Monday, October 31, 2011

The Rum Diary

Johnny Depp channels his close friend Hunter S. Thompson in this film version of Mr. Thompson's novel. The book is based on Mr. Thompson's exploits in Puerto Rico early in his journalist career. Mr. Depp has played this role once before in "Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas" which was a slice of Mr. Thompson's career much later in life. Mr. Depp portrayed him in that film as the alcohol fueled, drug induced manic "gonzo" journalist he was to become. In "The Rum Diary", Mr. Thompson's fictional character, Paul Kemp, has yet to "find his voice" and Mr. Depp plays him wooden and colorless.

By it's own admission, the film centers on the excess consumption of rum and the antics of drunken journalists. The thin plot has to do with some shady land deals that have Mr. Depp crossing paths with Aaron Eckhart and Amber Heard. Why Mr. Eckhart's character needs a journalist "in on the deal" is never quite explained but it does give Mr. Depp time to seriously flirt with Ms. Heard (the next Scarlett Johansson). Ms. Johansson was rumored to actually be cast but I suppose that was before she actually read the script.

The film's most colorful characters are it's supporting cast played by Richard Jenkins, the editor of Mr. Depp's Newspaper, Giovanni Ribisi as a rum soaked washout of a journalist and Michael Rispoli, as a photographer who becomes Mr. Depp's best friend. This is actually one of Mr. Rispoli's best roles in a long career of character acting.

Amidst the repetitive drunken scenes, by the film's end, "Paul Kemp" does manage to "find his voice" ensuring years of a unique writing style. Unfortunately, Mr. Depp may be losing his, based on his most recent films. When he's not being outrageous (a Mad Hatter or Captain Jack), his characters tend to be lifeless and boring. When the rum's gone, all you have left is an empty bottle and a hangover.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Take Shelter

Michael Shannon is mesmerizing as Curtis LaForche, a blue collar working man in modern day Ohio who begins to have nightmares and visions of impending doom. Curtis lives with his wife Samantha, played by Jessica Chastain (what movie isn't she in this year?) and their six year old hearing impaired, daughter, Hannah.

Life is normal enough as the couple struggle to pay bills, continue to master sign language and anticipate an operation that can restore Hannah's hearing. When Curtis's visions begin, he becomes obsessed with renovating and enlarging the storm shelter in the backyard. His obsession takes it's toll on his job, his family and literally his sanity as things begin to unravel. Is it mental illness or something more?

Mr. Shannon can do no wrong, whether it's Television (Boardwalk Empire) the stage ( Mistakes Were Made) or film (Revolutionary Road) and once again shows off his brilliance in an extraordinary performance. Jessica Chastain is perfect as Samantha, the wife with unconditional love for her husband, but straining to understand his growing erratic behavior. The film also stars Tova Stewart as Hannah and Shea Wigham (also of Boardwalk Empire) as Dewart, Curtis's best friend. There are also two good cameos by Kathy Baker and Ray McKinnon.

The film may be slow for some but the building intensity of the situation captivates the viewer and the final moments of the film gave me goose bumps.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Thing

"The Thing"

A totally unnecessary "prequel" to John Carpenter's vastly superior remake of the original '50's Sci-fi classic. There is nothing here to excite an audience. The acting is minimal and logic has been totally thrown out the window. We're told it winter in Antarctica and yet the days are fairly long and people walk around outside dressed like it's + 30 degrees rather than - 30 degrees.

The creature effects are fair but will fail to shock anyone and shape changing plot line never reaches the level of suspense in the John Carpenter version. The direction is horror movie 101 with quick edits, false jumps, and tight close-ups. I will give some credit to the film score which does it's best to create a suspenseful mood.

The entire cast is relatively unknown, a mix of Americans and Norwegians. The female lead, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is no "Sigourney Weaver" action hero but she does try her best. A good deal of the film has Norwegian dialogue with English subtitles which is a complete distraction.

This film didn't need to be made and doesn't need to be seen.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


It's very difficult to make a humorous film about cancer but "50/50" manages to balance both sensitivity and humor very well. Based on a true story, it's emotional but not melodramatic and sometimes outrageously funny due to a well balanced script.

Joseph Gordon Levitt, excellent as always, plays Adam, a young man diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. We follow his story from discovery through treatment and eventual results. Adam's best friend is played by Seth Rogan, who delivers the funniest lines but also delivers a heartfelt performance. Adam's girlfriend is played by Bryce Dallas Howard, who after starring in "The Help" and now this, has a great career ahead as the girl you love to hate.

The film also stars Anna Kendrick as a young therapist trying to help Adam through his struggle and Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer as fellow cancer patients who have an strong impact on Adam. Anjelica Houston plays Adam's mother. Welcome back, Ms. Houston. We've missed you and this part shows why. She's terrific in all her scenes.

I found the ending to be a bit rushed but otherwise "50/50" is worth your time. If you can deal with the subject matter, bring a box of tissues but also be prepared to laugh.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Ides of March

Another in a long line of political dramas that point out there is no such thing as an honest politician. George Clooney directs himself, along with Ryan Gosling, Evan Rachel Wood, Paul Giamatti and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in this tale of political twists and turns.

Mr. Gosling is at the center of things as an idealistic and as it turns out , very naïve press secretary helping Mr. Hoffman run the primary campaign of the Pennsylvania Governor played by Mr. Clooney. It's not the most riveting plot and the suspense is lacking but the acting carries the film. In particular, Mr. Giamati and Mr. Hoffman, who chew up the scenery fighting over the services of Mr. Gosling. This has been quite a year for Mr. Gosling and he is much more animated and involved here than his last effort, "Drive".

Mr. Clooney's direction is rather pedestrian, moving the plot along at a leisurely pace with enough exposition to make sure the audience is following every point. The film has obviously been released now for award season but doesn't have the gravitas to go all the way. It's entertaining enough but I expected more.

Thursday, October 06, 2011


The business of Baseball done in a most entertaining way. Based on a true story, the film stars Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, the real life GM of the Oakland Athletes baseball team and Jonah Hill as Peter Brand, an economist who joins the team in 2002. Using an economic foundation and playing by the numbers, they manage to reverse their losing streak and have a great season, well documented in baseball lore.

While the premise may not sound exciting, the smart script by Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian engages the viewer even if they are not a big baseball fan. Mr. Pitt, himself, has enough charisma to fill a baseball stadium and it's obvious he's having fun with the part. His relationship with Mr. Hill is the closest thing you will get to a love story in this film (except for the love of the game itself) and Mr. Hill finally breaks his 'stoner comedy" mold with this role.

The director, Bennett Miller, keeps things moving briskly and the story never gets bogged down or goes over your head. While those who follow baseball may know the outcome, the film still entertains on many levels. Whether it be the players adjusting to new rules, Billy and Peter's partnership, Billy's relationship with his daughter or his commitment to making the new system successful, it's all great fun to watch.

"Moneyball" is a home run.