Check out My Ignite Baltimore 17 Talk, Entitled “Cinnovation: Major Milestones in Movie History”

After a hiatus of over 2 years, I spoke once more at Ignite Baltimore.

Here is my talk:

Please check out my previous three talks, as well as those of the other great speakers who have presented just recently and in the past.


“The Martian” Is a Great Space Western for Our Time


The Martian (Ridley Scott, 2015)

It’s another beautiful day on Mars, our closest planetary neighbor. As far as the eye can see stretches a reddish landscape reminiscent of Monument Valley in the great Westerns of John Ford. Given how science-fiction films supplanted the Western almost 40 years ago, with the release of Star Wars (a process that Western author John Jakes eloquently describes in his introduction to the anthology A Century of Great Western Stories), there is something plaintively beautiful about these vistas. As the film progresses, our lone hero stranded in a hostile environment, riding through the dusty desert in his dune-buggy rover, the elegiac power of the images stems from this simultaneous invocation of past and future, combined.

Who is this man, lost on the 4th rock from the sun? It’s Mark Watney, played with wry humor and physical grit by Matt Damon (The Bourne Identity). As the film opens, he and the other members of his six-person interplanetary crew are on “sol 18” of a planned month-long stay on Mars (a sol is a Mars solar day, 3% shorter than an Earth day). Into the raw majesty of their work site comes a sudden violent dust storm, and their commander calls to abort the mission, lest their MAV (Mars Ascent Vehicle) tip over, leaving them with no way to reach their orbiting spaceship for the return journey. As they make their way through the whirling clouds of particulate matter, a loose satellite disc strikes Watney, pierces his EVA suit and sends him spiraling into the dark. Search as they might, his colleagues can’t find him, and with the MAV about to topple and Watney’s on-suit vital-sign reader registering a zero, they leave the surface, abandoning what they think is Watney’s corpse.

But he is not dead, and once the storm passes, he regains consciousness and makes his way back to the Hab (or Habitat Station). In a gruesome scene of self-stitching, Watney is able to clean and close the wound in his side. That’s all good, but it doesn’t take long for him to realize that, alive though he may be, he’s alone on a planet 54.6 million kilometers from Earth, with limited rations and no way of communicating with NASA. Fortunately, he’s a man of great scientific ingenuity (as we would hope an astronaut would be). As he says in the video log he keeps, he’s going to have to “science the sh** out of this.” And that he does.

Based on the bestselling book of the same title by Andy Weir, the movie is a brisk adaptation (even at 140 minutes, which go by quickly) of what was already a brisk novel. The screenplay is by Drew Goddard, the showrunner of Netflix’s “Daredevil” (and one of the credited writers on World War Z), and it doesn’t waste a lot of time with elements that don’t advance the narrative. This is a classic “man with a problem” story, and since that problem is of rather epic proportions, in a world we haven’t seen before, every physical detail feels fresh. Directed by Ridley Scott – whose 1979 Alien is still one of the best films about space exploration to date – the movie is a marvel of an action thriller in which there isn’t a whole lot of action. There are the occasional explosions, and a final sequence worthy of the best parts of Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, but the real “action” – and real hero of the film – is the science. It’s wonderful to see a movie in which nerds are celebrated.

Watney may be far from home, but he is not, ultimately, alone. Once NASA figures out he is alive, they get on the case, sometimes effectively, sometimes not. Though it may be mostly Damon’s movie, it’s also a nice ensemble piece, as we cut back and forth between Watney, the folks on Earth working to save him, and the crew on their way back from Mars. Not only does the film celebrate scientists, it also celebrates gender and racial diversity (as much as a Hollywood film can), even making a few changes to the source text to allow the mission commander played by Jessica Chastain (Interstellar) her own heroic moment. Other noteworthy performances include Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), Michael Peña (Ant-Man), Kate Mara (Fantastic Four), Donald Glover (Magic Mike XXL) and Jeff Daniels (“The Newsroom“), among others. The dramatic stakes are high, as is the tension, but the film never loses site of the fact that it is here to entertain, and that it does, marvelously. Even if – in strictly narrative terms – no one goes through great character development, there is more than enough conflict and resolution to satisfy even the strictest adherents of Aristotelian three-act structure.

