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The Rum Diary

Posted on October 27, 2011 at 6:15 pm

22-year-old Hunter S. Thompson wrote a novel about men in their 30’s working for a Puerto Rican newspaper, equally soaked in the title libation and the brinier flavors of cynicism and failure, but it was not published until more than 30 years later.

Now, it is a movie starring Thompson fan Johnny Depp (who played Thompson in Terry Gilliam’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”).  He plays Paul Kemp, a would-be novelist and near-alcoholic who extends his fiction-writing skills to his resume to apply for a job working for a near-broke newspaper in Puerto Rico.  He needn’t have amplified his credentials; no one else applied for the job.  The exhausted editor (Richard Jenkins) knows he lied but has no other choice and his expectations are even lower than his alternatives.  He says all he wants is a writer who won’t drink all the time.

No such luck.

Kemp is most interesting as the reflection of the real-life 22-year-old who was already worried about becoming dissipated, ineffectual, and hopeless.  His passionate love of language is palpable.  He spins out an elaborate sentence with the exuberance of youthful excess but lands it with breathtaking precision that demonstrates he is already a master.  The plot is simple.  Kemp is frustrated that the paper will only publish pieces that make the advertisers happy, which means nothing critical of anyone or anything in Puerto Rico.  He briefly agrees to moonlight as a writer for a shady real estate development coordinated by Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), who has a beautiful home and a beautiful girlfriend (the very lovely Amber Heard).  And he briefly stops drinking.

There’s an endearing sweetness to the film.  The unabashed affection Depp and writer/director Bruce Robinson have for Thompson is contagious as we see Kemp begin to find himself as a writer even as he perhaps begins to lose himself in the gorgeous excess of his appetites.  The book is a novel, but the movie concludes by merging the fictional Kemp with the real-life Thompson with a buoyant couple of lines about what happens next.

In one scene Sanderson’s girlfriend and Kemp are driving in a borrowed convertible and she dares him to drive faster: “I’ll bet you scream before I do.”  He floors it and they surge ahead, both reckless, ravenous for adventure, seeking the ultimate, no matter the cost.  They both scream, and screech to a halt inches from the end of a pier.  Knowing what lay ahead for Thompson, it feels good to see a moment when he knew where to stop.

(more…)

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Based on a book Comedy Drama

Nothing Like the Holidays

Posted on December 11, 2008 at 6:00 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including some sexual dialogue, and brief drug references
Profanity: Some insults and strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking, reference to drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Gun, references to wartime and gang violence and sad deaths, auto accident
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie, some ethnic diversity tensions, mildly homophobic challenges to masculinity
Date Released to Theaters: December 12, 2008

Natalie Morales of ABC Family’s The Middleman lists her three rules for a movie with Latino characters:

  • Nobody calls anybody Papi.
  • No dancing to salsa music.
  • No gratuitous Spanish.

By that standard, this latest entry in the dysfunctional family holiday movie genre is 0 for 3. And yet, this movie is made by Latinos with a lot of affection for its characters. And so even though it also includes what should be a similar no-no trifecta of family holiday dramadies (sibling rivalry, dramatic revelations, sad news to remind everyone how much they love each other) and even though it does not meet the standard of last year’s fine This Christmas, this family might be worth a holiday visit.

Parents Edy and Anna Rodriguez (Alfred Molina and Elizabeth Pena, both superb), owners of a small bodega, live in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago. Their children are coming home for Christmas: Iraqi war veteran Jesse (Freddy Rodriguez, who also produced), aspiring actress Roxanne (Vanessa Ferlito of Grindhouse), and Mauricio (John Leguizamo) with his white, Jewish wife Sarah (Debra Messing), successful professionals. Also waiting for them at home are Jesse’s one-time girlfriend (Melonie Diaz), Edy’s top employee (Jay Hernandez), and a lot of unresolved issues.

We can feel the warmth of the Rodriguez home and the stars quickly create an authentic sense of the rhythms and short-cuts of family communication, the struggle between wanting things to be the way they were and wanting to be seen as they are now. Predictable frustrations as Sarah tries to fit in while maintaining her own boundaries and Jesse and Roxanne try to live up to their parents hopes for them are given enough specificity to hold our attention. Sarah is not an uptight snob; she loves her husband and very much wants his family to accept her. She has a couple of nice moments with Edy, especially when, after Anna pushes yet another thing to eat on her as she is getting ready to go running, Edy quietly reaches for it. We get a sense of their unspoken understanding, which will become more important later on. There’s a dead tree (and metaphor) blocking the view from the house that Anna has been trying to get Edy to cut down for 25 years, and that will play a role as well.

Anna leads off at the family dinner by announcing she plans to get a divorce, catapulting the children into a difficult recalibration of their familial roles. As children, they cannot help feeling abandoned but as adults they have to find a way to see their parents as people who have to make their own choices. Like all families, everyone feels they have a better understanding of what everyone else should do. And like all families, that leads to conflict.

Notwithstanding the Morales concerns, the location settings and “sorta-Rican” culture are nicely evocative. But the real treat is seeing these fine performers, too often relegated to character parts, take center stage to remind us that the reason there is nothing like the holidays because of the way they bring us together.

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Comedy Drama Movies -- format
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