Cleaning Out The DVR: Story of a Girl (dir by Kyra Sedgwick)

(Hi there!  So, as you may know because I’ve been talking about it on this site all year, I have got way too much stuff on my DVR.  Seriously, I currently have 163 things recorded!  I’ve decided that, on February 15th, I am going to erase everything on the DVR, regardless of whether I’ve watched it or not.  So, that means that I’ve now have only have a month to clean out the DVR!  Will I make it?  Keep checking this site to find out!  I recorded Story of a Girl off of Lifetime on July 23rd, 2017!)

Michael (Kevin Bacon) owns a pizza place in a small town.  He’s just hired 16 year-old Deanna Lambert (Ryann Shane) to work for him over summer.  Deanna shows up for her first day of work.  Deanna apologizes for being late.  Michael points out that he has no costumers so it doesn’t matter.  Michael then introduces Deanna to his other employee, Tommy (Tyler Johnston).  Deanna looks shocked.  Tommy looks shocked.

“You two know each other?” Michael asks.

“In the biblical sense,” Tommy replies.

And so it goes from there…

Seriously, what was I doing on July 23rd that kept me from watching Story of a Girl?  Was I watching a shark movie on SyFy?  I do remember that Story of a Girl was very aggressively advertised in the days leading up to its premiere and I did actually mean to watch it.  I’ve read the Sara Zarr penned book on which it was based and the commercials made it look fairly good.  Add to that, it was directed by Kyra Sedgwick and co-starred Kevin Bacon and they seem like such a nice couple that I was naturally hoping it would be a good movie.

Three years ago, a sex video featuring 13 year-old Deanna and 17 year-old Tommy went viral.  While Tommy (who, as Michael points out, was committing a felony) suffers not a single bit for taking advantage of his best friend’s younger sister, Deanna is branded a slut and sent into social exile.  Her father, Ray (Jon Tenney), refuses to forgive her.  Tensions at home are exasperated by the presence of Deanna’s brother, Darren (Iain Belcher), his girlfriend, Stacey (Sosie Bacon), and their baby.  Darren and Stacey are planning on moving into a place of their own and Deanna is planning on going with them.

Though it may not be obvious from that plot description, Story a Girl is not a typical Lifetime film.  It takes place in a thoroughly blue-collar milieu and the Lamberts live in perhaps the ugliest, most cluttered house that I’ve ever seen.  Between that house and Ray acting like an asshole 24/7, it’s easy to understand why Deanna wants to get away from these people.  The problem, however, is that, after only a few minutes, most viewers will be desperate to get out of there as well.  And, unlike Deanna, viewers actually have a way of doing that.  They can just change the channel.  The film does have a good and important message but the characters are all so off-putting that a good deal of the audience probably won’t stick around to hear it.

Story of a Girl is a disappointingly superficial film.  The Juno influence is obvious but Story of a Girl never comes to life in the same way that Juno did.  Kevin Bacon is solid as Michael and Ryann Shane does a passable Ellen Page impersonation but everyone else is trapped in a film that’s long on plot but short on depth.  I really wanted to like Story of a Girl but I just didn’t.

Never Nominated: 16 Actors Who Have Never Been Nominated For An Oscar

Along with being one of the greatest actors who ever lived, the late Peter O’Toole had another, far more dubious achievement.  He holds the record for being nominated the most times for Best Actor without actually winning.  Over the course of his long career, Peter O’Toole was nominated 8 times without winning.

But, at least O’Toole was nominated!

Below are 16 excellent actors who have NEVER been nominated for an Oscar.  10 of these actors still have a chance to get that first nomination.  For the rest, the opportunity has sadly past.


  1. Kevin Bacon

Is there anyone out there who doesn’t like Kevin Bacon?  Amazingly, despite several decades of good performances in good films, Kevin Bacon has yet to be nominated.  That said, he seems destined to be nominated some day.  If nothing else, he deserved some sort of award for being the most successful cast member of the original Friday the 13th.  (As well, 40 years after the fact, his cry of “All is well!” from Animal House has become one of the most popular memes around.)

2. Brendan Gleeson

This brilliant Irish actor deserved a nomination (and probably the win) for his brave performance in Calvary.  But, even if you ignore Calvary, his filmography is full of award-worthy performances.  From The General to Gangs of New York to 28 Days Later to In Bruges to The Guard, Gleeson is overdue for some recognition.

