The Rum Diary

The Rum Diary

Starring Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart and Amber Heard
Directed by Bruce Robinson (Withnail & I)
Rated R

    Based on the novel by Hunter S. Thompson (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), The Rum Diary follows the adventures of an American journalist (Depp) who moves to Puerto Rico for a job but ends up clashing with both the locals and the Americans living on the island.  

    I’ll start this off by declaring that Hunter S. Thompson is an acquired taste that I haven’t acquired yet.  While this movie wasn’t nearly as dismal an experience for me as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I still could not get into it.  The characters are somewhat quirky as are the situations they find themselves in, and because of this I let out a laugh or two.  But those laughs only brought on a mild amusement as I was more bewildered than entertained.  

    As for Depp and the rest of the talented cast, they did an admirable job with the source material so there is no fault there.  

    The problem as I see it is with the script.  It’s one thing to have fun characters but if they don’t tell a compelling story then you get nowhere.  There were elements of the film that reminded me of The Big Lebowski, but without a plot.  Lots of fun to be had but once the drunk wears off there is no direction.  Two hours of this turns out to be quite tedious.  

    And to make matters worse, there is no resolution.  The journey isn’t over, but the movie is.  It’s almost as if the filmmakers are telling the audience “you don’t have to leave but you can’t stay here.”

    So if you are like me and place a heavy importance on the narrative, then you will probably want to avoid this meandering picture.  On the other hand, if you just like to see Johnny Depp in another eclectic role doing strange stuff, this might be right up your alley.  C

New in Home Entertainment – October 25, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

October 25, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

After the disappointment I felt from watching Thor and Green Lantern this summer, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to checking out the genesis story of Captain America.  Fortunately, the low expectations probably came to the aid of my enjoyment of the film.  The film takes place during World War II when a young soldier with a heroic heart yet underwhelming physical presence goes through a top secret government project to turn him into a muscle-bound stud with super-human speed and strength.  This new weapon helps America with the war against the Nazis and a Nazi offshoot called HYDRA.  The movie turns out to be a fun thrill ride of an adventure with a tight script and great pacing.  And unlike Thor, instead of being a big commercial for the upcoming Avengers flick, it possesses its own identity in a creative two-hour package.  B+

The People Vs. George Lucas
Not rated but contains much adult language
Available on DVD

Star Wars fans have been very vocal through the years concerning their dislike for both the new trilogy as well as George Lucas’s tinkering with the original “holy” trilogy.  This documentary gives the fanboys (and girls) their voice while also creating a strong devil’s advocate for the devotees that disagree.  The one thing we can all agree on is there is a lot of passion surrounding these movies and that the original Star Wars Trilogy is one of the most influential pieces of filmmaking since the introduction of the art.  The doc itself is so geektastic that it’s hard not to enjoy.  As someone who really loves the films (even the flawed new ones), I found a serene pleasure in listening to the hardcore fans voice their opinions. And seeing fellow Houston Critic and friend Joe Leydon lend his thoughts on the matter was a unique surprise that caught me off guard.  This is a movie that any enthusiast of the world George Lucas created should add to their queue.  A-

Rated R for violence
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Mandarin with English dub or subtitles

After a Chinese general pays a severe price for his cruelty and ambition, he escapes to a Shaolin monastery for both protection and salvation.  With a changed heart he attempts to save the people from the terrors of the new leader while at the same time restoring peace in the land.  The problem with this film isn’t the story or the acting, but rather the overlong script, slow direction and atrocious editing.  It’s okay to cut things out when they don’t serve the story and too much here serves as more of a distraction than a benefit.  That being said, the fight choreography is decent enough, especially the scenes with Jackie Chan who plays the monastery’s cook.  C

Jurassic Park: Ultimate Trilogy
Available on Blu-ray

Only a couple of Steven Spielberg’s big films have been released in Hi Def, so the addition of this new trilogy set is a very welcome event.  While I would have rather skipped the second film in this so-called trilogy (it’s the only Spielberg film I have ever panned), I loved the first and liked the third and I was especially pleased with the new six-part documentary about the world of dinosaurs Spielberg and Michael Crichton created.  Jurassic Park A; The Lost World D; Jurassic Park 3 B

