Black Mass (2015): A Decent Biopic about the Rise and Fall of “Whitey” Bulger

Black Mass Poster

    Biopics, specifically gangster biopics are hard to pull off. For one you are starting with someone who by the very nature of what they do is unsympathetic and it often times depends way too much on whomever the star is in order to carry the story rather than the power of the writing and story itself. These were the main issues with “Black Mass” that kept it from being great, though it is good to see Johnny Depp in form again and there is a lot to like about this film, even though it missed some great opportunities to raise stakes and humanize the characters.

      The film was directed by Scott Cooper who was also one of the producers and written by Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk while the other producers were Josh Lesher, Patrick McCormick, Brian Oliver and Tyler Thompson. It was also based on the book of the same name by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill.

      The story involves the rise of fall of Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) and his relationship with his brother the Senator Billy Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch) and their childhood friend who joined the FBI but stayed close to them John Connolly (Joel Edgerton).

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is dark and does a good job capturing the tone of the piece as we follow the life and times of the criminal Whitey Bulger. It never pretends to be anything but a crime biopic and the cinematography beautifully captures it. Takayanagi did a great job.

Whitey Bulger – Johnny Depp is great when he has the chance to play more than a Tim Burton stock character and we get to see him play a truly creepy and scary guy in this. He has relationships he cares about like his son, mother and brother but at the end of the day human life means nothing to him and we see that really well. His paranoia also continues to grow throughout the film as he becomes even more unstable than when we first meet him.

Billy Bulger – Cumberbatch does a fantastic Boston accent and is great as the brother who looks the other way and gives a good public face to the family as he is never corrupt as far as we can see, he is corrupt in how he hides his brother’s crimes by refusing to prosecute or do anything about what others bring forward. It is for this reason he eventually gets arrested we learn in the post credits scene when he stays in contact with his brother the fugitive.

Fred Wyshak – Corey Stoll does a fantastic job as the one who cleans house in the FBI leading to the eventual arrest of Connolly and Bulger and his gang. He is all about work and and it is great seeing him figure everything out, while holding it all close to his chest so that what informants Bulger has in the FBI won’t get out.

Charles McGuire – Kevin Bacon plays the FBI agent trying to do his job on a corrupt force and does a good job of it and clashing with Connolly. Kevin Bacon was great doing the no-nonsense boss shtick.

Okay: John Connolly – It was hard to care about this guy as he was so blatantly corrupt that I was just waiting for the eventual ax to fall.

The Cons: The Minor Characters and Women – Most of the minor characters were completely unmemorable, be they part of Whitey’s gang or the wives of the FBI agents. They were nothing be scenery and for this reason it was hard to care about what happened to any of them. They weren’t given agency.

The War with the Mafia – We never really see the face of the mafia so the war that the FBI fights and the Bulger is fighting with them doesn’t mean anything. They are only ever mentioned and we get the fallout and that really took a lot of the stakes out of the film as we don’t really get tension until Wyshack appears and does all he can to clean out the FBI and catch Whitey.

  This was a decent film that is worth seeing if you are into crime dramas. Depp is memorable but the script needed work as the stakes aren’t executed well and the minor characters never rise above being stock crime drama characters. This is what kept it from being great and why I could see people not enjoying this film as you cannot count on stars to carry a film. “The Martian” worked because of the writing, directing and all of the cast being interesting. In this the only interesting characters are the main characters played by stars who are usually always good.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

Ant-Man (2015): Marvel’s Return to Fun and a Story That Stands Alone

Ant-Manton Reed

     When I first saw “Age of Ultron” I had a lot of fun…but the more I thought about the film the less sense it made. What the studio wanted from Whedon created so many holes and created a fractured narrative. For this reason I changed the score from in the 9s to the 8s as the Cons I listed still apply, they just feel bigger now…especially in relationship to  “Ant-Man.”  This was a film that worked and feels complete in and of itself while still tying into the wider universe without the wider universe bringing the story down as what happened in “Age of Ultron.” The villain also does a lot more damage than Ultron did…which is pretty sad when you think about it. Suffice to say, I enjoyed this film…and it is amazing Marvel Studios pulled this off after the development hell this movie went through in order to be created.