3. John Goodman

John Goodman deserved to be nominated this year, for his performance in 10 Cloverfield Lane.  He brought warmth to both Argo and Inside Llewyn Davis.  And he was absolutely terrifying in Barton Fink.  John Goodman is one of the most underrated actors working today.

4. Malcolm McDowell

It’s obviously been a while since Malcolm McDowell had a truly great role.  But who could forget his amazing performance in A Clockwork Orange?  For that matter, I liked his sweetly gentle performance in Time After Time.  Someone give this man the great role that he deserves!

5. Ewan McGregor

Ewan McGregor is an actor who is oddly taken for granted.  His performance in Trainspotting remains his best known work.  But, really, he’s been consistently giving wonderful performances for twenty years now.  Sometimes — as in the case of the Star Wars prequels — the films have not been worthy of his talent but McGregor has always been an engaging and compelling screen presence.  When it comes to playing someone who is falling in love, few actors are as convincing as Ewan McGregor.

6) Franco Nero

Franco!  If for nothing else, he deserved a nomination for playing not only Lancelot in Camelot and not only the original Django but also for playing Intergalactic Space Jesus in The Visitor.  I also loved his work in a little-known Italian thriller called Hitchhike.  Nero is still active — look for him in John Wick 2 — and hopefully, he’ll get at least one more truly great role in his lifetime.

7) Sam Rockwell

Let’s just get this out of the way.  In a perfect world, Sam Rockwell would already have an Oscar.  He would have won for his performance in 2009’s Moon.  He also would have received nominations for The Way, Way Back and Seven Psychopaths.  Sadly, Sam’s still waiting for his first nomination.  Again, the problem may be that he’s such a natural that he just makes it look easy.

Andy Serkis

8) Andy Serkis

Andy Serkis has never been nominated, despite giving some of the best performances of this century.  He should have been nominated for Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.  He should have won for Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

9) Harry Dean Stanton

Harry Dean Stanton has been around forever and he’ll probably outlive everyone else on the planet.  He often seems to be indestructible.  Harry Dean is the epitome of a great character actor.  He’s a modern-day John Carradine.  And, just as John Carradine was never nominated, Harry Dean seems to destined to suffer the same fate.  Oscar may have forgotten him but film lovers never will.

10) Donald Sutherland

It’s hard to believe that Donald Sutherland has never been nominated for an Oscar but it’s true.  He probably should have been nominated for his work in Ordinary People and JFK.  Even his work in The Hunger Games franchise was an absolute delight to watch.  I imagine that Sutherland will be nominated someday.

Donald Sutherland and Kristen Stewart

Finally, here are 6 actors who sadly were never honored by the Academy and who are no longer with us:

  1. John Carradine

I mentioned John Carradine earlier.  Carradine was a favorite of many directors and he brought his considerable (and rather eccentric) talents to a countless number of films.  Among his best performances: Stagecoach and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

2. John Cazale

Before his untimely death, John Cazale acted in 5 films: The Godfather, Godfather Part II, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter.  All five of them were nominated for best picture.  12 years after his death, archival footage of him was used in The Godfather Part III.  It was also nominated for Best Picture.  Not only is Cazale alone in having spent his entire career in films nominated for best picture but, in each film, Cazale gave a performance that, arguably, deserved to be considered for a Best Supporting Actor nomination.  Cazale was an amazing actor and it’s a shame that he wasn’t able to give us more great performances.

3. Oliver Reed

Oliver Reed was a legendary drinker but he was also an amazingly entertaining actor.  I’m not a huge fan of Gladiator but his final performance was more than worthy of a posthumous nomination.

Alan Rickman

4. Alan Rickman

When it comes to the late Alan Rickman, it’s not a question of whether he should have been nominated.  It’s a question of for which film.  I know a lot of people would say Rickman deserved a nomination for redefining cinematic villainy in Die Hard.  Personally, I loved his performance in Sense and Sensibility.  And, of course, you can’t overlook any of the times that he played Snape.

5. Edward G. Robinson

Edward G. Robinson was never nominated for an Oscar!?  Not even for Double Indemnity?  Or his final performance in Soylent Green?  Horrors!

