What If Lisa Had All The Power: 2019 Emmy Nominations Edition


In a few hours, the 2019 Emmy nominations will be announced!

Since I love awards and I love making lists, it’s an annual tradition that I list who and what would be nominated if I had all the power.  Keep in mind that what you’re seeing below are not necessarily my predictions of what or who will actually be nominated.  Many of the shows listed below will probably be ignored tomorrow morning.  Instead, this is a list of the nominees and winners if I was the one who was solely responsible for picking them.

Because I got off to a late start this year, I’m only listing the major categories below.  I may go back and do a full, 100-category list sometime tomorrow.  Who knows?  I do love making lists.

Anyway, here’s what would be nominated and what would win if I had all the power!  (Winners are listed in bold.)

(Want to see who and what was nominated for Emmy consideration this year?  Click here!)

(Want to see my picks for last year?  Click here!)

(Want to see my picks for 2012?  I know, that’s kinda random.  Anyway, click here!)

Programming

Outstanding Comedy Series

Barry

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

GLOW

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

One Day At A Time

Veep

Vida

Outstanding Drama Series

Better Call Saul

Dynasty

Flack

Game of Thrones

The Magicians

My Brilliant Friend

Ozark

You

Outstanding Limited Series

Chernobyl

Fosse/Verdon

The Haunting of Hill House

I Am The Night

Maniac

Sharp Objects

True Detective

A Very English Scandal

Outstanding Television Movie

The Bad Seed

Bandersnatch (Black Mirror)

Brexit

Deadwood

King Lear

Native Son

No One Would Tell

O.G.

Performer

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

Iain Armitage in Young Sheldon

Ted Danson in The Good Place

Bill Hader in Barry

Pete Holmes in Crashing

Glenn Howerton in A.P. Bio

Andy Samberg in Brooklyn Nine Nine

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series

Penn Badgley in You

Jason Bateman in Ozark

James Franco in The Deuce

John Krasinski in Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan

Bob Odenkirk in Better Call Saul

Dominic West in The Affair

Outstanding Lead Actor In a Limited Series

Hugh Grant in A Very English Scandal

Jared Harris in Chernobyl

Jonah Hill in Maniac

Chris Pine in I Am The Night

Sam Rockwell in Fosse/Verdon

Henry Thomas in The Haunting of Hill House

Outstanding Lead Actor In An Original Movie

Benedict Cumberbatch in Brexit

Anthony Hopkins in King Lear

Rob Lowe in The Bad Seed

Ian McShane in Deadwood

Timothy Olyphant in Deadwood

Jeffrey Wright in O.G.

Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy Series

Melissa Barrera in Vida

Kristen Bell in The Good Place

Alison Brie in GLOW

Rachel Brosnahan in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Veep

Zoe Perry in Young Sheldon

Outstanding Lead Actress in A Drama Series

Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones

Gaia Girace in My Brilliant Friend

Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Deuce

Laura Linney in Ozark

Margherita Mazzucco in My Brilliant Friend

Anna Paquin in Flack

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series

Amy Adams in Sharp Objects

India Eisley in I Am The Night

Carla Gugino in The Haunting of Hill House

Charlotte Hope in The Spanish Princess

Emma Stone in Maniac

Michelle Williams in Fosse/Verdon

Outstanding Lead Actress in an Original Movie

Shannen Doherty in No One Would Tell

Chelsea Frei in Victoria Gotti: My Father’s Daughter

McKenna Grace in The Bad Seed

Paula Malcolmson in Deadwood

Molly Parker in Deadwood

Christina Ricci in Escaping The Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Series

Fred Armisen in Documentary Now!

Andre Braugher in Brooklyn Nine Nine

Anthony Carrigan in Barry

Tony Hale in Veep

Sam Richardson in Veep

Stephen Root in Barry

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama Series

Jonathan Banks in Better Call Saul

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in Game of Thrones

Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones

Giancarlo Esposito in Better Call Saul

Peter Mullan in Ozark

Luca Padovan in You

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Limited Series

Stephen Dorff in True Detective

Timothy Hutton in The Haunting of Hill House

Chris Messina in Sharp Objects

Stellan Skarsgard in Chernobyl

Justin Thereoux in Maniac

Ben Whishaw in A Very English Scandal

Outstanding Supporting Actor In An Original Movie

Jim Broadbent in King Lear

Bill Camp in Native Son

Theothus Carter in O.G.

