Purpose of Evasion

In theory, selling one’s soul does have many benefits — getting all that you desire and then some in exchange for one small thing. The key words in that sentence are and then somebecause once you have it, can you really be content with what you have, or do you have to go deeper? Questions of a similar ilk are asked in Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace)’s stellar new film, Black Mass, about the ill-advised and ill-fated deal struck between the FBI and Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger.

Too often with biographical pictures, you remember that you are watching A-listers playing real people. That being said, in a way that few other actors have before, Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl) excels in his portrayal of Whitey Bulger, with all the innocence of a playground bully and all the terror that Satan himself could ever possess. It doesn’t take long to forget that he is an actor — he becomes the scariest bastard you’ve ever seen. If he does not win Best Actor next year, then the Oscars intelligentsia will have royally screwed the pooch.

Joel Edgerton (The Gift)’s portrayal of FBI Agent John Connolly is one of a man broken by his own allegiances, one of a childhood friendship with Bulger, the other to the bureau and, by association, the United States of America. Choosing the former drags himself deeper into willful ignorance and pathetic nihilism, leading him to his ultimate fate. Edgerton pulls off this role with aplomb, and wisely makes no attempt to appeal this character to the audience.

Going from Masterpiece to Massachusetts is Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) as Senator Bill Bulger, brother of Whitey and as complicit as Connolly. Cumberbatch masters the Boston accent and, in raising his voice ever so slightly, also convinces the audience of being someone other than himself — it’s little things like those that can make the performance all the more convincing.

Corey Stoll (Midnight in Paris), making his entrance in the third act of the film as Fred Wyshak, a federal agent who, unlike Connolly’s entourage, cannot be bought and seeks to bring Bulger down. In the midst of all the corruption taking place, his appearance is a breath of fresh air to a viewer trapped in putrid darkness. That being said, the light in said darkness is David Harbour (Quantum of Solace)’s portrayal of Agent John Morris, a confidante of Connolly’s who, under pressure of a guilty conscience, exposes his superior and Bulger’s shady deal and everything in between.

The creative crew behind the film does a fine job, particularly cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi (The Grey), with gritty close-ups populating the film and almost experimental focuses, but the real lynchpin of the film is, in point of fact, its score, created by DJ-turned-film composer Tom Holkenborg (Mad Max: Fury Road). Muted yet powerful, it enhances the story and actions onscreen, in the same way that his instructor, Hans Zimmer, did with his score for Frost/Nixon.

Black Mass is a brilliant showcase of the horror in ignorance and the shame of dealing with the devil, even if he is your boyhood chum. This movie comes highly recommended, for the aforementioned reasons and education come next year’s Academy Awards.

Rating: 5/5

Shining at the End of Every Day

(Change of plans, dear reader: I will be swapping back and forth between old flicks and new releases every other Sunday; in this way, I hope to keep up-to-date, both with this blog and my personal life. Feel free to hassle me if I fall behind.)

Luscious, isn’t it?

Since his sabbatical from Pixar Animation Studios after Ratatouille, director Brad Bird made his debut into live-action filmmaking with 2011’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. While a runaway success, I feel the film was a total letdown in its script and performances, which is a crying shame, as it featured luscious cinematography, daring IMAX scenes and stunts that flowed like mercury. I really wanted to like it — twice. Now, like a shining light comes Tomorrowland, the brainchild of Bird, Damon Lindelof (Star Trek Into Darkness, Prometheus) and newcomer Jeff Jensen. Of course, the film owes its existence to the mind and talent of Walt Disney and the Disneyland Imagineers, past and present, but this film is far from brand plugging — rather, it both tells a story that inspires and serves as a guide for the human race of today.

In the film, Casey Newton (Britt Robertson, The Longest Ride) is an optimist in a time — as of this writing, that time is now — when everyone has just about lost hope in their own future, even her own father (Tim McGraw, The Blind Side), who is about to lose his job at Cape Canaveral. However, everything changes when she receives a pin that transports her into another world — a great, big, beautiful tomorrow, if you will. Hindered by the pin’s limitations, Casey seeks the help of Frank Walker (George Clooney, Ocean’s Eleven), a jaded inventor and gains the assistance of Athena (Raffey Cassidy, Snow White and the Huntsman), a little girl who is not all that she appears, to find the world that she yearns to be a part of, and save it from a sinister force.

To get my only two gripes out of the way, there is, to my eyes, so much product placement — I’m not talking about Disney products, I mean outside sponsors — General Motors, Nabisco, The Coca-Cola Company — I’ve never felt my attention become stammered by product placement until now, but since they’re spaced few and far between, it doesn’t matter too much. Secondly, the script plays out smoothly for the most part, but toward the end, loses definition in its detail. Perhaps this is a casualty of the cutting room floor, or maybe the words sounded better on paper, but the movie still succeeds in its narrative, and that’s really what matters.

Now to all who worry about when I said that the film “serves as a guide,” be not afraid — this is not a message movie; you will find no WALL•E-style, studio-mandated preaching here. If anything, I see the film as a kick in the federal government’s pants to get America back into the space race, as well we should — at the least, more tax dollars need to go to NASA, and not the pockets of money-born Senators. This film and Interstellar should be given back-to-back screenings outside the U.S. Capitol.

On its technical merits, Tomorrowland shines, both in regular theaters showing it in the 2.20:1 aspect ratio (giving the feeling of a 70mm epic of old) and its Digital IMAX version, presented in 1.90:1, which fills the screen. The visual effects are luscious and grand, which  begs the question as to why the film wasn’t shot/converted to 3D. I feel it would have fit like a glove, but given the amount of night shots in the film, I’m also glad it wasn’t, lest it resemble the 3D presentation of last year’s Maleficent.

As for the cast, Clooney fans may be shocked to know that though he carries top billing, he’s not in the film as much as Robertson is, and that’s exactly how it should be — this is a story for the impressionable youth of today. On that note, it’s great to see Robertson carry the story in a sci-fi film that doesn’t require her to wear salacious clothing or wield a sword or gun. Some would call it boring, and under lesser talent, it could be that, but with Brad Bird at the helm, it works, and Robertson brings the requisite kindness and earnestness to her performance. Remember, she’s a high schooler who wants to build a better world, accent on “build.” As Athena, Raffey Cassidy just about steals the show, and holds her own among Clooney, Robertson and all others in the film. Her innocence and bright, girlish glee give the story the feeling of a kids’ adventure film in the vein of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and more recently, Super 8. She’s surely got a bright future ahead of her, I just hope she doesn’t burn out like so many other young actresses. You may be wondering if this film has a definitive villain, so I’m going to tell you this: yes, it does, and go see the film to find out.

I highly recommend Tomorrowland — it’s not perfect, but it has a heart of gold and never stops loving the future that isn’t guaranteed, but is absolutely possible. Go see it in any way you can, but any giant screen is your best choice!

Rating: 4/5

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