At The Movies

The Rum Diary

The Rum Diary

DIRECTED BY: Bruce Robinson

STARRING: Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Amber Heard, Richard Jenkins

CERT: 15A

The Rum Diary was an early novel by Hunter S Thompson, written in the 60s before the legendary gonzo journalism years that inspired great works like Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, and formed the basis of Fear And Loathing On The Campaign Trail, the collection of articles he wrote for Rolling Stone on the 1972 presidential election.

The film is not the great piece of work it might have been, but it’s been revealing to see how many critics have also made light of the book, clearly based only on the fact that the manuscript was widely rejected and only published in the late 1990s. If they’d actually read the book, they’d know that even as a young man, Thompson was a better writer than most. If he had a tendency (that he never grew out of) to ramble and lose the plot, he was still never less than entertaining.

The Rum Diary is a thinly-veiled autobiographical yarn about his adventures in Puerto Rico. Thompson’s alter ego is Paul Kemp (Depp), a young would-be novelist who ups and heads for the Caribbean, working for a two-bit newspaper called the San Juan Star. Sizing up the new writer, his editor Mr Lotterman (Richard Jenkins) asks him how much he drinks. “The high end of social,” is the reply. Yes, those were the early days.

On his beat he hooks up with the paper’s photographer Sala (Michael Rispoli) and a drunken wreck called Moburg (Giovanni Ribisi) who has an obsessive fondness for Adolf Hitler.

Kemp also falls in with Sanderson (Eckhart), one of the many rich Americans who’ve come to play on the island and carve up the available goodies for themselves. Sanderson is a property developer who wants to grab a slice of land and build a hotel. He needs some positive coverage, and Kemp is the man for the job, persuaded by the lure of a nifty red Corvette. He takes an instant shine, too, to Sanderson’s girlfriend Chenault (Amber Heard), who seems like she might be up for offers.

There’s a good deal of fun to be had in The Rum Diary – some fine writing, great one-liners, and a good cast who are clearly enjoying themselves. Depp played Thompson in Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, and he plays Kemp in only a slightly more toned-down fashion. As a longtime friend, he knows the mumbling vocal tones and mannerisms inside out, but even Thompson didn’t have as many odd tics as Depp brings to the party. It gets a tad distracting. (Bill Murray probably came closer to nailing it in Where The Buffalo Roam.)

But there’s a couple of bigger problems than that. The main one is director Bruce Robinson, most famous for creating Withnail And I, whose charms have always eluded me. Robinson was hand-picked by Depp for the job, despite admitting he didn’t like the book and intended to gut it. Well, he did, and gave what was left and nice good Hollywood polish, cleaning up the messier, grittier details of life in so-called paradise.

Along with that, it all ends up being a bit aimless, never really going in any of several directions. To be fair, that might be the idea, and the same could certainly be said for the great man’s writing. But at least with Thompson’s books, you were still in great company on every page, guaranteed to laugh, or get mad, or both in the same sentence.

Still, for a while at least, The Rum Diary has enough going for it to make it worth a look.

Immortals

DIRECTED BY: Tarsem Singh

STARRING: Henry Cavill, Freida Pinto, John Hurt, Mickey Rourke, Stephen Dorff

CERT: 15A

Immortals is a very fine looking film, just under two hours’ worth of spectacular visuals. It is also one of the stupidest movies ever made.

Sadly I am contractually obliged to write a longer review than that, which won’t be easy because for most of the time, I hadn’t a clue what was going on.

Rough plot: King Hyperion (Rourke) has a notion to conquer Greece, as if poor Greece didn’t have enough trouble. Along the way he kills the mother of a young peasant named Theseus (Henry Cavill – getting in some muscle-man practice to play the new Superman). Well, killing the mammy is always a big mistake, and Theseus goes on the warpath, looking for our old friend, revenge.

His mission involves a magical bow, lots of bronzed he-men in designer costumes, a bazillion stylized battle scenes, and really, really high cliffs. It also involves the very lovely Freida Pinto, and a rake of other actors who might or might not know who they’re supposed to be or what they’re supposed to be doing, but little of it made sense to me. It’s from the same production stable as 300, but if that movie was a stallion, Immortals is a three-legged donkey.

It looks lovely, though. Did I mention that already?