The Rum Diary—-Drink in Puerto Rico

If you’re tired of his Jack Sparrow, annoyed by his Mad Hatter, disappointed by his Dillinger and not impressed with his work in “The Tourist,” here’s one for Johnny Depp fans to enjoy!

Johnny Depp stars in “The Rum Diary,” set in 1960 in Puerto Rico.  The movie feels like 1960 with its cars, costumes and smoking.  We see clips of a Kennedy-Nixon debate and old Alka-Seltzer bottles to add to the time warp.

“The Rum Diary” has many good laughs and tells an entertaining story.  The movie is based on a novel written by Hunter S. Thompson.  Thompson spent time in Puerto Rico several years before writing his “Fear and Loathing” articles and books.

Depp is a newspaperman, fueled by rum, who comes to work for a dying San Juan paper.  There he meets an assortment of colorful characters.  Richard Jenkins is his editor with a horrible wig.  Michael Rispoli is the photog who gives Depp the scoop on what’s what.  Giovanni Ribisi is an especially oddball staffer who listens to LPs of Hitler speeches, fantasizes about slowly killing his editor and has access to very strong intoxicants.

Aaron Eckhart plays a PR man who is several notches sleazier than the PR man he portrayed in “Thank You for Smoking.”  His girlfriend is played by Amber Heard, whose character enacts a long, flirtatious tease with Depp.

Eckhart hires Depp to write on behalf of a new island development.  Depp likes the money but has qualms about the crew he is involved with.  Here is where the plot thickens.

This is my favorite Depp on-screen role since Sweeney Todd, four years ago.  (He did good voice work on this year’s “Rango.”)  “Rum Diary” is not his best movie, but dedicated Johnny Depp fans should make an effort to see it.

Some comments on message boards have suggested that Ribisi’s performance is worthy of an Oscar nomination.  He was good and his character was bizarre, but I would bet there will be better choices come awards season.

“In Time”—(Justin Time!)

In this version of the near future, time is money.   A cup of coffee costs three minutes.

In “In Time,” to get more time, one has to work.  When your time runs out, you die.  Now there’s some motivation to show up for work every day!

Each character in “In Time” has a meter on the inside of his left forearm that shows his remaining time.  And you can give or take another person’s time by grasping forearms and making the transfer.

Justin Timberlake plays a working class guy who befriends a stranger who has a century on his personal meter.  The century man, though, is tired of living and passes his time on to Justin.  He then falls off a bridge, dead.

The cops or “timekeepers” think Justin killed the century man to steal his time.  Justin uses his stash of time to buy his way out of the working class “time zone” and hang with the rich folk.  There he meets the daughter of a wealthy banker who got rich by lending time.  The daughter, played by Amanda Seyfried, is enchanted by Justin and escapes her world to seek adventure with him.  (She has short, dark hair in this role.  Similar to Uma Thurman’s look in “Pulp Fiction.”)

Their exploits—mostly playing cat and mouse with the timekeepers—transpire within a gritty urban setting that contrasts sharply with the cool, glass skyscrapers where her father runs his operations.

Other than the time meters in arms, there are not a lot of futuristic gizmos in “In Time.”  In fact, most of the vehicles are customized 70’s muscle cars and timeless (no pun intended) Lincoln limos.  The security cameras that monitor everyone’s every move in “In Time” are a reality in America today.

If you like Justin or Amanda, go ahead and spend an hour and fifty minutes on them.  This is not a Sci-Fi classic but the not-too-distant future depicted in “In Time” offers an interesting vision from the mind of writer/director Andrew Niccol, who also wrote and directed “Gattaca” back in the 90’s.  Is “In Time” worth your time?  If you have time to spare on your personal meter… yes!

Puss in Boots: Take This Movie for a Spin (Off)!

Spinoffs are not as easy as they look.

We tend to remember spinoffs that are successful—in movies and TV, in food and beverage products, in computer hardware and software.  And we tend to forget spinoff attempts that don’t work out so well.

“Puss in Boots” is a spinoff that works.  This is good news for Dreamworks SKG and for fans of animated films.  Introduced as an incidental character in the second “Shrek” movie, Puss may now be strong enough to become a franchise.  I would not be surprised to see “Puss in Boots 2” in 2013.

