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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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The Help (2011) Review

30 12 2011

Copyright 2011 Dreamworks SKG

★ ★ ★ ★

I have to be honest, this was not a film I was expecting to enjoy.  Usually, when the girlfriend and mother are excited about a movie, that means that it will definitely not be my cup of tea.  However, I am pleasantly surprised to report that I enjoyed this movie; I wouldn’t say it is a masterpiece as lauded by some critics, but it’s definitely an enjoyable and solid film.

The story takes place in Jackson, Miss. in 1963, a place where racial intolerance was at an all-time high.  Many African-American women were employed as maids to white families, a job that offered little appreciation and even less pay/benefits.  Aibeleen Clark (Viola Davis) and Minnie Jackson (Octavia Spencer) have been maids, raising and feeding white children, for as long as they can remember.  Free spirited Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) is one of the white children that was raised by an African-American maid.  Unlike her blatantly racist “friends”, Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Elizabeth Leefolt (Ahna O’Reilly), she doesn’t agree with Jim Crow laws and the under appreciation and maltreatment of African-Americans as a lower class.  Wanting to become a novelist, Skeeter takes a job at the local paper, but has higher aspirations of working for Harper and Row in New York.  She gets the idea about interviewing African-American maids in Jackson as a way to tell their story, while also helping her writing career.  Harper and Row are interested in the idea and Skeeter enlists the help of Aibeleen and Minny.  Through the process of writing, Skeeter learns a lot about the life these maids lead and, likewise, within the town, becomes more aware of the racial intolerance and two-sided ways of her peers.

The story has many more plot points than the brief synopsis above, and elicits a well-woven tale of history, friendship, civil action and triumph of the human spirit.  From what I hear from my girlfriend, the book is even more in depth and interesting.  Directed aptly by relative newcomer Tate Taylor and beautifully shot by seasoned veteran Stephen Goldblatt, this is a very solid film; however, the top accolades go to the cast, primarily Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, who give some real knock out performances.

As stated at the beginning of this review, this is not the typical type of film I usually enjoy.  So, if I enjoyed it as much as I did, I’m sure it will fit the bill for anyone looking for a well-written, tightly put together drama.





Page One: Inside the New York Times (2011) Review

8 12 2011

Copyright 2011 Participant Media

★ ★ ★ ★

Having worked in the newspaper industry for just under one year in 2008, I am fully aware of the hardships the industry is going through.  The paper where I worked, which was a small tri-weekly 6,000 circulation local paper, had once printed its own papers on site, had a devoted staff and large work area.  During my tenure, the paper was hit with another round of lay-offs, the printing on site was long gone and outsourced to a sister company and we were moved from the town we covered to the sister company’s offices in a larger close-by market.  In the end, our paper was reduced to an editor, sports editor, myself (as News Assistant and later Features Editor) and one full-time devoted reporter.  

This film studies essentially the same problems my little rural North Carolina paper was going through, but at one of the most prominent newspapers in the country, The New York Times.  The Times has long be heralded as one of, if not the, most important newspapers in the world.  Many times, stories that first appear in The Times will appear in other papers two to three days later.  Their reporters have long been the gold standard in the industry and have garnered a slew of Pulitzer Prizes.  In this film, which covers from about 2008-2010, we see the effects of the digital world on this behemoth of a paper.  Lay-offs, uncertainty, astronomical financial loss, all of these are analyzed and touched on by, not only Times reporters, but also people from the digital media industry.  With a focus on The Times’ new media unit, we see the stresses of everyday life in the print industry and how they are trying to cope with what is happening to their industry.  The most important point throughout, however, is that we need good, solid reporting of the news, no matter how it is digested.

When I saw recently that CNN laid off a large number of dedicated photojournalists in favor of free, individual uploaded content on iReport, I almost got sick to my stomach.  A Lamen with a camera phone in their backyard is not reporting.  In these days and times when our country is in dark peril, we need reporters who are going to go out and report our news content with the highest of integrity.  Though it may seem easy to some, good reporting is a skill like any other that takes education, practice and years of trial and error.  To reduce this profession to any 12-year-0ld with a video camera is a disgrace and not the kind of society I want to live in.

I have had two positions since my time at the newspaper and, even though they are more in line with what my degree and core interests are, I think I enjoyed the day to day work of the paper more than either of the other two.  Yet, making a living in the newspaper industry is extremely difficult.  These are trained professionals making less than $30,000 a year much of the time.  I hope a bridge between quality content and the digital spectrum can be reached soon, not only for the sake of my friends in journalism, but for the sake of the content we will receive as the end user.  I realize I have gotten up on a pedestal about this topic, but it is one that is close to the heart.  In regards to the film itself, it is a well done and engaging documentary that I think anyone interested in the state of our newspaper industry should watch.





