Saturday, 26 November 2011


I must admit that I myself am not a sportsperson. I do not follow sports, I do not watch sports, I do not take part in sports and I do not attend sporting events of any sort. While I admire the skill and talent that goes into a sports match or game, I’m mostly disinterested in the topic and more or less clueless about it; I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t know his club from his racket or his baseball from his basketball. In fact, there are only two things I know about baseball: one, the players try to hit something called a “home run;” and two, it’s a bit like rounders.

Okay, I’m exaggerating slightly, but I really am not a sportsperson in any way, shape or form; I feel I must stress this. So, when I was preparing to watch “Moneyball,” a baseball movie from Oscar-nominated director Bennett Miller (“Capote”), I was expecting to be perplexed by the rules and the tactics and the jargon that would no doubt be howled about again and again throughout the next couple of hours. And while yes, that did happen on occasion, and yes, it confused me to high heaven, I instead found myself more perplexed by something else, something rather unexpected: maths.

You see, “Moneyball” isn’t really that much of a sports movie, or at least not a conventional one. Yes, the plot revolves around baseball games and is a bit of an underdog story, but actual game-play is sparse, displayed only when it is necessary. The film instead focuses more on the frustrations of its protagonist, one of the men behind the scenes of a game, and the mathematical methods he uses to choose his players.

The film is based on Michael Willis’ 2003 non-fiction bestseller “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game,” which was itself based on the true story of Billy Beane, the general manager of baseball team the Oakland Athletics. Playing Beane in this big-screen adaptation is the luscious Brad Pitt (“The Tree of Life”), who’s fast becoming one of the most reliable actors working today.

“Moneyball” shows us the 2002 season of the Oakland Athletics, who, in the opening scene, are beaten to a pulp by the New York Yankees. The determined and stubborn Billy is upset over the fact that he is going to lose three of his star players to free agency. He must also assemble a new team of players with a limited budget, but is unhappy with the current options of players.

It’s then that he meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill, “Superbad”), a quiet and nerdy Yale economics graduate who works for the Cleveland Indians. Peter reveals to Billy that he has a unique method for figuring out the true value of baseball players: assessing them through some complex mathematical jiggery-pokery (don’t ask me to explain it). Billy is interested, hires Peter and takes his methods on board, much to the annoyance of the team’s scouts and manager, Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman, “The Ides of March”).

At first, Art and the scouts appear to be very justified in their opposition to Billy and Peter’s strategy; the new players, all supposedly undervalued, are absolute crap when it comes to playing a game. The team loses constantly, resulting in Billy becoming more and more frustrated; as he points out, he hates losing more than he loves winning. However, while it may result in him never working in baseball again, he doggedly sticks to Peter’s theory, which may or may not pay off.

Pitt and Hill both give rather understated dramatic performances here; I’d say this is more surprising for lively comic actor Hill, but then again I suppose it’s more surprising for Pitt, given the character he plays. Billy is characterised as loud-mouthed, stubborn and anti-establishment, but Pitt plays him with effective minimalism. Peter, on the other hand, is characterised as quiet and shy, and Hill plays him as such. As a bit of an odd couple, they have a commanding on-screen chemistry that is one of the reasons “Moneyball” is as engaging as it is and works as well as it does.

Another reason, possibly a bigger one, is that the film is written by two very talented and very Oscar-winning screenwriters. These are Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List,” “American Gangster”) and Aaron Sorkin (“A Few Good Men,” “The Social Network”). Along with Miller in the director’s chair, they have created a sports film that is uncommonly smart, sharply written and persistently engrossing. It has touches of humour, stacks of drama and a story that contains something of a powerful message: stick it to The Man.

They’ve made a sports film that one can watch and enjoy without the need to be a sports fan; as you can probably guess from the opening of this review, I of all people should know this. The story is an absorbing one; even if you don’t understand the mysterious ways of the baseball world, it’s easy to follow and even easier to connect with. It also doesn’t give in to clichĂ© or formula too much, which is certainly a relief for this specific genre.


