For a biopic of a real-life person, this feels like an oddly standard mob thriller. It's the true story of Boston gangster James "Whitey" Bulger, and it's told with gritty filmmaking and robust performances. But there's very little about the movie that sets it apart, leaving it as yet another depiction of violent criminal ambition and betrayal. And by the end, it's difficult to escape the feeling that we've seen it all before.
It opens in 1975 South Boston, where Jimmy Bulger (Johnny Depp) runs the Irish mafia, while his brother Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a senator. Their childhood friend John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) is an FBI agent who has asked for their help in taking down the rival Angiulo family, which Jimmy sees as a win-win situation: he'll get rid of the competition while avoiding jail himself. Over the next 10 years, Jimmy expands his operation dramatically, and he's not afraid to get his own hands dirty as he sorts out problems that are created by his sidekicks (including Rory Cochrane, Jesse Plemons and W. Earl Brown), all of whom are increasingly annoyed at his control-freak ways. But as Jimmy becomes even more notorious, the FBI boss (Kevin Bacon) pressures John to take him down.
The actors dive into their roles. Depp transforms himself physically into a prowling thug with terrifyingly piercing eyes. He may be a heartless killer, but he's also a caring family man. Opposite him, Edgerton has a trickier role as a federal agent who operates more like the gangster he'd rather be, casually ignoring the law to push his own agenda. In the sprawling supporting cast, only a few characters emerge memorably: Cumberbatch has a sparky presence, Cochrane offers some thoughtfulness, and Bacon gets to chomp on the scenery. Other roles are much briefer, especially the sidelined female characters.
Continue reading: Black Mass Review
For his latest adventure, James Bond mixes the personal drama of Skyfall with the vintage globe-hopping action of the previous 23 movies. The result is an epic thriller packed with exhilarating set-pieces and dark surprises. Again directed by Sam Mendes, the film has a meaty tone from the astounding pre-titles sequence in Mexico City to the climax in North African. And it takes its time to build the suspense, mystery and drama in ways few blockbusters bother to do.
After the calamitous events at Skyfall, Bond (Daniel Craig) has gone rogue, following a videotaped message from his late boss (Judi Dench) to track a villain to Mexico, then continuing to Rome, where he woos the grieving widow (Monica Bellucci). Pursued by relentless goon Mr Hinx (Dave Bautista), he travels onward to Austria, he confronts an old nemesis (Jesper Christiansen), whose daughter Madeleine (Lea Seydoux) joins Bond to travel to Morocco to face the shady top boss Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) in his secret lair. Meanwhile in London, the new M (Ralph Fiennes) is fighting to to keep MI6 in operation as new boss C (Andrew Scott) works to restructure British security as part of a global conglomerate.
Mendes stages this on a massive scale, with huge action sequences that are never rushed or choppy, beautifully shot by ace cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema. And it's all underpinned by darker personal drama between the characters, so every sequence features thoughtful conversation, witty banter, more clues to the larger mystery and then thrilling action. And as 007 hops from location to location filling in the bigger picture, the film feels like all of the classic Bond movies rolled into one.
Continue reading: James Bond - Spectre Review
With an appropriately jarring sense of energy, this James Brown biopic acutely captures the Godfather of Soul's iconic musical talents, although the fragmented script undermines any emotional kick in his story. The film also struggles to build up momentum, because it continually leaps between various chapters in Brown's life. Which means that it never quite connects these disparate episodes into one coherent narrative. Even so, Chadwick Boseman delivers an electrically charged central performance.
Boseman plays James from the time he was 16, thrown into prison for stealing a suit in 1949, until his comeback in the 1990s. Raised in a brothel run by his Aunt Honey (Octavia Spencer) after his parents (Viola Davis and Lennie James) abandoned him, James is in prison when he meets visiting gospel singer Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis), who takes him in on his release. Together they form The Famous Flames, gaining small-time success as James catches the eye of a manager (Dan Aykroyd), a record executive (Fred Melamed) and the public. A string of major hits followed in the 1950s and 60s, then James went solo in the 70s before the usual issues of fame caught up with him: money, drugs and guns. But he returned to the stage in the 1990s.