Rory Kinnear in Brexit

Gerald McRaney in Deadwood

Will Poulter in Bandersnatch (Black Mirror)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in A Comedy Series

Caroline Aaron in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Alex Borstein in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Anna Chlumsky in Veep

Sarah Goldberg in Barry

Rita Moreno in One Day At A Time

Sarah Sutherland in Veep

Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Drama Series

Summer Bishil in The Magicians

Elisa Del Genio in My Brilliant Friend

Julia Garner in Ozark

Lena Headey in Game of Thrones

Elizabeth Lail in You

Shay Mitchell in You

Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Limited Series

Jessie Buckley in Chernobyl

Patricia Clarkson in Sharp Objects

Sally Field in Maniac

Patricia Hodge in A Very English Scandal

Connie Nielsen in I Am The Night

Emily Watson in Chernobyl

Outstanding Supporting Actress In An Original Movie

Kim Dickens in Deadwood

Florence Pugh in King Lear

Margaret Qualley in Favorite Son

Emma Thompson in King Lear

Emily Watson in King Lear

Robin Weigert in Deadwood

 

Film Review: Red Sparrow (dir by Francis Lawrence)


God, this film was a mess.

Red Sparrow is a spy thriller that features a lot of spies but not many thrills.  Jennifer Lawrence plays Dominika Ergova, a Russian ballerina whose career with the Bolshoi is ended when another dancer drops her on stage.  Fortunately, Dominka’s sleazy uncle Ivan (Matthias Schoenaerts) has a new career in mind!  Maybe Dominka could be a sparrow, a spy who seduces the enemy!  Just in case Dominka doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life seducing westerners, Ivan arranges for her to witness a murder and then informs her that she’ll be eliminated as a witness unless she does what he tells her.  This, of course, leads to Dominkia attending State School 4, where she is schooled in the arts of seduction by Matron (Charlotte Rampling).  Upon graduation, Dominka is sent to Budapest, where she falls in love with a CIA agent named Nash (Joel Edgerton) and a lot of predictable spy stuff happens.  Despite all of the sex and violence, it’s just not much fun.

Red Sparrow has all the ingredients to be an enjoyably trashy 90-minute spy flick but instead, it’s a slowly paced, 140-minute slog that just seems to go on forever.  Throughout the film, director Francis Lawrence (no relation to the film’s star) struggles to maintain a steady pace.  Too much time is spent on Dominka’s life before she suffers the injury that should have opened the film.  Meanwhile, the only interesting part of the film — Dominka’s education at State School 4 — goes by far too quickly and, despite the fact that she was giving one of the few interesting performances in Red Sparrow, Charlotte Rampling vanishes from the film early on.  Once Dominkia gets to Budapest, the film really slow down to a crawl.  Joel Edgerton’s a good actor and an even better director but he gives an overly grim and serious performance in Red Sparrow and he and Jennifer Lawrence have next to no romantic chemistry.

(That lack of romantic chemistry petty much dooms the final forty minutes of the film.  It’s easy to imagine a much better version of Red Sparrow in which Bradley Cooper played the role of Nash.  True, that would have been like the 100th time that Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence starred opposite each other but why not?  It worked for William Powell and Myrna Loy.)

As for Jennifer Lawrence, her performance is okay.  It’s not one of her best and there’s a few moments where it seems as if she’s more concerned with maintaining her Russian accent than with what’s actually going on in the scene but, for the most part, it’s a good enough performance.  That said, you do have to wonder how long she can go without having another hit film.  Despite being heavily hyped, Passengers, Mother!, and Red Sparrow all underperformed at the box office.  (In defense of Mother!, it was never going to be a box office hit, regardless of who starred in it.)  As talented as she is, it’s sometimes hard not to feel that, as an actress, Jennifer Lawrence has lost some of the natural spark that took viewers by surprise in Winter’s Bone, launched a whole new genre of dystopian YA adaptations with The Hunger Games, and which previously elevated unlikely films like The House At The End Of The Street.  She was a far more interesting actress before she became J Law.

