September 15, 2015

Movie Review: Black Mass (2015)

Black Mass is an action-packed crime drama with a bleak and disturbing tone. It tells the true story of Whitey Bulger, a violent criminal living in South Boston, who was a local criminal until he became an FBI informant. He was the brother of a state senator and the childhood friend of a local rising FBI agent, who talks him into making a deal. As an informant, he gave the FBI leads on local mafia in exchange for his protected status. He was then able to commit crimes on a more national scale and rise to power. Eventually, his deeds caught up to him, but by then, he had escaped and wasn't found until much, much later in life.

The narrative of the film is constructed by showing all of Whitey's former employees sharing their testimonies with the FBI and admitting what they had done under his leadership. We don't know exactly what influenced them to do this, but it is alluded to in their stories. We are left to consider why this or that employee might have decided to testify against Whitey.

The screentime is filled with different acts of violence, very few which were perpetrated by Whitey himself. Whitey hires the muscle and lets them clean up his messes. Whitey is a disciplined, methodical man with excellent grooming skills. I will have to say Johnny Depp owns the character and he's almost unrecognizable as himself. This is an acting job comparable to that of Daniel Day-Lewis, who seems to transform into any character he takes on.

Altogether, this is a suspenseful and violent film with some very twisted characters. An all-star cast takes this challenge on and blows it out of the water. The plot and tone reminded me very much of The Departed (2006), although Black Mass is a less violent film than that. Instead it relies more on the narrative of its different storytellers to bring people into the story. There is more of an emphasis to on the setting of South Boston in Black Mass.

This is a methodical crime drama which will most likely win a nomination for Johnny Depp as best actor.

August 27, 2015

Movie Review: Mr. Holmes

Mr. Holmes is a leisurely-paced re-imagining of a later in life Sherlock Holmes. Sir Ian McKellan plays Sherlock Holmes as he might be as an old man, long after 221B Baker, long after John Watson is his bosom compadre. Sherlock is getting older and beginning to show signs of dementia. His ability to read people out of the minutiae that others miss seems to still be intact, though.

In this imaginary literary universe, his older age begins to soften him and he seems to regret some of his past interactions. He befriends a young companion over honeybee-tending. This movie was entertaining enough. The pacing and tone was a little uneven. There is a solve-a-mystery subplot that seems almost like an homage to Vertigo with a suspenseful tone. For the most part, though, the story remains calmly plods through this peek into a would-be Sherlock universe. The film would be most enjoyed by Sherlock Holmes fans and lovers of all things British. The most enjoyable moments for me were the inferences to the Sherlock universe we all know and love (The Diogenes Club, Mycroft, the famous deerstalker hat).

November 15, 2014

Movie Review: Gone Girl (2014) and Lessons About Marriage

Gone Girl is a book-to-movie project that only took 2 years to complete, compared to most movie projects, which take an average of four years (Maze Runner, Twilight, and Hunger Games are all examples of this). Once I heard the movie was being released, I re-read the book in anticipation of the movie release. I have to say, the book was outstanding. I work at a library, and many people were checking out this book. Sometimes I am slow to pick up a hot book, just because I can be stubborn. The book took a genre like suspense, and took it to the new level. The book changes viewpoints and storytelling strategies so many times, and just as you think you have finally predicted the ending, it ends in a way that no one could possibly expect.

Only recently did I find a book that compares called The Farm by Tom Rob Smith, released two years after Gone Girl. Suffice it to say, I am not often enamored with adult fiction. Gone Girl is truly special.

I went into the movie with high hopes, but also realizing that I might be disappointed just because I knew the plot. Would the movie live up to the hype I have been building up for two years? I am happy to report the movie was just right. I was able to forget about the book and let the movie tell the story.

September 08, 2014

Movie Review: The Maze Runner (2014)

The Maze Runner is the latest film adaptation of a best-selling teen novel. Written by James Dashner, the book was published in 2010, so it took only four years for this book-to-movie project to come to completion, which is similar to the Hunger Games book-to-movie conversion. Four years is really not that long in the adaptation business. But I digress . . .

Thomas wakes up in an rickety, rusty elevator, which is rising at an alarming rate. At the time, he doesn't know who he is or why he is here. Disoriented and nauseous, when the elevator stop, he is greeted by a welcoming committee of boys that would rival Peter Pan's the Lost Boys or the gang of thieves in Oliver Twist. They speak to him roughly, won't answer any questions, and lock him up. Welcome to the Glade, Thomas.

August 27, 2014

Movie Review: Now You See Me

Now You See Me makes for the perfect flick to kick off the 2013 summer movie season. The movie takes the classic heist/caper storyline and combines it with the thrill of an eye-defying magic show. We get to watch attractive movie stars "stick it to the man"-the man being banks, insurance, and other corporate entities, plus people who don't believe in magic.

What makes Now You See Me work is that you will stay involved and entertained by the many twists and turns ahead. If you've seen the trailer, you know that the magicians are going to rob a bank and the police are going to be befuddled by their schemes. What the trailer doesn't show you is that while watching this movie, you will continually question the motivations of each character and question what you are seeing. Some of the things you will guess, but the film makes good use of one of the magician's trick of misdirection to keep you looking at only part of the picture. Only at the end do we see the reveal, and we're glad.

Movie Review: After Earth by M. Night Shyamalan

If you've seen any of M. Night Shyamalan's previous films, you know he likes to take the mundane and turn it into the epic and mythological. His films are about seemingly average, ordinary people who end up discovering they can do extraordinary things. When put into critical situations, they discover their faults become assets. In Unbreakable a man who works as a security guard discovers he is actually a superhero. In Signs, we find out a boy's asthma saves his life because it protects his lungs from breathing in toxic air. In Lady in the Water, an apartment complex maintenance man and the washouts that live there all realize they are part of a great story, where each of them has a role to play. And this trend continues in After Earth, starring Will and Jaden Smith, where we learn fear is just a story we tell ourselves.

After Earth is a science fiction movie, but like most good science fiction, it uses its alternate world to teach us something about our current world. Kitai (Jaden Smith) is a cadet in training, but it's hard for him to live under the shadow of his father, who is the hero of his people, General Cypher Raige (Will Smith). General Raige was the first person to discover "ghosting"--appearing invisible to the ursa, who find and track humans by the scent of their fear. By mastering his fear, he was able to hide from the ursa and conquer his enemy. It's not important really to understand what ursa are and or why they are a problem. We know they are the enemy to this people.

February 21, 2014

Preparing for a Fast

When I was growing up, there were times my church leadership would encourage the church to fast for one reason or another.  I didn't really understand the purpose of it all, and honestly, the few times I tried it, I failed miserably.  No one told me that you can and should prepare for a fast.  Preparing for this type of spiritual act will ensure a higher level of success and help you carry through what you feel called to do.  

Here are things you can do to prepare for a fast in a spiritual and physical way.