Scott Cooper‘s Black Mass (Warner Bros., 9.18), which I caught early Sunday morning at the Tellluride Film Festival, has been called The Depp-arted, but I would call it The Departed‘s just-as-authentic, equally hard-edged…uhm, kid brother? Cousin? The real deal but somewhat more modest, certainly less stylized and with a bit less swagger. Intentionally, I mean. Cooper stuck to his own scheme, knew what he was doing, and brought it home. For comparisons aside this is a flavorful, well acted, well-written Boston crime film — straight and hard and cold as the wind that skirts around Southy in January. I have no significant issues with it except for Johnny Depp‘s slicked-back Whitey Bulger wig, which always seems to be lacquered with a quarter-pound of hair spray with never so much as a single hair out of place. I also felt a wee bit irritated by Joel Edgerton‘s performance as John Connolly (i.e., the now-incarcerated FBI guy who recruited old pally Bulger as an informant but also tipped Bulger off to finks and enemies and wound up getting convicted of aiding and abetting in murder). It felt too broadly “acted” and unsubtle within the realm of the tale. Yes, Depp delivers his best work since Donnie Brasco, and will probably be Best Actor-nominated. If only his hair was a little bit scragglier…
Last week I saw Denis Villeneuve‘s Sicario at the CAA screening room in Century City. It played a whole lot better than it did in Cannes, entirely due to the CAA facility’s perfectly tuned sound and the fact that it’s not overly bassy and echo-y, as is the case in the Grand Lumiere. I understood each and every line, and the difference was significant. I now regard this drug-war flick as an above-average mood piece about the near-futility of going by the book in fighting (i.e., trying to contain) the Mexican drug lords. I still have a problem with Emily Blunt‘s DEA agent, who is forever behind the eight-ball — struggling to understand the nature of the game, doing something stupid (i.e., picking up a Latin-looking guy at a honky tonk) or saying something tedious. But I no longer have Sicario on my black list.
From my 5.19.15 Cannes review: “Sicario is basically about heavily militarized, inter-agency U.S. forces hunting down and shooting it out with the Mexican drug-cartel bad guys, and also flying here and there in a private jet and driving around in a parade of big black SUVs. It’s a strong welcome-to-hell piece, I’ll give it that, but Sicario doesn’t come close to the multi-layered, piled-on impact of Steven Soderbergh‘s Traffic, which dealt with more or less the same realm.
Last year I missed by Durango-to-Phoenix flight by ten minutes, which forced me to stay in the area in order to grab a flight the next morning, etc. I didn’t miss the flight itself but I failed the 30-minutes-before-the-flight rule that Durango Airport are the FAA insists upon. Well, I missed the same damn deadline today, but this time only by five minutes. 300 seconds earlier and everything would’ve been fine.
My fault, of course — I felt I had to finish that Beasts of No Nation review in a way that I was fully satisfied with. But then I tore out of Telluride and sped like a motherfucker, passing car after car over those winding mountain roads, risking life and limb.
I arrived breathless at the US Airways desk at 3:15 pm, or 25 minutes before the flight was due to leave. “Sorry but you’re too late,” the US Air clerk said. Durango Airport is a small operation, remember, and I was there with 25 minutes to spare. I begged, whined, cajoled. I also offered to pay him a “late penalty fee”…nope. A little lenience wouldn’t have hurt anyone and I doubt if FAA would have given a damn, but the guy wouldn’t budge. (He would have made an exception if I’d been a hot blonde in her mid 20s, trust me.) This meant I’d be stuck in Durango again as there are no flights out until early tomorrow morning.
I just couldn’t settle for that plus I’m determined to stick to my plan (i.e., spending Tuesday and Wednesday morning in Manhattan before flying to Toronto) so I swore, gritted my teeth, slapped my thigh, swore again and booked a flight to NYC from Alberquerque ($600 and change, arrives at JFK around 5:45 am). And then I rented a gray Toyota from Budget for the drive south. Durango to Alberquerque is 215 miles or roughly four hours.
The word from the Venice Film Festival was that Cary Fukunaga‘s Beasts Of No Nation is a riveting, beautifully captured, somewhat traumatizing portrait of a child’s experience of guerilla warfare in Africa, and no one’s idea of an easy sit or an engaging exotic adventure. Well, I saw Beasts last night at Telluride’s Werner Herzog theatre, and it’s a masterful thing that demands everyone’s attention — often jarring and horrific and in very few ways “pleasant” but a churning, ravishing injection, a cauldron of mad-crazy intense, something undeniably alive and probing and deep-in-the-bush authentic. Yes, it’s horrific but never without exuberance or a trace of humanism or a lack of a moral compass.
And it’s been made, mind you, by a cultivated, cool-cat artist — a guy of moderate temperament who wears fashionable glasses and cool-looking sweaters (check the below photo I took last night of Fukunaga and Beasts star Abraham Attah at last night’s after-party) — but who holds back just enough but never wimps out, who jumped right in and shot the whole thing himself in Ghana over a mere seven weeks, a guy who knows how to whip up strange brews and visual lather.
We’ve all seen violent films that try to merely shock or astonish or cheaply exploit — Beasts of No Nation is way, way above that level of filmmaking. It’s often about cruel, horrifying acts but filtered through a series of moral, cultured, considered choices, about what to use and not use and how to assemble it all just so. And yet over half of Beasts is gripped by madness — a kind of fever known only by war veterans and particularly (as this is the specific focus of the film) by children who’ve been forced into killing by ruthless elders.
This is a major, triple-A-approved, Apocalypse Now-influenced African inferno flick — a real original, like nothing I’ve ever quite seen before, like nothing I knew how to handle. Steven Soderbergh is going to shit his pants when he sees it. Anyone who attends Sunday services at the Church of the Devoted Cinephile will have to grim up, man up and buy a ticket. (And that means women also.) It’s harsh and brutal but poetic — one of those films that’ll hold up a decade or two or a half-century from now. If you miss or avoid it you’ll be embarassed to admit this down the road.
A few days ago Variety‘s Justin Chang called Beasts “the rare American movie to enter a distant land and emerge with a sense of lived-in human experience rather than a well-meaning Third World postcard,” but to me it’s more that just a lived-in thing — it’s orchestrated and painted and cooked to a full boil. Start to finish it has a feeling of keen impulse mixed with carefully honed art.