Archive for October, 2011

The Rum Diary
A Surprising Lack of Gonzo

Knowing not much about journalist Hunter S. Thompson outside of what I had gathered from watching Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and the terrific documentary Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting walking into the movie adaptation of his long-in-the-works novel The Rum Diary. Walking out, however, I knew exactly what I was expecting from it: more. More story, more craziness, more outrage. In short, I was expecting a little more Gonzo.

The Presence
How Do We Get From Here to Hereafter?

The Presenceis a film that really nails what a good ghost story should do. Yes, it works at a metaphorical level—as Sorvino’s writer gets a chance to work through her “inner demons”—and takes seriously the notion of the metaphysical world. But it also takes that extra step, taking very, very seriously the idea that the metaphysical world has both a bearing on the here and now and, literally, the hereafter. It’s a stirring vision of mercy and redemption. If you’re looking for intelligent, well-crafted, thoughtful filmmaking in the form of a ghost story, invest in The Presence. You won’t regret it, unless you suffer extensively from either clinical or culturally-induced ADD.

Winnie the Pooh
Measures Up to Expectations

In an era of reboots, remakes, and reinventions, Disney instead opts here for a simple and low-key approach that merely hews closely to the source material—without a lot of fanfare or folderol. In a faithful adaption of Milne’s original Winnie-the-Pooh, the filmmakers simply tell of Pooh’s endless search for honey, Eeyore’s search for his tail, and a misguided search for Christopher Robin and the dreaded Backson. It’s been over forty years since I’ve read Milne’s books, but this Pooh hits the mark as well as any filmed adaptation. Still… while I nonetheless enjoyed the experience of watching the film, I ended up feeling that I enjoyed the film because I wanted to.

The Captains
Unexpectedly Deep

I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I have, of late, been working through the newly-restored release of the original Star Trek series, available for streaming on Netflix. It’s been nice seeing the original episodes as they were intended to be seen—if in a far crisper presentation than the makeup artists ever envisioned they would be. And imagine my surprise, upon screening William Shatner’s documentary The Captains, in finding that Shatner himself has always been somewhat embarrassed by the whole, um, enterprise. Also imagine my surprise in discovering that the documentary is not only a thoughtful examination of Star Trek’s—and his own—legacy, but a probing and artful inquiry into the very notion of leadership.

Gently Profound

This is a simple film that asks big questions like: What would it really mean if God did exist? What does he have to gain from meddling in our lives? Or, better, what do we have to gain? Right off the bat, I was simultaneously intrigued and put off by the audacity and artificiality of the first act. (And the ubiquitous false eyelashes of star Jennifer Love Hewitt, who plays Claire.) But really: when a key character has lines from Shakespeare writ large on his forearm, you’ve got to ask, “If the Bard can do art hokey and overwrought and still do it well, why not allow others the same creative space?” And writer/director Marc Erlbaum comes through in spades, as far as I’m concerned.

Kick Off Your Sunday Shoes

Hollywood is back in the remake business with a new version of the 1984 Kevin Bacon movie. On its own, the 2011 version is certainly an entertainment. It has attractive, talented leads, a good sense of humor, a rewarding story, and plenty of great music. Then again, so did the original. So, what will director Craig Brewer do to separate his movie from the original? Aside from opening the movie with a car crash, the changes are minimal. In fact, it’s basically a scene-by-scene remake of the original, which makes it less of a remake, and more of a copy. That said, the minor changes it does make are very effective towards telling the story.

You’ve Been Warned

Usually when two Oscar-winning actors team up for a movie, it is accompanied by a certain level of hype and expectation. This movie, on the other hand, is sneaking into theaters without as much as a whisper, despite starring Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman. In fact, it is already scheduled to be released on DVD the first week of November, just two short weeks after it debuts in theaters. It doesn’t sound like the filmmakers are expecting much of a theatrical run, and after seeing the movie, I can certainly understand why.

The Big Year
Let’s Go Birding!

The film opens by informing the audience that it is based on a true story, only the facts have been changed. That witty opening may turn out to be the high point of the film’s cleverness, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is all downhill from there. Although it is never great, The Big Year keeps its audience entertained throughout, and much of the credit must go to its three likeable leads.

Real Steel
Rock’em Sock’em Robots

Buried somewhere under the surface of Real Steel is a message movie about the ever-increasing desire for violence in our culture. It takes place in the not-so-distant future where the most popular sport is robot boxing. The movie informs us in one scene that this is due to society’s need for more carnage in their boxing matches (read: fight to the death) than human fighters could morally/ethically/legally provide. Is this where our society is truly headed? Maybe. But Real Steel brushes social commentary aside, and chooses instead to focus on an often cheesy father/son drama in the center of a Rocky-inspired underdog drama. Probably a good choice, as that story turns out to be rather entertaining.