It’s nice to see Ridley Scott in such fine creative fettle once more. After the one-two miserable punch of The Counselor and Exodus: Gods and Kings, I was getting worried. Shooting in 3D – a format not strictly necessary for this story, but one that adds to the majesty of the images – he has created a visually stunning work that marries science and fiction in the best possible way. A lot of reviewers have already expressed the hope that the film could reinvigorate interest in space exploration. Here’s hoping.

“Sicario” Starts Strong, but the Deeper We Go, the Dumber It Gets


Sicario (Denis Villeneuve, 2015)

Sicario opens with a text-on-screen definition of its title, explaining the word’s Latin roots and current, Latin American meaning: a hitman. All the time, we hear a low bass beat that, to me, at first, sounded annoyingly like music from the theater next door. It’s persistent and grating, and then suddenly we are in the bright sunlight of Arizona, along for the ride as an FBI squad prepares to take down some drug dealers. They burst into a generic house, exchange gunfire, and then, once the dust settles, discover, within the walls of that house, the stuff of nightmares. Our guide throughout this tight, masterful adrenaline-fueled sequence is Kate Macer, the leader of the federal team, and tough as she is, even she can’t comprehend the horrors they discover. The guys they’re dealing with make Gus Fring in “Breaking Bad” look like an amateur.

So far, so terrifying. Kate is played by the terrific English actress (and new American citizen) Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow), who, ever since The Young Victoria, in 2009, has proven, time and again, that she is worthy of our undivided attention when on screen. Here her character holds all of the promise of her earlier dynamic roles: she’s smart, fearless, and extremely capable. She’s also driven by a powerful internal force to catch the men creating havoc in her border town.

But then the movie gets in the way, and we lose sight of the great qualities of Blunt, the actress, and Kate, the FBI agent. I’ve seen two previous films by Denis Villeneuve: Incendies and Prisoners. I found the former to be a brilliant meditation on the cycle of violence in the Middle East; the latter attempted to be a film about the cycle of violence within each of us, but ended up just being an exercise in violence. Villeneuve has bold ideas, and is a fine visualist, but sometimes cannot control his impulses towards quasi-torture porn. Sadly, here we are more in the territory of Prisoners than Incendies.

That is not to say that the film has nothing going for it. Shortly after that terrific opening, Kate is recruited by a shadowy upper-government organization, headed by the always watchable Josh Brolin (starring right now in Everest, as well), and before long finds herself across the border, in Mexico, on the Bridge of the Americas with her new team, bringing a drug lord back into the United States for questioning. She doesn’t know why she’s there or what she’s supposed to do. But when all hell breaks loose – in another solid bit of mise-en-scène – she acts, saving herself and at least one other member of the group, Alejandro – a man of mysterious origin – played by Benicio Del Toro (Savages) with initial gravitas and wit that, sadly, evaporates later in the movie.

We have a great setup: idealistic young agent, recruited to catch the “real bad guys,” finds herself asked to commit acts she deems illegal. Will she sell her soul for the higher purpose (as it’s put to her)? Will that be the central conflict, the war within herself? That would have been interesting. Instead, what we get for two hours is Kate’s constant naïveté about the nature of the work that governments do to fight crime. She is shocked – SHOCKED – to find lawbreaking here. And shocked again. And again! To which I answer: really? What a bore you are. Instead, then, of an evenly matched duel between her and Alejandro (who turns out to have very specific motivations of his own), we get a rabbit facing off against a tiger. No contest. And very little drama. Such initial promised squandered.

