Black Mass – Whitey Bulger the Departed

24Black Mass is currently playing in theaters. There are some minor spoilers that follow as this is supposedly a true story. I don’t feel that it’s really a spoiler when we’re discussing public figures with public fates. Still, don’t read any further if for some reason you are unaware of how the story ends.

Black Mass

Black Mass (2015) – Rated R

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.”

You were just saying? “Just saying” gets people sent away. “Just saying” got me a nine-year stretch in Alcatraz, you understand? So, “just saying” can get you buried real quick.

Black Mass is a good overview of the working relationship between childhood friends FBI agent John Connolly and mob boss/informant James “Whitey” Bulger. Director Scott Cooper jumps in after Bulger has served a stint in Alcatraz and Leavenworth (Atlanta too though that is not mentioned).

As is typical of Hollywood telling a ‘true’ story, Black Mass has the basic gist correct but a lot of the facts are wrong or omitted. In the movie, Bulger brings Flemmi in on the FBI arrangement whereas in reality Flemmi had been a FBI informant for almost a decade before Flemmi and Bulger worked together. Catherine Greig, a rather important part of the Whitey Bulger story, was to have been played by Sienna Miller but all of her scenes were cut. Bulger’s other brother is omitted as is Connolly’s brother in the DEA.

Cooper’s previous two films, Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace, were marked by star performances by Jeff Bridges and Christian Bale respectively. Black Mass is no different. For all of its pacing and factual flaws, Black Mass has an outstanding (and quite scary) performance by Johnny Depp as Bulger and a wonderfully underplayed one by Joel Edgerton as FBI agent out of his depth Connolly.

The character of Connolly in the film is quite simplified as is his movie fate. The real Connolly is quite a bit more complex (and brighter) and suffers a more complex fate. My guess is that because Connolly is still alive, the producers felt it necessary for legal reasons to ‘vague’ up his involvement in Bulger’s affairs. Certain things are able to be inferred as Connolly’s clothing improves and he has a flashy watch and so forth.

Cumberbatch is welcome but mostly wasted as Senator Billy Bulger as is Kevin Bacon playing frustrated FBI agent McGuire. Dakota Johnson appears briefly as Lindsey Cyr, Bulger’s common-law wife. Peter Sarsgaard adds Brian Halloran to his collection of well-played lowlifes. Finally, an always welcome Corey Stoll appears late in the game as a crusading attorney.

While the film is just pretty good, there is an absolutely chilling scene between Bulger (Depp) and Marianne Connolly (Julianne Nicholson). I think that one scene is the best work that Depp has done in a long time and I could certainly see a nomination come Academy Awards time.

While this is the supposedly true story, it has a healthy dose of fiction. If you want to see a completely fictionalized version, try Martin Scorsese’s The Departed with Jack Nicholson essentially playing Bulger as Frank Costello. The Departed is an absolute classic, itself based on the Chinese Infernal Affairs movies (though it is better than the source material). If you are more interested in Bulger, then go with Black Mass for Depp’s performance.

 

Yahoo Screen, Community, Sherlock, Daredevil, The Killing

Yahoo Screen

* Community has been renewed for a sixth season. The catch is that it will be available on Yahoo’s streaming platform, Yahoo Screen. Currently Yahoo Screen appears to be a very confused repository of clips, trailers, music videos, and Saturday Night Live reruns.

Sherlock

* Another of my favorite shows will be coming back. In spite of the two main actors being movie stars, Sherlock has been renewed. Martin (The Hobbit) Freeman and Benedict (Star Trek Into Darkness) Cumberbatch will be returning for a fourth season.

Netflix

* I’m really looking forward to Netflix’ Daredevil series. Charlie Cox (Boardwalk Empire) is Daredevil, Deborah Ann Woll (True Blood) is Karen Page, and Elden Henson is Foggy Nelson. Strangely Vincent D’Onofrio is playing the Kingpin. Obviously he is the wrong size so I’m curious how he will be portrayed.

* On August 1st, Netflix will have the new streaming season of The Killing. I’m looking forward to watching it as I enjoy the two very flawed lead characters but The Killing never quite gelled correctly. The Killing always had potential but never seemed to realize it.

