Black Mass – Movie Review

“If nobody sees it, it didn’t happen.” Thankfully for Warner Bros., moviegoers did see their latest offering, Black Mass, which opened in theaters on September 18. It has had a favorable box office run so far, especially for a movie released with an R-rating well after the summer movie rush. Being a Boston native, this is a movie that hits close to home, highlighting many areas of Boston and the surrounding communities to tell the story of one of the worst criminals the United States has ever seen, James “Whitey” Bulger. For us up here in Boston, everyone has a “Whitey story”. For me, my grandfather went to Boston College with his brother, Billy (who also plays a large part in the Whitey saga), and from what I have been told it is very possible he knew Whitey as a younger man. Everyone knew him, everyone had an encounter with him at some point, and yet somehow he managed to avoid arrest for over 20 years and eventually escape for another 16 years. Black Mass tells the story of how this was possible.

Black Mass features an outstanding cast on paper. Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Kevin Bacon, Corey Stoll, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, Benedict Cumberbatch, Adam Scott, and Dakota Johnson all share the big screen. However, many of these actors and actresses play small roles, and the main focus of the film centers around the relationship between Whitey (played by Depp) and FBI Agent John Connolly (played by Edgerton). The film packs 20 years of stories into 2 hours, clearly missing many interesting storylines in favor of faster pacing. If Scorsese had made this one, we likely could have had a solid 3+ hours of storyline, but Director Scott Cooper does the best that he can in the shorter run time. However, the plot is easy to follow and we do not need to see the 20+ killings perpetrated by Whitey and the Winter Hill Gang, the numerous extortions, and the drug deals because after just a few moments the point has been taken; Whitey was not a good guy.

Depp and Edgerton are the big shining stars in this one, and the makeup and wardrobe team did an excellent job with both of them. From aging them 20 years, to maintaining proper period clothing, to transforming Depp into an unrecognizable character, they nailed it. I will not be surprised to see them on the stage at the Academy Awards. If no one tells you going in who plays Whitey Bulger, you would not guess in twenty tries. It is that good.

Depp completely absorbs the role both in look and in attitude, and gives a performance that should be a lock for a Best Actor nomination in January. Surprisingly, Edgerton is even better in his role as John Connolly, the corrupt FBI agent who worked with Whitey for so many years. Edgerton nails the Boston accent, better than anyone else in the film, and he is the most dynamic character on screen any time he enters into the frame. Jesse Plemons turns in a solid performance as Bulger associate Kevin Weeks, although for what he went through for the role (gaining a ton of weight), I would have liked for him to get more screen time. As we know from his turn on Breaking Bad, he can play evil quite well. Rory Cochrane plays Stephen Flemmi, Bulger’s right hand man, and nails the pot-bellied gangster’s mannerisms and provides a very nice accent as well.

One standout for me was Julianne Nicholson, a Boston native who plays Connolly’s wife, Marianne. Obviously, being from Boston, she nails the accent. But she also drives the film’s most powerful scene in a one-on-one encounter with Bulger in the doorway of her bedroom door, after she is upset about him being invited into her home for dinner. It is chilling, and she does an excellent job playing on her emotions and truly portraying the fear that Whitey could instill in anyone.

The lone loser in this one is Benedict Cumberbatch, in his role as Billy Bulger, Whitey’s brother, President of the Massachusetts Senate, and President of the UMass University system. Billy was always known as the “Corrupt Midget” according to the local Boston papers, and with his short and stubby frame it was a great description. Cumberbatch is simply miscast for the character. Cumberbatch stands six foot, and his tall and lanky frame looks nothing like the man he is portraying. To top it all of, the accent is terrible. Many of the actors use a very subdued accent in the film, which is more in line with real Bostonians and less like a bad stereotype, which is good. However, Cumberbatch goes way over the top and sounds as ridiculous as he looks. It seems to me that he was attached to this film to get another big, “Oscar-worthy” name on the posters, but he ends up being the biggest let down instead of being an asset.