6) Anton Yelchin

It’s debatable whether or not Anton Yelchin ever got a chance to give a truly award-worthy performance during his lifetime.  I would argue that his work in both Green Room and Like Crazy were pretty close.  But, if Yelchnin had lived, I’m confident he would have eventually been nominated.  We lost a wonderful talent when we lost him.



Back to School Part II #9: National Lampoon’s Animal House (dir by John Landis)


You know what?  I’m going to start this review with the assumption that you’ve already seen the classic 1978 college comedy, National Lampoon’s Animal House.  At the very least, I’m going to assume that you’ve heard of it and that you know the general details.  Animal House was not only a huge box office success but it’s also one of the most influential films ever made.  Almost every comedy released since 1978 owes a debt to the success of Animal House.  Just as every subsequent high school film was directly descended from American Graffiti, every college film features at least a little Animal House in its DNA.

So, with that in mind, who is your favorite member of Delta House?


Most people, I think, would automatically say Bluto (played by John Belushi) and certainly, Bluto is the best known and perhaps best-remembered member of the cast.  As played by Belushi, Bluto is the film’s rampaging ID and he’s such a force of nature that, whenever I rewatch Animal House, I’m surprised to be reminded of the fact that he’s not really in the film that much.  He’s present for the parties, of course.  He imitates a zit and starts a food fight.  He gives a rousing speech, in which he reminds the members of the Delta House that America didn’t give up after “the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor!”  He destroys a folk singer’s guitar and I personally love the scene where he tries to cheer up a despondent pledge by smashing a beer bottle over his head.  But really, Bluto is used very sparingly and he’s one of the few members of the ensemble not to get his own subplot.  Bluto’s great but he’s not my favorite member of Delta House.


Believe it or not, my favorite member of Delta House is Robert Hoover (James Widdoes).  Hoover is the president of Delta House and, when we first meet him, he seems like he’s way too clean-cut to be in charge of the “worst house” on campus.  But then, as the film progresses, we discover that Hoover may not be as openly crazy as everyone else but he’s definitely a Delta.  Just watch him in the Toga party scene.  Just look at him in the picture that shows up during the closing credits.  It took me a while to realize that Hoover, the future public defender, was giving the camera the finger.  Hoover may look uptight but he’s secretly a wild man!

animal-house 1

One of the things that I love about Animal House is that it truly is an ensemble film.  There’s not a weak performance to be found in the entire movie.  No matter how wild or over-the-top the humor gets, the entire cast commits to their roles and, as a result, they keep this movie grounded.  You actually find yourself caring about whether or not they get kicked off campus.  You truly believe that the members of Delta House have been friends for years but, even more importantly, you believe the same thing about their rivals at Omega House.  For that matter, it may be easy to make fun of Dean Wormer (John Vernon, setting the template for all evil deans to come) but you never doubt that he’s been in charge of Faber College for years and that he’s planning on being in charge for years to come.  As played by the deep-voiced and sinister-looking Vernon, Wormer becomes every unreasonable authority figure.  When he explains the concept of super secret probation, he does so with a smug pleasure that is practically chilling.  When he mentions that the members of Delta House can now be drafted, the smile on his face is terrifying.


You know who else gives a really good performance in Animal House?  Donald Sutherland.  At the time, Sutherland was the biggest star in the film.  He was offered either a percentage of the grosses or a flat fee.  Sutherland thought the film would flop, took the flat fee, and missed out on millions as a result. Sutherland plays Prof. Jennings, an English teacher who, in the only scene actually set in a classroom, desperately tries to get his bored students to pay attention to him.  There’s something so poignant about the way Jennings begs his students to turn in their papers.  “I’m not joking,” he sputters, “this is my job!”


Jennings turns out to be free thinker.  He turns Boone (Peter Riefert), Katie (Karen Allen), and Pinto (Tom Hulce) onto marijuana.  There’s an anachronistic peace sign hanging in his apartment (Animal House takes place in 1963) but no matter.  Far worse is the fact that he temporarily breaks up Boone and Katie!  Everyone knows those two belong together!

Bluto and Flounder

You know who else doesn’t get enough credit for his performance in Animal House?  Stephen Furst.  He plays Flounder, a new pledge.  Flounder is just so enthusiastic about everything and he doesn’t even seem to be upset when Wormer tells him, “Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life.”  I love the enthusiastic way that Furst delivers simple lines like, “What’s my Delta Chi name?” and “Brother Bluto!  Brother D-Day!  What are you doing here!?” My favorite Flounder moment comes when he accidentally gives a horse a heart attack.  Technically, it shouldn’t be funny but it is because Furst, Belushi, and Bruce McGill (playing the role of D-Day) so thoroughly throw themselves into their roles.  For that matter, the horse did a pretty good job too.