“Sleeping with Other People” Flirts with Tropes from Better Movies

Sleeping with Other People

Sleeping with Other People (Leslye Headland, 2015)

Alison Brie (Trudy Campbell on “Mad Men“) and Jason Sudeikis (lots of characters on “Saturday Night Live,” since 2003) are both such likable performers with natural chemistry – with the audience and with each other – that it seems a shame they don’t have a better movie in which to flaunt their charisma. They play Lainey and Jake, two thirty-somethings who first meet in college and then run into each other – after years of no contact – outside of a sex addict 12-step meeting. Since they lost their respective virginities to each other, it’s meant to be an especially poignant and/or ironic encounter. It’s neither, really, but forms an excuse for them to become friends again, which they do with the caveat that they will not sleep together, since, you know, sex ruins things. The problem is that they are so obviously meant to be together – and even they know it – that the conceit of their abstinence (from each other, since they still have sex with others) makes very little sense. I am hardly the first person to notice the overt resemblance to Rob Reiner’s 1989 When Harry Met Sally, but it bears mentioning again, if only to note that it is possible to make people avoid commitment and have it seem natural. You just need an interesting (and witty) script to pull it off.

That’s not to say that writer/director Leslye Headland (Bachelorette) has no talent for sketch comedy – some of the individual scenes work – but rather that the movie, overall, falls flat. Headland seems to want to reinvent the romantic-comedy genre with her in-your-face raunchiness, but never pulls off more than a weak imitation of better movies. More disturbingly – for me – this is the second film directed by a woman I have seen, in as many weeks, which spends as much time trafficking in the worst stereotypes about male-female dynamics as ostensibly attempting to subvert them (the first was The Intern). Jake is a classic womanizer – and chicks sure do dig him! – while Lainey is hung up on the one guy who consistently ignores her, a gynecologist (really?) played by Adam Scott (wearing the same unappealing mustache he sported a few weeks ago in Black Mass). Jake never talks about his feelings; Lainey cries a lot. There is one very sweet scene between the two protagonists, in which Jake is finally able to express why he is so afraid to sleep with Lainey, but it exists in its own bubble, outside of the world of the rest of the movie.

Perhaps the best part of the film – again going back to Headland’s apparent talent for sketch writing – are the scenes that involve Jake’s business partner/only friend Xander, played by a very funny Jason Mantzoukas (Neighbors), and Xander’s wife, Naomi, played by the equally hilarious Andrea Savage (Ivanka Silversan on “The Hotwives of Las Vegas“). In their moments together, we sense a wonderfully quirky shared history that gives us the character development so sorely lacking in the two leads. Theirs is the clever take on romance that this movie’s premise promises.

A final, special note to filmmakers everywhere:

  1. Slo-mo is not a shortcut for dramatic tension
  2. Taking drugs in a movie is not funny for its own sake
  3. A man teaching a woman how to orgasm is, well, kind of insulting to women, no? Then again, here I am, a man, lecturing female directors on their portrayal of women, so … maybe not.

In “The Walk,” Gordon-Levitt’s Manic Pixie Gallic Guy Cannot Ruin the Majesty of Zemeckis’ 3D High-Wire Thrills


The Walk (Robert Zemeckis, 2015)

Have you seen James Marsh’s Oscar-winning documentary, Man on Wire (2008)? It tells the story of famed French tightrope walker Philippe Petit, who, in August 1974, hung – somehow – a solid wire between the (at that time) almost-completed World Trade Center towers in lower Manhattan and then, for almost 45 minutes, performed the impossibly dangerous feat of walking back and forth along its length. That film was a marvel of cinematic portraiture and historical journalism, giving us the incredible details of the caper-like plotting that allowed Petit and his cohorts to pull off their coup, and allowing us great insight into the mind of the man who would risk his life for such a stunt. What that film couldn’t do was recreate the thrill of the actual walk along the tightrope, though I hardly noticed the lack, so caught up was I in the intrigue.

