The Podcast is back!!
The Movie Pit Podcast returns after a long, and unwanted, hiatus. I explain why the hiatus was that long. Enjoy everybody.
The Podcast is back!!
The Movie Pit Podcast returns after a long, and unwanted, hiatus. I explain why the hiatus was that long. Enjoy everybody.
The Movie Pit Podcast is up!
It’s a long one this week with some crazy movie news updates.
The Movie Pit Podcast is up!
It’s been a bit since I’ve posted the podcast on here – at least regularly. Going to be fixing that.
Welcome to another edition of Mini-Reviews. This is a longer one than usual, due to me falling behind. So let’s get to it, shall we?
*As always, these will be spoiler free reviews*
Underworld: Blood Wars
Director: Anna Foerster
Writer: Cory Goodman
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, Tobias Menzies, Lara Pulver, James Faulkner, Peter Andersson, Clementine Nicholson, Bradley James, Daisy Head and Charles Dance.
Synopsis: Vampire death dealer, Selene fights to end the eternal war between the Lycan clan and the Vampire faction that betrayed her.
The Underworld series started off as an interesting franchise that had some cool mythology and made Kate Beckinsale a big name to those not familiar with her. The sequel came along and was just okay which lead to a prequel for the third film. Then the fourth film came out and things took a turn for the worse. The series had lost its footing and became lost in its attempt to make itself relevant. This now leads us to Underworld: Blood Wars, which is more of the same, but thankfully better than Underworld: Awakening, which isn’t saying much really.
Blood Wars starts off by giving us a bit of a refresher on the series so far – leaving some things out – but also shows that Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is now a fugitive from the remaining vampires and new Lycan leader, Marius (Tobias Menzies), who wants the location of Selene’s daughter. The problem is that even Selene doesn’t know where her daughter is, and with the help of David (Theo James), his father Thomas (Charles Dance), and a vampire council member Semira (Lara Pulver), Selene is brought back into the fold to help deal with Marius.
Like I mentioned, Blood Wars is more of the same from the previous films – stylized action set-pieces, new mythology and characters being introduced and Kate Beckinsale in tight leather kicking-ass. Other than that, the film doesn’t really do anything that feels substantial. Things are brought up that would be considered twists or could have landed bigger if written better or anything the film did actually mattered.
The film is too rushed for its own good. Everything lands too quickly, and the final act of the film just happens. One particular part in the final act does mean something since it’s connected to the beginning of the film, but other than that the final act is structurally not sound.
When it comes to the cast, they all do the best they can with what they are given. Kate Beckinsale is the only real saving grace of the cast since she’s played the part so many times now. Theo James is just as bland as he was in the last film, while Tobias Menzies’ Marius is supposed to be this great Lycan leader, but doesn’t really do anything that frightening – also his cheap two dollar CGI wolf character doesn’t do him any favors. Lara Pulver as Semira could have been a great character if she had more screen time as could have Clementine Nicholson’s Lena, who is part of a new vampire clan, Finally, Charles Dance’s Thomas should have had more time, because you know, its Charles freaking Dance.
All in all, Underworld: Blood Wars is a passable sequel, and a better one than Awakening, but again, that’s not saying much. Things feel like they just happen, and the structure of the film is just off that you can never really feel any sort of enjoyment. One thing that really bothered me is the ending. I obviously don’t want to spoil it, but considering how it ends, it just felt like the whole film was for nothing.
Underworld: Blood Wars
2.5 out of 5
Director: Baran bo Odar
Writer: Andrea Berloff
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Michelle Monaghan, Scoot McNairy, Gabrielle Union, Octavius J. Johnson, T.I., Dermot Mulroney, and David Harbour
Synopsis: A cope with a connection to the criminal underworld scours a nightclub in search of his kidnapped son.
A remake of the French film Nuit Blanche, Sleepless takes place mostly in one location and is surprising a little better than I thought it would be, even though I had watched the original film years before.
Sleepless follows Las Vegas officer Vincent Downs (Jaime Foxx), who along with his partner Sean (T.I.) steal a bag of cocaine at the beginning of the film. Little do they know, the cocaine belongs to a crooked casino boss Stanley Rubino (Dermot Mulroney) who is going to sell the drugs to the dangerous Rob Novak (Scott McNairy), the son of a local mob boss. In order to get the drugs back, they kidnap Vincent’s son Thomas (Octavius J. Johnson) and demand he return their product. Of course, things don’t go over smoothly as Internal Affairs agents Jennifer Bryant (Michelle Monaghan) and Doug Dennison (David Harbour) become involved.
Like I mentioned, the film is a little better than I thought it was going to be, but Sleepless does run into some issues throughout. The film doesn’t do Jamie Foxx any favors besides making him look like an action hero. Foxx’s usual charisma is put on the backburner so he can be almost stoic at times, which is a bit of a shame. Although, the result does lead to impressive fight scenes, including a kitchen scene and a highly impressive hotel room fight.
The rest of the cast do their best with what they are given. Scoot McNairy is one of the best underrated and unknown actors around, and while he plays a villain well, they could have done just a little more with him. Michelle Monaghan plays the straight-laced IA agent who has her moments, and after watching this, I hope we see more roles like this from her, and her chemistry with the always reliable David Harbour is spot on. Dermot Mulroney looked like he enjoy playing a slimy villain, Gabrielle Union only has a handful of scenes, so her casting feels wasted and T.I. also has only a few scenes but all of his scenes feel the same when you look back afterwards.
All in all, Sleepless feels a bit hallow at times, but it does have its moments that make the price of admission worth it.
3.5 out of 5
Director: Peter Berg
Writers: Peter Berg, Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Michelle Monaghan, Kevin Bacon, Alex Wolff, Themo Melikidze, Jimmy O. Yang, Rachel Brosnahan, Christopher O’Shea, James Colby, Michael Beach, Vincent Curatola, Jake Picking, Melissa Benoist, and J.K. Simmons
Synopsis: An account of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorist responsible.
Considering Patriots Day is based off a real event, and one that I’m sure most of us remembering watching on TV as the events unfolded, I’m going to play with the “no spoilers” rule here a bit. The film follows the events at the Boston Marathon and what the first responders and FBI did to find and capture the Tsarnaev brothers.
The film has a lot of players on the board, we mostly follow Boston Police Sergeant Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg), a made up character based on several people, who is at the finish line of the marathon when the first bomb went off. The events bring everyone is like Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman), Governor Deval Patrick (Michael Beach) and FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) to find Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze) and his brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff) which involved shutting down all of Boston and lead to a dangerous shootout in Watertown.
Peter Berg really does have a knack for true-story films, Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon were great films, and all star Mark Wahlberg, but the thing that makes these films, along with Patriots Day is how he handles the material. Berg treats the events with tremendous respect and never tries to feed the audience a political agenda or lean the audience a certain way. He lets the story tell itself and lets the characters come to life in their own way, even though most of the characters are based on real people. It’s also a credit to the great cast that they are able to do so.
However, with a big cast like this, the film does have a lot of characters to follow that a lot of them don’t get real time to breathe and don’t get the justice they deserve. J.K. Simmons has a small, but good, role as the Watertown sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese, Rachel Brosnahan and Christopher O’Shea play couple Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes who were close to the first blast sight, Jake Picking plays Officer Sean Collier, who was shot by the brothers, and Jimmy O. Yang plays Dun Meng, who has a dangerous encounter with brothers halfway through the film. Another thing Patriots Day falls into is some pacing issues before the final act of the film, but again, it’s the cast the keep the film together.
Two of the highlights of the film, if that’s what you want to call it considering the nature of the real life events, is the aftermath of the bombing. How Berg moves the camera through the destruction and through the eyes of Tommy is both horrifying and telling on how the first responders probably felt when they helped so many that day. The other is the shootout before Dzhokhar runs and hides in the boat he was later recovered from.
All in all, Patriots Day isn’t an easy film to watch due to the nature of the events and how Berg was able to recreate it. The cast, despite being one person too many, does a tremendous job paying respect to people they were playing and to those affected by the actions that happened that horrible day and what happened afterwards.
4 out of 5
Live by Night
Director: Ben Affleck
Writer: Ben Affleck
Cast: Ben Affleck, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller, Elle Fanning, Zoe Saldana, Robert Glenister, Remo Girone, Chris Cooper and Brendan Gleeson
Synopsis: A group of Boston-bred gangsters set up shop in balmy Florida during the Prohibition era, facing off against the competition and the Ku Klux Klan.
