*NEW* LIVE BY NIGHT REVIEW *NEW*

live_by_night

Alright, alright.

The pace may have been a killer and we might have seen it all before BUT Affleck’s crime caper still packs a punch.

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.

The opening 20 minutes didn’t mess about. It set up Joe’s (Ben Affleck) past and got straight to business as he worked through the ranks from a petty thief to a bootlegger.

Being a noir nut, I was always going to be a little biased. It helps when some of Affleck’s better works; The Town, Gone Baby Gone (and now Live By Night) are heavily influenced by that very genre.

I’ve been impressed with Affleck’s transformation as a director. A maturity from his 90s blockbuster phase. And yes, I do think he will be a good Batman! Enough of these sad Affleck memes.

It was everything I expected from an Affleck penned gangster flick. I was already ticking noir traits off my imaginary checklist; embittered war veteran (check), disillusioned with the law (check), falling for a girl that can only mean trouble (CHECK! CHECK! CHECK!).

I say Affleck penned. He did have a little help from Dennis Lehane’s crime novel (Thank you @TheMarckoguy). A noir author I intend to read up on. A man that has penned such works as: Shutter Island, Mystic River and The Drop.

I was engrossed in Joe’s game. Playing off the Irish against the Italians in their turf war. Just to get a piece of the action and stay out of the cross-hairs. BUT it wasn’t long before the protagonist had to make a choice.

Always felt that Robert Glenister was a very underrated TV actor. Just watch BBC’s Hustle. I didn’t expect to see him feature as Albert White, the Irish kingpin. He was brilliant. I wish he was in this more. A callous adversary if ever there was one. A ticking time bomb.

The fuse? A woman, of course. Sienna Miller (Foxcatcher) wasn’t in the film as much as I thought. Especially after all the interviews and heavy advertising.

She delivered a good performance as the moxy Emma BUT somehow I think if she had more screen time with that strange Irish accent, she might have overstayed her welcome very quickly.

Brendan Gleeson made a much more memorable impression as Joe’s father. A relief after his dire cameo in Assassin’s Creed (The less we say about that, the better). Sheesh.

Another character I would have been happy to see more of. His fractious relationship with Joe was an interesting angle that wasn’t explored enough. A copper desperate to see his criminal son on the right path.

“So you’re threatening me with people that are more powerful than you? So who am I talkin’ to you for?” Affleck was fantastic. Another powerhouse performance. He looked like a tank with that Bat bulk.

The pace did meander in parts with the middle act taking the biscuit BUT thankfully that was relieved by cracking dialogue, great action pieces and fantastic cinematography.

No, really. Robert Richardson’s cinematography was something else. The sweeping shots across Miami were breathtaking alone.

The car chases were brilliantly shot. It felt like you were in the car with the robbers as they evaded capture. And of course, no gangster flick would be complete without bodies being bullet ridden by Tommy guns.

I was a little disappointed with the female roles. Miller didn’t really come across as a strong femme fatale and Zoe Saldana (Guardians of the Galaxy) was completely wasted in her role.

The pair had good chemistry BUT there just wasn’t enough drama. Affleck missed an opportunity for sparks to fly when an old friend from Joe’s past crept out of the woodwork. Shame.

At first, I kept wondering why Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon) was reduced to such an unnecessary cameo as the sheriff’s daughter. However, there was an interesting turning point with her character that took me by surprise and allowed the actress her moment to shine. A good performance.

Despite my niggles, Affleck perfectly captured a gritty criminal underworld full of rich and dark characters. Chris Cooper (American Beauty) played the holistic sheriff with aplomb. Happy to turn a blind eye on Joe’s “business affairs”. Appropriately calling him, “The Mayor of Evil”.

The tense encounters with the KKK saved a labouring middle act. The suspense and heated exchanges soon brought me back into the fold. The only problem with a noir is that the end game is always the same.

The fiery final act was worth the wait. Nail biting, gripping and action packed. Even if Affleck gave us umpteen false endings. Seriously, I kept thinking the film had finished. Only for something else to pop up.

A little predictable, long at the tooth BUT tense, gritty and still a bloody good watch.

3/5

Advertisements

*NEW* BLACK MASS REVIEW *NEW*

Black-Mass-Movie-Poster

A massive mistake for Depp? Another black mark to put against his flailing filmography? There’s only one way to find out.

The true story of Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp), the brother of a state senator (Benedict Cumberbatch) 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.

A mixed bag, to say the least. A stellar cast do their best to reprieve a meandering mob flick.

Johnny Depp was superb. It’s okay looking the part. BUT you need to bring a performance to back it. One that he brings by the bucket load. As soon as he made his introduction with those icy cold blue eyes, I was sold. BUT for all the promise, I expected so much more. For those who are familiar with Whitey’s story, you may find that this latest re-telling brings nothing new to the mix.

