Johnny Depp gives a frightening, transformative performance in “Black Mass,” a fascinating look at the rise of real-life Irish-American mobster James “Whitey” Bulger in South Boston. Concentrating on a 20-year period of Bulger’s life beginning in 1975, director Scott Cooper’s period thriller may not be as polished as Martin Scorsese’s sprawling gangster thriller “Goodfellas,” but there’s no question “Black Mass” is easily one best movies of the year to date.
“Black Mass” concentrates on the complicated “alliance” of Bulger and FBI Agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who offers the man who he grew on with and admired an opportunity to provide information to the agency to bring down Italian mafia in New England. But while the FBI was deconstructing Bulger’s rivals, the mobster ran his operation unabated and built a criminal empire of his own in brutal fashion.
Depp, like he has many times before, becomes his character. Fitted with piercing blue contacts, Depp is menacing with his piercing stare, giving one of his most frightening and fascinating performances to date. Edgerton is also brilliant as Connolly, as is Benedict Cumberbatch as Billy Bulger, Whitey’s influential state Senator brother. The great thing is, Cooper and Depp allow for several other performers to deliver the goods, including Kevin Bacon as Connolly’s skeptical FBI boss; Jesse Plemons as Kevin Weeks, a pivotal member of Bulger’s Winter Hill gang; and Corey Stoll as assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Wyshak – the man who confronted Connolly and began an arduous 25-year operation to apprehend Bulger.
“Everest” (PG-13) 3 1/2 stars (out of four)
Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal and Josh Brolin skillfully guide us on one of the most compelling action adventure movies of the year with “Everest,” a dramatic re-telling of a tragic Mount Everest expedition in 1996. Even though the tragedy – which involved two climbing parties – has been well documented, it’s completely engrossing from the get-go, as expeditions led by Rob Hall (Clarke) and Scott Fischer (Gyllenhaal) are doomed by a brutal blizzard that hits Everest just as the climbers hit the summit. Keira Knightley also gives a heartbreaking performance as Hall’s pregnant wife, Jan Hall, who struggles to keep in touch with her husband in the face of doom. While Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur’s visuals in the film are thrilling, they never trump the human emotion of the characters in their hours of desperation.
“Terminator Genisys” (PG-13) 2 1/2 stars (out of four)
Arnold Schwarzenegger is bigger, bolder, funnier and older (but not obsolete, as he tells us throughout the film) in “Terminator Genisys,” a surprisingly effective reimagining of the “Terminator” movie franchise. It’s far from a perfect movie and hardly original in that it borrows heavily from the first two “Terminator” films, yet, it earns a rightful place in the franchise canon with a inventive script that’s willing to break free from the traditional storyline and in effect, be in control of its own destiny.
“Terminator Genisys” begins in the post-apocalyptic future, where the Resistance, led by John Connor (Jason Clarke) gets ready to strike its final death blow on the machines: a group of Terminators and other deadly weapons made self-aware by the defense program Skynet. Connor, however, discovers he’s a bit too late, as a T-800 (a younger, CGI version of Schwarzenegger) is sent back in time to kill his mother, Sarah Connor (Emila Clarke), to ensure he is never born, and effectively, taught to be the leader he is to become the leader he is today. To thwart the machines’ plan, Connor sends back Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) in time to find Sarah and protect her.
Arriving back in 1984, Connor arrives to find out that Sarah is not the helpless waitress John said she would be, and has already been trained, in fact, by The Guardian (Schwarzenegger) to be a proficient warrior. Eliminating the current threats by the machines, Reese and Sarah travel forward in time to 2017 to stop Judgment Day altogether, only to encounter a John: who seem to have taken on the form of a Terminator himself – and the protector of Genisys – an all-powerful computer operating system for personal and military devices that will turn into Skynet, and eventually, against the human race.
While the first part of “Terminator Geni
sys” plays like a mishmash of the first “Terminator” and its first sequel “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” the film eventually forms its own identity by expanding Sarah’s and Reese’s back stories. Also expanded is the story of The Guardian, a T-800 unit sent to protect Sarah as a 9-year-old girl – and a machine that remains tried and true despite its aging technology. It’s human skin and features age, too, which explains how Schwarzenegger can still play the character more than 30 years after the original film.
Despite some muddled, crisscrossing timelines and confusing leaps of logic, “Terminator Genisys” is far better than the past two “Terminator” installments – and thanks to director Alan Taylor’s intense pacing and employment of spectacular visual effects and sound, definitely has the tone and feel of the first two blockbuster hits in the franchise. The best development to come out of “Terminator Genisys,” though, is the big twist involving John, a major spoiler unleashed during the film’s second trailer.
The big reveal was a smart marketing move by Paramount, because, quite honestly, the first trailer for the film felt like more of the same. Jason Clarke is definitely up to the task as the film’s new bad guy, and bring intensity through his performance in both human and CGI form. Emilia Clarke also makes for a likable, ass-kicking Sarah, as does Courtney as Reese in a role far more involved in the plot than the original film.
The biggest winner in “Terminator Genisys,” though, is Schwarzenegger, who, while embracing his age and his creaky cyborg frame, is completely willing to poke fun at himself. The great thing is, for the first time in years, we’re laughing with Ah-nold instead of laughing at him. With “Terminator Genisys” Schwarzenegger is, for the lack of a better words, back.
