Tagged W Earl Brown

Black Mass: Welcome Back, Mr. Depp!

Black Mass. 2015. Directed by Scott Cooper. Screenplay by Jez Butterworth & Mark Mallouk; based on the novel by Dick Lehr & Gerard O’Neill.
Starring Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, David Harbour, and Adam Scott. Cross Creek Pictures/Grisbi Productions/Infinitum Nihil/Free State Pictures.
Rated 14A. 123 minutes.
Biography/Crime/Drama

★★★★
black-mass-posterThe story of James ‘Whitey’ Bulger is a wild one. I remember when the excellent drama Brotherhood came on, with Jason Clarke and Jason Isaacs; that had roots in Bulger’s story, the parallel between him and his political brother. It’s a story that, if you know anything about it, is intense and has many layers. Almost as if it were written and made up. Yet the details most certainly are not made up. After things eventually went further south for Whitey, he went on the run as a Most Wanted face on the FBI’s list. Only a few years ago, at age 81 ripe and tender, he was apprehended and in 2013 his trial started.
So naturally, after seeing Scott Cooper was taking on an adaptation of this man’s boisterous, wild life, it had every bit of interest I needed. Black Mass gives us big heaping slices of the life of Bulger, from a time when he was already known to later on when he became one of the most well known names of the underworld. A ton of what makes the movie interesting are the central performances, particularly Johnny Depp in one of his strongest roles – ever – and then there is great writing on top of great directing from Cooper. This intense and at times fairly grim tale is weaved out of real life, pumped full of bravado, but best of all it breathes air into a true villain out of the history books.
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James ‘Whitey’ Bulger (Johnny Depp) is a tough customer. One of the worst. He’s a notorious criminal from South Boston whose reputation precedes him. Better yet, he’s the brother of prominent politician Billy Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch). While Billy is busy climbing the political ladder, Jimmy is on the streets busting heads, killing, doing the most illegal of business.
But a terrifying deal is struck behind the scenes between Jimmy and the FBI, led by John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who just so happens to have grown up on the same street as the Bulger boys. Using the FBI to essentially take out competition and aid his nefarious dealings, from guns to drugs, Whitey spins the entire deal into a downward spiral. Soon enough, the FBI informant in Jimmy is lost and he is officially on the Ten Most Wanted List. His story is one of family, corruption, ego and above all else – crime.
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Immediately we’re introduced to Whitey Bulger as someone who does not mince words, nor does he put up with anything he sees as bullshit. No nonsense. The opening scene with Depp his eyes are piercing through the darkness, Bulger is sitting in silence and watching Johnny Martorano (W. Earl Brown) – an extremely dangerous and feared man in his own right – sloppily eat peanuts on the table, which he does not like. And makes it known. But this semi-funny scene brings a little more to the front. If you understand who Martorano is, then it’s even further evident that Whitey does not care who is in front of him. He says it like it is and couldn’t care less what anyone feels about it. The menace is present enough in the shots where Depp is barely visible through the darkness, almost like a predator laying, waiting in the black. More of that comes out later, though, it is heavily featured in this first moment. As time goes by, it isn’t only the contacts Depp wears that makes the eyes of Bulger burn into your soul. It is the absolute dead eye stare Depp seeps through the frame, it won’t let you go. With only a few looks Depp conveys the nastiness in Whitey.
Everyone is really solid here. One of those ensemble casts you dream of, as there’s a number of performances to enjoy. Of course you can’t not talk about Cumberbatch, whose American Boston accent is pretty great, and natural. Not just that I found he was well contrasted with Depp; they truly felt like brothers, two guys at the opposite end of one spectrum. Their chemistry was good when they shared the screen. Then there are smaller roles that worked well, such as Peter Sarsgaard (always a fan), Rory Cochrane, and more. But I also have to mention Joel Edgerton. He is a talent, one who can play interesting roles with lots of weight. He is compelling from scene to scene, especially considering what his character is involved in, and Edgerton definitely sells the performance. He and Depp do nice work together, too. Having all the actors in this film together is a definite plus. Without them these real life characters would’ve felt like caricatures and bad impressions. With them, Whitey Bulger, John Connolly, Billy Bulger and the rest of them all appear to us vividly and full of passion.


