Black Mass – Movie Review

“If nobody sees it, it didn’t happen.” Thankfully for Warner Bros., moviegoers did see their latest offering, Black Mass, which opened in theaters on September 18. It has had a favorable box office run so far, especially for a movie released with an R-rating well after the summer movie rush. Being a Boston native, this is a movie that hits close to home, highlighting many areas of Boston and the surrounding communities to tell the story of one of the worst criminals the United States has ever seen, James “Whitey” Bulger. For us up here in Boston, everyone has a “Whitey story”. For me, my grandfather went to Boston College with his brother, Billy (who also plays a large part in the Whitey saga), and from what I have been told it is very possible he knew Whitey as a younger man. Everyone knew him, everyone had an encounter with him at some point, and yet somehow he managed to avoid arrest for over 20 years and eventually escape for another 16 years. Black Mass tells the story of how this was possible.

Black Mass features an outstanding cast on paper. Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Kevin Bacon, Corey Stoll, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, Benedict Cumberbatch, Adam Scott, and Dakota Johnson all share the big screen. However, many of these actors and actresses play small roles, and the main focus of the film centers around the relationship between Whitey (played by Depp) and FBI Agent John Connolly (played by Edgerton). The film packs 20 years of stories into 2 hours, clearly missing many interesting storylines in favor of faster pacing. If Scorsese had made this one, we likely could have had a solid 3+ hours of storyline, but Director Scott Cooper does the best that he can in the shorter run time. However, the plot is easy to follow and we do not need to see the 20+ killings perpetrated by Whitey and the Winter Hill Gang, the numerous extortions, and the drug deals because after just a few moments the point has been taken; Whitey was not a good guy.

Depp and Edgerton are the big shining stars in this one, and the makeup and wardrobe team did an excellent job with both of them. From aging them 20 years, to maintaining proper period clothing, to transforming Depp into an unrecognizable character, they nailed it. I will not be surprised to see them on the stage at the Academy Awards. If no one tells you going in who plays Whitey Bulger, you would not guess in twenty tries. It is that good.

Depp completely absorbs the role both in look and in attitude, and gives a performance that should be a lock for a Best Actor nomination in January. Surprisingly, Edgerton is even better in his role as John Connolly, the corrupt FBI agent who worked with Whitey for so many years. Edgerton nails the Boston accent, better than anyone else in the film, and he is the most dynamic character on screen any time he enters into the frame. Jesse Plemons turns in a solid performance as Bulger associate Kevin Weeks, although for what he went through for the role (gaining a ton of weight), I would have liked for him to get more screen time. As we know from his turn on Breaking Bad, he can play evil quite well. Rory Cochrane plays Stephen Flemmi, Bulger’s right hand man, and nails the pot-bellied gangster’s mannerisms and provides a very nice accent as well.

One standout for me was Julianne Nicholson, a Boston native who plays Connolly’s wife, Marianne. Obviously, being from Boston, she nails the accent. But she also drives the film’s most powerful scene in a one-on-one encounter with Bulger in the doorway of her bedroom door, after she is upset about him being invited into her home for dinner. It is chilling, and she does an excellent job playing on her emotions and truly portraying the fear that Whitey could instill in anyone.

The lone loser in this one is Benedict Cumberbatch, in his role as Billy Bulger, Whitey’s brother, President of the Massachusetts Senate, and President of the UMass University system. Billy was always known as the “Corrupt Midget” according to the local Boston papers, and with his short and stubby frame it was a great description. Cumberbatch is simply miscast for the character. Cumberbatch stands six foot, and his tall and lanky frame looks nothing like the man he is portraying. To top it all of, the accent is terrible. Many of the actors use a very subdued accent in the film, which is more in line with real Bostonians and less like a bad stereotype, which is good. However, Cumberbatch goes way over the top and sounds as ridiculous as he looks. It seems to me that he was attached to this film to get another big, “Oscar-worthy” name on the posters, but he ends up being the biggest let down instead of being an asset.

Overall, this is a must-see for fans of true crime, history, residents of the Boston area, or anyone who wants to go see a good gangster film. It is very good, but is most likely just an outside contender for one of the ten “Best Picture” slots, and will get most of its awards consideration in the acting departments. Makeup also has a great chance at a win.

Go see it for Depp, Edgerton, and Nicholson, but try to close your eyes (and definitely your ears with that cringey accent) when Cumberbatch steps into the picture. On a scale of Boston-based movies, Black Mass falls somewhere between The Departed and The Town.

