Darke Reviews – Black Mass (2015)

This one was a request from a coworker and is  a few days later than I wanted, but I promised a review. The other reason it’s late is I had a bad experience at the movies and didn’t want to let my bias from the experience affect the review. This gave me time to really think on how I feel about the film and make recommendations with some time away from it.

So should you attend the Mass?

As we start this, you understand from my history this is not my preferred genre. I like good drama’s and the occasional “based on real events” films. I firmly believe there is a gap in time that should occur to let a film begin to fade from collective memory a bit and help us remember bits of our history we may not know as well. Films like Captain Phillips, The 33, and the upcoming film 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi are too new, too recent for my tastes. This hits the right bridge of time away, but with individuals who are in recent(-ish) headlines.

The movie here focuses on that of James “Whitey” Bulger, leader of a small criminal empire, and his relationship with FBI agent John Connolly. Much of the film focuses on the relationships between Bulgers inner circle of the Winter Hill Gang and the interactions Connolly had with them and his own with the FBI itself.

It’s worth mentioning here that acting is amazing in this. Depp is back in form again and I want more of this man in movies. While Jack Sparrow probably allowed him to buy another island, it’s not why we learned to love him. The fact that he can become most anyone is. I lost Depp in this performance and saw the man he was playing and want more of this. Joel Edgerton has had a lot of high profile work and this probably for me is one of his strongest performances. Gatsby, Zero Dark Thirty, Exodus, show a growing penchant for him as a heavy, despite earlier performances in such movies as The Thing and King Arthur. He is a solid actor who actually showed an interesting range in the film. The other stars, such as Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Rory Cochran, Adam Scott, all do really well and craft whole people; which is good since they are portraying real people. That isn’t always the case in a performance, but thankfully was here. Benedict Cumberbatch does a passable job at a New England accent but not quite, but that could be argued as someone trying to fake a New England accent over a Southie accent, and in this case over his natural accent.

The screenplay for the movie comes from two men, Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk. Butterworth is one who was responsible for the beauty of Edge of Tomorrow and will be on the hook for Spectre later this year. This is Mallouks first writing gig. As the film is based on a book by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, I am not sure where to place some of the blame in dialogue. There are just some parts that are too ridiculous to believe anyone would buy, too tropish to be real and that took me out. Also, I am pretty sure the F-bomb is not actually punctuation, the movie disagrees with me to a level that would leave The Boondock Saints in awe.

Director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnance) loves himself the close up. While not as bad as Maggie for having the camera in his actors face there are a lot of scenes where the actor uses well over 75% of the screen space with their noggin. It’s a technique that can work, but doesn’t always.  Also, the timing of cuts, beats, and overall pacing of the film drags a bit to the long side. I wasn’t expecting the Departed when it comes to action, but I wanted the pacing just a bit tighter. Also I would be left to believe things only happened every 10 years if the movie was my only guide.


Black Mass is a solidly acted film that I can highly recommend to anyone who enjoys the era of the Modern Mafia. If you love stories in, about, or related to Boston this is a must see. The city doesn’t live and breathe here as it’s own character despite their attempts, but you know where you are. The movie can be compared to one of my more favorite films of this type of genre Citizen X.

If you aren’t a fan of this type of film, you won’t miss anything. Even the curious could give this a pass. Save it for the genre lovers.



Darke Reviews – Into the Woods (2014)

If you know me personally, you know I love musicals. I’ve seen a fair share on Broadway in NY, and a few at other venues not in the City that Never Sleeps. Wicked, Jekyll & Hyde, Phantom top my list of performances. When it comes to Hollywood adaptations of musicals where do I land? Honestly in the positive. Chicago, Phantom of the Opera (I like it, bite me), Rent, Les Mis, Rock of Ages, the list goes on. Now we have the adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods.

Where do I land here?

