THE RUM DIARY. Oh, Johnny Depp, how we missed you. We've been repeatedly pelted with Depp performances, each as annoyingly eccentric as the last. He saw a niche, and he filled it until it overflowed. His partnership with Tim Burton has long since lost its charm, and the image of a swarthy and drunken Captain Jack Sparrow will be burned into our brains for all eternity. The Rum Diary, adapted and directed by Bruce Robinson, may be Depp's salvation, and I welcome it with open arms.
The film is based on Hunter S. Thompson's novel of the same name, a semi-autobiographical yet wildly fantastical interpretation of his stint as a freelancer in 1960s Puerto Rico. The story centers around Paul Kemp's (Depp) foray into the drunken world of sub-par American journalism. Poorly paid and over-boozed, Kemp and the rest of the disgruntled San Juan Star staffers wreak havoc more than they report news. While on the quest for a story actually worth printing, Kemp happens upon an intrepid and crooked businessman named Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart). Sanderson's corruption drives Kemp's rebellion, but that particular storyline is otherwise fairly dull and predictable. The bright hopefulness of Puerto Rico as America's untapped tropical paradise contrasts starkly with the island's dimly lit underbelly, which Kemp plunges himself into.
Kemp is damaged, troubled and addicted, but comes across as the sanest character on screen for a majority of the film. Surrounded by men who have long since lost any ambition to do anything other than drink rum and wallow in their own filth, Kemp settles easily into all the unsavory thrills Puerto Rico has to offer. For once in a long while, Depp is not the craziest character around, and it's remarkably refreshing.
The Rum Diary offers brief moments of the psychedelic experimentation you would expect from Hunter S. Thompson, but they are hardly the main focus of the film. Still, they're refreshing and completely entertaining, not to mention incredibly well done. The single camera style adds a rough and personal edge to the film, which is accompanied by the delicately orchestrated use of light and silence. Robinson struck a delicate balance, giving Thompson the homage he deserves.
IN TIME. There is no group harder to please than science fiction fans. If there's a flaw, a loophole or an unanswered question, we will find it. Andrew Niccol is not a novice in the sci-fi field; from Gattaca to The Truman Show, he has tapped into the "what if" vein of story telling before, and he has done it well. In Time, penned and directed by Niccol, was thinly contrived and poorly constructed in comparison to his earlier works.
The concept of time as currency is original enough to warrant further exploration, but Niccol relies too much on the novelty of the idea as a primary driving force. It starts with a blatant and direct explanation of the concept via the interior monologue of the main character, Will Salas (Justin Timberlake). In case the point was missed, Niccol spends the next 20 minutes driving it home with examples: time for coffee, time for food, time for loans. The explanation of the futuristic world Niccol has created ends there; save for the change in currency, the future seems surprisingly similar to the present. The audience is left to figure out, via constant addition and subtraction, just how far in the future the story is set. No definite answer can be found, but it has to range from 100 to 300 years.
Once the fundamental conflict is established (social inequality exacerbated by a corrupt distribution of wealth), the story veers in a less entertaining direction. What could have been a symbolic interpretation of the dire need for financial equality is instead a futuristic vigilante film. If we were to mesh Bonnie and Clyde with Robin Hood, we could approximate the plot for In Time.
Fast-paced acts of violence and a zealous redistribution of wealth combine to create an action-filled mess of gunfire, explosions and running (constant running). Timberlake's Clyde is accompanied by Amanda Seyfried's Bonnie, and a blander leading woman has never been seen. The rest of the cast is as blasé as Seyfried, leaving Timberlake the only dynamic character in the film. Timberlake's prowess as a serious actor is too underdeveloped for him to carry the film on his own. In his defense, it was hardly a film worth carrying.
TOWER HEIST. This action-comedy from Hollywood hack Brett Ratner (X-Men: The Last Stand, the Rush Hour series) stars Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy as members of the 99 percent (the former is an apartment manager, the latter an ex-con) who seek revenge on the Ponzi-scheming one-percenter who stole their retirement (Alan Alda). Timely! PG-13 for words and bodies. 105m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
A VERY HAROLD AND KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS. Speaking of pertinent social commentary, 3D looks uh-MAY-zing when you're high, bro! The cinematic descendents of Cheech and Chong return to point candy canes in your face, sing and dance with Neil Patrick Harris and be rendered in claymation. Munchies available at the concessions counter. R for drug use, graphic nudity, strong crude and sexual content, pervasive language, some violence ... did I say drug use yet? 90m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Fortuna and (in 2D) at the Minor.
On Friday night, the Arcata Theatre Lounge will show V For Vendetta, the 2006 dystopian thriller (based on the comic book by Alan Moore and David Lloyd) that has been adopted by Occupy Wall Street. (One of the film's taglines is, "People should not be afraid of their governments; governments should be afraid of their people.") Starring Natalie Portman with a shaved head. R. 132m. 8 p.m. On Wednesday, Nov. 9, Sci-Fi Pint and Pizza Night returns with ancient Greek gods, as rendered by Italians in the 1960s. Atlas in the Land of the Cyclops (1961) is billed as "an Italian sword-and-sandle spectacle" while Ulysses Against the Son of Hercules (1962) is, well, more of the same, plus a bizarre race of bird people.
The Humboldt County Library continues its Native American Month film series Tuesday night with Powwow Highway (1989), a road movie about contemporary American Indian life, based on the book by David Seals. R. 88m. 6:30 p.m. Free.
The Morris Graves Museum hosts the Humboldt Arts Council's First Thursday Film Night, a showcase for the PBS series Independent Lens. This month's film is We Still Live Here: As Nutayunean, a documentary about reviving the language of the Wampanoag tribe of southeast Massachusetts, which four centuries ago saved the Pilgrims from starvation. (Say "thanks.") 6:30 p.m. Free.
COURAGEOUS. Four men, one calling: To serve and protect. Rated PG-13. 130m. At the Broadway.
DOLPHIN TALE. True story of an injured dolphin saved by a prosthetic tail so that she could star in a ridiculously adorable movie. PG. 113m. At the Garberville.
FOOTLOOSE. Remake lacks Bacon, sizzle. Rated PG-13. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
THE IDES OF MARCH. George Clooney directs and stars in this political thriller co-staring Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Marisa Tomei. R. 101m. At the Broadway.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3. Ghouls Gone Wild, and caught on tape. R. 84m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
PUSS IN BOOTS. Three Shrek movies plus this solo outing. Five lives left, kitty. PG. 90m. In 3D and 2D at the Broadway and Fortuna, 2D only at the Mill Creek and Minor.
REAL STEEL. Boxing robots. PG-13. 127m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
THE THREE MUSKETEERS. Somewhere along the line, these guys decided they prefer swords. PG-13. In 3D and 2D at the Broadway, 2D only at Mill Creek.