by Tony Johnson 09.22.2015 70 days ago
at 02:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
black mass

Spoonful of Cinema: Black Mass

My movie weekend started at 7 p.m. Friday night, when I went and saw Black Mass, the true-crime expose of the Boston crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger. The picture stars Johnny Depp as the murderous, opportunistic kingpin, while Joel Edgerton portrays fellow South-Bostonian and conspirator, FBI agent John Connolly. It’s a somewhat typical, mostly entertaining look at one of America’s most notorious most-wanted criminals of the time. Black Mass has a few things going for it. First of all, Depp is in good form as “Whitey” Bulger. He commits cold-blooded murder to solve any inconvenience along the way to ruling Boston’s scummy criminal underworld. Depp’s Bulger is a methodical, cunning and careful small-time mobster who takes every opportunity granted to propel himself to the big leagues of the black market. We get a particularly riveting piece of the character’s psyche when he explains the ethics of punching people in the face to his elementary school-aged son. “It’s not what you do”, he tells the boy. “It’s when and where you do it and who you do it to or with. If nobody sees it,” Bulger reassures his son, “didn’t happen.” Along the way, we get solid work from an impressive cast. Supporters Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Jesse Plemons, Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott and Corey Stoll all come along to fight the fight that sees the eventual downfall of Bulger’s Winter Hill Gang. It’s a tense cat-and-mouse game throughout, but we only get short glimpses of the damage done. The crime drama covers roughly seven years in just over two hours, and director Scott Cooper takes on the difficult task of packing such a long period into 122 minutes. It’s a movie with fundamental flaws in its nature. A highly calculated, brutal and bloody war unfolds on the streets of Boston. But it all happens so fast, and some moments and spaces that Agent Connolly, “Whitey” Bulger and their respective peers occupy feel more intriguing than others. It left me wishing that the story had something to say about itself, and didn’t just serve as a series of glimpses into the acts of a real-life villain. Interestingly enough, the real James “Whitey” Bulger has denounced what he’s heard of Black Mass and Depp’s portrayal of him. Former member of the Winter Hill Gang Kevin Weeks claims that what we have on our hands is pure “fantasy.” It seems strange that the makers of a true crime story about “Whitey” Bulger would veer from the facts and into the realm of exaggeration when a movie already exists that does just that. I’m talking about Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. Not even 10 years old, the Academy Award-winning movie was a loose interpretation of “Whitey” Bulger’s eventual end. Perhaps if The Departed had not been released, Black Mass would be more worthwhile. But the new, supposedly more genuine representation felt hesitant, as if trying to straddle the line between fact and fiction while propelling us a month-per-minute through the timeline. Essentially, Black Mass is a shadow to both Bulger’s true story and The Departed’s artistic falsehoods. It feels aimless despite its grit, its guts and its star, and I think that to some degree there is a good movie hiding somewhere within this Mass. Grade: C-
by John Hamilton 01.15.2015
at 01:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Forgotten Classics: Ed Wood

