Black Mass


Viewed – 22 March 2016  Online rental

I think I’m not alone in being a little tired of Johnny Depp’s over-the-top caricatures in movies like Pirates of the Caribbean and Alice In Wonderland, even if he is often good in those roles.  Occasionally however it’s nice to see him in a more normal acting role, and to some extent this is a perfect vehicle for him.  He plays Boston gangster Jimmy ‘whitey’ Bulger; a ruthless and manipulative thug and leader of a local gang.  One day however an old friend from the neighbourhood comes knocking to ask a favour, who also happens to be an FBI agent out to nail the local Mafia, and soon an awkward alliance is formed.

Black Mass

This gritty and occasionally very violent crime yarn based on true events is well cast and well directed and I was swept up by the realism and atmosphere.  At first it takes a bit of getting used to Depp’s make-up and he stands out a bit compared to the other cast members for this, but thankfully an assured and gradually menacing performance shines through and Depp proves himself equally adept at villainous characters as he is light hearted ones.  Also he’s not the only one who delivers a strong performance as the often underrated Joel Egerton (The Gift) is brilliantly conflicted as an FBI agent in bed with the devil.  Benedict Cumberbatch turns up as Whitey’s politician brother but only adds marginal screen presence, and Kevin Bacon appears as a  very shouty FBI chief.  Yet it’s the uneasy relationship between Depp’s mobster and Egerton’s Fed that carries the movie and proves edge of the seat and powerful with a few moments that genuinely shock (the prostitute).

It may not be as complex or as layered as some crime epics, and how things wrapped up confused me a bit … but overall, I had a very good time with this and those after a decent crime thriller need look no further.

verdict:  4 /5

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The Drop


Viewed – 08 September 2015  DVD

The moderate hype surrounding this relatively low key crime drama is that it was the final performance of acclaimed actor James Gandolfini, who rose to iconic status in the hit TV show The Sopranos playing charismatic mob boss Tony Soprano.  Add to this the pairing of him with current hot property Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road) and this was a more than alluring prospect for an evening’s entertainment.

drop

Hardy plays Bob, a softly spoken, likable bartender at a local establishment that is used as a ‘drop’ for mob money that’s then handed over to a local Chechnyan gang. Gandolfini is Marv, former owner of the bar and cousin to Bob. Following a hold up one night however, Bob & Marv find themselves in debt to the gangsters and must figure a way of getting the stolen money back. At the same time Bob befriends a local girl who has more than a few problems herself.

As the final role for Gandolfini, this offered up little that wasn’t seen in The Sopranos and isn’t much of a stretch for the actor, even though he clearly still had presence. His character is also a little confusing and I found it hard understanding some of his actions. Hardy fairs better and clearly it’s his film and he again brings to the table a quiet, moody character that he seems to do in every film, with that hint of underlying rage. Noomi Rapace appears as the troubled love interest and is decent also, with her friendship with Bob proving the backbone of the story. For a crime drama this was less about people getting whacked and more a character-piece, but didn’t stand out in any particular way despite a screenplay from famed author Dennis Lehane (Shutter Island).  Enjoyable at times and has a good ending, but overall a little too lightweight for it’s own good.

Verdict:  3 /5

Goodfellas


Viewed – 30 May 2015  Blu-ray

25th Anniversary Edition

I remember when I first saw this widely acclaimed mob drama, that somehow despite my love of the genre, I had taken several years to get around to watching it (I did a similar thing with The Shining…).  Suffice to say I was blown away.  Director Martin Scorsese who I best knew from Taxi Driver and After Hours (remember that?) had delivered his masterpiece in a genre he seemed to know like the back of his hand.  Yes before this hit we had movies like The Godfather and Scarface to name but two, but something about this small-time mob enforcers tale, especially the rags-to-riches-journey Henry Hill goes on from a wet-behind-his-ears kid to a connected wise guy, was a revelation.  In may ways the movie has similarities to John Singleton’s Boyz N The Hood which borrows a similar structure, but told on a more epic scale, ‘Fellas delivers the ultimate gangster drama that also happens to be based on a true story.

