Black Mass (2015) AKA Can Johnny Win Back My Love?


Back in April I gave my initial thoughts on Black Mass and Johnny Depp after seeing the first trailer for the film. Well, the time has finally come to pass down my judgement on Johnny. Does Johnny electrify the screen as real life gangster Whitey Bulger? Will he restore his reputation as one of the all-time greats?

The answer is… Johnny and his film fall somewhere in the middle: neither amazing nor bad. Overall I really enjoyed Black Mass and Johnny Depp, but neither wowed me. Johnny gives a very good performance; menacing, charming, funny. The makeup and costuming seem to enhance his performance instead of distracting from it. It’s the closest Johnny has come to playing a genuine human being in a long time.
The fault with the film, which also hurts Depp, is that it is told neither from Whitey’s POV nor from John Connolly’s (played by the delicious Joel Edgerton). Whitey, of course, did not participate in the making of the film and has basically shit all over it and Depp (without having seen it). And since Connolly wouldn’t even testify against Whitey in real life, I highly doubt he contributed anything. This has a great effect on the film as neither Whitey nor Connolly is the main character, instead switching between the two constantly and relying constantly on the accounts of other characters. Because of this the film seems to have nothing to say. It is a great collection of some neat scenes and performances, but there is no direction to it. Is Whitey good, bad, a bit of both? Is Connolly? Yes, Connolly has a strong attachment to Whitey because of their childhood, but there must be a little more to it than that. The film does not explore any of this, instead just skimming the surface of the two men’s lives.

This lack of depth is what keeps the film from becoming anything other than pretty good. Joel Edgerton was the highlight for me as at least his character evolves and changes, unlike Whitey who remains static. Although the film acts as though he changes after two significant deaths in his life, but that change never comes across very well. The cast is all stellar except for Benedict Cumberbatch (he’s okay, but pretty much just a glorified cameo). I liked Black Mass, but it is just a Scorsese wannabe. 7 Joel Edgerton pouts out of 10.

And yes, Johnny did kind of win my love back. Just a little. (It’s so hard not to like the guy and he still has those killer cheekbones).

Trailer Review/Actor Analysis: Johnny Depp and Black Mass


Actor Analysis
I used to be a huge Johnny Depp fan. For me he reached his peak around the time of Sweeney Todd. After Sweeney he has been on a downward slide, especially critically. Johnny has become a caricature of himself as seen in his last film, Mortdecai.
In the 90s Johnny had a string of indie hits and he could do no wrong. He did some great work in Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Johnny’s films weren’t always successful, but he seemed to take a lot of risks and to do very different roles.
Of course, Pirates of the Caribbean changed everything for Johnny. At first it seemed he was able to maintain his artistic integrity while making huge bucks fronting a blockbuster franchise. But an island and four (I think) pirate movies later and Johnny has become kind of pathetic. He is always donning a silly costume and his acting has become more exaggerated. Long gone is the subtlety of Donnie Brasco. Now it’s all about weird wigs and dramatic flourishes. So can Johnny, an actor once praised for his quiet, quirky talent make a comeback?

Trailer Review
Black Mass is Johnny’s last chance at reclaiming his past glory. If Johnny can show off his acting chops again then his recent lackluster past will be easily forgotten. But if not, it will just reaffirm the fact that he is now a has-been.
This first trailer for Black Mass is very strong, incredibly promising. It’s one of the best cut trailers I’ve seen in a long time. It’s a great technique to take one small, dramatic scene from the movie and accentuate it with great music and brief flashes of the rest of the film. But maybe this is one of the only strong moments in the film, trailers often show off the best stuff first.
There’s also Johnny’s costume, which is both good and bad. I like the whitish grey contacts, they are really eerie and entrancing. But that forehead, my God they could have named this the forehead movie. And I don’t find the old age makeup all that convincing, but then again I don’t know how old the character should be.
As for the actors Johnny is surrounded by a great cast that we just get a glimpse of, Benedict Cumberbatch, Joel Edgerton, Kevin Bacon, etc. Johnny’s acting here though is hard to judge. I think he is pretty good, but I also think the music adds a lot to the tension and helps him quite a bit. I also don’t find his accent to be very convincing. I think Johnny is acting more than actually inhabiting the character, but he definitely has me intrigued and hopeful.
It would be great for Johnny to succeed, but he’s become such a disappointment that I am doubtful. The studio has some faith in Black Mass as it is scheduled for release September 18, early in the awards season. Give your thoughts on Johnny and the trailer below. What are your favorite Johnny Depp films?

