*NEW* BLACK MASS REVIEW *NEW*

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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)

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THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU REVIEW

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This is where I leave the cinema for a bit . . .

No, it’s not that bad. But not that great either considering the talent at Shawn Levy’s fingertips.

Levy’s projects have always been okay (Real Steel/ Date Night/The Internship). For some of you those titles might make you wince. The master of ground breaking comedy classics? Not even close.

The cast did their best with the material. It’s just a shame that the material is not that good. In all fairness, Levy takes a stab at family dramedy. But maybe he shoudn’t have.

AND if you wanted anyone to head a dysfunctional family, it would be Jason Bateman (Arrested Development/Horrible Bosses).

So what’s it all about? When their father passes away, four grown siblings are forced to return to their childhood home and live under the same roof together for a week, along with their over-sharing mother (Jane Fonda) and their spouses and exes.

Jason Bateman was brilliant. He carried the film in my opinion. His marriage breakdown story line was hardly original but it gave an extra something to the endless childish sibling bickering that dominated the majority of the screen time. How it was all resolved was a little predictable and terribly flat but at least there were a few dramatic moments to be had.

Tina Fey didn’t really deliver as much as I hoped. I know she’s funny. Come on, 30 Rock and Date Night proved that. It felt like she played it safe and stuck with the tame script which made her highly unmemorable, bar two little scenes. She worked well with Bateman and did her best but with her comedic prowess, you expected something a little better.

Adam Driver (What If?) was a much needed comedy injection. His lines were hardly comedy gold but his delivery and style managed to get a smile out of me. His relationship with Bateman made for an entertaining and endearing one.

Connie Britton was wasted in her role. A shame after her turn in Friday Night Lights and Nashville. A nothingy character that didn’t really add anything to the mix. Nothing more than a psychiatrist MILF that Adam Driver got to show off to the family.

Speaking of nothingy role, Timothy Olyphant come on down! Absolutely gutted after his terrific performance in Justified. His character was involved in a naff subplot that didn’t really go anywhere. This is what infuriated me with TIWILY. There were so many missed opportunities with the characters and the cast to make more drama and better story lines.

I know that this was adapted from a Jonathan Tropper novel. I can’t say how faithful the film is to its source material but it certainly hasn’t made me want to read it.

Some of the gags were just plain terrible. I mean the recurring joke of the little toddler moving his potty around to poop all over the house was just not funny. The little toddler himself actually was hilarious. His improvisation with some of the cast was brilliant. They didn’t expect him to retort back. More of that would have been perfect.

But potty-ing (I know it’s not a word. I’m not wasting any time finding another) around the house and flinging poo? Awww. No. AWWW – Are you kidding me? Put your potty in the bathroom, boy. Jeez.

Anyhoo . . . The sibling rivalry and tension wasn’t badly done. Everyone can relate to it in some capacity and the moments in which they look back and experience the old nostalgia make for some nice moments. One of the gags that should have been branded as just plain lazy actually entertained me.

A scenario involving some marijuana and a synagogue classroom actually allowed for a comical encounter between Bateman, Driver and Corey Stoll (Homeland). It was great to see Stoll have a bigger role and he doesn’t do a bad job as the stubborn older brother.

Ben Schwartz was incredibly annoying as the hyperactive Rabbi Charles Grodner or Boner to everybody else. Delightful. A guest that gets a giggle and then overstays his welcome . . . in almost every scene. Not even the (usually) hilarious Kathryn Hahn (Step Brothers/We’re The Millers) could save the day with her kooky momma hell bent on getting preggers. It was weak.

And Jane Fonda . . . Apart from having fake pumped up breasts to cue inevitable breast feeding gags, she was highly unmemorable. In fact, there was a bizarre revelation that occurs nearer the end of the film which doesn’t fit in at all. It didn’t work and just completely unnecessary. It was nothing more than a lazy plot device to stop the family scrapping. The only bit of real heated drama that got me interested.

Dax Sheppard (Without A Paddle) played the two-timing sleazebag well. But is this the only character that he can play? And to be honest, when he was first introduced with the Howard Stern DJ spiel, it wasn’t funny. Just annoying as hell. It made a change for Abigail Spencer (Suits) to play a more meatier role as the cheating wife. But the story line was so hammy and predictable, it never really hit the heights that you’d hope.