Dazed and Confused: The Criterion Collection Edition
Rated R for pervasive, continuous teen drug and alcohol use and very strong language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

On occasion you see movies released with different editions a year or more apart, but rarely do you find two blu-ray editions of the same film released two months apart.  In August Universal released Dazed and Confused in a scaled-down but sufficient blu-ray package.  This week, Criterion is upping the game by putting their spin on the film on blu-ray as well.  This incredibly influential movie which introduced us to such A-listers as Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich, Renee Zellweger, Parker Posey, and Matthew McConaughey, was also filmed by Richard Linklater in Austin, TX, setting the scene for Austin’s vibrant film community.  So which version should you buy if you already haven’t?  If you just want to own the film, buy the cheaper Universal version.  If you want to study the film and feel the need to check out all of the great things Criterion adds to a project, by all means pick up this week’s release.  A

New in Home Entertainment – October 18, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

October 18, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action/violence, some frightening images, sensuality and innuendo
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

In another attempt from Disney to milk this franchise for all its worth, Pirates 4 brings back Johnny Depp as Captain Sparrow and this time he is after the Fountain of Youth.  Props go to Disney for an interesting premise and the invention of blood-thirsty mermaids, but just like the previous three films, there is much more style than substance.  I like the idea of Penelope Cruz as an old flame, but the lack of chemistry between the two characters hurt the chances of a nice romantic development and instead turned into a sort of mean entanglement.  One thing I was hoping for was that the 3D would look better on TV than it did in theaters, but the film is so dark that the 3D is not just cheesy, but wasted as well.  C

Little House on the Prairie: The Complete 9 Season Set
Available on DVD

From 1974 to 1984 Little House on the Prairie was one of NBC’s biggest hits on television.  Now, several decades later, the 55-disc set is being released with as complete a collection as you will find.  All 9 seasons and several special features about the book, show and legacy are found in this attractive new set.  While I usually like to find the time to dig into DVDs I review, there was no way to watch what seemed like hundreds of hours contained here, but what I saw was a nice trip down nostalgia lane.  The episodes here are nicely restored and while I used to make fun of my mom for liking the show so much, I can now admit that it is a very enjoyable piece of entertainment.  B+

Bad Teacher
Rated R for sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Cameron Diaz is the world’s worst teacher.  She comes to class each day, turns on a movie, and then sleeps at her desk while recovering from the previous night’s bender.  Her whole goal in life is to find a rich man that will take care of her, and she is convinced that a boob job she is saving up for will get her there.  In order to save enough money for her surgery, she lies, cheats and steals from any source she can find.  Just like horrible bosses, she is a despicable person that has the power to shape the lives of those she influences negatively.  But unlike Horrible Bosses, she is the hero and not the villain.  In that regard, the film is somewhat enjoyable as her behavior continues to shock from scene to scene.  The film is flawed being so over-the-top to be believable, but in light of last year’s documentary Waiting For Superman, many of her antics can be seen as possible.  The most important thing is that the film proves to be funny in spite of its many problems.  C+

Page One: Inside the New York Times

Rated R for language including sexual references
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

With traditional print media feeling a lot of pain over the last decade, Page One: Inside The New York Times attempts to explore the industry by studying one of the world’s most important newspapers.  If you have ever been interested in the inner functions of a major world newspaper, this is a great documentary to watch.  It’s not as informational as I would have hoped, but it does put you into the day by day in an engrossing way.  B-

Robotech: The Complete Series

Available on DVD

In 1985, the year after Little House on the Prairie left the airwaves, another influential and very different television program became a huge hit with sci-fi fans world-wide.  Robotech follows a group of humans as they attempt to fend off their world from an alien invasion.  This new set contains all 85 episodes of the legendary anime project with over 10 hours of bonus material.  Personally, this is not my cup of tea, but it is easy to see why this series has built up such a large fan base.  I can imagine that many fans will want to hold out for the inevitable blu-ray release, but until that time, this set will give them a nice diversion.  B-

The Ides of March

The Ides of March

Starring Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Evan Rachel Wood
Directed by George Clooney
Rated R for pervasive language

    Set in the world of a fictional presidential campaign, Ryan Gosling plays an idealistic head staffer working under George Clooney’s presidential candidate who comes to terms with the fact that to survive in politics, one must not only play dirty, but must lose their integrity as well.  

