair, the Hunger Games might be over but Katniss’ (Jennifer Lawrence) battle with Snow (Donald Sutherland) is only just beginning.

With her neck covered in dark bruises, her throat swollen and her voice still hoarse from Peeta’s (Josh Hutcherson) deranged attack against her; our Mockingjay is back on her feet and ready to save Panem from Snow’s deadly reign. Once the rebellion neutralized the Capitol’s weapon supply, Katniss’ realises she must sneak into the city’s center and infiltrate Snow’s mansion but with her status as the Mockingjay leaving her open to dangers from both sides it’s not going to be easy.

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The main chunk of narrative is taken up by Katniss’ trek through the crumbling Capitol with her team of soldiers, ‘The Star Squad’; including Boggs (Mahershala Ali), Cressida (Natalie Dormer), Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Finnick (Sam Claflin) and a still desperately damaged Peeta. Katniss is determined to make it to Snow’s mansion but the dreadful game makers have rigged her path with countless tricks and traps with deadly consequences.

This section of the film is by far the most thrilling and there are glimmers of the kind of excitement that did so well in the first two films. With pits like ginormous flame throwers, gargling pools of deadly black liquid and some of the most hauntingly vicious mutts the Capitol could have created; death is around every corner and its here we lose a fan favourite character, as Finnick meats a violent end just days after marrying Annie.

It’s within these scenes that Francis Lawrence’s talent shines most as he appears most confident and comfortable directing these almost post-apocalyptic scenes; with what once was the glamorous Capitol now a ghostly tomb. There were moments where his previous work vibes through the streets of the Capitol, with those nasty mutts reminding one of the horrors in I AM LEGEND.

Still, this excitement doesn’t last too long and before we know it the action is over. The pacing feels like fits and bursts and as soon as the War between the Capitol and the Rebels begins, it’s pretty much over with a large bang and Prim’s death. It’s all down hill from here as the narrative dribbles off like a leaky tap, leading us to President Coin’s murder by Katniss, her return to what’s left of District 12 and then her sentimental end with Peeta and their children.

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The real trouble is that MOCKIGJAY PART 2 sticks utterly faithful to the book but it just doesn’t relay well on screen, unlike the films three predecessors. This is hugely due to the third book being split into two movies as the careless money making trick poisons the film with it’s blundering narrative. There is joy to be found for book lovers as the sweet ending does spur on emotions of fondness for these much loved characters, but after such highly-charged themes of rebellion and carnage, it feels more anticlimactic than heartwarming.

While there are more flaws to the finale than this fan had hoped, there’s still some great performances to be found and an interesting take on gender roles and representation. What is so brilliant about Katniss and her role as the Mockingjay is that she’s never a token women in a world of dominating men.

Throughout the franchise there are always strong women to be found and it’s actually quite a refreshing look at women in these dystopian-esque narratives. Alongside Katness, we have the likes of Joanne, played brilliantly by Jena Malone, Dorma’s Cressida and Michelle Forbes plays Bogg’s second in command, Lieutenant Jackson. Women in THE HUNGER GAMES franchise are well written, diverse and complicated characters that do well not to be overtly pigeonholed as either token badass or damsel in distress.

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There’s no real complicated reason why MOCKINGJAY PART 2 is an anticlimactic end to what started out as a brilliant franchise and it’s simply down to this cash-cow system of splitting one book into two mediocre movies.

With it’s often clunky script and it’s mismatched pacing MOCKINGJAY PART 2 feels like a wasted opportunity and actually a bit of a let down; which is devastating when fans have fallen so completely in love with the characters and narrative.

It’s by now means a bad film, there’s great entertainment to be had in Katniss’ last fight and one can still find a bond with these much loved characters but it just doesn’t work as well on screen as it could have.

