Black Mass: Movie Man Jackson

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“If nobody sees it, it didn’t happen.”

Wise words from a notorious criminal. It’s the 1970’s, and the city of Boston, Massachusetts has become rife with criminal activity. Many gangs run the streets, like the Winter Hill Gang, led by Boston native James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp), brother of state senator William Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch).

As much as the FBI would love to shut down all criminal organizations in the area, sometimes a one-or-the-other choice has to be made. In a land of big wolves, the biggest is the Italian Mafia, and it takes a wolf to catch a wolf. Knowing this, an old childhood friend of Bulger’s, John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), approaches Bulger with a deal: Become an informant, giving intel of other local empires, in exchange for the bureau turning a relative blind eye to Whitey’s operation. Originally believed to be the lesser of all evils, the FBI soon finds that Bulger is the biggest one.

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Director Scott Cooper’s (Out of the Furnace) Black Mass asks one real question: Does it mean anything to take down the house if a stronger one is built on the side? The clear answer is no. Aside from that, though, Black Mass isn’t a new spin on biographies or gangster flicks. But, it is engrossing once it gets going, and benefits from a strong cast, spearheaded by a guy who the world has been begging of to sink his teeth into something other than a pirate, a vampire, or an art-dealing buffoon.

Yes, Johnny Depp, delivers here. Instead of the makeup and the accompanying appearances making, or in some cases, marring, his more recent roles, Depp’s appearance here, though still with makeup, is minimal enough to allow Depp the actor to shine through. His Bulger, make no mistake, is very evil, so if looking for a truly dynamic lead character, it may be best to look elsewhere. But, from the first scene Depp appears in, it never feels like he’s has to “warm up” to be evil; he’s ready from the jump. The performance is high quality throughout, featuring many scenes packed with tension as to just what Whitey will do. Sometimes he does something, and other times he doesn’t, but the unease and unpredictability are always present.

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It may be too early to say, but Depp should almost certainly in the nominee pool for Best Actor. His character’s counterpart of John Connolly, played by Joel Edgerton, should almost certainly be in the nominee pool for Best Supporting Actor. Seeing Edgerton’s character devolve from an agent who wants to do the right thing by aligning with a lesser evil to bring down a bigger evil, to desperately trying to convince himself he’s still doing the right thing is equal parts fascinating, sad, and even funny at times.

The relationship between Connolly and Whitey is more brother-like than Whitey and his own brother, played by Benedict Cumberbatch in a good but “I still see this actor/actress” performance. In defense of Benedict, he’s not really on screen enough to build any momentum. In smaller roles, Dakota Johnson, Adam Scott, Corey Stoll, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, and Peter Sarsgaard all fit nicely and contribute as key pieces all revolving around Whitey and John.

Filming around the same areas where so much of Bulger’s criminal empire occurred is a great (and probably necessary) choice that gives more authenticity to the movie. Cooper lends some solid camerawork to the story’s events, nothing spectacular as this is an intentionally drab visual palate, but technically sound it certainly is. It’s the story itself, however, that works well enough to get into, but, based on what appear to be a mostly true telling of events, doesn’t ascend to classic mobster and crime movies. As a whole, it just sort of lacks that emotional hold that similar movies in the genre possess.

Additionally, Black Mass suffers somewhat from a slow start as the result of an iffy effort to flesh out Bulger beyond being only a bad guy. It doesn’t truly get going until about 25-30 minutes in. And, while the events are told in a very straightforward manner, gaps exist and seem to be evidenced by fade-to-black timelime jumps that possibly could have given the movie opportunity to explore more relationships and key characters if additional runtime was given.

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The term Black Mass has a religious origin, literally defined as the darker inverse of the traditional Catholic mass, bordering on parody and obvious blasphemy. As for the film Black Mass, the story isn’t a parody, or treated glamorously, but brings, what feels like at to yours truly at least, a true-to-real-life history lesson presented on the silver screen of a guy who I only knew of through America’a Most Wanted.

