Black Mass

If you’ve seen the ads on TV, in print and on the web for Black Mass, you’ve seen Johnny Depp’s latest look. When he appears on the movie screen, with his blue/green eyes, thinning hair and bad front tooth, even if you’ve seen the ads, it’s still a stunning transformation.

Depp gives a mighty performance as James “Whitey” Bulger, a real-life notorious Boston criminal who committed numerous murders, many in a particularly violent manner, along with lesser felonies. For Depp, the role redeems him after several recent misfires. Award nominations will be forthcoming.

But Black Mass is more than just Depp. Director Scott Cooper deftly relates a complex narrative in two hours. The brooding soundtrack by Tom Holkenborg (AKA Junkie XL) complements perfectly the dark story and its gloomy look. The tight script is by Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth from the book by Boston Globe reporters Dick Lehr and Gerald O’Neill.

(Side note: Is it always cloudy in Boston? Based on this film, Mystic River, The Departed, The Town and others, it seems that the city is constantly under overcast skies.)

The story is told in flashbacks, framed by investigator interviews with Bulger lieutenants Steve Flemmi (Rory Cochrane) and Kevin Weeks (Jesse Plemons). In 1975, Bulger is a small-time hood. Soon, he forms an “alliance” with FBI agent and fellow “Southie” John Connolly (Joel Edgerton). They trade information. The deal helps the FBI take down Mafia interests in Boston, but also opens up those crime areas to Bulger and his cohorts.

The cast includes Benedict Cumberbatch as Whitey’s brother Billy Bulger, an elected official who somehow escapes being directly connected to his brother’s treachery. Dakota (Fifty Shades of Gray) Johnson plays Bulger’s girlfriend Lindsey, who is mother of Whitey Bulger’s son. The FBI crew includes Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott and David Harbour. Corey Stoll is a take charge U.S. attorney who is baffled by the FBI’s coddling of Bulger.

Black Mass has already generated controversy in Boston. Family members of those killed by Bulger are upset that the movie shows his humanity. This week, Depp said of the character: “There’s a man who loves. There’s a man who cries. There’s a lot to the man.” (Yes, and John Wayne Gacy gave great clown shows for the kids.)

Just as there are many sides to Whitey Bulger, there are many aspects of Black Mass beyond its central character. Depp is excellent. So is the rest of the movie.

The Heat

Congratulations to Melissa McCarthy for making a hilarious movie! Congratulations to Sandra Bullock for giving McCarthy all the room she needs to do her funny business in The Heat.

Bullock follows in the tradition of TV’s Jerry Seinfeld, Ray Romano and Andy Griffith, all of who were title stars of their sitcoms, but depended on zany sidemen and women to bring the biggest laughs. Bullock brings her considerable charm and infinite likeability to the screen, but Melissa McCarthy as Boston cop Shannon Mullen is the reason to see The Heat.

McCarthy, whose other lead role this year in Identity Thief led to a healthy gross of $135 million, will sell lots of tickets to The Heat with her raunchy, f-bomb-laced riffs and shameless physical humor.

Melissa McCarthy’s agility for a woman of her size is amazing. And her delivery of scriptwriter Katie Dippold’s lines is natural and organic—I’d guess she was given freedom to ad-lib by director Paul Fieg. He also directed Bridesmaids.

By the way, I was told that Bullock claims there are 196 f-bombs in the film.

Bullock as FBI special agent Ashburn is a smug, tightly-wound type A detail person. McCarthy as Mullen is loose, spontaneous and wild. There’s instant animosity between the two. Both are territorial and neither wants to relinquish control.

Bonding takes a while. They share a mutual dislike for not only drug dealers, but also for a pair of DEA agents. As they learn each other’s personal backstories, there’s a bit of sympathy to be shared.

This action/comedy has some grit: people get tied up, shot, stabbed, etc. There’s a pretty good chase scene. It’s rated R and rightly so.

The opening title sequence has a 70’s graphic look and features the song Fight The Power by the Isley Brothers.

The studio (and, presumably, test audiences) liked this movie so much that its release was pushed back from April to late June—a more lucrative, but also more competitive time of year for film box office success. Also, it’s rumored that a sequel is already in the works.

The Heat will make you laugh. And if laughter is what you want and need, don’t miss it.