Wednesday, 23 November 2011


It's difficult to say whether comedy-drama "50/50" falls more into the comedy section or the drama section. If you were to say it falls more into the drama section, you still have the numerous moments of rib-tickling social awkwardness that frequent the film's narrative; there's also the fact that it stars Seth Rogen, a noted funnyman, as the secondary protagonist. And if you were to say it falls more into the comedy section, you still have the fact that the plot revolves almost entirely around the topic of cancer, a serious issue that is, for obvious reasons, a mysterious stranger in the comedy genre.

The film sort of meanders between both genres, and does it seamlessly. It takes a difficult and hard-hitting subject matter, one that’s a typical topic in the tearjerker section, and inserts it into a comedic setting without mocking or demeaning it, keeping its seriousness entirely intact. It’s both a drama that’s handled in a comedic manner and a comedy with an incredibly serious subject matter; this means the filmmakers are treading on very thin ice, but they’re treading with elegance and ease.

The cancer patient at the centre of “50/50” is Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “Inception”). He’s 27 years young, is a writer for public radio and has a loving girlfriend, Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard, “The Help”). He doesn’t drive and so relies on his best friend and co-worker, Kyle (Seth Rogen, “The Green Hornet”), to take him to work. Adam begins suffering from back pains. He goes to see a doctor. It turns out he has a rare cancerous tumour attached to his spine. The internet tells him he has a 50/50 chance of survival; as Kyle reassuringly points out, if Adam were at a casino he’d have the best odds.

So, Adam undergoes chemotherapy. He begins vomiting in the middle of the night and during the day. He becomes exhausted. His somewhat laid-back disposition begins to gradually disappear as he sinks into depression. He can no longer enjoy sex, as his back aches during the act. His girlfriend becomes tired of having to care for him and becomes interested in other men. Adam begins to face the fact that he may very well die soon and without warning. It goes without saying that these moments fit squarely into the drama section.

As for the comedy section, we have, for example, a scene in which Adam consumes marijuana given to him by fellow cancer patients Alan (Philip Baker Hall, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins”) and Mitch (Matt Freqer, “Watchmen”) and proceeds to walk through the corridors of the hospital with a permanent smile on his face. We also have a scene in which Adam shaves his head with an electric shaver that may or may not have been previously used to shave Kyle’s pubic region.

Speaking of Kyle, much of the comedy stems from him too, which is a given with talented comic actor Mr. Rogen in the role. His character is foul-mouthed and inappropriate, and is practically obsessed with sex. He uses Adam’s illness to his advantage, e.g. getting the number of a girl in a bookstore by telling her how much he is taking care of his cancerous best buddy. He also gets Adam to use his illness to his own advantage, e.g. getting Adam to pick up a chick in a bar by blurting out his condition to her; unsurprisingly, this doesn’t work.

But, and I feel I must stress this, it’s not cancer that’s the butt of the joke, so anyone wishing to send hate mail to first-time writer Will Reiser had better put down their fountain pens or stop thumping away at their computer keyboards. The cancer aspect is confronted very seriously, the film in fact very effectively showing the process that a cancer patient goes through; it shows their character deterioration, the constant worries they undergo and the harsh consequences of chemotherapy, all done with a stern face. It just displays the social effects of having cancer through humorous means, and rather commendably too; it’s frequently hilarious and doesn’t make you feel bad for laughing.

The film is also a bit of a romance. Adam becomes a little more than interested in his therapist, Katherine (Anna Kendrick, “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1”). Katherine is inexperienced in her line of work, admitting to Adam that he is only her third patient. While she is meant to keep things professional, she subtly expresses feelings of affection for him, for example giving him a ride home one day. This is the kind of romance I support in movies; Adam and Katherine are both smart, kind, sweet and understanding people with a spark between them, and I’m sure they’d make a perfect couple.

