Movie Review: Black Mass (2015) – Depp Returns To His Element of Playing Complex Characters.

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If you’re as sick of watching Johnny Depp play eccentric, weirdly dressed characters, or dudes in guyliner as I am, then Black Mass will be a welcome respite for you. This movie sees Depp go back to his roots, as one of the best method actors around.

The premise is based on the real life drama that saw one of the biggest criminals in history, Whitey Bulger, become an FBI informant. It focuses on FBI Special Agent (Joel Edgerton), a man who actually knew and admired Bulger when he was growing up in South Boston. Of course, Connelly went the other way with his career and eventually tried to turn Bulger (Johnny Depp) into a FBI informant. Of course, this informant deal is a bit well…unethical. In this case, Bulger won’t inform on any of his Irish mob buddies. Instead, he’ll be ratting on the Patriarca crime family. It isn’t long before Bulger uses the opportunity to get the FBI to take out the competition for him, with bloody and catastrophic results.

The acting in this was extremely well done. Depp is barely recognizable as the balding, paunchy Bulger and Edgerton stand out as an agent whose own moral compass becomes increasingly skewed. Ironically, Edgerton actually reminded me a bit of when Depp played Donnie Brasco.

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I liked that they stuck to accuracy in the Whitey Bulger story. Much of what was presented is widely believed to actually have happened, though there are a few disputes from some of the key players, for obvious reasons. They had to mess with the timeline a bit to make it work, but in reality, I liked that they tried to go with the story and not embellish a story that was pretty good on its face.

On the flip, I think they tried a bit too hard to make Bulger likeable. In one scene, that I highly doubt ever happen, Bulger stops to help some old lady with her groceries, because deep down, he’s just a gentlemanly south Boston boy. Oh, please…I think enough court records and information exists to make it pretty darn believable that if Bulger did ever help a woman with her groceries, it was for the purpose of stealing them. Why does every gangster movie need to focus on the goal of turning said gangster into Robin Hood?

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The sad fact is, sometimes, people are just sociopathic monsters. Bulger falls far more on that side than he does of a saintly robin hood. I can accept the fact that he wasn’t a saint. I don’t need to sympathize with him to understand him. In fact, I don’t want to. I have no desire to join any kind of criminal fraternity. If I need moral ambiguity, I’ll get it from Connolly, the truly sympathetic character in this film.

But that slim complaint aside, I will say this is an enjoyable, well written piece that returned Depp to his element of playing complex characters. I had my doubts about him playing Whitey, but he pulled it off. That alone makes this movie worth the watch.

WE GIVE IT: 4.5 STARS!

four and a half stars

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Movie Review: Oculus (2014)

 Oculus (2014) movie posterA cleverly written, and truly unsettling horror

Star Ratings

Oh my god, I finally found a scary movie that actually scares me. That hasn’t happened since I saw the first and only good Paranormal Activity movie.

Oculus starts with a great back story. 10 years before, tragedy struck the Russel family, when Tim Russel (Garrett Ryan) was committed following the brutal murder of his parents. He has recently been released, and now just wants to move on with his life. His sister Kaylie (Annalisse Basso) isn’t so laid back. She is still haunted by visions that she had the night her parents died and she doesn’t believe everything is quite as it seems. Instead, she blames their deaths on the Lasser Glass, a mirror which was in their childhood home. Kaylie tracks down the mirror, determined to prove her brother’s innocence. The problem is, everyone who owns that mirror seems to come to an untimely, and usually mysterious death.

“An evil mirror?” You might be thinking. “How scary can that be?”

My answer is, it will make you fear your mirrors. Seriously, I went home and put sheets over ever single one of mine. I haven’t been able to put on makeup or fix my hair for a week, because I am utterly convinced that a evil supernatural being will use my mirror as a portal while I’m smearing on my lip gloss.

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What makes Oculus unique is that it doesn’t scare through cheap jump scares or gore and blood. It scares through pure dread and some serious mind screwing. It’s impossible to tell if the mirror is evil, or if Kaylie is crazy and the plot unfolds like a corkscrew.

Basso plays the unreliable narrator Kaylie well. She seems genuinely convinced, but at the same time, also a little bit nuts. As the background unravels in flashbacks, you will change your mind about 40 times as to what she really is.

This is an unsettling horror movie, cleverly timed in order to gain the maximum effect from the plot. The director toys with giving you the details, and then takes them back, so you will be left guessing.

This was a cleverly written, and truly unsettling horror, which is difficult to find in the age of Paranormal rip-offs and found footage garbage. Instead of focusing on scary makeup and ridiculous special effects, Oculus goes back to the good old days of writing a movie that actually had a good, multilayered plot.

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It’s really hard to pull off an unreliable narrator movie. In many cases, those who try to do it wind up giving away too much, or just being incredibly confusing (i.e. American Psycho). I haven’t seen a movie mislead an audience so well since I saw eXistenZ. Coming from me, that is incredibly high praise

I will say the ending was a bit of a disappointment, but this isn’t really the kind of movie that will leave you feeling satisfied, with all the lose ends tied up in a neat little bow. There’s no scene where the bad guy comes out, admits all his crimes and then explains why he did it. The movie is designed to leave you feeling unsettled, and the ending will do just that.

And then, just like me, you’ll go home and cover up all your mirrors…just in case.  Watch the official trailer below.

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