Based off the novel by Dennis Lehane, Ben Affleck writes and directs what has become a bit of a passion project for him, so it’s a bit odd to see what became of the film. Affleck has shown he’s a great to solid director with films like Gone Baby Gone, The Town and Argo, but Live by Night will be – hopefully – the only blemish on his resume.
Ben Affleck plays Joe Coughlin, a former World War I soldier and son of a police officer (Brendan Gleeson), who returns home and starts to see himself as an outlaw and runs heists throughout Boston. He eventually falls in love with Emma Gould (Sienna Miller), who happens to be the mistress of Irish mob boss Albert White (Robert Glenister). This puts him on the sights on White’s rival, Italian mob boss Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone) who wants Joe to work for him. Joe eventually does and Maso sends him down to Tampa to run his bootlegging operation. Once there, and reunited with his old partner Dion Bartolo (Chris Messina) and they make a nice empire for themselves. That all changes when Joe starts falling in love with Graciela (Zoe Saldana), and struggles to keep his moral code in place.
Live by Night is unfortunately a bit of a mess, which is odd considering Affleck was passionate about getting the film made, and took so long to make. That’s not to say there is some great stuff within the mess, but it is the scattered material that keeps the film from being great. Not only that, the film has a bit too much going on that by the end, it feels like the film is forcing itself to tie-up the loose ends that were introduced beforehand. It’s a bit of a shame too, considering Affleck has shown he can handle himself with great material.
The cast itself is great, but it’s a shame that some characters don’t have time to expand and get developed more. Chris Messina, who is always great with the right material, playing Joe’s right-hand man Dion Bartolo could have used more time onscreen as could Elle Fanning’s character Loretta, the daughter of Tampa sheriff Figgis played by Chris Cooper. Especially considering Fanning is involved in a big subplot. Zoe Saldana also pops in but doesn’t really do much after her initial introduction, and reminding Joe that he doesn’t need to be cruel to do the life he’s involved in. Brendan Gleeson’s glorified cameo suffers just a bit due to him using his natural Scottish accent that makes it a little hard to understand. Sienna Miller’s character could have been an interesting character, but her arc gets cut too soon.
Affleck does okay as the Joe, and even though we follow him throughout the film his moments of doubt and morality being tested are usually rushed to the point that it just feels like Affleck is trying to get to the next scene, which is odd considering the film is over two hours. When it comes to working with his production designer and cinematographer, he works well. Every scenic shot is beautiful to look at, and the sets look amazing.
All in all, Live by Night has some issues that could have been avoided, but sadly they aren’t which hurts the film in the long run. The cast is great, but none of their characters are developed fully or pushed to the wayside to tell Ben Affleck’s Joe story. While the action scenes are top-notch, Live by Night is just a tad underwhelming in the long run, but in no way should change your view on Affleck’s directing ability.
Live by Night
3.5 out of 5
The Bye Bye Man
Director: Stacy Title
Writer: Jonathan Penner
Cast: Douglas Smith, Lucien Laviscount, Cressida Bonas, Jenna Kanell, Michael Trucco, Cleo King, Leigh Whannel, Doug Jones, Carrie-Anne Moss and Faye Dunaway
Synopsis: Three friends stumble upon the horrific origins of the Bye Bye Man, a mysterious figure they discover is the root cause of the evil behind man’s most unspeakable acts.
It’s a bit of a shame that after the great year horror had last year – finally – a film like this comes along and washes all that away. Apparently based off a story called “The Bridge to Body Island” by Robert Damon Schneck, The Bye Bye Man has an interesting concept that falls apart once the film gets going. That’s only the beginning of this film’s issues.
The film follows three college friends in Elliot (Douglas Smith), his girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas) and their friend John (Lucien Laviscount) who buy and move into an old house off campus. Everyone seems okay at first until Elliot finds an old coin on his nightstand left by the previous owner. He then discovers writing underneath the drawer that says “Don’t Think it, Don’t Say it” and under that are craved words “The Bye Bye Man.” At first he laughs it off, but when the three start experiencing strange things in and out of the house, they soon learn The Bye Bye Man (played by the awesome character actor Doug Jones) is indeed real, and after them.
