Film Review: Black Mass (2015)

Release Date: September 4th, 2015 (Venice International Film Festival)
Directed by: Scott Cooper
Written by: Jez Butterworth, Mark Mallouk
Based on: Black Mass by Dick Lehr, Gerard O’Neill
Music by: Tom Holkenborg
Cast: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Cochrane, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Corey Stoll, Peter Sarsgaard, Dakota Johnson, David Harbour, Adam Scott, Juno Temple, W. Earl Brown

Cross Creek Pictures, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Warner Bros., 122 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2015.

“Take your shot, but make it your best. ‘Cause I get up, I eat ya.” – Whitey Bulger

Black Mass is the latest mobster biopic to come down the pipeline. What makes this one interesting is Johnny Depp wears a bunch of heavy make-up that looks odd and makes him look like the elderly love child of Ray Liotta and one of those reptilian aliens that I heard are taking over the U.S. government.

The film is directed by Scott Cooper, who also did the critically-acclaimed Crazy Heart and the mediocre Out of the Furnace. He also acted in an episode of The X-Files a long time ago. I wouldn’t say that this film brings back the bright shining star status Cooper had with his debut Crazy Heart but it isn’t a bad film by any means. It is more eventful than Out of the Furnace but unlike that film, I don’t care about any of the characters in Black Mass.

Depp’s portrayal of James “Whitey” Bulger is interesting and well executed for the material but there is a real lack of material there. There is no character building or development. What you have is a one-dimensional psycho on screen from the opening bell to the closing bell. His backstory is casually mentioned, his relationship with his friends and family is bland and he just feels like a cookie cutter bad guy in a cookie cutter mob film. I don’t care about Bulger, good or bad. I don’t sympathize with him or hate him. I should feel something, correct? And that is how it is for every character in this film.

For a movie boasting a cast of names like Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Joel Edgerton, Jesse Plemons, Adam Scott, Corey Stoll, Julianne Nicholson and Juno Temple – I expected more. Additionally, Rory Cochrane from Dazed and Confused and Empire Records has an integral role, as does Dakota Johnson, who I am not as familiar with but she is some sort of big deal because she was in Fifty Shades of Grey (hopefully that’s not all she’s going to be known for).

This film seems to be getting a lot of love from critics. I’m not sure why. It plays from scene-to-scene and has a logical and fairly fluid plot but there just isn’t a lot of suspense or build up. Everything is predictable. You know who is going to die and when, you know what this psycho is thinking. Realistically, shouldn’t the psycho surprise you? I know that this is a biopic but some of us don’t know the whole “Whitey” Bulger story and the film would benefit from giving us a few surprises instead of blatantly foreshadowing everything to the point of eliminating any real tension or drama in the movie.

Black Mass is more good than bad, even though I am being somewhat harsh. The thing is, it is pretty forgettable in the grand scheme of gangster movies. It is interesting enough to watch but it certainly isn’t a classic in the sense of Goodfellas, The Godfather, Scarface or even Depp’s 1997 film Donnie Brasco.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: Ant-Man (2015)

Release Date: June 29th, 2015 (Dolby Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Peyton Reed
Written by: Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, Paul Rudd
Based on: Ant-Man by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby
Music by: Christophe Beck
Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Peña, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Anthony Mackie, Wood Harris, Judy Greer, David Dastmalchian, Michael Douglas

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 117 Minutes

Review:

*Originally written in 2015.

Ant-Man is the next film in a long line of Marvel films that are a part of the Avengers universe. Ant-Man being one of the original Avengers means that this film is long overdue. In fact, I had hoped that it would have happened in Phase One of the Avengers film line and not as the last film in the Phase Two set of movies. Regardless, it is nice to finally have Hank Pym in the Avengers fray. Oh wait, I mean Scott Lang.

Yes, Scott Lang (played by Paul Rudd) is the hero here even though Hank Pym (played by Michael Douglas) is in the film. Pym however, is Lang’s mentor and the original Ant-Man, who we knew nothing about until now. Janet van Dyne, the original Wasp, is also shown in costume via flashbacks. There is kind of a nice set up, in the film’s intro, that shows us a very young Michael Douglas (thanks to CGI) bantering with Howard Stark and Agent Peggy Carter in 1989.

Scott Lang is one of the more unique characters to be on the Avengers roster, even though he hasn’t achieved that status yet, in this film. He is a thief turned hero – on a quest for redemption in order to have a normal relationship with his young daughter. The Scott Lang character kind of takes the best parts of Hawkeye’s character in Avengers: Age of Ultron and magnifies them much more. You care about Scott, his daughter and their relationship probably more intimately than the relationship of any other characters in the Marvel movie mythos except for Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter.

Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas do a superb job in bringing life to this long overdue Marvel character. Evangeline Lilly is also great, as the daughter of Pym and the Wasp. Corey Stoll was okay as the villain who eventually becomes Yellowjacket. Although, Yellowjacket isn’t a villain in the comics, he is just another alias of Hank Pym.

Yellowjacket being the villain just seems half-assed. He is essentially the same thing as Ant-Man except he can fly and shoot lasers. Ant-Man has the advantage in that he can summon armies of ants. I’m sorry, but an army of ants against a tiny guy with lasers isn’t going to bode well for the tiny guy with lasers. What could one guy with a laser gun do against an army of ravenous orcs? This also goes back to a recent comment George R.R. Martin made about how Marvel too often pits its heroes against villains with the same set of powers and it isn’t as interesting as heroes matching up with something that is a contrast to their abilities. I couldn’t agree with Martin more.

Despite the villain issue, this film is better than that mess Avengers: Age of Ultron. When I stated in my review of that film that the solo Marvel films are better due to story, character development and not being forced to fit too much into one movie, Ant-Man just solidified that point for me even more. It is more fluid, more organic and tells a human story, unlike those massive CGI-littered Joss Whedon action fests.

To be honest, Ant-Man is one of the best Marvel films to date. It is better than both Avengers, both Thor films, the first Captain America, the second and third Iron Man, that one Hulk film with the other actor and whatever else there is except for Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: Winter Soldier and the first Iron Man film.

It isn’t a picture without flaws though. At times, it got a bit too hokey. The humor was great for the most part and I loved the comedic characters, especially Lang’s crew played by Michael Peña, T.I. and David Dastmalchian (the one with the Russian accent), who you might remember as the Joker’s henchman that Harvey Dent abducted in The Dark Knight.

The film felt rushed at times and the editing was a bit shaky. Like other Marvel films, things feel like they got left on the cutting room floor. Where some characters felt well developed, others were lacking. Corey Stoll’s role just seemed disjointed at times, as his motivations were never all that clear and his slip into insanity just kind of happened. It just didn’t feel like an organic metamorphosis.

Additionally, the sound editing was problematic. When Lang is taking direction from Pym in his helmet, it sounds like voice over work and doesn’t sound natural. Other Marvel films have had similar problems. Also, when Lang is ant-sized, in some scenes he can’t be heard by normal-sized characters but in others he can. I’m not sure if this was explained and I missed it or if it is just some Marvel-sized plot hole.

Judy Greer is also in this film, which makes me wonder how many more summer blockbusters will she cameo in? And using her for a minor role was a waste of her talent, unless they have plans for her later on. I feel like she could have been used for a bigger Marvel role than the 14th Avenger’s baby mama.

I liked this film. Be sure to wait for the mid-credits scene and then for the post-credits scene. We get two special bonuses with this film. Granted, they don’t necessarily lead to anything profound but they put in motion the next steps in the Ant-Man branch of the Avengers franchise family tree.

Rating: 7/10