This week in film is a bit of a tough one. There’s no real stand-out stellar release and there’s also no obvious stinker. Instead we have three decent major releases that are flawed, but interesting.
There’s Andrew (The Truman Show) Nichols’ sci-fi thought experiment/thriller In Time, a film as intriguing as it is flawed. Next up is the preposterous Shakespeare conspiracy theory Anonymous that is a mess, but one that’s hard to look away from. And finally there’s the early Hunter S. Thompson movie The Rum Diary that’s a treat for fans of the good doctor, but a film that demands comparison to Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas and just can’t quite live up to the expectations.
If you’re anxious to check out a new release this week, you could do worse than these three titles. Though sadly, you could also do better.
The Good: In Time
Andrew Nichols’ movies all feel like brilliant concepts for thoughtful sci-fi short stories stretched past their breaking point in the feature length film format. In Time is no different, offering an intriguing world in which no one ages past 25, but after that age they have a year to live and all currency is based in time to extend or shorten life expectancy. In Nichols’ world, severe class disparity means that that the poor literally live day-to-day and the rich can live forever. It’s an intriguing concept that Nichols milks for all it’s worth and spins into an action movie, before losing the threat and stumbling to an somewhat unsatisfying conclusion weighed down by far too many “time” puns and wordplays.
The thing is, it’s still worth seeing for the brilliant balancing act of high concept sci-fi and action that Nichols pulls off for most of the movie. It tickles the brain and quickens the heart in rapid succession. The only real bummer is the casting of Justin Timberlake, who is a decent actor but is too famous off-camera to ever convincingly play a role without giving off a stench of stunt casting.
He’s fine and fits well into a world where everyone appears to be a beautiful 20-something, but given the fact he’s supposed to play an insignificant drone, the character may have been better represented by a pretty unknown. That doesn’t sell tickets though and, sadly, if you want to make a think-piece science fiction movie in Hollywood, you’re going to have to load it up with stars, sex, and violence. Given those restraints, In Time at least works fairly well. Not a classic, but worth a peek if you’re curious.
The Bad: Anonymous
Some people think that Shakespeare didn’t actually write his revered plays and those people are insane. However, they’re also quite vocal about it and some academics have dedicated entire careers to the subject. So it makes sense that Hollywood would eventually turn the concept into a lurid historical drama.
Thus we have Anonymous, a film that suggests the Earl of Oxford actually wrote all of Shakespeare’s work, but couldn’t take credit for it because writing was considered a frivolous activity unbecoming a man of his title. So he paid to have his plays put up in local theaters and a hack actor named Shakespeare took credit for them almost by accident. It’s all hogwash of course, but undeniably entertaining hogwash.
It’s both surprising and unsurprising to learn that the film came from Roland Emmerich, the filmmaker who destroyed the world three times in Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012. It’s surprising because it’s his smallest scale movie and the closest one to approaching some sort of intellectual commentary. But it’s also unsurprising given that he’s turned the concept into trashy epic filled with battles, expensive sets, sex, and violence.
If you go into Anonymous expecting some sort of intelligent discourse about the possibility of fraudulence in The Bard’s revered back catalogue, you can go ahead and expect to be disappointed. However, if you’re looking for a tasteless Elizabethan guilty pleasure, you came to the right place. It’s a damn absurd movie, but also something that could never in good conscience be described as boring. Approach with caution.
The Gonzo: The Rum Diary
Finally, the last notable release of the week is another flawed movie, but probably the best of the three. It’s The Rum Diary, a bizarre origin story of sorts for the late, great Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.
Based on his early novel of the same name, the film sees a young and naïve (but still delightfully nuts) Thompson taking a job at a tourist paper in Puerto Rico that introduces him to 40 proof alcohol as well as the lazy, easily bought editors and the snaky economic elite who would become the “bastards” that he would go on to spend his career attacking. The main problem with the film is the way it’s awkwardly forced into a Batman Begins-style origin story. It rings false, but I suppose something like that was required to structure the episodic narrative of the book for a big screen adaptation.
Johnny Depp oddly plays a younger version of the middle-aged Hunter S. Thompson that appeared in Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas 14 years ago. It’s weird, but given the movie star’s inability to age and the fact that he played a far older character the first time, he’s great in the film and it’s so nice to see him in an eccentric indie again rather than broadly slapsticking his way through yet another blockbuster.
The directorial reins were handed over to Bruce Robinson (who also wrote the script) and he’s an inspired choice. Robinson was responsible for arguably the greatest alcoholic comedy ever made in Withnail and I and his pitch-black sense of humor flavored with melancholy is perfect for the material. Granted, sometimes his depressingly real tone clashes with Depp’s exaggerated performance, but for the most part they work well as collaborators.
The major issue with the film for most people will be the fact that it lacks the balls out insanity and hysterical humor of Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas. However that was always going to happen as excessive alcohol abuse in a depressed country just isn’t as fun as a hallucinogenic journey through Vegas. Audiences expecting Fear And Loathing 2 might be disappointed, particularly after the misleading marketing material. However, if you’re able to accept the fact that this is a very different movie about a very different Hunter S. Thompson, there’s plenty to enjoy about the film on its own melancholic comedy terms. Flawed? Sure, but still a must-see for anyone who worships at the altar of the great Hunter S. Thompson.
Also released this week: Puss In Boots (remember that character who was kind of entertaining in the Shrek sequels? Now he’s got his own kind of entertaining movie. I guess that’s a good thing kind of.), Like Crazy (love it’s crazy man. Thank god someone finally made a movie about it), and The Double (Richard Gere and Topher Grace, together at last. Hang on to your gerbils!).