Goodfellas

Ray Liotta play’s Henry, a street kid from a Jewish background who winds up working for the local mobsters at the cab stand, and gradually learns all the underworld dealings of being a gangster.  Before long he’s rubbing shoulders with Joe Pesci’s volatile Tommy and Robert DeNiro’s charismatic Jimmy.  Aided by Liotta’s excellent narration (the deep tone of his voice adding to much of the movie’s iconic status) along with Scorsese pulling out every directing trick in the book – a stellar soundtrack, superlative editing, slow motion, zooms, speed ups and clever-ass tracking shots – this had it all.  Each performance electrifies and compliments one another; Lorraine (The Sopranos) Bracco’s Karen is the perfect female morality figure, Pesci brings humour and crazy psychosis to a character that earned him an Oscar …. and DeNiro’s class makes Jimmy likeable but also complex and scary.  Add to this great turns from Paul Sorvino (“now I gotta turn my back on you”) and especially Roy Liotta who brings a nervous out-of-his-depth quality to a character who throughout knows exactly what he’s a part of, but still looks and acts uncomfortable when things get nasty.  Oh and do things get nasty … from the beating and murder of Billy Batts to the various stabbings, skewers in the back of the head, a gun being repeatedly bashed against someone’s face etc. etc.  But for some reason it all just fits and never feels quite as gratuitous as Casino.  This is why compared to that other Scorsese mob drama, this zips along, has a more gripping ‘journey’ and just has stand out scene after stand out scene (“funny how, how am I funny, like I’m a clown?”).

One of the best movies ever made, and certainly the finest gangster movie ever made.

goodfellas 25This re-release for the movie’s 25th anniversary comes with a glossy and detailed full colour booklet as well as a letter from the director himself.  Add to this a whole extra disk of special features that houses a brand new documentary featuring cast and crew (sadly no Pesci!) and several archive docs covering the production and the movie’s legacy.  On the movie itself, we get a cast & crew commentary and a second crook and cop commentary (featuring Henry Hill and the FBI agent that caught him!) which were found on the 20th anniversary edition.  What’s most important though is the picture and sound.  Presented in 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio the music, dialogue and everything else is crisp even if the surrounds aren’t especially showcased.  The image-quality (from a 4k master apparently) whilst a little grainy and rather soft in places (especially street scenes) retains good detail, especially in close-ups and faces.  Overall not too bad a job for a genuine classic.

Verdict:

(the movie)  5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5

Casino


Viewed – 08 May 2015  Blu-ray

20th Anniversary Special Edition

I first saw this acclaimed mob drama a number of year’s ago, and even though I knew it was based on a true story, only recently have I learned about the real-life events the story follows.  Robert DeNiro plays professional gambler Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein who gets the opportunity to run the Tangier’s Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in the late seventies.  He makes a big pil o’ cash for the mob ‘back home’ and attracts former childhood friend Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) who also has ideas of making a killing on the strip…literally and figuratively.  Meanwhile Ace falls for glamorous hustler Ginger (Sharon Stone) who soon complicates everyone’s lives.

casino

A spiritual successor to director Martin Scorsese’s other famed mob classic Goodfellas, reuniting DeNiro with Pesci … who pretty much plays the same type of unhinged psycho that nabbed him an Oscar in ‘Fellas.    DeNiro however, despite his character’s connections to the mob, is more the straight guy trying to avoid any sort of ‘heat’ – and his presence here commands the movie from beginning to end.  Stone is a welcome inclusion to the Scorsese mob-movie fold and adds her usual sexy sass and grit in a role that pretty much enables this movie to have it’s own voice.  At a butt-numbing three hours it can sometimes drag, yet the situations, strong performances and the whole glitz of the setting (not to mention a stellar soundtrack) make for great entertainment.  It’s incredibly violent at times, to the point of being gratuitous (especially towards the end) and the story isn’t as engrossing as it thinks it is.  Also some of the ‘artistic licence’ with the facts remain puzzling (Tangiers is fictional, based on the famed Stardust hotel) and DeNiro and Pesci’s character names are made up, but based on Frank Rosenthal and Anthony Spilotro respectively.  Yet to quibble at this is to do the movie a disservice, as it remains another decent, if familiar mob drama from the true master of the subject.