The opening really didn’t things going as we were introduced to all of Whitey’s highly unmemorable henchmen as they provided testimony against one of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives. Other than wearing a really bad wig, I questioned the relevance of Jesse Plemons (Friday Night Lights). I had to laugh at the fact his testimony, in terms of narration, detailed events where his character was never present.

Depp certainly carried the piece. BUT considering he was supposed to be the main character, he wasn’t in it as much as you think. I have to say that Black Mass was a very patchy affair. We had a slow but interesting build up as we watched the small time crook expand in his neighbourhood. BUT after a dull and chunky bit of exposition with the FBI, the film suddenly flash forward. Skimming over crucial moments of Whitey’s ever-growing empire.

I was disappointed that we didn’t even get to see the low level gangster make that transition. He was a small blip on the FBI’s radar in one frame than a massive target in the next one. The passing comments from the FBI agents about his drug business and confrontations with the Mafia sounded great. BUT why couldn’t we see that? Juxtaposing sinister shots of Depp with pictures of bodies wasn’t enough.

I wasn’t completely bored. He bumped off a few people here. Delivered a creepy speech there. There was one brilliant scene in which Whitey educated his fellow handlers on the value of keeping secrets. Spine tingling. BUT where was that tension throughout the rest of the film?

I didn’t mind that they tried to bring a little humanity to Whitey’s character. His care for family and respect among the community may have been intense (A little bonkers, even) BUT you could almost feel a little empathy for the nutcase.

BUT what infuriated me was how this huge ensemble wasn’t used to their full potential. Adam Scott (Krampus) might as well have been an uncredited extra. Kevin Bacon’s character only really got going in the closing minutes. Peter Sarsgaard didn’t do a bad job as the volatile Brian Halloran BUT was shipped out too quickly.

Joel Edgerton (The Gift) was brilliant as FBI agent (and neighbourhood chum) John Connolly. It was interesting to see his transformation from a timid pencil pusher to a cocksure untouchable with shades and swagger in tow. His ruthless egotism was something else.

The lovely (if slightly stick thin) Dakota Johnson (50 Shades of Grey) was wasted in her role as Whitey’s wife. Anyone could have played her. She only really delivered in one scene (The one she featured in). Julianne Nicholson (August: Osage County) managed to make a slightly more memorable turn BUT was still underused as Connolly’s spouse.

I couldn’t compare Black Mass to any of the other gangster flicks because it tragically fell short of them. I really wanted to like this. There were some crazy statistics and moments that did surprise me about the gangster. The deals with the FBI were outrageous. BUT that was it. A movie of moments.

A great cast do their best BUT the wafer thin story was something I expected to see in a True Crime biopic NOT a theatrical release.

2.5/5 (Just)

THE DROP REVIEW

The-Drop-Movie-International-Poster-2

Tom Hardy’s performance certainly got the drop on me.

He proves yet again why he is one of the most versatile actors going.

So what’s it all about? Bob Saginowski (Hardy) finds himself at the centre of a robbery gone awry and entwined in an investigation that digs deep into the neighbourhood’s past where friends, families, and foes all work together to make a living. No matter the cost.

Penned and adapted from a short by Dennis Lehane, I knew I was in for a treat. Lehane has been responsible for some of the better crime dramas and thrillers of the last few years; Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River and Shutter Island.

It was also a fantastic and fitting endnote for the career of another talented actor who left us too soon. I’m looking at you, Big T. Mr Soprano himself, James Gandolfini.

BUT despite the fantastic casting, the pace leaves a little to be desired and the story? Considering the hype about killer twists. I found it all a little too simple and predictable.

Lehane’s work us very much in touch with my favourite genre, the film noir. The characters and seedy underworld were certainly captured perfectly by director Michael R. Roskam. Complimented by the grainy cinematography of Nicolas Karakatsanis.

BUT the convoluted, multi-layered story line? Not so much.

It did leave me wanting a little afterwards. All that promise and a twist that I saw coming a mile off. A shame.

BUT that’s not to say it isn’t worth checking out. Hardy is a charismatic lead, who has great chemistry with the equally talented Noomi Rapace (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo).

Rapace played the anxious and hesitant Nadia perfectly. Her role and motive questionable throughout.

The pair worked well together and I didn’t mind following them as their relationship inevitably blossomed.

Their bonding was helped by the discovery of an abused puppy that Bob finds in a trash can.

Rocco the puppy was adorable (What? He was. Losing man points like crazy). It lightened up the dark, gritty undertones bubbling beneath the surface which killed the atmosphere a little bit.

BUT if the little pup didn’t appear, there wasn’t much else going on to begin with.

It also allowed for Bob to break his shy demeanour and pry into his background a little.

