Film Review “Black Mass”

Starring: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton and Benedict Cumberbatch
Directed by: Scott Cooper
Rated: R
Running time: 2 hrs 2 mins
Warner Bros

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Some actors have the ability to lose themselves in a character. Some don’t. Among the best is Johnny Depp, who has built a career playing characters as diverse as Gilbert Grape and Jack Sparrow. But as real-life mobster James “Whitey” Bulger, Depp may have found his greatest performance.

“I just want to say one thing for the record,” a former bad guy tells the authorities. “I’m not a rat.” Rats seem to be the one thing no one wants to be, or be around, in South Boston in 1975. Here the streets are run by “Whitey” Bulger (Depp), a man so feared that to cross him almost always means death. With his snake-like eyes that never seem to blink, just a glance sends most people running the other way. But Whitey is also a loving father and all-around good guy to those he knows. When he sees a former teacher of his carrying groceries he stops his car and has his men not only take them home but put them away as well. What a nice guy!

Fast moving and full of great performances, “Black Mass” is a welcome return to the big screen of the Johnny Depp we admired 20 years ago! He is joined by Edgerton, who plays local boy/now grown-up FBI agent John Connolly. Connolly has been tasked by his superiors to clean up South Boston, and he strikes an almost un-holy bond with Whitey. Whitey will provide information on rival gangsters to the Feds while they will turn their back on his activities, providing he doesn’t murder anyone, which is a pretty hard promise for Whitey to keep. Another fly in the ointment is the fact that Bulger’s brother, Billy, is a state senator, which can make for an uncomfortable dinner party.

As things get worse in Southie, Connolly must find ways to show that Whitey is a productive informant. Of course, this leads to big arrests which lead to raises and a bigger office. Soon Connolly is wearing fancy suits and gold watches, which draws the curiosity of his superior (Kevin Bacon, still in Boston-mode from “Mystic River”). As Connolly, Edgerton is amazing. If you include his amazing writing/directing debut with last month’s “The Gift,” this has been one hell of a year for him. But the top draw here is Depp, who loses himself in the character completely.

If you’re not familiar with “Whitey Bulger,” think back to the Oscar winning Best Picture of 2006, “The Departed.” The character Jack Nicholson played was based on accounts of Bulger and while Nicholson played him well, his “Frank Costello” can’t hold a candle to the real thing!

Win Passes to the Kansas City Premiere of “Black Mass”

Media Mikes has teamed up with Warner Bros. to give (10) lucky readers and a guest the chance to be among the first to see the new film “Black Mass,” starring Johnny Depp.

The screening will be held on Monday, September 14th at the Cinemark Palace on the Plaza in Kansas City and will start at 7:30 p.m.

Enter here to get tickets now through Friday, Sept 11th. 10 winners and a guest will be notified on Saturday, Sept 12th.

Good luck!

BLACK MASS   In theaters on September 18

(Warner Bros. Pictures/Cross Creek Pictures/RatPac-Dune Entertainment)

Director:          Scott Cooper

Writers:            Screenplay by Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth

Based on the book by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill     

Producers:       John Lesher, Brian Oliver, Scott Cooper, Patrick McCormick, Tyler Thompson

Executive Producers:   Brett Ratner, James Packer, Peter Mallouk, Ray Mallouk, Christopher Woodrow, Brett Granstaff, Gary Granstaff, Phil Hunt, Compton Ross

Cast:    Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Cochrane, Jesse Plemons, Kevin Bacon, W. Earl Brown, David Harbour, Dakota Johnson, Julianne Nicholson, Corey Stoll, Peter Sarsgaard, Adam Scott, Juno Temple

Drama.  In 1970s South Boston, FBI Agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) persuades Irish mobster James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp) to collaborate with the FBI and eliminate a common enemy: the Italian mob.  The drama tells the story of this unholy alliance, which spiraled out of control, allowing Whitey to evade law enforcement, consolidate power, and become one of the most ruthless and powerful gangsters in Boston history.

This film has been rated R for  brutal violence, language throughout, some sexual references and brief drug use.

David Kates & Joshua Mosley discuss composing “Mass Effect: Paragon Lost”

David Kates & Joshua Mosley are the composers of Production I.G.’s “Mass Effect: Paragon Lost”, which is an animated prequel to BioWare’s “Mass Effect 3”.  The film is being released on Blu-ray/DVD on  December 28, 2012 and packs a hell of an epic score.  Media Mikes had a chance to chat with David and Joshua about working together on this project and with the “Mass Effect” franchise.

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us about how you two ended up collaborating on “Mass Effect: Paragon Lost”?
Joshua Mosley: Really great to talk with you. Shortly after I was hired on to the film I discovered the music of David Kates – particularly his work on the Mass Effect games. I really dug the way he put together his cues. I reached out and connected through social media. I felt he would be a great collaborator on this film. Soon after we met in person, I invited him to join me on this creative adventure. It was a totally awesome and fun experience working with David.
David Kates: Thanks for including us. We love what you guys are doing, and thrilled to be a part of it. Joshua, I recall, reached out to me through social networking, and mentioned that he had listened to some of my music so I reciprocated and checked out was he was doing, and was really moved by what he was creating. And I say moved, because it’s one thing to be impressed, and another altogether, to be moved. I felt that Joshua’s writing was coming from a very honest place, and I knew I wanted to get to know him. When the opportunity to collaborate on Mass Effect: Paragon Lost came about, I was initially very surprised because at the time, no one knew an animated version of the franchise was in the works. I was thrilled to be included, and fascinated by the potential creativity in bringing what I had composed on the games to the screen with Joshua.

