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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Cindy Prascik's Reviews of Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials & Black Mass

Dearest Blog: Yesterday it was off to the pictures for a double-feature that, if we're being honest, was only ever about Johnny Depp. On the docket: the second installment in the Maze Runner series, The Scorch Trials, and the Depp vehicle Black Mass.

Spoiler level here will be mild, nothing you wouldn't know from the trailers.

First up: The Scorch Trials.

Having escaped the maze, Thomas and company face new threats on several fronts.

I hated the first Maze Runner so much that I was actively rooting for the maze to just go ahead and crush everyone. It was mostly the promise of Aiden Gillen, and the fact there was nothing else to round out a double-bill, that convinced me to drop seven bucks on Scorch Trials. This one's not a great movie, either, but I'm pleased to report I very much preferred it to its predecessor; at times it strangely even reminded me of one of my 80s favorites, the Lost Boys, by way of Wayward Pines.

Some welcome new faces turn up--in addition to Gillen, Barry Pepper also features--and the returning kids have settled into an easy flow that works in the movie's favor. Thomas Brodie-Sangster is always a delight, and, according to some Internet quiz, Dylan O'Brien is my celebrity boyfriend, so...well...I guess it's good to know who that guy is, then. (Celebrity boyfriend? I could be his MOTHER!!) There were a couple dramatic "impact" shots that were probably a bit hokey, but that I especially loved. Tension is well-maintained, though sadly offset by cheap haunted house jump-scares at times.

Scorch Trials is too long by a good 20-25 minutes, and many too-dark scenes with annoyingly jiggly camera work are such a jumble it's hard to even tell who's who, yet I can't pretend I was bored or I didn't enjoy the movie; on the contrary, I must grudgingly admit to liking it.

The Scorch Trials runs 131 minutes and is rated PG13 for "extended sequences of violence and action, some thematic elements, substance abuse, and language."

It's no Hunger Games, but Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials wasn't nearly as bad as I'd feared.

Of a possible nine Weasleys, The Scorch Trials gets five.

Rounding out yesterday's double-header was the mobster drama Black Mass.

A violent criminal from South Boston uses his informant status to further his own agenda.

Black Mass is being touted as Johnny Depp's return to "serious" acting. For the record, let it be noted that this reviewer does not value dramatic performances over comedic ones; as a longtime Depp fan, my problem with his recent choices has been not the type of project, but the quality...and I'm one of the few who even admits to enjoying Mortdecai! Black Mass represents a fantastic turn by Johnny in a pretty solid movie, and, for Depp Devotees, it's been awhile since we've had one of those.

Black Mass is a slow burner, and I can almost understand why some folks have been impressed with the performances but underwhelmed by the whole. For myself, though, I loved it. If the movie's not in a hurry to get anywhere, it never wanders aimlessly or wastes time either. It runs a little over two hours and could probably have been trimmed a bit, but doesn't seem like it *needed* to come in shorter. The film is violent, of course, though not unnecessarily gory, and the writing is sharp and smart. The cast is uniformly excellent, but, as is ever the case, nobody compares to Johnny Depp, and I do mean nobody.

While Gary Oldman has long been my favorite actor, it's Depp who's been perched atop my Acting Holy Trinity for three decades now, for my money, the greatest actor in all the world. Depp tends to details like no other, perfect accents and mannerisms, with innumerable small touches that might overtly go unnoticed, but that add layer upon layer to every single performance. A scene early in the movie that focuses on Bulger's facial expressions, reacting to a companion's terrible table manners, is a perfect example; I happily could have watched two hours of just that, and it was only the beginning.
Black Mass clocks in at 122 minutes and is rated R for "brutal violence, language throughout, some sexual references, and brief drug use."

It's not quite perfect, but Black Mass represents a definite win for Johnny Depp, an award-worthy lead in a genuinely good movie.

Of a possible nine Weasleys, Black Mass gets seven and a half.

Until next time...

No caption necessary!

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