Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Tag: Jez Butterworth

Spectre Review – 2 out of 5 Stars

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Four spy movies have come out this year that ranged from excellent to okay. Starting in February, we got the release of Kingsman: The Secret Service (A-), Spy (B), The Man from U.N.C.L.E (B+) and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (B). These are all movies that are highly entertaining and in some way clearly influenced by past Bond films. I mention these movies because one of my biggest regrets this year was how I treated these movies in relation to my high anticipation for the latest 007 movie Spectre. Okay, Rogue Nation was fun but its premise is a clear rip off of the criminal organization in the James Bond films. Trust me, by the time Spectre comes around, nobody will even be talking about Mission Impossible.

After the events of Skyfall, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is going after Spectre, a secret Illuminati like organization that is responsible for everything evil in the world. The group is run by Ernest Stavo Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), a man mysteriously hell bent on destroying the things that are around Bond. All while this is happening, his spy agency is becoming dangerously close to being terminated in the name of supporting a worldwide organization that would track the online records of every country.

To understand how much of a flavorless let down this movie was, you have to understand how much I loved Skyfall. I was never really on board with Craig bond movies until this film. This film managed to take all of the elements that people loved about the franchise and they were able to present us with something that was nostalgic and innovative at the same time. On the 50th anniversary of Dr. No, Skyfall gave us an unforgettable villain, excellent back stories, breath taking action scenes, intelligent writing and absolutely striking cinematography from Roger Deakins. Director Sam Mendes wasn’t afraid to take risks and go even bigger than the franchise had ever gone before. For my money, this is still one of the best action movies we’ve seen so far this century.

Now that you know that, this is how Spectre was built. Take bits and pieces of the past few Bond movies, hold all of the humor and joy that made those aspects entertaining, take out any of the originality that the previous Craig Bond films included and give it a half assed ending that’s supposed to present itself like this was everything that it has been leading up to for the past 6 or so years. Oh wait, forgive me, I’ve forgotten the most important thing. Above all else, remember to stretch the movie out to an ungodly 2 hours and 30 minutes.

This movie is the definition of the sophomore slump. Skyfall was a huge hit that everyone loved and it seems that MGM basically told Mendes that he could do anything that he wanted for the next film. In reaction to that, he has taken everything people loved about Skyfall and milked it for all it’s worth. The big story, the funny elements, the villain who has a past with 007, he took all of these things and he did them again but this time with the sincerity and the soul of a greatest hits compilation. Yeah, you’re technically getting everything you wanted from Bond but it all seems too unsubstantial and presented with no love.

There has been a lot of news recently about this being Craig’s final movie and you can honestly tell that he’s tired of playing Bond. All of the charisma and energy he has had in the previous Bond movies feels lost and he doesn’t seem to be having any fun with the part anymore. All of the attempts the movie makes to make him seem funny or charming don’t work and they make the movie occasionally awkward. Craig way always best when he was a playing grittier and darker Bond and it feels like after Skyfall, we’ve seen every aspect of this Bond that we can. There’s nothing new that Craig can add to this character and he mostly seems to just be going through the motions like everyone else who worked on this movie.

The love interests are also one of the poorer elements of this movie. One of the amazing things Skyfall did was how little it forced James Bond to be in a relationship. He has a brief amount of time with a girl in the first half but in the later parts of the movie, it becomes a lot more focused on finally dissecting what it is that James Bond is a symbol and as a person. In this movie, we’re back to forcing James Bond to be a relationship with someone. Léa Seydoux plays the daughter of a dead crime boss who is helping Bond get to Blofeld. She’s a great actress (hell, she’s already been in a Mission Impossible movie before) but her character represents some of the worst elements of the Bond girl. Bond is disgusting older than her, she isn’t given any development and finally, despite disliking Bond at first and not spending much time with him, she still falls in love with him. It’s unrealistic and it doesn’t help that Seydoux and Craig have horrible chemistry with each other because of their ages and Craig’s inability to escape being cinematic dead weight here. Their romance honestly reminds me a bit of those old Moore films where he would be in his 50’s and he would be paired with someone in their 20’s, I honestly thought we were over doing that.

