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Black Mass

If there’s anything young Bostonians learn, it’s that “mates stick together, no matter what …”.  It’s no different for John Connolly (played by Joel Edgerton) and James “Whitey” Bulger (by Johnny Depp) who grow up together on the streets of South Boston. They stay in touch, but their paths go separate ways. Years later, in the late 1970s, Connolly and “Whitey” meet again as adults. Connolly’s already made a name for himself in the FBI – and Whitey’s become a notorious Irish Mobster across South Boston. When the Italian Mob start to gain power in the area, Whitey and Connolly do everything they can to fight back and retain the turf. They form a strong alliance and resist the Italian Mob. Their loyalty knows no bounds – it’s stronger than geographic and legal limits and involves them in a downward spiral of crime, murder, drugs and power. Connolly navigates the fine line between keeping his career intact and living with his long-held loyalty, while Bulger’s double-life gets complex – at home he’s a calm and caring family man while at work his activities get more and more violent, eventually landing him on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list.

This is your run-of-the-mill “notorious gangster versus FBI” movie – but with two key features … first, Whitey Bulger is played by a totally unrecognisable Johnny Depp – it’s remarkable and you’d never really know it’s Depp. There’s something weirdly artificial about his performance too – it’s not the makeup, it’s about his behaviour, he’s often like a cold, clinical robot. Second, this frightening story is true – the guy brutally and violently operated in South Boston for decades. Joel Edgerton’s performance is very strong – he really deserves the Hollywood Film Award for Breakthrough Actor and the Virtuoso Award from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2016. The movie also received the Hollywood Film Editor of the Year Award. Johnny Depps’ portrayal of Bulger is magnificent. He’s totally believable and thoroughly deserves the Palm Springs International Film Festival Palm Achievement Award and the People’s Choice Award for Favourite Dramatic Movie Actor – also much more. Benedict Cumberbatch’s role as Billy Bulger, Whitey’s brother, doesn’t add a whole lot to it.  As a story, it’s just average – but the performances are great.

Made in 2015. Directed by Scott Cooper.

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Posted by on January 25, 2016 in Movies

 

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The Imitation Game

As a genius young mathematician, life for Alan Turing (played by Alex Lawther and Benedict Cumberbatch) at his English Boarding School is utter hell … his classmates are violent bullies and he retreats into his own, more familiar and positive world of maths. One day, a classmate who becomes a true friend, Christopher Morcom (by Jack Bannon) introduces Alan to the world of cryptology – codes, patterns and text that can seem like gibberish until the reader deciphers it. Alan’s world suddenly broadens and deepens – he’s found his real flair and can build on his maths talent with this. Alan works his way through University and becomes a published academic. When World War 2 breaks out, British Military Intelligence sets up a top secret code-breaking centre at Bletchley Park that intercepts Nazi communications to decipher the intelligence for their own military strategies. Alan gets a job at the centre and sets about the biggest challenge of the war – find the key to “Enigma” the unbreakable Nazi encryption code. Although he’s a unique type of man with personality foibles that very few understand – not least of which his Commanding Officer, Denniston (by Charles Dance), he recruits a team of fellow genius mathematicians – Hugh Alexander (by Matthew Goode), John Cairncross (by Allen Leech), Peter Hilton (by Matthew Beard) and Joan Clarke (by Keira Knightley) to work on the puzzle – a job they’d all do for free, just because this work is more a passion than a job. British Command, led by Stewart Menzies (by Mark Strong) are supremely sceptical but hugely hopeful about their likely success. With millions of lives at stake as the war rages across Europe, the clock is ticking … literally … can they break the supposedly unbreakable Enigma?

