‘Black Mass’ Review

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Director: Scott Cooper

Writer(s): Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth

Cast: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, David Harbour, Julianne Nicholson, Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott, Peter Sarsgaard, and Corey Stoll

Synopsis: The true story of Whitey Bulger, the brother of a state senator and the most infamous violent criminal in the history of South Boston, who became an FBI informant to take down a Mafia family invading his turf.

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

*Reviewer Note 2: I fell behind on my movie watching, so some anticipate some more reviews this week*

 

Black Mass is based on the book “Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob” written by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, and based on the true life of arguably one of the most notorious gangsters ever, James “Whitey” Bulger. Whether or not all the events in the film happen or not – two of the real life people that rolled with Bulger say some stuff was not true – the film is a brooding, dark, gritty and tremendously acted film.

 

The film stars in 1975 as we get an idea of who James, or Jimmy, “Whitey” Bulger (Depp) is to the people surrounded by him. The film is introduced by Kevin Weeks (Plemons) as he’s being integrated and says that Bulger was a small time guy and suddenly he became one of the biggest names in South Boston or Southie as they called it. From there we’re introduced to John Connolly (Edgerton), who has returned to Boston and has joined the FBI. His first ambitious move, reunite with his childhood friend Bulger and convince him to join forces to take down the Mafia running North Boston. Bulger seeing this as an opportunity to take down the competition agrees and here is what beings his reign as the kingpin of Boston.

 

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The film isn’t just about Bulger, the film is also about John Connolly. The two get the same amount of screen time and Connolly gets his hands a bit dirty in his own way as much as Bulger. Connolly thinks Bulger is the FBI’s saving grace against the Mafia in Boston and it clouds his judgment from time to time, and it makes him – arguably – as corrupt as Bulger. All of it, done well by the great and always reliable Joel Edgerton.

 

Here is where I run into a problem with Black Mass. The film itself is just okay, but it is elevated thanks to the performances of the impressive and huge cast. Depp and Edgerton at the forefront and the supporting cast play their parts well. Depp is back to true form here. This is the kind of films I like Depp in, where he show his true potential and great acting prowess. Forget the wacky roles that he’s been playing for years now, it is when he plays a serious and real character that you remember how great he is, and playing Bulger is one of those roles. He’s terrifying and intimidating when he has to be, that includes scenes with Dakota Johnson’s Lindsey Cyr and Julianne Nicholson’s Marianne Connolly, the wife of John Connolly. As good as he is as Bulger, he can also be rather charming when he has to be, which is rather odd to see after all the scenes that involve him being a terrible person.

 

Edgerton, on the other hand, has his fair share of great moments with and without Depp, but his character at times is so blinded by the myth that is Bulger that he becomes a bit distracted of his real duties as an FBI agent. He also becomes a bit cocky that he managed to get one of the most wanted criminals the bureau ever wanted to work for them instead of taking him down.

 

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The supporting cast all plays their parts on point and all have their moments to shine, considering how big the film is. Jesse Plemons’ Kevin Weeks and Rory Cochrane’s Steve Flemmi provide framing devices for the most part, but also Bulger’s most loyal allies that will follow him to the end, as does W. Earl Brown as John Martorano. David Harbour’s John Morris plays the more conflicted FBI agent when it comes to working with Bulger and has one of the best and most tension filled scenes that involves a recipe. Kevin Bacon pops in as head of the FBI section in Boston as Charles McGuire as does the surprise cast member of Adam Scott as Robert Fitzpatrick.

 

Unfortunately, some cast members don’t fare that well as others. Dakota Johnson, Julianne Nicholson and Juno Temple are the only real female characters in the film, but it feels like they don’t much as characters. Johnson and Nicholson have more substance to their roles but Johnson disappears after the first half hour of the film and her scenes with Depp are the best at getting some dimension from Depp’s Bulger, and you miss it afterwards. Corey Stoll appears at the end as new District Attorney Fred Wyshak and Peter Sarsgaard’s Brian Halloran is a bit all over the place and although his character calls for it, I could have seen anyone else playing that role. Finally, Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays U.S Senator Billy Bulger has literally about ten minutes – if that – of screen time and has only one real good scene with Edgerton near the beginning of the film. His brotherly connection to Jimmy Bulger isn’t even touched on too much, and they only have a couple scenes together. It’s kind of a shame really.

