Holding a Black Mass for Itself

Compared to the enthralling true-life organized crime story it tells, Black Mass is a letdown.  That true crime story is muddled down by filmmakers who are in over their head.  Instead of a magnificent arc, we are given incongruous snapshots.  The performances are good, but that’s a given.  We may think of a mass being held for the vastly under-realized potential.

Black Mass - text blockSo no, Black Mass will not supplant Goodfellas, The Departed, or Mystic River, or even a small and much more powerful violent crime film like The Drop.  Johnny Depp does a good job here, but for an infinitely better Depp mob movie, check out Donnie Brasco.

Despite its deep shortcomings, those snapshots work well enough to let some of this poignant tale through, so a mild thumbs-up.  6/10

Cinematic Greats: Donnie Brasco

Donnie Brasco - still

I’m a spoke on a wheel.  And so was he.  And so are you.

What a fantastic movie this is; a blessing.  Just about perfect.

* * *

Prior to The Gift, a trailer was shown for the upcoming Johnny Depp portrayal of Whitey Bulger, Black Mass.  I was instantly reminded of Depp’s other mob film, Donnie Brasco (lest anyone has remembered, let’s all forget about Public Enemies).

Which gets one thinking about the career of Johnny Depp, one of the biggest talents in Hollywood.  He was on the Letterman show talking about his first stint as Captain Jack Sparrow in the mega-blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean series; speaking of the Disney execs:

They didn’t know what I was doing, exactly.  They were concerned that I was, uh, I think in their words ‘ruining the movie.’  Something subtle like that.

A wonderful little interview.  You’ll have to excuse the quality; if you can find better let me know.

Being Johnny Depp, we may take it that he assured the producers to the effect, “I’m Johnny Depp.  I know what I’m doing.”  Boy did he.  From Edward Scissorhands on, there has never been any doubt about Depp’s “out there” roles — he always nails them.  He dons the full costume and makeup better than just about anyone.  He’s great at that, often brilliant.  Though occasionally a movie will fall short, as The Lone Ranger or Sweeney Todd, his performance is not to blame for those failures.  He always adds a quirky element to his portrayals that — as the Pirates anecdote proves — is entirely his invention.

But there’s this whole other side of Johnny Depp that is seen much less frequently — the “serious actor” who plays “straight” roles — roles without the fancy costume, without the panoply.  Donnie Brasco is the best example of this, and makes me wish he would do more “straight” roles.

Donnie Brasco excels because of Depp, and a great true story, and — most of all — because Al Pacino puts in probably the best performance of his career.

A terrific movie, maybe not as “essential” as Goodfellas, but every bit as good.  My highest recommendation.

Availability: iTunes

Film Brief: Public Enemies

Not much to say on this one.  There are a number of redeeming elements, but otherwise an inability especially early on of how to tell a story.  In other words, it is impossible to become engaged with this movie.  Compare how this movie starts — the badly-blown first jailbreak scene — to the sense of mystery that was developed in early frames of No Country for Old Men.  Or think about that first sequence in Drive.

In the last third or so there are a couple decent sequences including a shoot-out in the woods that starts to turn this movie around, but by then it’s too late.  And Johnny Depp, who is always interesting no matter what he does, is a bore in this one.  Almost seems to be phoning it in.  3/10.

Movies with Penélope Cruz

email 4 Sep 2008

I first saw Penélope Cruz in Blow (2001), the drug film starring Johnny Depp.  Here’s a new rule: if it’s got Johnny Depp, see it.  I don’t know that he’s made a bad film.  Blow is very good if you want something with that subject matter, and Penélope Cruz emerges as a revelation in the film with her incredible beauty.

Then there was the whole Cruz – Cruise thing in the tabloid media when Tom Cruise was briefly enamored with her – from co-stints in Vanilla Sky, which I didn’t care a whole lot for when I saw it, but there is something about it that haunts me, from when I caught a bit on TV recently.  So might be worth another look.  Tom Cruise gets a disfigured face in this one, which morbidly interests me. Continue reading

Grudge Match

from email 1 July 2008

Hello again,

I wanted to do a little update / refresher regarding some of the movies I’ve written about.  I rented The Grudge (2004), which I’d heard good things about (probably good because it was the film’s own marketing).  It stars Sarah Michelle Gellar in a potential rejuvenation of her career, though I don’t think that ever took off.  Really like her a lot (see my write-up of I Know What You Did Last Summer), but this film, basically a haunted house movie, is a dud.  But it does serve a very important point, in fact it makes the point of everything I’ve been writing about: I don’t recommend bad movies.  I only recommend very good movies that are not easily forgotten, ones that stick with you a bit.

So with The Grudge – I could not help comparing it to The Ring all through viewing.  Like The Ring, it is a remake of an original Japanese production.  And like The Ring, which preceded it, The Grudge has a scary ghost-girl, and adds a scary ghost-boy.  Except they aren’t really scary.  The Grudge attempts scary “atmospherics”, but does not pull them off particularly well.  In short, The Grudge is a waste of time, and hi-lights the difference between a mediocre movie and a great one.  Thinking of theses two pictures, it really colors in my admiration of The Ring, and makes me realize what a masterpiece of its genre it is. Continue reading