MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 54 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Violence and Thematic Elements

Directed by: Kenneth Branagh

Written by: Michael Green

(based on the novel MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS by Agatha Christie)

Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Tom Bateman, Olivia Colman, Lucy Boynton & Marwan Kenzari

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS is arguably Agatha Christie’s most popular mystery novel (with AND THEN THERE WERE NONE being the only possible exception). Christie’s book has been adapted onto the big screen, the radio, and the small screen (three different times). ORIENT EXPRESS’s most recent adaptation has come loaded with big talent and recognizable faces. Though this film isn’t perfect and I wouldn’t rank it as the best Agatha Christie adaptation that I’ve sat through (that honor actually belongs to the miniseries adaptation of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE), MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS should provide classy entertainment for mature audiences.

In the 1930s, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is famous for solving seemingly unsolvable cases. Poirot seems determined to put a stop to all crime, but he also needs occasional vacation time. In an effort to get away from his stressful line of work, this mustachioed crime-solver has booked passage on the Orient Express in the dead of winter. Poirot’s holiday is cut short by the sudden murder of shady businessman Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp). To make matters even worse, an avalanche has derailed the train. With a train full of suspects and an increasingly tense atmosphere, Poirot must uncover the killer’s identity before another life is lost.

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS benefits from high production values and a cast/crew who clearly cared about putting their all into this project. Kenneth Branagh shot this film on 65mm cameras and the resulting visuals are gorgeous to behold. Most of MURDER’s plot doesn’t necessarily rely on effects (other than shots of the train and its snowy location), instead playing out as a tense thriller between its contained cast of characters. There are a couple of confrontations and suspenseful chases, but this film mostly builds its tension from conversations and flashbacks within those conversations (that reveal further clues about a possible motive and the killer’s identity).

Having not read the source material, I had the pleasure of not knowing a thing about MURDER’s conclusion. Though thrilling, unexpected and oddly moving, I have to imagine that ORIENT EXPRESS will likely lose some of its impact on repeated viewings. Still, the film benefits from the sheer entertainment of Kenneth Branagh in the leading role as Hercule Poirot. This over-the-top Belgian detective is quirky to the extreme and noticeably obsessive-compulsive, as opposed to being a borderline sociopathic detective (ala Sherlock Holmes). Besides driving the plot forward and cleverly piecing together clues for the viewer, Branagh’s Poirot also provides enjoyable comic relief. The tonal mix of almost cartoonish humor and straight-faced seriousness never once dissuaded my love for this strange protagonist.

As far as the supporting cast goes, ORIENT EXPRESS contains quite the impressive gathering of A-listers and emerging talent among its passengers/suspects. Johnny Depp gets some mileage out of his scumbag victim because he actually gets to flex his acting muscles in this role. Penelope Cruz is a standout as a suspicious missionary, while Willem Dafoe plays an oddball professor. Judi Dench fits well into the role of a creepy princess. The usually comedic Josh Gad plays a far darker character than his usual light-hearted fare. Michelle Pfeiffer is a hysterical (though possibly deceptive) passenger, while Daisy Ridley is a charming (though possibly homicidal) woman hiding secrets. Meanwhile, Leslie Odom Jr. is good enough as the charismatic (but possibly murderous) doctor.

On the non-suspect side of things, Tom Bateman is also a lot of fun as Poirot’s best friend (and the Orient Express’s director) Bouc. ORIENT EXPRESS’s only noticeably bad performances come from Lucy Boynton as a reclusive countess and Sergei Polunin as her ill-tempered count husband. Boynton is bland in her role and doesn’t get enough screen time to leave much of a positive impression at all. Meanwhile, Polunin is laughably over-the-top in the scenes where he switches from a calm 0 to a furiously enraged 100 in a matter of seconds. His violent temper just feels unbelievably forced. One confrontation involving this character comes out of nowhere and is almost laughably bad due to Polunin’s unconvincing line delivery. Still, both of these performers don’t receive too much screen time.

The beauty of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS is that its seemingly simple murder-mystery that gets drastically more complex as the list of possible suspects and motives continues to grow. Clues and red herrings run rampant. The viewer’s emotions are thrown into a borderline distressed state as you try to figure out who the killer is…much like protagonist Poirot. As I mentioned before, I don’t think this film will hold up nearly as well upon a second viewing. Once the cat has been let out of the bag, the film’s surprise and novelty is pretty much gone. However, Branagh’s Poirot, the visuals, and performances from a talented cast make a viewing worthwhile. If you’re into murder mysteries and enjoy classy slow-burn storytelling, then you’ll likely dig MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS.

Grade: B

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 9 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Adventure Violence, and some Suggestive Content

Directed by: Joachim Ronning & Espen Sandberg

Written by: Jeff Nathanson

Starring: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Geoffrey Rush, Kevin McNally, Golshifteh Farahani, David Wenham, Stephen Graham & Orlando Bloom

In theory, the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN series never should have worked. It’s based on a theme park ride and had a goofy premise from the start, with Johnny Depp putting in a shamelessly over-the-top performance that baffled studio heads. However, 2003’s CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL was a huge hit amongst both critics and audiences. I consider that film to be a glowing example of big budget summer entertainment done right. DEAD MAN’S CHEST was an okay sequel, while AT WORLD’S END was a tired slog to sit through. ON STRANGER TIDES was a marginally better fourth entry that attempted to steer this swashbuckling series back into Captain Jack’s fantastical ocean adventures. How does the fifth(!) installment in this long-running theme-park-based franchise fare? Well, let’s just say that I enjoyed almost every other PIRATES film more than DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES.

Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), son of the Flying Dutchman’s captain Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), is desperate to break the curse that holds his father to the sea. To do this, he needs to find Poseidon’s legendary trident…and for that, he’ll need the help of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). Henry and Jack get off to a rocky start, as they’re accompanied by intellectual Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) and her ability to read a map in the stars. Their journey only gets rockier as the Jack’s crew encounters Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), evil British Lieutenant Scarfield (David Wenham), and ghostly Spaniard Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem). The only hope for breaking Will’s curse and saving Jack’s life is to find/steal the fabled trident!

DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES, much like the series’ previous installment ON STRANGER TIES, clearly has Disney trying to steer this pirate franchise in new directions. This time, they’re aiming to bring in a new generation of moviegoers by having two fresh-faced, younger characters as leads. Henry Turner and Carina Smyth are clearly supposed to be hipper, younger stand-ins for Orlando Bloom’s hero and Keira Knightley’s heroine from the original trilogy. Unfortunately, Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario are poor substitutes in acting ability, on-screen charisma, and character development.