Oh! James Gandolfini was superb. To be honest, there wasn’t enough of him. I couldn’t help but feel that his character Cousin Marv was nothing more than a “What If . . . Tony Soprano went in Witness Protection and became a bar owner”.

His presence and delivery stole every frame. No, not like that. His one liners just made me want to go back and watch The Sopranos all over again. Marv’s fractious relationship with Bob was an interesting one to watch.

The tension slowly building as tempers rose. The pressure mounting from their business interests under the vague title of “The Armenian Mob”.

However, as the mayhem ensued, I felt Gandolfini’s character took a back seat. Understandably to an extent, without spoiling any content BUT still a little disappointing.

Matthias Schoenaerts (Bullhead) was also fantastic. A nasty piece of work. Chewing up every bit of suspense. A ticking time bomb. His predatory stalking was a masterclass in suspense.

First toying with Bob by asking for an umbrella and gradually making his presence known more and more. The kitchen scene with Rapace was nail biting stuff.

Morgan Spector and Michael Aronov played the roles of the Armenians quite well. BUT at the same time, despite putting pressure on our sparring bartenders, I felt they were a little wooden and by the end, nothing more than stereotypical foreign mafia guys. Shame.

The closing 20 minutes HOWEVER were tense, suspenseful and brilliant. Double crossing and backstabbing galore. I just wish there was more of this throughout.

I won’t divulge too much information but perceptions are changed. The slow burning tension did meander and sizzle a little too much for the 106 minute running time.

I felt John Ortiz’s (Silver Linings Playbook) role was completely unnecessary. Nothing more than a suspense catalyst. And a poor one at that.

Re-appearing when the film seemed to lull or asking rather mundane questions after a nasty bit of business had gone down. Even his covert dark alleyway rendezvouses with fellow officers led nowhere.

Merely relaying information we already knew from Big T but with a much flatter and duller delivery.

I kept hoping his character would go somewhere (Preferably out of this movie). BUT nope! Not even the final exchanges in the closing minutes were revelatory or needed. Weak.

Suspenseful, tense and brutal (in parts) but also a little predictable and long at the tooth. However, Hardy has certainly established himself in the big leagues and with performances like these, he will continue to do so.

And farewell Big T. One final – CUT TO BLACK.

3/5

THE FAMILY REVIEW

The-Family-movie-poster

The people who made this will be sleeping with the fishes . . .

The Manzoni family, a notorious mafia clan, is relocated to Normandy, France under the witness protection program, where fitting in soon becomes challenging as their old habits die hard.

With such a strong cast and production team (Martin “GoodfellasScorsese and Luc “Leon” Besson), how could The Family be such a ridiculously unfunny and drawn out affair? De Niro applied his usual gangster schtick BUT to no avail. Especially when we’ve seen him poke fun at himself before and a whole lot better. Just watch Analyze This. Hell, even check out the mediocre sequel.

Luckily De Niro and Pfeiffer were a great pairing. BUT Dianna Agron (Stunning though she is. What?) plays such a flat character. Her silly little love subplot with her French teacher was so cliched. A shame considering the potential she showed during an altercation involving a tennis racket. While John D’Leo’s cocky schoolboy just annoyed the hell out of me.

NOT even Tommy Lee Jones with his hang dog expression could save the day. In fact, he looked just as fed up as I did watching the film.

The plot and tone were all over the place. It took a good hour before anything really made you smile or interested. It stuttered along. Bordering on either ridiculous or just plain dull. Desperate to be dark and funny and failing on both counts.

A mess. For example, Pfeiffer’s Maggie is insulted by the French shopper so she blows up the supermarket?! De Niro’s “Fred” doesn’t like having brown water ooze out of his taps so he beats up a plumber and drags a water company executive across the tarmac. If you found that funny, then give this a go. Believe me, I’m making it sound better.

To be honest, things did improve when Jones and De Niro hooked up. Their exchanges delivered the best lines;

Jones’ Stanfield: “How can I be your friend if you hate me?”

De Niro’s Fred: “You’re alive. Look at my best friends. I killed them all.”

BUT it wasn’t enough. I sat patiently drudging through all this “build up”. Waiting for a ridiculous high octane shoot em up finale. Everything was there, ripe for the taking and for five minutes (That’s right. Five minutes!), my attention was finally piqued. I was finally into it and then it just ended.

The film must have been desperate for jokes because it had to rely on in-jokes. There was one scene in which De Niro and Jones meet at a film screening. The film was Goodfellas. Cue a cheeky wink from the man himself. Some say lazy, I say needed. It got a smile out of me.

Besson should have taken lessons from the fantastic TV show Lillyhammer with Steven van Zandt. The premise had so much potential and failed so badly. That cast must have needed the money. Good moments does not a good movie make!

 

2/5