Rose Byrne (Damages) and Bateman had good chemistry but their love subplot was so generic and corny that I really couldn’t care. Tropper left their little romance so open as a feeble attempt to prevent the predictable outcome but just made it flat and uninteresting.

To be honest, this film only did one thing. Well, two. Waste my time. And make me realise how good August: Osage County was. If you want a good family drama, then I’d invest your time in that instead.

There is the odd moment to be had. One chuckle here, one little heart plucker there. But memorable and entertaining? Quotable and re-watchable? Meh.

2/5

TOP 20 FILMS OF 2014 SO FAR

So here we are. What films have surprised, intrigued and entertained you this year . . . so far? Now I’ve waffled on about having pretty much a season ticket pass to the cinema. So far I’ve seen 85 films this year which . . . isn’t a lot in comparison to my last year’s total of 144 (Yep, crazy) and that is because I have found it harder to enjoy films lately. I have had to endure through endless entries of mindless drivel regurgitating the same old plot, clichéd characters (even in their 3D wrapped foils) and excruciating acting or dreadful dialogue.

To be honest, it killed my enthusiasm a little bit. I see a trailer and have doubts. I have to talk myself into going, simply hoping that it will at least be watchable (which most of them are) but enjoyable? Well . . .

Now some entries you may question and unfortunately release dates are always different. My argument is films I’ve seen this year. Some may have been released at the end of 2013 but I didn’t see them until early January and it says it all if they are in here because I have found it difficult to fill my top 20. I had to pick films that surprised for not being a complete blunder or just for keeping my attention. BUT here we go.

The top 20 films of 2014 . . . so far

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1. The Dallas Buyers Club

A film that certainly surprised me. I went in not knowing what to expect and was rewarded with a different story, engaging characters that were done to justice by two actors that had seemed to be pushed into the movie wilderness. McConaughey was launched back into the limelight and rightly so, beating Ejiofor to the Oscar. I still couldn’t believe Jared Leto’s supporting role. More to him than just a singer from an emo-rock-pop band.

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2. 12 Years A Slave

A visceral and haunting film that delves into the human condition of one man’s plight into slavery. Steve McQueen certainly delivered one of his most ambitious, if slightly overhyped, projects to date. A harrowing story expertly acted by a fantastic cast. Ejiofor was unlucky not to win but he has certainly proved he can handle the leading role. This was all helped by an Oscar-winning supporting turn from newcomer Lupita Nyong’o and a sinister one from Michael Fassbender.

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3. August: Osage County

An underrated drama. A perfect showcase in acting. Meryl Streep proving yet again why she keeps getting those Oscar nods. A simple story revolving a family feud. But with a family of well written characters with a huge ensemble of talented characters made this one to watch for me. Its abrupt ending may have lost marks but it didn’t ruin great performances. Shame none of the contenders won this time round.

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4. The Book Thief

Now I will admit that I haven’t read the book but if the film is anything to go by, then I really want to read it. An endearing, if slow burning war drama that is shown through the eyes of a little girl who finds solace in stealing books. A great performance by Sophie Nelisse. It’s always a gamble with kid actors, especially when they are the main characters. But a great performance that is aided by a fantastic supporting cast consisting of Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson made this an engaging and highly watchable affair with an inevitable but emotional ending.

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5. 22 Jump Street

My name is Jeff! Yes, conforming to the masses but if when a blockbuster is this funny, who cares? Hill and Tatum are back pretty much doing the same thing which worked the first time round to better and bigger results. I laughed from start to finish. The very purpose of a comedy for me. It’s big, dumb and stupid but so funny. Invest.

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6. The Guardians of The Galaxy

Another Marvel movie is unleashed. But what a film. James Gunn manages to make an enjoyable romp of a space opera with the same old predictable guff of intergalactic rogues turned superheroes spiel. However, I actually cared about these rogues and cannot wait for another inevitable sequel. This is all helped with a great script, fantastic cast and an awesome soundtrack. So good I saw it twice.

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7. The Inbetweeners 2

The boys are back but this time they’re going down under. If you’re a fan then expect the same old dirty smut that still manages to have you heaving and laughing all the way. They may be reaching their thirties but the cast were still very much on form, making this instalment surpass the movie, not quite the series. Get on it, my movie fwends. Fwend, aww.