Here’s hoping that she finally gets another role worthy of her talent!

Here’s What Won At The Emmys Last Night!


Last night, Lisa Marie did not watch the Emmys because she says that, “I’m just not feeling TV this year.”  If Twin Peaks had been eligible to be nominated, I bet it would have been a different story!

Instead, she asked me to watch the ceremony and let everyone know what I thought.  It needed less politics and more cats.

Here’s the list of winners:

COMEDY

BEST COMEDY SERIES
“Atlanta”
“Black-ish”
“Masters of None”
“Modern Family”
“Silicon Valley”
“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
X — “Veep”

BEST COMEDY ACTRESS
Pamela Adlon, “Better Things”
Jane Fonda, “Grace and Frankie”
Allison Janney, “Mom”
Ellie Kemper, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
X — Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”
Tracee Ellis Ross, “Black-ish”
Lily Tomlin, “Grace and Frankie”

BEST COMEDY ACTOR
Anthony Anderson, “Black-ish”
Aziz Ansari, “Master of None”
Zach Galifianaks, “Baskets”
X — Donald Glover, “Atlanta”
William H. Macy, “Shameless”
Jeffrey Tambor, “Transparent”

BEST COMEDY SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Vanessa Bayer, “Saturday Night Live”
Anna Chlumsky, “Veep”
Kathryn Hahn, “Transparent”
Leslie Jones, “Saturday Night Live”
Judith Light, “Transparent”
X — Kate McKinnon, “Saturday Night Live”

BEST COMEDY SUPPORTING ACTOR
Louie Anderson, “Baskets”
X — Alec Baldwin, “Saturday Night Live”
Tituss Burgess, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
Ty Burrell, “Modern Family”
Tony Hale, “Veep”
Matt Walsh, “Veep”

BEST COMEDY DIRECTING
X — “Atlanta” (“B.A.N.”)
“Silicon Valley” (“Intellectual Property”)
“Silicon Valley” (“Server Error”)
“Veep” (“Justice”)
“Veep” (“Blurb”)
“Veep” (“Groundbreaking”)

BEST COMEDY WRITING
“Atlanta” (“B.A.N.”)
“Atlanta” (“Streets on Lock”)
X — “Master of None” (“Thanksgiving”)
“Silicon Valley” (“Success Failure”)
“Veep” (“Groundbreaking”)
“Veep” (“Georgia”)

DRAMA

BEST DRAMA SERIES
“Better Call Saul”
“The Crown”
X — “The Handmaid’s Tale”
“House of Cards”
“Stranger Things”
“This is Us”
“Westworld”

BEST DRAMA ACTRESS
Viola Davis, “How to Get Away with Murder”
Claire Foy, “The Crown”
X — Elisabeth Moss, “The Handmaid’s Tale”
Keri Russell, “The Americans”
Evan Rachel Wood, “Westworld”
Robin Wright, “House of Cards”

BEST DRAMA ACTOR
X — Sterling K. Brown, “This is Us”
Anthony Hopkins, “Westworld”
Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul”
Matthew Rhys, “The Americans”
Liev Schreiber, “Ray Donovan”
Kevin Spacey, “House of Cards”
Milo Ventimiglia, “This is Us”

BEST DRAMA SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Uzo Aduba, “Orange is the New Black”
Millie Bobby Brown, “Stranger Things”
X — Ann Dowd, “The Handmaid’s Tale”
Chrissy Metz, “This is Us”
Thandie Newton, “Westworld”
Samira Wiley, “The Handmaid’s Tale”

BEST DRAMA SUPPORTING ACTOR
Jonathan Banks, “Better Call Saul”
David Harbour, “Stranger Things”
Ron Cephas Jones, “This is Us”
Michael Kelly, “House of Cards”
X — John Lithgow, “The Crown”
Mandy Patinkin, “Homeland”
Jeffrey Wright, “Westworld”