Gordon-Levitt’s very likable performance makes Adam a very likable character; as such, we care for him and care about what happens to him. Of course, in the back of our minds and sometimes the front of our minds, we know that the story could possibly end in horrible tragedy for this man. This thought is worrying: this is a man we like and care for and he may very well be stone dead by the end of the story. Perhaps this is why “50/50” works so well: we care for the protagonist and are genuinely concerned about whether or not he is going to die, which is more than I can say for some movies.

I think the fact that Reiser and Rogen have both actually went through this themselves gives the film a little extra weight and respectability. Reiser had spinal cancer when in his late twenties and Rogen is a good friend of his; with this film, they’re practically re-enacting their real-life experiences, though with Gordon-Levitt now in Reiser’s position, of course. I think that’s another reason the film works so well: it’s real for its writer and one of its stars and thus has a sense of humanity to it. And if Reiser and Rogen don’t have the right to insert comedy into the film’s situation, who the hell does?


Friday, 18 November 2011

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1

I'd like to kick-start this review by openly stating that I, hand on heart, am an enjoyer of the first three "Twilight" movies. Now, notice I used the word "enjoyer" and not "fan;" there is a difference between the two. You see, yes, it's true, I have indeed enjoyed the opening three chapters of the increasingly epic movie saga about sparkling vampires and topless werewolves (I believe "Twilight," "New Moon" and "Eclipse" to be rather decently made, albeit as corny as a cornfield). However, I am by no means a "fan," a term which would undoubtedly give you, dear reader, the distinct impression that I am a squealing, swooning, tweenage Twihard who is proudly and loudly positioned in either Team Edward or Team Jacob, although if forced to pick between the two I would probably route for the former - Jacob's a mopey little twerp.

I'm saying this because I have already witnessed several professional film critics being viciously attacked by "Twilight" fans for having the audacity to review (and tear to shreds) the series' fourth instalment, "Breaking Dawn - Part 1," when it apparently "wasn't made for them." Going by this logic, twisted as it is, "Breaking Dawn - Part 1" was made for me; I am the "correct" age, I am a mumbling teen and, in spite of my gender, I have thus far enjoyed the "Twilight" saga, cheesy as the series may be. As such, I believe it to be my privilege and my right to inform you, dear reader, that "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1" is, well, not particularly good.

I know, it's shocking - the trailers and TV spots made it look so amazing, didn't they? Hold on a tick, no they didn't. "Breaking Dawn - Part 1" is unquestionably the weakest of the fantasy film saga thus far, which, judging by the decidedly mixed opinions surrounding Stephenie Meyers' original "Breaking Dawn" novel, I think even the most dedicated of fans were predicting. However, I believe that many of the series' fans will nonetheless leave the theatre satisfied, regardless of the film's cavalcade of foolish faults and perplexingly preposterous moments - as long as there's the romance, the brooding and the all-important male hotness on full display, their needs will be fulfilled. As for the rest of us, we'll just have to roll our eyes, slap our foreheads and glumly suffer through it all.

You may remember right at the end of the third "Twilight" instalment, "Eclipse," that vegetarian vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson, "Water for Elephants") finally proposed to his one true love, human Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart, "Adventureland"). Well, "Breaking Dawn - Part 1" shows us the long-awaited wedding of Mr Cullen and Miss Swan in all its cheesy glory, in fact spending almost half an hour covering the damn thing. Awkward speeches aside, the wedding is a success (they both say, "I do," squee!) and the newlyweds fly to beautiful Rio for their romantic honeymoon.

Inevitably, the prospect of lurve-making comes up, and it turns out vampires are right kinky buggers in the bedroom - they cover their partners in bruises, tear apart the bed's headboard and completely destroy the room. Well, that's what 100 years of abstinence will do to you. It also turns out that their testicles contain super sperm, because after just fourteen days of consummating their marriage, Bella discovers to her horror that she is pregnant, and the fast-growing baby sitting inside her might turn out to be a monstrous vampire-human hybrid that could kill her before she can even give birth to the little bugger. Looks like someone forgot to use protection. Tut tut, Edward.