There are certainly similarities at times to the classic Martin Scorsese mob picture Goodfellas. Cooper does an excellent job mirroring some of the music montage moments in that film, excellent homage. Although, it isn’t borrowing too heavily. This is its own story, its own film all the way. But apart from some of the techniques Cooper uses to move the plot along, particularly the first montage with “Slave” by The Rolling Stones, there are plenty differences. The writing doesn’t fall back on homage. We get lots of exciting dialogue, which in turn obviously brings us fun, intense, and likewise exciting relationships between characters, scenes that come to life. It’s not just some period piece jumping from one decade to the next with a couple decent characters. The screenplay is solid. I love the pace of the movie, from start to finish. Never once during the 123 minute runtime did I find myself hoping for more excitement. There are bits of extensive expository dialogue, but only in the sense that we need it re: FBI actions, and so on. Then, we also get our fill of the character development, the violent scenes, the mob talk. There could’ve easily been too much, or not enough, of all these aspects. Instead, Cooper & Co. offer us up a good variation most of the time.
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Easily a 4 star film. There could’ve been a few things edited better, to ramp up the intensity and suspense, but overall the pacing of the film especially keeps things proper. Boasting a massively impressive performance from Johnny Depp, as well as a handful of great supporting roles, Black Mass packs a heavy, bloody punch. Maybe people see too many parallels with other films and that Scott Cooper drew off classics too much. Not I. This is a truly compelling story that deserved to be told and this was told in fine fashion. There are moments you’ll laugh, moments you will root for a good outcome. But this is a dark, twisting story. There are no happy endings. Regardless, the film is very well made. It has a wonderful atmosphere and a constant tone that brings out the best in every aspect of the production. This is top notch and one of the best crime biographies of the past decade. Some bits and pieces need tuning, though, if any Depp shows us he’s not done yet. Not by a long shot.

True Detective – Season 2, Episode 3: “Maybe Tomorrow”

HBO’s True Detective
Season 2, Episode 3: “Maybe Tomorrow”
Directed by Janus Metz Pedersen (Armadillo)
Written by Nic Pizzolatto