Overall, this is a must-see for fans of true crime, history, residents of the Boston area, or anyone who wants to go see a good gangster film. It is very good, but is most likely just an outside contender for one of the ten “Best Picture” slots, and will get most of its awards consideration in the acting departments. Makeup also has a great chance at a win.

Go see it for Depp, Edgerton, and Nicholson, but try to close your eyes (and definitely your ears with that cringey accent) when Cumberbatch steps into the picture. On a scale of Boston-based movies, Black Mass falls somewhere between The Departed and The Town.

SCORE: 7.5/10

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Fury – Blu Review

Fury offers above average (but far from perfect) video and outstanding audio with plenty of extras in this new release from Sony Pictures

Beautiful steelbook from Target.
Beautiful steelbook from Target.

World War II is one of Hollywood’s favorite subjects, and it clearly interests star Brad Pitt as he appears in his second film on the subject in just five years. Fury, directed by David Ayer and starring Pitt, Jon Bernthal (Shane from The Walking Dead), Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña, and Logan Lerman (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), is the most realistic WWI combat film I have seen since Saving Private Ryan (one of my “must-have Blu Rays). It brings the grittiness of the war to the screen and does not shy away from any of the horrors of the terrible conflict.

The version I own is the Target steelbook (pictured right), found here. It has some excellent artwork on the front, back, and inside, but only comes with the Blu Ray and a Digital Copy. If you are looking for the standard Blu Ray/DVD combo pack, you can find that version here. It is currently priced at around $15 on sale, and is well worth picking up for that price as I can not see such a quality film dropping much lower than that price anytime soon.

PICTURE QUALITY

As mentioned above, Fury’s picture quality delivers the gritty, gray. and dreary look that is required of any World War II film in order to accurately portray the mood during the conflict. With this film taking place in some of the War’s darkest days towards the end of the conflict deep in German territory, it was necessary to get this feeling across with a darker video presentation. However, at times the video seemed so dark, especially within the confines of the tank and during the climatic scene at night, that it was very hard to follow what was happening. I watched in a very dimly light room with no windows, and so there was no outside light interference which can make the darker scenes of certain films nearly impossible to see. Be prepared to watch this one in a dark environment if you want to enjoy the aforementioned scenes.

An idea of how some of the darker scenes look in "Fury"
An idea of how some of the darker scenes look in “Fury”

This being said, the rest of the film looks fantastic. If you have seen Saving Private Ryan, the picture quality is equally comparable to that in terms of the graininess, color, and dreary tone. The fight scenes are fantastic and the visual appeal of two or three tanks fighting on an open landscape is worth watching for alone. The color, although typically gray, also has some exciting moments during the fight scenes. When the tracer rounds are fired from the two opposing tanks and heavy machine guns, the vibrant green and red coloring that the tracers carry makes for an extremely realistic viewing experience.

PICTURE QUALITY SCORE: 4/5

AUDIO

Presented on a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, the audio is Fury’s best asset. With the film being focused on tank warfare, the sound needed to be exceptional in order to give an accurate representation of the intensity of the fighting. The whizzing of anti-tank rounds, heavy machine gun fire, grenade explosions, and fly-over bombing runs were all extremely satisfying. As planes flew overhead, you could hear the engines travel from your rear speakers to your front and center speakers, creating the immersive home viewing experience that should be expected of all HD media. Dialogue was clear, even over all of the fighting and whizzing bullets, which means that the center speaker was appropriately used as the driver for the dialogue, while all other action was directed through the side and rear speakers. This is especially important in films like Fury, as the outside noise should never drown out the dialogue. There is nothing more annoying than adjusting your volume to reflect the change in scene. The ideal home viewing experience offers a smooth transition in volume from a dialogue driven scene to an action driven scene, and Fury is certainly ideal in this respect.

AUDIO SCORE: 5/5

EXTRAS

Fury has an impressive amount of extras for a standard release, with almost an hour’s worth of deleted scenes, and several short features ranging from 11-20 minutes in length, as follows:

The crew of "Fury" work on filming the complex tank sequences.
The crew of “Fury” work on filming the complex tank sequences.

