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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Sin City: A Dame To Kill For – Blu Review

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is one of the best Blu Rays I have ever watched, regardless of any negative critiques it has received. With a 3D version included in standard packaging, this is a must own for any collector or home theater fanatic.

For fans of the original Sin City, the sequel, A Dame To Kill For, was highly anticipated. Unfortunately, the fans of the first movie were not enough to avoid a box office disaster. A Dame To Kill For opened 9 years after the original, and so much of the fanfare surrounding the first movie was long gone by the time its sequel hit theaters, resulting in a worldwide total over just under $40 million. This is a far cry from Sin City’s huge 2005 theatrical run, where it made nearly $160 million worldwide. However, box office totals have no affect on the quality of a Blu Ray release, and in some ways low ticket sales can mean home viewers will get more when the Blu Ray is released.

For example, when A Dame To Kill For was released on Blu Ray, it came in a three disc package featuring the 3D version, the standard Blu Ray, and a DVD. Typically, studios release the 3D version of their films separately and charge $3-$4 more for 3D. When a 3D movie does not perform well in theaters (think Dredd, Immortals, or Prometheus) the 3D version can be coupled with the standard Blu Ray, which is a very good deal for home viewers with 3D capabilities. I was able to grab my copy for only $10 at Target, and while the price is back up to around $20 right now even at that price it would be worth getting, especially for fans of 3D.

The cover art on the Best Buy exclusive steelbook.
The cover art on the Best Buy exclusive steelbook.

The only Blu Ray exclusive for A Dame To Kill For was a steelbook from Best Buy, found here, although it looks like it will be tough to find, with shipping unavailable. The version which I own can be found here, and is the suggested version for the average fan. If you are a Sin City super fan, by all means pay extra for the steelbook, but I do not believe it is worth the extra money for the average home viewer.

PICTURE QUALITY

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is the best looking Blu Ray I have watched all year. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s explore why. First off, Sin City is meant to look spectacular and its stylistic form of film is what sets it apart from any other movie. There have been copycats, but other than 300 none have come close to matching this style of filmmaking. The entire movie is filmed in black and white, with very limited color in certain scenes and for certain characters. However, black and white picture has never looked so vibrant. The blacks, grays, muted whites, and bright whites mixed together into one cohesive image look stunning on Blu Ray, and it is highly recommended that you watch this movie with the lights dimmed or completely off so that you can feel the full effect of this style.

One of the stunning black and white scenes from Sin City: A Dame To Kill For
One of the stunning black and white scenes from Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

There is absolutely nothing to complain about with this Blu Ray release, but there are a few things to be mindful of. First off, the aspect ratio was kept at its original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1. This means that there will be a very slim black bar on the top and bottom of your widescreen HDTV, but this is normal and you should not zoom in on the picture or alter it in any way. For those of you with projectors, the black bars could be either wider or non-existent depending on settings and your screen’s ratio, but I would still recommend keeping the film in its original ratio so that none of the amazing picture quality is lost. Secondly, if you are watching the 2D version of the film there are a few scenes, especially early on, where you can tell they were intended to be seen in 3D. In these scenes, the gimmicky look you can get from 2D movies made for 3D conversions is visible, but only if you are really paying attention. Otherwise, this is an amazing Blu Ray. I do not like to call anything perfect, but this is as close as I have seen to perfect from films released this past year.

PICTURE QUALITY SCORE: 5/5

AUDIO

There is less to talk about with the audio from this release, as it is your standard 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio that is very typical of most home releases these days. I would have liked to see a 7.1 mix from A Dame To Kill For as it certainly would have benefited from such a total surround sound experience, but the 5.1 mix does an excellent job as well. Dialogue is clear and well mixed with the louder, more violent scenes, so there is little volume adjusting to be done with this film, which is always a plus. The rear speakers are in full use, as the sounds of Sin City surround you. Every gunshot, shattered window, and exaggerated punch that Sin City is so well known for was produced brilliantly through my speakers, and as the filmmakers intended, it is truly like stepping into a comic book or graphic novel. It is a near perfect audio track, although the real winner with this film is its presentation and picture quality. Am I as excited about the audio as I am with the picture with A Dame To Kill For? No, but it does its job well and I have no complaints.

AUDIO SCORE: 4.5/5

EXTRAS 

Surprisingly, even with a three disc combo pack featuring a DVD, 2D Blu Ray, and 3D Blu Ray, Anchor Bay (the studio who released this Blu Ray) provides a very good amount of extras. If you happen to own the Target Exclusive, I do believe there are more extras available on their own disc, but I do not have that version and thus am going to provide the typical extras that come with all other releases.

A Dame To Kill For comes with four short extras, all in HD, and also features the Theatrical Trailer for the original Sin City, although there is no trailer for the sequel. Curious, but after the box office flop maybe the filmmakers wanted to relive the glory of the original and remind viewers of just how good that first effort was!

The extras are as follows:

High-Speed Green Screen – A fast forwarded 16 minute presentation of the film, before digital effects and CGI were added in post-production. It is an interesting glimpse into how these movies are made, especially in an era of film dominated by CGI and green screen effects.

Character Profiles – 14 minutes of interviews with the cast speaking about their characters. It is very basic, but interesting for fans.

Makeup Effects – 7 minutes with Robert Rodriguez, the Director, and Greg Nicotero, who did the makeup for this film and also works extensively on The Walking Dead and has worked on Evil Dead and many other makeup heavy horror movies since the 1980s. It is worth the look for fans of Nicotero’s work.

Stunts – A quick 6 minute look into the stunts for the movie with Rodriguez and the stunt coordinator.

Overall, they are all worth a look, with the highlights being the Green Screen Version, which is very cool for students of film, and the Makeup Effects short with Nicotero. I wish there was a bit more, and maybe something featuring Frank Miller, but it is still more than many releases are coming with these days.

EXTRAS SCORE: 4/5

OVERALL SCORE: 5/5

FINAL VERDICT: Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is one of those movies which you have to own if you are a home theater enthusiast or movie collector. It is simply one of the best experiences you will ever have with your home theater. Ignore the critical reviews, and pop this one on the screen and enjoy the visuals. You will not be disappointed.

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