Monthly Archives: September 2015

Black Mass

Movie:  Black Mass

Rating:  4 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:   “Truth is, a lot of people were in awe of Jimmy in the neighborhood.”  So states the narrator, one of the many South Boston (Southie) low level young criminals who worked for, or were charmed by the head of the Winter Hill Gang, James “Whitey” Bulger.  The friends and associates of Bulger were careful to call him Jimmy; apparently Bulger wasn’t fond of the nickname Whitey which came about because of his hair.

Jimmy Bulger (Johnny Depp) was a minor legend in South Boston in the 1970s and 1980s.  He likely would have stayed a small time gangster except for childhood pal John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who just happened to be a special agent for the FBI.  Connolly let it be known to Bulger that the FBI would be eternally grateful if he could just give them some solid leads on the Patriarcas mafia family.  Jimmy shrewdly agreed to help his old buddy, as long as the FBI turned a blind eye to what his gang was up to.  It has been said that when you sup with the devil, be sure to use a long spoon.  It became increasing clear to the Boston office of the FBI, to special agent Charles McGuire (Kevin Bacon), and US Attorney Fred Wyshak (Corey Stoll), that after a decade of allowing Jimmy Bolger free rein to act as he pleased, that they were in fact complicit in Bulger’s rise to be the primary crime lord in Boston.

This is a very good, very dark film.  The fact that it is based on actual events is somewhat mind-blowing.  Johnny Depp is nothing short of mesmerizing in his portrayal of Jimmy Bulger.  He shows the charismatic side of the man, but also the menacing side of a calculating criminal who could erupt in violence at any moment.  It is a fascinating story, and almost beggars belief in how law enforcement allowed this man such latitude for so long.  Depp is a lock for a Best Actor Oscar nomination; very likely the film gets a Best Picture nod as well.  Brilliant supporting cast as well, including Benedict Cumberbatch as Billy Bulger, brother to Jimmy.

Huh?  What the….:  Sorry, but no FBI special agents in the 1980s would have been allowed to have hair going over their ears.

Dialogue Nuggets:  “In Southie, we went straight from playing cops and robbers on the playground to doing it in real life.”

Jimmy Bulger to son:  “You did not get into trouble for punching that sneaky little brat.  You got in trouble because people saw you punch him.  If nobody sees it, it didn’t happen.”

John Connolly to fellow agents – “If we are serious about bringing down the Italians, Jimmy is the only way.”

Jimmy to gang – “We get the FBI to protect us and fight our wars, while we do whatever the f**k we want.”

Jimmy to FBI agent at dinner – “You spill a family secret recipe to me today, maybe you spill a secret about me tomorrow.”

 

90 Minutes In Heaven

Movie:  90 Minutes In Heaven

Rating:  2 Stars (Out Of 5)

Review:   We find out right away that on January 18, 1989, Don Piper (Hayden Christensen)died in a horrific head-on collision with an 18 wheel truck.  It happened during a driving rain storm while Don, a Baptist church pastor, was on his way to attend a Church Growth Conference in Texas.  First responders to the accident reached into the crushed vehicle Piper was in, found no pulse, and decided he was dead.  At which time the emergency response personnel called for the coroner, and left Piper in the car awaiting their arrival.

As fortune would have it, another pastor was caught in the traffic jam near the accident, and decided to approach the scene to see if he could offer assistance.  As the pastor prayed over the inert body of Don Piper and then sang a religious hymn, he was startled to hear the “dead man” singing along.  Personnel nearby quickly reacted to this development, and Don Piper was off to a nearby hospital.

This is where the movie bogs down interminably.  Viewers are forced to sit and watch Don Piper moan and groan for the next hour and a half as he fights to survive and recover from his injuries.  The film would have benefitted greatly with some heavy editing, at least 30 minutes, of these hospital scenes.  His wife, Eva Piper (Kate Bosworth) is an incredible woman who manages to be at her husband’s bedside to give him support, hold down a job, and keep the family household running for the 4 months Don is away.  If the viewer perseveres to the end of the movie, you are rewarded with the message about the heavenly experience.

Huh?  What the….:  I really hope other first responders to serious traffic accidents put a little more effort into checking to see if people are still alive.  Ten seconds of a finger on the neck just doesn’t cut it….

Because the truck that hit Don Piper was a state owned vehicle, the maximum liability by Texas state law was $250,000.  That is just wrong….

Dialogue Nuggets:  Pastor to Don Piper – “You did something Baptist preachers almost never do.”  Don – “Oh yeah, what’s that?”  Pastor – “You finished early!”

Don Piper – “I kept wondering why God had brought me back.”

Lawyer – “Don would have been better off if he had been hit by a Budweiser truck.”

Don to doctor – “How bad was I when they brought me in?”  Doctor – “I’ve seen worse…but they didn’t live.”

Don – “I learned that heaven is real.”