Edward smartly wants the demon baby taken out of his new bride, but Bella, being the stupid bitch that she is, decides she wants to keep the bloodsucking monster growing inside of her. When Bella's totally-jealous werewolf friend Jacob (Taylor Lautner, "Abduction") learns of this, he's furious and, like, kicks a motorbike across the ground and has a very angry face (arrr, angry face, Lautner! Arrrr!). Jacob informs his tribe of the existence of the baby; the tribe, who loathe vampires, decide they must kill the unborn abomination, regardless of Bella's well-being. Upon hearing this, Jacob decides to protect Bella, though he's still got a sour face over the whole demon baby thingy. Meanwhile, Bella begins wasting away at the Cullen home as the monster baby growing inside her womb feeds away on her nutrition.

There are certain things about "Breaking Dawn - Part 1" that I liked. The first thing that springs to mind are the special-effects and make-up work used on Kristen Stewart to make her look frail and skeletal during the film's second half; they're rather convincing. There's also the fact that the film does manage to be mildly engaging from start to finish, the loose narrative able to hold one's interest in spite of its notable lack of thrills and the audience's likely knowledge of where the story is going. But holding one's interest is sometimes just not enough; a film must of course be a satisfying experience for it to be worthy of the price of a ticket, and I can assure you that "Breaking Dawn - Part 1" is certainly not a satisfying experience.

This might be because the film essentially covers only half the plot of its source material, much like "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1" did last year, though to much, much more success. As such, the film ends on a cliff-hanger, teasing us that something epic is about to happen, or, in other words, shit is, in all likelihood, about to get real. I was interested in seeing that, but alas, the end credits burst onto the screen and I walked out of the theatre rather unsatisfied. This is unlike in "Deathly Hallows - Part 1," where, when the end credits burst onto the screen, I walked out of the theatre not only incredibly eager to get my mitts on "Part 2," but also a happy and appeased moviegoer having seen “Part 1.”

Keeping in line with its three superior predecessors, "Breaking Dawn - Part 1" contains a plethora of unintentional comedy. This time round, we've got CGI werewolves angrily yelling at each other without moving their mouths, Bella drinking blood through a straw attached to a polystyrene cup, the messy aftermath of Edward and Bella's ferocious lovemaking (how on earth did they manage to break the doors at the other side of the room?), a birthing scene that's at times a David Cronenberg body horror and at others a Mel Brooks parody, the peculiar naming method of Edward and Bella's baby, and, last but not least, Taylor Lautner's acting. Sad face, Lautner, do your sad face!

And there is also the fact that the story at the centre of the film is absolutely, positively demented, specifically the plot concerning the evil demon fetus; it’s like one of the chest bursters from the “Alien” franchise. Of course, the film itself cannot necessarily be blamed for this - the blame goes mostly to author Miss Stephenie Meyer for writing such stupid tripe. But still, the fact is that the film does revolve around the evil demon fetus and suffers as a result; it comes across as a bad soap opera crossed with a revolting horror flick, and is not only a little bit silly but also a little bit off-putting - honestly, I'd rather go back to the Edward-Bella-Jacob love triangle than have to watch any more of this baby parasite malarkey.

Look, if you're going to see this movie, you already know you are going to see it; nothing I can say will stop you, but then again I don’t really want to stop you. But what I will do is warn you: as an enjoyer (not a fan, remember) of the first three films, I did not particularly enjoy "Breaking Dawn - Part 1." It's a silly, goofy, unintentionally hilarious fantasy film containing a bizarre story that's unsatisfying and, for the most part, unexciting. Whether or not "Part 2" will be any better I don't know, but seeing as to how it was filmed back-to-back with "Part 1," I'm not counting on it.


Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Arthur Christmas

Following my viewing of the newly-released festive family film “Arthur Christmas,” I’ve been furiously racking my brains (and my google machine) for other genuinely decent Christmas movies that have been released in the last ten years. I discovered that, off the top of my head, I could name only two: Jon Favreau’s “Elf” and Terry Zwigoff’s “Bad Santa,” both of which were released in 2003. Google, handy as ever, reminded me of one more: Jalmari Helander’s “Rare Exports" of last year.

Many other recent Christmas movies also sprang to mind without the handy aid of my google machine; there were, among many others, David Dobkin’s “Fred Claus,” Joe Roth’s “Christmas with the Kranks,” John Whitesell’s “Deck the Halls” and Seth Gordon’s “Four Christmases,” none of which, suffice to say, are “It’s a Wonderful Life.” All of a sudden, something quite saddening dawned on me: we don’t get nearly enough good Christmas movies anymore.

Every year, typically in the days leading up to December 25th, we are handed a wide and diverse array of attempts at Christmas flicks, whether they be conventional (such as “Elf”) or unconventional (such as “Rare Exports” and “Bad Santa”). On occasion, we are given the option of festive film releases that are jolly, cheery, heart-warming and rib-tickling. Unfortunately, the majority of today’s Xmas flicks are lazy, worthless studio cash-guzzlers that, rather than turning us merry and gay, turn us into right old Scrooges. However, I am both happy and relieved to report that “Arthur Christmas” does not trip and stumble into the second category; it is in fact a Christmas movie done right, and may even in time prove itself to be a bona fide Christmas classic.

If you live in the UK, then “Arthur Christmas” is the first Christmas film of the year for you. If you live in the US, then that position belongs to “A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas,” which I must say most definitely falls into the category of “unconventional Christmas flicks.” "Arthur Christmas," which is director Sarah Smith’s feature-film debut, is slightly more conventional. It's computer-animated, is family-friendly, is produced by both Aardman Animations (they did “Wallace and Gromit”!) and Sony Pictures Animation (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”), and is a notably British affair.

Like “Fred Claus” (plot-wise, not quality-wise), the film’s hero is a close relative of everyone’s favourite round-bellied, snowy-bearded, pork pie-devouring present-giver, Santa Claus (Jim Broadbent, “Hot Fuzz”). Arthur (James McAvoy, “X-Men: First Class”) is Santa’s youngest son. Arthur is obsessed with Christmas; he loves the traditions, adores reading and replying to children’s Christmas letters, is in awe of his father’s operations on the big night itself and knows the words to all the jingles - he even knows them backwards. However, it’s Arthur’s older brother, Steve (Hugh Laurie, “House M.D.”), who is next in line to don the floppy red hat, black boots, black belt and cherry-coloured coat. But Steve, while excellent at his job of keeping the present-delivering operations in sufficient order, is not particularly Christmassy.

Following another seemingly successful Christmas night, an elf is cleaning up wrapping paper when he discovers that a present - a bicycle, to be precise - has not been delivered. Arthur finds out, is mortified, and asks Steve to take them to the child who has not been given their present. To Arthur’s bewilderment, Steve decides that one child is not worth the journey and essentially tells Arthur, along with Santa, to forget about it - Santa can, Arthur cannot.

So, Arthur, along with his cranky, technologically-challenged Grandsanta (Bill Nighy, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1”), sneakily takes the old sleigh out for a ride to bring tiny little Gwen (Ramona Marquez, “The King’s Speech”) her present from Santa. But will he make it to England before the sun rises and Gwen wakes up? Well you, dear reader, will have to wait until you see this wonderful family film to find out.