My Name is Bond Series: Licence to Kill (1989)

29 11 2011

Copyright 1989 Eon Productions

★ ★ ★ ★

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving and with the four days off, I was able to watch a pretty decent amount of movies.  Some were good, some were terrible and one was Bond, so it gets incorporated into the “My Name is Bond” Series here on the blog.  Yes, I know I said I was going to go in order, but after seeing this one and having it fresh in my mind, I am going to jump around a bit.

Timothy Dalton takes his second and final turn as James Bond in this film.  Longtime friend and CIA agent Felix Leiter (David Hedison) is on his way to his wedding with Bond as the best man.  On the way, however, the DEA intercepts him because of a lead on notorious drug runner Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi).  After an exciting pre-title action sequence that results in Sanchez’s capture, Leiter and Bond arrive for the wedding in epic style.  Under interregation, Sanchez offers $2 million for anyone who will free him.  DEA agent Ed Killifer (Everett McGuill aka ‘Big Ed’ to all you Twin Peaks fans) can’t pass up the offer and frees Sanchez during the transport.  Knowing his captor, Sanchez kills Leiter’s newly wed wife and feeds him  to the sharks, though he does survive in intensive care.  Bond, seeking revenge, plans to go gunning for Sanchez, but his boss M demands he stay on course and head to Istanbul for a field operation.  James resigns and gives up his “Licence to Kill”, instead embarking on a journey into South America to find and kill Sanchez.  Along the way, he garners some convenient help from a CIA operative named Pam Bouvier (Cary Lowell) and receives some help from Q (Desmond Lleweln) under the table.

In addition to being Dalton’s final appearance as Bond, this was also the final Bond film for Albert R. Broccoli in the Executive Producer position, Richard Maibaum as a writer, John Glen as a director (he directed all 5 Bond movies in the 1980s beginning with For Your Eyes Only), title designer Maurice Bender, Robert Brown as M and Caroline Bliss as Moneypenny.  So, in a way, this film marked the end of an era in the EON Productions Bond franchise; because of this and lawsuits that arose in the early 1990s, it was six years before a new Bond movie release, that being Goldeneye with Pierce Brosnan.

A lot of bond fans are not too keen on Dalton as Bond.  A more emotional, sentimental Bond than some in ways, yet more realistic and rough and tough in others.  According to many, Dalton’s portrayal is the closest to the original character in the books by Ian Fleming.  For me, personally, I immensely enjoyed Dalton’s portrayal and hate he didn’t stick around for a third film.  As for the film itself, director John Glen felt this was his best effort of all his Bond films; I have to agree.  It is gritty, it is dark and the action sequences are very well-handled.  Though little attention gets paid to this film in the canon, I really enjoy it.  This was my third time seeing the movie and it hasn’t lost any of the allure it had for me when I first saw it nearly seven or eight years ago.

In short, a great, underrated Bond film.  And no, I didn’t misspell the title; “Licence” is the British way of spelling what we Americans are more familiar with transcribing as “License.”





JFK: The Movie and the Man

23 11 2011

Copyright 1991 Warner Brothers Pictures

Yesterday marked 48 years since that fateful day in Dallas where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dealey Plaza.  When possible, I mark the anniversary with a viewing of Oliver Stone’s 1991 epic JFK, a three-hour ode to the problematic points in the Warren Report and chronicle of New Orleans D.A. Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) to set the records straight.  Unfortunately, this year I was able to screen the film for the anniversary, but may likely catch up a day late tonight.

Why do I screen this film almost annually in remembrance of a man who died 20 years before I was born?  The answer is simple: I believe that on that day an injustice took place in this country that destroyed the innocence of a nation and propelled a recovering country into a senseless state of war and social mayhem.  With current times seemingly reliving the unrest and anguish of the period after Kennedy’s death, it seems even more so fitting to celebrate the life of a man who wanted to avoid war, avoid discrimination and avoid social injustice.

Not only do I feel that Oliver Stone’s film is an important historical piece, but it is also a brilliant movie.  Rarely do you see a film so perfect, and I think the reason stems from Stone’s own personal feelings on the subject matter.  With an all-star cast, beautiful Oscar-winning cinematography and editing, JFK embodies all the elements that make so many question the “official” findings of the Warren Report, which concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting on his own volition, was the sole gunman from the sixth floor of the Texas Book Depository.  The film, as does the content, urges one to lift the veil from over their eyes and search for the truth.  One or two complications of fact doesn’t warrant a conspiracy, but when you have more contradictions than evidence on any subject, there can be no other way to classify it.