One of the problems with The Bye Bye Man – one of many – is we don’t get a sense of the characters, and hardly care for them. Elliot is the closet one to actually having a backstory, while Sasha is just the girlfriend who, at the beginning, tries to convince Elliot that what is happening is real, but after Elliot goes along with it, she becomes a bit annoying, and John somewhat disappears for a bit and we really don’t miss him. Jenna Kanell pops in as Sasha’s friend Kim, who is a psychic of sorts and, based off the trailers, is the one that gets killed by the train, which is the highlight of her character.
However, the saving graces of the film – cast wise – is the small roles by Carrie-Anne Moss, Faye Dunaway and Leigh Whannell. Faye Dunaway appears near the end of the film and adds to some backstory of The Bye Bye Man, Carrie-Anne Moss plays a local detective that could have been played by really anyone else, but Moss adds some gravitas to the role. Leigh Whannell plays Larry Redmond a writer that “discovers” The Bye Bye Man and is involved in the best scenes in the film: flashbacks. Finally, Doug Jones does this best he can with what he’s given as the titular character.
All in all, the concept of the film sounds good at first, but once we start seeing what he does and really think about it afterwards, The Bye Bye Man fails to execute on its promise. The characters are bland and are never developed and a muddled story doesn’t help. The Bye Bye Man is almost passable film while watching, but nothing you’ll remember.
The Bye Bye Man
2 out of 5
Let me know what you think.
Director: David Ayer
Writer: David Ayer
Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Cara Delevingne, Jared Leto, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Karen Fukuhara, Adam Beach, Scott Eastwood, Common, Jim Parrack, Ike Barinholtz, David Harbour, Viola Davis, and Ben Affleck
Synopsis: A secret government agency recruits imprisoned supervillains to execute dangerous black ops missions in exchange for clemency.
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*
*Reviewer Note 2: There is a mid-credit scene.*
Here we go again. Warner Bros. released their newest film set within their DC Extended Universe, but this time it follows villains instead of heroes, and it has been making fans and critics butt heads. I won’t bore you with the details, but let’s just say some of it is just crazy. However, Suicide Squad isn’t just free and clear since some of the negativity is warranted, but not all of it. The film itself isn’t all that great, but isn’t terrible either. So let’s get to reviewing the worst heroes ever.
Suicide Squad is set after the events of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and sees government agent Amanda Waller (Davis) who has an idea to bring together the, as she puts it, “worst of the worst.” The plan is to make a task force called Task Force X, filled with villains like The Man that Never Misses, Deadshot (Smith), Joker’s girlfriend Harley Quinn (Robbie), the monstrous Killer Croc (Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Australian diamond thief Captain Boomerang (Courtney), pyro-kinetic Diablo (Hernandez), master rope man Slipknot (Beach) and June Moone (Delevingne) who is possessed by the witch Enchantress. The idea is that Waller wants a task force to fight off any other meta-humans – a term many comic books fans will know – threat that come their way.
The government, not so sure about Waller’s plan, is suddenly left to go through with it when a supernatural event occurs in Midway City. Considering the task force is filled with villains, Waller and the government have their easy out if things go wrong. To make sure things go smoothly, Waller makes solider Rick Flag (Kinnaman) her man on the ground, with his bodyguard and right-hand woman Katana (Fukuhara) to protect him in case the team gets any ideas – there’s also an explosive implant in the neck. However, when the team finally arrives to Midway City, they soon realize things are way worse than they thought.
Suicide Squad has been highly anticipated since the first teaser that came out last year after Comic Con. But again, with all the craziness that came out before the film’s release like competing cuts and all the early negative reviews, the film went even more under the microscope. I personally wasn’t sold on Suicide Squad for awhile, but as it got closer to the release, I was looking forward to it and hoping it was good. Then I saw the film, and I have to say, it isn’t what I thought it would be. Even with the early negative reception from critics, Suicide Squad was always going to be a risk for the DC Extended Universe. It’s following villains that maybe some casual fans don’t know, it’s expecting you to root for them from the get-go, and it’s following Batman v Superman. Also, no matter what you thought the film was about, we had no idea what to expect.