SCORE: 7.5/10

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Star Wars: Original Trilogy – Blu Review

Star Wars: The Original Trilogy Blu Ray delivers excellent video (minus the controversial CGI) and solid audio, although for extras you will need to upgrade to the Complete Saga Edition.

The Star Wars Original Trilogy has been released on so many different formats and so many different versions that even the Blu Ray release offers two separate editions, not including the Complete Saga. The edition I own is found here, and must be out-of-print as it is only being offered through third party sellers on Amazon for ridiculous prices. The newer version of the Original Trilogy, found here, includes DVDs and is thus a six disc edition compared to my three disc edition, but other than that it does not offer any new materials outside of a different packaging. For the most hardcore Star Wars fans, I would suggest buying the Compete Saga Edition, found here. It is much pricier, at around $90 compared to the $70 total you would spend for the Original Trilogy and Prequel Trilogy, but it includes many more extras and can often be found on sale around the holidays, which makes it a much better buy than the two bare bones Trilogy sets which lack in extras.

PICTURE QUALITY

Regardless of your feelings about the Original Star Wars, Special Editions, and CGI additions made by George Lucas since the initial release in 1977, this Blu Ray release is the best you are going to see these films right now. The transfer is gorgeous, and they left much of the original graininess, which I enjoy in older films. I am not a fan of the “digital noise reduction” (DNR) which takes place when many older films are released on Blu Ray and aims to eliminate the grain for a more modern, digital look. I prefer the films in their original form, and thankfully with this Original Trilogy they have kept the DNR to a minimum. The colors are vibrant, the action is smooth, and it is hands down the best that Star Wars has ever looked.

Original Shot (Above) CGI Addition in Blu Ray release (Below) Make your own judgement!

For Star Wars purists, the additional CGI added during George Lucas’s edits when he re-released the Original Trilogy in 1997 are obviously an issue. However, with the exception of the famous scene in the cantina featuring Han Solo and Greedo, a lot of the changes are minor and do not detract from the viewing experience. Do they look awkward and out of sorts in place next to the original shots from the late 70s? Sure, but it would only bother the most hardcore fans and even they should be able to move past that and realize that this is the best Star Wars we have right now, and we need to work with what is available if we want to view the films in their new, exceptional HD transfers.

PICTURE QUALITY SCORE: 4.5/5

AUDIO

There is no doubt that this is the best that Star Wars has ever looked in your homes, so will the sound stack up to the picture quality’s exceptional score? Yes, and it is actually the best part of this release. The Original Trilogy sports a 6.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. The 6.1 mix is a bit different, as typically most films would be released in 5.1 and most newer releases or new 4K remasters of older films would carry the 7.1 sound mix. With a 6.1 mix, there is simply a typical 5.1 track with additional sound coming from a single rear speaker, if you have them. If you have a 7.1 system, the rear sound will likely only come from one of the rear speakers, and on a 5.1 system the sound reserved for the rear speaker would be split between the two side speakers. The use of a more complex sound mix creates a much more enjoyable viewing experience, as those sounds of blasters or lightsabers being drawn behind the scene create an immersive experience. We have all wanted to get lost in the world of Star Wars once in our lives, and experiencing this Blu Ray release in our home theaters is as close as many of us will get. Overall, the audio is hands down one of the better experiences I have had with the blu Ray format, and it is a must have for your collection.

AUDIO SCORE: 5/5

EXTRAS

Star Wars: The Complete Saga

The extras are the only “Dark Side” to this release, which pale in comparison to the “Complete Saga” Star Wars collection that is also available. The only extras on this release are commentary tracks for each of the three films with George Lucas, the cast, and crew, with what is said to be “never before released commentary with archival interviews with cast and crew”. Other than this, there are no special features. In comparison, the “Complete Saga” is absolutely loaded with special features, with over 40 hours of extra content spread over three discs and the entire Star Wars series to date. For the ultimate Star Wars fan, this could easily make or break buying the trilogies as stand alone releases versus buying the “Complete Saga”.

EXTRAS SCORE: 1/5

OVERALL SCORE: 4.5/5

FINAL VERDICT: This is certainly an excellent release if you are just looking to add the Original Trilogy to your collection on a budget. If you have the money, I recommend this Original Trilogy set for those on a budget, but if money is no issue, get the Complete Saga. The additional special features are worth the price alone, never mind the upgraded quality of the packaging and addition of the Prequel Trilogy. You will not be disappointed. Either way, both are highly recommended!