And now along comes Robert Zemeckis (Back to the FutureForrest GumpContactCastawayFlight) – entertainer and technological pioneer – with his own dramatized telling of the same story. Zemeckis is not always the subtlest of filmmakers – his beats are often heavy – but he believes in cinematic spectacle, and this new film delivers the goods … on that end. Filmed in IMAX and 3D (at the screening I attended, it was just in 3D, with no IMAX), the movie is a testament to the power of the moving-image medium to transport us to great heights of narrative grandeur. In this case, those heights are, in fact, literal.

Where the film (mostly) fails is in its initial one-hour set up of the actual climb. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Premium Rush) plays Petit, and when we first meet him, he is standing on a platform at the top of the Statue of Liberty, looking over the Hudson River at the Twin Towers. It is from this vantage point that Petit narrates the film with French-accented expositional commentary to tell us, time and again, what we are already seeing on screen. As you can no doubt tell, I find this device irritating, as I do Gordon-Levitt’s Manic Pixie Gallic Guy. The secondary characters (including Charlotte Le Bon, of The Hundred-Foot Journey, and Ben Kingsley, of well, everything) – so richly drawn in Marsh’s documentary – are there (barely) to support Zemeckis’ vision of the mercurial artist at work. Although, even then, we hardly get to know the man, Petit, himself. Fortunately, Gordon-Levitt is a charismatic enough performer that he can hold your attention, accent and all, with nary a screenplay to back him up.

Despite these problems, what happens once we arrive in New York for the main event makes up for (almost) all of these defects. Not only does Petit soar over the cityscape; so, too, does the film. I have not heretofore suffered from excessive vertigo, yet I was on the edge of my seat for much of the second hour, sometimes scarcely able to look at the screen. What Zemeckis, cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (Prometheus) and the visual effects team have accomplished is simply a wonder. Without a single gunshot or violent act, the filmmakers have created one of the most visceral cinematic experiences of the year. I can only imagine what the movie feels like in IMAX, but I don’t know if I could survived that additional level of filmic envelopment. So I recommend it, but with the caveat that it is not for the vertiginous and/or faint of heart, or for those who cannot forgive its weaker first half.

10/2/15: Midday on Space Exploration at the Movies (and TV)

[Missed the show? Check out the podcast!]

Rodricks Space Exploration Collage

Since the early 1950s, as the Cold War truly got under way and the rocket race heated up, the filmmakers of Hollywood – first in film, and then on TV – began to imagine what space exploration might look like. After all, if new telescopes could see far into the galactic heavens and we could launch missiles high into the sky, it hardly seemed far-fetched to predict that we would one day walk on the moon. Though populations world-wide were terrified of atomic bombs and worried about the nuclear arsenals built up by the Soviet Union and United States, it was, in fact, the competition between those two superpowers that motivated their respective governments to put money and intellectual resources into their space programs, hoping to be the first to send a man beyond earth’s orbit. The Soviets reached space first – with Yuri Gagarin – but the Americans were the first to set foot on the moon – with Neil Armstrong. All the while, Hollywood kept making their own cinematic versions of space travel, from Destination Moon (1950) to Forbidden Planet (1956) to the 1960s TV series Lost in Space and Star Trek to Stanley Kubrick’s seminal sci-fi masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the 1970s, with new special-effects technology, the look of space exploration changed, with films like Star Wars (1977) and Alien (1979), which posited a universe (past and future) where space travel was the norm and ordinary folks took it for granted. Where Star Trek had imagined space as an exciting “final frontier,” Alien held out the possibility that life on other planets might destroy us.