Boone and Otter

But that’s not all!  How can I praise the ensemble of Animal House without mention Tim Matheson, who plays Otter, the future Beverly Hills gynecologist?  Or what about Kevin Bacon, playing Omega pledge Chip Diller?  This was Bacon’s first role and who can forget him shouting, “Thank you, sir, may I have another!” while being initiated into Omega House?  Or how about James Daughton and Mark Metcalf, as the two leaders of Omega House?  They were villains truly worth hissing!

Omega House

And yes, I know that a lot of the humor in Animal House is not politically correct but who cares?  It’s a hilarious movie, one that is full of good actors at their absolute best.  Yes, they’re all a bunch of privileged sexists blah blah blah, but I’d still party with the Delta House.  They know how to have fun and, even if they did wreck the Homecoming Parade, they had a good reason!


And so is the movie.  Every time I see Animal House, I feel good about the world.  In 1978, The Deer Hunter was named best picture by the Academy.  Well, you know what?  With all due respect to that long epic about the tragedy of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War,  all the Oscars should have gone to Animal House!


In conclusion … SING IT!

Let me t-t-tell you ’bout some friends I know
They’re kinda crazy but you’ll dig the show
They can party ’till the break of dawn
at Delta Chi you can’t go wrong

Otter, he’s the ladies man
Every girl falls into his hands
Boon and Katy playing “Cat and Mouse”

and Mrs. Wormer, she’s the queen of the



That Pinto he’s a real swell guy
Clorette was jailbait but he gave her a try
Chip, Doug, and Greg, they’re second to none
They studied under Attila the Hun

Mr. Jennings has got his wig on tight
Flouder’s left shoe’s always on his right
Babs and Mandy are having a pillow fight
With D-Day, Hoover, Otis Day and the Knights


Come on baby, dance with me
Maybe if we do the Bluto
We will get an “A” in lobotomy



Aw, come on!
Let me tell ya
Dean Wormer tried to shut us down
But he fell and he broke his crown
He didn’t know about the Delta spunk
He came in handy when we were short a skunk

At the



Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Apollo 13 (dir by Ron Howard)


I just finished watching the TCM premiere of the 1995 Best Picture nominee, Apollo 13.  Of course, it wasn’t the first time I had seen it.  Apollo 13 is one of those films that always seems to be playing somewhere and why not?  It’s a good movie, telling a story that is all the more remarkable and inspiring for being true.  In 1970, the Apollo 13 flight to the moon was interrupted by a sudden explosion, stranding three astronauts in space.  Fighting a desperate battle against, NASA had to figure out how to bring them home.  Apollo 13 tells the story of that accident and that rescue.

There’s a scene that happens about halfway through Apollo 13.  The heavily damaged Apollo 13 spacecraft is orbiting the moon.  Originally the plan was for Apollo 13 to land on the moon but, following that explosion on the craft, those plans have been cancelled.  Inside the spacecraft, three astronauts can only stare down at the lunar surface below them.

As Commander Jim Lovell stares out the craft’s window, we suddenly see him fantasizing about what it would be like if the explosion hadn’t happened and if he actually could fulfill his dream of walking on the moon.  We watch as Lovell (and, while we know the character is Jim Lovell, we are also very much aware that he’s being played by beloved cinematic icon Tom Hanks) leaves his foot print on the lunar surface.  Lovell opens up his visor and, for a few seconds, stands there and takes in the with the vastness of space before him and making the scene all the more poignant is knowing that Tom Hanks, before he became an award-winning actor, wanted to be a astronaut just like Jim Lovell.  Then, suddenly, we snap back to the film’s reality.  Back inside the spacecraft, Lovell takes one final look at the moon and accepts that he will never get to walk upon its surface.  “I’d like to go home,” he announces.