In his fifth outing as Captain Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp gets a fair amount of laughs and also grates on the viewer’s nerves in equal measure. I thought Depp was easily the best part of the first two PIRATE movies, but he’s slowly become more and more of a cartoon character as the films have gone on. The same can be said of DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES, which sees Captain Jack jumping from cannon to cannon in a ship battle and making plenty of goofy faces. His best scene easily involves a guillotine though and this got plenty of laughs out of myself (and everyone else in the theater). Geoffrey Rush fares much better as the returning Barbossa, while Orlando Bloom has a glorified cameo.

As two new antagonists in the series, David Wenham and Javier Bardem are on opposite ends of the villain totem-pole. Wenham (though a more than capable actor) isn’t given much to do as the evil British Lieutenant and his entire subplot wraps up in the most anti-climactic way possible (even worse than the giant witch from the third movie). Javier Bardem serves as a solid baddie though. I loved the look of his villain and the murderous grudge he holds against Sparrow. More screen time should have been dedicated to the conflict between Depp’s Sparrow and Bardem’s Salazar as opposed to far too many subplots that invasively take away from the film’s more interesting plot points.

As far as spectacle goes, DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES has its fair share of entertaining bits and cool moments. There’s an opening bank robbery that recaptures the humor that made the first two installments so enjoyable and, of course, there’s effects-driven chaos that one would expect to see in a PIRATES movie. Most of the film’s awesomeness involves Bardem’s ghostly villain and his strange powers, including using decaying sharks as creative weapons. The special effects look great, though you’d expect them to be that…with a price tag of over 200 million dollars. However, the finale is where things become a little too eye-rollingly silly in the plot’s over-the-top, anything-goes nature. I was not having nearly as much fun as I should have been, especially considering that the film goes for a “kitchen sink” approach in its final third.

DEAD MEN’s script is where most of this film’s many problems lie. The beyond convoluted plot feels like it’s trying to cram entirely too much into one movie. We have loads of new characters, meaning that our main ones of importance wind up underdeveloped and forgettable. Certain story arcs come right the hell out of nowhere with little rhyme, reason, or emotional resonance. One twist feels like a last-minute thought and becomes useless in the overall scheme of things. Meanwhile, a few subplots are completely pointless…like the British villain who goes nowhere and (again) has an infuriatingly stupid final scene.

DEAD MEN is only marginally better than AT WORLD’S END and falls far lower than the second and fourth installments. If the stinger after the end credits is any indication, we’ll likely be getting an unnecessary sixth film in the franchise…because why not render an ending that seemed to wrap up the entire series as pointless in the space of five minutes? There are a handful of great moments in DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES and I really enjoyed Bardem’s undead villain, but the film suffers from too many unfocused subplots, lazy writing, and two bland leads. As a result, DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES is the second-worst PIRATES movie and lackluster attempt at summer blockbuster entertainment.

Grade: C-

DONNIE BRASCO (1997)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 7 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for some Strong Graphic Violence, Pervasive Strong Language, brief Nudity and Sexuality

Directed by: Mike Newell

Written by: Paul Attanasio

(based on the book DONNIE BRASCO: MY UNDERCOVER LIFE IN THE MAFIA by Joseph D. Pistone)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Al Pacino, Michael Madsen, Bruno Kirby, Anne Heche, James Russo, Zeljko Ivanek, Gerry Becker, Andrew Parks, Robert Miano, Brian Tarantina, Rocco Sisto, Tim Blake Nelsen & Paul Giamatti

Based on an incredible true story, DONNIE BRASCO is a mafia movie that contains A-list talent, loads of suspense, and pretty much everything that fans of gangster cinema could ask for. This film was acclaimed during its 1997 theatrical run by both critics and audiences (making four times its budget back), and was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards. Though it doesn’t quite stack up to the pillar of Scorsese’s 90s gangster films (GOODFELLAS, CASINO), DONNIE BRASCO is a must-see for mob movie fans.

In a top-secret operation, FBI agent Joseph Pistone (Johnny Depp) has gone undercover as jewel thief “Donnie Brasco.” When “Donnie” attracts the attention of low-life enforcer Benjamin “Lefty” Ruggiero (Al Pacino), Joseph gains a position to take down one of the biggest crime families in the nation. This operation puts Joseph in a very dangerous spot as he’s forced to get down and dirty with these wiseguys, while constantly taking measures to maintain his cover. Soon enough, Joseph seems enraptured with his newfound criminal lifestyle…to a point where the FBI is concerned about his well-being and his wife (Anne Heche) realizes that he’s turning into “one of them.” Lots of suspense, mafia-related hijinks, and questionable morals follow as “Donnie” tries to complete his operation and escape with his life.

DONNIE BRASCO is different from other notable 90s gangster films because so much of it hinges on the Joseph’s undercover operation. There’s constant tension as the viewer wonders whether some blunder from a passing FBI agent or an unplanned event will unmask “Donnie’s” true identity. Even though we know that Pistone lived to write the memoir that inspired this film, DONNIE BRASCO keeps us on the edge of our seats. There’s something to be said about that quality alone. One intense moment comes early on as “Donnie” refuses to take his shoes off in a Japanese restaurant (because he has a wire hidden in his shoe)…only to result in a restaurant employee being beaten to a pulp. Another tense bit comes in “Donnie” being spotted by an air-headed coworker, while he’s standing right next to made-man “Sonny Black” (Michael Madsen). Small moments like these add even more danger to the proceedings.

As for the mafia material, DONNIE BRASCO carefully sets up details about the inner workings of the crime family. We learn what certain terms mean (“a friend of mine” or “a friend of ours”) and the signs that someone is about to get whacked (when you get “sent for”). These details are explained to the audience (as Pacino’s “Lefty” reveals them to Depp’s “Donnie”) and then pop up in the proceedings throughout. There are tense rivalries that make their way into the plot, while a few factual details have been switched up to provide a more tragic conclusion (though the real-life ending to this tale was bittersweet). Don’t expect loads of gun fights and blood, but DONNIE has its violent spots. One notable set piece comes in a shocking, though oddly satisfying execution sequence.

Despite the mafia driving this story forward, DONNIE BRASCO is at its most powerful when it examines the relationship between “Donnie” and “Lefty.” This plot element is beautifully executed as Johnny Depp and Al Pacino show wonderful chemistry on the screen. Depp’s “Donnie” is a convincing gangster and the way he snaps at the FBI (who almost get him killed on numerous occasions) causes the viewer to sympathize with him. Though he’s more famous for playing two iconic gangsters (Michael Corleone in THE GODFATHER and Tony Montana in SCARFACE), Al Pacino disappears into his role as “Lefty.” Pacino turns this cold-blooded contract killer into a somewhat tragic figure, who shows a nice side to “Donnie” and becomes his best friend.