Some movies have tried to focus on the science – rather than the science fiction – of space exploration, among them Apollo 13 (1995), Gravity (2013), and Interstellar (2014) (sort of). Whatever one thinks of any of these films, we can all agree that we have come a long way since French filmmaker Georges Méliès first put space travel on the silver screen in his 1902 short film A Trip to the Moon. And now, on Friday, October 2, 2015, we have a new film, The Martian, from Ridley Scott (director of Alien). Where will it fall on the spectrum of movies about space? Join us on that Friday, at 1pm, on WYPR 88.1 FM, for the Midday with Dan Rodricks show, when Christopher Llewellyn Reed (that’s me) – Chair and Professor, Department of Film/Video, Stevenson University – and  William U’Ren – Assistant Professor, English, Goucher College – will discuss Hollywood’s depiction of space travel, in film and TV. Note that we will only be discussing films that deal with humans traveling into space, and not aliens coming to earth.

Add your voices to the conversation via email ( or phone (410-662-8780 locally, or toll-free at 1-866-661-9309). If you can’t listen locally, you can live-stream the podcast here: If you can’t listen live, then check out the podcast later by visiting the show’s site. You can also leave your thoughts on your favorite space-travel films and TV shows in the comment section of this blog.

Enjoy the show! This will actually be the last one that Dan Rodricks will do as host of Midday, as he is moving on to other projects. So join us to say goodbye, at the very least!

In “The Intern,” Nancy Meyers Asks, Once More, What Women Want. The Answer, Yet Again, Is … a Man


The Intern (Nancy Meyers, 2015)

Ah, Nancy! For years now (in films like What Women WantThe Holiday and It’s Complicated), you have been writing and directing films that put women front and center – professional women, with impressive credentials! – only to undermine the power of that image with a strange brand of (unintentional?) misogyny. On the surface, your films look, at first, like feminist confections, but then you always end up trafficking in the worst kind of feminine stereotypes. No matter what their strengths and achievements, your protagonists are inevitably emotional, irrational, and in need of a man to make things right. Even a career woman needs love, no matter what the cost, you always remind us. At least in Something’s Gotta Give – my favorite of yours – you bring the man down a peg as much as the woman. How broadminded of you …

In The Intern, Meyers turns things around (a bit), taking the perfect man and turning him into good ole Dad – or, at least, a father figure – in the form of Robert De Niro, who once wowed the world with his kinetic energy in films like Taxi Driver, and now spends his time mugging for the camera in films like Last Vegas (and The Intern). De Niro plays 70-ish Ben, who was once an executive at a phonebook (remember those?) company and is now a retired widower in need of something to fill his days. When he sees a flyer advertising a “senior intern” program at a local (Brooklyn, NY) e-commerce company, he jumps at the chance to apply, just to have something to do. The movie opens with Ben recording his application video, intercut with a montage of his present-day life, which includes a trip to San Francisco to see his son and grandchildren and, back home, an awkward exchange with a local widow – played by a very funny, if under-utilized, Linda Lavin (of “Alice” fame) – who has her own plan for how to cure Ben’s loneliness. Lo and behold, the company – an internet fashion retailer called “About the Fit” – calls Ben in, and he gets the gig. If it all seems a bit easy, it is, helped along by the usual easy-listening soundtrack of composer Theodore Shapiro (We’re the Millers). Still, De Niro, hamminess aside, is pleasant enough to watch, and there are a few gags that score.

So what is a “senior intern” to do? Well, no one knows, really, least of all the founder and CEO of the company, 30-ish Jules – played by Anne Hathaway (Interstellar) with her usual spunk – but Ben is assigned to her, anyway. She ignores him, until Ben makes himself so indispensable to the entire office (he’s that just that kind of guy) that she just has to take notice, and before long he is driving her to and from work, watching her kid, and spending time in her (amazing) Brooklyn brownstone with house-husband (sorry, “stay-at-home dad,” as Jules corrects Ben) Matt – a very forgettable Anders Holm (Unexpected). And why does Jules – successful internet mogul that she is – need and respond to this new older masculine presence? Well, it turns out that all is not perfect at home or at work: she never sees hubby, and when she does, they’re both too tired to talk or get it on; she can’t spend even the minimal time with her daughter that she should; and her investors think she should take on a “real” (male) CEO to allow her to work less and focus on the company’s vision. Since what we see on the screen kind of supports these facts and assessments of her performance (maybe not the male CEO part), it’s hard not to agree that, yes, she needs help. And with Ben so competent, he’s just the fellow to save the day.