This is a great movie. The real life story is important and significant and needs to be known. Alan Turing, a “legendary cryptanalyst” was working on very important technology back in the 1940’s and the work, along with the added complexities of the highly top secret nature of the war work and his personal challenges with his homosexuality, make the film fascinating and highly poignant. The movie is presented in three time zones – school days, Bletchley Park days and the early 1950’s – that is done very well. It is easy to follow and quite compelling all the way through. Benedict Cumberbatch is outstanding as Alan Turing and he is very well supported by Keira Knightly as Joan Clarke (his close colleague throughout the war). Other performances are also good – particularly Mark Strong’s. The casting is well done – Charles Dance is perfect as Commander Denniston and as the fellow mathematicians, Matthew Goode and Allen Leech make the move from television to cinema very well (they may have been in movies I am unaware of – but my exposure to them has been in television’s “The Good Wife (USA)” and “Downton Abbey (UK)” respectively). The 1940’s era costumes are marvellous. There is huge acclaim for this movie and rightly so – in the 2015 season it has already won over 40 awards including AFI Movie of the Year and has been nominated for nine Academy Awards (Oscars) for Best Picture, Actor (Cumberbatch), Actress (Knightley), Directing, Writing, Screenplay, Editing, Production Design and Music Original Score. Other nominations are Golden Globes (Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Screenplay and Original Score), BAFTA (Film; British Film; Actor, Actress, Screenplay, Editing, Costume Design, Production Design and Sound), Screen Actors Guild (Actor, Actress and Cast). Benedict Cumberbatch deserves all the accolades he gets for this. Very well done to everyone.

Made in 2014. Directed by Morten Tyldum.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2015 in Movies

 

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August: Osage County

It’s August in Osage County, Oklahoma – and it’s hot … really hot. Violet Weston (played by Meryl Streep) is doing her best to endure the heat. She’s dying of cancer and the heat makes the wig she wears unbearable. Her husband, Beverly (by Sam Shepard) has just hired a new nurse and live-in housekeeper to see to Violet’s needs and he is introducing her to the ways of the household. Violet introduces herself as only she can … she staggers into the room, drug addled, slurring her words and belligerent. The new home-help, Johnna (by Misty Upham) does her best to accept the situation and the person now in her care. Knowing she is in capable hands, Beverly takes himself out fishing – but disappears. Violet alerts her family that Beverly is missing and they gradually all arrive to search for him and make sure their mother is okay. Violet’s daughter, Ivy (by Julianne Nicholson) lives nearby so she arrives quickly, she calls her sister Barbara (by Julia Roberts) who comes with her husband Bill (by Ewan McGregor) and their teenage daughter Jean (by Abigail Breslin). Then comes Violet’s sister, Mattie Fae (by Margo Martindale) and her husband Charlie (by Chris Cooper), followed by their son Little Charles (by Benedict Cumberbatch) and the third sister, Karen (by Juliette Lewis) and her fiancé Steve (by Dermot Mulroney). Everyone is here … now to unravel the mystery of Beverly’s disappearance … and of course uncover family tensions and secrets that should have been long buried ….

This movie is dark – both in its presentation and its mood. Violet lives in a house where the shades are down all the time – she does this with parts of her life too. Her daughters don’t see eye to eye with each other, nor with their mother. Violet is unpredictable, prone to outbursts of violence and can be sharp-tongued – her daughters, particularly Barbara, have learned this too. They bring all their family troubles back to the house and churn them all up again in this drama. As you would expect from such a strong cast, the performances are all good. I’ve never seen Meryl Streep in such a confronting role – she is fabulous. Margo Martindale and Chris Cooper support her well. The tension between Barbara and Bill portrayed by Julia Roberts and Ewan McGregor is clear, but a bit pedestrian. Add to this the flighty Karen, again performed well, but just going through the motions really, by Juliette Lewis but her sleaze-ball fiancé Steve, Dermot Mulroney seems to do with ease. The roles of Little Charles, Ivy and Jean all have potential, but are never really explored. It’s a good combination – but the movie is probably a bit too long for its superficiality. Okay … we get the point – these people don’t get on, don’t trust each other and don’t really like each other, the family secrets will come out – truths will hurt and nobody will be happy. It’s the dramatization of the play by Tracy Letts, the Pulitzer Prize winner in 2008. Both Meryl Street and Julia Roberts were nominated for an Academy Award (Oscar) for their performances here.

Made in 2013. Directed by John Wells

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2014 in Movies

 

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