BEST DRAMA DIRECTING
“Better Call Saul” (“Witness”)
“The Crown” (“Hyde Park Corner”)
“The Handmaid’s Tale” (“The Bridge”)
X — “The Handmaid’s Tale” (“Offred”)
“Homeland” (“America First”)
“Stranger Things” (“Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers”)
“Westworld” (“The Bicameral Mind”)

BEST DRAMA WRITING
“The Americans” (“The Soviet Division”)
“Better Call Saul” (“Chicanery”)
“The Crown” (“Assassins”)
X — “The Handmaid’s Tale” (“Offred”)
“Stranger Things” (“Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers”)
“Westworld” (“The Bicameral Mind”)

MOVIE/LIMITED SERIES

BEST LIMITED SERIES
X — “Big Little Lies”
“Fargo”
“Feud: Bette and Joan”
“Genius”
“The Night Of”

BEST TV MOVIE
X — “Black Mirror: San Junipero”
“Christmas of Many Colors”
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”
“Sherlock: The Lying Detective”
“The Wizard of Lies”

BEST MOVIE/MINI ACTRESS
Carrie Coon, “Fargo”
Felicity Huffman, “American Crime”
X — Nicole Kidman, “Big Little Lies”
Jessica Lange, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
Susan Sarandon, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
Reese Witherspoon, “Big Little Lies”

BEST MOVIE/MINI ACTOR
X — Riz Ahmed, “The Night Of”
Benedict Cumberbatch, “Sherlock: The Lying Detective”
Robert De Niro, “The Wizard of Lies”
Ewan McGregor, “Fargo”
Geoffrey Rush, “Genius”
John Turturro, “The Night Of”

BEST MOVIE/MINI SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Judy Davis, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
X — Laura Dern, “Big Little Lies”
Jackie Hoffman, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
Regina King, “American Crime”
Michelle Pfeiffer, “The Wizard of Lies”
Shailene Woodley, “Big Little Lies”

BEST MOVIE/MINI SUPPORTING ACTOR
Bill Camp, “The Night Of”
Alfred Molina, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
X — Alexander Skarsgard, “Big Little Lies”
David Thewlis, “Fargo”
Stanley Tucci, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
Michael Kenneth Williams, “The Night Of”

BEST MOVIE/MINI DIRECTING
X — “Big Little Lies”
“Fargo” (“The Law of Vacant Places”)
“Feud: Bette and Joan” (“And the Winner Is”)
“Genius” (“Einstein: Chapter One”)
“The Night Of” (“The Art of War”)
“The Night Of” (“The Beach”)

BEST MOVIE/MINI WRITING
“Big Little Lies”
X — “Black Mirror: San Junipero”
“Fargo” (“The Law of Vacant Places”)
“Feud: Bette and Joan” (“And the Winner Is”)
“Feud: Bette and Joan” (“Pilot”)
“The Night Of” (“Call of the Wild”)

VARIETY/REALITY

BEST REALITY COMPETITION PROGRAM
“The Amazing Race”
“Amercan Ninja Warrior”
“Project Runway”
“RuPaul’s Drag Race”
“Top Chef”
X — “The Voice”

BEST VARIETY TALK SERIES
“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee”
“Jimmy Kimmel Live”
X — “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”
“Late Late Show with James Corden”
“Late Show with Stephen Colbert”
“Real Time with Bill Maher”

BEST VARIETY SKETCH SERIES
“Billy on the Street”
“Documentary Now”
“Drunk History”
“Portlandia”
X — “Saturday Night Live”
“Tracey Ullman’s Show”

BEST VARIETY SERIES DIRECTING
“Drunk History”
“Jimmy Kimmel Live”
“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”
“Late Show with Stephen Colbert”
X — “Saturday Night Live”

BEST VARIETY SERIES WRITING
“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee”
X — “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”
“Late Night with Seth Meyers”
“Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Playing Catch-Up: The End of the Tour (dir by James Ponsoldt) and Love & Mercy (dir by Bill Pohland)


Two of the best films released last year dealt with troubled artists.