Well, surprisingly I have not seen the original source material, heard it, or otherwise been entertained by it. Rather unusual for this drama club girl. The story and screenplay were handled, rather than manhandled by the original writer James Lapine. The music of course is by Stephen Sondheim, who also gave us Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (which was also adapted for film by Tim Burton). The music itself, which is as much a star as anything else has Sondheim’s usual quality to it; which is to say a bit all over the place. It isn’t bad, but has a rather odd lyrical range that doesn’t quite seem to flow – but it works still. If you aren’t familiar with musicals it may strike you odd when you hear the lyrics. Musically the composition is quite beautiful and one of the better arrangements I have heard, but it lacks some energy that other musicals have; I am missing some of the crescendos that I was expecting. A few of the pieces did sound like something from Sweeney Todd in how they built, rose, and fell. Perhaps it was just how Depp was singing that reminded me of his singing of Pretty Women in Sweeney Todd. There are songs (Agony) that were worth the price of admission though, and the rest are all very well done, but Agony is the best.

That comes down to the performances. I didn’t know Chris Pine could sing, but he really can and has a sense of comedic timing and placement that should only be classified as praise worthy. I offer the same compliment to Emily Blunt, who has impressed me twice this year with her performance in Edge of Tomorrow and now her turn as the Bakers Wife here. Both her acting and singing were where they needed to be and allowed her to play off of James Corden as the Baker. Corden is the heart of the movie and so I shall put him in the center of praise for the acting. I am looking over his IMDB page and have seen absolutely nothing he has done, which is surprising considering the billing he received in the trailer was equal to many of the more known stars of the film. I will have to keep an eye out for him as he really did well and pulled off a few difficult moves during the dance numbers. We also have young broadway star Lilla Crawford fresh from the 2012 stage reboot of Annie as Little Red Riding Hood. She reminded me a bit of Maisie Williams at times, which is good; but sadly doesn’t get as much screen or vocal time as I wish. Another performer from the stage is Daniel Huttlestone, who has previously played Gavroche in Les Miserables on stage and in the film (knew he looked familiar). Wrapping up our amazing performers is Meryl Streep and Anna Kendrick. Streep is no stranger to musicals and is just as powerful here as she ever is. Kendrick is pure magic as always. I may have some bias towards here, but she has yet to disappoint me with her performances in straight up acting or her singing (Pitch Perfect). This movie is no exception.

The story for those who are not familiar with it involves the blending of several fairy tales into one cohesive story. To say much more would verge into spoiler territory, but these are very classical retellings of these stories and I was happy to see them. From a technical standpoint, there really isn’t much in the movie that doesn’t hold up. Most shots are clearly a soundstage, but within the context of this film it works as you are taking a stage play and putting it on screen. A few effects here and there, but ultimately it’s really solid. It feels a little long at times, but only clocks in at 2 hours.


The movie is good. I was entertained and in at least one scene laughed rather hard (along with the entire row behind me). That row, who has performed this particular show 3 times, said it was a good adaptation – in fact one of the best. They were laughing and singing and otherwise enjoying themselves. That speaks volumes for the movie in a way no review really can.

So with that, if you enjoy musicals I think you will enjoy Into the Woods.

If these films or plays are not your thing, I would warn you to stay away or stick to a matinee.

At least the year goes out on top after a month of rather disappointing films. Now…should I join the rest of the reviewers out there and do a best and worst films?

Darke Reviews | Transcendence (2014)

“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” – Albert Einstein

Since the movie saw fit to quote Einstein as it’s push for research into artificial intelligence, I thought I would open with a quote that the movie didn’t mention  (surprisingly). Last week when I reviewed Oculus I spoke of the things we fear as a (western) culture and how that drives our trends in horror movies. Sci-fi also delivers some of those fears as well, but rather than trying to terrify us on an emotional level; it goes for the scare on a mental level and ultimately tries to make you think.

In the past year we have seen a rash of Sci Fi movies asking us what makes a man (Oblivion), what defines a soul (Robocop, I Frankenstein), should we fear technology (Paranoia – yes it sucked, but it asked). Those are but a few. So my opening quote is our fear. Are we too connected? Too dependent on machinery? How far is too far for science? The thought of Dolly and it’s implications terrifies many. Don’t get me started on Bern and the Collider. We have decades of movies now telling us that Artificial Intelligence is the end of man kind. Decades of being told to be afraid of advancement in this field. 2001, Terminator, War Games,  the Matrix, and more recently Battlestar Galactica all show us the terror of our machine overlords and what “will come to pass”.
This is where Transcendence comes into play.