Blood Brothers – 11 minute featurette detailing the authentic WWII experience Fury has become known for, featuring interviews with cast members and WWII veterans.

Director’s Combat Journal – 17 minute piece detailing director David Avery’s creative process, editing of the film, and technical details involving the tanks and how to film in such a complex arena.

Armored Warriors – 12 minute feature with interviews by real WWII veterans

Taming the Beasts – 13 minute feature on the process of securing real WWII tanks for the film, and learning how to operate and maintain these massive, 70+ year old monsters.

EXTRAS SCORE – 5/5

OVERALL SCORE – 4.5/5

FINAL VERDICT: Fury is a must-own Blu Ray. With a top-notch audio track and a substantial amount of extras, this one is worth buying for your collection immediately!

Star Wars: Original Trilogy – Blu Review

Star Wars: The Original Trilogy Blu Ray delivers excellent video (minus the controversial CGI) and solid audio, although for extras you will need to upgrade to the Complete Saga Edition.

The Star Wars Original Trilogy has been released on so many different formats and so many different versions that even the Blu Ray release offers two separate editions, not including the Complete Saga. The edition I own is found here, and must be out-of-print as it is only being offered through third party sellers on Amazon for ridiculous prices. The newer version of the Original Trilogy, found here, includes DVDs and is thus a six disc edition compared to my three disc edition, but other than that it does not offer any new materials outside of a different packaging. For the most hardcore Star Wars fans, I would suggest buying the Compete Saga Edition, found here. It is much pricier, at around $90 compared to the $70 total you would spend for the Original Trilogy and Prequel Trilogy, but it includes many more extras and can often be found on sale around the holidays, which makes it a much better buy than the two bare bones Trilogy sets which lack in extras.

PICTURE QUALITY

Regardless of your feelings about the Original Star Wars, Special Editions, and CGI additions made by George Lucas since the initial release in 1977, this Blu Ray release is the best you are going to see these films right now. The transfer is gorgeous, and they left much of the original graininess, which I enjoy in older films. I am not a fan of the “digital noise reduction” (DNR) which takes place when many older films are released on Blu Ray and aims to eliminate the grain for a more modern, digital look. I prefer the films in their original form, and thankfully with this Original Trilogy they have kept the DNR to a minimum. The colors are vibrant, the action is smooth, and it is hands down the best that Star Wars has ever looked.

Original Shot (Above) CGI Addition in Blu Ray release (Below) Make your own judgement!

For Star Wars purists, the additional CGI added during George Lucas’s edits when he re-released the Original Trilogy in 1997 are obviously an issue. However, with the exception of the famous scene in the cantina featuring Han Solo and Greedo, a lot of the changes are minor and do not detract from the viewing experience. Do they look awkward and out of sorts in place next to the original shots from the late 70s? Sure, but it would only bother the most hardcore fans and even they should be able to move past that and realize that this is the best Star Wars we have right now, and we need to work with what is available if we want to view the films in their new, exceptional HD transfers.

PICTURE QUALITY SCORE: 4.5/5

AUDIO

There is no doubt that this is the best that Star Wars has ever looked in your homes, so will the sound stack up to the picture quality’s exceptional score? Yes, and it is actually the best part of this release. The Original Trilogy sports a 6.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. The 6.1 mix is a bit different, as typically most films would be released in 5.1 and most newer releases or new 4K remasters of older films would carry the 7.1 sound mix. With a 6.1 mix, there is simply a typical 5.1 track with additional sound coming from a single rear speaker, if you have them. If you have a 7.1 system, the rear sound will likely only come from one of the rear speakers, and on a 5.1 system the sound reserved for the rear speaker would be split between the two side speakers. The use of a more complex sound mix creates a much more enjoyable viewing experience, as those sounds of blasters or lightsabers being drawn behind the scene create an immersive experience. We have all wanted to get lost in the world of Star Wars once in our lives, and experiencing this Blu Ray release in our home theaters is as close as many of us will get. Overall, the audio is hands down one of the better experiences I have had with the blu Ray format, and it is a must have for your collection.