The film completely skips over his Hollywood years in the 80s, which wouldn't be a problem if the decade was so notably missing from the film. As the story skips back and forth through the years, the audience is forced to make sense of the disparate scenes, filling in several holes along the way. Aside from one rather surreal scene in a Southern Gospel church, there's never much of a sense of how Brown found his voice or developed his inimitable style. It also never quite captures his impact on the music industry as a whole.
Continue reading: Get On Up Review
A smarter-than-expected script turns this noisy sci-fi action movie into something remarkably entertaining. A-list stars, solid actors and whizzy effects aside, the dialogue is packed with clever observations that are both mind-bending and unexpectedly hilarious. And director Doug Liman (Mr. & Mrs. Smith) lets his cast have a lot of fun with it.
In the near future when aliens called Mimics have rampaged across Europe, Cage (Tom Cruise) is a military media spokesman suddenly sent into the front-lines from London, battling the fearsome creatures on the beaches of Normandy. He's killed fairly quickly, but wakes up that same morning and is again sent through battlefield prep with harsh Sgt Farell (Bill Paxton) and a rag-tag team. Again and again. Eventually he breaks out of the pattern and discovers another soldier, Rita (Emily Blunt), who seems to understand why he is living this day over and over only to die each time. So he uses the repetition to figure out what's really going on, and he and Rita plot a way to stop the aliens for good.
Yes, the premise is a direct riff on Groundhog Day, as Cage makes the most of each day, learning something new that will get him further the next. And the film's script knowingly plays with the set-up, offering witty comments and some genuinely suspenseful set-pieces along the way, all sharply edited into a relatively coherent narrative, although the ending will generate a lot of post-screening debate. Liman packs the film with kinetic, intense action sequences that are rendered with strikingly realistic effects that occasionally have some extra fun with the 3D.
Continue reading: Edge Of Tomorrow Review
Jez Butterworth's new play The River opened at the Royal Court, London, this week, and has been winning high praise from critics. The play is essentially a story about fishing and follows a nameless man (played by Dominic West) who takes a woman to his rural cabin for a weekend of relaxation and simple pleasures.
Writing in The Guardian, the revered theatre critic Michael Billington said "the play kept me on tenterhooks and Ian Rickson's production is finely calibrated. The acting is also impeccable. West proves not only expert at gutting fish but also has an air of rugged masculinity that conceals a profound sadness, insecurity and sense of loss." Industry publication The Stage were equally complimentary, writing, "The play is perfectly paced and the sight of West gutting a fresh fish before cooking it for his new lover is a potent image of his character's attempt to make a real emotional connection." The Huffington Post suggested Butterworth's eerie play wonderfully compliments the time of year, saying, "As we come to terms with darker days and chillier nights, The River is a fitting outing for those in the mood to embrace Halloween, welcome the bare trees of winter and pull a blanket up to their chin on a moonless night at the Royal Court."
The problem for Butterworth is, of course, that his last play, Jerusalem, was considered one of the finest productions to hit the stage in recent times. Armed with Mark Rylance's standout performance, it scooped awards, won praise and sold tickets like hot cakes. Whether The River can emulate its predecessor's success remains to be seen.
Continue reading: Could Jez Butterworth's The River Be Better Than Jerusalem?
Valerie Plame (Watts) is a high-level CIA operative juggling teams in a variety of locations. In the wake of 9/11, her focus is on investigating Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons programme. Her husband, Joe Wilson (Penn), is the expert sent to Niger to investigate uranium rumours, but he finds no evidence.
And this is backed up by Valerie's discoveries from scientists in Iraq. So when Joe hears George W Bush lying in a State of the Union address, he writes a rebuttal. Enraged, Bush administration official Scooter Libby (Andrews) releases Valerie's identity.
Continue reading: Fair Game Review
For a biopic of a real-life person, this feels like an oddly standard mob thriller....
For his latest adventure, James Bond mixes the personal drama of Skyfall with the vintage...
With an appropriately jarring sense of energy, this James Brown biopic acutely captures the Godfather...
A smarter-than-expected script turns this noisy sci-fi action movie into something remarkably entertaining. A-list stars,...