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8. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Now I am actually reading the book. This film lost marks for stretching out its source material to the max. However, Jackson still manages to deliver the goods by harvesting a special effects extravaganza of a movie. This slicker, darker follow up to An Unexpected Journey has left me awaiting for the final installment of the prequel trilogy. But does it really have to be three hours again?

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9. X-Men: Days of Future Past

X Men Give to Ya. A return to form from a franchise that had lost its way BIG TIME. Mixing the old with the new cast along with a time travelling plot device made for some twists and turns and a little spring cleaning as Singer made his return to the helm. With that we got an action packed restoration to former glories, near enough.

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10. The Raid 2

Despite lacking the pace and tenacity of the original and leaving us chomping our nails, waiting impatiently through the monotonous set up after a gruelling opening sequence, The Raid 2 finally delivered the goods with an all-out explosive lets-crank-this-to 11 adrenaline pumped finale with some crazy cult characters and memorable fight sequences.

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11. Captain America: Winter Soldier

A solid sequel that improved tremendously on its rushed predecessor and allowed to flesh out the ol’ Cap and some of the supporting characters that we only really had little cameos. Nick Fury, I’m looking at you. The introduction of new characters helped provide a more interesting environment. The whole adjustment to the modern era was a nice touch and gave Cap a little more dimension. If more films are to follow for the Cap, I await with anticipation.

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12. How To Train Your Dragon 2

It may not have topped the original but it still entertained the masses with terrific animation, an easy going plot and great characters. Definitely one of the better family movies out this year. I cannot wait for the next one.

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13. The Railway Man

A endearing, well acted war biopic that received such a panning, I feared the worst. However, although a little slow burning, I thought Colin Firth was incredible and was snubbed an Oscar nomination for his performance. Nicole Kidman may have been wasted in this role but the final confrontation between Firth and Hiroyuki Sanada was emotional and gripping. Worth a watch.

 

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14. Last Vegas

It know what is was from the get go. A group of old talented screen icons lapping it up in Las Vegas. It’s corny, OTT but left me smiling coming out of the cinema. Let’s be honest not all old boy movies hit it off. Wild Hogs and Space Cowboys (cough cough). The fact a sequel has been green lit, says it all.

 

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15. Begin Again

An unexpected treat. A feel good summer movie if ever there was one. Not without its imperfections. The flashing back and forth stuttered the opening and it may have ended a little abrupt and too open for my liking. BUT the songs were catchy. The cast were fantastic and Keira Knightley can sing. Oh my goodness.

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16. The LEGO Movie

How could I not? Everything is AWESOME! It’s funny, bonkers and blew the box office away. A talented voice cast boost a bunch of crazy but memorable characters with jokes and puns to entertain both kids and adults.

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17. Frozen

What? Losing movie cred. Entertaining, funny supporting characters, catchy songs. Disney returning to form and going old school with this icy escapade of a musical.

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18. The Wolf of Wall Street

Now despite complaining about the length and the hype, it was still a visceral tour-de-force of a drug induced thriller. Leo was unstoppable but did anyone else feel he tried too hard? Slight bias for me as I’m a Scorsese nut but it was still intense, funny and satirical to the max.

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19. Cuban Fury

I was torn between this and Edge of Tomorrow but despite seeing Tom Cruise killed 200 times, it was hardly original. Now, I know Cuban Fury isn’t original either but its easy going, funny and it was great to see Nick Frost come to the fore. The dance off sequence with an unexpected cameo was worth seeing alone.

 

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20. Delivery Man

Yep, you read that right. I’m going for the outsider. I read so many negative reviews that I dreaded watching this. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Now when it first started with Vaughan shouting and yelling in Spanish, I feared the worse. However, this soon turned in a dramedy and Vaughan was able to show that he can still act and be funny at the same time with an easy going story. And plus a scene stealing supporting turn from Chris Pratt as Vaughan’s useless lawyer pal made it all the better.

 

Feel free to share your top 20, debate my selections, all skip the post altogether.

COMING UP MY 20 WORST FILMS OF 2014. This will take me a whole lot longer to decide because there are so many choices!