The_End_of_the_Tour

The End of the Tour opens in 2008, with a writer David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) getting a call that the famous and acclaimed author, David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel), has committed suicide.  After learning of the tragedy, Lipsky remembers a few days that he spent interviewing Wallace 12 years earlier.  Wallace had just published his best known work, Infinite Jest.  At the time, Lipsky himself was a struggling writer and he approached Wallace with a combination of admiration and professional envy.  Lipsky hoped that, by interviewing Wallace, he could somehow discover the intangible quality that separates a great writer from a merely good one.

Almost the entire film is made up of Lipsky’s conversations with Wallace.  We watch as both the somewhat reclusive Wallace (who seems both bemused and, at times, annoyed with his sudden fame) warms up to Lipsky and as Lipsky forces himself to admit that Wallace might actually be a genius.  There are a few conflicts, mostly coming from the contrast between the withdrawn Wallace and the much more verbose Lipsky.  Lipsky’s editor (Ron Livingston) continually pressures him to ask Wallace about rumors that Wallace was once a drug addict.  But, for the most part, it’s a rather low-key film, one that’s more interested in exploring ideas than melodrama.  It’s also a perfect example of what can be accomplished by a great director and two actors who are totally committed to their roles.  Jason Segel, especially, gives the performance of his career so far.

The shadow of Wallace’s suicide hangs over the entire film.  Throughout their conversation, Wallace drops hints about his own history with depression.  Much as Lipsky must have done after Wallace’s suicide, we find ourselves looking for clues to explain his death.  But ultimately, Wallace remains a fascinating enigma in both life and death.

Love_&_Mercy_(poster)

Love & Mercy (dir by Bill Pohland)

Love & Mercy opens with Cadillac saleswoman Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) selling a car to a polite but nervous man (John Cusack).  The man sits in the car with her and rambles for a bit, mentioning that his brother has recently died.  Soon, the man’s doctor, Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), shows up and Melinda learns that the man is Brian Wilson, a musician and songwriter who is famous for co-founding The Beach Boys.  After having a nervous breakdown decades before, Brian is now a recluse.  He and Melinda start a tentative relationship and Melinda quickly discovers that Brian is literally being held prisoner by the manipulative Dr. Landy.

Throughout the film, we are presented with flashbacks to the 1960s and we watch as a young Brian (Paul Dano) deals with both the pressures of fame and his own relationship with his tyrannical father (who, in an interesting parallel to Brian’s later relationship with Landy, is also Brian’s manager).  As Brian struggles to maintain his grip on reality, he obsesses on creating “the greatest album ever.”

Love & Mercy is an enormously affecting story about both the isolation of genius and the redeeming power of love.  Whether he’s played by Cusack or Dano, Brian Wilson remains a fascinating and tragic figure.  It’s hard to say whether Cusack or Dano gives the better performance.  Indeed, they both seem to be so perfectly in sync with each other that you never doubt that the character played by Paul Dano will eventually grow up to become the character played by John Cusack.  Both of them do some of the best work of their careers in Love & Mercy.

Playing Catch-Up: Aloha (dir by Cameron Crowe)


Well, Christmas is over and soon 2015 will be over as well!  And our long time readers know what that means — its time for Lisa to desperately try to get caught up on reviewing all of the films that she’s seen this year!  After all, it will soon be time for me to post my “Best of” and “Worst of” lists and who knows?  Some of these films might make a list!

Anyway, with all that in mind, let’s take a quick look at Aloha!

Say what you will about Aloha as a movie, I would have loved to have been a part of the production.  Not only is the cast full of performers that I absolutely adore (Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, John Krasinski, Bill Murray, Rachel McAdams, and Danny McBride, just to name a few) but the film itself was shot in Hawaii, which is one of the most beautiful places on Earth.  And let’s give director Cameron Crowe some credit for capturing some truly beautiful images of Hawaii.

As for the film itself, it’s a bit of a self-indulgent chore to sit through.  Aloha feels like a dozen different films, all mashed together and the end result is something of a mess.  Bradley Cooper is Brian Gilchrest, a defense contractor who is haunted by a mistake that he made while in Afghanistan.  (It’s the equivalent of Jerry Maguire writing that memo and Orlando Bloom making those shoes in Elizabethtown.)  Disillusioned and cynical, Brian is now working for a billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray), who wants to build his own private space center in Hawaii.  Brian’s job is to get the support of the native Hawaiians.