Star Trek – Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness

Thank you Esurance! I won two tickets to Star Trek: Into Darkness from them. Not only was the contest generous but the tickets covered up to $15.50 each, which is coincidentally what the Biltmore Grande charges for their RPX evening showings in 3D. Not wanting to waste a gift horse that is what we used it for.

One Line Review: Trek is packed with action, excitement, witticisms, and character development – this one will be tough to beat for the summer crown.

My wife, daughter and I all thoroughly enjoyed the movie. The RPX sound was immersive and the bass made the seats throb. The RPX picture quality was amazingly crisp, even in 3D. I don’t normally go to RPX because I love my Carolina and the RPX is about twice the price but WOW I was blown away. This is the closest we have to Imax in Asheville.

While the RPX heightened our enjoyment, Star Trek Into Darkness is a wonderful film on its own. While I derided Iron Man 3 for being made by committee/formula, much the same approach is used here but to great effect.

Star Trek checklist:

Strenuous heroics from Kirk and Spock: Tons! This film is almost constant action with brief respites for clever dialogue.

Fun banter between Kirk, Spock, and Bones: Any time they are not in a fight and sometimes when they are, witty banter abounds and not just for those three.

Good character moments for Sulu, Chekov, Scotty, and Uhura: Uhura’s role is considerably beefed up and the others all have their moment in the sun.

References to classic Trek episodes: I don’t want to spoil any of them but they are nearly uncountable. Plots, characters, incidents are mentioned, seen, adapted, or alluded to.

Ship to ship combat: Yes and wow.

Kirk and/or Spock learn a lesson: Both do, of course.

Cameos: Yes, two – one of which is in the previews.

Three of the four quibbles I have with the film are all minor. The first, which I can only speak generally about to avoid spoilers, is that a lot of elements that they felt were necessary for Trek fans were shoehorned in at the last minute. The second is that the final action sequence, while having a couple inventive touches, pales in comparison to the several before it so it feels more like an afterthought than building to a crescendo. Third, Benedict Cumberbatch, while a wonderful actor, isn’t given enough to do – mostly because there are so many beloved characters to focus on.

The fourth quibble I have, I don’t want to go into detail for fear of spoiling but nearly every plotting aspect of this movie makes no sense (a la Iron Man 3). Almost everything in this movie is done simply to get from point A to point B, action sequence to action sequence. As a for instance, the rescue method in the beginning of the movie could clearly have been used for the insertion but that wouldn’t have been as dramatic. A second example, also from the beginning, is that we have plenty of remote placement and firing mechanisms now (robotic, radio, laser, programmed, etc.) and this is set in the future. Whatever you do, just enjoy the ride and try not to question the logic until you leave.

I am very much looking forward to seeing what J.J. Abrams and crew do with the Star Wars franchise.

 

More Sherlock, Tiger Blood, Netflix and Roku

* First off woohoo! The second season of Sherlock featuring the brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman is available on instant Netflix. I hope to watch this straight through this weekend. Martin Freeman will next be seen as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit and Benedict Cumberbatch will be in the new Star Trek movie next summer.

* Netflix has also significantly updated their iPhone and iPod Touch interface. It now lets you pick up where you left off on shows, supports instant queue, has recommendations, a better browse function, a children’s section, and lots more. This brings it in line with the new Xbox interface. An Android update is in the works.

* Tired of waiting for the long-delayed Red Dawn remake? Try the Australian film, Tomorrow When the War Began, now streaming on Netflix.

“After spending a holiday in the countryside, seven Australian teens return home to find that their country has been invaded by a foreign power. With the help of another local, the kids band together to become guerrillas and rescue their families.”

Alternately just go back and watch the original Red Dawn, uniting Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey before they did some Dirty Dancing a few years later. Look for wonderful turns by Harry Dean Stanton and Ben Johnson and even throwing Mr. Tiger Blood Charlie Sheen in the mix. Red Dawn is available on Netflix streaming and Amazon Prime.

* Do NOT watch American Warships. It is yet still another ‘mockbuster’ (aka ripoff) – this time ripping off Battleship. Although it will have to go far to be worse than Battleship, I am certain Asylum can accomplish that. Heck I am not even going to put a link to it – though you masochists can find it on instant Netflix.

* Roku will be adding a VUDU channel to the immense lineup they have as well as an app to stream your music and photos to the TV.