Gavin Grades The Movies

The Rum Diary

Whenever a movie is mostly shot and then not released for a while, there's reason for concern.  The Rum Diary is a labor of love from star Johnny Depp.  It's based on the the novel by (my favorite author) Hunter S. Thompson, who wrote the book as a young man, shelved it for decades and then sold it in 2000.  Depp is not only a huge fan of Thompson's but was one of his best friends toward the end of his life.  I appreciate the passion for wanting to make this movie, but shelving a book works and shelving a movie doesn't.

Depp met Thompson when he played him in another film based on one of his books called Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. This is still one of my favorite comedies of all time and it was shot with pure venom by director Terry Gilliam (12 Monkeys, Time Bandits).  The script and scope of the film captured the pure Gonzo craziness that Thompson wrote in as best as a movie could.  I've read The Rum Diary and I'm fully aware that the tone of the that and the tone of Fear and Loathing are polar twins, however it still didn't duplicate the attachment that Fear and Loathing had to its source.
One area of shortfall was in not allowing Gilliam to return as a director.  Instead Depp turned to Bruce Robinson, who hasn't made a film in 20 years and even the ones he has directed aren't very good.  The look of the movie is crisp and authentic to 1960, when it takes place, but it moves at an almost agonizing pace.  Some of that might be intentional, since this is about Thompson when he was a young man and first getting into journalism.  This is pre-drugs, pre-psychotic, pre-mania...you know the good ol' days when he was just a raging alcoholic. The writing style of the book is vastly different than anything else he wrote, so it makes sense that the movie would be too.  

But parts of the book are introspective and pitch dark.  One key scene involves a gang rape of a gorgeous and drunk female character played in the movie by the stunning Amber Heard (Zombieland, Drive Angry).  The brutality is described in the book because of how it makes the characters react and it's hard to get through but crucial.  This scene is watered over so gently in the film that it confuses anyone who hasn't read the book as to what is actually going on or why reactions are so strong afterward.  Mistakes like this abound in The Rum Diary.  It takes the potential of a deeply emotional and funny story and makes it stilted and disjointed.

That's not to say the film is a total wash.  It showcases a very impressive cast that features Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight, Battle: LA), Richard Jenkins (Let Me In, Hall Pass), Giovanni Ribisi (Cold Mountain, Avatar) and the best of the film, Michael Rispoli (Kick-Ass, Taking of the Pelham 123).  It also has one of the best production designer, costume designer and prop masters in a while.  Since it takes place in 1960 Puerto Rico, the attention to flawless time capsulated detail is of the same quality of AMC's Mad Men.

I still enjoyed this film because I will always love Thompson and the words he left behind.  He was an inspiration for me and it's nice to see his legacy kicked off and given respect in The Rum Diary.  But my same adoration is also the undoing for this film.  I'm sure even Johnny Depp shares my disappointment a little since I felt like I knew Thompson, where he really did.
The Rum Diary  (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: C
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Horrible Bosses

In Jennifer Aniston's career since Friends, she's been box office poison.  Regardless of whether or not you like her or think she's any good acting, her films haven't done well at all.  From Management to The Bounty Hunter to The Switch to the cream of the crap Just Go With It...she seems to be the common denominator in bad movies.  That is until now. So how did she overcome this streak.  Well, she was smart enough to star in a black comedy with Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis (NBC's SNL, Hall Pass) and the hilarious Charlie Day (FX's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Going the Distance).  That is a comedy dream team that anyone would be stupid to walk away from and they deliver on all angels. What makes the film even better is that it's directed by Seth Gordon.  Now you may not know his name but he's already made some incredible films.  The reason why he's probably unknown is because his former films are documentaries namely Freakonomics and the absolutely amazing film The King of Kong.  Plus he's one of the creative minds behind shows like The Office, Community and Parks and Recreation. Gordon did the correct thing to do with an ensemble cast like this; he allowed them to do whatever they wanted.  You can tell by the outtakes that pepper the end credits.  Even Aniston is very funny as the sexually harassing dentist, although she's clearly the weakest link.  The film is primarily Bateman, Sudeikis and Day doing a modern version of The Three Stooges as they bumble their way through a plot to kill each other's bosses.  If you think that's a straight-up ripoff of Strangers on a Train, don't worry because it's called out on it in the actual movie by Jamie Foxx's character...who has a name I can't repeat in this review. The first act of the film is clunky and weak.  It sets up the characters in stilted dialogue and shows us the titular horrible bosses that are so horrible they come across as unbelievable.  But luckily this doesn't last long and once we're in the throws of the film it gets very funny, very quickly.  Horrible Bosses also does something that most comedies have a very hard time doing and that is to stay funny all the way up until the end.  The way Hollywood comedies have been playing out is a really funny beginning, a good middle and a poor end. Horrible Bosses seems to be completely the other way around and it works very well for it. There's a chance black comedy isn't your cup of tea or that Aniston's rapey, foul language is too "un-Rachel" for you.  But if you heed the R rating and enjoy fast, improvised acting that also keeps you in a state of suspense, this is THE summer comedy for you since it's anything BUT horrible. Horrible Bosses (Rated R) Gavin Grade: A-
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The Hangover Part 2