I love the inventiveness of “Arthur Christmas.” I love how much wit and creativity the writers (Smith and Peter Baynham) have inserted into the Santa Claus mythology. I love the concept of the North Pole’s Christmas delivery system becoming little more than a glorified business. I love the military-esque methods in which the presents are delivered. I love that the new sleigh is a ginormous spacecraft, the underside of which has night sky camouflage. I love the charming voice-work, performed almost entirely by British actors. I love all the little elves, especially the one obsessed with wrapping paper. I love that Steve’s goatee is shaped like a Christmas tree. I love Arthur’s googly-eyed reindeer slippers that light up and play Christmas jingles. And I love that Arthur can sing “Silent Night” backwards without a moment’s thought. Yes, there’s very little not to love about this effortlessly charming and frequently rib-tickling film, and even fewer things to genuinely dislike - that’s certainly more than I can say for “Fred Claus.”

The film works mostly because of its very memorable characters; they’re an interesting and highly entertaining mishmash of clashing personalities and conflicting mindsets. There’s Arthur, a young man who’s even jollier, merrier and Christmassier than his multicoloured woollen Christmas jumper; he’s loving and caring, and will travel halfway across the world just so one little girl won’t feel left out on Christmas morning. There’s Santa, who has become increasingly forgetful and a bit ditzy over his 70 years of service, but never means any harm. There’s Steve, a man who’s all business and little heart; he cares more about the Christmas operations going smoothly than about the children themselves. And there’s Grandsanta, a grumpy old git who laughs in the face of technology and praises the good old days when being Santa was much more simple; he’s a typical pensioner, just with flying reindeer in his basement.

I mentioned above that the film is in 3D. Now, I’m afraid I cannot comment on the quality of the 3D, as I attended a 2D screening, but what I will say is that in just two dimensions “Arthur Christmas” looks pretty darn incredible. The film is quite a spectacle, and the thrilling, swooping visuals that take us through the several set-pieces - which consist mostly of sleigh-rides - complement this perfectly. The animation, all done on those computer animating thingamajigs, while maybe not on a par with the works of Pixar or Dreamworks, is nonetheless splendidly done. The character movements are fluid and energetic, the settings are wonderfully designed and the set-pieces, of which there are many, are relentlessly thrilling. The film really is a Christmas feast for the eyes to behold, even in the version without all the eye-popping, stocking-filling, turkey-stuffing 3D.

Like a candy cane, “Arthur Christmas” is sweet. And like an unopened Christmas present, it’s bright and colourful, with a ribbon on top. It’s one of those rare family flicks that succeeds in actually being fun for all the family; the kids will love the action, the elves and the animation, and may even learn a lesson or two, while older audiences will be utterly charmed by the film’s creativity, wit, voice-work, the marvellous script and the lovable cast of characters. Whether or not it’s just for Christmas I don’t know, but what I do know is that, as a piece of entertainment, this is an absolute cracker.


Monday, 7 November 2011

The Rum Diary

It’s no secret that Hunter S. Thompson was a bit of a mad hatter; indeed, it’s practically the only way to describe the man. Known for his regular consumption of drink and drugs, the American author and gonzo journalist would frequently write of the substance-fuelled exploits and helplessly whacky adventures (possibly tall tales) he experienced right up until his suicide in 2005. Of all his work, Thompson's most celebrated is probably “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” published in 1971 and turned into a wonderfully weird film in 1998 by ex-Monty Python member Terry Gilliam.

The film starred Johnny “coolest man in the world” Depp, an inspired choice, who would become a good friend and admirer of Thompson. And now Depp is starring in and executive producing the filmic adaptation of Thompson’s “The Rum Diary,” which was written in 1961 and finally published in 1998. While it’s no “Fear and Loathing,” it’s an enjoyable and perfectly decent film about a not-so-decent man.

Like he did in “Fear and Loathing,” Depp is playing a role that was supposedly based on Thompson himself. The character is Paul Kemp, an American journalist and aspiring author who drinks “on the upper end of social.” He has moved from New York to the blisteringly hot island of Puerto Rico to write for the San Juan Star, a local newspaper that may or may not be about to be shut down.