Early this year I complained about how The Syndicate from Rogue Nation was a cheaper, more forced version of the old Spectre and now the new Spectre is an even more forced and useless version of the old Spectre. This movies shady criminal organization is even more poorly explained and generic because we basically only get to see Spectre as a whole for one small scene and then for the rest of it it’s just Blofeld doing average, mediocre villain stuff. At least The Syndicate was in some way explained by its characters but Spectre feels like something they added just to be there without really thinking it out, ironic considering that it’s the title of their movie. Rogue Nation is also a lot more light hearted whereas Spectre seems to be taking everything way too seriously; this makes the story much easier to forgive in the former.

Blofeld is especially disappointing since he’s being played by Waltz, a terrific actor. In the original Bond movies, Blofeld was clever, mysterious and always able to get away. Here, they basically cash in and give him a half-baked, under explained back story and a villain arc that is predictable, abrupt and disappointing. It doesn’t help that they also have Waltz playing the exact same character he’s played in almost every movie since Inglorious Bastards.

The thing that kills Spectre isn’t that it’s poorly written and clichéd in everything from the villain to the romance to the main characters but it’s the fact that despite all of this, they try to pass this off as being the final, epic conclusion to James Bond’s arc. The way they conclude this movie is that this is the end of Daniel Craig’s Bond and this is what it’s all been leading to since Casino Royale. Spectre is the reason Bond’s always been unhappy and if you’ve been watching these movies carefully, you can see how Blofeld has been carefully setting everything up because of his past with James Bond. Léa Seydoux was the woman who was the perfect match for him and everything in this franchise has been leading up to him meeting her and falling in love with her like Batman and Catwomen in The Dark Knight Rises or Hermione and Ron in The Deathly Hallows. Léa Seydoux is the final Bond Girl and this isn’t just some cheap, half assed scheme they thought of at the last second because they needed an end to Bond’s arc.

I don’t usually try to curse on this website but the sweeping conclusion to this movie is complete and utter bullsh*t and you’re kidding yourself if you legitimately believe that this is something the writers didn’t just pull out of there ass because they had to. I get it, Skyfall took everything out of you and you’re failing to come up with something new. Whatever, you can still make a simple, mildly entertaining Bond movie out of that like Quantum of Solace. One of the worst things you can do is to take that mediocrity and actively destroy the franchise for no reason simply because you had to do something different. It is offensive the level of things they put into this movie that they expect the audience to go along with.

If that killed Spectre, the final nail in the coffin is the pacing. In Skyfall, there was so much going on that it had to be 2 hours and 30 minutes. Spectre on the other hand is a movie that is only 2 hours and 30 minutes because having a longer running time makes them look cooler and it makes there film appear more “epic”. There are too many scenes here that are either unnecessary or go on forever and it’s clear they only made this movie super long because a longer running time infers that this is going to be a large and gigantic conclusion when in reality the movie could probably be easily told in about 90 minutes or so. This is the most arrogant example of a movie being long for the sake of being long since The Lone Ranger. And believe me; you do not want to put in a category of any sort with The Lone Ranger.

It’s almost a Greek Tragedy how there were all of these movies in 2015 clearly inspired by James Bond that did things from those movies in fresh and exciting ways. Kingsman, Spy, Rogue Nation and The Man from U.N.C.L.E all made great arguments for the legacy of Bond and the fun and charm that come from those sorts of movies. It’s just funny in a warped way that in a year of terrific spy blockbusters, the worst one came from the franchise that inspired them all. Spectre is long, half cooked, passionless and patronizing to the fans of the series. It has the occasional action scene and as a whole it’s a well-made movie but substance wise, this is the weakest of the Craig films to date. It says something about how little people care about the Craig movies at this point that more people are speculating who will be the next Bond than discussing the actual Bond film in theaters right now.

Rating:(2/5)

Review by: Ryan M.

Release Date: 11/6/2015

Rating: PG-13

Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear and Jesper Christensen

Directed by: Sam Mendes

Screenplay by: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth

Based on Characters Created by: Ian Fleming

Black Mass Review – 1 out of 5 Stars

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Scott Cooper has almost magical powers when it comes to making terrible movies. He takes stories that would at least seem entertaining to watch and he screws them up in ways that make them absolutely unwatchable. With Out of the Furnace and his latest movie Black Mass, he takes bits and pieces of better films and he uses them to trick you into going along for the ride. The movies are well made and the stories are intriguing enough as to where you might believe for the first part that what you’re watching is something that is good. As these movies chug along, you slowly start to see through everything and you begin to realize how awful the characters and the dialogue and the storytelling are. Once these films end, Cooper leaves the audience with a disgusting, foul aftertaste that finally hits them with how utterly trashy what they just watched was. Out of the Furnace fit that description and now he does it again with the clichéd, miserable and gimmicky Black Mass. It’s yet another self-loathing, poorly crafted crime drama that’s only real message is Cooper wallowing in the filth he created.