Though DONNIE BRASCO nails most of its material and builds a strong relationship between Pacino and Depp’s characters, the film slightly drops the ball in two areas. The first of these is the passage of time in the story. The real life “Donnie Brasco” operation took place over the course of six years and the film neglects to fill us in on these dates. It’s not necessarily crucial to the story, but it felt like this film’s plot took place over the course of a year (tops)…which was probably not the case at all.

The second area where DONNIE BRASCO has problems is the turbulent relationship between Joseph and his worried wife. I felt like this entire subplot was a little too scattered. During one scene, Joseph’s wife is telling him how much she hates him and goes as far as to change their home number so he can’t call his kids. Then a few scenes later, she’s sympathetic towards his plight and madly in love with him for no apparent reason. It felt like a few scenes were deleted between this character’s shift into concern. This messy subplot neuters the would-be emotional impact of Joseph’s final family scenes.

Despite a couple of nagging narrative flaws, DONNIE BRASCO is a fantastic film that’s sure to sink its hooks into fans of gangster stories. The performances from Al Pacino and Johnny Depp warrant a watch by themselves, besides the stellar turn from Michael Madsen as an underdog mob boss. This film is unlike many of the mafia movies I’ve sat through, due to its strong focus on a heartfelt relationship between two very unlikely friends and a constant air of suspense from the undercover operation. If this sounds up your alley, then I highly recommend checking out DONNIE BRASCO!

Grade: A-

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 13 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some Fantasy Action Violence

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Directed by: David Yates

Written by: J.K. Rowling

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo, Samantha Morton, Ezra Miller, Ron Perlman & Jon Voight

Five years after the eighth HARRY POTTER film concluded the beloved fantasy franchise, J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world has returned in FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM. This is the first in a five-part series that’s been penned for the screen by none other than Rowling herself and that will likely bring excitement to anyone who grew up with HARRY POTTER. Though this first film in the spin-off series suffers from a few narrative problems, this big-budget fantasy is sure to be please hardcore POTTER heads and those who simply want another cinematic dose of wizarding entertainment!

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The year is 1926 and the place is New York. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is an awkward young wizard with a briefcase full of magical creatures. While other wizards and witches seem content with exterminating fantastical beasts, Newt wishes to save the dwindling species and document their existence in a book (try to guess what it’s titled). However, through an accidental twist of fate, some of Newt’s creatures escape and begin wreaking havoc across New York. With the help of Auror Tina (Katherine Waterston), non-maj Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and psychic Queenie (Alison Sudol), Newt rushes to recapture his escaped creatures before they or potential wizards/humans are harmed. Meanwhile, dangerous dark magic is also loose on the streets of New York and that sort of off-and-on connects to the main plot.

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FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM doesn’t simply repeat the magical mystery/chosen one formulas that were used in the HARRY POTTER franchise, and instead offers fans and newcomers something fresh in Rowling’s wizarding world. The change of setting to roaring 20’s New York adds a lot of atmosphere and shows us how the magic community functions in America. Small creative background details offer chuckle-worthy visual gags, but the intricately fleshed-out and effects-heavy world simply dazzles before the viewer’s eyes. Though it’s loaded with tons of CGI (like all of the HARRY POTTER films), every frame of the movie looks convincing. FANTASTIC BEASTS more than delivers in sheer spectacle.

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The titular beasts themselves are indeed fantastic. These creatures range from whimsical and cute to potentially threatening and dangerous. Newt Scamander’s quest to document their existence and ensure their survival is likely to appeal to animal lovers everywhere, whilst also feeding into the HARRY POTTER meets JUMANJI storyline. Eddie Redmayne has had hits (THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, THE DANISH GIRL) and misses (JUPITER ASCENDING) in his filmography, but serves as a rock solid lead here. Redmayne’s Newt is far from courageous “chosen one” Harry Potter…and starts off instead as quirky and awkward. Harry was a Gryffindor and Newt is a Hufflepuff. It shows, but offers a new kind of magical hero: an ordinary guy who wants to save magical creatures from mankind and wizardkind alike.

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Katherine Waterston makes a serviceable sidekick and heroine to go with the story’s eccentric protagonist, though a love-interest angle between them comes off as forced and unbelievable. Far more enjoyable to watch is Dan Fogler’s stint as a perplexed non-maj (an American Muggle) trying to avoid getting his memory wiped and helping Newt save the day. Alison Sudol makes the most of her scenes and has a fantastic subplot with Fogler. Ron Perlman also makes a brief vocal appearance as a sadly underused goblin gangster.

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FANTASTIC BEASTS’s major problem is a subplot that seems out-of-place and unfocused from the main story, even though it does finally form a connection during the final third. The villains and potential antagonists feel like afterthoughts. I’d argue that this subplot was included purely for the purposes of setting up future installments in a very noticeable, borderline distracting fashion. Colin Farrell does what he can to salvage the blatant sequel set-up as a hard-to-read Auror. Ezra Miller slumps his shoulders and cries, contributing next-to-nothing to the main storyline and giving a would-be emotional story arc that feels half-assed. Jon Voight shows up as a news reporter and doesn’t do much. Meanwhile, Samantha Morton seems primed to be a hateful antagonist…and then sort of fades away from the proceedings. This subplot was messy and though it does distract from FANTASTIC BEASTS’s main story, it doesn’t damage the overall movie too badly.

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FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM is better than three of the HARRY POTTER films (GOBLET OF FIRE, HALF-BLOOD PRINCE, and DEATHLY HALLOWS: Part 1) and reaches the level of SORCERER’S STONE on Rowling’s Wizarding World totem pole. Though BEASTS suffers from noticeable narrative stumbles and a sloppy subplot, it more than delivers in being spectacularly entertaining, giving us a new batch of interesting characters, and making the viewer excited for future installments to come. FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM has satisfied a cinematic craving that I didn’t realize I had until this film concluded. Bring on more magical adventures!

Grade: B+

YOGA HOSERS (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 28 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Crude Humor, Sexual References, Comic Violence, and brief Drug Material

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Directed by: Kevin Smith

Written by: Kevin Smith

Starring: Lily-Rose Depp, Harley Quinn Smith, Johnny Depp, Vanessa Paradis, Austin Butler, Tyler Posey, Justin Long, Haley Joel Osment, Genesis Rodriguez, Tony Hale, Natasha Lyonne & Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith’s filmography has recently gone through many odd shifts. Though he gained a loyal fanbase from low-budget comedies like CLERKS and MALLRATS, Smith has entered a horror phase…and this has been a hugely miscalculated move. The best of Smith’s horror efforts is easily RED STATE, a surprisingly strong merging of the Waco siege and the Westboro Baptist Church. 2014’s TUSK was disappointing due to its confused tonal shifts and a plot that seemed to making itself up as it went along. That film featured cameos from Kevin Smith’s daughter and Johnny Depp’s kid as Canadian convenience store clerks. YOGA HOSERS is a semi-sequel to TUSK and serves as a spin-off for that pair of minor characters.