Full disclosure, I am not a disciple of The Hangover.  I thought the first movie was funny and I gave it a "B."  I didn't think it was the funniest movie of all time or even of that year.  I thought the first act was great, then it got pretty good and the last third of the movie wasn't really that funny at all.  When I heard they were making a sequel I groaned.  When I watched the trailer I rolled my eyes.  After watching the entire movie, I could do nothing but sit there shaking my head at how truly awful it was. The Hangover Part 2 is the perfect example of what's wrong with Hollywood.  The original was a surprise hit and went on to be the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time.  Did it have more to say?  No.  Did there need to be a continuation of the characters?  Not particularly.  So why did this get made?  Pure greed.  Not only was this made ONLY to make money but it was done so arrogantly and lazy. It's one thing to give the people what they want, but it's another thing entirely to shovel the exact same story down their throats.  I was blown away by how much the trailer made it look like the sequel was going to be a rehashing of the first one but nothing could prepare me for how carbon copied it really is.  It's so bad that there are characters from the first one that are in the second one that have absolutely no logical reason for being there.  In case you don't know, the story is the exact same as the first one except now they're in Bangkok preparing for Stu's wedding, who's played by Ed Helms (NBC's The Office, Cedar Rapids).  He's joined by his friends played by Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis and Justin Bartha, who played Doug in the first one. You can draw a straight line between the two films for comparisons.  For instance, when they wake up from their party they no longer find a baby to care for but instead a monkey.  Stu didn't pull out his tooth but instead got a face tattoo.  I could go on and on with this but I don't want to put any spoilers in the review (although spoilers in a movie like this is a ridiculous notion since you know exactly what's coming next and who will do it).  Let's just say that there are so many that it's fairly sickening. That's not to say that The Hangover Part 2 isn't funny...of course it is.  Just like the first one, it's funny at first and then starts to lose its way as the movie goes on.  For this one the burn is far quicker because director Todd Phillips confused kicking the craziness and humor up a notch with simply making it darker, more serious and gross.  It makes you feel extremely unsettled.  In the first one, although it dealt with a kidnapping, drugs and wrongful marriage, the hijinks the boys get into are relatively frat boy-like behavior.  In this one it's disturbing and dangerous.  It's a lot harder to laugh it off and I could hear that reflected in a packed theater of rabid Hangover fans who sat silent for about 45 minutes of the film. Even Galifianakis, who single-handedly stole the show last time with his witty, improvised, quotable one-liners, was phoning it in.  It almost makes me judge everyone who worked on this movie as being void of integrity.  However, if I had a studio lobbing piles of cash at me to do the exact same movie I already did, I would find it impossible to turn down as well.  But the level of unoriginality that went into this movie is almost insulting as an audience member.  The fact that the studio and Phillips think so less of us that they could deliver this in hopes that we would eat the same exact meal and never notice we were is just sad. I'm sure The Hangover Part 2 will make tons of money all over again.  And I'm sure the studio will figure out a way to get everyone back for another one.  I can only hope the poster for the movie was taken after the cast saw how much the critics hated this movie and that they may have sullied their legacy.  But as far as I'm concerned, I'm officially hungover on The Hangover. The Hangover Part 2 (Rated R) Gavin Grade: D+
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