Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Black Mass Review

Black Mass (2015)

Directed by Scott Cooperbt1

Starring:Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch

Terrifying, but Fun

 by Mason Manuel

The tale of “James Whitey Bulger” is hardly a new one. A gangster who you can’t help but love, who is loved by his community and friends. He would be a pretty great guy if not for the fact that he is killing people all the time. Crime biopics have a knack of falling into the same by-the-numbers plot following the rise and fall of the subject. Yet, while Black Mass does not necessarily throw off this tired formula, some great performances and intense sequences make it a film worth enjoying.

Based entirely on a true story, the film follows the relationship between the F.B.I and their deal with the devil, Bulger. Bulger’s boyhood friend, John Connely has become an F.B.I agent and uses his past relationship to get an inside voice in the crime rings of Boston. At first the deal works out smoothly. The F.B.I gets the credit for taking down the Italian mafia while Bulger slowly sinks his roots deeper into other criminal enterprises. Soon enough Bulger turns from a small time gangster to a major kingpin of the underground. What’s worse, Connely does not have the ability to shut Bulger down because he is protected as a high profile informant. So, rather than try to fight and do the right thing, Connely decides that a few white lies to protect Bulger being persecuted for murders will keep himself protected as well. Knowing that he has Connely under his thumb, Bulger decides to grow and become one of the most notorious criminals the world has ever seen.

Director Scott Cooper has a knack for giving decaying settings life and vigor. The shambling poor district of South Boston (Otherwise known as Southie) is beautifully realized with its constant gray skies and palpable feel of urban sprawl. Much like his previous film Out of the Furnace the environment the charecters live in has as much depth as the character’s themselves. Speaking of which, the performances from almost all of the actors are on point and occasionally terrifying to watch, most notably with Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Bulger. His seething eyes, pale skin, and intense glare will make even the most steadfast audience member shift uncomfortably in their seat. That being said, he also comes off as a huge sweetheart. When he is not killing enemies and heads of rival gangs, he makes sure to visit his mother, help old ladies pack their groceries, and be a loving father to his young son. His personality switches on a dime and shows great power in Depp’s acting ability. The other actors have their moments as well, but some get lost in the fray until the back half of the film. Surprisingly, Joel Edgerton’s John Connely never really makes a mark, despite being a key player in the proceedings. He, almost more than Bulger, has a terrific rise and fall story becoming a celebrated agent to becoming as shady as the people he gets information from, but Edgerton’s acting never makes him feel very real or worth investing in.bt2

When trying to recreate real characters, a production should do everything it can to make sure that the original people are honored. I can only imagine that this is why almost all of the lead actors are caked in a ridiculous amount of prosthetics. Obviously most notable is Depp as Bulger; there are many times where his frightening performance is defeated by the simple awkwardness of seeing him in a shoddy receding hairline wig and facial additions. Breaking Bad’s Jesse Plemons is given jowls and a beer gut that looks completely out of place and distracts from the ongoing events. Whomever is doing this old man makeup should never ever do old man makeup again; I feel like I am watching Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar all over.

Luckily, with a combination of great acting and Jez Butterworth & Mark Mallouk’s adapted, brutal screenplay, Black Mass is an excellent gangster film. It may not do anything that is incredibly new but its familiar story never feels boring or cliché. The characters all have their own way of justifying their actions, and seeing the lengths they will go to accomplish their objective can be terrifyingly fun to watch. RDR gives this wise guy a 6.9 out of 10.

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Straight Outta Compton Review

Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Directed by F. Gary Gray

Starring: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Jason Mitchell, Corey Hawkins, Paul Giamatti

The Power of Street Knowledge

By Mason Manuel

            I have never been a follower of Rap or Hip-Hop; it just never spoke to me like other genres. Because of this, I went into Compton with the assumption that I would not understand its’ message and therefor find the picture unenjoyable. Holy s1s**t was I wrong. Straight Outta Compton is the most brutal, heartfelt film I have seen this year. Director of the intense Law Abiding Citizen, F. Gary Gray outdoes himself this time around in the telling of the tale of a few kids from the streets of California who changed the world with musical revolution. Powerful performances, an intense tale, and the knowing that the incredible tale is based on true events makes this one of the best films of the year.

Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Easy-E (Jason Mitchell), Ice Cube (Jackson Jr.), DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.), and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) are music loving, poetry writing, entrepreneurial nobodies who make most of their income through either drug dealing or DJing at shady clubs. Eventually collaborating and putting that hard earned cash into a single, the group finds themselves in a surprisingly successful situation which gains the attention of manager Jerry Heller (Giamatti). They gain the resources to start their own label and initially enjoy a successful run as up and coming artists. The group begins to write about their personal expereices from the dangerous streets of Compton which begins to reflect negatively on law enforcement and positively on violence and drug use. This obviously does not go over well with everyone, especially the police who do not find themselves particularly fond of Ice Cube’s signature piece, “F*** tha Police.” What follows results in a fight for equality and freedom of speech against a government and people that tried to silence Compton’s citizens.

