Black Mass: follows the criminal activities of the notorious James “Whitey” Bulger and his closest conspirators. First off; why the fuck would anyone want to make such a pointless film? One that tells the story of an evil murderer, pointing out that he’s an evil murderer by showing him commit and sanction said evil murders. We get it; but y tho? There’s no arc, no development, no story… it’s just a series of decreasingly effective cold-blooded killings. The pacing is dead slow, full of unlikable characters and shows zero motivation for anyone’s actions; especially the vampiric and despicable lead. If anything, it felt farcical that a FBI would allow such openly compromised detective to continue working on cases they were obviously invested in! Being set in Boston we’re treated to everyone trying (but failing) to nail BAWSTAN accent: Cumberbatch lands poll position with a change in both pitch and hammy accent, that feels like a straight-up comedy voice. The ensemble cast are phenomenal, but nobody is given a credible character to work with, and although he’s as good as he’s been in the last 10 years or so Johnny Depp continues his obsession with distracting dressing up / make up to get in to character. Black mass is well shot, boasts a couple of good scenes, and a decent central performance but it is the opposite of an enjoyable or interesting film. It’s the film that nobody was crying out for; and a great companion piece for Killing Them Softly.
The Factory: when his daughter is taken by a kidnapper who has successfully evaded him for years the clock is ticking faster than ever for a Buffalo detective. Featuring Cusack, and a similar type of story, you may expect something like The Frozen Ground; or a movie like Insomnia, Se7en, Mystic River etc… Unfortunately, this isn’t in the same ball park. The story’s horribly clunky, and the clues/pointers are even worse – in particular a ridiculously bumbling angle about fertility and infertility which would stick out in any dialogue. The film (and detective) flounder from missed clue to missed clue before it throws up a preposterous ending – complete with flashbacks for those at the back not paying attention. The title of the film makes no sense until the last 2 minutes of the movie – which is also distracting. Character-wise you’ve got the clichéd married-to-the-job detective, rookie sidekick, and a kidnapper that should have been demented and scary (Buffalo Bill style), but was played like a comedy redneck character. Despite a promising synopsis and Cusack in the lead is not much more than a bottom of the barrel, bargain bin, by-the-numbers, straight-to-DVD, B-movie with an A-List star and some TV actors (minor characters from Dexter, Good Wife, Arrested Development).
Inescapable: an ex-military intelligence officer loses his daughter while she’s travelling Europe, so he jets over and tries to hunt her down. That plot sounds familiar… This is essentially a more bureaucratic version of Taken/Taken 2/Frantic – with fewer thrills, and more focus on the ‘Eastern mystery’ angle. What’s quite good is that almost everyone the father meets is quite shifty, so you never really know what direction the plot is going to turn. Set in Syria (Damascus), it’s not particularly sympathetic to the country, nor are the American actor’s accents. 24 bad guy / all-round TV actor Siddig feels like he’s channeling the spirit of Bryan Mills a little too hard with the hushed, gristly hero yank voice. Inescapable is solid, but unremarkable; interesting, but not smart enough; not fantastic, but not awful… a totally middle-of-the-road movie.
Edge of Darkness: when his sick daughter is gunned down, detective Tom Craven starts looking for people with a grudge against him, but maybe he wasn’t the target. This is a good-old corporation/government conspiracy film that feels like a throwback to the blunt movies of the 80s. There’s a few totally unexpected, and fairy graphic deaths that have genuine shock value, and get properly etched in your brain. The plot starts to feel like a runaway train, where the crazy and unbelievable things start piling up. We also get treated to a variety of terrible Boston accents, which make some of the dialogue difficult to catch. Gibson pulls out a decent performance, given his characters complex mental state – but everyone else can be filed under ‘hammy’ or ‘generic’. One final note, to Ray Winstone, please stop being Ray Winstone! Despite sitting on the Edge of Realism, Edge of Darkness is a decent, albeit depressingly nihilistic, action / thriller / revenge / conspiracy picture from the director that had the stones and talent to save the James Bond franchise twice.
Brooklyn Rules: 3 young Italian-Americans grow up in New York where their upbringing is overshadowed by the mob: rampant plagiarism ensues. First off, the acting’s terrible (PFJ as a dramatic lead… well done), as is the story, as are the accents, as is the direction – and just so the script didn’t feel left out, they made that shit too. Ultra-sloppy stock ‘gangster’ characterisation and entire characters lifted from similar movies – which makes for some boring, predictable, tosh. What’s more insulting is that despite a reasonable cast – and assumably budget – the film looks like it was filmed on VHS.
Having cringed my way through the first 50 minutes, I knew I didn’t have another 40 minutes of self-loathing / punishment in me. Wouldn’t wish this on my enemies.
Alternative plan: fired on a few episodes of Community instead.
Cassandra’s Dream: two brothers in financial trouble turn to their wealthy uncle for help… First off, this has more simplistic teenage-level melodrama than a papa roach album. It’s also full of good actors doing terrible acting, with dodgy accents… it’s hard to tell if it’s the shit script, stock characters (forenames only – a major pet hate of mine), soap-opera story or just bad direction. The characters are established through teeth-grindingly clichéd dialogue, not to mention that the entire story can be guessed at least ten minutes ahead at all times. To top it all off, it’s yet another Woody Allen film set in a romanticised version of a city, crammed with ra-ra artisan characters who have old-timey sensibilities (like a countryside drive in the old motor to a meadow picnic). By the time that Tom Wilkinson gets to inject a bit of acting and class in to this the film is already dead. Cassandra’s Dream is a piss-poor excuse for a tragedy; the biggest example of which is that this is what Allen’s career had come to.
Battle Recon: The Call to Duty (AKA Battle Force): the first ever Special Service Force unit is sent into Nazi occupied Sicily to bring back a captured hero. A film that opens with the line “They were trained to scale cliffs, jump out of airplanes and kill Nazis” should grab any guys attention. It’s the classic story of a unit of dysfunctional army reject-rabble coming together and kicking ass; and being a b-movie there’s plenty of entertainment: camo paint that strays into ‘Black Up’ territory, one guy doing his finest Brad Pitt (Bawnjorno!) impression, ze kampvest Nazi general in history and a couple of random hot chicks thrown in for good measure. The action’s good for a movie of this scale too – especially the stray bullet effects – although it does dwell on the shoot-outs a bit too long. It’s well-directed, very well shot, the colour gives it a very expensive-looking finish (I initially thought it was a Blu Ray), solidly edited and overall well put together – a fine effort. Mixing the classic ‘behind enemy lines’ WWII story with a knowingly post Inglorious nazi killin’ tongue-in-cheek angle, Battle Recon has enough entertainment and heart to keep you watching for the duration, even if it isn’t the most original war movie you’ll ever see.