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Entries in Amber Heard (3)

Friday
Oct282011

The Rum Diary

If you look at Johnny Depp’s filmography, it’s full of weird movies and eccentric characters, like the ones in Pirates of the Caribbean, Edward Scissorhands, Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, to name a few. It’s like he’s drawn to weird. That theory is only further strengthened by The Rum Diary, a movie that includes hallucinogenic drug trips, hermaphroditic voodoo witch doctors and a dozen other scenes of absolute randomness. For a while, the wonder of where it will go next is charming, but eventually it becomes tiresome and by the end of its two hour runtime, you’ll have completely checked out.

Based on the novel of the same name by Hunter S. Thompson, the film follows Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) as he takes on a job at a newspaper in Puerto Rico in 1960. During his attempts at what one might call journalism, he runs into a beautiful socialite named Chenault (Amber Heard) whom he begins to fall for. Unfortunately, she’s married to Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), who is trying to get Paul to write misleading newspaper articles to rally public support for the building of hotels on an isolated island.

Things eventually go haywire, of course. Paul teams up with two bumbling alcoholics, Moburg (Giovanni Ribisi) and Sala (Michael Rispoli), and they find themselves in precarious situations one would never expect. They end up on the dangerous end of a car chase, negotiating shady business deals, hanging out at posh parties, gambling on cockfights and arguing their innocence in a court of law, along with the aforementioned witch doctor visit and trip on “the most powerful drug in the history of narcotics.” So much of it is so unnecessary to what minimal story this film manages to create that you soon forget what Paul is doing and why.

But it never matters. Story points could be dropped and reintroduced at any point and it wouldn’t make up for the disjointed narrative. The romance that develops between Paul and Chenault isn’t even followed through and is instead quickly dropped with a few simple lines of dialogue. I suppose the nonsensical placement of certain scenes is supposed to heighten the humor, but the simple fact of the matter is that the film just isn’t that funny. At times, it’s too dry or understated, almost like a British comedy, and so far from being in your face, it’s practically non-existent. Other times, it’s too zany, which eventually leads to Paul and Sala essentially dry humping in the car.

The exception is Ribisi, who acts like you’ve never seen him act before, and he manages to squeeze out whatever humor he can, though much of it has to do with his alcoholism, which is no laughing matter even in a movie as silly as this. What it lacks in laughs, however, it makes up for with truly terrific performances. Depp is as good as ever as another charismatic, crazy, cunning man of words, but it’s Heard who manages to shine here, breaking free from ridiculous horror thrillers like The Ward, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane and Drive Angry and showing us some true potential.

But The Rum Diary nevertheless feels incomplete. Its story is fragmented and no emotional arc is ever created, despite an early moment where the score slows down and Paul photographs a poverty stricken area where a child is playing in a broken down car. With all the quirkiness on display, I suppose writer/director Bruce Robinson decided not to bother. “Best to stick to the comedy,” he must have thought. I wonder if he ever thought that perhaps the comedy wasn’t working.

The Rum Diary receives 2/5

Friday
Feb252011

Drive Angry

3D is the bane of cinema. There, I said it. And I’m glad I did. Despite the occasional three dimensional triumph (How to Train Your Dragon), most movies do not need it. Rarely have I been thankful I saw a film in 3D, fearful that I may have missed something watching it in boring old regular 2D. After the backlash from shoddy up conversions, it appears studios now deem it necessary to advertise their film as being “shot in 3D,” as evidenced by the Drive Angry poster, though at this point, it hardly matters; the extra dimension is still unnecessary. Nevertheless, I’ve always stood by this point: 3D, as good or bad as it can be, is never the deciding factor in the quality of a picture. So as much as I hate the notion of wearing those silly glasses and looking at a dim picture, I still must admit to having quite a bit of fun with Drive Angry.

Nicolas Cage (who seems to be in every other movie these days) plays Milton. He has just escaped from Hell and is on a mission to save his infant granddaughter from being sacrificed by a Satanic cult led by Jonah King, played by Billy Burke. On his journey, he befriends Piper, played by Amber Heard, and has to contend with “The Accountant,” played by William Fichtner, who is on a mission to capture him and bring him back to Hell.

If you couldn’t tell by that ridiculous plot synopsis, Drive Angry is essentially a B-movie. It has a B-movie story, B-movie dialogue, B-movie acting and, keeping in line with its B-movie brethren, a number of nagging narrative inconsistencies. Although I suspect some of its inanity is unintentional, most of it is a wink and a nod to the people in the audience who get it. Aside from a couple of dramatic missteps (mainly due to the fact that drama even exists—in a movie like this, it shouldn’t) it knows exactly what it’s doing. Drive Angry is a silly, violent, purposely over-the-top picture that is accompanied by blazing heavy metal whenever someone struts or postures. It's exactly the type of low grade filth many will shun, but there's no denying that what it does, it does well.

