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The Visit

Black Mass

September 17, 2015

The Visit (**) PG- 13

 Like an abused and unwanted pet that keeps returning to its negligent owner, filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan refuses to know when to call it quits. Although the ashes leftover from the megaton bombs that were the filmmaker’s last two pictures — After Earth, The Last Airbender — continue to linger, Shyamalan has returned once again to multiplexes with The Visit. The good news is that he’s had the good sense to stay away from the big budget, sci-fi pond in which he’s been swimming for half a decade. It’s clearly a pool of water that’s way over Shyamalan’s head. The bad news is that he has nothing new to say.

It is true that The Visit is probably the best thing the once promising filmmaker has churned out in nearly a decade and a half. The 2002 film Signs was the last thing of note that garnered any sort of respect from yours truly and most of Shyamalan’s ardent followers. Still one shouldn’t get the idea that The Visit is any piece of groundbreaking and/or visionary filmmaking. Anyone that expects those kinds of things from this film will come away sorely disappointed. The budget has been scaled down and the once celebrated filmmaker is clearly being forced to rely on his imagination instead of high-end visual effects that a much larger and bloated budget clearly afforded him. It’s just a shame that The Visit ends up being the relatively pitiful trifle that it eventually becomes, succumbing to Shyamalan’s penchant for the twist ending and ending with a truly bizarre coda that is out of tone and synch with the rest of the film.

The premise does require a bit of a suspension of disbelief but not to the point that you can’t buy in to it, at least during the first act.

Kids facetime with mom in a scene from The Visit

Since this is a found footage film in the mold of the Paranormal Activity films, the film opens with a woman breaking the fourth wall and setting up the film’s premise by talking directly to the audience. The woman, only identified as Mom in the credits, is sending her two kids to spend a week with her estranged parents. She hasn’t had any contact with the parents since she left them not long after her high school graduation but now feels that reconciliation may be in the cards. Thus she sends the kids to spend the week with dear old mom and dad, whom they’ve never met.

The kids, Tyler and Becca, soon realize upon their arrival that things are not well with Nana and Pop Pop. For starters, Nana howls at the moon after the sun goes down each night and Pop Pop collects his soiled diapers in the basement and dresses in a tuxedo each morning, believing he’s going to a costume party. There’s the inevitable twist that’s a trademark of Shyamalan’s work but it’s not enough of a surprise that most astute audience members won’t see it coming way in advance.

What we’re left with is a horror film that isn’t really scary and occasional stabs at gallows humor that aren’t really funny. Apparently, Shyamalan needs to go back to the well yet again. Then again, maybe it’s best he stay away if this is the best he has to offer.

Black Mass (** ½) R

Johnny Depp is really the best thing going for the new film Black Mass, a dramatization of events in the life of notorious mobster James ‘Whitey’ Bulger. Depp’s performance may be the first one in a awhile that doesn’t require the actor to rely on mascara as part of his acting rituals and its refreshing. With his steely blue eyes — courtesy of hand painted contact lenses — and pate of thinning hair, Depp inhabits the role in a way I can’t recall the actor doing since the heady early days of his career some twenty plus years ago. It’s a performance that’s most likely going to be remembered in a couple of months when the water cooler movie talk begins to turn to discussions of Oscars and Golden Globes and such. If only his performance were enough to rescue the film from its shortcomings.

One of the major problems with Black Mass is its script. Obviously, there’s a huge story to tell in terms of Bulger and his reign of terror but the film feels like a greatest hits version of events.

Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger in Black Mass

There seems to be a conscious effort on the part of the writers to touch on all of the most notorious shenanigans that Bulger orchestrated during his criminal career but it never feels like it gels into a cohesive whole. The first hour of the film suffers from a real choppy feel that left me wondering how much footage hit the cutting room floor and if some of that footage and a longer running time might have made the film more involving. There are some great scenes in the midst of the film to be sure but it’s a classic case of the film’s parts being better than the whole.

The narrative opens in 1975 as Bulger is beginning his eventual rise to the top, killing his rivals and literally climbing over their lifeless bodies, in his ascent to the upper echelons of the underground criminal world. Bulger is somewhat protected by his politically connected brother (Benedict Cumberbatch) and so it makes sense to the FBI to utilize Bulger as an informant. Joel Edgerton is John Connolly, the agent who constantly sticks up for Bulger in spite of the constant protestations of his boss (Kevin Bacon) who insists that the inside information the department is receiving from Bulger is utterly useless. Meanwhile, Bulger continues to play both sides of his cards, running the drug trade while simultaneously remaining protected by the police under the guise of an informant.

Bulger as written in the film’s script is never really humanized in a way that I would have liked. Rudimentary scenes involving Bulger’s home life seem forced and unconvincing and don’t really seem to belong. Still, the biggest problem of all with the film is its lack of style. Had a director along the lines of Martin Scorsese chosen to tackle this material, the film probably would have been infinitely better. Director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) tries his best but Black Mass never really seems to catch fire in the way that it should.