It had the opportunity to come in and shake things up. To tell us to not be afraid of the machine. To not be afraid of science and technology. First time screenwriter Jack Paglen and director Wally Pfister are just as afraid as the movies want us to be. I lay the blame on Christopher Nolan. He is an executive producer on the film and Pfister has been his Director of photography forever and a day. So I think Pfister was acting as a mouthpiece for Nolan here. CNS raises its head to the surface but never quite breaks through. It verges on the pretentious and preachy and filled with its own self importance of the message it wants to deliver. It just sort of falls flat on that message.

I want to like this movie more than I do. I truly do. The fact that it came in with a preconceived notion that technology was bad and our humanity, our soul, and our consciousness were divine bothers me on a deep level. This film had such great opportunities to ask questions – which it kept trying to – and really explore the answers. Instead we get a sort of jumbled mess of shots of people walking, people looking pensive, and effects that were verging on dated a few years ago. Thats what really makes me angry though. It ASKED some of the questions it was trying to get to. It was just asked from a bias that made it difficult to answer. It asked the questions in such a way that it may as well have asked “so when did you stop beating your wife?” Yeah that is a little extreme. I am angry though. There was such potential here and they threw it back in our face. A movie like this should make us think. It should have us give a hard look at everything. I did while the credits rolled, but its my nature.

Why so worked up about it though? There’s plenty of bad movies out there that try to be more than they are.

You are right, there are. None of those have the raw potential to be more. The script isn’t horrific overall. Its shallow and afraid, but not horrific. The movie succeeds where so many fail because it has actors you want to watch. It has actors you give a damn about. Thats why I am angry, because it had potential. The movie gives me back the Johnny Depp I love from the Ninth Gate, the Tourist, and Finding Neverland. It serves to remind me that he is a tremendous talent capable of nuanced performance through voice alone and not just Disney and Tim BUrtons pet goofball. Rebecca Hall (Iron Man 3, Vicky Christina Barcelona) also runs the gambit of emotions in her performance. I was pleased, even if she did come across as a “we couldn’t get Scarlet Johansson” at times. Its unfair, but for the first few trailer passes I thought it was Scarlet. Her acting, however, really does let her hold her own on the screen with a cast of actors you will recognize.

Paul Bettany (Knights Tale, Iron Man), Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins), Morgan Freeman (will do anything for a paycheck), Kate Mara (House of Cards),  Clifton Collins Jr. (Boondock Saints 2), Josh Stewart (Criminal Minds), Xander Berkeley, Lukas Haas, Cole Hauser, and others fill this cast with talent. Freeman is wasted as he often is these days and generally uninspired – also as he is these days. Nearly all the actors do their very best to deliver when they can. The standout is Bettany. He and Hall carry the film and deliver the necessary emotional punches that it needs when it needs it. Bettany successfully upstages (in the best way possible) Freeman at every turn and easily is a beautiful presence on screen with Depp and Hall. I really hope to see more between Depp and Bettany as they both can play each others dramatic and comedic talents to the fullest in anything they do, as well as hitting action beats.

Alright, no technicals this time. I kind of got my dig in there earlier. The effects are satisfactory, not mindblowing. They are a step up from the last time we saw something like this in The Lawnmower Man.


I really want to recommend this, but I can’t. It is not for all audiences and only a few people I know would enjoy the conversations that come from it. Mage the Ascension players might see this as a Virtual Adept gone Maraud. Some folks might enjoy the conversation they develop on their own after.

Does our technology out strip our humanity? Is there something to fear? I will be honest folks, I wouldn’t mind having that conversation with people, but the movie isn’t needed for that. perhaps some day we will get a movie that doesn’t tell us to be afraid of AI.

Next week – I will be talking about Imports vs. Domestic with Brick Mansions.

Darke Reviews | The Lone Ranger (2013)

Darke Reviews – The Lone Ranger

Before we begin this review I need to let everyone know that I went into this with very low expectations. After the trailers offered this up as “From the Producers/Director of Pirates of the Caribbean” I got worried. The last two and a half installments of PoC had moments of brilliance shrouded in bad comedy, bad drama and bad timing. That could be assuaged by a good cast and a solid script right?

Well this movie delivered on all my expectations, right at what I expected. Damn.