I did want to like Suicide Squad, and for the most part I liked it more than I thought I would. However, there is no denying the film does have a good chunk of issues. One of them is, unfortunately, an issue that Dawn of Justice had in editing. Thankfully, the film’s editing is better, but not by a lot. Deadshot and Harley Quinn are introduced at the beginning of the film, and then are reintroduced when Waller is making the rundown of who she wants on Task Force X. The introductions to the characters are a bit wonky, as it quickly rundowns what makes them so bad and then either jumps to how they were captured, or gives each other them – expect Slipknot, but come on, that’s not a spoiler – a vignette. I don’t mind the way they did it, but there were probably better ways of introducing the characters.
The pacing for the film is fine as it drives forward with action, expect there’s a random flashback that Harley has that derails the pacing the film had going. The other thing that pretty much kills the thin story, is Waller’s plan for the Suicide Squad, makes no sense. I won’t obviously spoil what her plan is, but once you see the whole scheme of things, you are left wondering what the hell was the point? Combine that with some of the other issues the film has, you start to see that there was some behind-the-scenes juggling going on. It also doesn’t help that film moves from set-piece to set-piece.
Once the Suicide Squad makes it to Midway City, the action kicks in. The action is great to watch, and besides the cast, is one of the best parts of the film. Seeing all these villains comes together and essentially be the good guys, or at least anti-heroes, to take down literally faceless monsters is a sight to watch. I would have liked to see the group go at it themselves, but they just kind of agree to be grouped together. The only ones that really go at it is Deadshot and Flag. Also, it would have been nice to see some of the action scenes that were cut, well any of the scenes really, from the film.
Speaking of the cast, the majority of the cast really works. I’ll admit, I had my doubts about Will Smith playing Deadshot. Not because I don’t like Smith, but because I don’t see Deadshot as a Will Smith character, but boy did he prove me wrong. Of course, Deadshot is played by Will Smith, so you just see Smith, but he’s still great in the role. Margot Robbie is one of the highlights of the film. Although it really is hard to judge considering this is Harley Quinn’s first time on the big screen, but Robbie is really great at Quinn. There were moments where I thought they took it just a notch over, but overall Robbie has set the bare high for any future Harley Quinn actresses.
Viola Davis as Amanda Waller is, arguably, one of the most frightening characters in the whole film. That’s saying something considering what the film is filled with, but you believe Davis as Waller as this cut-throat, no nonsense agent who wants things done her way. The other highlight of the film for me is Jay Hernandez as Diablo. The character doesn’t do too much, but when you find out why it makes sense and makes him probably one of the most well-rounded characters in the film. The problem is that it takes time see what makes him tick and why he is the way he is, and it’s really disappointing.
The other characters really don’t do much. Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag is okay, but it’s hard to see him taking command of a bunch of supervillains. Killer Croc, although looks great in the practical make-up, all he does is grunt and snarl at his team. He does speak in the film and it’s pretty humorous when he does, but still. Captain Boomerang is essentially the comedic relief of the film, and while I’m not a fan of Jai Courtney he does a pretty decent job here. Kudos does go to Karen Fukuhara as Katana, because this is Fukuhara’s first film and her Katana has some cool scenes in the film, but her character doesn’t do much in the film either. Cara Delevingne as June Moone/Enchantress is meh We don’t spend any time with June Moone, so we don’t really have any sort of connection to her. When it comes to Enchantress, the best scene is her first scene when she is formally introduced in a room full of government officials. That is saying a lot since she plays a very vital role in the film.
Finally, Jared Leto’s The Joker. I know a lot of people were looking forward to Leto’s Joker from the first photo that was revealed. It also goes without saying that Leto’s Joker was always – no matter what anyone says – going to be judged against other Joker’s that came before him. It’s also unfair that he’s the first Joker after Heath Ledger’s great performance as The Clown Prince. I had my doubts about Leto’s Joker, and I hoped that he’d pull it off, but sadly he didn’t for me. Leto tried to do his own thing, while looking to pay some little homage to the Joker’s before, but it didn’t click for me. His little ticks and nuances came off as a little over-the-top, and ultimately doesn’t really do anything worthwhile in the film. We know now that Leto filmed more scenes as The Joker for the film that were cut – some even appear in the trailers, but not the film – but that isn’t a justification for shoehorning him into the film.