Over the years, I’ve collected quite a collection of books on Kennedy’s death from “Best Evidence” to a fine copy of the Warren Report itself.  Now, even 20 years after Stone’s film, it’s still hard to say whether we’ve come much further in regards to hard evidence on the case.  The real theme, however, of the film is to never give up.  When there is injustice, it takes those who seek the truth to hunt it down and right the wrongs, no matter the length of time passed, no matter the change of era.  As mentioned earlier, now is as good a time as any to carry such a mind set.  We live in times that could make or break our country, and no matter the cost, we have to be willing to fight for justice, equality and what is right.  As the age old quote states, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  This film professes that logic and is a great example of how a piece of filmmaking can invigorate and incite people to search for what they feel is right.





X-Men: First Class (2011) Review

7 11 2011

Copyright 2011 Bad Hat Harry Productions

★ ★ ★ ★

I think I saw the first two X-Men movies soon after they came out.  I’m sure I saw the first, but after that I generally lost interest; not because I don’t like the X-Men, the films just didn’t seem that appealing.  Wanting a break from thought-provoking films for a night or two, I put this film and the new Captain America movie on my Netflix (review of it forthcoming).

X-Men: First Class, as could easily be assumed from the title, explores the beginnings of Doctor Charles Xavier’s (James McAvoy) “mutant league”.  In contrast, it also explores the beginnings of arch enemy Magneto, whom is portrayed by Michael Fassbender.  It is interesting seeing the beginnings of these mutants as they begin to unveil the power of their abilities, not quite knowing how to shape them for positive use.  It is especially interesting seeing the friendship, and eventual decline in the relationship between Professor X and Magneto.  Original line-up mutants appearing throughout this film include Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), Azazel (Jason Flemyng), Angel Salvadore (Zoe Kravitz), Emma Frost (January Jones) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult), among others.  The arch villain in this installment is expertly portrayed by Kevin Bacon, the character of Sebastian Shaw.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film.  I might even say that is was my favorite comic book movie of all-time, which is quite a statement.  But, really, it was that good.  It has a good story, solid character building and enough visual eye candy to keep even the  most torrid of CGI junkies happy.  Though not a surprise necessarily, I was intrigued to find out at the end of the film that it was directed by Matthew Vaughn; that makes three for three good movies I’ve seen directed by him (I have yet to see Stardust).

In conclusion, check this one out.  It’s a real treat for comic book fans, but still a great flick for those who come from a none X-men perspective.





Jane Eyre (2011) Review

17 10 2011

Copyright 2011 Focus Features

★ ★ 1/2

I will be honest about two things in this review, outside of my opinion of the film of course.  Firstly, I would have never watched this film on my own volition, I did so at the behest of my girlfriend (who I obviously care very dearly for).  Secondly, I cannot stand any material that was ever produced by either one of the Bronte sisters.  It doesn’t relate to me and I find it drab and incredibly boring.  There, I am done with my prefaced rant.

Ah, the story of Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska).  For those of you who don’t know, it is about a young orphaned girl who is wrongly treated by her aunt, whom adopted her.  Being sent to grow up in a miserable orphanage, she eventually gets out and becomes the governess for a wealthy man, Edward Fairfax Rochester (Michael Fassbender).  They, over time, fall in love with each other and he asks her to marry him.  She obliges, and they are all set for their wedding day until a horrible secret is found out about his past that destroys her trust.  She flees his mansion and learns to make ends meet on her own, eventually inheriting a fortune from a wealthy distant relative.  Now wealthy and in good standing, she returns to her love, but what oh what will she find of him?  Without ruining too much of the suspense that is in the film, I’ll leave you with that short sarcastic synopsis.

The film was aptly directed by Cary Fukunaga, and has some very pretty cinematography.  Mia Wasikowska does do a wonderful job in the lead role, as does Fassbender as Rochester.  However, the story will always be the same, and I’ve never related well to it.  It does have some suspenseful, interesting moments, but largely doesn’t take advantage of them as key story points.  Prior to seeing this adaptation of the book, I saw the 1980s version with Timothy Dalton, and was equally underwhelmed.  Though I will say, however, that I enjoyed this adaptation more so than the previous.  For that, and for the fact that I was actually able to sit through the whole thing, I have to give it some credit.








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