The Blu-ray, re-issued for the movie’s 20th anniversary has a very nice image quality, retaining grain and detail even if some shots (especially in door and night time scenes) get a little fuzzy.  The sound in DTS HD Master Audio, which is very dialogue-driven is mostly excellent and the fantastic soundtrack really brings this one to life.  Vegas looks incredible also.  The extras consist of a ‘moments with the cast & crew’ option which has pop up interviews as the movie plays.  We also get a couple of detailed documentaries, as well as a few deleted scenes.  However, there doesn’t seem anything here that wasn’t on previous releases … making for a bit of a cash-in.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5

Scenes that make the movie


I’ve been thinking about this idea for a post.  Ten memorable scenes from some of my favourite movies of all time, or simply great moments that make a particular movie going experience stick in my head.  This may become a continuing series as I recall other great moments…but for now, here are ten stand out moments from great movies:  Minor spoilers.

Akira

Teddy bears & hallucinations.

Akira Gif

As a telepathic Kaneda post-brush with an infected child of the Akira experiment, recovers in hospital, he begins to experience terrifying hallucinations where teddy bears and toys comes to life as his powers start to manifest in horrifying ways.  One of the defining moments of this complex and ground-breaking Anime.

An America Werewolf In London

Stick to the road

AAWIL Moores

Two back packers after stumbling into local watering hole The Slaughtered Lamb are ushered back out into the night, with simply the warning of ‘stay on the road, keep clear of the moores’ – which they subsequently ignore and are soon stalked by a blood thirsty werewolf in John Landis’ still superb 1984 horror classic.

Blue Velvet

In Dreams

Blue Dean

Amateur detective Kyle MacLachlan gets a little too close to nut-job mobster Dennis Hopper who takes him for a visit to his cross-dressing neighbourhood friend Dean Stockwell, who lip-syncs to Roy Orbinson’s timeless classic in possibly one of David Lynch’s most freaky and brilliant scenes.

Boogie Nights

Disco montage

Boogie Nights

As former nobody Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) rises to infamy in the seventies porn movie industry, we are treated to this fabulous disco montage, cut seamlessly with various shots of Dirk ‘in action’ or receiving awards and culminating in a wonderfully choreographed dance number with fellow stars Reed Rothchild (John C Reilly) and Roller-girl (Heather Graham).

Eyes Wide Shut

The secret sex party

eyes wide shut

Only in a Stanley Kubrick movie can a high society sex orgy come across as creepy and surreal.  The master film maker in probably his most misunderstood work, presents the viewer with a secret society that Tom Cruise manages to sneak inside of and witness the debauchery of most-likely high profile dignitaries with various high class call girls.  All to a haunting, incredibly eerie score.

Goodfellas

Paranoia, drugs and guns

goodfellas paranoid

In the final act of the movie an increasingly paranoid Ray Liotta, struggles to juggle family responsibilities with fencing guns for Robert DeNiro and avoiding what he thinks is an FBI helicopter during the day from hell.  Expertly edited for maximum tension and intensity by the grand master Martin Scorsese.

Monsters Inc.

A chase through the doors

monsters-inc

After discovering the main villain’s evil scheme, Billy Crystal’s motor-mouthed Mike and John Goodman’s lovable Sully are chased by Steve Buscemi’s dastardly Randall into the inner workings of the Monsters Inc. facility and through a plethora of doors into the human world.  Exciting, inventive and visually stunning.

Pulp Fiction

Jack Rabbit Slims

pulp gif

In a mob movie with pop-culture quoting wise guys and a soundtrack to die for, who’d have thought one of the best scenes would be a night out between John Travolta’s mob hitman and gangsters-mol Uma Thurman?  Culminating in the world famous Twist Contest.  Sharp dialogue, a highly memorable setting, and an after-math that segway’s into probably the other best scene in this movie.

Saving Private Ryan

Omaha Beach Landing

After visiting the final resting place of hundreds of soldiers, an elderly veteran recalls his experience with tears in his eyes – switch to the shocking beach onslaught in Omaha in 1944 as thousands of troops fight against impossible odds.  A stunning opening to one of the greatest WWII movies ever made, with star (Tom Hanks) and director (Steven Spielberg) on blistering form.

Trainspotting

Clubbing to Blondie.

transpotting

Taking a break from ripping people off and doing drugs, Ewan McGregor’s Renton finds himself on a night out with friends, hitting the clubs and listening to Heaven 17 and Blondie (or Sleeper doing a marvellous version of Atomic), where he meets Diane (Kelly MacDonald) and leads to a montage of sex, alcohol and pulse-pounding music in Danny Boyle’s break-out gem.

Do you agree with my list?  Have favourite scenes of your own?  Leave your comments below or link to your own lists…