Tag Archives: Johnny Depp

Mob Mentality

Johnny Depp is riveting as Boston crime kingpin Whitey Bulger

WBL207_003.tifBlack Mass

Starring Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton and Benedict Cumberbatch

Directed by Scott Cooper

R

In the crime underworld, there’s nothing lower than a rat—a snitch, a two-timer, an informer who sells his soul to save his skin.

Early in this powerful screen adaptation of the 2001 book by Boston Globe reporters Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, Irish-American hood “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp) meets with FBI agent John Connelly (Joel Edgerton), who wants Bulger’s help in reeling in some even bigger fish—the Italian Mafia.

Connelly asks Bulger to become an informant. Bulger recoils. “Do you know what I do to rats?” he hisses.

BLACK MASS

Joel Edgerton (left) and Johnny Depp

The audience doesn’t, but we’ll soon find out. And if it’s anything like we just saw Bulger do to a guy who displeased him with some sloppy snack-food etiquette, we can guess it’ll be ugly, brutal and swift.

In Boston crime lore, James “Whitey” Bulger was a legend, a local neighborhood kid who became a fearsome underworld kingpin. A career criminal, he was a stone-cold killer who kept his South Boston crew, the Winter Hill Gang, busy with murder, extortion and drug dealing. But he could also be kind to old ladies, a loving father and a doting son.

Black Mass begins in 1975, and shows how Bulger did, indeed, become an informant, creating an unholy alliance that—ironically—expanded his criminal reign by giving him “protection,” and drawing agent Connelly dangerously deep into Bulger’s world. It also complicated things for Connelly’s childhood friend, the Massachusetts state senator (Benedict Cumberbatch) who happened to be Bulger’s younger brother.

Gangsters and crime movies are Hollywood staples, and there are characters and scenes in Black Mass that may indeed remind you of things that came before: The Godfather, Goodfellas, The Departed. But this gangster flick has something unique: Johnny Depp as one of modern history’s most infamous mobsters, reminding us how great he can be when he digs deep into a serious role.

Burying the memories of some of his broader, more flamboyant performances (Capt. Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka, Edward Scissorhands, Tonto) behind piercing blue contact lenses, a yellowed front tooth, an artificially receding hairline and subtle facial prosthetics, he hones in and practically disappears into the part of the notorious, psychopathic crime boss. You get chills whenever he’s onscreen, especially in close-up, when his eyes can become as cold and menacing as any weapon.

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Dakota Johnson

The cast—which also includes Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Peter Saarsgard, Jesse Pelmons, Rory Cochrane, Corey Stoll, Julianne Nicholson and Adam Scott—is uniformly strong. The stark, sophisticated cinematography, by master lensman Masonobu Takayanagi (Silver Linings Playbook, The Grey, Warrior) basks in the bleak ’70 and ’80s grunge of the film’s Beantown settings and evokes the amoral chill of its tale. The set design captures all the details of the era, from the big American Fords, Lincolns, Dodges, Buicks and Chevys—the rides of choice of the mobsters—to the reel-to-reel recorders used by the Feds. Director Scott Cooper, who previously steered Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart (2009), meticulously juggles the players and pieces of the sprawling, intense, character-driven story that sweeps across a full decade, with a postscript in 1995.

“Southie kids, we went straight from playing cops and robbers on the playground to doin’ it for real on the streets,” says one Bulger’s henchmen on the trajectory that led his boss and associates from tough childhoods in South Boston into careers of crime. That may not have turned out to be the best life choice, but it sure had the makings of one heck of a fine gangster movie, rats and all.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Odd ‘n’ Mod

Johnny Depp’s time-warped, Brit-flavored box office bomb

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Mortdecai

Starring Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow & Ewan McGregor

Directed by David Koepp

R

Well, at least Johnny Depp’s latest movie has something in common with The Wizard of Oz, Citizen Kane and It’s a Wonderful Life: All three of those films, like his new flop, were initially box-office bombs.

Those flicks much later found respect and beloved places in cinematic history. Perhaps some new appreciation may also be heaped, decades down the road, on Mortdecai. But so far Depp’s dud has been savaged by most critics and has only attracted a trickle of audience turnout. Not many people have wanted to see him, apparently, in yet another nutty role, with a fake accent and goofball mannerisms—and particularly not in this movie, which is a bit of an oddity itself.

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Paul Bettany plays the loyal manservant of kooky art dealer Charlie Mortdecai (Johnny Depp).

Based on a series of musty 1970s British comedic cloak-and-dagger novels, Mortdecai stars Depp as the eccentric art wheeler-dealer of the title, Gwyneth Paltrow as his wife, and Ewan McGregor as a MI5 agent on the trail of a missing art masterpiece that may contain a long-hidden code leading to squirreled-away Nazi gold. Eventually everybody gets in on the action, including Mortdecai’s loyal manservant (Paul Bettany), a competing American art collector (Jeff Goldblum), his nymphomaniac daughter (Olivia Munn), and some nasty Russian thugs.

The whole story seems kookily out of time, a far-out, swingin’-’70s romp plunked down clumsily in the present. Or is it a mod, mapcap comedy run backward through the gears of a time-machine blender? Or a weird parcel from a distant era yet to come, when Depp’s off-kilter-characters are worshipped as idols by a future civilization?

The humor, the jokes, the mannerisms, everything about it is so pseudo-sophisticated British, so Pink Panther-meets-Austin Powers-meets-Mr. Bean, so camp-ily, willfully, woozily derivative of practically every English sleuth saga and spoofy bungle caper that’s ever been done, it begs the question: Why did anyone bother to make this curious, out-of-time artifact of a movie at all, and why now?

Depp, who has fashioned quite a career out of quirk, adds yet another peculiar personality to his collection. Charlie Mortdecai, a wacky conglomeration of grunts, bleats, facial tics and a moustache that becomes one of the movie’s subplots by itself, is a hoot, but dimensionally hollow, and highly unlikely to join Capt. Jack Sparrow, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood or Willy Wonka in his hall of fame.

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Ewan McGregor

It’s all a tad randy, but only a tad, just barely enough for its R rating. That means anyone expecting a “raunchy” grown-up comedy, like a lot of R-rated comedies these days, will likely be disappointed at its relative tameness—and that any of Depp’s younger fans, from his Pirates of the Caribbean Disney movies, won’t be able to see it at all.

There are some funny bits, like a rather novel car chase, some clever dialogue and banter, and what seems like a total commitment from the cast, who appear to be having a cheerio, cheeky old time. But the plot is a bit of a runaround slog, and some of the gags require a good deal of stick-with-it—one involves whether a character will take a bite from a slab of stinky old cheese, or not.

Mortdecai may not be Johnny Depp’s finest moment, or even one of them. It’s not looking like it right now, anyway. But hey, let’s give this slab of stinky cheese another 30 or 40 years and see what happens, shall we?

 —Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Now That’s Cool

Exploring the elusive concept through attitude, style and pop culture

American Cool

American Cool

By Joel Dinerstein & Frank H. Goodyear III

Hardcover, 196 pages (Prestel Publishing, $49.95)

 

Who’s cool? What’s cool? We’re not talking air temperature, but the concept, the iconic designation of attitude, style and pop-cultural transcendence. This collection of 100 chronically displayed images of “cool,” (now all on display in a special exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.), plus insightful essays, examines the ever-morphing concept of cool through a prism of personalities from early movie actors and actresses Veronica Lake, Humphrey Bogart and Greta Garbo, to contemporary stars including Johnny Depp, director Quentin Tarantino and late-night host Jon Stewart. Needless to say, it’s cool!

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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