As soon as the opening credits finish, we are thrown into a chaotic scene involving one of Easy E’s drug deal. Naturally the deal goes badly and greats a raw, intense introduction to Compton. This intensity almost never drops in the 2 and a half hour run time that Straight Outta Compton presents. It’s not all action either; we see these men mature and toil through discrimination, emotional hardship, and trying to rise above their pasts. There is more than one moment here where tears will fall and I must again applaud director Gray for his fantastic portrayal of this. Not only is the action mixed perfectly with emotion, neither style ever feels out of place or overused. Every moment of intensity and emotion feels earned and completely in line with the experiences the characters have gone through.s3

Speaking of the characters, the actor in this film are top notch. Most notable are O’Shea Jackson Jr. as his father Ice Cube and Jason Mitchell as Easy E.  Jackson in particular is a revelation as he has never had a professional acting role before. Mitchell (Contraband) has a little more experience than Jackson, but deserves no less credit as he is given a great deal of heavy material that executes flawlessly on screen. Every one of the characters is a tortured soul in their own right and no one actor ever feels unbelievable or overtly cheesy in portraying gangsters. IT’s heartbreaking to watch as these close friends are inevitably torn apart by life and greed, even though we know that some live off to become huge stars.

Part biography, part documentary, and all eye opening, Straight Outta Compton delivers all it promises and more. The in-depth look into the lives creating Ruthless’ (The group’s label) and the eventual disbanding will give any viewer a reason to dust off their old cassette tapes. I know I have. A 9.8 out of 10.

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Hitman: Agent 47 Review

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Hitman: Agent 47 (2015)

Directed by Aleksander Bach

Starring: Rupert Friend, Zachary Quinto, Hannah Ware

A Hit for a Select Audience

By Mason Manuel

This weekend my wonderful girlfriend from Real Red Reviews of all people suggested that we go see Hitman: Agent 47 Unbeknownst to her, I was already planning on seeing this movie alone amongst my fellow nerds because I figured she would hate it, with her not being a gamer and all. Pleasantly surprised, I agreed to her proposition and went to the theatre. When we finally saw the film, I was loving a great deal whereas my girlfriend… well, not so much. Herein lies the main flaw of Hitman; Gamers will love this adventure, others will not.

Agent 47 centers around an agency of assassins which has genetically enhanced their members to be stronger, faster, and above all, smarter. Agents are created from birth and instead of names are given numbers, hence our protagonist’s title. 47 is a famed killer among the assassin world and is known for always closing his contracts, no matter the odds. This time around his targets are twofold; the creator of the agent program and a seemingly ordinary woman named Katia van Dees. Those familiar with French may realize that her name sounds an awful lot like “Quatre Vingt Dix” which means the number 90. As it turns out Ms. Dees was part of the same agent program as 47 and has all of the same skills, only upgraded by 43 versions (yay for math!). The unlikely duo is eventually forced to go head to head with the illusive criminal organization known as Syndicate, which has also taken an interest into the creator of the program. 47 and Dees must fight for their very lives in order to contest the criminal super power and finally bring justice to their bloody world.

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Boy, I sure hope this movie is a hit… man. Seriously just kill me.

Judging 47 is something of a dilemma for me. On one hand, the movie perfectly realizes its’ video game origin (The garrote wire! The Italian suit! The twin custom pistols!). On the other, the film has a rather lackluster plot with a number of forgettable characters who have rather large roles in the game. First, the positives. Rupert Friend plays a surprisingly excellent Agent 47. His cool and collected manner is as impressive as his methodical brutality and will have you shivering with anticipation at intense moments. Friend’s physicality and icy blue eyes finally give the big screen the 47 that gamers know and love. However, he would just be another guy shooting dramatically if not for the interesting addition of Hannah Ware. In a pleasant turn of events, Ware’s character Dees is more capable than 47 and proves this in a number of scenes that focus solely on her assassin skills. Ware plays the sleeper agent role with enough disbelief to be a good conduit for the audience but thankfully doesn’t take long to start kicking ass. She makes a welcome addition that will hopefully be seen in later iterations.

Also worth note are the stellar action sequences. Most of the fights stay grounded and raw which adds some fun cringe worthy moments at the sound of a breaking bone or a puncturing knife. The most notable of these can be found in the film’s opening sequence where 47 meticulously plans and executes a plan to isolate a high value target. Unfortunately, not all of the action stays so lifelike. Some action scenes are ruined by hastily done CG animations which pull you out of what is otherwise a decently choreographed fight sequence. Also disappointing is the lack of stealth sequences. Hitman games have traditionally been stealth based and yet the film focuses more on the Die Hard style of shooting everything that moves. In the isolated moments where stealth is a key factor, the kills and nail biting anticipation create some of the best moments of the film. Something about seeing the assassins successfully pull off an intricate kill makes the action so much more satisfying. Fingers crossed that they improve this in later iterations.

For gamers, the action, characters, and story are probably what you look forward to the most. For the most part, the film delivers on these first two at least. For regular movie goers, you look more for story and fun cinematography along with an engaging story and it is here where Agent 47 will lose you. The plot is convoluted at best and the villains are easily the weakest players on screen. Even Zachary Quinto who I was convinced would be the saving grace of the movie disappoints with the material he is given. His character John Smith is underdeveloped and has a need to be better than 47… for some reason that is never explained. The head of the evil corporation (Thomas Kretschman) is made to be this evil, Voldemort level bad guy but has maybe ten minutes of screen time and does nothing but talk manically. You basically have to force yourself to ignore the plot, otherwise your head will be swimming with strange character motivations and  illogical developments.

If you are a fan of Square Enix’s Hitman then see this movie. There are fun nods to the player’s strategy (cheesy costume changes, variety of weaponry, ect.) littered throughout the hour and a half long run time. If you are not a gamer, probably best to steer clear. All of your nerd friends will be geeking out and you’ll be sitting there asking yourself why you payed 12 dollars for this. A 6.7 out of 10.

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