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Colleen Collette (Lily-Rose Depp) and Colleen McKenzie (Harley Quinn Smith) are best friends, bandmates and co-workers at the Eh-2-Zed convenience store. They bury their faces in their cellphones during school and periodically skip out on their shifts to hold band practice in the backroom. After being invited to a senior party held by preppy Hunter Calloway (Austin Butler), the Colleens’ lives begin to look up…until Colleen C’s father (Tony Hale) forces the two BFF’s to take an unexpected work shift. Missing Hunter’s party won’t be the end of the Colleens’ problems though, because Bratzis (Kevin Smith in bratwurst make-up) have risen from the ground. You may be asking: “What’s a Bratzi?” It’s a little Nazi made of bratwurst and the Colleens have to contend with an army of them. Lucky for them, legendary man-hunter Guy Lapointe (Johnny Depp) is on the case.

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YOGA HOSERS’ plot is kind of difficult to summarize, because there isn’t exactly a straightforward storyline. The film is supposedly about two teenage clerks fighting bratwurst creatures that kill people by going up their butts, yet only a third of the film seems interested in that. The rest is dedicated to the Colleens going about their teenage lives and Johnny Depp mugging for the camera. Kevin Smith unapologetically admitted that this film was a vanity project, but it might have been fun (albeit ridiculously stupid) if there was any semblance of a story. Flashy headache-inducing title cards, two cringe-worthy musical numbers, and lame cut-away jokes constantly interrupt the movie’s already wavering momentum.

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Even though it clocks in at a mercifully short 88 minutes, YOGA HOSERS frequently lags in its pacing and feels much longer as a result. There are a few chuckles that keep the film from becoming a total failure, but these are few and far between. One visual joke seems directly lifted from Mel Brooks’ ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS (moles changing around on Johnny Depp’s face), which in turn was actually recycled from the ever-changing hump in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. The biggest laugh comes from Haley Joel Osment as Canadian Hitler. The punchline to his single scene is very funny, but that energy vanishes the minute he’s gone. Don’t worry though, because YOGA HOSERS tries to get more wacky laughs by giving us a Nazi villain monologuing through voice impressions of Hollywood actors (ala Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Pacino, etc.). That’s the level we’re at here, folks.

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I can’t judge too harshly on Lily-Rose Depp and Harley Quinn Smith’s performances, because they come off as annoying teenage kids. This was definitely the intention, but it doesn’t automatically turn them into likable ass-kicking heroines. Austin Butler, who resembles Justin Bieber, shows potential in a neat plot twist that showed promise…and is quickly written out by a lazy butt joke. Johnny Depp’s Guy Lapointe was one of the worst things in TUSK, but seems to fit in with the wacky stupidity of YOGA HOSERS. His presence is much more colorful than either of the Colleens anyway. The less said about Kevin Smith in bratwurst make-up, the better. Justin Long is serviceable enough as a pretentious strip mall yoga instructor. However, Smith thinks that cameos are the same thing as comedy…which makes for two incredibly out-of-place moments.

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Truthfully, I think that Kevin Smith knows YOGA HOSERS isn’t a good movie. In the Q&A shown before the Fathom Event screening, Smith stated that the film is a midnight movie made for viewers who aren’t allowed to stay up until midnight. He seems to be writing off this film’s bad quality as it being made for kids. I don’t think that’s quite the case. There may be no F-bombs or nudity in this film, but there’s definitely enough sexual innuendos to earn the PG-13 rating (which isn’t exactly perfect for a “kid’s movie”). Even if YOGA HOSERS was actually intended for little girls, quality kid’s films usually entertain older viewers too. How terrible is YOGA HOSERS? Well, let’s just say that a theater filled with hardcore Kevin Smith fans was dead silent for 90% of the running time and I’ll pretty much be ignoring the rest of Kevin Smith’s new movies until he inevitably makes CLERKS III.

Grade: D-

My Top 15 Films of 2015

List by Derrick Carter

2015 was a great year for cinema. So much so, that I’ve decided not to make a “Top 10 Films” of the year, but a “Top 15” instead. It should be noted that I haven’t seen every single movie that came out during the past twelve months. I’m one man after all and only pay money for and spend time on stuff that interests me. That being said, I reviewed 132 new releases during 2015. There are a few movies that I plan on covering and could have potentially made this list if I had seen them in 2015. These are: THE REVENANT, CAROL, ANOMALISA, and SON OF SAUL. The fifteen titles that did make the cut are flicks that I absolutely loved, plan on adding to my collection, and rewatching many times for years to come. I don’t expect everybody to agree with all of them, but hopefully I’ve recommended a couple of films that peak your interest.

Before getting into list itself, I feel a few honorable mentions are in order. BRIDGE OF SPIES showed that Steven Spielberg has not lost a shred of talent over the years. THE JINX proved to be a groundbreaking true-crime documentary that literally made history. Coming off a string of misfires, Melissa McCarthy delivered her funniest comedy yet in SPY. Finally, on the scary side of things, KRAMPUS is a great holiday horror-comedy that I plan on making an annual Christmas tradition and GOODNIGHT MOMMY is a freaky shudder-inducing little nightmare. Without further ado, I’ll move onto my favorite films of 2015…

15. Black Mass

15. BLACK MASS: Throughout the years, Johnny Depp has become a ghost of his former talented self, but delivered one of his best performances ever this year. He disappeared into the role Whitey Bulger and became a terrifying on-screen monster. The story is a complex one that couldn’t easily be told in the space of a two-hour film. Though I feel it would have been a modern crime masterpiece if 30 more minutes had been tacked onto the final third, director Scott Cooper did a phenomenal job portraying one of the most notorious gangster stories in American history. Depp isn’t necessarily the star of this movie as the rest of the cast is especially strong. Joel Edgerton, Kevin Bacon, Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Sarsgaard, Rory Cochrane, Adam Scott, and many more round out a great ensemble picture. It might not be a modern GOODFELLAS, but I’d rank it as a modern CASINO. BLACK MASS is easily one of the best real-life gangster films to come out of the new millennium.

14. It Follows

14. IT FOLLOWS: In the vein of the original HALLOWEEN and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, IT FOLLOWS is one of the single scariest viewing experiences that I’ve had all year. I attended a midnight screening at Sundance and everyone was losing their minds in the theater over this film. While it only has a few big jolts, IT FOLLOWS manages to get under your skin and stay there. I found myself getting progressively more creeped out when I arrived home and couldn’t stop thinking about the film. What’s even better about this movie is how it took the more difficult and complicated route instead of merely becoming a supernatural slasher. Instead, the film lets a dread-soaked atmosphere float around the viewer…and like “it” does to the characters themselves, that feeling follows you around long after the end credits have rolled.

