Movie Review: “Black Mass” (Scott Cooper, USA 2015)

In 2011, when James “Whitey” Bulger was arrested, tried, and sentenced, I was in law school. As a result, I didn’t pay very close attention to the story. I remember Tony Kornheiser talking about it a few times but mostly just saying, “Wow–this is incredible! And now he’s so old! He looks like me!” and the like. But all I remember is that he had been on the run for a long time after having been a mobster and government informant. It’s possible that I heard more, but I find it strange to believe that I forgot what a bizarre story his was. He spent two decades growing his criminal empire in Boston while the FBI blocked all investigation of his activities because he was supposedly an informant of theirs, even though he apparently was essentially providing no information. His handler was falsifying information to make Bulger appear more important than he was in order to advance his own career while allowing Bulger to take over the city.

According to the film, the handler, John Connolly, doesn’t appear to have been on Bulger’s payroll or to have been placed in the FBI in order to execute this plan. So, the fundamental question that occurs to me is, “Why the hell did he protect Bulger like this?” This film, while it is supposedly about Bulger’s career, essentially attempts to answer that question. The answer that it gives is that Connolly, Bulger, and all of the other main players in this enterprise were children playing at a game of advancement and “success.” They never grew into men, remaining at heart kids on a playground even as they beat and murdered rivals and broke every law on the books. Continue reading

Movie Review: “Mad Max: Fury Road” (George Miller, Australia/USA 2015)

Back in the early to mid 1970s, a crop of young directors appeared in a government program intended to revitalize Australia’s film industry that had languished since World War II. They were dubbed the Australian New Wave. The program worked, because it found a series of directors highlighted by George Miller, Nicholas Roeg and Peter Weir–directors who found both commercial and critical acclaim. Weir produced a stream of films that received little notice beyond the most highbrow Australian film critics, then broke out with The Cars that Ate Paris (Peter Weir, Australia 1975) (Note: This film has since been retitled The Cars that Eat People, but The Cars that Ate Paris is its original title.), a horror film about a small town that crashes visitors’ cars in order to sell the parts. Weir skyrocketed from that point on and by the dawn of the next decade, he was a critical darling who was about to cross over to the United States and release a string of fantastic, successful films. But probably the most popular film anyone in the Australian New Wave was Miller’s first feature, Mad Max (Australia 1979). Miller took some of the same images and ideas from Weir’s first success and took them to their logical extreme, producing a film about a sort of steampunk desert dystopia where water and gasoline are the world’s most precious resources. His film was a naked revenge fantasy intended to allow him to show off the world he had come up with, a world that shared more than a little with the town of Paris in Weir’s earlier film.

36 years later, Weir is cemented as one of the best directors in modern cinema history, so successful that he can make whatever film he wants and no one really cares whether it has any likelihood of commercial success. Miller, meanwhile, has made a relatively small number of films and some have not been well-received by critics, but every single one has been an incredible commercial success. And so, he’s still continuing his Mad Max saga. After the first film, he made a sequel that was just as much a remake as a true continuation in Mad Max 2 (Australia 1982) (Note: This film was released as The Road Warrior in the US, because Mad Max had not received much, if any, release in the US, but Mad Max 2 is actually the original title.), reveling in the ability to show off the world he had created with a large enough budget not to constrain his imagination. Then he made part of another film before turning it over to another director who turned it into something closer to an addition to John Carpenter’s Escape from New York (UK/USA 1981) before allowing the series to rest for nearly three decades. Still, he has maintained control of this series for so long that it’s impressive, regardless of the quality of the films. Continue reading