It’s a totally earnest and unabashedly sentimental moment, one that epitomizes the film as a whole.  There is not a hint of cynicism to be found in Apollo 13.  Instead, it’s a big, old-fashioned epic, a story about a crisis and how a bunch of determined, no-nonsense professionals came together to save the day.  “Houston,” Lovell famously says at one point, “we have a problem.”  It’s a celebrated line but Apollo 13 is less about the problem and more about celebrating the men who, through their own ingenuity, solved that problem.

That Apollo 13 is a crowd-pleaser should come as no surprise.  It was directed by Ron Howard and I don’t know that Howard has ever directed a film that wasn’t designed to make audiences break into applause during the end credits.  When Howard fails, the results can be maudlin and heavy-handed.  But when he succeeds, as he does with Apollo 13, he proves that there’s nothing wrong with old-fashioned, inspirational entertainment.

Of course, since Apollo 13 is a Ron Howard film, that means that Clint Howard gets a small role.  In Apollo 13, Clint shows up as a bespectacled flight engineer.  When astronaut Jack Swiggert (Kevin Bacon) mentions having forgotten to pay his taxes before going into space, Clint says, “He shouldn’t joke about that, they’ll get him.”  It’s a great line and Clint does a great job delivering it.

Apollo 13 is usually thought of as being a Tom Hanks film but actually, it’s an ensemble piece.  Every role, from the smallest to the biggest, is perfectly cast.  Not surprisingly, Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, Kathleen Quinlan, and Ed Harris all turn in excellent performances.  But, even beyond the marquee names, Apollo 13 is full of memorable performances.  Watching it tonight, I especially noticed an actor named Loren Dean, who played a NASA engineer named John Aaron.  Dean didn’t get many lines but he was totally believable in his role.  You looked at him and you thought, “If I’m ever trapped in space, this is the guy who I want working to bring me home.”

Apollo 13 was nominated for best picture but it lost to Mel Gibson’s film Braveheart.  Personally, out of the nominees, I probably would have picked Sense and Sensibility but Apollo 13 more than deserved the nomination.

No Safe Space: Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story Of The National Lampoon (2015, directed by Douglas Tirola)

Drunk_Stoned_Brilliant_Dead_PosterThe documentary Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead pays tribute to National Lampoon.  Founded in 1970, National Lampoon was published for 28 years and, at the height of its popularity, its sensibility redefined American comedy.  When it came to National Lampoon, nothing was sacred and nothing was off-limits.  The success of National Lampoon led to a stage show called Lemmings and The National Lampoon Radio Hour, which featured everyone from John Belushi and Bill Murray to Chevy Chase and Harold Ramis.  Michael O’Donoghue, famed for his impersonations of celebrities having needless inserted into their eyes, went from writing for the Lampoon to serving as Saturday Night Live‘s first head writer.  National Lampoon’s Animal House, Vacation, and Caddyshack are three of the most influential film comedies ever made.  Everyone from P.J. O’Rourke to John Hughes to The Simpsons‘ Al Jean got their start at National Lampoon.

As influential as it was, National Lampoon is a magazine that would not be able to exist today’s world.  Just looking at the cover of most issues of National Lampoon would reduce today’s special little snowflakes to the point of hysteria.  In Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead, National Lampoon‘s publisher claims that the Lampoon ultimately ceased publication because the religious right threatened to boycott any company that advertised in the magazine.  Today, it would be the “safe space” crowd complaining that the magazine did not come with proper trigger warnings.  Lena Dunham would look at one issue and go into a rage spiral.  Salon would publish a hundred hand-wringing think pieces about how National Lampoon was the worst thing since Ted Cruz.  Colleges would ban it and religious groups would still burn it.  National Lampoon was a magazine that went out of its way to be offensive to both the left and the right but, as editor-in-chief Tony Hendra puts it, the job of satire is to make those in power feel uncomfortable.  By poking fun at everything and challenging its readers, National Lampoon exposed the absurdity behind both the country’s prejudices and some of its most sacred beliefs.

Kennedy VW Ad

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead follows the National Lampoon from its founding to its ignominious end.  Along with interviews with Lampoon alumni, it also features archival footage of both Lemmings and The Radio Show, providing glimpses of  Christopher Guest, Bill Murray, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, and Harold Ramis before they became famous.  There are also interviews with celebrity admirers of the Lampoon who talk about how the magazine inspired their own work.  It makes sense that Judd Apatow was interviewed and Kevin Bacon made his screen debut in Animal House but what was Billy Bob Thornton doing there?