* For a review of the next episode, “Down Will Come” – click here
* For a review of the previous episode, “Night Finds You” – click here
Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 2.13.38 PMAs many of us predicted, this week found Detective Ray Velcoro [resilient Irish bastard Colin Farrell] alive and well after seemingly meeting the heavy end of two shotgun blasts – one at midrange, the other close range in the gut and chest. I thought he was wearing a vest, but to my surprise he was not; the rounds were riot shells, the non-lethal sort police use. Velcoro smiles slightly out of the side of his face as he relates that last part to his new partner Detective Ani Bezzerides [Rachel McAdams].
The opening of the episode was perfect. A lot of people are saying today that it was campy. Yeah, right. It’s a dreamy sequence, which happens between the time Ray is shot in the last episode and when he wakes up in this one. This scene shows how Twin Peaks is absolutely a running influence on both Nic Pizzolatto since the first season and the directors of the show in this new season.
Things are slowly heating up for Ray. He meets with Frank Semyon [Vince Vaughn] to discuss the recent events. Ray drinks a glass of water instead of the usual booze and cocaine cocktail. When Frank asks about the water, Ray replies: “Booze tends to take the edge off, I wanna stay angry.” There’s a shift happening in Ray Velcoro, as if he is now truly realizing the forces with which he is dealing, even after all the terrible things I’m sure he has seen, and done. The change is evident as Frank gets ready to head out and the bartender asks what happened to Ray. “Somebody murdered him,” Frank tells her as he pays up and leaves.
Velcoro is experiencing further aggravation in his family life, as his ex-wife offers him money to essentially walk away and not contest the custody of their boy. This, of course, as we’ve already seen is certainly not an option Ray even cares to think about.
I’m really interested in Ray generally, especially when it comes to his whole personal situation, because it’s absolutely wild, and it is such a tough situation all over that I can’t imagine where things will lead by the end of the season.
Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 2.15.56 PMMeanwhile, poor Frank is having troubles with his wife Jordan [Kelly Reilly]. She tries her best to help him get a bit of semen into a plastic cup, but ole Frank just can’t get the job done. The tension of Frank’s business life is clearly working its way into him, every way possible. Later in the episode, one of Frank’s cronies is found dead, his eyes wrecked like the dead catalyst of the season Ben Caspere. This seems to really set Frank off. One thing is for sure – he is getting deeper and deeper into the criminal mud than ever, no telling whether he’ll sink or crawl out on top. I just see the fire simmering low under the surface of Frank and his poised exterior, like he is trying hard to wear a certain mask even if it doesn’t fit quite right.
Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 2.16.15 PM I’m not sure if there’s anything really interesting going on with Vaughn’s character, though, I am still interested. Mainly it’s the way Vaught plays Frank Semyon with a quiet sort of demeanour that intrigues me, and I’m anticipating down the road we’ll end up seeing some intense moments that will pay off; I see something explosive in Frank, waiting, brewing to a head. Or who knows – maybe Semyon will be disappointing in the end as a character, someone cliched and stereotypical of the businessman-turned-gangster we’ve seen so many times around before.
We do get a glimpse into Frank’s physical aggression, as he faces off fist-to-fist with Danny Santos, a gold toothed gangster associate. Frank not only beats the hell out of Danny, and fairly quick, he then proceeds to pull out the gold fronts in Danny’s mouth. Vicious. Yet I feel there is only more to come on that front.
Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 2.17.04 PM“Maybe Tomorrow” brought a new bit of mix with the characters, as Detective Ani Bezzerides and Officer Paul Woodrugh [Taylor Kitsch] went out on the job together, questioning people in connection to their case, which in turn really gets under the Mayor of Vinci’s skin. I liked their exchanges, especially in the car early on. Ani starts to ask Paul about the case which took him off the bike – the young lady and her ‘offer’ from the First Episode – which sets Paul off a little. She goes on to assure him it was only brought up because Ani wondered if it would affect him doing street reconnaissance. I liked this moment particularly because it paints Ani again in a light that doesn’t always go for female characters; from the beginning, she is a take charge woman but does not suffer from being portrayed as uptight or hung up in any way. Whereas other shows might have Ani chastise Paul or make a snide comment now that they are saddled up together, Nic Pizzolatto opts to have her either be slightly understanding or not really caring at all and only worried about the job in front of her. I don’t think Pizzolatto is pushing towards having McAdams play a female character such as Bezzerides simply to pander to those who say there were no good, strong female characters/roles in the first season – I think he is genuinely writing a solid character. Ani could’ve worked as a male character, easily, however, it adds a better dimension having her as a female police detective here. I think it really flows well with the other personalities of the characters involved in the investigation.
Also, I think the small portions of the relationship between Ani and Steve is good stuff. She is a tough woman, not without flaws, and putting Steve in the position of being the inferior is interesting. The first season we got enough of the women flinging themselves after the men, desperately looking for love; this time around Pizzolatto opts to show the other side of the coin where the men get their feelings hurt and they lash out. And that’s part of why I’m enjoying the second season – it has those existential elements, slightly less than in the first, but it stands on its own, and offers a different perspective than we got in the first. I didn’t want a repeat, I wanted something different, and Pizzolatto has enacted enough change so far that I’m pleased. Ani is one of the best parts of those changes, I think adding a female detective, or any female lead character such as her, is really a benefit to the whole season.
75There’s a great scene with Officer Woodrugh and a soldier friend of from their “time in the desert”. It offered enough insight into Paul as a character to confirm everything that has been setup in the first two episodes. Clearly we already knew Woodrugh was wrestling with his sexuality at some point, and still is, and this became even more clear with the scene involving his friend – a friend who is more than that, someone who still thinks about “those three days”. They have a small altercation and Paul leaves.
What piqued my interest even more was the end of the scene where Detective Teague Dixon [W. Earl Brown] – the other cop on the case who already seemed to catch a vibe off Woodrugh in the Second Episode – can be seen watching Woodrugh walk away from the confrontation with his friend. I’m waiting to see where this development goes. Either Dixon might be interested in Paul, long shot, or he may be interested in the blackmail opportunities that could arise should he discover anything concrete about his fellow lawman. We shall see.
Plus, a great little bump in a club between Frank Semyon and Officer Woodrugh, who is there trying to collect information, which doesn’t really foreshadow anything, I just like that the cops and the criminals are sort of navigating a world where they literally bump shoulders. You can never really tell where the edges of the law begin, where they end, like a big cesspool where everything touches and everybody wades in up to their waists. Very cool moment.
true-detective-2-03-paul-bumps-into-frankBasically, for those who have been complaining the second season is slow, that it doesn’t really have much story, “Maybe Tomorrow” truly delivers. We get some more secrets, little chunks of backstory and character/plot development falling out here and there. It was really a piñata-like episode, packing a good punch for the naysayers. Sure, I’ve no doubt they are still out there and will continue to be. I just think season two is giving the goods. It is a different beast than the first. We really seeing the beasts inside everyone, not only the criminals, but all the people in the city of Vinci from the cops to the criminals, the men, the women, and it’s like humanity spilling its guts. The first season of True Detective was all about the dirty side of humanity, however, the main characters of Rust Cohle and Marty Hart were good guys ultimately, even with all the skeletons in their personal closets; they were on the right side of the law, even when they were on the wrong side of it trying to find justice near the end of the season. This new season is all about what happens when the detectives on the case aren’t exactly good, honourable people, or at least it’s about the bad, sometimes terrible, choices good people make when the chips are down.
Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 2.13.11 PMThere are no bells and whistles on this season, so far, like there were in the first. I think that helps. Rust Cohle was awesome – so damn cool – but we have great characters developing here, especially in the three lead cops Bezzerrides, Woodrugh, and Velcoro. The end of this episode was not near as crazy as “Night Finds You“, but the whole thing was stellar, and I’m looking forward to more progression in the next, along with plenty other secrets and who knows what else. I feel certain things were settled in this episode – Frank and his need to release some form of aggression whether through fists or sex – and some things have only started – the budding situation between Paul and Teague – and the titular line of the episode near the end when Frank says, “Maybe tomorrow”, to his wife only hints at something big for the next one titled “Down Will Come”.
See you next Sunday!