Brian’s Air Force liaison is Alison Ng (Emma Stone) and she’s as idealistic as Brian is cynical.  Brian and Alison are soon falling love but, at the same time, Brian has also reconnected with his ex-girlfriend, Tracy (Rachel McAdams).  Tracy is now married to Woody (John Krasinski), an Air Force captain who has difficulty expressing his feelings.  Tracy also has a 12 year-old daughter and Brian might be the father.

That may sound like enough for any movie to deal with but Aloha also wants to be a political satire as well as a relationship dramedy.  So, of course, there’s all sorts of ethical questions about the satellite that Carson wants to launch and, as a character, Carson is so incredibly inconsistent that you’re just happy that he’s being played by Bill Murray, one of the few actors who can make inconsistency charming.

Aloha is such a frustrating film, largely because of all the talent involved.  With that cast and all the beautiful scenery, it should have at least been an enjoyable lark.  Instead, it’s a huge and self-indulgent mess.

And, naturally enough, it features Alec Baldwin.  Baldwin always seems to show up in films like this and, as I watched him bellow his way through Aloha, I found myself wondering how Alec Baldwin can be so good in some films and so amazingly awful in others.  Baldwin’s a talented actor but, when a director allows him to go overboard, he can be difficult to watch.  In Aloha, Cameron Crowe lets Alec Baldwin go totally overboard.

When Aloha was first released, there was a lot of controversy over Emma Stone playing a character who supposed to be a quarter Chinese and a quarter Hawaiian.  At the time, Cameron Crowe stated that: “As far back as 2007, Captain Allison Ng was written to be a super-proud one-quarter Hawaiian who was frustrated that, by all outward appearances, she looked nothing like one. A half-Chinese father was meant to show the surprising mix of cultures often prevalent in Hawaii. Extremely proud of her unlikely heritage, she feels personally compelled to over-explain every chance she gets. The character was based on a real-life, red-headed local who did just that.”  That’s something that I — as a pale redhead who happens to be very proud of being a fourth Spanish — could relate to so it didn’t particularly bother me that Emma Stone was playing a character named Alison Ng.

Instead, what bothered me was that Alison Ng was never really allowed to emerge as an individual character with her own hopes, dreams, and ambitions.  Her character pretty much only existed to give Brian a reason to believe in life again.  Emma Stone’s a good actress but, as a film, Aloha lets her down.

Still, at least she got to spend sometime in Hawaii!

Film Review: Black Mass (dir by Scott Cooper)


Black_Mass_(film)_poster

You know how sometimes you watch a movie and you’re happy because you know it’s a good movie but, at the same time, you end up feeling slightly disappointed because, as good as it may be, it never quite becomes the great movie that you were hoping for?

That was kind of my reaction to Black Mass.

Black Mass tells the true story of James “Whitey” Bulger, the gangster who controlled the Boston underworld from the late 70s to the mid-90s.  Bulger was both famous and feared for his ruthless brutality and his willingness to murder just about anyone.  Bulger was also famous for being the brother of Billy Bulger, a powerful Democratic politician.  When it appeared that Whitey was finally on the verge of being indicted, he vanished into thin air and, for 2 decades, remained missing until he was finally captured in Florida.  Whitey Bulger is now serving two life sentences.

Black Mass is a solid gangster film.  We watch as Whitey (Johnny Depp) takes over Boston and essentially murders anyone who gets on his nerves.  Helping Whitey out is a local FBI Agent, John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who grew up in South Boston with the Bulger brothers.  While Connolly originally only appears to be using Whitey as an informant to help take down the Italian mob, it quickly becomes obvious that Connolly envies the power and influence of both Whitey and Billy (played by Benedict Cumberbatch).  Soon, Connolly has become something of a Bulger groupie and is protecting Whitey from prosecution and even leaking him the names of anyone who attempts to inform on Bulger’s crime.