All in all, Suicide Squad isn’t a bad film like some critics are saying, but it isn’t a great film either, and you can see that Warner Bros. did have a hard time deciding what this film was going to be. Smith, Robbie, Hernandez and Davis are the highlights of the huge cast that could have gone wrong. There are some nice surprises in the film as well, but overall, Suicide Squad is really going to be one of those movies you either like or dislike. Personally, I’m indifferent to the film. I liked most of the film, but the issues of the film make the film bit disappointing as a whole because there was potential.
3 out of 5
Director: Scott Cooper
Writer(s): Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth
Cast: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, David Harbour, Julianne Nicholson, Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott, Peter Sarsgaard, and Corey Stoll
Synopsis: The true story of Whitey Bulger, the brother of a state senator and the most infamous violent criminal in the history of South Boston, who became an FBI informant to take down a Mafia family invading his turf.
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*
*Reviewer Note 2: I fell behind on my movie watching, so some anticipate some more reviews this week*
Black Mass is based on the book “Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob” written by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, and based on the true life of arguably one of the most notorious gangsters ever, James “Whitey” Bulger. Whether or not all the events in the film happen or not – two of the real life people that rolled with Bulger say some stuff was not true – the film is a brooding, dark, gritty and tremendously acted film.
The film stars in 1975 as we get an idea of who James, or Jimmy, “Whitey” Bulger (Depp) is to the people surrounded by him. The film is introduced by Kevin Weeks (Plemons) as he’s being integrated and says that Bulger was a small time guy and suddenly he became one of the biggest names in South Boston or Southie as they called it. From there we’re introduced to John Connolly (Edgerton), who has returned to Boston and has joined the FBI. His first ambitious move, reunite with his childhood friend Bulger and convince him to join forces to take down the Mafia running North Boston. Bulger seeing this as an opportunity to take down the competition agrees and here is what beings his reign as the kingpin of Boston.
The film isn’t just about Bulger, the film is also about John Connolly. The two get the same amount of screen time and Connolly gets his hands a bit dirty in his own way as much as Bulger. Connolly thinks Bulger is the FBI’s saving grace against the Mafia in Boston and it clouds his judgment from time to time, and it makes him – arguably – as corrupt as Bulger. All of it, done well by the great and always reliable Joel Edgerton.
Here is where I run into a problem with Black Mass. The film itself is just okay, but it is elevated thanks to the performances of the impressive and huge cast. Depp and Edgerton at the forefront and the supporting cast play their parts well. Depp is back to true form here. This is the kind of films I like Depp in, where he show his true potential and great acting prowess. Forget the wacky roles that he’s been playing for years now, it is when he plays a serious and real character that you remember how great he is, and playing Bulger is one of those roles. He’s terrifying and intimidating when he has to be, that includes scenes with Dakota Johnson’s Lindsey Cyr and Julianne Nicholson’s Marianne Connolly, the wife of John Connolly. As good as he is as Bulger, he can also be rather charming when he has to be, which is rather odd to see after all the scenes that involve him being a terrible person.
Edgerton, on the other hand, has his fair share of great moments with and without Depp, but his character at times is so blinded by the myth that is Bulger that he becomes a bit distracted of his real duties as an FBI agent. He also becomes a bit cocky that he managed to get one of the most wanted criminals the bureau ever wanted to work for them instead of taking him down.
The supporting cast all plays their parts on point and all have their moments to shine, considering how big the film is. Jesse Plemons’ Kevin Weeks and Rory Cochrane’s Steve Flemmi provide framing devices for the most part, but also Bulger’s most loyal allies that will follow him to the end, as does W. Earl Brown as John Martorano. David Harbour’s John Morris plays the more conflicted FBI agent when it comes to working with Bulger and has one of the best and most tension filled scenes that involves a recipe. Kevin Bacon pops in as head of the FBI section in Boston as Charles McGuire as does the surprise cast member of Adam Scott as Robert Fitzpatrick.
Unfortunately, some cast members don’t fare that well as others. Dakota Johnson, Julianne Nicholson and Juno Temple are the only real female characters in the film, but it feels like they don’t much as characters. Johnson and Nicholson have more substance to their roles but Johnson disappears after the first half hour of the film and her scenes with Depp are the best at getting some dimension from Depp’s Bulger, and you miss it afterwards. Corey Stoll appears at the end as new District Attorney Fred Wyshak and Peter Sarsgaard’s Brian Halloran is a bit all over the place and although his character calls for it, I could have seen anyone else playing that role. Finally, Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays U.S Senator Billy Bulger has literally about ten minutes – if that – of screen time and has only one real good scene with Edgerton near the beginning of the film. His brotherly connection to Jimmy Bulger isn’t even touched on too much, and they only have a couple scenes together. It’s kind of a shame really.