Both The Visit and Black Mass are playing everywhere in North Carolina.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

ARCHIVES:

Mistress America

The Diary Of A Teenage Girl A Walk In The Woods

American Ultra • No Escape • Sinister 2

Straight Outta Compton, The End Of The Tour, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Irrational Man & Fantastic Four

Ricki And The Flash & The Gift

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation • Southpaw • Vacation

Ant-Man & Trainwreck

Self/Less

Amy • Magic Mike XXL, Terminator: Genisys

Me & Earl & The Dying Girl, Ted 2

Inside Out & Dope

Love and Mercy & Jurassic World

Insidious Chapter 3

San Andreas & Aloha

Poltergeist &
Tomorrowland

Mad Max: Fury Road

Hot Pursuit

Avengers: Age Of Ultron

Ex Machina

While We’re Young & Unfriended

The Longest Ride

Fast & Furious 7

It Follows

Divergent

Cinderella

Chappie

Focus & The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Hot Tub Time Machine 2

Fifty Shades Of Grey

Jupiter Ascending

Still Alice

The Imitation Game A Most Violent Year

American Sniper Inherent Vice

Selma & Taken 3

Unbroken

Big Eyes • The Interview

Night At The Museum The Secret of the Tomb • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Top Five • Wild • Annie

Foxcatcher

Whiplash & The Theory Of Everything

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 • Horrible Bosses 2

Dumb And Dumber To

Birdman & Interstellar

Nightcrawler

Ouija

Fury

The Judge

Annabelle & Gone Girl

The Equalizer & Happy 75th, GWTW!

The Drop • A Walk Among & The Tombstones

No Good Deed

The Identical

As Above, So Below & November Man

If I Stay & Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

The Giver • Code Black & The Expendables 3

Boyhood • Into The Storm & Magic In The Moonlight

Get On Up & Guardians Of The Galaxy

Lucy

Begin Again & The Purge: Anarchy

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

Chef & Tammy

Transformers: Age Of Extinction

Jersey Boys

22 Jump Street & How To Train Your Dragon 2

The Fault Is In Our Stars & Edge Of Tomorrow

A Million Ways To Die In The West

X-Men: Days Of Future Past Maleficent

Godzilla • Summer Preview

Neighbors • Godzilla

The Amazing Spiderman 2 & Belle

The Other Woman & Brick Mansions

A Haunted House 2 & Heaven Is For Real

Oculus & Rio 2

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Noah

Divergent

The Grand Budapest Hotel & Veronica Mars

300: Rise of the Empire

Non-Stop & Son Of God

Three Days To Kill

Robocop & The Past • About Last Night

The Monuments Men

Labor Day

I, Frankenstein

Inside Llewyn Davis & Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Lone Survivor & August: Osage County

Her • Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom & The Wolf Of Wall Street

The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, Saving Mr. Banks, American Hustle, Anchorman 2

The Hobbit: The Desolation & Of Smaug • Nebraska

Dallas Buyers Club & Oldboy & Out Of The Furnace

Philomena & The Book Thief

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire & Delivery Man

About Time & All Is Lost

Thor: The Dark World & 12 Years A Slave

Ender’s Game & Last Vegas

Bad Grandpa &The Counselor

Carrie & The Fifth Estate

Captain Phillips, Enough Said & Machete Kills

Gravity & Runner Runner

Metallica: Through The Never , Rush & Don Jon

Prisoners & Rush

Insidious: Chapter 2 • The Family & The Spectacular Now

Riddick

Getaway

The World’s End You’re Next

Lee Daniels’ The Butler • Jobs • Blue Jasmine

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters & Elysium

2 Guns

Blue Jasmine • The Wolverine & Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale Station • The Conjuring & The Way Way Back

Pacific Rim & Grown Ups 2

The Lone Ranger & Despicable Me 2

The Heat & White House Down

Monsters University, World War Z, Before Midnight & The East

Man of Steel & This Is The End

The Internship & The Purge

After Earth, Now You See Me & Frances Ha

The Hangover Part III Before Midnight

Star Trek: Into Darkness & Fast and Furious 6

The Great Gatsby & Frances Ha

Iron Man & Peeples

Pain and Gain & Mud

Oblivion & Lords of Salem

42 and Scary Movie 5

Evil Dead & Jurassic Park 3-D

G.I. Joe: Retaliation Tyler Perry’s Temptation

Spring Breakers Admission

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone • The Call

Oz: The Great And Powerful West Of Memphis

Jack the Giant Slayer The Last Exorcism, Part II

Dark Skies & Snitch

A Good Day to Die Hard & Safe Haven

Side Effects & Identity Thief

Bullet To The Head Warm Bodies


 

 

 

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