Saturday, October 3, 2015

Black Mass - Movie Review

Black Mass
Biography - Crime Drama
Directed by: Scott Cooper
Screenplay by: Mark Mallouk & Jez Butterworth
Starring: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Corey Stoll

    This is a biopic of the life of South Boston criminal James Whitey Bulger (Depp), his Winter Hill Gang and his childhood friend FBI special agent, John Connolly (Edgerton). Set in South Boston and spanning two decades from the mid 1970's to mid 1990's the film chronicles Bulger's rise and fall from a two-bit criminal losing ground and business to the Italian Mafia on the city's north side to that of an Irish mob kingpin with his hand in everything - from drugs, bookmaking and extortion to arms trafficking and murder - to his eventual take down. Bulger's success was due in large part to his "alliance" with FBI agent John Connolly who protected him from scrutiny in exchange for information to bring down the Mafia. His brother Billy Bulger (Cumberbatch), former President of the Massachusetts senate was well aware of the arrangement and turned a blind eye. As long as he had protection, Whitey expanded his interests with impunity using his childhood friend's position with the Feds as a shield. 
    Depp was transformed into an ugly, balding, big-headed thug who killed easily and without emotion. He wisely chose to play this big character in and understated yet powerful way. Edgerton portrayed the opportunistic, in-way-over-his-head FBI agent beautifully; balancing on the knife's edge between loyal Southie neighborhood kid and rising Federal agent, his nerves always underscoring an oft forced bravado. 
    Beyond the performances of Depp and Edgerton, the movie was rather ordinary, often moving too slowly and without much character depth. The director seemed to enjoy jumping from murder to murder without much storytelling in between. It would have been more interesting if the film delved into Bulger's psyche a bit more than simply showing he had feelings for his son and mother. If the story started earlier with him in Alcatraz taking part in LSD experiments to earn time off his sentence we could have understood the making of this criminal. Instead we were left with a play-by-play of crimes with some law enforcement deflections along the way. There was simply no good story to bite into here, despite the potential.
     Seeing the movie for Depp's transformation and Edgerton's performance is worth the time, but wait until it's on cable. It has nothing remotely close to the impact of The Departed, and it is not necessary to experience Black Mass on a big screen. 

This armchair critic gives this film a C+

Sunday, August 2, 2015


    A Zimbabwe lion named Cecil (above) was killed by an American sport-hunting dentist and the world goes into a tailspin of fury and calls for death and torture of the hunter. What? This is the most gratuitous piece of non-news and is most definitely not outrage worthy. When humans give an animal a name they begin a never ending cycle of ,anthropomorphism imbuing the animal with human-like qualities and emotions. In this case, the practice has created a maelstrom of fervor. 
     Lions and other wild game are legally hunted for sport in Zimbabwe all the time and those who can pay the $55,000 fee for the experience bring much needed revenue into the economy of the impoverished country; But people are more outraged by the loss of the lion with a name than the poverty, systematic violation of human rights or the impact HIV/AIDS in the country. These conditions are more tragic and more deserving of outrage than the killing of one lion that happened to have a name and have a tracking device.
     Conservation is important and necessary throughout the world and as sentient beings we have a responsibility to protect the populations of wildlife and biodiversity. Lions are beautiful animals which most of us would never even think of killing for sport. I love visiting the big cats at the zoo.  Let's remember that they are wild animals and are deadly, sometimes to humans like the man-eating lions of Tsavo. Was the world outraged when those lions were killed? No! The world had its priorities straight then.
     There are far more important, and heinous issues about which to be outraged long before going ballistic over the death of a lion and once we get a few of those taken care of, I'll be happy to join the fervor. Here are some issues actually worthy of outrage:

  •      Female genital mutilation 
    • Imagine a weeks-old infant or a girl of 9 or 10 being held down by her mother and other women in the community while her grandmother takes a sharpened piece of glass and cuts out her clitoris and labia then sews the wound shut leaving just enough of an opening for urine and menstrual blood to pass causing the skin to grow together, only to be pridefully ripped open by her husband's erection on her wedding night. 
    • Done in many cultures and religions to curb female sexuality due to the belief that women are evil and are the cause of men's loss of control (sin). 
    • Part of a patriarchal system to subjugate women
  •      The continual erosion of the Bill of Rights and personal liberty in the United States
    • Warrantless surveylance
    • Being treated like a criminal without charge (TSA, among other things)
    • The Patriot Act (what an oxymoron!)
  •      Boko Haram
    • Kidnapped 256 school girls many of whom were forced into marriages against their will to satisfy the men in the organization
    • Recruits and indoctrinates young boys to become killers
    • Promotes world domination through the reinstatement of the caliphate
    • Suicide bombings
  •      Genocide in Darfur and other areas of the world.
  •      The worldwide systematic rape & torture of children by the Catholic Church
  •      Increasing prevalence of heroin abuse right here in America
  •     Corruption and abuse by the government
  •     Citizens United giving corporations the political rights of the individual further diminishing the voice of the People
     I could find hundreds more examples of crises and issues that do not get the attention or outrage they warrant. These are the issues about which I become outraged. How about you?