So despite the great cast and performances, Black Mass doesn’t really do much in getting us more in the head of Bulger. It does early on with the scenes with Johnson’s Cyr but that’s about it. We don’t get more into his head at all and it probably tries to make up for it by giving those conflicted moral scenes to Edgerton’s Connolly, but great acting only takes you so far.
All in all, Black Mass is filled with by great performances led by Johnny Depp and Joel Edgerton. The film is a bit grim and hard to watch in some scenes, but the slow burn to the film may turn off some viewers anyway. Black Mass isn’t the perfect film or tale of Bulger’s legacy, but it worth the watch.
4 out of 5
Dir: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Johnny Skourtis, Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo
Synopsis: A man believes he has put his mysterious past behind him and has dedicated himself to beginning a new, quiet life. But when he meets a young girl under the control of ultra-violent Russian gangsters, he can’t stand idly by – he has to help her
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review*
Based on the CBS show of the same name, The Equalizer – which had one of the highest test-screening results for Sony Pictures – follows Robert McCall (Washington) who enjoys his quiet and simple life. He follows a routine, works at a Home Depot-like store, is friendly with his co-workers Ralphie (Skourtis), Jenny (Anastasia Mousis), Jay (Rhet Kidd), and Marcus (Allen Maldonado), but besides all that he has a problem sleeping. Instead of staying at home he spends his nights at a diner reading classic books and talking to a young prostitute Teri (Moretz). When she shows up the next time, she has a bruised cheek and later ends up in the hospital. When Robert finds out that she has a connection to the Russian mob, he takes matters into his own hands. Unfortunately for Robert, the Russian mob sends in Teddy (Csokas), a violent and smart fixer that wants to take down Robert.
Some of the ads show The Equalizer as another somewhat hardcore action movie and even though the action sequences are very well done and have a ton of great moments, director Antoine Fuqua gives the movie a kind of low-key feel. We see McCall dealing with crocked cops and lower level henchmen before he gets to the big baddies at the end. Fuqua also doesn’t rely on CGI – only some moments – but mostly on the cast and more specifically Denzel Washington, who is in almost every scene in the movie.
Since the movie is pretty much the Denzel show – not a bad thing – we get a lot of Robert McCall. We get right from the start that McCall is a bit of a loner, but he does have a relationship with his co-workers, more so with Ralphie, who he helps train to become a security guard by losing weight. But, Washington is once again reliable here playing McCall as a man of mystery who is patient and fearless when the situation calls for it. McCall doesn’t have to use threats to get his point across either and will sometimes even use some wit and jokes when someone else is threatening him. He’s also such a great character that you can’t wait to see him kick someone’s ass.
The other thing that McCall brings is what most people will probably call, and what I’ve seen in a few reviews, “Equalizer Vision.” Simply, he looks around the room or surroundings to see what he could use to his advantage. The big example is the highly advertized scene with him taking out a room full of Russians. The nice thing is that it only really happens about twice and although we have seen it in other films, it works here and feels like it belongs to the character. Plus it is a fun way to see how some baddies are going to die.
Of course every hero needs a villain right? Here it’s Teddy played by the also always reliable Marton Csokas. Right at the beginning Csokas gives Teddy a remarkable presence and while he plays him as a bit of a talker at the start, you soon realize that Teddy is just as deadly and smart as McCall, if not more. We could have just gotten one scene about how evil he is but Fuqua does show how evil Teddy is and how uncontrollable he can be. They also have a great scene together and I kind of wished it went a little longer because it was great to see the two of them go back and forth.
The rest of the cast holds their own but the movie really does belong to Washington and Csokas. Johnny Skourtis’s Ralphie has some nice moments and scenes with Washington while David Harbour’s crocked cop character serves his purpose. Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo play Brian and Susan Plummer in really glorified cameos as McCall’s friends and former CIA contacts. The role they really play is just telling McCall how deadly Teddy is and who he’s really messing with. Haley Bennett has a small role as Mandy that really goes nowhere but her telling McCall about the first group of Russians.
