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The Rum Diary (2011)

5 03 2012

Copyright 2011 GK Films

★ ★ ★ 1/2

This film had an interesting spin for me.  When I first heard about it, it became one of my most anticipated movies of the year because of the source material (the book of the same name by legendary Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson) and the writer/director Bruce Robinson (director of Withnail and I and his first feature film in nearly 20 years).  However, once the film was released, the critics didn’t necessarily pan it out right, but the reviews were admittedly lackluster.  So, because of this, I put off seeing this movie and, rather than having too high expectations as originally was the case, I lowered my expectations greatly and went into the film planning on being completely let down.  After viewing, I can see how some people wouldn’t enjoy the movie, but for me, it still hit a chord in much the same way Withnail and I did for me.  Honestly, I had a hard time deciding whether this should be rated a three and a half star or four star film, I guess for me it’s somewhere in the middle.

Johnny Depp plays aspiring novelist and American freelance journalist Paul Kemp, a character who himself is an alter ego of author Hunter S. Thompson.  On assignment, he starts a job at the San Juan Star in Puerto Rico in the early 1960s writing horoscopes and other pointless articles for tourists under the discretion of editor Lotterman (Richard Jenkins), during a turbulent time in the country’s history, where island natives and the touristy expatriates from America are at bitter ends.  Kemp takes up eventual residence with the paper photographer, Sala (Michael Rispoli), and the two carry out many nights of drunken amusement, along with complete alcoholic Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi),  while in the day concerned with the changing culture on the island.  In addition, during his time on the island, Kemp becomes reluctantly involved with a plan to foster a military bombing island into a hotel/resort attraction with the insistence of self-proclaimed PR guru Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), whose girlfriend Chenault (Amber Heard), becomes an infatuation during his tenure.

What struck me about this film was two things: 1) the camaraderie of being in constant limbo in a Catch-22 situation where alcohol and drugs seems your only escape to “normalcy” and 2) the analysis of Puerto Rico during this turbulent time in the country’s history.  I related and found interest in the first bullet point in much the same way I did in watching Withnail and I, in that, I have had a period of my life that felt very much like that.  A period of constant intoxication in need of normalcy, while striving to find a creative voice in the chaos that is our world.  To me, I think every young artist has this period and, I won’t hesitate to say, I would likely still be in this period had I been able to continue to pursue the dreams of my youth.  Not that I have given up on my goals, but I have had to suck it up and get a “real” job and become a bit more of a cog in society, as opposed to the meandering drink laden writer/filmmaker/musician that is more in character with my genetic makeup.  The second point is what really encompasses the story of this film; without it, the whole movie would just be one long binge, and that doesn’t work as a story.  However, I can see how some would find the essence of Puerto Rico at this time to not really be of interest; yet, for me, it kept my attention throughout.

I’ve not read the novel, so I can’t compare the book to the movie.  Speaking on the film’s merits alone, however, I think this presents an accurate vision of what life for a personality such as Kemp’s was and would react in this particular setting and time period.  Though it’s not for everyone, it worked for me.

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How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1989) Review

26 04 2011

Copyright 1989 Handmade Films

★ ★ ★

Withnail and I possibly ranks in my top 10 favorite comedies of all-time and definitely in my top 20; this film is the movie writer/director Bruce Robinson made after Withnail and I.  As much as I wanted to absolutely love this movie, I just couldn’t.  It’s not bad, but it’s not nearly the caliber of film his debut effort was.

The film stars Richard E. Grant (from Withnail) as advertising executive Denis Bagley.  In working to come up with a good campaign for a pimple cream, he develops a boil on his shoulder that grows into having a mind and personality of it’s own.  The boil is presented like a devil on the shoulder, whereas Bagley himself begins to develop into the angelic counterpart who begins to have deeply rooted concerns in the wrongdoings of his career.  Eventually, the boil takes over and his head shrinks to the size of a boil, allowing the dark side to take over completely.

Obviously, this film is quite surreal and deeply rooted in dark comedy as well.  It’s also a plain out attack, quite heavy handedly at times, on the advertising industry.  I have agree with some of the points the film makes, but it definitely gets preachy at times for a movie that is supposed to be labeled as entertainment.  As for the story structure, it’s pretty loose.  There are some amazingly funny scenes within the film, but as a whole, it feels disjointed in many ways.

Richard E. Grant, as always, does a great job in the excessively neurotic role as Bagley.  I’ve not seen Grant in much other than this film and Withnail and I, but he definitely has a penchant for playing eccentric characters.  The only other primary character in the film is his wife, who is played by Rachel Ward; she does an acceptable job in the role as a concerned houeswife dealing with her husband’s bizarre eccentricities and rants.

I don’t want to mislead completely, this isn’t a bad film.  However, if you come to this after watching Withnail and I and expect the same level of greatness, then you will be let down.  You have to watch this as a stand alone film and not try to make any comparisons to Robinson’s previous work.  In my opinion, the film is worth watching for Grant’s performance, some of the well-written comedic scenes and, if you hate advertisers, then some of the apocalyptic rants on the evils of advertising.





Anticipated Release: The Rum Diary

30 03 2011

Johnny Depp as Paul Kemp in "The Rum Diary." Copyright 2011 GK Films, Infinitum Nihil and Film Engine.

It was revealed yesterday that writer/director Bruce Robinson’s adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary will be released theatrically through FilmDirect.  The film, which stars Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckart and Amber Heard, is set for an October 28, 2011 release date.

I can’t tell you how excited I am about seeing this film.  For those of you who are unaware of who Bruce Robinson is, he directed the seminal British comedy classic Withnail and I (one of my favorite comedies of all-time).  Following the success of Withnail and I in 1986, he has only directed two other pictures: How to Get Ahead in Advertising and Jennifer Eight. This is his first release as a writer/director since 1992 and, even though his two latest films weren’t as well-received, this new project has some amazing source material and a great cast to accompany.

The Rum Diary, the book, was written by acclaimed gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson in the early 1960s (though unpublished until 1998).  It was his second novel following the still unpublished Prince Jellyfish. Like many books by a young writer (Thompson was 22 at the time of writing), it is a semi-autobiographical piece dealing with his time in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1960.

According to the press release from New York yesterday, the story “…tells the increasingly unhinged story of itinerant journalist Paul Kemp (Depp). Tired of the noise and madness of New York and the crushing conventions of late Eisenhower-era America, Kemp travels to the pristine island of Puerto Rico to write for a local San Juan newspaper run by the downtrodden editor Lotterman (Jenkins). Adopting the rum-soaked lifestyle of the late ‘50s version of Hemingway’s “The Lost Generation,” Paul soon becomes entangled with a very attractive American woman, Chenault (Heard) and her fiancée Sanderson (Eckhart), a businessman involved in shady property development deals.  It is within this world that Kemp ultimately discovers his true voice as a writer and integrity as a man.”

Now, as with any film, there is a possibility that there could be a let down, but this film seems to have some pretty amazing things going for it and I can’t wait until it comes out.  Bruce Robinson adapting a Hunter S. Thompson film starring Johnny Depp  – that just sounds like magic on screen to me.








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