Part of me viewed Black Mass as a critic. I took into consideration the actors, the script, the staging, pacing, etc. What about character arcs? What about historical accuracy? You know: the usual. I considered some of the things that usually pop up on the imaginary checklist (like how many trailer-worthy zingers will we endure?) and a few that were more specific to this film (like will Johnny Depp’s makeup look as bad as it did in the set photos?); I considered that I’d have to play the game where you try to compress and bury all of those checklistable points so that you can actually watch the movie. I considered Out of the Furnace, the last film by Black Mass director Scott Cooper, and the frustrating way in which that film tried and nearly succeeded in being an epic like The Deer Hunter. Somehow, one of Furnace‘s major flaws seemed to be that it was only almost that kind of movie, something that attempted an ambitious feat but failed to stick the landing.
But despite a sneaking suspicion regarding that last point Black Mass is a hell of a lot more enjoyable than Out of the Furnace or even Crazy Heart, Cooper’s first two films which both touted incredible performances but misplaced directorial style, and that’s probably because the other part of me viewed it as a Bostonian. The Globe‘s Ty Burr says it best in his review: “For worse and for worser, James “Whitey” Bulger is a son of Boston, and moviegoers here will react differently to Scott Cooper’s film than they will in Seattle, Dallas, or Dubuque.” That was inescapably true for last night’s Boston Common screening, wherein the feeling was that everyone in the theater was already familiar with what was unfolding up on the screen.
Continue reading Black Mass (2015) →
One of the most egregious snubs in the history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences concerns last year’s Best Actor trophy, and no, it has nothing to do with Leonardo DiCaprio. Eddie Redmayne walked away with the Oscar for his turn as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, and indeed his performance was groundbreaking and heartfelt. But it pales in comparison to the tour de force delivered by Body, the Hungarian star of Kornél Mundruczó’s White God, in his role as the tortured, tragic, life-loving, revenge-seeking, slobber-mouthed Hagen. Due respect to Redmayne, but Body’s performance is simply one of the most emotional and drool-covered performances in years.
As a young actor Body was met with obstacle after obstacle as he tried to make ends meet while pursuing his craft. He auditioned for some of the most iconic roles of our time and even received a callback for The Beast from The Sandlot, but the dude who played Mr. Mertle claimed Body was “impossible to work with” and cited the Hungarian-English language barrier as a primary qualm. He was an extra in Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch but soon disowned the film and distanced himself from the creative vision of the entire Air Bud series. Body struggled to be taken seriously as an actor, forced to take work in Iams commercials and as a busboy of sorts in the alley behind an L.A. hotspot.
Continue reading White God (2014) →
Eddie Redmayne becomes Stephen Hawking in a rare and exciting way in The Theory of Everything, giving a performance that extends far beyond simply mimicking Hawking’s look. He’s a young actor — currently 33 — but already has a sizable body of film work under his belt, in addition to a Tony Award and an Olivier Award for his work in the play Red alongside Alfred Molina. In short: it’s a good time to be Eddie Redmayne. His success in this role will doubtless launch him onto the international stage, and judging by his next role (a part in Jupiter Ascending, his first big-budget action film) he’s already there.
And yet it’s all he and co-star Felicity Jones can do to drag The Theory of Everything out of the tired, trodden mud in which the film itself is set. To claim outright that a certain biographical film is “boring” isn’t necessarily the equivalent of deeming the life of the subject to be similarly boring, but it’s close enough to warrant a perfunctory disclaimer: Hawking had a life that was anything but boring. Sure, everyone knows that math and science themselves are really incredibly boring — certainly no one is denying that. But Theory can’t even fall back on that, because there’s surprisingly little math or science in the film.
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There is a scene in The Imitation Game where a young Alan Turing is introduced to a book of codes and cyphers by his classmate and friend Christopher. The significance of this moment is obvious (Look, it’s the exact moment Alan Turing became the Alan Turing we all know!!!). But Graham Moore’s script plays this moment as a different kind of discovery. There’s no glint in Alan’s eye as he catches a glimpse of a future in which he fathers computer science while cracking the Nazi’s Enigma code, wins the war, and is later played beautifully by Benedict Cumberbatch. Instead, Alan recognizes a comparison between cyphers and the way people talk. Turing, who is thought to have had Aspergers Syndrome, cannot process metaphors and irony because of his extreme literalism. The concept of coded communication gives him a better understanding of how people don’t say what they mean and don’t mean what they say. This, not his mathematical genius, is his gateway into code-breaking, and it’s one of many beautiful nuances in the film.
Unfortunately, the rest of The Imitation Game, like Turing, is overly formulaic. The film adapts Andrew Hodges’ biography, Alan Turing: The Enigma, about the mathematical savant who was the biggest contributor to deciphering Nazi communications with his cryptanalytic machine. This true story could have been an otherwise simple and inspiring tale about an extraordinary Brit, alongside the likes of The Theory of Everything and The King’s Speech, if it weren’t for one major tarnish. In 1952, Turing was convicted of indecency (read: homosexual acts) and made to take hormone treatments in place of a prison sentence. He killed himself two years later. This understandably requires a different kind of film.
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It can be a strange thing these days: some actors either play a role so many times or play it so effectively once that it becomes nearly impossible to fill the shoes, impossible to recast the role or to even imagine recasting the role. The former scenario – where an actor owns a role by performing it over multiple films – is more and more common now that the shared universe and neverending saga models are actually viable. Robert Downey Jr. and Hugh Jackman had the advantage of being the first to play Tony Stark and Wolverine in their respective franchises, but it’s still damn difficult to imagine what those cinema characters will look like ten years from now once Messrs. Downey and Jackman age out of the parts.
The latter camp – those who own a role after only a single performance – is more interesting, at least when the role we’re considering is that of Sherlock Holmes. The great deerstalker-capped detective has been played by hundreds of actors onscreen, notably by the likes of Basil Rathbone, Christopher Lee, Roger Moore (in Sherlock Holmes in New York), and the aforementioned Downey Jr. in the most recent feature adaptations. Peter O’Toole voiced the character in a series of animated shorts in the early ’80s, Ian McKellen will portray him in 2015’s Mr. Holmes, and Benedict Cumberbatch plays Sexy Holmes in the BBC show Sherlock. Jeremy Brett’s decade in the role spanning four separate series is certainly one of the most interesting turns – Brett’s health declined noticeably as each series progressed, and his time in the role ended up charting a tragic bearing through his final years.
Continue reading Murder by Decree (1979) →