Black Mass (Scott Cooper, 2015)

Barring the gravitas lacing Depp’s portrayal of increasingly infamous James “Whitey” Bulger, Black Mass can’t quite shake its ostensible Triple A reenactment feel. Charting the blue-eyed psychopath’s swift rise to criminal superstardom in his native Boston, the film examines Bulger’s steadfastly procured infallibility among peers and rivals. With FBI agent and fellow Southie native John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) to thank, creative bloodshed frequently punctuates a broadening warpath toward total domination of the criminal underworld.

If geographic authenticity means masking one’s native accent with another, Black Mass immediately tops the charts. With an affected overarching dialect so distracting it nearly becomes a detriment, the coinciding exchanges and native profanity carry less weight than they should despite the serviceable albeit objectively familiar engagement factor present. A gangster does gangster things as factual exposition details when, where and why, thus rendering dialectic hyperbole the least of the film’s worries.

Depp’s laudable turn as Bulger can’t quite stave off Black Mass‘ questionable romanticization of the character, of whom is awkwardly compassionate when he’s not compulsively violent. The film’s slick presentation of the greatest hits peppering his legacy is undeniably impressive though, even if the criminality timeline conceit is something we’ve seen employed throughout dozens of other true crime efforts. An embellished verbal exchange here, a key sequence there – Black Mass adheres to exaggerated biographical trappings in a manner unable to reinvigorate the formula it replicates.

Black Mass is at its best a meaty slice of awards-pandering banality. Its examination of the relationship between Bulger and Connolly that shaped the former’s legacy is agreeably involving, yet the film unavoidably falls victim to an air of total needlessness. During a time when Bulger himself is still relevant – and especially after 2006’s The Departed – anticipation was almost solely contingent upon Depp’s presumed resurgence. Black Mass’ parts are glaringly greater than their sum, of which is ostensibly an actor’s showcase in a grimy, era-specific wrapper.


Magic Magic (Sebastián Silva, 2013)

For those intrigued by its eerily straightforward marketing campaign – one identifiably benchmarked by Michael Cera in a purportedly career realigning turn – Sebastián Silva’s Magic Magic is, in fact, not entirely focused on an archetypal sociopath out to stalk his helpless prey. For the record, Silva’s first-conceived of two projects to premier at this year’s Sundance Film Festival revolves around a shy, adventurously tepid young lady (Juno Temple) whose cousin (Emily Browning) inadvertently gives her mental collapse a jump-start when she’s supposedly forced to “take an exam” while studying abroad in southern Chile. Now alone with complete strangers and separated from the mainland, the increasingly anxious Alicia must do her best to acclimate herself whilst awaiting her savior’s arrival.

Misdirection not at all affecting Silva’s experimental take on your typical psychological thriller, the film takes pride in withholding important details from us until after they irreparably tarnish a particular situation at the remote central Chilean cottage. At once appearing socially inept in the basest of ways, Temple’s Alicia self-deprecatingly belies her hosts’ intentions as her simply being out of her element causes shit to hit the fan. With the co-inhabitant Brink (Michael Cera) discernibly acting out in an obnoxious enough manner, Alicia’s aversion to him and the others is enough to stir the proverbial pot, what with Silva’s distressing exposition of certain events outlining the titular female’s supposed predicament aptly enough.

As insomnia plays the culprit in relation to Alicia’s explosively erratic behavior, Magic Magic‘s unrelenting view of occurrences from her perspective lay the tension on thick, projecting a somewhat believable dramatic element that sidesteps nearly all horror thriller cliches. Whether the film’s intention is to passively illustrate the perils of mental illness is uncertain, but Silva’s aptitude in consistently deceiving us – making us believe one thing as we inevitably second guess ourselves thanks to ambiguity – is very admirable even if the finished product doesn’t resonate as strongly as one would hope. All in all, it’s superbly well-acted, a relentlessly dark and obscure aura contributing valuably to its intentions, however one shouldn’t be deceived by a shallow interest in cheap thrills as proposed by Magic Magic‘s debut trailer – this film is a literal, psychologically affecting mindtrip that means well but doesn’t fully capitalize on an intriguing approach.

PFS Sneak Preview: Killer Joe (2011)

To be honest, words escape me when trying to describe William Friedkin’s most recent collaboration with playwright/screenwriter Tracy Letts. On one hand, Killer Joe is so wonderfully depraved and subversive in every sense of the words that to dislike it makes one seem ignorant, however it’s also easy to see why these qualities would turn off any particular number of casual viewers. From start to finish, the film’s relentlessly sleazy and darkly humorous mantra is rarely ineffective, and with a central story arc as ludicrous as they come, to shun Killer Joe is to fail in realizing its obvious intentions.

Embracing its hard NC-17 rating nearly everywhere you’d expect it to, Killer Joe is a direct reference to the title character “Killer” Joe Cooper, a local Dallas detective that moonlights as a contract killer. Hired by young local scumbag Chris (Emile Hirsch) to off his good-for-nothing mother for her hefty life insurance policy, Joe agrees to claim Chris’ underage sister Dottie (Juno Temple) as a (sexual) retainer until he receives his monetary fee that wasn’t paid upfront. Periodic aberrant violence and questionable human behavior permeate the proceedings, what with an awkward, rather disturbing sexual encounter benchmarking them effortlessly barring one hell of a latter act.

Celebrating said violence rather than using it for authenticity’s sake, these instances are purposefully presented as something out of an XXX-rated comic book, alternating between plain fucked up and quite humorous with bone-chilling finesse. McConaughey and Temple’s performances alone are, frankly, almost worth the price of admission alone, and each instance of role committal here is nothing short of commendable. In fact, the only thing that Killer Joe suffers from is a sense of predictability brought about by idle chatter pertaining to the film’s rating; ensuring us that what we see won’t hit quite as hard as it should, even despite what the film has in store for audiences as it creeps closer to its unsettling end.

There isn’t much else left to say that can accurately classify Killer Joe as something that’s whole-heartedly way out in left field; it’s a given that it effortlessly embraces this mold thanks to both its source material’s relentless mean streak and how that translates seamlessly to the big screen. Sex, violence and a tasteless embracing of Southern stereotypes supports the film’s outrageous intentions, of which are simply to entertain despite how off-putting a bulk of it truly and very obviously is. It goes without saying that Friedkin’s already found his audience for this one, but coupled with fantastic performances, Killer Joe is a trashy treat.