MG: David, How does composing a “Mass Effect” animated movie differ from the video game series?
DK: The mission in composing for the game, particularly Mass Effect 2, was to give each level of the game its own musical identity while keeping the overall quality consistent, but the process is tedious and limiting. One of my favorite levels that I worked on was Garrus because I found him to be a character tormented by his own internal challenges. He wasn’t human, yet he identified with human qualities like compassion, justice, and loyalty. I wanted to bring out his discomfort in this while also accentuating this underlying, almost chemical level need to participate in battle. To achieve this, I had to create short loops that had different layers of content, and those layers would be trigger-based on what the player achieves while playing. It’s very challenging and difficult to really dig into a character’s development this way. In the movie, though, the story is laid out and develops chronologically, and there are so many opportunities to compose themes that you can use to comment on what you see on the screen. In fact, the dramatization of Mass Effect: Paragon Lost is one of the aspects of my collaboration with Joshua that I’m most proud of. I feel we gave the story real dimension, and brought out the real emotion that was written in the script.

MG: Since this is a prequel to the third game, does that pose any issue when approaching the sound?
JM: Sure it does. We definitely wanted to capture the essence of the musical landscape of the Mass Effect games, including elements from all three titles. That sound also had to translate to a big cinematic experience. I think it fits well alongside the games.
DK: We both studied and analyzed the scores from the games to make sure not to leave any identifiable elements out, and we knew we wanted this score to have a cinematic and expansive feel that brings the games to the big screen.

MG: What you were most concerned about when handling the “Mass Effect” universe for the fans?
JM: We definitely wanted the score to fit into the sonic experience of the Mass Effect games and give the fans that same emotional feeling that they got when they played them.
DK: We certainly wanted the score to feel as though it naturally lives alongside the other productions, and were initially concerned how our musical approach would live well with the anime style of animation. Fortunately, the two elements blended successfully and we didn’t have to go back and alter our sound palette.

MG: The film has a very epic sci-fi score behind it, tell us about the inspiration?
JM: Yes, this is a very epic score but at the center of it all is the humanity and the spiritual and emotional journey that Vega embarks on through the film. There are definitely big sci-fi action cues throughout but there is also a very intimate emotional underscore that gives it the depth it needed to support and propel that story.
DK: I would say our inspiration was the spiritual nature we discovered in the story. Joshua and I talked for many hours about what we wanted to achieve, and that included accentuating the underlying humanity of what was going on. James Vega goes through an experience that no one would ever expect to go through in their lives, yet, every one of us can imagine being confronted with making the kind of decisions that could mean the lives of so many, particularly the ones we know and love. We really dedicated ourselves to making sure that this would be the inspiration that motivated every note we wrote in this score.

MG: Tell us what each of you have planned next?
JM: I begin work on a new video game and film in January. I am also in talks on a few other projects of which I cannot disclose any information. Thanks again for having us!
DK: I’ve been fortunate to be participating in The Helfman Institute Composer in Residence program this past year, and I’ve been composing my first Operetta based on the biblical character Miriam. We’re rehearsing it now, and will be performing it in Los Angeles in late January.
Cheers to you and your readers!! Thanks so much and wishing everyone a merry holiday season.

DVD Review “Mass Effect: Paragon Lost”

Actors: Freddie Prinze Jr., Monica Rial, Vic Mignogna
Directors: Justin Cook
Rated: NR (Not Rated)
Studio: Funimation
Release Date: December 28, 2012
Run Time: 84 minutes

Film: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3.5 out of 5 stars

With “Mass Effect 3” tearing up video game systems right now, fans are in looking for more and more.  Thanks to Bioware and visionary Production I.G, we are delivered “Mass Effect: Paragon Lost”, which is an anime prequel to “Mass Effect 3”.  Production I.G. is known for their work on “Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C.” and “Blood: The Last Vampire”. The anime style is great and really works with the franchise. If you are a fan of the “Mass Effect” series and have played 1 and 2, then this is great way to great introduced  into 3.  Now if you haven’t played any it is still overall an awesome anime and will make you run out and purchase the game ASAP! In fact this month there is a newly released “Mass-Effect Trilogy” for Playstation 3.

Officical Premise: Mass Effect: Paragon Lost follows the early career of Alliance Marine, James Vega. Vega leads an elite Special Forces squad into battle against a mysterious alien threat known as The Collectors. Stationed at a colony in a remote star system, Vega and his soldiers must protect civilians from ruthless invaders determined to capture the population for unknown purposes.  Movie audiences will discover new insights into the Mass Effect universe with an unprecedented glimpse into the haunted past of the franchise’s newest hero.

I have to say with anime, I always prefer a Japanese audio track but “Mass Effect: Paragon Lost” really does features a very sharp English voice cast including Freddie Prinze, Jr., Monica Rial (Deadman Wonderland) and Vic Mignogna (Fullmetal Alchemist).  I still would have liked at least an option for a Japanese track but since this is more of a US release, I understand why it is not included. The real stars of the film though is composers David Kates and Joshua R. Mosley really steal the show with their fantastic score. Kates previously worked on the scores for both “Mass Effect” and “Mass Effect 2”, so he knows the series well. I am sure the score would sound even better with the audio track on the Blu-ray release.

The special features for the film are maybe not a lot in terms of quantity but nothing short in quality.  First we get “All Doors Open: A Look Inside Electronic Arts”, which a nice look into the studio.  I really enjoyed “An Inside Look at the Mass Effect Universe”, this is a really in depth look into how much work was but into the film, including character modeling and designing. I really enjoyed this 13 minute featurette. There is a decent behind-the-scenes featurette with “Directing Effect”, which looks into creating the film from the game with cast/crew interviews – also runs a nice 25 minutes. Lastly there is a trailer included.