The real Don Piper – “God is still in the miracle business today.”

 

A Walk In The Woods

Movie:  A Walk In The Woods

Rating:  4 1/2 Stars (Out Of 5)

Review:   Those of us who have reached the half century mark know a little something about how fleeting time can be.  Bill Bryson (Robert Redford) has accomplished a lot in his life, having written a number of books and received accolades and awards for his work.  But one day he accidentally strolls in his back yard and realizes it runs into a section of the Appalachian Trail.  Bryson’s imagination is quickly fired up that this is just the challenge he needs to get out of his personal doldrums, and he makes plans to begin the 2, 118 mile journey.  His wife Catherine (Emma Thompson) is mortified, and presents strenuous arguments to her husband that he is too old and too out of shape to hike the trail, and underestimating the dangers of such an undertaking.  Finally, when all else fails, she insists he has to have a companion if he is to go forward with his reckless plan.

Enter Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte).  He and Bill have been out of touch for 30 years, but used to be young rams who shared adventures tramping around Europe back in the day.   Bill needs a companion to start this monumental hike, so here is Katz stepping off the plane to fill the bill.  Except Stephen looks like he may have trouble walking from the plane into the terminal; the years have taken their toll.  Nevertheless, Stephen is adamant that he can do the hike, and Bill is determined to make a go of it, so the two amigos arrive at the beginning of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia, brimming with optimism about the journey ahead.

This is a delightful movie on several levels.  It is very character driven, with two accomplished actors who know their craft.  This could have been an average buddy movie with lesser actors, but even in their 70s Redford and Nolte have enough charisma to command your attention on the screen.  These characters could be seen as dealing with mid-life crises, except they passed the midway point a while back.  Still, there are scenes with some real poignancy about dealing with loss, regrets, temptation, and satisfaction with what they do have in their lives.  In addition without any schmaltz, there is an unspoken recognition between two hetero men that they have reclaimed a special friendship that had been neglected for too many years.  Plenty of physical humor and wisecracks to call this a comedy, but also on some level a film that makes you feel good about two old guys who genuinely like each other.

Dialogue Nuggets:  Bill – “Writers don’t retire.  They drink themselves to death or blow their brains out.”

Catherine to Bill – “It’s not that I think you’re old.  You are too old!”

Bill – “Nothing for you to worry about.  Catherine – “No, nothing except my husband surely getting maimed or killed!”

Stephen – “I spent half my life getting drunk and chasing pussy.  The other half I just wasted.”

Stephen, wheezing on the Appalachian Trail – “What the hell happened to down?  It can’t be uphill all the way to Maine!”

Stephen – “There are only two guys on the planet who would go to bed with her, and we’re in the same damn town.”

Bill – “You still owe me six hundred bucks.”  Stephen – “You know I’m good for it.”

Actors To Watch:  You have a lot of star power in this movie, with Robert Redford, Emma Thompson and Mary Steenburgen all having won academy awards.  But it’s Nick Nolte, three time academy award nominee, who steals most scenes with his whiskey ravaged voice and stumble-bum look about him.

Huh?  What the….:  Two young hikers come upon Bill and Stephen early on the Trail, and power walk past the two old duffers.  Yet, much later, the two young dudes come upon them again!  What did they do, finish walking the Trail and decide to do it again?

Interesting Casting Note:  Redford starting planning to make this film in 2005, and was talking to his pal Paul Newman to take the part of Stephen Katz.  Too bad; that would have been a treat for film fans….

Phoenix

Movie:  Phoenix

Rating:  4 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:   It is 1945 and World War II has just ended.  Berlin is in ruins, and so is the face of a young German Jewish woman Nelly Lenz (Nina Hoss).  She had been imprisoned in a concentration camp, and as the allies closed in to liberate the camp was shot in the head by an SS guard.  Somehow Nelly survived the wound, and was taken to a plastic surgeon by her friend Lene (Nina Kunzendorf).  The doctor performed a masterful job of reconstructive surgery, but Nelly does look somewhat different than before.

Lene is tired of the war and sickened by Germany, and tries mightily to convince her friend to emigrate with her to the new Jewish state that will become Israel.  But Nelly is not yet interested in the future.  She discovers her husband Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld) has survived the war, and is working at the Phoenix night club in Berlin.  Nelly desperately wants to reunite with her husband and resume their marriage as if the war never happened.  But there are so many unanswered questions she must get answers to.  Will Johnny even recognize the new Nelly?  Does he want to get back together with Nelly?  And did he have anything to do with turning her in to the Nazis when they discovered her hiding place?

This is a very interesting film, one that concentrates primarily on one woman’s struggle to cope with surviving the nightmare of being in a concentration camp, and then trying to resurrect a new life that resembled her old one, much like a phoenix rising from the ashes in Greek mythology.  It is a stark tale but an interesting one.  A German language film with sub titles.