13. Going Clear

13. GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF: The best documentary that I watched all year, GOING CLEAR is a fascinating and disturbing look into the inner workings of Scientology. Covering the formation of this so-called “religion” (you won’t blame me for calling it a cult after you watch this doc) to the huge amount of controversy surrounding it to the systematic abuse of its followers and opponents, GOING CLEAR is a harrowing watch. The testimonies from former members of the church are both chilling and heartbreaking. Some masterful editing also allows for brief moments of humor, such as a cheesy Scientology music video and an improvised awards ceremony invented specifically for Tom Cruise. As I stated in my review back in March, GOING CLEAR would almost be ridiculous and amusing, if it weren’t so devastating and terrifying.

12. Hateful Eight

12. THE HATEFUL EIGHT: It might not be Tarantino’s best film, but I loved the hell out of the HATEFUL EIGHT! A far more contained story than Tarantino’s recent Oscar nominees, this is pretty much RESERVOIR DOGS set in the Old West with more suspense. Besides that familiar set up, Tarantino manages to milk a massive amount of tension from each scene leading up to many unexpected revelations, over-the-top gore, and sick humor. I was on the edge of my seat throughout, almost fell out of my chair laughing at one point, and left totally satisfied.

11. Kingsman

11. KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE: Nobody expected this movie to be nearly as good as it was. The two best descriptions I can give KINGSMAN are that it’s either the KICK-ASS of spy movies or a very R-rated take on SPY KIDS. The film is wild, crazy, fast-paced and never takes itself seriously. In a year that’s been populated by plenty of superheroes, KINGSMAN is my favorite comic book adaptation of 2015. The church scene alone was one of the most jaw-dropping sequences I’ve sat through all year. The rest of the film is hugely entertaining and has the balls to take risks. KINGSMAN was definitely one of the biggest cinematic surprises I had all year, but it was upended by…

10. Gift

10. THE GIFT: This is the biggest surprise that I had in 2015. The trailer made it look like a generic thriller that had already been done a million times before. However, this can all be chalked up to bad marketing because Joel Edgerton pulled triple duty and put his heart into this well-crafted shocker. The film intentionally misleads the audience through various points before unleashing big bombshells upon them. The ending also left me speechless and contemplating it for days afterwards. This is one of those films that is pretty much guaranteed to generate a discussion with other film-loving friends. THE GIFT is not a predictable black-and-white thriller, but something much deeper and far scarier.

9. MI5

9. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE -ROGUE NATION: The MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE series has had its ups and downs. The first was good. The second was crap. The third was great. The fourth was fun. However, I don’t think anybody could have predicted that the fifth installment of this high-octane spy series would be the best of the bunch thus far. That was definitely the case as ROGUE NATION unleashed compelling high stakes, brought back old characters as if no time had passed at all, introduced a cool new ones, and had some fantastic set-pieces. In many ways (Bond girl, villain, secret evil organization), MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE -ROGUE NATION was a far better Bond movie than the actual Bond movie we received this year.

8. Crimson Peak

8. CRIMSON PEAK: This gorgeously realized film feels like Edgar Allan Poe and Jane Austen penned a novel together and then Guillermo Del Toro adapted it to the screen. Those who go in expecting endless jump scares and a typical ghost story will find themselves either let down or elated by the film being a gothic romance that happens to contain some very frightening ghosts and thick horror elements in its story. Every frame of the film is beautiful to look at and atmospheric beyond belief. There are shots of this movie that I haven’t been able to get out of my head since I originally saw it and I believe it’s among the very best of Guillermo Del Toro’s filmography. Jessica Chastain is also a fearsome force to behold!

7. Spotlight

7. SPOTLIGHT: A tastefully made movie about one of the most disturbing cover-ups in recent history. SPOTLIGHT could have easily gone for shock value and went all out to demonize religion as a whole. Actually, that’s sort of what I was expecting it to do when I walked into the theater. Imagine my surprise at how restrained and respectful this film is. Aided by one of the most realistic looks at journalism that you’re bound to see on film, the movie packs in so much emotion without ever crossing the line into anything that possibly resemble shock value or cheap shots. Instead, the film asks tough questions, brings powerful performances to the screen, and leaves the viewer with a lot to chew on. This is one of the most important movies of 2015.

6. Macbeth

6. MACBETH: Shakespeare has been brought to the big screen in many ways by many different filmmakers. This beautiful, bleak take on the Scottish Play might just be my favorite Shakespeare movie thus far. With dialogue being delivered in a naturalistic manner and some creative licensing thrown into the centuries-old material, this version of MACBETH somehow improves upon the already perfect tragedy by adding unexpected context into the mix. Michael Fassbender is stunning as the title character, but it’s Marion Cotillard who steals the show. Lady Macbeth is actually made into a sympathetic character which is something that I felt could never, ever be accomplished in any take on the play. It’s also worth noting that this is definitely not a Shakespeare adaptation that will be shown in many high school classrooms, which is a very good thing indeed!

5. Sicario

5. SICARIO: In 2013, Denis Villeneuve wowed me with PRISONERS. In 2015, he returned with the complex cartel thriller SICARIO. A movie that never allows you to get comfortable in your seat or breathe normally throughout its entire running time, SICARIO is a grim, bleak, and depressing movie…and all the better for it. This thriller had a number of stand-out sequences, an intense beyond words finale being one of them. Villeneuve knew precisely when to merely imply the dark deeds occurring just beyond a locked door and when to casually showcase disturbing sights in broad daylight. Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, and Josh Brolin are all fantastic in their parts. It’s likely that SICARIO will keep you thinking about it long after you’ve finished watching it, but just be prepared for that as there’s no glimmer of happiness or hope to be found within a single frame of this film.

4. Ex Machina

4. EX MACHINA: One of the best pieces of thought-provoking science-fiction to come out in a long, long time, EX MACHINA is a brilliantly crafted beast of a film. I loved everything about it when I first watched it back in April. The performances from the leads (likable Domnhall Gleeson, robotic Alicia Vikander, and scary Oscar Isaac) make for a film that’s pretty much a three character play. The uniquely designed house/research facility is almost a character as well, because the sense of claustrophobia and steadily rising tension become damn near nightmarish by the final third. The effects are excellently rendered and the film gets even better upon repeat viewings (little details stuck out more during the second and third times that I watched it). The hauntingly beautiful soundtrack is just the icing on the cake for my fourth best film of 2015.