    Before anyone even saw this film, many were ousting this project as liberal Clooney propaganda.  At first I could see the merit in the argument as Clooney’s character seemed like an ideal leader in many ways.  Sure he was liberal as all get out, but he seemed to be a man who would be a true servant of the people who would act out of the country’s best interest.  But then the stuff hits the fan and you find out what all of the characters are made of and the unfortunate truth and accuracy about our current political situation is unleashed.  The movie ends up being both negative for democrats and the entire political system in general.  It leaves you with a sense that our system, on both sides of the rail, is broken and there is a good chance that it can’t be fixed.  

    I mention all of this up front because I firmly believe that even though there is a good story here, the most important aspect of this movie is its message, whether positive or negative.  The reality hits home and gives almost as much of a bad taste in your mouth as our current situation.

    As for the actual movie, aside from its intention, this is a very well written, directed and acted pic.  Adapted from the Beau Willimon play, “Farragut North,” the characters are all very well flushed out and convincing.  Every member of this extremely talented cast turns in noteworthy performances.  The great thing about a cast like this is that then they are at the top of their game, the result is impressive.

    The screenplay is a winding ball of tension, deceit and tragedy, making the politics that much more believable; and Clooney’s storytelling keeps you on the edge of your seat as you wait patiently for the upcoming lie and the next spin.

    Although the film is very likely to leave you with a sick feeling as it punches you in the gut, it also manages to entertain you while shelling out the unfortunate truth (or at least the perceived reputation) about the people that run our country.  A-

New in Home Entertainment – October 11, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

October 11, 2011

The Tree of Life
Rated PG-13 for some thematic material
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

The producers and stars of this new Terrence Malick film starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn freely admit that this is a very difficult film to describe and for some it is even harder to understand.  The crux of the film revolves around a young Texas family growing up in the 50s.  But the scope is much broader as it represents God’s very complex relationship with man as well as the question of who God is, where God is, and what is His plan.  It’s an incredibly deep picture that is very rewarding to those that take it in the correct way.  Many have dismissed it as merely an ambitious film that has gotten away from itself.  I disagree.  Malick here is certainly ambitious, but his vision is pulled off in stunning fashion and for those have connected to it, like myself, there is nothing but praise.  I cannot recall a film that has ever pulled me in and given me this much pleasure to watch.  For me, this was a truly religious and ethereal experience and while yes, it does lack the typical narrative you might expect, it serves as one of the greatest pieces of artistic filmmaking I can imagine on the screen.  My one complaint about this new release is the lack of features.  While there is a terrific documentary on how they made the film, I really wish Malick would have done a commentary in order to get a deeper insight to his masterpiece.  A+

Horrible Bosses
Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language and some drug material
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Most of us have had our share of bad bosses, and while rubbing a boss out isn’t exactly an appropriate response to our work troubles, when a comedy about doing such a deed is released, it sure is fun to fantasize and live vicariously through the protagonists.  In Horrible Bosses, Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis suffer greatly from the hands of Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell and Kevin Spacey, so much so that they plot to have them murdered.  It’s only logical that chaos would ensue and what transpires provides us with the funniest comedy of the year.  Make sure to check out the featurette “My Least Favorite Career” where the cast discusses their worst jobs and bosses from their past.  A-