Unfortunately, drunk, stoned, brilliant, and dead describes some of the most important and talented figures in the Lampoon‘s history.  The documentary especially focuses on Doug Kenney, the Lampoon’s co-founder.  Everyone interviewed agrees that Kenney was a comedic genius who was also often emotionally troubled and who would vanish for months on end.  After the initial critical failure of Caddyshack, Kenney disappeared in Hawaii.  His body was later discovered at the bottom of the cliff.  Did Kenney jump or did he slip or, as director John Landis suggests, was he murdered by a drug dealer?  Nobody seems to know but Kenney’s ghost haunts the documentary.  This collection of very funny people get very serious when it comes time to talk about Kenney’s death.  Even Chevy Chase briefly redeems himself after years of bad publicity when he gets choked up.

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead is tribute to both a magazine and a bygone era.  See it before it gets banned.


Film Review: Black Mass (dir by Scott Cooper)


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 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!








Film Review: Cop Car (dir by Jon Watts)


Cop Car opens with two young boys, Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and Harrison (Hays Wellford) walking through a field.  Over the course of the film, we really don’t learn that much about either Travis or Harrison.  They speak in the tones and accent of childhood and the trailer park.  They’re just two ordinary kids, who appear to be bored out of their mind and who can blame them because it appears that they live out in the middle of nowhere.

And then, suddenly, their boredom ends.

They comes across a deserted cop car sitting in the middle of the wilderness.  After a successive number of dares, they end up inside of the car.  And then, they discover that the keys are still in the car as well.  Soon, Harrison and Travis are taking turns driving the car, roaring down the highway, nearly running an irate motorist (Camryn Manheim) off the road and basically having a great time.

What the kids don’t know is that the cop car belonged to Sheriff Kretzer (Kevin Bacon), a grim-faced lawman who isn’t going to allow two little kids to make a fool out of him.  Even while Harrison and Travis are playing around in the car, Kretzer is pursuing them.  Along the way, Kretzer is reduced to stealing a truck, gets stopped for speeding, and basically sacrifices any ounce of personal dignity that he may have.  Along the way, cars crash and cows are nearly run over.

And it all sounds like the making of a comedy, doesn’t it?  Just from reading the plot description, you might be justified in thinking that Cop Car is a white trash version of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  Well, make no mistake.  Cop Car has its funny moments but it is definitely not a comedy.  Sheriff Kretzer may occasionally be a bit of a bumbling adversary but he is no Principal Rooney.  Instead, Kretzer is a vicious and effective killer.

The reason Kretzer was away from his car is that he was busy burying a body in the woods.  And what the kids don’t realize, at first, is that there’s another body in the trunk of the car.  Kretzer is determined to get back his cop car and he’s willing to kill the boys to do it.  Even worse, Kretzer’s badge and uniform give him both the ability and the authority to do so.

There’s one particularly effective scene where Harrison and Travis playing with the weapons that Kretzer left in the car is juxtaposed with Kretzer pouring a baggie of cocaine into a toilet.  But, at the same time, I almost wish that the whole drug dealing subplot had been left out of the film.  When we first meet Kretzer, he’s scary precisely because his motives are unknowable.  He’s an authoritarian with a badge, and a bad mustache.  The more specific the film gets about Kretzer’s motivations, the less interesting he becomes.  Imagine if Kretzer has simply been an unstoppable force of wounded machismo, motivated by nothing more than his belief that his law is the only law that matters.  By making Kretzer a criminal as well as a cop, Cop Car dilutes its otherwise strong critique of the pro-authoritarian strain that currently runs through American culture.

As a thriller and chase film, Cop Car works pretty well, though the first half is significantly better than the second.  (The second half gets a little bogged down with the man in the trunk.)  Director Jon Watts keeps the film moving at a good pace and he shows that he knows how to generate suspense.  There’s a lengthy and narratively risky scene where Kretzer repeatedly tries and fails to pick a lock but the scene pays off in the end and Watts deserves some credit for having faith in the patience of his audience.

But really, Cop Car works largely because Kevin Bacon has become a national treasure.  It’s always fun to watch him throw himself into playing off-center roles like Sheriff Kretzer.  Bacon is smart enough to play up Kretzer’s stupidity without ever downplaying his dangerous and cunning nature.  It’s a great performance in a pretty good film.