3. Room

3. ROOM: Difficult and immensely rewarding, ROOM is a drama like no other. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name (which in turn was inspired by a real-life kidnapping case), this film is tense and remarkably uplifting. Throughout the whole running time, the story walks a tightrope between being heartwarming and heartbreaking. It ultimately winds up with the best of both worlds as various audience members (including myself) were crying at various points throughout the film. As sad as it can be, I left feeling immensely uplifted by this beautiful movie about love and courage. Brie Larson (the frontrunner for Best Actress of 2015) and 9-year-old Jacob Tremblay (giving one of the best child performances that I’ve ever seen in my entire life) are both wholly convincing and believable. I cannot praise this movie enough. It’s amazing!

2. Inside Out

2. INSIDE OUT: A family film that’s made more for adults than it is for children, INSIDE OUT wound up being one of the most emotional theater experiences of 2015 for me (pun fully intended). Though it may look sweet, innocent and cute on the outside, the movie packs a lot of emotional truths that will hit older viewers far more than kids who just want to watch a cartoon. It’s also the biggest tearjerker that I saw all year (right next to ROOM). The film is just beautiful and encapsulates everything that life itself in brilliantly creative ways. It also has one of the most mature messages that I’ve ever seen in a children’s film. It’s not only my second favorite movie of 2015, but my favorite Pixar movie thus far!

1. Mad Max Fury Road

1. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD: Director/writer George Miller had over two decades to craft his fourth MAD MAX movie to perfection and that’s exactly what he did! MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was easily one of the most adrenaline-pumping, kick-ass movies that I’ve ever experienced in a theater. I loved it so much that I saw it twice within four days on the big screen and it has enjoyed many repeat viewings since its home video release. Though some fans have joked that it’s simply a two-hour chase scene, the story manages to encapsulate far more than that. There are issues of gender, slavery, religion, etc. that all come up in subtle (sometimes, obvious), smart ways throughout the film. The movie never stops to deliver heavy-handed exposition to the viewer and gives enough details so we can simply figure it all out for ourselves. The visuals look incredible as this apocalyptic wasteland was wholly convincing, in no small part due to practical effects, dangerous stunt work, and subtle green screen effects. FURY ROAD has joined the rare breed of perfect summer blockbusters that includes the likes of ALIENS and TERMINATOR 2. Bravo!

2015 was a year that was packed full of releases. Some were amazing, some were good, and others fell lower on the cinematic totem pole. It’s definitely been one of the most interesting years for cinema and I look forward to seeing what 2016 has in store for filmgoers!

My Bottom 10 Films of 2015

List by Derrick Carter

During the past two years that I’ve run this website, I have created a “Best of” list at the end of each December. I neglected to make a “Worst of” list because of my misguided belief that I shouldn’t further shame the films that I’ve already ridiculed with negative reviews. In 2015, things have changed and I’ve decided (at least for this year) to make a Bottom Films list to go along with my Top Films list. 2015 was a great year for films overall, but also had more than its fair share of flops. The following movies made me want to pull my hair out in frustration and weep quietly in the theater for having wasted money. Before I post my Top Films of 2015, I decided it would only be appropriate to get my picks for Bottom Films of 2015 out of the way first.

There were ten movies this year that wasted precious hours of my life that I’ll never be able to get back. Before getting into those, I’ll begin with a few dishonorable mentions. 2015 brought me two very shitty found footage horror flicks in AREA 51 and THE GALLOWS. Though it was marginally better than its predecessor, INSURGENT was still a hot mess of every recent young adult novel combined. THE TRANSPORTER: REFUELED came off like just another bland, generic action flick, making the Statham predecessors look like DIE HARD in comparison. HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 was a piss-poor follow-up to one of my favorite comedies of this past decade. Finally, PAN was a letdown on pretty much every level. I mean, Blackbeard sings Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Captain Hook fights a kung-fu warrior. Enough said. None of those aforementioned films are on my bottom ten though. So, without further ado, let’s move onto my picks for ten worst films of 2015:

10. Blackhat

10. BLACKHAT: Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Once upon a time, Michael Mann made masterful films like MANHUNTER (the first adaptation of RED DRAGON), HEAT (the awesome pairing of De Niro and Pacino), and COLLATERAL (one of my all-time favorite thrillers). Mann’s latest thriller, about an international hunt for a dangerous hacker, seemed like it could be a relevant and exciting fun time at the movies. However, I was fighting to stay awake when I sat through this endurance test in an auditorium populated by a total of six other attendees. BLACKHAT is boring and when it’s not boring, it’s stupid beyond belief. One of the dumbest scenes of the year occurs in the final third of this film in which Hemsworth duct tapes magazines around his chest to create a make-shift bullet-proof vest. I think that scene speaks volumes for the film by itself.

9. Hellions

9. HELLIONS: I managed to catch three movies at this year’s Sundance film festival. Two of those were quality horror films and nestled in-between them was this abomination. The initial set-up sounds like a feature-length version of the final segment from TRICK ‘R TREAT. A girl is terrorized by demonic trick-or-treaters on Halloween night. I was hoping for something weird and spooky, seeing as the director behind this film created the unconventional zombie flick PONTYPOOL. HELLIONS is definitely weird, but not in a good way. A misguided attempt to shoot in infrared makes everything appear pink. The acting is wooden. The story goes nowhere and becomes incomprehensible after the first 20 minutes. At the very least, the film is so bad that it’s funny, but not enough to recommend this low-budget disappointment.

8. Lazarus Effect

8. THE LAZARUS EFFECT: For some reason, half of the movies on this list are horror films. That wasn’t intentional, especially since it’s been a pretty good year for the genre. However, THE LAZARUS EFFECT is about as generic and confused as a genre film can get. The premise is cool and sounds like a modern-day take on FLATLINERS. However, the screenplay just cannot decide which direction it wants to take with the material. Is this movie about hell and demons? Is it supposed to be a Frankenstein-like science gone wrong tale? Is the main villainess supposed to be the horror equivalent of Lucy from LUCY? Apparently, it’s all of these things…plus a string of cheap jump scares and a group of insufferably annoying characters.

WOMAN IN BLACK 2

7. THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2: ANGEL OF DEATH: The first of four sequels on this list, WOMAN IN BLACK 2 was the first official wide release of 2015…and what a crappy release it was. I actually dug 2012’s WOMAN IN BLACK  as a spooky little ghost movie and hoped that this sequel would be more of the same. The ghost who kills children is practically handed a plate of potential victims and then does nothing remotely interesting with them. The visuals give a look of an atmospheric ghost story, but cheap jump scares and a bland script make this the epitome of everything wrong with modern big-budget horror movies.