Steve Jobs Review: Sorkin, Boyle & Fassbender Are A Match Made in Heaven

Steve Jobs

Director: Danny Boyle

Staring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogan, Jeff Daniels, Micahel Stuhlbarg,

Running Time:  2 hours 2 mins 

Release Date: 13th November 2015

Rating: 15

You’d struggle to find somebody in the Western world who hasn’t heard of Steve Jobs, let alone his various Apple products. iPods and all it’s variants are firmly attached to our body like separate appendages and Jobs is seen like a Godly figure to so many tech lovers. With Steve Jobs being such an idol of creation and a public figure that held so much attention, it’s no surprise that Danny Boyle‘s latest flick, Steve Jobs, is the second film to be made about the main man.

The film isn’t told within the traditional narrative form of beginning, middle and end; opting instead to cherry-pick three major product launches, creating the narrative from said events and unveiling the central story line through the drama of backstage preparation. This method feels like it shouldn’t work, running the risk of losing audience engagement due to the simplistic, subdued form of story telling. Thankfully, the combination of Danny Boyle’s brilliant vision and Aaron Sorkin’s masterful script completely steers the film clear of being anything but captivating, gripping it’s audience from the very beginning and refusing to let go until the bitter end.

 Boyle really does do a wonderful job of steering this huge Steve Jobs ship and there are delightful moments of visual engagement that scream his name. Instant recognition towards his previous work spills from many scenes, a particular highlight being a scene involving Jobs and Hoffman conversing in an unremarkable corridor. As Jobs is giving another one of his impassioned speeches, wonderful images cascade the curved walls of the corridor, scooping the audience up into an atmospheric moment of epiphany; soon finding ourselves believing whatever it is Jobs is saying.

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Fassbender does a stand out job of embodying everything we’ve come to believe about Jobs. He transforms into this complex character with ease, proving his talents to be growing with each new performance. Fassbender does a brilliant job of conveying not only the development of Jobs, especially when related to his relationship with his daughter, but also relates the varied, eccentric sides to his personality. Whether we’re witnessing moments of absolute tyranny, such humor in his back and forth with Hoffman, unbearable patronising or even tenderness; Fassbender makes the character so overwhelming in the very best sense.

Alongside him, a varied range of top performances creates this incredibly impressive cast. Playing Jobs’ confidant and marketing executive Joanna Hoffman is the ever brilliant Kate Winslet, who’s character helps us see the softer side of Jobs, as well as representing much of what we’re thinking about the man himself i.e lighten up, man.

Seth Rogan gives an equally great performance as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Michael Stuhlbarg plays engineer Andy Hertzfled, Jeff Daniels appears as CEO John Scully and Katherine Waterston plays the troubled mother of Jobs’ daughter. Each of these tremendously written and played characters allow us to get an outside look at Steve Jobs, how he functioned as more than just the famous Apple co-founder; as a friend, lover, boss and father.

One of the films bigger side stories revolves around Jobs’ relationship with his daughter Lisa, played by Ripley Sobo, Makenzie Moss and Perla Haney-Jardine. It’s quite rewarding to see just how Jobs’ turbulent relationship with Lisa adapts, grows and eventually blossoms, especially after revealing his initial denial of paternity. There are moments where it feels as though the relationship is slightly forced to incorporate a sentimental ending but this mostly comes down to personal preference and it’s never enough to tarnish the stellar film as a whole.

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The film’s ultimate triumph is the outstanding, punchy and completely addictive script from Aaron Sorkin.  Every word of dialogue feels like shots being fired and as soon as you’ve heard one line, you’re desperate for another. Like a Western, each word fly’s from Fassbender’s mouth like a pistol and he won’t stop until somebody is dead. Sorkin completely outdoes himself and manages to make such heavy, constant, abrasive dialogue sound like poetry.

Scenes with Jobs and John Scully are particularly impressive, seeing how their relationship heats, cools and mediates. It’s so thrilling to watch as their meetings develop, from calming words of trust and wisdom to how their their fork tongues spit words of war at each other with such venom. Sorkin wowed with his work in THE SOCIAL NETWORK but this script is truly something all together masterful, an astounding example of how the right words can propel  good film to a great film.

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It’s with real bemusement that one hears STEVE JOBS has struggled to find it’s audience in the US, as this audience member struggles to find real fault with it at all. With a director who’s skill spills from each scene, outstanding performances and one of the smartest, sharpest scripts of recent cinema; STEVE JOBS is truly remarkable.