It’s all relatively harmless, and occasionally touching and funny, but all to often it’s just a little regressive for my taste. Ben even finds a more appropriate – for Meyers’ taste – love interest in the form of the beautiful office masseuse played by Rene Russo (Nightcrawler), charming as ever, and, of course, 11 years younger than Ben (Lavin’s character is just too old and pushy). If the film were 30 minutes shorter and with all of the exposition cut out – Ben to Jules, “You can do it on your own” – it might be more watchable and I might forgive it its faults in the breezy rush to the finish line. But so often, it’s a bit of a slog. Then again, if you’ve loved every other Nancy Meyers film, then you might be used to her aesthetic and not mind any of it. If so, then go see it in the full confidence that the director is true to her own legacy.

“Everest” Thrills with 3D Vistas but Bores with 2D Characters


Everest (Baltasar Kormákur, 2015)

Back in 1996, an IMAX crew filmed sequences on and around Mt. Everest for a 44-minute documentary, released in 1998 – entitled Everest – that profiled a successful climbing expedition to the top (and back) of the world’s highest peak. You may have seen that film at the time, as it traveled far and wide to most science museums and IMAX theaters. This is not that movie (though it was also filmed with IMAX cameras). True, they share the same main subject and title, but only one of them gets the human story right. This is also not that movie.

Filmed in 3D (because IMAX is not enough), 2015’s Everest – from Icelandic action director Baltasar Kormákur (2 Guns) – does do some things very well. Based on the ill-fated expedition about which Jon Krakauer wrote in his nonfiction bestseller Into Thin Air, the new movie dramatizes, in harrowing detail, the brutal conditions on the mountain. The wide vistas and three-dimensional depth of the frame serve this part of the story perfectly. We feel the cold blasts of wind in a particularly visceral way, and marvel that anyone would attempt the ascent. The film also presents a compelling case for the dangers of commercializing extreme sports: according to its narrative, people died, at least in part, because excess competition to make it to the peak during optimal weather led experienced guides to make poor decisions. Again, the screen format is the ideal choice for this topic, since a crowded IMAX frame feels very full, indeed.

Unfortunately, the elements with which we do not engage, dramatically, are the people. There is a very large ensemble cast – including Jason Clarke (Terminator Genisys), Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice), John Hawkes (The Sessions), Michael Kelly (Doug Stamper on “House of Cards“) and Keira Knightley (Begin Again), among others – and none of them are allowed enough screen time to anchor the story. Yes, people die, and death is tragic, but at the end of this particular movie, I was left wondering why I should care that much about the fate of (mostly) wealthy people who chose to voluntarily climb Everest because of the very dangers (for the adrenaline rush that comes with risking one’s life) that led some of them to die. No, I’m not a cold fish (though I felt chilled to the bone watching the film), but I am someone who demands three-dimensional, interesting people about whom to care. Shooting in 3D is not the same was writing in 3D.

By no means is Everest a total loss. The cinematography is stunning, and the movie thrills in many parts. It’s just not particularly memorable beyond that.

In Uneven but Entertaining “Black Mass,” Johnny Depp’s Makeup Team Deserves the Award

Black Mass

Black Mass (Scott Cooper, 2015)

In 2014, documentary director Joe Berlinger (Under African Skies) released a movie about the notorious Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, entitled Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger. I saw it at the Maryland Film Festival that year, and found it to be both a comprehensive look at the life of a career criminal and utterly riveting. Made while Bulger was on trial, in 2013 (he was captured in 2011 after 15 years on the run), and finished after he was sentenced, the film used first-hand accounts of accomplices, victims and witnesses to tell the chilling tale of a brutal psychopath’s rise and fall. We never saw Bulger, but did hear his voice from the courthouse tapes. You know what his main concern was? To make sure that no one thought him a “rat” (he was on file as a former FBI informant). Murderer? No problem. But not a rat. Chilling, indeed.