6. Joe Dirt 2

6. JOE DIRT 2: BEAUTIFUL LOSER: Confession time. I like the first JOE DIRT. I really do. It’s a stupid, crude and moronic flick, but I enjoy it as a fun guilty pleasure. For whatever reason, I was sort of looking forward to this straight-to-Crackle sequel. Aside from three decent chuckles, the film is a long laughless slog of a sequel. It seems content to merely reference the original film, instead of tell its own white-trash story. The film moves from bad set-piece to bad set-piece for nearly two hours(!) before ending in the biggest cop-out conclusion imaginable. Not even an endless supply of buffalo wings and beer could make this film enjoyable.

5. Contracted 2

5. CONTRACTED: PHASE 2: A follow-up to 2013’s better-than-expected body-horror flick, this sequel was clearly made as a cheap cash-in for the small audience that enjoyed the original. CONTRACTED 2 is shoddily written and badly directed by people who clearly had no interest in the original film and it shows. Despite running at only 78 minutes, the experience feels agonizingly long. The first CONTRACTED was an interesting body-horror take on an overpopulated subgenre, while this sequel is just another terrible low-budget zombie flick. CONTRACTED 2 also has the balls to put in two end credits scenes that are clearly setting up for PHASE 3. Count me out!

4. Seventh Son

4. SEVENTH SON: Studio delays and February release date aside, I was hoping that SEVENTH SON would be entertaining. I wasn’t expecting high art, but I was expecting something watchable. My hopes and middling expectations were bashed to pieces by a lame fantasy that was dull as dirt. This flick stands alongside CIRQUE DU FREAK, ERAGON, and THE SEEKER as one of the worst young-adult adaptations to ever hit the big screen. Jeff Bridges is damn near incomprehensible as the drunk monster-killer, while Oscar winner Julianne Moore should be embarrassed for playing the cheapo looking evil witch. The effects try to be ambitious and cool, but come off as boring and unconvincing. This movie proves that a guy killing monsters can somehow be made boring. Yet another potentially cool young-adult film series bites the dust.

3. Mortdecai

3. MORTDECAI: Johnny Depp has a moustache and goofy teeth. Isn’t that funny?!? No? Well, that’s too bad, because the makers of this film seem to think it’s a riot. Based on a series of British comedic novels, MORTDECAI very well might be the worst film that Johnny Depp has ever starred in…which is quite a feat in and of itself. This bland caper comedy unsuccessfully tries to mimic a PINK PANTHER sense of humor, but doesn’t get any of it right. The laughs are dusty. The performers look like they want their scenes to be over as fast as humanly possible. If the movie had been about Paul Bettany’s bodyguard character, it would have been far funnier and more original. 2015 was a year that featured one of Johnny Depp’s best performances (BLACK MASS) as well this being his worst.

2. Human Centipede 3

2. THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 3: FINAL SEQUENCE: I didn’t walk into HUMAN CENTIPEDE 3 with high expectations. I liked FIRST SEQUENCE and disliked FULL SEQUENCE. The FINAL SEQUENCE of the ass-to-mouth trilogy was set in a prison, starred the main villains from the first two films, and aimed for a comedic meta-approach to the material. It would be nice if we actually got a human centipede before the final 20 minutes of the running time. Up until that point, the viewer is subjected to a various list of on-screen atrocities which include a jar of clitorises being devoured, someone raping a kidney, a graphic castration and the list goes on. I can appreciate shocksploitation (I really enjoyed Eli Roth’s GREEN INFERNO), but HUMAN CENTIPEDE 3 executes all of its gory gusto with the production values and “talent” of a basement porno. What could possibly be worse than this film?…

1. Fantastic Four

1. FANTASTIC FOUR: FANTASTIC FOUR is the worst superhero movie that I’ve ever seen. This dark, gritty reboot of the goofy comic series makes the 2005 and 2007 films look like classics in comparison. To be honest, this movie doesn’t feel like a movie at all, but rather a 125 million dollar excuse for Fox to keep the franchise rights away from Marvel Studios…which is appropriate because that’s why this movie was made in the first place. I enjoyed the director’s previous effort (CHRONICLE) and like a number of the performers here (Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Toby Kebbell), but there’s no excuse for the unbelievably terrible quality of this film. FANTASTIC FOUR is a complete and total failure. I’d rather sit through BATMAN & ROBIN, ELEKTRA, and CATWOMAN in a marathon from hell than ever endure a repeat viewing of this movie ever again.

Here’s hoping for less bad movies in 2016…

BLACK MASS (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 2 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Brutal Violence, Language throughout, some Sexual References and brief Drug Use

BlackMass poster

Directed by: Scott Cooper

Written by: Jez Butterworth & Mark Mallouk

(based on the book BLACK MASS by Dick Lehr & Gerard O’Neill)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Corey Stoll, Peter Sarsgaard, David Harbour, Rory Cochrane, Julianne Nicholson, Adam Scott & Juno Temple

Going into this year, there have been a handful of films that I’ve been ecstatically excited to watch. BLACK MASS is one of these films. This biopic crime-drama about Boston crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger certainly had an interesting real-life story to adapt. Of all the gangsters in U.S. history, Whitey Bulger is among the most notorious. Having now seen the film, I feel that it’s almost perfect and might have benefitted from a longer running time. BLACK MASS sports stellar performances from an ensemble cast, a sense of rising tension and should satisfy most fans of crime cinema.

BlackMass 1

Kicking off in the 1970’s, Whitey Bulger is a violent gangster running a small-time operation in Boston. FBI agent John Connolly, Bulger’s childhood friend, has returned to his hometown. Connolly is interested in cleaning up the city, particularly the mob, and turns a reluctant Whitey into an informant. However, this plan backfires in a horrifying way as Whitey uses his newfound status to take down rival gangs and rise to the top as a vicious crime lord. While fellow agents are breathing down Connolly’s neck, Bulger is running rampant with crimes that range from drugs to extortion to murder. This movie jumps throughout notable years in Bulger and Connolly’s dark relationship.

BlackMass 2

BLACK MASS is told in a faux docudrama style, which intersperses clips of various interviews from Whitey’s former associates. Though this style could potentially wreck suspense in lesser hands, I felt it worked extremely well here as Bulger’s crimes span across 30 years. Obviously, not every little detail could be included, but screenwriters Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk knew which points to hit. I really liked how this film didn’t glorify gangster lifestyle too. Whereas GOODFELLAS sets up its true story in a way where you might become enamored by the benefits in a life of crime, BLACK MASS revels in the dark, ugly underbelly hiding underneath that skin-deep glitz. The violence here is particularly disturbing and grisly, even for a gangster film, as I felt myself wincing during some of the execution scenes. Seeing as this movie focuses on a mob boss who happened to be an informant for a couple of shady FBI agents, we also see the gripping storyline of corruption progressing in the FBI offices.