The Trip
Available on DVD

Actor Steve Coogan (Tropic Thunder), playing himself, is asked by the Observer to travel the British countryside in order to write an article critiquing top restaurants along the way.  When his girlfriend can’t make the trip, he invites his actor friend Rob Brydon, also playing himself, to make the journey with him.  The two set off on a hilarious trip full of fun, food and tension.  In Britain this film existed as a BBC television series, but rather than export the series to America, the producers made the decision to cut the show up and serve it as a two hour narrative.  Fortunately, for us, the idea worked and the result is a slow-moving, but charming and funny pic that explores friendship, life, love, career and the concept of success.  And while the idea of fine cuisine in Britain sounds like an oxymoron, the British sense of humor is alive and well.  B

Green Lantern
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

When an evil entity threatens the galaxy, a human (Ryan Reynolds) is recruited to join an elite group of universal super protectors.  Armed with a powerful ring that acts upon his imagination, the newly crowned Green Lantern must take on this super baddie before it engulfs the Earth and possibly the rest of the galaxy.  As is the case with most Ryan Reynolds films, he far outshines the rest of the movie.  He is a fun personality and almost makes the movie watchable.  Unfortunately, the script is confounding at too many moments throughout, leaving character choices and plot holes that will keep you scratching your head.  If what you need is a good super hero pic at the red box, check out the recent X-Men addition or wait a couple of weeks for Captain America.  C+

New in Home Entertainment – October 4, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

October 4, 2011

Fast Five
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, sexual content and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

The Fast and the Furious franchise (say that five times quickly) has been through a number of scenarios starting with a remake of Point Break and ending with, well, whatever that fourth film was.  This time around Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and various other characters from the franchise find an excuse to all meet up together in Rio and The Rock is a fed that is hot on their tail.  Even more so than most action films, the plot doesn’t matter here at all.  This fifth installment is just one big set piece after another with the hopes that you don’t try to follow along with the filler.  In spite of all the head scratching you’ll do while thinking “that couldn’t happen; that wouldn’t happen; that couldn’t happen; what the …” it’s possible to find a fairly entertaining movie here as long as you don’t think – at all.  C+

Scream 4
Rated R for strong bloody violence, language and some teen drinking
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

It’s been years since the events of the first Scream and more importantly, since the franchise was relevant.  Rather than trying to recapture the originality and intensity of the first film, director Wes Craven here creates a tongue-in-cheek parody of first three films.  It’s clever at first but ultimately fails to impress as the expected twist makes little sense.  Then again, between the comedy and the constant guessing game of “who’s the killer?” the film ends up being at least the second best in the series.  C

Rated PG for thematic elements, mild language and an injury
Available on DVD

For years Buck Brannaman, the inspiration for the book and movie “The Horse Whisperer,” has traveled around the country giving workshops on riding and caring for horses.  This documentary follows Buck on tour in order to discover the hows and whys behind this legendary cowboy.  Beautifully shot, this is a spectacular film to both look at and absorb.  And when Buck starts to discuss his childhood, you begin to understand him and his strange relationship to the equine species.  There are some real heartbreaking moments throughout the film, but the glimpse of a man who has overcome the most difficult of odds to achieve such a oneness with nature proves to be a remarkable story.  A-

Rated R for language and some sexual content
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Watching the hilarious UK import The IT Crowd, you would never imagine that the zany tech played by Richard Ayoade could write and direct a charming and original coming of age story.  But alas, he has and the end product proves to be a great little slice of life pic about a teenage boy who struggles to win over his dreamgirl while at the same time keeping his parents from splitting up.  It’s nothing that will blow you away, but it does turn out to be an entertaining tale that is quite funny.  B

The Lion King
Rated G
Available on Blu-ray 3D and Blu-ray

If you are like me you are probably shocked that the Lion King has once again become a smash hit in theaters.  I would bet that Disney is surprised as well, for if they had an inkling of a clue that the film could do so well on re-release, they would have not released the Blu-ray only two weeks after opening.  If you have a 3D television, you will love this new release, but even if you only have an old-fashioned blu-ray player, this high def transfer is simply amazing and worth the upgrade.  In addition to some of the old special features, this new set includes deleted scenes, a deleted song and other great items worth checking out.  If you are a big Disney fan, and who isn’t, also check out the new Beauty and the Beast 3D version as well as Disneynature’s African Cats, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson.  A