Michael Bergeron
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Mass, Mountain & Scorch

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It’s the kind of movie week where you have some excellent choices across the board. Big films like Black Mass and Everest offer real life drama on a grand scale. Even the teen-aimed actioner The Scorch Trials delivers decent explosions and chases.

Everest has to be one of the most tense real life edge-of-your-seat stories ever committed to the big screen. In a wise move Universal will release Everest for one week on IMAX screens only in a few hundred theaters before rolling out big. Movies need more of this roadshow engagement mentality. We will also see slow expansions with the upcoming The Walk (3D IMAX and large format theaters) and The Hateful Eight (70mm screens).

Everest is a real life adventure with high stakes only the bad guy is nature. Everest is based on a tragic expedition in 1996 that claimed several lives. The event was previously documented in the book “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer and the IMAX doc Everest (1998) helmed by David Breashears. Both Breashears and Krakauer are portrayed in the movie, along with an all star cast that includes Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Robin Wright, Michael Kelly, Sam Worthington, Keira Knightley, Emily Watson, and Jake Gyllenhaal.

There are many amazing moments in this film but the thing that blew my mind was how director Baltasar Kormákur merged scenes shot at the actual Everest base camp with studio recreations of the summit of Everest. There’s no way you could shoot a movie like this at that altitude and yet Everest takes you to the highest known point in the world.

The Scorch Trials (the sequel to The Maze Runner) is the kind of film I wish had been made when I was a teenager. One cliffhanger after another unfolds as a group of kids in a dystopian post-apocalyptic future fight to survive against the powers that be. If Scorch Trials sounds derivative of The Hunger Games, remember that Hunger Games itself bears a striking resemblance to the Japanese Battle Royale.

Wouldn’t it be cool if Johnny Depp changed his name to John Depp? After all he is one of the most accomplished actors currently headlining films and at 52 he’s a long way from the dude in 21 Jump Street.

The movie Black Mass, starring Depp as James Whitey Bulger, hits the bullet points of the career of one of the most notorious criminals in recent history. The character was fictionalized by Jack Nicholson and Martin Scorsese in The Departed, as well as last year’s crime documentary Whitey: United States of America vs. James J. Bulger. In Black Mass the names have not been changed to protect the guilty.

Bulger maintained his stance as the crime lord of Southie, the nickname of a section of Boston, by acting as an informant for the FBI. This allowed him to get rid of competition as well as avoid arrest for a couple of decades. When the warrants were finally issued for his arrest he eluded authorities for another 16 years.

One thing that Black Mass expands on was Whitey’s relation to his brother (Benedict Cumberbatch) who was the President of the Massachusetts Senate for 18 years. What a contrast – one brother dealing drugs and running extortion rings and brutally killing anyone who crossed him and the other sibling wearing suits and signing laws into fruition.

There’s also the portrayal of corrupt federal agents vividly portrayed by Joel Edgerton and David Harbour. Kevin Bacon, Dakota Johnson, Cory Stall, Julianne Nicholson, Rory Cochrane and Peter Sarsgaard are among the supporting cast.

Black Mass spaces out the movie’s savage murders with well-paced drama beats and psychological portraits of those involved. Depp, at first unrecognizable under make-up and slicked back hair, has a stare that freezes the viewer to their soul.

— Michael Bergeron