Posts Tagged ‘johnny depp’

fantastic-beasts

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) comes to New York in 1926.  He has a suitcase full of creatures that he is sure won’t hurt anyone.   He runs into Non-Maj Jacob Kowalski, (Dan Fogler) who works in a cannery, but dreams of being a baker. Jacob has a suitcase full of baked goods.  They accidentally switch suitcases, which gets Newt in trouble demoted wizard investigator, Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) who accuses Newt of being an unregistered wizard, and takes the case to the Magical Congress of the USA, who dismisses the case, despite widespread accounts of property damage.  But then, without warning, a Senator, Langdon Shaw (Ronan Raftery) dies, and Newt’s animals are still on the loose.  Are Newt’s animals responsible for the Senator’s death or is something else at work?  Will the Senator’s death result in a war between humans and wizards in America?

Fantastic Beasts is a good movie, but it takes a long time to bring its disparate storylines together.  It tries to be a comedy with Jacob Kowalski being the comedy relief, it tries to be a romance, and to be a social commentary with dialogue about the anti-wizarding laws present in America at the time, which could draw parallels from anything to the Salem Witch Trials to McCarthyism, to the Holocaust, to anti-gay or religiously restrictive laws that may come in the US.  The oblique references to darker issues were not the problem. The real problem is that ithe script spends too much time on the beasts, which at times are treated as rescue animals or worse, characters from Pokemon Go. The story picks up with the death of the Senator, and maintains the interest throughout.  JK Rowling wants to make the story an epic, with plenty of characters and therefore has to do a lot of exposition, but  she would have been better served making the story more focused and cutting the superfluous story elements.  Fantastic Beasts is not as good as Harry Potter, but is different enough to be interesting and can stand on its own.

The acting is superb.  Eddie Redmayne gives Newt a playful nature, in keeping with the lightness of the script.  Redmayne implies with each sly smile that he is a wizard, but that shy charm may be his most powerful spell.  Katherine Waterston gives a serious, subtle, grounded performance.  Tina does not seem to be overwhelmed by the circumstances surrounding her.  The relationship between Tina and Newt, if there is one is very subtle. Dan Fogler was welcome comic relief, it was nice to see Rowling’s adult characters have some fun for a change.  Allison Sudol adds an ethereal touch to Queenie, Tina’s sister, and Jacob’s love interest, as if she might be too good to be true.  Adding some shades of gray to his performance, Colin Farrell commands attention as Graves, the senior wizard investigator.  Despite his short time on the screen, he finds ways to make his character interesting in different ways. He deserved a bigger role.

The direction isn’t bad,  the pacing drags at times, but that could be from the sheer number of characters and plotlines that need to be introduced  The special effects were well integrated into the story, and therefore didn’t seem to take over.  The performances were very good, but is that the director’s doing or the actors playing them?  I don’t know.  Colin Farrell is a very good actor, and Eddie Redmayne, even at a young age, has proven himself a huge talent.  David Yates, the director has directed four Potter movies, so he knows what this kind of story entails.

Fantastic Beasts:  Beast not afraid, there’s four more movies to come.

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BLACK MASS.png

James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp) was a small-time hood in South Boston mostly involved in selling drugs.   He then made a deal with FBI agent John Connelly. (Joel Edgerton)  Bulger agrees to snitch on the Angiulo crime family, in return Connelly gives him immunity from prosecution, but he asks Bulger not to kill anyone. Of course Bulger violates that agreement many times over, and that makes FBI agent Charles McGuire (Kevin Bacon) angry and frustrated.  Just as McGuire is ready to end the immunity agreement, Bulger discloses the whereabouts of Angiulo’s hideout, which takes the heat off Bulger, and gives Connelly a nice promotion.  But as Bulger expands his operations to jai-alai, and running guns to the IRA, more and more Bulger informants wind up dead, and new prosecutor Fred Wyshek (Cory Stoll asks Connelly why Bulger has never been prosecuted for any of his crimes, and Connelly doesn’t have a good answer to that question.  Do the Feds finally capture Bulger?  Do they convict Connelly for aiding and abetting Bulger’s crime spree?

Black Mass tries to be an epic crime story, like the Godfather or Goodfellas, but it just isn’t that big a story.  The corruption and collusion of the FBI is the story here, but since Depp is the star, and he is playing Bulger, the story has to focus on Bulger.  The story is further diluted by time spent on Bulger’s wife, and the death of Bulger’s son, as well as the misdeeds of members of Bulger’s crime family.

There are some good performances, but Depp’s is not one of them.  He hides behind globs of makeup and adopts a Jack Nicholson type persona for Bulger, except Nicholson was much better in The Departed. Depp has one really effective scene in the film and not much else. Joel Edgerton doesn’t do well in a pivotal role as corrupt FBI agent John Connelly, he adopts a bad Boston accent and doesn’t do much else.  Benedict Cumberbatch, who I like as an actor, really butchers a Boston accent, and tries to hide his British accent, it doesn’t work.  Kevin Bacon delivers a great performance, as the FBI agent asking all the right questions but getting stonewalled.  He’s the only actor who doesn’t try a bad Boston accent. Corey Stoll is also good as the prosecutor who tries to end the FBI corruption, and his Boston accent is more subtle than the rest.

