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.
Bridge of Spies: an all-American lawyer must represent a Soviet spy in court; then broker a deal in Berlin to trade him for a captured American pilot. This movie has got crazy ‘Mad Men’ levels of period nostalgia, so much so that it feels deliberately aimed at older generations: bowler hats, vintage suits, cars, produce, umbrellas, briefcases, Nescafe – all from the good old days when you at least knew who your enemy was (Ivan the Russki, obviously). Everyman Hanks is on everyman form but, as the award shows have reflected, Rylance completely steals the film – even with his best Mrs Doubtfire accent – and they have some cracking scenes together. It’s also funnier, and more upbeat that you’d expect, although not all laughs hit the mark (like the huge hotel breakfast). With Spielberg directing, The Coen Brothers writing, Tom Hanks & Mark Rylance starring, and a remarkable supporting cast… the biggest disappointment is that it’s not a ‘great’ movie. Other than the ‘old-timey‘ orchestrated score, you’d hardly even know you were watching a Spielberg film; the drama and emotions are kept at arm’s length, and it could have done with a bit more drama or tension – like not knowing if the accused was or wasn’t a spy from the first scene. It also feels fragmented; not just in that the it’s two separate stories; but it’s part legal drama, part cold war, part family, part political… Overall, it feels like less than the sum of its parts, but as you’d expect, a ‘satisfactory’ Spielberg movie is as good as most people on form. Bridge of Spies is two interesting Cold War tales, told in a very matter-of-fact, flat and peril/drama-free manner – that fails to suck you in to the story.
The Master: a veteran returns home and is eventually taken under the wing of a charismatic charlatan. To get the ‘acting’ chat out of the way, Joaquin Phoenix turns in a career-defining performance of a multi-layered borderline perverted post-war wayward career alcoholic who is – we’re led to believe – physically and mentally disabled – it’s an acting accomplishment of the highest order. PSH is good, but – and I know it’s ridiculous to say – you always expect big shouty performances like this from him now. The rest of the cast are top dollar, but only appear for minutes at a time. The film itself is rather vague; part psychology, part character study, part love story, part drama, part coming-of-age, part religious historical… it feels very unplanned and ill-though out. It borrows some major themes similarities from There Will Be Blood, and to a lesser extent harks back to Magnolia, and the similarities between “The Cause” and Scientology’s beginnings, and leader, are about as subtle as a brick to the face – it was almost silly to not name it. The Master is a strange one: the subject matter’s interesting, the acting’s top-drawer, it’s beautifully shot (so much so that plenty scenes resemble ‘art’ more than ‘cinema’) … but the way in which it’s edited, and the often bizarre content of many scenes’ make it infuriatingly alienating. By the end of this 140 minute endurance test, I was long disinterested. It’s a shame that some magnificent performances are upstaged and drowned out by such irreverent cinematic and narrative wankery (for the second time in two weeks!).