Spectre Review: Christoph Waltz Excels In Latest Bond Flick

Bond

Director: Sam Mendes

Staring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz,  Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista

Rating: 12A

Running Time: 2hours 30mins

Release Date: October 26th 2015

Sam Mendes has taken on the Bond franchise with full force and back in 2012 he gave us SKYFALL, arguably one of the very best Bond films ever to grace the silver screen. With the well deserved praise comes the high expectations as Mendes and Daniel Craig return for Spectre, their second Bond film together. So much happened when we last saw Bond and the aftermath of the Skyfall destruction still weighs heavily on everybody’s minds. With M finding himself conflicted with the pressures of the politics of the secret service, Bond finds himself falling under the radar to delve into secrets on modern terrorism that quickly mix with those from his past.

Sending himself on a physical and mental mission of discovery, Bond must route through the dark corners of his past and connect the dots between what he’s done, what’s happened to him and how they all connect with the devastating mystery that surrounds the Spectre organisation.

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The opening sequence, set during Mexico’s Day Of The Dead, is without a doubt one of the very best in Bond history, and a new personal favorite. The entire scene is so wonderfully busy, deliciously Gothic and crammed with spectacular costume, makeup and props. It’s an ideal introduction to Craig’s next Bond chapter as he makes his way through the crowds of incredibly dressed, beautiful people. The cinematography in this scene alone is outstanding, with Bond stealthily snaking his way along the narrow roof tops of Mexico City; with a score from Thomas Newman marrying so beautifully with the stunning aesthetic.

There’s no denying that all the car chases, explosions and actions sequences makes for a high-octane Bond flick but it simply doesn’t make up for the weak, if not predictable, center narrative. It wasn’t difficult to clock the twist behind Bond and Blofeld’s past relationship early on within the narrative and therefore it didn’t pack the kind of hard hitting punch it had intended. It also felt a little weak in imagination, safe and even a little cliche; not something expected from such an outstanding writing team including John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth.

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The high-light of the film has to be the utterly enigmatic yet completely chilling performance from Christoph Waltz. There’s such measured madness to his character and it makes him utterly terrifying. Here we have such a calculated, patient and twisted villain to get to grips with and it’s truly fantastic to watch. We’re introduced to Blofeld with immediate intimidation in mind, his dark figure haunting the screen in silhouette fashion as a room full of important people cower at his presence. He’s a brilliant character and it’s disappointing that he doesn’t get more screen time, even if the time he does have is a joy to watch. Waltz really does play this character so brilliantly and is really the only thing that saves the narrative from being a complete mess.

Also getting screen time is our two new Bond girls, Monica Bellucci and Léa Seydoux. There’s still much to be desired from the representation of women in Bond films, even if Moneypenny’s Naomie Harris gave a boost in strong female characters in SKYFALL. Monica Bellucci gets minuscule screen time, much of it involving being seduced by Bond, and her character leaves little to be desired; making her presence feel totally wasted.

Léa Seydoux gives a wonderful performance with what she’s provided with, her presence both delicate yet feisty and she actually becomes a great match for Bond; even if she can’t quite resist his charms. While the relationship development between them does feel a little rushed and therefore perhaps over dramatic by the end, our love for Bond and desperate want for his happiness allows for the forgiveness for such flaws.

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Our faithful gang of behind the scene spies, Moneypenny, Q (Ben Whishaw) and M (Ralph Fiennes), get their own separate, interweaving narrative as they come up against Andrew Scott‘s C, as he attempts to dismantle their organisation all together. These scenes are pleasant enough as Whishaw in particular delivers some wonderful comedic relief throughout much of the narrative, giving a little boost to the otherwise often clunky dialogue.