It’s a movie that wishes to channel those old grindhouse films while keeping a modern tongue-in-cheek vibe. In a way, it aspires to be like 2007’s Shoot ‘Em Up, even going so far as to replicate one of its crazier scenes. However, Drive Angry doesn’t have the style or humor of Shoot ‘Em Up. With the exception of a few funny lines, only William Fichtner channels the type of vibe that film nailed so perfectly. Every moment he is onscreen is a delight and as soon as he disappears, you’ll be counting down the minutes until he comes back.

There’s not much more to say about Drive Angry. It’s big, loud, relentless and stupid, but it’s fun. Not random-trip-to-Vegas fun; more like a casual trip to a restaurant with friends fun—you’re glad you did it, but once you’ve digested it, it’s time to move on.

Drive Angry receives 3/5

Friday
Apr162010

The Joneses

Have you ever heard the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses"? It's one of those sayings you hear said about someone else, usually because they own the most extravagant, expensive products on the market. They want to give off the idea that they are financially successful because they own things you don't. If there's a similar family livng near them, it becomes a rivalry to see who can come out on top. Well, what if that family wasn't competing with you to be the best, but rather faking it to sell their clients' products?

The Joneses follows a family who does just that. The thing is, though, they aren't really a family. They are four separate employees who work within their age and gender to sell things fasionable to their crowd. There's Steve (David Duchovny), who spends the majority of his time golfing to sell sporting goods, Kate (Demi Moore), who talks up beauty products to her gal pals, Mick (Ben Hollingsworth), who does his best to sell video games and other toys to high school boys, and Jenn (Amber Heard), who, well, doesn't seem to do much at all.

She does, of course, but her character is so underdeveloped that you never really get a sense that she is doing anything other than exploring her promiscuity. If she's not crawling naked in bed with her unknowing "father," she's heading off to be the mistress to a married man on his private yacht. When things go wrong for her, you simply don't care.

But that's about as far as the negatives go in The Joneses. She may be benched for the majority of the movie, but that's because it spends most of its time with the other characters who are all dealing with their own issues. Mick isn't quite the person people think he is, Kate is job obsessed and won't allow herself to fall in love despite her obvious attraction to her fake husband and Steve is in inner turmoil over the falsity of his life. He pretends to be someone else to sell products, but in the process starts to lose his real self. He starts to want nothing more than to simply settle down and be with Kate in the real world rather than living behind this false façade.

It's an interesting dynamic because they are not a family, yet they still fall apart like a real family would. They have their good times, they have their bad, and it seems like nothing will be able to save them.

Then you have the underlying themes of commercialization and consumerism that drive the meaning of the movie home. The Joneses embody the walking billboards of America. They embody every person out there who walks around with the latest Nike shoes or Gucci handbag. They embody the celebrities and athletes who wear a particular brand because they are promised money in return. They even embody the young middle school boy who shows off his brand new handheld video game system to get his friends jealous, all of whom eventually shell out the money for one of their own.

It may be a pretty outlandish concept to think that companies would pay good money for a fake family to live in a neighborhood simply to sell a handful of products to those people—that business philosophy would surely cost more than what they're taking in from it—but at the same time it gets you thinking. The Joneses neighbor is the perfect example of the American way of life in that he spends more than he can afford in order to keep up a false veil of stature amongst his peers. He, like many Americans, spends himself into debt and finds it difficult to crawl back out. The movie makes the case, in a fairly literal fashion, that our material objects are weighing us down. See the movie and you'll know exactly what I mean.

All of that is handled with style and assurance from first time writer and director Derrick Borte. His debut is a mighty one indeed and he tells this tale with a sense of authenticity, conveying drama perfectly while still interjecting some hearty laughs in the midst of things. This is a man who knows what he's doing and I expect great things from him in the future.

The Joneses is a film that will, sadly, go under the radar. Even I had no clue what it was before I sat down to watch it, but those who seek it out will find a sweet, funny, dramatic, meaningful and hard hitting story that will connect with everyone from the poorest of the poor to those so rich they blow their noses with 100 dollar bills. They may find different meanings, but that's the beauty of the film. There's so much here on the surface and under that many will walk out with conflicting analyses, yet none will be wrong. The Joneses is shaping up to be one of the best films of the year.

The Joneses receives 4.5/5