Review: Black Mass

LJrpO When you are heading in to see Black Mass, it must be kept in mind, what you are about to witness is a group of actors not only playing out a drama, but also practicing their craft to perfection. In Scott Cooper’s exploration into the life and criminal career of Boston mob boss Whitey Bulger, he constructs a stage on which the players of this film don’t just portray their characters, they become them in what is a masterpiece of character study. Throughout Black Mass, despite shortcomings in writing and pacing, the acting is what shines through in a truly memorable experience.

The true powerhouse performances come from Johnny Depp as Bulger, Joel Edgerton as his South Boston childhood friend made adult accomplice John Connolly, and his brother Billy, played in a masterful turn by Benedict Cumberbatch. Throughout Bulger’s story, a criminal expansion across three decades that finds him continually descending into a darker and more intense version of himself, these three absolutely shine. This cadre interacts in such a way that the nature of the people they represent as well as how they coexist in their insulated criminal community comes to life on the screen. Very quickly into the movie, the viewer is drawn into these characters.

Johnny Depp must be given the most praise, however, this is truly a pinnacle moment for him despite his stellar career. Not since Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or Blow have we seen him so fully inhabit a person as he does Whitey Bulger. A dark but extremely intriguing figure whose intensity is fully embodied by Depp in every scene. While Depp has been guilty in the past of expanding his characters in a bombastic nature, here he condenses his performance to a fine, gritty, dark point. Depp has had a turn as a mobster in Public Enemies, but this role extends beyond the characteristics of a simpler mob drama into such a masterful interpretation that he draws the viewer into this desire to figure out Bulger’s impenetrable psyche.

However, Depp doesn’t excel alone, Joel Edgerton serves as a crucial lynchpin to the film. His descent from respectable FBI recruit to Bulger’s stooge is captured perfectly, all things being equal, this should propel Edgerton to a household name. One would expect a struggle between his duties as a law enforcer and his history with Bulger, but what really shines in Edgerton’s performance is the way he acts out the unwavering loyalty John Connolly felt towards Bulger. Connolly becomes enraptured in the cult of personality surrounding Bulger, an act the viewer quickly becomes complicit in.

While the acting is truly where the bulk of the enjoyment of this movie is derived from, I would be remiss if I did not mention the incredible cinematography. Masanobu Takayanagi gives us his best, the grittiness he infused into Warrior combines with the gloominess of his work in The Grey to create a truly memorable viewing experience. Presenting contrasting visions of a dreary South Boston and a vivacious South Beach, Takayanagi allows the vibrancy of the characters to be accentuated by their environment. He infuses the scenes in South Boston with the visceral feel of a grimy boot being dragged across your face, a palpable feeling that is forced upon the viewer.

While this movie is packed full of absurdly high-quality acting, it does have its flaws. Cooper’s pacing is a little off, and while it must be incredibly difficult to capture the thirty year creation of a criminal enterprise in two hours, the audience is left a little confused by the end of it all. Great periods of time pass with little information given, some passages of time are noted by year and some are just implied. This waters down the narrative and confuses the plot of an otherwise fantastic film. The quality of the acting made this much more bearable for me, but it might be a detail that will ruffle your feathers.

The only other complaint I can muster is that I am left wanting more. I want more of the remarkable interaction between Depp and Cumberbatch, I want a deeper understanding of Whitey Bulger, but most of all I want further collaboration between all the luminaries in this film. Really, every actor was at their best in what is a crash course in how to embody a character. From Kevin Bacon as FBI Special Agent Charles McGuire to Julianne Nicholson as Connolly’s wife Marianne, the performances are extraordinary. Even Adam Scott, someone usually pigeonholed to comedic roles, gives a stirring portrayal of agent Robert Fitzpatrick. Each actor participates in this magic, and while the top three billed clearly do the heavy lifting, the ensemble cast makes the movie a well-rounded acting clinic. You should make time to see this movie, its powerhouse performances are something you should not deprive yourself.

[easyreview title= "Review of Black Mass" cat1title="Bart's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.5" overall= false]

Review: Transcendence

transcendence Movies do well when they get you immersed in their world. Get you involved in their plots. Get you to care about their characters. Make you ask questions that you want answers to. Transcendence, a wannabe blockbuster that “explores” the concept of transhumanism (a real concept with a real Wikipedia entry) does none of those things. I love going to the movies for the immersion aspect of it all but I found myself looking at the audience to see how they were reacting. I never do that… but I had nothing else to entertain me while watching this.

If you’ve seen the trailers you know this film is about a scientist played by Johnny Depp having his personality uploaded into a computer as well as some weird looking effects that intrigue you and make you wonder what’s going on. If you watch the first five minutes of the film though you’ll know how it all ends. It starts in what looks like a post-apocalyptic Berkeley California which we soon are told through narration by Max, played by Paul Bettany and the only named character in this scene, that it is simply a post computer era. All tech is dead. No phones, no computer. Hell, we see a keyboard used as a door stop because it’s useless otherwise. Then we flash back five years to a time before all of this.

This is where we are introduced to Depp’s character of Will Caster, super smart dude working to create a true artificial intelligence. We also meet his wife Evelyn played by Rebecca Hall. Both super smart people speaking at a conference… where Will is shot with a radioactive bullet that poisons him. At the same time a tech company is bombed and another has their lead staff all poisoned. All done by an anti tech terrorist group led by Kate Mara of House of Cards fame. Will’s wife believes his only chance to do to him what they’ve only done with a monkey: upload his thoughts and emotions to a computer.

Now things get boring. The pacing of this film was already dragging but now that they’ve explained everything there is very little to keep you engaged. For example Will dies WELL before the AI of him is finished so you know that it’s simply a copy of him and not even remotely the real him. You know the terrorists are bad guys because they are killing people and willing to die themselves to do this stuff so you can’t empathize with them. Yet the movie makes a sad and strange attempt to ask if it’s really Will. Or if the terrorists are right all along. The answers to both are obvious. Also if you have an internet connection that takes a minute to download drivers you sure can’t upload an AI in an instant. It happens and it makes no sense. Also his CG image on the screen is always flickering and I HATE that in SciFi movies. If my Xbox can produce a CG image without constant flickering then you better believe the most advanced computer ever can!

Now it gets even MORE boring as this film slowly tells us about how electric Will amasses power, builds a base in the dessert and begins healing people and creating nanotech to do so. All with the real world help of his wife and all the money ever as he hacks bank accounts everywhere. What he’s doing short term is a bit creepy but his long term is done with the best intentions. However the government teams up with the terrorists to take him down without really talking to him about anything. There’s a brief moments of violence for no reason other than to make sure you know it’s a summer film and then the movie is over. However don't expect any surprises of any kind. Nothing happens that isn't explained before hand. Nothing comes up that isn't given a reason. It's like being spoon fed the entire bland plot of the film so you expect everything that happens and none of it is especially interesting to watch happen.

I’m having a hard time even writing about it. I just… don’t care about what I saw. If I were home watching this on Netflix I’d get up and wonder off and ask my girlfriend how it ended. She would have turned it off so I would have to look it up on Wikipedia. This is the worst kind of movie there is. It’s not terrible in the way that Hercules film was so awful. Hell, we’re gonna watch that on DVD and laugh at it. No, it’s terrible in that there was simple no reason to watch this. Some decent effects and ok acting were all this movie had. The sets were bland, the plot was hack and the characters may as well have been talking set pieces. Don’t watch this movie, people. Don’t even rent it as you have better things to do with your time. Read a book, go outside or even take a nap. Just don’t bother with this.

[easyreview title= "Review of Transcendence" cat1title="Rob's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="1.0" overall= false]