It was always going to be a difficult job for Mendes to match the incredibly high standards he delivered with SKYFALL and there’s no denying that he’s created a brilliantly entertaining film in SPECTRE. However, it lacks the emotional intelligence and influence that SKYFALL conjured up and it the main narrative feels a little sloppy, weak and gives way for more action and cool stunts. Depending on the viewing, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it still makes for a tense, thrilling watch but for those wanting the sophistication of Mendes’ previous Bond’s, SPECTRE just doesn’t quite cut it.

Brooklyn Review: A Beautifully Told & Tender Love Story

Brooklyn

Director: John Crowley

Staring: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhall Gleeson, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent

Running Time: 1 hour 52 mins

Rating: 12A

Release Date: 6th November 2015

It’s not often that a love story is able to cast the perfect spell of both romantic enchantment, emotionally intelligent narrative and the stabbing pain of desperate heartache. All too often are we presented with either a cliche ridden romantic comedy or an all too melancholy message of love’s cruel sting; both leading to a lackluster testament to that thing we call love.

It’s with huge pleasure then, that John Crowley‘s latest feature BROOKLYN shines as a stunning example of romance done exquisitely right. Set in the 1950’s, naive Irish beauty Eilis, played by Saoirse Ronan,  leaves the comfort of her small home town, her stable part time job and the constant support from her older sister to start a new life in Brooklyn. After bouts of heartbreaking homesickness, Eilis soon finds her place in this big city as she begins to fall for sweet natured Italian American plumber Tony, played by Emory Cohen.

As Eilis finally begins to plan a life with Tony, disaster sends her back home and the comforts she’d long forgotten begin to creep back into her life; leaving Tony feeling like a distant dream. As she spends time at home she finds friendship in local boy Jim Farrell (Domhall Gleeson) and as their feelings grow, she becomes more and more conflicted with which life she intends on living.

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Adapted by Nick Hornby from Colm Tóibín‘s novel of the same name, BROOKLYN has the effortless feel of romantic glamour as the dialogue prevails in feeling absolutely genuine and escapes the trap of overly-saturated, sickly sweet, clunky dialogue that can plague a film of this genre. The script marries beautifully with Crowley’s aesthetic, as each scene is dripping with stunning mise-en-scene. From the misty morning’s of the Ireland setting, the glamorous gold of Eilis’ work place to the glowing streets of summer on the streets of Brooklyn; the entire film feels like flicking through the most treasured of photo albums, a sense of romantic nostalgia washing over each scene.

The 1950’s setting only adds to the wistful nature of the films aesthetic and the costume department excels in making Eilis’ wardrobe a narrative drive of it’s own, with her dress sense so subtly developing as her character does. Married with many close-up’s of sweet Eilis, it doesn’t take long for audiences to trust completely in her innocent nature.

Saoirse Ronan is utterly mesmerizing as the conflicted Eilis, as she plays her with sheer sincerity, engaging vulnerability and subtle humor. With Ronan’s talent of for immense emotive performance practically spilling from the screen, the film runs with a desperate sadness that feels not only wholly devastating but sometimes even affirming; as if the sadness itself is an additional character, one that must be played out, experience in it’s entirety; despite its painful effect.

Along side her, Emory Cohen plays Tony with such charm and playfulness that it is near impossible not to smirk at the screen with sheer delight as he attempts to woo our Irish girl. Capturing the ecstasy of love’s first crushing blow, Cohen gives audiences a reason to urge Eilis to fight for her life in Brooklyn and without his magnificent performance and their truly fantastic chemistry, the film would not pack as much of a devastating emotional punch.

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What is so impressive and enjoyable about Crowley’s BROOKLYN is that it’s told with such refreshing emotional intelligence. The narrative doesn’t have to fall back on anything too over dramatic because both the writing and performances are so outstanding. There’s no real villain or hero to this film, no disastrous betrayal or salacious damning of love; it’s the very personal and realistic story of the complexities of love and how life never truly plans out as you’d imagined.

While indeed this film is a romantic story, there’s such realism in it’s characters and narrative that it exceeds expectations of the genre and becomes a subtle epic; one that settles in the heart and intend on staying there. With beautiful imagery, outstanding performances and a tender, wonderful script BROOKLYN is an superb example of class love stories.