Hello friends! It’s been a while. Here’s what I’ve been watching in theaters this Fall, it’s a lot so this will be coming to you in three parts this week.
Black Mass walks like a prestige picture and barks like a prestige picture, but comes off more like pandering awards fodder. Johnny Depp anchors the picture as infamous real-life Boston gangster Whitey Bulger and his performance is electric at times, but unfortunately Depp is the only thing the film has going for it. The film lacks a substantial narrative line to cling to, and feels more like a series of scenes than a complete story. Black Mass employs a framing device of various interviews with the characters surrounding Bulger, but the movie doesn’t stick with any of them long enough to form a meaningful connection. With the exception of a few scenes, the film never feels dangerous and unpredictable like a good gangster movie should. Black Mass feels like a film so concerned with hitting certain real-life moments it forgets to be entertaining.
After only a few films, Denis Villeneuve is setting himself apart as one of most unique and challenging directors working in mainstream cinema today. His latest thriller, Sicario, is possibly his most digestible work to date but it’s still darker and morally murkier than most of what you’ll see in a multiplex. The film sports great performances from Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro, and was shot by the faultless Roger Deakins.
Sicario explores the increasingly well-trodden ground of the war on drug cartels along the Mexican border replete with all the violence, male posturing and general ugliness you would expect. The presence of Emily Blunt’s character, and her role in the narrative, broaches the dynamic of a woman in a male-dominated environment in a sensitive and unique way.
We’ll keep it spoiler-free here, but Sicario boasts a fascinating third-act twist that sidelines a major character. On the surface this decision may seem crass or mysogynistic, but it ties into the grey, ambiguous nature of the film perfectly. Villeneuve is gaining for ending his films in memorable ways, and Sicario is no exception. Not the easiest sit, but highly recommended.
The Intern, the new film from Nancy Meyers (Something’s Gotta Give, It’s Complicated) ended up being one of the fall’s sleeper hits, making almost $75 million domestically off of a $35 million budget. The Intern is simple and predictable, but functions effectively at its real purpose: to spend two fun hours with some likable people. Anne Hathaway plays a young, hurried and harried startup CEO who, through movie logic, is paired up with a “senior” intern played by Robert DeNiro. The story plays out almost exactly as you’d expect and hits all the requisite beats of this kind of comedy, but keeps afloat thanks to solid performances all around and a light tone that never gets too bogged down in angst. The Intern is the sort of mid-budget film made for adults that Hollywood doesn’t make enough of anymore, and for that it’s commendable.
The Martian is the perfect example of Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking at its most competent. It’s not the best picture of the year or even the best sci-fi film of the year(*cough* Ex Machina *cough*), but it’s a rare example of a big mainstream film that gets very little wrong and doesn’t condescend to its audience.
Matt Damon’s character spends the majority of the film in isolation on Mars, but he’s supported by an able Earth-bound ensemble cast that mostly plays to type (featuring Jeff Daniels as Jeff Daniels) but does it well. The film maintains a fairly light tone considering the subject matter, and has an optimistic streak that feels almost old-fashioned.
Ridley Scott has always been more of a journeyman than an auteur, and much of The Martian’ s success can be tributed to screenwriter Drew Goddard’s smart and economical adaptation of the Andy Weir novel. The screenplay (necessarily) excises a lot of the deeper science from the book, but it doesn’t feel dumbed-down. Even without many big action set pieces, it’s a rollicking, fun popcorn flick that deserves to be seen on the big screen.
That’s all for now, check back later this weekend for more thrilling criticism.