AUDIO SCORE: 5/5

EXTRAS

Star Wars: The Complete Saga

The extras are the only “Dark Side” to this release, which pale in comparison to the “Complete Saga” Star Wars collection that is also available. The only extras on this release are commentary tracks for each of the three films with George Lucas, the cast, and crew, with what is said to be “never before released commentary with archival interviews with cast and crew”. Other than this, there are no special features. In comparison, the “Complete Saga” is absolutely loaded with special features, with over 40 hours of extra content spread over three discs and the entire Star Wars series to date. For the ultimate Star Wars fan, this could easily make or break buying the trilogies as stand alone releases versus buying the “Complete Saga”.

EXTRAS SCORE: 1/5

OVERALL SCORE: 4.5/5

FINAL VERDICT: This is certainly an excellent release if you are just looking to add the Original Trilogy to your collection on a budget. If you have the money, I recommend this Original Trilogy set for those on a budget, but if money is no issue, get the Complete Saga. The additional special features are worth the price alone, never mind the upgraded quality of the packaging and addition of the Prequel Trilogy. You will not be disappointed. Either way, both are highly recommended!

The Purge: Anarchy – Blu Review

The Purge: Anarchy delivers heart-stopping sound and above average picture quality, but a lack of extras makes this release a hard sell at anything over $10.

The-Purge-Anarchy-United-We-Purge-Poster
Limited Edition Poster – Won this in a contest on AMC Theaters’ Website

The Purge: Anarchy is the sequel to 2013’s The Purge, the low budget horror/home invasion film which went on to make over $90 million worldwide on a $3 million budget. Anarchy followed the same formula, keeping the budget low (at $9 million), and continuing to rake in the money at the box office, grossing over $110 million worldwide. Anarchy was released without much fan fare on Blu Ray, as the only copy in the United States was the simple Blu Ray/DVD Combo with Digital Copy and a slipcover (while they last) found here. If you have a region free Blu Ray player or live in most of Europe or Australia, you can get a very nice steelbook from Zavvi which is region locked to Region B. For European fans of the movie or for those with region free players, this is certainly the nicest version of the release. You can find that version here.

PICTURE QUALITY

Universal Studios typically does a great job with picture quality, and with their release of The Purge: Anarchy they have continued that trend. As most of the film is spent in the dark, with streetlights providing much of the lighting in each scene, it is important that the picture is not so dark that you need to close the shades and shut off the lights in order to see it. This can often be the case with many other horror films, but I watched this one midday with inside lighting on, and I did not have to strain to see the action. This was one of my biggest complaints with the original Purge, as it just seemed too dark on screen. Perhaps the higher budget allowed for some better on set lighting, but Anarchy is quite clear, even in its darkest moments.

Great example of a dark scene with plenty of clarity.
Great example of a dark scene with plenty of clarity.

There is not much to complain about here, although in a few of the especially dark scenes you can begin to notice some graininess, which should not be present in a modern release filmed on digital cameras. This is something you would only want to see in pictures that were shot on film, which are typically older movies although there are still many filmmakers who shoot on film today, e.g. Christopher Nolan and Interstellar. Personally, I do not mind the grain because it adds to the grittiness of the movie, but for those Blu Ray purists and super fanatics out there, this would certainly be noticeable enough to detract from the picture quality score.

PICTURE QUALITY SCORE : 4.5/5

AUDIO

Anarchy’s best quality is its audio, which is really an amazing mix. It sports a DTS-HD 5.1 audio track, which effectively uses all 5 speakers to give an immersive experience. At times, you’d swear you were on the streets purging, as gun shots, screams, and loud engines roar through the back left and right speakers. Even though many of those sounds are never explored by the cast of characters, it is the atmosphere which they create that stood out to me. When the background noises cease and the action moves into the fore front, the sound will really blow you away. It is extremely loud, even at a lower volume, but never takes away from the dialogue. It is easy to hear the main character yell directions to his group of survivors, even as gun shots whizz by and engines roar towards them. In quieter scenes, the dialogue remains extremely clear. This is not a film where you are going to spend two hours with your hand on the volume buttons, adjusting for action vs. dialogue. It is a great mix and very well done by Universal bringing this film to our homes.