     The film was directed by Peyton Reed, written by Edgar Wright, Paul Rudd, Joe Cornish and Adam McKay and produced by Kevin Feige.

SPOILERS AHEAD

       The story involves the ex-thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) being hired on by the past Ant-Man Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) in order to steal the Yellowjacket outfit and destroy the technology of his protege Cross (Corey Stoll) who plans to sell the suits and technology to H.Y.D.R.A. Things soon get more complicated as time is working against them.

The Pros: The Action – The action is wonderful! From Scott’s heists to the fight with the Yellowjacket…space and size are used really well as Ant-Man jumps around from different sizes in the action sequences he is put in. They are the best to come out of this universe so far.

The Cinematography – This relates to what I said about the action, we get to see things on a small and normal level and this lends so much strength to things and immediately draws you in. There are stakes in both sizes and Scott is always having to learn and adapt.

The Past – The story begins with Hank leaving the Team that Peggy, Howard Stark and Carson are a part of (early S.H.I.E.L.D.) after Howard tries to steal his technology. This leads to him being isolated and we see how hard the missions he was on have made him more difficult to work with than he already was, and how the suit has made him more paranoid of others.

Falcon – Anthony Mackie is back as Falcon! We see him fight Ant-Man when Ant-Man is robbing the Avengers for tech. he needs to beat Yellowjacket. It is a great fight and we later see Falcon bring Ant-Man into the Avengers as well as implying that he will connect him with Captain America so they will have a secure place to rehabilitate Bucky who is revealed in the after credits scenes.

Cross/Yellowjacket – I like this baddy and it’s wonderful seeing Corey Stoll again post “House of Cards!” He is driven and we see how hard Hank leaving him took a tole. He reveals Hanks dark side as they are both people who are sociopathic and can disconnect from others to protect themselves while having a huge domination factor of how they view things. Hank grows through this, not so for Darren Cross as it ends up leading to his death at the hands of Ant-Man when he tries to kill Ant-Man’s daughter.

The Pyms – The Pyms are the strongest part of this film and I would have watched an early S.H.I.E.L.D. film with Peggy Carter and Howard Stark and their relationship with Hank Pym! His daughter Hope is just as antagonist as he is but both have a softer side too when they feel heard. Their path towards  healing is done really well.

Hope Van Dyne – Evangeline Lilly is wonderful and I’m glad she finally gets the Wasp costume she should have had from the beginning. She is the one who is always standing up for herself and holding her dad accountable. I really liked her character and hope we get to see her in action in the next film.

Hank Pym – Hank is a dick and doesn’t get along well with people. He is also intriguing too as he is right about the Starks tech. leading to trouble with it being so open. He is the skeptic and is antagonistic in many ways and his arc is learning to communicate and truly live the action of caring about Scott and Hope. It’s done really well.

The End Credits Scenes – Bucky is found by Captain America and Falcon is there to help as they keep things undercover from Tony Stark and the government knowing that if they find out that they are keeping safe a wanted criminal…things can only go bad.

Hope receives the new Wasp suit! Can’t wait to see it in action!

Okay: Scott Lang and Co. – All of them including Scott are funny sometimes but they don’t have the intensity the Pyms have or Yellowjacket does so it makes it hard to care about them. They feel like comedic relief at times…including Scott.

Scott’s Family – They are bland, including the step-dad. I didn’t really feel that I got to know any of them and that they were just plot devices for Scott’s growth.

   Scott Lang and his family were the weakest parts of this film, besides Scott’s Team but it still didn’t keep this film from being better from “Age of Ultron.” Evangeline Lily and Michael Douglas are amazing as the Pyms and Corey Stoll owns the role of Yellowjacket. It’s great seeing the wider universe play a part and not dominate the story either. This story is more personal as it is Scott’s path of redemption and the Pym’s path to healing. Both have great payoffs too. I’d recommend this film far more than “Age of Ultron” and won’t be suprised if it makes my Top 5 films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10