Saturday, 14 July 2012

Double Bill Mini Musings: Breezy, Bothersome Booze...

The Rum Diary:
What's it about?
Bruce Robinson's film adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's novel of the same name, which went unpublished for decades before being dug out, and eventually nurtured into the cinematic world by HST's friend (and star of Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas) Johnny Depp. Paul Kemp, a journalist struggling to get a foot on his career ladder heads to the rum-soaked and heat-hazed sights of Puerto Rico, where he gets involved with Sanderson, a shady property developer, and his fun-loving squeeze Chenault.
Who would I recognise in it?
Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli, Amber Heard, Richard Jenkins, Giovanni Ribisi.
While still being relatively new to the world of HST (I've only so far read his most popular work Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, and The Rum Diary), I was really taken with the source novel before seeing this flick ... and therein lies an indicator for how you might think of this film adaptation. If coming to it with virgin eyes, and expecting the drug-fuelled craziness of Terry Gilliam's barmy Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, you'll be disappointed - The Rum Diary is before the drugs took hold, before the wild rumours and stories became legend, and as such it is about the beginning of something - it's about the beginning of Paul Kemp (a version of HST himself, having based The Rum Diary on his own experiences) and where the seed of 'Gonzo journalism' took root - a theme more front & centre in the film's third act, than it is in the book.

Depp, wisely toning down his memorable Fear & Loathing performance to match the relatively calmer early days of HST, gives good as Kemp, who stumbles through the world of Puerto Rico in 1960 - when the great American dream machine was moving in to carve up the land for the whale-like tourists and their bloated wallets. Eckhart is suave, yet dangerous, as Sanderson (a combination of the sly Sanderson and the violent Yeamon, from the novel), while Rispoli admirably double-teams for the humour as photographer Sala (replacing Kemp's confusion with a resigned acceptance). Furthermore, Jenkin's editor Lotterman is every inch the snake-in-the-grass, Heard nails Chenault's seductress who's in over her head, and Ribisi plays a riotous and unpredictable degenerate in the form of Moberg. It's a great cast, all afforded tasty roles, in a film that will perhaps prove most successful with those who have read the source novel.

For those unfamiliar with the book, some pacing issues might present themselves - resulting in a Good/Alright for such viewers - but those, such as myself, who thoroughly enjoyed the book, should be well catered for indeed. I enjoyed the hell out of it, welcoming Robinson's changes as an intriguing alternative vision - great, but others might not agree.

Click "READ MORE" below to switch from rum to fine wine...

What's it about?
Two friends get into boozy trouble in California's wine country during a thoroughly middle-aged bachelor week.
Who would I recognise in it?
Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh.
From Alexander Payne, the director of The Descendants (which found favour at 2012's Oscars), this charming and meandering comedy drama follows Giamatti's moping, wine-loving, unsuccessful writer, and Church's semi-successful actor with an ego and a wandering eye for the ladies, through low-key, but well-pitched and meaningful character studies during their week away from their lives. I had intended to see this when it was originally released in 2004, but seeing as I was only just out of my teens then - and still, to my 2012 assessment at least, a dumb kid - I can safely say I wouldn't have enjoyed it then. Now though, as the unmerciful march of time pushes me towards 30, and with my own frustrations not just in life, but in trying to make it as a professional writer, I found much to enjoy, and sympathise with, here. I'm coming to this flick rather late, but I'm damn glad I waited - great.

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