Indeed, the film’s best scenes are the ones in which it is shown how the FBI’s determination to take down the Mafia allowed the far more violent Bulger to move into their place.  Bulger was a criminal who worked for and was protected by the U.S. government and, as such, his story serves as a metaphor for a lot of what is currently messed up about America.  While I appreciated the time that Black Mass devoted to exploring Whitey’s relationship with the FBI, I do wish it had spent more time exploring his relationship with his brother, Billy.  The film places most of the blame for Whitey’s reign of terror on the FBI but it defies common sense not to assume that Whitey was also protected by his well-connected, politically powerful brother.

Black Mass contains all of the usual gangster film tropes.  There are sudden and violent executions.  There are drug addicted criminals who turn out to be less than trustworthy.  (Poor Peter Sarsgaard.)  There’s the usual talk of honor and respect.  Beefy men with pockmarked faces stand in the shadows and shout random insults at each other until someone finally snaps.  And, of course, we get the countless scenes where Bulger’s demeanor goes from friendly to threatening and we’re left wondering if he’s going to smile or if he’s going to kill someone.  It may all be a little bit familiar but director Scott Cooper handles it all well and keeps things watchable.

In this 122-minute film, there are exactly two scenes in which Whitey is in any way sympathetic.  In one scene, he breaks down after the death of his son and, in the other, he deals with the death of his mother.  These are the only two scenes in which Whitey shows any hint of humanity.  Otherwise, Bulger is presented as being almost pure evil.  He’s no Michael Corleone, trying to go straight and making excuses for the family business.  Nor does he possess the enjoyable flamboyance of Scareface‘s Tony Montana or The Departed‘s Frank Costello.  Instead, he’s a pure sociopath and  the film’s most effective shots are the ones that focus on Whitey’s expressionless gaze.  They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul and one only has to look into Bulger’s to see that they are windows without a view.

johnny-depp-2

Johnny Depp deserves all the credit in the world for making Whitey into a compelling character.  Wisely, Depp underplays Whitey’s most threatening scenes.  He rarely raises his voice and the only time he loses control of his emotions is when he’s confronted with something — like the death of his son — that even he can’t change.  Otherwise, Depp plays Whitey as always being in control.  (It’s mentioned, at one point, that Whitey was the subject of 50 LSD experiments while serving time in prison and Depp plays Whitey as if he’s always staring at something that nobody else can see.)  It’s his confidence that makes Whitey Bulger an interesting character.  You may not like him but you can’t look away because you know that he’s literally capable of anything.  Ever since the trailer for Black Mass was first released, Depp has been at the center of awards speculation.  Having seen the film, I can say that the Oscar talk is more than deserved.  He’s even better than people like me thought he would be.

Depp is so good that he overshadows the rest of the cast.  There’s a lot of good actors in this film, including Kevin Bacon, James Russo, Peter Sarsgaard, Corey Stoll, Jesse Plemons, and Rory Cochrane.  But few of them get as much of a chance to make an impression as Johnny Depp.  Much as Whitey dominated Boston, Depp dominates this film.  Joel Edgerton has several great moments as the not-as-smart-as-he-thinks-he-is Connolly but even he is thoroughly overshadowed by Depp’s performance.  (That said, I did appreciate the fact that Edgerton’s too-eager-to-please Connolly came across like he might be a cousin to The Gift‘s Gordo the Weirdo.)

As I said at the beginning of this review, Black Mass is good but it was never quite as great as I was hoping it would be.  There’s a few too many scenes where you get the feeling that Scott Cooper woke up the day of shooting and said, “Let’s Scorsese the shit out of this scene.”  As a result, Black Mass sometimes struggles to escape from the shadow cast by Goodfellas, Casino, The Departed, American Gangster, and the countless other mob films that have been released over the past few decades.  Black Mass is well-made and will forever be remembered for Johnny Depp’s amazing lead performance but it never quite reaches the status of a classic.

Finally, on a personal note, I did enjoy the fact that Black Mass dealt with the Irish mob.  I’m a little bit torn in my loyalties because I’m Irish-Italian but, if I ever had to pick a mob to which to serve as a cheerleader, I would go Irish Mafia all the way!

Sláinte!

bm