AUDIO SCORE: 5/5

EXTRAS

What this release brings with its viewing experience, it greatly lacks in extras. There is a 9 minute “making-of” feature called “Behind the Anarchy”, which is presented in HD but is very generic and does not offer much insight into the film. Deleted Scenes are presented in HD and total 8 minutes, adding nothing to the original film. There is nothing else for extras, and there are no Blu Ray exclusives or special editions which would pack in any more content.

EXTRAS SCORE: 1/5

OVERALL SCORE: 4/5

FINAL VERDICT: The Purge: Anarchy is a much better film than its predecessor, and the Blu Ray is outstanding apart from the extras. Wait for this to drop in price, but buy at around $10 and you will not be disappointed. Recommended.

2 Guns – Blu Review

2 Guns offers up decent video and outstanding audio in a Blu Ray release worth picking up for fans of action flicks or the great lead actors (Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg)

2 Guns has been available on Blu Ray for over a year now, and has been sitting on my shelf since I picked it up for right around $5 from a sale at Frys.com. It can be had these days for $14 at Best Buy and Amazon, but I would suggest waiting for a sale, as this is a typical shoot-em-up action movie that will eventually drop to around $5 again on sale, and should sit at lower than $10 on any given day. $14 is too high, so wait on purchasing this one for now! The only special packaging that came with this initial release was a MetalPak from Best Buy, which will currently run you $28. If you are a crazy fan of the film, and are a collector of MetalPaks and collectible packaging, by all means buy this version. For the casual fan, I would skip this one as it is not worth the price. As far as typical packaging, at this point you would be lucky to find a copy with a slipcover, as even 6 months ago when I purchased this title I did not receive a slipcover. Most likely you will be buying a simple Blu Ray/DVD Combo pack without the slipcover.

PICTURE QUALITY

2 Guns delivers a very average picture, especially for a “bang, bang, boom” type of film which offers up plenty of explosions, shootouts, and fight scenes. It is definitely nothing to write home about, and would fall right in line next to any average Blu Ray release, far behind films which really utilize the Full HD 1080p resolution, like “Avatar”, or “The Avengers”. A few of the scenes with large explosions are actually very subdued, using a slow motion technique rather than unleashing the full brunt of the blast onto our screens. This does not work well within the film, as it is very much supposed to be filled with action and should not water down these scenes by using cheesy slow motion.

A prime example of the yellow tint used in the film.
A prime example of the yellow tint used in the film.

With the film centered around the vast desert areas along the US-Mexico border, the yellowish tint to the film (pictured above) is actually very underwhelming at times. I was reminded of Breaking Bad when observing the color of the scenes, especially those taking place in Mexico. Breaking Bad was so well done that anything else seems like a cliché, which bothered me. However, moving past the negatives, there are definitely some positives! Darker scenes at night in cars, garages, and inside homes are very well done. The deep black colors really shine, but without muddying the picture. The end sequence is also extremely entertaining and ditches the slow motion for a full-fledged, massive scale shootout with all kinds of players. The film is worth picking up for this scene alone, as it is a joy to watch. Just don’t overspend!

PICTURE QUALITY SCORE: 3/5

AUDIO

2 Guns runs a DTS-HD 5.1 audio track, and it is always a good thing to see that “DTS-HD’ or “Dolby TrueHD” listed on a Blu Ray’s audio specs as they are both the top of the line when it comes to home entertainment audio. For those with 7.1 systems, I would be a bit disappointed that this did not come with a 7.1 audio track, as the sound is really the strongest point of this release. However, even with the 5.1 track, the sound is incredible. This has a lot to do with the content of the film, which is packed with shootouts and explosions for most of the film. The dialogue was incredibly clear through my center speaker, which was a plus. Often with a louder film like this one, you would find yourself constantly adjusting the volume to find the right mix of the louder action and the softer dialogue, but I jumped right into watching this at a constant volume with no clarity issues. Again, the standout scene from an audio perspective comes at the end of the film, where the end scene features Apache helicopters, thousands of flying bullets, and multiple explosions. It is ultimately one of the better sounding action movies I have seen recently, and the final sequence is a great chance to push your system and see it reach its full potential.