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to liveforfilms.com, blogs.indiewire.com, and boston.cbslocal.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

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Hot Tub Time Machine 2: Movie Man Jackson

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“Life is about do-overs, OK?”

Can I get a hot tub, again? Hot Tub Time Machine 2 picks up more or less where the first left off. After repairing the past, the present is different from what Lou (Rob Corddry), Nick (Craig Robinson), and Jacob (Clark Duke), previously existed in. That is to say, they’ve exploited their knowledge of the future to make themselves very rich and influential, be it the founder of Google Lougle, the son of the man who made Lougle, or the creator of every massive radio hit in 30 years.

Everything is all well and good until an unknown gunman shoots Lou in the groin at a party. The only chance of saving his life lies in the time travel aspect of the hot tub, where the group can travel back to the  moment of the assassination to stop the shooter. However, the crew doesn’t land in the past, but the future. From here, they have to solve the mystery: Who shot Lou? It is the only way to ensure their lives and all of their ill-gotten gains do not vanish.

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The first Hot Tub Time Machine  wasn’t too bad, and garnered a lot of support upon home release. It took the 80’s and made something pretty amusing, even if viewers didn’t grow up during that time period. With that said, it probably didn’t deserve a sequel, and based upon how many people were unaware of Hot Tub Time Machine 2‘s existence, it is debatable as to how many truly cared.

Even at a doable 93 minute runtime, HTTM2 begins to get old a third of the way in, which is a downer if the trailer was seen. After viewing that, yours truly wasn’t expecting a high quality comedy, but a legitimate level of amusement looked like it could have been had with the possibilities of oscillating between the past and the future, however helter-skelter-ish that may have been. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen until (mild SPOILER) literally at the end (end SPOILER). What is left is a mostly uninteresting whodunit quasi-murder plot in a visually dull future.

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HTTM2 doesn’t go completely without laughs, but aside from an extremely raunchy moment taking place on a futuristic TV show meant to poke a little fun at society’s focus on sensationalism and shock value, there isn’t much beyond the here-and-there chuckle. As one could expect, there are callbacks to the original that keep continuity (who is really going to watch this without seeing the first?) but many seem to exist and feel like a crutch for uninspired jokes.

Maybe the most newsworthy thing about this sequel is the absence of John Cusack as Adam. Sure, the first was a multi-man effort, but he was a big part and did a solid job. While it may be easy to point towards Cusack’s exclusion as a big reason why this isn’t as good, on the other hand it is truly doubtful that his inclusion here would have made for a massive increase in quality, if any. And if you believe John, he was never asked to return early in the development, meaning that director Steve Pink, producers, and writers had more than enough time to make a better script than what is found here.

As Cusack’s replacement is Adam Scott as Adam Jr. He is the dope, oblivious to anything and everything but doesn’t add a ton here and his presence in the story never truly fits. Of course, the other three return, headlined this time around with Rob Corddry. His Lou is still abrasive, selfish, and mean-spirited, which made him funny before. This go around those traits are amplified and not in an overall good way. Though still capable of delivering a few funny moments, Lou is more of an irredeemable monster this time, and his eventual self realization and “change” near the end is hard to accept. Character-wise, he is comparable to Alan from The Hangover: Hilarious in the first, jerkish and cantankerous in the second.

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Craig Robinson is alright, but now it feels like he is himself in everything. The best thing about this one might just be Clark Duke. His role is more important this time, and sort of serves as the glue that holds things afloat as opposed to a complete sink. Truth be told there is some chemistry among the threesome, but for what existed in the way of a plot. there needed to be more of it.

Sharing more in common with recent comedies than just a 2/To in its title, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is yet another check in the column of comedy sequels that really didn’t need to be made, or even greenlit. This hot tub is basically inoperable.

Grade: D

Photo credits go to comingsoon.net, blogs.indiewire.com, and cinemavine.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson