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Non-Review Review: Black Mass

Black Mass has endearing ambition.

This is an old-school crime biography, one that foregoes clarity or singularity of purpose in favour of sprawling scale. Black Mass covers decades in the life of notorious Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger. The thematic throughline is his connection to the local branch of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Agent John Connolly. Connolly grew up with Bulger, and hits on the seemingly ingenious idea of advancing his own career by bringing Bulger into the fold as an “informant.” It is an arrangement that benefits Bulger and Connolly more than the FBI.

Gangbusters...

Gangbusters…

There is an interesting story to be told there, the tale of two men gaming the system for their own advantage. Many of the stories around Bulger are so ridiculous and improbable that they defy belief; they make for perfect cinematic fodder. With two strong lead actors, and a clear arc, the tale of Bulger and Connolly could be compelling and revealing. However, it also seems far too modest for Black Mass. Although Bulger and Connolly form the spine of the film, its limbs sprawl out in every possible direction trying to cover everything.

It is a valiant effort. There are moments when Black Mass really works as it picks on an awkward conversation or a loaded confrontation. However, these moments feel fleeting; they are a chain of short stories rather than a single cohesive narrative. Black Mass is frequently fascinating but seldom satisfying.

Awash with corruption...

Awash with corruption…

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Non-Review Review: Tremors

Man, I love Tremors. I’m a professed B-movie geek who grew up on the particularly cheesy Wes Craven and John Carpenter films of the seventies and eighties, who has always harboured a soft spot for playful monster movies, so I reckon I’m the film’s target audience. Tremors is one of those affectionate throwbacks, those movies that don’t just aim to evoke a particular genre and time period (as The Expendables was a generis eighties action movie produced twenty-five years too later) so much as offer an up-to-date and self-aware reinvention of them (as Spielberg produced a thirties adventure serial with modern sensibilities in Raiders of the Lost Ark, or Rodriguez offered a brutally hilarious modern-day Mex-ploitation film in Machete). Tremors is basically a fifties B-movie produced with late eighties A-list talent and self-awareness.

The town's gone to ground...

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Non-Review Review: Footloose (2011)

Footloose is a strange beast. On one hand, it copies huge swathes of text from the original film, with lines spoken almost verbatim. On the other hand, the movie has the courage of its convictions, daring to update the story for modern times, adding quite a bit of modern subtext to the film. I think this approach is part of the reason the film works so well, but also its chief weakness. For all its clever insights and wonderful thoughts on the cost of security, it does wind up feeling just a tad heavy-handed. Still, it’s perhaps the best “dance” movie I’ve seen since the original 1984 version, so it must be doing something right.

Everybody cut loose!

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Non-Review Review: X-Men – First Class

X-Men: First Class is easily the best thing to emerge from Bryan Singer’s X-Men movie franchise since X-Men II, all those years ago. Jane Goldman’s smart script and Matthew Vaughn’s confident direction help inject life back into the franchise that stirred up this current superhero blockbuster fad, providing one of the finest examples of the subgenre. Although the movie does occasionally veer a little bit too close to (and, once or twice, right into) camp, it’s also a clever, brave, bold and exciting action adventure, which provides the best characterisation of the series to date.

We've got it covered...

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