While there, Kemp encounters quite a few colourful characters. His editor and boss is Edward J. Lotterman (Richard Jenkins, “Let Me In”), who is grumpy, troubled by Kemp’s drinking habits and wears an obvious grey wig. Kemp’s roommate and eventual friend is Bob Sala (Michael Rispoli, “Kick-Ass”), a bespectacled, beer-bellied photographer who knows his way around the area and the inside of a beer bottle. There’s also Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi, “Avatar”), a fellow reporter who, judging by his demeanour, seems to survive entirely on alcohol. In his spare time, Moberg also enjoys wearing a Nazi uniform while listening to recordings of Adolf Hitler’s speeches; whether or not he understands German, I don’t know.

Kemp is approached by Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart, “The Dark Knight”), a shady property developer who owns a luxurious house, a private beach, an expensive-looking boat and a jewel-incrusted tortoise. Sanderson wants Kemp to give favourable reviews of his dodgy property schemes in the newspaper, which Kemp is taken aback by but agrees to do once given a Corvette. Kemp also soon becomes infatuated with Sanderson’s fiancĂ©e, the beautiful Chenault (Amber Heard, “Drive Angry”), but is it love or is it lust?

The film’s narrative is rather loose, essentially a series of incidents as Kemp experiences, witnesses and reports on Puerto Rican life. It is a story that features, among other things, cock fights, angry waiters, disco dancing, overlong tongues, hermaphrodite witch doctors and fire-breathing drunks. Yes, it’s quite nutty on occasion, but “The Rum Diary” does not capture the sense of sheer and utter madness displayed in “Fear and Loathing,” nor do I believe it ever intended to.

I suppose you could call “The Rum Diary” a comedy, but then again I suppose you could call it a drama. It’s a hodgepodge of both, really; the humour isn’t frequent enough for it to be classified as a comedy, and to call it an all-out drama would be to ignore the outright-bizarre moments that pop up every now and then. It finds a reasonable point between the two genres, resulting in a sometimes quirky and sometimes serious tone that sort of works in the film’s favour and sort of doesn’t.

Depp once again makes for an excellent Thompson character, playing Kemp with that appealing and likable eccentric charm Depp is now famous for and has perfected over the years. Then again, I suppose Depp has an advantage at playing Thompson characters based on Thompson himself; while researching for his role in “Fear and Loathing,” the actor did in fact spend four months living in Thompson’s basement.

Kemp is a writer trying to find his “voice” while at the same time chugging back rum bottles and spraying LSD into his peepers. He’s a drunkard who we like; he’s cool, but not overtly so; he’s peculiar, but again not overtly so. He spends much of the film wearing sunglasses; his constant hangovers render him unable to deal with the bright and shining rays of the Puerto Rican sun. He’s an entertaining protagonist played by an actor who just oozes charisma with every word he utters and every expression he exhibits; they're a perfect match, you could say.

“The Rum Diary” is writer-director Bruce Robinson’s first film in nineteen years, his last effort being 1992’s straight-to-video thriller “Jennifer Eight.” Robinson’s first, and most well-known, movie is “Withnail and I,” another film about drink and drugs. That film was more successful both in terms of quality and the way it explored the problems of substance abuse in a comedic manner, but “The Rum Diary” is a mild and respectable success nonetheless.


Saturday, 5 November 2011

In Time

I’m sure you, dear reader, have heard the saying “time is money” at some point or another; it’s typically spoken by those who are in a rush or are on a tight schedule. Well, writer-director Andrew Niccol has certainly heard of this three-word phrase, given the fact that he decided to base an entire movie on it; now, this decision may seem ill-advised, and I suppose it is, but the end result is nonetheless a perfectly entertaining, mildly satisfying sci-fi thriller that works rather splendidly as Friday night fluff.