Director Scott Copper has an inconsistent record of directing.  I liked Out of the Furnace, but Cooper does not do anything nearly as visual in this movie. I didn’t like Crazy Heart, Cooper’s other major film.  Cooper’s pacing in this movie is slow, and he doesn’t get good performances from the main actors in the film.

Black Mass:  Pray you don’t have to sit through it.

Transcendence

Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is a roboticist with a specialty in artificial intelligence, and his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) raises money for her husband’s research.  A tech savvy  group of neo-luddites headed Bree (Kate Mara) wants to stop Will’s research, and one of their group shoots Will, the shooting is considered minor until radiation is found within the bullets.  Will is dying, and decides to spend the last few weeks of his life in the laboratory.  Will thinks he’s found a way to upload his consciousness into a computer hard drive.  Can he succeed in such an ambitious goal?  Can the group who poisoned Will succeed in stopping Will’s vision of constructive artificial intelligence?

This movie should have concentrated on keeping the scope of Will’s projects small, and deal with the ethical issues of a man trying to download his consciousness into a computer and then an android, instead the movie makes the threat global, and gets the government involved, and throws in the requisite Hollywood paranoia about technology, put all of it together and you’ve got Transcendence.   It treats artificial intelligence more like a cult than a technology, and with each successive leap in technology, the film becomes more and more far-fectched.  I didn’t find the threat posed from Will excessively frightening.

Johnny Depp’s performance is dull, and listless, he’s trying to sound like HAL the disembodied computer voice from 2001:  A Space Odyssey, but that approach removes all the required urgency from his performance.  Will he ever give a full performance worth watching again? If Depp wants to make a good movie, he should team up with a top director.  If he wants to make science fiction, he should team up with Christopher Nolan, if he wants to make a screwball comedy, he should team up with Wes Anderson.  He seems to be settling for second rate directors and scripts. Rebecca Hall gives an oddly flat performance as well.  And Morgan Freeman gives his usual Mr. Know it All, voice of reason performance.  The viewer is supposed to trust him, without knowing who or what he represents.  Rooney Mara is supposed to be young and tech savvy, but her group is trying to kill a specialist in the field of robotics, am I supposed to root for her?

The movie was long, the pacing was slow, there were some nice slow motion shots of water droplets falling, but the director didn’t pull any great performances out of the actors, or any dazzling visuals, so the direction is nothing to write home about.  The director Wally Pfister was the cinematographer on movies like The Dark Knight and Inception, so the lack of stunning visuals is disappointing.

Transcendence:  Does not transfix the audience.

into the woods

Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) battles her stepmother (Christine Baranski) to go to a three day festival given by a Prince. (Chris Pine)  Red Riding Hood (Lila Crawford) steals cookies and bread from a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) to feed to her granny.(Annette Crosbie) She must evade a hungry wolf (Johnny Depp) to get to grandma.  A boy named Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) sells his cow for some magic beans from the baker. The baker and his wife are childless.  A witch,(Meryl Steep)  who keeps a girl with long hair named Rapunzel  (Mackenzie Mauzy) locked in a tower.  The witch says she can give the childless baker and his wife a child, if they bring her something milky white, something red, something golden like corn, and golden slippers.  Does Cinderella get her prince?  Does Red evade the wolf?  What happens to Jack and his magic beans?  Does Rapunzel get out of the tower?  Does the baker and his wife have a child?

This is what some people call a fractured fairy tale, I call it a morally ambiguous fairy tale.  The characters may seem familiar, but things are not as they seem, thanks to a twist near the end of the film.  These characters may end up happy or not, but their lives are far from perfect after the twist.  If there is happiness to be had, these characters will have to work for it.  If there is a theme it is about child rearing, how to be a good and consistent parent.  It’s an interesting take on these well-known Grimm fairy tales. The music enhances the story, makes it livelier in some circumstances provides exposition.  If there is an issue with this movie, there are too many characters, and some of the characters have very little development.

The acting is generally good, with Meryl Streep giving a standout performance, with Emily Blunt giving a complex, multi-layered performance.  The younger actors, Daniel Huttleston  and Lilla Crawford also give strong performance,  Chris Pine tries very hard, but neither his voice or acting seems up to the task. Johnny Depp has a great cameo as the wolf.

The direction gives this story the proper eerie feel, the pacing is good and the songs are well-staged. The kids will enjoy the songs, they might not understand the subtleties of the movie, but they will enjoy the fairy tale aspect of the movie.

Into the Woods:  A Knotty Tale.