Into the Woods (2014)


I was really looking forward to this movie since I absolutely love Tim Burton’s adaptation of another Stephen Sondheim musical, Sweeney Todd. Despite Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine) being the director of Into the Woods and Disney being the studio behind it I was still very excited for another dark musical.

Lilla Crawford more than holds her own against Johnny Depp.
Lilla Crawford more than holds her own against Johnny Depp.

The first half of the movie delivers and met most of my expectations. It’s very fun, fast paced, and interesting. There are some stand out performances, especially from Lilla Crawford as Little Red Riding Hood. Lilla has great comedic timing and she is simply a joy to watch (and listen to). Johnny Depp is also quite funny in his glorified cameo as the Wolf (although I do not like his costume). Emily blunt and Anna Kendrick are also very good. But the actor that nearly steals the show from Lilla is Chris Pine. Wow, I was blown away!! I never thought much of him until now. Not only can he sing amazingly well, he is also hilarious!!! The duet “Agony” that he sings with Billy Magnussen is by far my favorite part of the movie and it alone is worth the price of admission.

I cannot get enough of this moment.
I cannot get enough of this moment.

As much as I liked the first half of Into the Woods I really disliked the second half. The story suddenly gets extremely dark. Which would have been fine if any of it made any sense. The transition is so blunt and hardly explained that the whole film suddenly falls flat. There’s this whole bit with a giant that made me yawn and look at the time continuously. I think that too much of the original musical was cut out of the second half.
I was also quite disappointed by the songs in Into the Woods. Other than “Agony’ nothing stood out to me, except for maybe the opener. I was surprised by this because I find all the songs in Sweeney Todd very catchy and engaging. But here the songs are kind of boring. And while Meryl Streep gives an okay performance I didn’t find her particularly good.
Overall Into the Woods is an okay film. I think the film would have benefited greatly from a more visually strong director. Rob Marshall is nothing special if you ask me, Chicago is okay, but not amazing. I couldn’t help but wish as I was watching it that Tim Burton had directed it since he did such wonders with Sweeney Todd. Rob Marshall’s bland directing and the lazy screenwriting during the second half keep Into the Woods from being really different and interesting. Any commentaries on “happily ever after” fall flat. Into the Woods gets 6 charmings out of ten sinceres.


Platoon (1986)


I didn’t love this film. It’s hard to love a war film, especially one like this, one that seeks to show the harsh realities of it. Platoon focuses on Chris (Charlie Sheen) a young man growing up while serving in the Vietnam War. My favorite part of this movie was when the audience is seeing strictly from Chris’s perspective. This instances really pulled me into the film and into the experience of war. I also enjoyed Chris’s letter (or letters? Can’t quite remember) to his grandmother. I thought it was an effective way to give a little bit of a commentary without being too exposition heavy. I really enjoyed watching Chris grow and how he was affected by both the war and the people he was surrounded by.

Elias (Willem Dafoe), Chris (Charlie Sheen), and Barnes (Tom Berenger).
Elias (Willem Dafoe), Chris (Charlie Sheen), and Barnes (Tom Berenger).

A highlight of this film for me was the superb acting and presence of Willem Dafoe as Elias. Elias (other than maybe Chris) is the most likeable character in Platoon. There were times when Willem came on screen, smiling that smile of his, which made me smile in return. I’ve always known he was a great actor, but this is the first time Willem’s acting has truly affected me (I haven’t seen very many of his films).
The other thing that I found unique and interesting about Platoon was the use of lighting. It was atmospheric (I guess?). Lighting that would actual exist in the real world, not fake movie lighting. The way the light falls through the canopy of leaves or a face barely illuminated in the dark. It really struck me as did the score. The music is perfect and used sparingly, making it all the more effective. I found it quite refreshing since these days there seems to be a lot of background music in films and it can be distracting.

Oh yeah, young Johnny Depp! I think he only speaks once or twice, but whatever.
Oh yeah, young Johnny Depp! I think he only speaks once or twice, but whatever.