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You hear the synopsis for this movie and you can’t imagine how anyone could possibly mess this up. It’s the story of South Boston mobster Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) and his crime streak from the mid 70’s to the early 80’s. With the help of childhood friend John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), Bulger became an informant for the FBI and in doing so they helped to take some of his enemies off the streets. It was the secret relationship between Bulger and the FBI that led to him becoming the king of the criminal underworld.

That is such an amazing premise for a movie and I can name so many directors who would’ve taken this story and done something outstanding. There doesn’t seem like a director out there who wouldn’t at least make this film watchable. At best, you end up with Scorsese or Fincher creating this energetic, lively crime thriller. At the least you should end up with Gangster Squad or Pain and Gain where neither of these movies are perfect but there stories are wild enough to make them somewhat fun. I will go on record and say that this movie is so bad that even Michael Bay would’ve done a better job directing and writing it. Black Mass feels like one of those stories that’s accident proof, the story is so big and so epic that even a less experienced director can make something interesting out of it and the better directors can turn this into something incredible. And yet, Scott Cooper has found a way to screw it up at every turn he was given.

Let’s start by focusing on the core of this movie, Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger. I’ve hated a lot of his work recently from his racist performance in the insufferable The Lone Ranger to his grating turn in Tusk. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have anticipated this performance so much but I really wanted this to be his return to form. I remember when people respected him and actually gave him performances that didn’t require goofy make up and outlandish accents. If he did give his heart and soul into this performance, I would tell you because I was rooting for him going into the theater. Spoiler alert, he didn’t and this is like every other performance he’s given over the past few years, the only difference is that it’s being featured in a “serious” drama.

I don’t have problems with makeup heavy performances when they’re done well. Steve Carell had tons of makeup when he played John du Pont last year in Foxcatcher and that was one of my favorite performances of 2014. The true difference between Depp’s performance and Carell’s performance is that the makeup isn’t carrying the part in Foxcatcher. Carell uses the makeup to go inside the character and become something that you can’t take your eyes off of. I never saw Carell in Foxcatcher, I saw John du Pont. The total opposite can be said for when I watched Depp in Black Mass. For two hours I didn’t see Whitey Bulger on screen, I saw Johnny Depp playing Whitey Bulger. He has an unbelievable accent and he has campy make up more suited for a Clint Eastwood film. It’s such a self-indulgent and gimmicky part that requires so little effort on the part of Depp and yet people have become entranced with it. He never seems like he’s real or a part of the same movie as anyone else and the film always seems more focused on making you shocked by Depp’s performance than making you shocked by the actual character. The movie is just scene after scene of Depp showing off how “intimidating” and “daring” he is without giving any insight into the heart and soul of Whitey Bulger. To do to a lesser extent something DiCaprio, Bale and Gyllenhaal among others excel at; he requires tons of makeup and ridiculous, inauthentic voices. So no, this isn’t Depp’s comeback and if anything, it’s worse because at least in Tusk or The Lone Ranger there was nothing really big at stake. In Black Mass, his cheap, artificial performance wrecks the core of the drama. The character of Whitey Bulger is never realistic and never sympathetic; he’s just there for Cooper and Depp to fake being cool and threatening.

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To Depp’s credit, it wasn’t like he was totally responsible for killing this movie. All the other characters besides Bulger are given the depth and insight of a History Channel reenactment. The movie even goes as far as to have a variety of interviews with people involved narrating the story. Most people like Adam Scott’s FBI character or Jesse Plemons’ mob character only exist to give soulless exposition dialogue. The characters that aren’t used strictly for that are given too little screen time for you to care. The example of this would be William Bulger, Whitey’s brother played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch has one of the few believable performances in the movie and he does the best that he can with what he’s given without coming off as fake and hollow like Depp or Edgerton (I’ll get to him soon). However, there’s so much that the film is trying to juggle character wise that he never gets the chance to shine through or really matter to us. The phone call between Depp and Cumberbatch should matter at the end of the movie but the film is so sloppy that it just comes off as anti-climactic. Nobody’s given enough time to have personality and the people who are given time like Bulger or Connolly are terrible.

