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Netfix: Casting JonBenét

casting_jonbenetThe murder of JonBenét Ramsey will probably go down in as one of the saddest, strangest unsolved murders in American history. Despite all that science can give us, 20 years later we still don’t know who killed JonBenét. The Netflix original documentary, Casting JonBenét, takes an original look at one of our nation’s most speculated upon murders.

What makes this documentary so interesting is that it’s not so much a documentary as it is a deconstruction. No actual associated parties are involved – it’s all reenactment. This method  is incredibly appropriate, considering that this case is pure speculation.

From the moment they made their public appearance, Patsy and John Ramsey were judged unscrupulously by the public, and would be judged for the rest of their lives. Additionally, there would be little to no personal time to grieve, let alone process this atrocity, while being prime suspects for the police.The beauty of this documentary is everything we witness is that spectacle.

On the whole, this is an exploration of mass perception and how it shapes our views of others, while reflecting on our own inner troubles. During a powerful point in the story, when John and Patsy are meant to be making their statements to the police, the actors spill their guts about their darker character manifests. The finale is an emotional cacophony, which renders the viewer overwhelmed, and ultimately very sad.

The Good
In the end, I found this film to be haunting. The spectrum at the end – every possibility played out to its fullest – cements that this was a real tragedy that actually occurred to real people.

The Bad-ish?
As much as I appreciate the idea of a speculative documentary about a news spectacle, it’s really an anti-documentary. Though an exploration of emotional gravitas, one can’t help but feel it hides behind the Ramsey’s limelight to create an art piece. …Not that there’s anything wrong with that, is there?

After all, art is inspired in the strangest or bleakest of places, and there’s hardly any exploitation to be had – the performers are of their own bias and the filmmakers do not portray any opinions on the matter. It’s less about the Ramseys themselves and more about reflecting on theoreticals. So in a sense, the film is false advertising. An additional ironic cherry on top is that JonBenét is hardly even in the film at all – after all, the parents are the real stars of the show.

The Bizarre
…Does that sex-ed guy just carry those flails around with him everywhere?

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Black Mass

I’ll admit, I knew little to nothing about Whitey Bulger before seeing this film. Sadly, by the end of it, I really feel like I still don’t know much about him.

And who doesn't love a delicious steak?

And who doesn’t love a delicious steak?

Brief synopsis: Black Mass is based on the true story of a criminal-turned-informant-turned-crimelord; what began as a joint effort to take down the Boston Italian mob lead to the creation of a power-mad monster – a man who couldn’t be stopped simply because blood is thicker than water.

I want to believe that this film is a portrait of a man who was simply looking out for himself and his community, but I can’t help but think that the heart of the piece is lost in the grit, as is motivation. Maybe that was the idea? Perhaps Scott Cooper wanted to portray a first-person look the rise and violent fall of an empire? Nah, I’m probably just looking too far into it.

Though origin tales are overdone, I really would have appreciated a small look into the turn to crime – just a small taste of what made this man so methodically vicious.

Though it seems MK-ULTRA didn't do him much good...

Though it seems MK-ULTRA didn’t do him much good…

On the upside, the performances were great. Like really, really great – even Rolling Stone thinks that Johnny Depp’s take on Bulger might be the cusp of an oncoming Deppessaince. And as advertised, this puppy has a hell of an ensemble – though, it was weird seeing Benedict Cumberbatch pull off a Boston accent.

Despite my gripes about the storytelling, I honestly feel that Black Mass is a welcomed addition to American crime drama. The pacing and tone are perfectly matched by well-crafted cinematography (thank you, Masanobu Takayangi), and the score just adds to this dreary, tense agglomeration (dreary and tense in the best possible way, of course). Personally, I think if there was just a bit more, well, personality, or more definition, this might be one of the better dramas of the year. But that’s just me.

Oh yeah, #freethebacon

Oh yeah, #freethebacon

Final Grade: B