I’m not a big fan of war movies, so my reaction to this film is a little subdued. I can see how people more interested in these kinds of films would enjoy Platoon more. I’m glad I watched it, but it’s not a film I will be revisiting anytime soon. 7/10

Trailer Review: Mortdecai


Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Johnny Depp, what have you done to your career?! Once he was on top of the planet. A celebrated character actor, who could also wow in big blockbuster films. Now… he’s become a caricature of himself. And this silly movie is not going to put his career back on track again. If anything it shows that he has finally reached the bottom of the barrel. I remember when Johnny did movies because he wanted to, not because he wanted a cash grab.
Johnny Depp plays Mortdecai, an art dealer looking for a lost painting that’s worth a lot of money. Or something like that. This movie is basically just an excuse for Johnny to ham it up. Also in the movie are Olivia Munn, Ewan McGregor, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, and Jeff Goldblum. A bit of a mixed bag that cast. This is kind of reminding me of The Tourist in that it’s a heist movie (I think?) with Johnny Depp trying to be funny. This is not a good thing to be reminded of. At least this film (Mortdecai) doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously.
Johnny’s accent is making me cringe. It might be funny in the movie, but in the trailer it seems over the top and ridiculous. And just down right annoying. I am so saddened by what Johnny Depp has become. Okay, enough whining, I’m going to go cry in the corner as I picture Johnny Depp grabbing Olivia Munn’s boob. How the mighty have fallen indeed. Mortdecai is in theaters January 23, 2015.

Trailer Review: Into the Woods


Finally, a proper trailer for this film! I didn’t bother reviewing the first trailer for Into the Woods because it hardly revealed anything. But this trailer really gives you a feel of what the vibe is going to be. And also there’s singing! I think it’s mostly just Meryl Streep (as the Witch), but it’s better than nothing. And she sounds pretty good! Although this isn’t her first singing role as she starred in Mamma Mia a few years ago.
I really like this trailer. Before I saw it I was ambivalent about this film and was worried that it would be a boring re-hashing of some classic fairy tales. But this trailer swept me away with both its visuals and the music. Oh the music. Stephen Sondheim is a master, simply a musical genius. If you read my recent review of Sweeney Todd (another Sondheim musical) than you probably aren’t surprised that I am excited about Into the Woods. Finally, I’ll have some new songs to sing while I do my chores! Into the Woods won’t be nearly as dark as Sweeney Todd. Which is too bad because I think the original musical was a little raunchy (correct me if I’m wrong) and that with the movie version Disney has sanitized it a bit. I think there might be a lot of similarities between the two films, although Into the Woods is directed by Rob Marshall, who also directed Chicago and Nine. I don’t really like his previous work (Chicago has its moments), but I’m hoping to enjoy this. Although I would have preferred Tim Burton, but he seems to be moving away from elaborate films these days.
Acting wise, the people that stand out for me in this trailer are Emily Blunt and Anna Kendrick. While Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp have the showier parts somehow they don’t intrigue me. I like Meryl, but she isn’t an actress I run to the theater to see. I used to run to see Johnny, but he’s been disappointing me a lot lately and he has hammed it up in costume so many times before the schtick is getting a little old. I also wish they had gone for a different look for the Wolf. He looks so….human. It’s boring. After seeing Edge of Tomorrow I am now a huge Emily blunt fan and I think she can work her magic here as the Baker’s Wife. But I think Anna Kendrick will really steal the show as Cinderella. She just seems so relatable and smart. Hopefully she can put a unique spin on the typical Disney princess mold.
I think/hope that Into the Woods will be a fun movie to see on Christmas day. I think it is a perfect release date. It looks magical, a little dark, but mostly fun. I wish it would be a little darker a la Sweeney Todd, but I think it still looks enjoyable. I think Anna Kendrick is going to stand out and really become a big star after this. If you don’t like musicals you may want to skip this one. But I am really excited now and can’t wait.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)


This film holds a special place in my heart. Even though it is not the best film to everyone, it is the best film to me. Other films may accomplish more technically, they may have better pacing or a better plot, etc. But for me, Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd is everything I’ve always wanted in a film.
Some people are put off of musicals and hate them sight unseen. Me, I like my films loud, dramatic, and over the top. So musicals don’t scare me, although I don’t watch very many of them. The only other one that I love is Moulin Rouge. So I love how strong Sweeney Todd is visually, musically, and dramatically. The visuals are stunning, I love the mixture of real sets with CGI. I also love how the color palette reflects not only different times in Sweeney’s life, but also reflects the characters’ perceptions of their world. Optimistic at first and then pessimistic. I like that the majority of the film is nearly black and white. The cinematographer used the Digital Intermediate process to strip the film of most of its color. This de-saturation really makes the blood pop as well as the pale faces of the cast. The bleakness of Victorian London comes to life and there is no other director who could have accomplished it quite like Tim Burton.

Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd and Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett make a great duo.
Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd and Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett make a great duo.

Sweeney Todd is the last great film that both Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have made. I think Sweeney was made at the pinnacle of their careers and they have been on a downward slide ever since. Johnny received an Oscar nomination for his role as Sweeney Todd, thus it’s his last critically acclaimed role. The trio of Burton, Depp, and Helena Bonham Carter has become a bit of a joke these days. But the three have great chemistry together and that comes through in the majority of their work (I’d like to forget Dark Shadows ever happened). The casting of Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett is perfect, I couldn’t imagine anyone else on the roles. Casting younger actors makes the film a little sexier and cooler than the theatrical version. I also think the film really benefits from having non-professional singers in the film (other than Lucy, played by Laura Michelle Kelly). Having actors who don’t normally sing can really hurt a film (ahem, Pierce Brosnan and Mamma Mia!). But in the case of Sweeney Todd, none of the actors sound terrible. In fact some are surprisingly good (Sacha Baron Cohen and that high note, OMG). They also inject their characters personalities into their singing voices better than if they were lip synching to someone else. The characters are more real and relatable because they don’t sound like opera singers.

Johnny Depp earned an Oscar nomination for his role as the murderous barber.
Johnny Depp earned an Oscar nomination for his role as the murderous barber.

Johnny Depp is amazing as Sweeney. He owns that role. First of all, I love his look. Collen Atwood, frequent Tim Burton collaborator, designed all the costumes and she does a fabulous job. Some might argue that Depp only has one look and one emotion throughout the film. But I think if you believe that you are missing out on the subtleties of his performance. He is a haunted man who only has one thing on his mind, revenge. The only time he experiences anything close to happiness is when he kills someone. And even then the feeling is only fleeting.
One of my favorite aspects of the film is its dark humor. Sometimes it is very subtle, just a look or twitch from Johnny. Other times it is more overt, such as during the “A Little Priest” number. Helena Bonham Carter is a large source of the humor. Mrs.Lovett lightens the tone of the film with the songs she sings and the way she doesn’t take things too seriously. This is in stark contrast to brooding Sweeney. Helena is a joy and the audience can see how much fun she is having in the role. Of all the parts she has played, this is the one she was born for. The rest of the cast is also quite good, especially Sacha Baron Cohen and Alan Rickman. Alan is appropriately evil. There are a lot of similarities between Judge Turpin and Sweeney. They are both blinded by their own ambitions and disregard those around them. So when Turpin says, “How seldom it is one meets a fellow spirit,” I believe he is quite right, even if Sweeney denies it. Sacha Baron Cohen nearly steals the show as the flamboyant, but calculating Pirelli. As usual, his comedic timing is perfect, but he also excels when he is being serious.

Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp) gives Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) a close shave.
Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp) gives Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) a close shave.

I’ve gone this far without once mentioning that the film is about a cannibalistic barber. I guess when I think about the film that is the least interesting aspect of it. Or I’m just desensitized to it after 30 + viewings. I like the gore because it is done in an artful way. The blood is like paint that Sweeney (and Tim Burton) is using to paint a canvas. I was never grossed out by the film, except for the one shot of a blood skeleton near the end. The film makes the murders both horrifying and funny at the same time. During the song “Johanna reprise” Sweeney is so nonchalant about killing that I giggled once or twice. I also enjoy what the film has to say about revenge and how it affects the person seeking it and everyone around them. I like that the ending is not an optimistic one, but something that people can learn from. The film isn’t afraid to be dark, right up until the end.

I love this movie. I have watched it many, many times. And it never gets old. I think that is due in part to Stephen Sondheim’s amazing songs. The whole thing feels like a long form music video. But the visuals are also incredibly fun and a treat for the eyes. The only criticism I have of the film is that at time the pacing can feel a little slow. Near the middle of the film, when there are less musical numbers, it starts to drag during dialogue only scenes. But during the songs the music, as well as the film and its actors, soars. To me, this is Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, and Helena Bonham Carter’s best film. 9.5/10