 

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So despite the great cast and performances, Black Mass doesn’t really do much in getting us more in the head of Bulger. It does early on with the scenes with Johnson’s Cyr but that’s about it. We don’t get more into his head at all and it probably tries to make up for it by giving those conflicted moral scenes to Edgerton’s Connolly, but great acting only takes you so far.

 

All in all, Black Mass is filled with by great performances led by Johnny Depp and Joel Edgerton. The film is a bit grim and hard to watch in some scenes, but the slow burn to the film may turn off some viewers anyway. Black Mass isn’t the perfect film or tale of Bulger’s legacy, but it worth the watch.

 

Black Mass

4 out of 5

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‘Oculus’ Review

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Dir: Mike Flanagan

Cast: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Rory Cochrane, Annalise Basso, Garrett Ryan and Katee Sackhoff

Synopsis: A woman tries to exonerate her brother, who was convicted of murder, by proving that the crime was committed by a supernatural phenomenon.

 

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

 

Oculus is a feature length adaptation based off director Mike Flanagan’s short film. The movie blends elements of a psychological thriller with horror tropes lightly thrown in. It follows adult siblings Kaylie (Gillan) and Tim Russell (Thwaites) whose lives were shattered when their parents were brutally murdered ten years prior.

 

After spending his adolescence in a mental facility, Tim has come to grips with what he feels was a tragically dysfunctional family. He is – at least to some degree – at peace with his parents’ violent deaths, as he believes that it was their bad choices that caused them. Kaylie, however, has spent those years plotting her revenge against what she believes is the true responsible party: a supernatural and malevolent force that resides within an antique mirror known as The Lasser Glass.

 

Determined to prove that her family is innocent, Kaylie secures the mirror and brings it back to their childhood home, where everything happened. After setting up an elaborate recording system to “catch” the entity and prove its existence, Kaylie convinces her brother to join her attempt to fulfill their childhood promise to one another: destroying it.

 

The cast of Gillan and Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane as Tim and Kaylie’s parents, and Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan as their younger Kaylie and Tim do a great job in their roles. Arguably, it is the younger actors in Basso and Ryan that give the performances that carry the movie, especially Basso as the younger Kaylie. They elevate the movie with that performance that intensifies the emotional weight of this story and makes you afraid for them in the present. The mirror is a character init to itself, where it even has a menacing look. Although it not an actual person it is a major threat to our characters that it can control everything around it.

 

Although the promotion material is marketing Oculus as a straight up horror film, it is a lot more than that. Director Mike Flanagan adds great layers to the story, in where you don’t feel like you’re watching a horror movie at all sometimes. The way he crafts the movie is something that I can’t really remember seeing. He leaves the events, especially the ending, to our own imagination. Oculus is more creepy thriller than horror movie, but the movie does have some great horror movie moments that are effective.

 

The movie cuts between the past and the present in clever ways, that it makes it seem like everything is actually happening all over again, which makes the mirror even more terrifying. As the movie progresses, the cuts in between time becomes more blurry and dangerous. But, with that said, the movie is also about people dealing with traumatic events and finding ways to cope. Kaylie is obsessed with revealing the truth but Tim tries desperately to convince her, their family wasn’t perfect.

 

All in all, Oculus has strong moments and takes the risk of challenging the audience to questions that don’t necessarily have answers or chooses not to answer. While most movies that follow this formula, tend to fail or get murky, Oculus strives on it and it’s this element that makes the movie work. I know people are talking about the ending (which I obviously won’t spoil) but I think once people really soak the movie in and see everything, the ending will make more sense.

 

Oculus

4 out of 5