Remember a few weeks ago with World War Z when I said count the writers? Three. It makes me nervous. Two of them gave us all the previous PoC movies and a few others that show they like doing a whirlwind of locations and shots. The third still has me scratching my head as he wrote some seriously high drama before this such as Revolutionary Road, The Clearing – I Know I didn’t see them either. Sadly these writers in conjunction cannot deliver a gripping story that didn’t have me looking at my watch going “and then?”. I also had moments of “really, that’s what you went with?”;with I kid you not a feces joke and some urine jokes. God I wish I was kidding there.

Ok so the writing doesn’t do it. Maybe the directing will? Sadly no. It’s more of what we’ve come to expect from the PoC series, except not. The PoC series knew how to be fun through the opening credits to the roll of credits at the end. Most of the jokes worked there, the timing, all of it. Here, nearly none of it works. When SILVER is one of the most enjoyable characters of the film you have done something wrong.

I have only a little nostalgia for the Lone Ranger, his notoriety was coming to an end as my childhood was truly beginning. I remember many things from it in a dull haze of being a four-year old. What I don’t remember is the Lone Ranger giving a scream that would make a young girl look at him and go “how did you scream that high?” I do remember “Who was that masked man?” What I don’t remember is mocking his mask. I do remember Tonto actually being played by an Indian (Jay Silverheels). I do not remember Tonto making bad jokes, leering at women and otherwise acting completely insane.

Alright, I know some of you just went – But it’s Johnny Depp! He was approved by the Navajo and Comanche! That may be true. Depp is now only playing a caricature of a character. This is the Native American reincarnation of Captain Jack Sparrow with his odd mannerisms and disjointed way of speaking and truly bizarre facial expressions. So Tonto is front and center in this one more than our Lone Ranger. I don’t have fault with that. I do have fault with the joke that the character is. Granted, I am not Native American, I have no Native blood in me and am not as familiar with the history of The People as I probably could be. While Disney and Depp maintain he is played with respect to me the entire run of his performance seems to be a joke. It may be accurate, I can’t say, but it turned me off watching him.

What of the rest of the cast? Hmm. Armie Hammer (Social Network, Mirror Mirror and yes that’s his real name) seems like he doesn’t know how to play it and he wasn’t given good direction. He seems perpetually a fish out of water as both an actor and character and is somewhat uncomfortable to watch.

We are now 0 for 2 on the acting. Let’s talk about our villains. William Fitchner (he’s so awesome to list his films) is barely recognizable under his Jonah Hex makeup, but carries the most charisma of the film next to the horse that plays Silver (Arctic, yes I am giving the horse credits). That is a problem wouldn’t you think? There is also Tom Wilkinson (Batman Begins) as a railroad baron. He plays the part as we have seen in every western-sploitation flick so far. All Rail Road barons are mustache twirling asshats. Wilkinson doesn’t twirl the mustache that I remember but I may have dozed off in that scene. We also get Barry Pepper making a reappearance as a typical western Cavalry officer – see also: jerk.

Supporting cast? James Badge Dale as the Rangers brother is cursed to bad movies this year with World War Z and Iron Man 3 on his credits list. Third time was not a charm for him, though he himself wasn’t bad he played a stereotype to the T. The female lead (Ruth Wilson) and child (Bryant Prince) exist and that’s really all I can say. She apparently plays a character who is afraid of doors but not afraid of heights. If you see it you will know what I mean.

Even the style of storytelling of the film seems like they were trying too hard to make something and didn’t know what it was. The movie is told Princess Bride or Young Guns 2 style and sort of fails at it taking you out of the investment you were almost beginning to build.

Does the movie fail at everything? No. Thankfully. There are 20 minutes that don’t appear until the end of the film where I was truly smiling and entertained. I think at this point that the film makers realized how to make a fun movie again instead of a drawn out plodding mess we’ve seen a hundred times already in every western done in the past thirty years. For twenty whole minutes though I was a kid again with the William Tell overture playing and feeling like they respected the character they were making a movie of. They got it. For twenty minutes of a two and a half hour movie I had fun.

So where does that leave you?

Well TL;DR

I am telling you to pass on this one. Matinee, Full Price, Cheap Seats – Pass. Let Disney know that we deserve better than this retread.

If you absolutely must go see it, so be it. Maybe you will enjoy it more than I did and I hope you do. Some of the people in my theatre (all six of them) did seem to.

I of course as always welcome other people’s opinion on it if you do see it, but really Someone needs to take a silver bullet to this film.