AUDIO SCORE: 5/5

EXTRAS

Director Baltasar Kormákur Image from IMDB
Director Baltasar Kormákur
Image from IMDB

The extras on this release are far from excellent, and are certainly the low point. The Blu Ray/DVD Combo pack includes the standard “Deleted and Extended Scenes” (12 minutes), as well as a commentary track with Director Baltasar Kormákur and Producer Adam Siegel, as well as a few short features on the making of the film. the deleted scenes do not offer much to the film, but would be fun for fans. The commentary is very dull to start and somewhat reserved. Kormákur seems very uninterested, as he often defers to Siegel, who rambles on very quickly throughout the commentary (too quickly for me). I must admit, I am not a huge fan of the commentary tracks on these very average films as they are what they are; basic shoot-em-ups which really do not need much explaining. In a film so simple and fun as this one, there does not seem to be a need for a commentary track. Overall, I definitely would not buy this one for the extras, and the lack of extras is also a major reason why it will most likely hit the “Under $10” shelves in the coming months.

EXTRAS SCORE: 2/5

OVERALL SCORE: 3.5/5

Final Verdict: Pick this one up and have some fun with it, especially if you are a fan of the leads (Washington, Wahlberg) but wait for it to hit the bargain bins or special sale shelves before you buy!

X-Men: Days of Future Past Blu Review

X-Men: Days of Future Past is a quality Blu Ray release with excellent picture and audio that will impress the neighbors.

Although it was released a few months back, I just got around to watching Days of Future Past (DOFP) this week during the blizzard up here in the Northeast. I own the MetalPak packaging of this film, which was a Target Exclusive and, judging by their website, is now out of print. The artwork on the front is nice, but I would have liked something more related to the film, rather than a generic cover featuring a close up of Wolverine and Raven (Mystique). However, the back cover artwork and inside artwork (featured above) are excellent, and will delight fans more than the simple slipcover that comes with other versions of this film. For the hardcore fans, the best version of this Blu Ray is the Amazon Exclusive which comes with a 7″ Magneto helmet as well as the 3D version of the film. You can find that version here, although it will run you close to $100. The regular combo pack is found here.

Front Cover Art
Front Cover Art

PICTURE QUALITY

As far as picture quality, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment usually delivers a great presentation, and DOFP is no exception. On my 55″ LED TV, the picture looked great. Colors were bright, quick movements and transitions were very smooth in the fight scenes, and the slow motion scenes with Quicksilver were especially impressive. The yellowish hue that was present in scenes from the 70s and the blue hue used for the scenes from the “Present Day” were an especially nice use of tinting, which can occasionally be overused. In this case, Director Bryan Singer has used the technique very effectively to convey a change in time, which helps the casual viewer keep track of scene changes and avoids any confusion. There was very little to complain about with this Blu Ray release, and it is highly recommended that you pick this one up when you have the chance.

PICTURE QUALITY SCORE: 5/5 

back cover art days of future past blu ray target metalpak
Back Cover Art

AUDIO

The audio track on this release is also very impressive, sporting a 7.1 DTS-HD mix. With my current 5.1 system, I was not able to hear the full power of the audio track, but the action sequences had booming bass and clear sound coming from all four side speakers that made for an enjoyable home theater experience. This is about as close as it gets to cinema quality audio on a Blu Ray, and is definitely recommend to test a new system, or show off to friends and family. If I have one criticism, and this may stem from the fact that it was a 7.1 mix and I was experiencing it on a 5.1 system, it would be that the dialogue at times seemed too soft when compared to the action sequences. I found myself adjusting the volume quite a bit in the beginning trying to find that happy medium between too soft dialogue and too overpowering action sequences. However, once I found the sweet spot it sounded excellent. Overall, with a 7.1 system I am sure that DOFP contains a fantastic audio track, and again it is highly recommended that you pick this release up!

AUDIO SCORE: 4.5/5

OVERALL SCORE: 4.5/5