Chloe Grace Moretz’s Teri plays in what you would think would be a big role character wise but it never really happens. Teri is an important character because she’s the reason McCall goes on his rampage of vengeance but after she goes to the hospital she disappears and not to be seen until the end of the movie when she sees McCall again. It is a little unfortunate because Moretz does bring some levity to the character that clearly wants out of current life. Also to the perverts out there, you never see Moretz doing any prostituting, so there’s that.
I mention the action earlier and while the action at the beginning is great to see, it’s the final showdown that truly makes the movie. Everything builds up for the final showdown and we get to see how truly deadly McCall is when he single-handedly takes down bad guys in brutal fashion. The mood in the scene definitely makes the scene more powerful.
All in all, The Equalizer is highly enjoyable and the showcase of the movie will definitely be the final showdown at the end. The movie is pretty violent which I wasn’t expecting but not so over the top that will take you out of the movie or ruin it because it kind makes sense. Denzel Washington and Marton Csokas highlight the film, and with Fuqua’s directing I think fans will appreciate the film.
4 out of 5
Dir: Scott Frank
Cast: Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, Eric Nelsen, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley, Adam David Thompson, and David Harbour
Synopsis: Private investigator Matthew Scudder is hired by a drug kingpin to find out who kidnapped and murdered his wife
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review*
At this point we all know Liam Neeson is great at playing a gruff, no nonsense ass-kicker. Some say it’s getting a bit old, but Neeson still manages to bring something different to each character he plays. While he does play almost the same character here in A Walk Among the Tombstones, Neeson once again shows his range of playing a different kind of badass.
Based on Lawrence Block’s novel of the same name, the film follows ex-cop turned unlicensed Private Investigator Matthew Scudder (Neeson), who after a terrible accident eight years before, reluctantly agrees to help a drug trafficker Kenny (Stevens) to track down a pair of criminals (played by Thompson and Harbour) who kidnapped and brutally murdered his wife even after he paid them to return her. When he starts to investigate and digs deeper into what’s going, he finds out these two have done this before and will continue to do so, until they stop.
Like I stated before, Neeson plays a badass again but not a badass like his previous movies like Taken or Non-Stop. Instead of constantly going up to people and beating the crap out of them for not giving him an answer, Neeson’s Matt uses his words – with the occasion threat or wise crack. At one point he does do a Taken-like speech near the end of the movie, which at that point of the movie it felt necessary and welcomed. It’s weird to say but Neeson gets to actually act as opposed to just be a badass and has some depth added to him with past troubles.
Director Scott Frank builds the world and tone right from the beginning. A Walk Among the Tombstones is a unsettling mystery thriller that keeps you engaged and scared for their characters, especially once you figure out what our villains Ray (Harbour) and Albert (Thompson) actually do to their victims. It is a little hard to watch but credit should be given to them for giving eerie performances and Frank for making them feel like monsters in the shadow for a good portion in the film before we see their faces.
The rest of the cast holds their own and do a good job with their roles. Stevens makes us feel some sympathy for his drug tracking character of Kenny, who is a bad guy, but considering his situation, you almost forget that. I actually wish there was more of Stevens because his character and performance was rather great. Eric Nelsen plays Howie, who is Kenny’s brother who has s secret that doesn’t really go anywhere and might fall a bit flat for some. Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley plays TJ, a local street kid that helps Matt and has his own problems going on, but also gets a bit annoying at times. Finally Olafur Darri Olafsson has a small but standout performance as James Loogan.
An interesting backdrop of the movie is that it takes place in 1999 and right at the beginning of the Y2K-scare, which in a nice touch one of the killers says “people are afraid of all the wrong things.” The year doesn’t really come in to play or matter despite being a bit heavy-handed in the beginning of the movie and felt like it wasn’t going to lead to something. The only thing it really leads to is Matt saying he doesn’t put his faith in computers or cell phones, but this does get him close to TJ, who is tech-savvy.
All in all, A Walk Among the Tombstones is a unsettling but engaging mystery thriller where Neeson adds another dimension of his usual ass-kicker roles in the past. The film relies on its tone and performances from its actors to keep you guessing until the end.
A Walk Among the Tombstones
4 out of 5