“Magic Mike XXL” (R) ** (out of four)
Channing Tatum is in his element and out of his clothes once again in “Magic Mike XXL,” the sequel to the 2012 surprise hit original starring Tatum and Matthew McConaughey. Of course, you have to enjoy dancing male strippers to fully enjoy Tatum and his fellow beefcake co-stars, which is to say the film was made with the female club-going element in mind. For the poor guys they drag with to the movie, get ready for a dull and pointless two hours of nothing.
Tatum is back as Mike, a hard-working small business owner who after three years out of the stripper game is lured back to the for one last road trip by his buff buddies. Making stops at various public and private strip venues on the way, the goal for the Kings of Tampa (minus McConaughey and Alex Pettyfer’s characters – whose absences are explained), as they are called, with the goal of getting to a big-time male stripper convention in Myrtle Beach.
There’s really no story to speak of in “Magic Mike XXL,” just lots of well-choreographed stripper scenes by the of Tatum, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Adam Rodriguez and Kevin Nash (there’s no doubt the guys, especially Tatum, have the moves). Amber Heard, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Andie McDowell and Elizabeth Banks bring a little bit of spunk to the film with supporting roles, but in the end, “Magic Mike XXL” is a slick-looking movie that will have female-dominated audiences hooting and hollering, and all but throwing dollar bills at the screen (at least that was the case in my screening). The movie comes off as more of an eye candy-coated fantasy night out on the town than an actual cinematic spectacle … that is, unless we eventually find out that Tatum and his co-stars’ well-chiseled abs are really just elaborate visual effects. Remember “300”?
It’s not often that an actor gets an opportunity to take part in the reimagination of one classic movie franchise, let alone two: so you could about imagine how pumped acclaimed actor Jason Clarke was to follow up his role in last year’s blockbuster hit “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” to star in “Terminator Genisys” — and opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger, who brought the Terminator to life in the first place.
Clarke, 45, said seeing Schwarzenegger in the first “Terminator” as a teenager growing up in Australia in 1984 was more than about seeing a spectacle on the big screen: it was a transformative experience.
“I remember seeing it early, before all the hype, which is such of a wonderful way to see the movie,” Clarke told me in a recent call from Los Angeles. “I remember coming out of the theater saying, ‘Wow, that was just amazing.’ It created a world and ultimate universe that we kept talking about over and over. The film was like a version of ‘Star Wars’ for me, because I hadn’t seen ‘Star Wars’ when it was originally released. Then along came ‘T2,’ which brought things to a whole new level.”
Opening in theaters and on IMAX screens Wednesday, “Terminator Genisys” is different from the other films in the franchise in that while it maintains key plot points from the first two films from writer-director James Cameron, it also creatively expands the core narrative. So, yes, while “Terminator Genisys” involves John Connor (Clarke) sending Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back in time to thwart the assassination of his mother, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), the time frame and circumstances are broadened significantly.
Perhaps the biggest twist in “Genisys” comes when John returns to the past as his adult self, not as an ally but a deadly threat — something Sarah and her protector, The Guardian (Schwarzenegger) aren’t exactly prepared for.
Jason Clarke said that huge plot twist is what got him excited when reading the script to “Terminator Genisys,” because the creative minds behind the film — director Alan Taylor (“
;Game of Thrones,” “Thor: The Dark World”), and writers Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier — were clearly intent on taking the franchise in a bold new direction.
“The twist is the reason I did it. It’s bringing something new to the film, which I think makes it worthwhile,” Clarke said. “The film is a lot more layered than I think people realize … there’s new thought, detail, depth and complexity to it, and it matches the level of filmmaking, action and sci-fi that James and Arnold brought to the original two.”
While Cameron had no direct involvement in the making of “Terminator Genisys,” the filmmakers opted to screen the film for the Oscar-winning director-producer to get his take on the film — which was overwhelmingly positive. And while there were two “Terminator” films between his “T2: Judgment Day” and the latest outing, Cameron has publicly stated that he feels “Genisys” is the true third chapter of the franchise.
“James is a man with a lot of integrity, so it’s nice to hear that feedback on a personal level,” Clarke said. “Plus, he has a very busy schedule (the filmmaker is prepping three ‘Avatar’ sequels), so we’re very happy that he took the time to watch the film, but like it on top of it. It was a lovely gesture. He’s a fascinating man, like Arnold, whose life and legacy is just not about making movies. He’s done some incredible things.”
While the film finally had its U.S. premiere earlier this week in Los Angeles, Clarke, Schwarzenegger and their fellow cast and crew members have in the past couple of weeks been hopping around the globe to debut the film in places like Germany and Clarke’s home country of Australia. Clarke said it’s been a thrill to see of all the fun Schwarzenegger has been having at the premieres, in what is clearly the biggest “Terminator” resurgence since the release of “T2” in 1991.
“There’s a lot of love out there for Arnold,” Clarke enthused. “It’s nice to see it come back to him because he works his a– off. He’s a phenomenal man and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know him and spending some time with him. Arnold’s always in a good mood, and if he’s not, he deals with things with humor and grace.”
Plus, Clarke said, he loves the way Schwarzenegger surprises people.
“Arnold’s got a wonderful way of living his life and is always up to extraordinary things,” Clarke said. “On the weekend he’ll go visit Prime Minister Modi in India or (Chancellor) Angela Merkel in Germany. Arnold is always doing things unexpectedly. The man even wears alligator skin boots.”
Original Interviews, Reviews & More By Tim Lammers