BlackMass 3

Johnny Depp is absolutely amazing as Whitey Bulger. Make-up transformation aside, he disappears into the role of this psychopathic gangster. People who knew the real Whitey Bulger apparently made trips to the set and said that Depp captured how the man walked, talked, and carried himself with frightening accuracy. I don’t doubt it. He’s terrifying in that he seems like a rabid dog who’s always waiting to pounce on whoever might rub him the wrong way. Joel Edgerton (who was fantastic in THE GIFT) also disappears into the slimy scumbag that is John Connolly. You get the sense that Connolly came to the city with a sense of purpose and then all of his morals and ethics were wiped away when he reunited with Bulger. The supporting cast is fantastic as well and each performer stands out for various reasons. Benedict Cumberbatch adopts a convincing Boston accent as Bulger’s senator brother. Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott and Corey Stoll star as FBI agents looking to bring down Bulger, while David Harbour stars as a too-far-gone agent. Rory Cochrane and Jesse Plemons are Bulger’s intimidating associates. Meanwhile, Dakota Johnson (as Bulger’s wife), Peter Sarsgaard (as a cokehead hitman) and Juno Temple (as a prostitute) don’t receive a ton of screen time, but all receive memorable scenes. Every performance is stellar.

BlackMass 4

Director Scott Cooper (OUT OF THE FURNACE) constructs a rising sense of tension as the story goes from bad to worse over the course of each passing year. This movie jumps between Bulger’s crimes and Connolly’s deceptions in a way that feels slightly procedural, but engrossing nonetheless. Interactions between the characters (including a dinner scene that’s so tense that you could hear a pin drop in the theater) feel genuine. With all this praise, my only problem with BLACK MASS comes in a somewhat rushed ending. I felt that the final minutes (complete with title cards revealing the fates of each character) were somewhat anti-climactic. I wonder if part of that comes from squeezing what might have been a 2 hour 30 minute potential masterpiece into a mere 2 hours (counting credits). It’s a slightly underwhelming spot in an overall great film.

BlackMass 5

If you’re a fan of crime cinema (especially films based on real cases), then BLACK MASS should more than satisfy. The movie moves between Bulger’s and Connolly’s storylines nicely, while jumping through the former’s most notorious crimes and the latter’s downward spiral into corruption. This movie has a ton of scenes that I simply cannot get out of my head and doesn’t shy away from grisly details (all for the better). Depp’s performance is possibly a career best as he disappears into Bulger’s skin. Though the last minutes might feel rushed, I pretty much loved BLACK MASS for 95% of the movie. Highly recommended!

Grade: A

MORTDECAI (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 47 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for some Language and Sexual Material

Mort poster

Directed by: David Koepp

Written by: Eric Aronson

(based on the novel DON’T POINT THAT THING AT ME by Kyril Bonfiglioli)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Ewan McGregor, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, Olivia Munn & Jeff Goldblum

Full disclosure: I didn’t have high hopes for MORTDECAI. Seeing as the backlash against this film is substantial and it has become one of the biggest flops of the year thus far (right behind JUPITER ASCENDING and BLACKHAT), my expectations were set pretty low for MORTDECAI. At the most, I was hoping for a couple of laughs and a guilty pleasure (ala I, FRANKENSTEIN). Even with these tepid feelings going in, MORTDECAI still wound up filling me with hatred against every ounce of this movie. It’s the worst kind of bad film there is: an unfunny comedy.

Mort 1

Charlie Mortdecai is a moustached art dealer who happens to sell stolen goods and elaborate faux replicas. Though his family was wealthy and he still holds an estate, Charlie is on the edge of bankruptcy and financial ruin. When he’s recruited by an inspector (who happens to be a former friend with a crush on Johanna, Charlie’s wife) to track down a stolen painting that is also being hunted by various groups of dangerous people (Russian thugs, a thief named Emil, and Hong Kong gangsters). This leads to many wild, crazy antics with Mortdecai constantly being thrown into harm’s way with Jock, his man-servant, constantly getting him out of these sticky situations. While Charlie is away, the Inspector is also trying to start an affair with Johanna. If none of those things sound the least bit entertaining, then don’t worry because there’s also a lame subplot about Mortdecai’s newly grown facial hair.

Mort 2

Director David Koepp has been involved with cool projects in the past, but MORTDECAI definitely is the worst thing he’s ever slapped his name on. To be fair, Koepp didn’t write the screenplay, but it feels like this film is trying desperately to get laughs. It throws everything at the wall and nothing sticks. There are fish-out-of-water situations with Charlie being in Los Angeles, awkward puns, bits of innuendo, and even room for brief puke and fart humor. Every single one of these sight gags, puns and scenarios feels dusty. One character even says the same joke twice in the space of 15 seconds in an attempt to get at the very least a chuckle. While the line is dead on arrival the first time it’s uttered, hearing it repeated a second time really hits home how MORTDECAI is beating the skeletal remains of a dead horse that has long since decomposed. As if things couldn’t get any worse, the R rating is wasted as this felt like a PG-13 flick all the way through. No profane language (save for one instance) or any jokes push the envelope. It’s as tame as can be.

MORTDECAI, Paul Bettany, 2015. ph: David Appleby/©Lionsgate

The film becomes downright unbearable during the final 30 minutes. I was tempted to give up and turn this movie off. That almost never happens when I’m watching a film either. I usually have no urge to do anything else but stick the film out until the end credits begin to roll. The real problem is that MORTDECAI feels like it has an ending and then continues forward for 30 more minutes of horribly unfunny material. It shouldn’t come as a shock that every performer isn’t exactly at the top of their game in this one. Ewan McGregor and Gwyneth Paltrow seem disinterested in the movie they’re making (I can’t say I blame them). Johnny Depp is cashing in on the typecast cartoon character that he’s recently become known for playing (hopefully BLACK MASS turns that around this September). It’s clear that Depp was trying to channel a Peter Sellers sort of Clouseau character, but even Steve Martin did it better in those mediocre PINK PANTHER reboots. The only one who seems to be having any fun is Paul Bettany as Jock, but he still didn’t get any decent laughs or lines.

MORTDECAI, Johnny Depp, 2015. ph: David Appleby/©Lionsgate

MORTDECAI is awful. It’s beyond awful, this is anti-comedy. This is the sort of film that you could show someone and it could entirely turn them off the concept of laughing ever again. It’s clear that this was nothing more than a quick paycheck for everybody involved and I’m so very glad that it tanked at the box office. MORTDECAI is a depressing, laugh-free waste of time that just might go down as the worst film in Johnny Depp’s career. Yes, I’m also taking TRANSCENDENCE into consideration when I say that.

Grade: F

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