OPENING THIS WEEK
Johnny Depp unbuckles the swash and returns to serious acting in this often powerful but ultimately unfulfilled real-life crime drama that aspires to operatic proportions but settles for heavy metal. The story of James “Whitey” Bulger (Depp), the sociopathic crime boss who ruled South Boston with a murderous hand until he went on the lam in the mid-‘90s, hits impressive high notes, but leaves underdone some crucial elements, as it plows through a gallery of brutal murders and other crimes. Bulger’s childhood pal John Connolly (an excellent Joel Edgerton, The Gift), up from the same Southie neighborhood as Whitey, works another side of the street as an FBI agent who starts with good intentions but gets sucked into a bottomless moral compromise. The movie looks great, and is beautifully acted, shot, and edited. What it lacks is that sense of dimension to make us really care. Rated R. 122 minutes. Regal Stadium 14; Violet Crown; DreamCatcher. (Jonathan Richards)
THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION
Stanley Nelson’s documentary about the Black Panthers’ formation in 1967 is especially timely as we find ourselves in a new wave of racial tension and activism with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, formed — like the Panthers — in opposition to police violence. Former members tell the story of the movement’s rise and fall, which was both militarized with guns and dedicated to social progress through free breakfast programs and medical clinics. They recount harassment their families endured for their activism as well as the big personalities of the leaders, and sexism within the organization. With written documentation flashing on the screen, retired Oakland police officers discuss how the organization was targeted by law enforcement agencies and the FBI. A panel discussion with former Panther Aaron Dixon and Jeff Haas, Fred Hampton’s lawyer, follows the 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20, screening. Not rated. 113 minutes. Center for Contemporary Arts. (Jennifer Levin)
The latest entry in the suddenly crowded genre of faith-based movies is this thriller starring Kate Mara as a woman who is going through a rough patch. When a killer (David Oyelowo, Selma) on the run takes her hostage, they read the devotional book The Purpose-Driven Life together and learn how to heal, grow, and find forgiveness through God. Based on the true story of Ashley Smith’s hostage ordeal in Atlanta in 2005.
Rated PG-13. 97 minutes. Regal Stadium 14. (Not reviewed)
Rated R. 79 minutes. Violet Crown. See review, Page 50.
A HARD DAY
Go Gun-soo (Lee Sun-kyun) is a detective whose day starts out badly and only gets worse. He has just committed a homicide, by accident, on route to his mother’s funeral, so he hides the body in his mother’s coffin. At work, he’s under pressure because his corrupt unit is under investigation. To make matters worse, he starts receiving phone calls from an alleged witness to the morning’s accident from someone who’s trying to blackmail him. Director Kim Seonghun’s morbidly comic thriller casts its protagonist into one tight spot after another as he navigates South Korea’s criminal underworld while juggling his own troubles and staying alive. But he’s no good cop on a mission. If anything, A Hard Day is about bad cops and worse cops, and it’s as unrelenting as it is fun as it hurtles toward a showdown between Gun-soo and his nemesis. Not rated. 111 minutes. In Korean with subtitles. The Screen. (Michael Abatemarco)
MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS
At the end of the 2014 film The Maze Runner (based on the first book in a popular young-adult series), the kids escape the maze. So what can they possibly do for a sequel? This time, they must navigate the Scorch, a dangerous, decrepit, desert city — the movie was shot primarily in Albuquerque — and fight the oppressive organization WCKD. Rated PG-13. 131 minutes. Regal Stadium 14; Violet Crown; DreamCatcher. (Not reviewed)
QUEEN OF EARTH
Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men) and Katherine Waterston (Inherent Vice) play two friends who vacation at a lake house together, despite their having grown apart. This narrative could be told in many different ways, but writer and director Alex Ross Perry (Listen Up Philip) frames it as a horror story, with a moody score drifting darkly across the characters’ surreal and occasionally shocking behavior. The movie doesn’t stray from this tone, which can make it difficult to watch, but the filmmaking and acting shows quite a lot of skill. Not rated.
90 minutes. Jean Cocteau Cinema. (Robert Ker)
TEN THOUSAND SAINTS
Rated R. 113 minutes. The Screen. See review, Page 52.
Power to the people: Bobby Seale, left, and Huey P. Newton in Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, at Center for Contemporary Arts