Edgerton’s John Connolly is more shocking in how bad it is because unlike Depp, Edgerton is an actor who has shown he can act. He did a great job in his wonderful directorial debut The Gift this past summer. Besides that, he’s been solid writing The Rover and giving fine supporting performance in Zero Dark Thirty and The Great Gatsby. That said, it’s baffling how terrible he is in Black Mass. First off, the writing really isn’t helping him. I have a fun drinking game for the adults out there. Take a shot every time Connolly says something along the lines of, “me and Bulger have the kind of bond that’s unbreakable.” It becomes humorous how many times Edgerton mentions this to people when they ask him about Bulger. “Trust me you guys, we’ve known each other since we were kids on the streets of Boston, that’s the kind of friendship that never dies”. It comes to a point where the movie just keeps going back and forth between Depp doing something “edgy” and Edgerton making sure everybody knows about the magical, childhood bond he has with Bulger. When he’s not doing that, he’s having angry/sneaky conversations and asking people who the informants are on Whitey Bulger. I swear to God he’s one of the most repetitive, predictable characters I’ve seen in a drama in years. But even if I forgive that, Edgerton is still awful. He finds a way to actually compete with Depp for who can have the most inauthentic, over the top Boston accent. The way Edgerton talks as Connolly is like a bad improv actors take on a Boston accent. John Connolly in this movie is one of those perfect storms of a really horribly written character and a performance that feels so laughable and insincere.

I think that beyond how messy it is and how much it feels like Oscar bait, the thing that I hate the most in Black Mass is the same problem that I had with Cooper’s Out of the Furnace, it’s a very ugly, mean spirited movie. Everest (which I just reviewed) was a mess but at its heart that movie was well intentioned if deeply flawed. Black Mass is movie that is a mess that is also trying to make the audience feel like garbage afterwards. I clearly have no problem with bleak movies when they’re done well but they are the absolute worst films you can watch when they’re done poorly. Cooper doesn’t want the story to at all glamorize or take excitement in the criminal underworld. The movie is humorless and all the funny aspects are purely unintentional. The movie takes place in one of the best eras for music and it instead uses this forgettable, dour score.

So what though? Prisoners and Foxcatcher were humorless and I enjoyed both of those movies. The problem with this movie is that while it takes a joyless stance on Bulger’s actions, it still manages to glorify his actions like the cover of a tabloid magazine. There’s not a single lead character in the movie that seems like a good person who you can relate to. There is no Patrick Denham to The Wolf of Wall Street’s Jordan Belfort. There is no Dave Schultz’s to Foxcatcher’s John Du Pont. As I’ve said, most of the scenes use Bulger’s crimes as an excuse for Johnny Depp to show off how dark and serious he’s being. The violence in this movie is gratuitous and made disgustingly clear. The movie is one of the few cases where I can truly claim that it is misogynistic in a review. The only women who are shown in this movie are the ones who serve as helpless, little punching bags to make the male characters look more damaged.

There isn’t a single bit of warmth or subtlety to anything Cooper is doing here and he makes something that is as unappealing as it is unintelligent. Cooper loves showing the torture and the executions and creating an uninventive, nasty world that rewards moviegoers with the equivalent of bathing in a tub filled with mud. The final message (if there even is one) is something you can gain with much more ease by reading the writings of a depressed ten year old, life in constant suffering and the only people who can win are monsters.

Black Mass has made me hate something I thought I could never hate. Most of the characters are flat and Depp’s performance is soulless and unbelievable. The story is messy and done in the least original way possible. And worst of all, Black Mass glorifies the ugliness and brutality of life without showing any sense of wit or humanity. It’s one of the worst pieces of awards bait I’ve seen in years and you should avoid it at all costs. This and Out of the Furnace should be held up as some of the worst possible ways you can create a drama.

Rating:(1/5)

Review by: Ryan M.

Release Date: 9/18/2015

Rating: R

Cast: Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Joel Edgerton, Kevin Bacon and Adam Scott

Directed by: Scott Cooper

Screenplay by: Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth

Based on the Novel by: Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill

Black Mass (2015)*

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Title: Black Mass
Rating: R
Directed by: Scott Cooper
Written by: Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth
Based on the novel by: Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill
Starring: Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch,Joel Edgerton, Kevin Bacon and Dakota Johnson
Release Date: 9/18/2015
Running Time: 122 minutes

Official Site
IMDb

The true story of Whitey Bulger, the brother of a state senator 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.


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