This Week at the Movies: ‘Black Mass,’ ‘Maze Runner’

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It’s mid-September, and movie are getting very serious. There are some heavy hitters among this week’s releases, tackling important subjects and historical figures, and the results vary wildly, from impressive to middling to comically inept. Here’s your weekly guide to what’s what:

  • Scott Cooper’s “Whitey” Bulger drama Black Mass showcases an absorbing, alive Johnny Depp performance, a notion that we were starting to give up on. But the movie around him isn’t nearly as dazzling, hampered by a boilerplate screenplay, uneven supporting performances, and too many echoes of other, better movies. Read our review here. (In wide release.)
  • Among the week’s, um, less serious efforts (but the one that will probably make more money than all the rest, combined) is Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, yet another dystopian YA franchise with nothing to offer other than a beat-by-beat reconstruction of books for readers already more than familiar with its story. It’s an audiobook for the eyes, says our own Michael Epstein; read his review here. (In wide release)
  • Pawn Sacrifice is a Troubled White Male Genius biopic so poorly executed and hilariously clichéd, it only works if you approach it as some sort of Airplane or Mel Brooks-style spoof of the entire subgenre. So that’s what we did. (In limited release.)
  • The New Girlfriend finds the great, provocative French filmmaker François Ozon bringing his customary questions of identity and desire into a particularly timely tale of trans identification and acceptance — with the kind of effortless grace something like The Danish Girl could only hope for. Read our review here. (In limited release.)
  • Amy Berg’s harrowing documentary Prophet’s Prey spotlights the FLDS, the fundamentalist sect of the Church of Latter Day Saints, led by polygamist, child molester, and “prophet” Warren Jeffs. Drawing extensively on not only testimony from escaped survivors but Jeffs’ own disturbing recordings and videos, this is a tale of “obedience” and belief that will get under your skin, and stay there. Here’s what we wrote about it at Sundance. (In limited release, in advance of airings on Showtime next month.)
  • And finally, the week’s best new film is Sicario, Denis Villeneuve’s masterful examination on the irreparably broken system that “fights” (yet keeps alive) the War on Drugs. Told through the eyes (often literally) of an idealistic FBI agent (Emily Blunt, fabulous as usual) drafted for an inter-agency task force to take down a border cartel, it’s a tense and powerful piece of work that will leave you both exhilarated and hopeless. Here’s our review; TIFF correspondent Noah Gittell also had kind words for it (particularly in relation to other political films in the festival) here. (In wide release.)