Johnny Depp takes a break from being weird to transform into one of the most intimidating gangsters in American history. In what is widely considered to be a career-best performance, Depp plays James “Whitey” Bulger, godfather of Boston’s Irish mob and generally unsettling human being. Based on real-life events, “Black Mass” follows Whitey as he teams up with his brother, Billy Bulger, a state senator, and John Connolly, an FBI agent, in an effort to take down the Italian mafia. As events take a turn for the worse, Whitey begins to spiral out of control, transforming into one of the most violent criminals of the 1970s and quickly killing his way on to the FBI’s Most Wanted List.
“Black Mass” isn’t for the faint of heart — it has enough brutal violence to warrant some seriously long blinks, if you catch my drift. (And whether or not this excessive violence is always beneficial to the story is debateable.) Also, the fact that the FBI genuinely allowed this man to run amok for as long as they did is somewhat nauseating. The intrinsic appeal of “Black Mass” is rooted in its “based on true events” nature — though even then, it’s only Depp’s stunning performance that elevates the film to a level it might not have reached otherwise. This is essential viewing for anyone who loves a good gangster film — or anyone who appreciates a good performance.
Playing Feb. 1 — Feb. 14.
“Spectre” is, unfortunately, an apt title, as this film is a mere ghost of its predecessor, the infinitely better “Skyfall.” The film takes the thematic elements of “Skyfall” and attempts to copy them, to weak effect — whether it was creating a juicy, iconic villain, establishing emotional resonance with James Bond’s past, or even commissioning an amazing song by a massively popular artist. It all falls flat.
“Spectre” sees James Bond hunting down a sinister organization, one that operates entirely in the shadows and seems to have one singular purpose: be evil. In terms of secret, shadowy organizations in recent spy films, the Syndicate in “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” was infinitely more interesting and better developed, creating more compelling drama. If the villain is the heart of a James Bond film, “Spectre” needed a transplant before the ink dried on the screenplay. Meanwhile, the story itself is confusing, but not in a good, mind-boggling way — more like in a “well, this could have been executed better” way. Even the film’s big reveal feels hollow. If you’re a James Bond completist, then “Spectre” is a must-see, but non-fans should probably stay far away.
Playing Feb. 8 — Feb. 21.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
Reviewing book-to-movie adaptations is a little more difficult than reviewing an average film, especially when it comes to these young adult adaptations, which are much-maligned but rarely justifiably so. (They made a movie aimed at teenagers, not the Academy. Know the audience and quit hatin’.) That being said, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2” is more universally enjoyable than other adaptations, as long as you’re familiar with the events of the previous three films. In the final installment of the series, Katniss Everdeen is tasked with leading the rebellion as they surge against President Snow and the glittering Capital. Meanwhile, she is also trying to heal her love, Peeta — who was tortured into insanity — and keep her family safe.
“The Hunger Games” series has always been more topical than average young adult fare, touching on topics as seemingly harmless as reality TV to important issues like inequality and war. It’s managed to do this against the backdrop of a unique world and action-packed story, and that doesn’t change in “Mockingjay Part 2.” With more than a few surprises and a handful of heart-wrenching moments, “Mockingjay Part 2” is definitely worth a watch.
Playing Feb. 16 — Feb. 28.