“In Time” imagines a world in which time literally is money, with time having replaced actual currency. You see, the humans that inhabit the globe have been genetically engineered to contain literal body clocks that cause people to drop dead when the ticker strikes zero. Once a human reaches the age of 25, they stop aging and are given a year to live, their tickers starting to tick all the way down to naught. So, if they want to live past their 26th year, they must work to earn more time.

The time that people have left until they drop dead is displayed on a ticking digital clock that glows green on their left arm. Various amounts of this time can be transferred from one person to another via physical contact. It can be used to pay for everyday necessities -- for example, a cup of coffee costs four minutes and a bus journey can cost an hour.

The world is split up into different class systems, called Time Zones. In an upper-class Time Zone, individuals have hundreds of years to spend, sometimes thousands of years. In the ghettos, however, individuals are frequently running on no more than a few hours or even a few minutes, having to work hard to live through another day with time to spend.

Our protagonist, Will Salas (Justin Timberlake, “Friends with Benefits”), is one of those who resides in the ghetto. Will is 28 years old and lives with his 50-year-old mother (Olivia Wilde, “TRON: Legacy”), who genuinely does not look a day over 25. He works in a factory and lives every single day of his life with the worry that his or his mother’s tick-tocking ticker will run out.

So, that’s the set-up. And now onto the plot. One night, Will encounters a 105-year-old bachelor named Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer, “Flightplan”). Henry is sick of living and decides to give Will his remaining century, thus committing suicide. All of a sudden, Will is a rich man with a hundred years to spend. Soon enough, the time-keeping Timekeepers (led by Cillian Murphy, “Inception”) are after Will, who is now considered a wanted fugitive.

Will travels to a much richer, much more luxurious Time Zone called New Greenwich. There, he meets 27-year-old Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried, “Red Riding Hood”), daughter of snobby millionaire Phillipe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser, “Mad Men”). Will and Sylvia end up on the run together, most of their time now stolen from them as they flee from the law and try to get their own back at the unjust system they’re living in.

“In Time” undoubtedly has an intriguing premise that, for the most part, is rather original. While, yes, there are elements notably taken from another sci-fi thriller, “Logan’s Run,” the film still feels fresh and inventive as it explores its promising concept and takes us through the futuristic world Niccol has conceived. The concept may seem a bit silly and far-fetched to begin with but, once the plot gets going, we find ourselves rather immersed in this high-tech world and its dystopian ways.

Issues such as mortality and social class inevitably rise up out of this concept as we watch the rich 1% blissfully sailing through life with thousands of years left for them to spend while the poor 99% die on the street because they can't afford a bus fare. With this, "In Time" is, on occasion, a little thought-provoking, which is pretty good going for an unashamed popcorn flick starring Justin "Sexy Back" Timberlake. But that's the thing: "In Time" really is little more than a high-concept popcorn flick intended to supply 90 minutes of escapist entertainment; it's blockbuster fluff and, in the end, its attempts at depth and social commentary are never strong enough to lift it above this status.

As an action film, it has plenty of thrilling sequences, from vehicle-flattening car chases to Bonnie and Clyde-esque bank robberies. There's a rather stirring techno score by Craig Armstrong that I enjoyed listening to. Timberlake makes for a fine action man, confidently striding through the film with a bald scalp and sexy facial stubble on display. Seyfried is equally fine as the love interest, a woman who’s never been broke a day in her life and is suddenly thrust into the world of the poor and the dying. And Murphy makes for a lovely villain, though he’s the sort that has a sense of humanity about him; he's one of those badguys just doing his job.

I admire "In Time" for giving an original premise a go; originality in Hollywood, as we all know, is a rarity nowadays, so some originality is always appreciated. No, the execution of the concept is not perfect, and the world it creates is not quite as convincing as it should be, but Niccol succeeds in making the concept interesting enough for us to remain attentive up until the end credits. "In Time" is certainly no "Inception," but I'd say it's worth spending 90 or so minutes on; that is, if you have 90 or so minutes left to spend.