Reviewing lesser-known films that stand the test of time

Last year, director Tim Burton released a film that many are considering his strongest film in a while — Big Eyes. It follows the story of the artist Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) her husband Walter (Christoph Waltz) and the scandal of Walter taking credit for Margaret’s famous ‘big eyes’ portraits. While the film itself is by no means perfect, I will say it is pretty good and it is awesome to see Burton do this type of film again. I remember hearing about this film early in 2014 and getting excited about it. For starters, it was a Burton movie that didn’t star Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, and it wasn’t a reimagining of anything (like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Sweeney Todd). But the defining factor that made me excited was the screenwriters, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. These two were responsible for writing what I think is Tim Burton’s best movie, Ed Wood. Sadly, it seems a lot of people aren’t aware of this film’s existence, which amazes me considering how big Tim Burton’s fan base is. Shot gloriously in black-and-white, Ed Wood tells the tale of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (Johnny Depp), who has been called by many the worst movie director of all time. And given how his resume consists of movies like Glen or Glenda, Bride of the Monster and the movie that has been labeled as one of the worst movies of all time — Plan 9 from Outer Space — it’s easy to see why he was given that honor. While this film does take jabs at the guy and his movies, it doesn’t beat him up or make him look pathetic; by the end of the film, you’ll be rooting for him and feel slightly motivated. Like a lot of biopics, this movie does take some liberties with real-life events. The script just focuses on the production of the three aforementioned films and nothing else. It portrays some of the people involved in a unpleasant light, the worst being Woods’ girlfriend and future songwriter Dolores Fuller (Sarah Jessica Parker). But I’m more than willing to ignore that, mainly due to what the story wants to do. This story is of a guy who keeps being told he shouldn’t make movies. People are constantly telling him his movie are terrible — at one point someone literally tells him that Bride of the Monsters is the worst film he’s ever scene. But Eddie keeps going. That’s what makes the film so strong: You cheer for Ed because, at one point or another, we have all felt like him before — especially those in the creative community. A recurring subject in Tim Burton movies is the social outcast, and Ed Wood features that in more than one front. We of course have Ed who is an outcast not only his bizarre filmmaking but also due to a lifestyle he has. What is it? To quote Ed himself, “I like to dress in women's clothing.” The film doesn’t exploit it to make you laugh at him (granted, seeing Johnny Depp wearing an angora sweater is funny), but the comedy comes more from people’s reaction. The only time Ed is used as the butt of a joke is when his almost infinite optimism shines in on an inappropriate time. The film saying, “Yeah, he’s an odd duck, but there’s nothing wrong with it.” A highlight of the film is the friendship Ed forms with the aging horror icon Bela Lugosi, portrayed by Martin Landau, who won an Oscar for his brilliant performance. He hopes that his newfound friendship with Ed (or Eddie as he calls him) will revive not only his stardom but the same love and passion he had for the craft back in the old days. Eddie ends up helping him in another way, but I won’t ruin it for you. One of the best scenes in the movie after the botched premiere of Bride of the Monster is when Lugosi thanks Ed and tells him how great it has been. Ed replies with, “I just wish you could’ve seen the movie.” Lugosi goes on say that he knows it by heart, then the camera tilts up, making the background resemble a theater, and he recites a speech from the movie gaining an applause from some bystanders at the end. The reason why this is one of my favorites is that it shows that even when go through dark times, we should still pursue our dreams. A quote from Orson Welles (portrayed by Vincent D’Onofrio, voiced by Maurice LaMarche in the movie) sums it up best: “Visions are worth fighting for.” Ed Wood is an amazing film that more people need to see.

Alice in Wonderland (Review)

Tim Burton's adaptation a big disappointment

0 Comments · Friday, March 5, 2010
It's expected that a 2009 adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Victorian-era 'Alice in Wonderland' and 'Through the Looking Glass' would engage in some major contemporary revisionism, and the biggest change in Tim Burton's new 3-D movie version is to make Alice the kind of defiantly strong-willed, proto-feminist, no-nonsense action-hero suitable for a PG-rated action-fantasy seeking to do 'Lord of the Rings'-level box-office business. It's a mistake. Grade: C.  

Gangster Hero No. 1

John Dillinger used his Midwestern sensibility to become a national celebrity in the 1930s

0 Comments · Wednesday, July 1, 2009
By the summer of 1934, John Dillinger's fame had caught up with him and his debts were getting close. Even at the tail end of a one-year crime spree totaling at least six states (including Ohio and Indiana), 11 banks and $300,000, he remained a working-class hero. The law saw things differently, promoting him to Public Enemy No. 1.  

Public Enemies (Review)

0 Comments · Tuesday, June 30, 2009
While rife with period detail and often shot at authentic locations, 'Public Enemies' doesn't possess the visceral jolt of director Michael Mann's best films, all of which pulsate with the technologically informed rhythms of modern life. Yet Mann almost makes us believe that Public Enemy No. 1 John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) will live forever. And, in a sense, he has. Grade: B-.