In 2015, narrative (fiction) director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) has released a new movie, also about Bulger, in which we see the man quite a bit. Only here he’s played by Johnny Depp (The Lone Ranger), who is so physically transformed that many news outlets have been calling him “unrecognizable.” I would agree with that statement. Both his makeup artist and dialect coach deserve an award (as do his blue contact lenses). Whether or not the actor, himself, turns in a particularly memorable performance is up for debate. I enjoyed watching Depp – but then, I always do, as the man has had, has, and probably always will have, a commanding screen presence – but I did not find his characterization of the man he plays especially nuanced. He’s a violent creep who can turn on the charm when he wants to (which isn’t that often), but who never has much to say that isn’t a threat (direct, veiled or otherwise).

His FBI handler, John Connolly, however – played by Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby) – can’t stop talking. Connolly grew up with the Bulger boys, both Whitey and his younger brother Billy – played by Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) – who, for many years, was the most powerful politician in Massachusetts, and as Black Mass begins Connolly is freshly returned to Boston and looking for a way to make a name for himself by taking down the Italian mafia that runs the North End neighborhood of the city. Whitey – a childhood nickname, but he prefers Jimmy – a former convict with time in Leavenworth and Alcatraz behind him, is moving up in the Irish-dominated Winter Hill Gang. Connolly makes a pitch to his superiors that they can use Jimmy Bulger as an informant against the Italians and thereby “clean up the city.” Unfortunately, this arrangement works primarily in Bulger’s favor, as, for many years, he does what he likes, when he likes, under the protection of the FBI. It’s a sweet deal for a very sour man.

Most of the folks involved in the film are professionals – Kevin Bacon (X-Men: First Class), Adam Scott (The Overnight), Peter Sarsgaard (Blue Jasmine) and even (a very good) Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey), among them – and deliver adequate to fine performances. The film looks great: cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi (Silver Linings Playbook) knows when to keep the images light and when to make them go very dark. But at the script level, there’s a big gaping three-pointed knife wound at the center of the story:

  1. Who is Bulger and why does he do what he do?
  2. Why would anyone in the FBI take Connolly seriously, since he is so obviously in bed (though not literally) with Bulger?
  3. What does Billy really think about his brother, since their fates are intertwined?

All of that said, the film is frequently entertaining – if grim – and if you like your mob violence in your face, you’ll get it here. If you want a truly mesmerizing account of Jimmy Bulger’s life, however, you’re in the wrong place. For that, there’s always Berlinger’s documentary.

First Episode of 2015-2016 Season of “Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed” Is Now Available

Dragon Digital Media Reel Talk September 2015

Christopher Llewellyn Reed, “Reel Talk” host, w/ Denise Kitashima Dutton, first guest of the new season.

The first episode of the 2015-2016 season of Dragon Digital Media‘s Reel Talk (the fourth season, overall, and the second season of Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed) is now available. My guest this time was Denise Kitashima Dutton, otherwise known as Atomic Fan Girl. We reviewed three films of the late summer: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Straight Outta Compton and The Diary of a Teenage Girl. In Howard County, Maryland, you can watch the episode on Channel 41 (if you’re a Verizon customer) or Channel 96 (if you’re a Comcast customer), and you can watch it online from anywhere.

As always, the amazing Dragon Digital Media team did a fantastic job putting this together, especially producer Karen Vadnais and director Danielle Maloney. Our next episode will premiere in November. Until then, if you want to watch more of our work, you can check out last year’s episodes in full – Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, Episode 4, Episode 5, Episode 6 – or watch the various segments from each episode on our YouTube channel. Enjoy! And we’ll see you at the movies!