Much of the credit goes to the voice actors, especially Antonio Banderas as Puss.  His delivery walks the line between a sincerely cocky disposition and a playful tongue-in-cheek attitude.  Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris as Mr. and Mrs. Jack and Jill also turn in memorable voice work.  Other players are Salma Hayek as Kitty Softpaws and Zach Galifianakis as Humpty-Dumpty.

While the movie’s story has nothing to do with “Shrek,” like “Shrek,” it takes a classic fairy tale (“Jack and the Beanstalk”) and turns it sideways.  The animation is imaginative and, for a change, the 3D is worth the upcharge.

“Puss in Boots” is not as funny as the first couple of “Shrek” films, but it has charm galore.  To use an old cliché, it is the cat’s meow!

“The Big Year”: A Big Yawn

“The Big Year” is a weak, disappointing movie.

Don’t blame its three likeable stars, Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson.  Blame the people who saddled them with the characters, the story and the script.

This is a comedy that’s not funny.  Okay, there were a handful of near chuckles.

“The Big Year” is the story of three “birders” who compete to see who can view the largest number of bird species in one calendar year.  Each of the three has issues with family members and/or co-workers who think their passion for birding is a bit crazy.  I tried to care about them and their outcomes but could not.

I can say three good things about “The Big Year.”  The scenery is beautiful—most of the birding expeditions take place in gorgeous settings.  The soundtrack includes Coldplay’s great song “Viva La Vida.”  And there are no F-bombs or nudity, so you can take your geezerly parents and grandparents without fear of offending their delicate sensibilities.

Bottom line:  Unless you are a hopelessly devoted fan of any or all of the three leads, fly away from “The Big Year.”










Bot-on-Bot Action: “Real Steel”

Is “Real Steel” the “feel good movie of the year?”  No, that title still belongs to “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.”

“Real Steel” does have several elements that work on an audience’s emotions.  Among them is the cutest kid actor since Ricky Schroeder was a pre-teen.  He is Dakota Goyo who stars as Hugh Jackman’s 11-year-old son.  Jackman plays a boozy ex-boxer turned boxing robot wrangler who has had little contact with his offspring.

When the boy’s mom dies, Jackman takes temporary custody.  Turns out the boy has a passion for and knowledge of boxing robots!  Despite longstanding resentments, they begin to bond.  They work together to train an early generation boxing robot they find in a junkyard and take this bot up the ladder, all the way to a fight against the world’s top-ranked robot boxer.

The balance of robot boxing and humanity in the movie is good.  The boxing segments are fun to watch and they are not overly long.  (Lengthy fight footage is a fault I find with many boxing flicks and “Transformers” films.)

As Jackman rehabs his relationship with his son, he also patches things up with his sort-of girlfriend who is heir to the gym where he trained.  She’s played by Evangeline Lilly of “Lost” fame.

Along with his finally being a good guy for his son and his lady, Jackman achieves personal redemption during the climactic bot battle.  If you are a moviegoer who responds emotionally to all these heartstring tugs, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll applaud.

“Real Steel” is rated PG-13, but kids younger than 13 who have had exposure to video games and other movie violence should be able to handle and enjoy it.  My guess is that most serious critics will be lukewarm toward “Real Steel,” but good word-of-mouth will lead this movie to pile up some heavy metal at the box office.

Be Aware of “The Ides of March”

Politics makes strange bedfellows.

The political process can quickly change an idealist into a cynic.  Loyalties are often tested.  Behind-the-scenes deal making can have a major impact.

All of the above will happen in 2012.  First, in the Ryan Gosling campaign for the Best Actor Oscar.  Then, in the US presidential primaries.

“The Ides of March” stars Gosling as a bright, young campaign staffer who works to help George Clooney’s character win the Democratic nomination for President.  The film, directed by Clooney and set in his hometown of Cincinnati, focuses on the Ohio primary (held in March).

Gosling will likely receive an Oscar nomination for this role.  The cumulative effect of his recent work in “Drive,” “Crazy, Stupid Love” and “Blue Valentine” certifies him as Oscar-worthy.  And “Ides” is the kind of movie that gets award nominations.  (He had an Oscar nomination for the obscure “Half Nelson” in ’07.)

Clooney’s character is Governor of Pennsylvania who wants to be President.  He is a glib, charismatic liberal, who comes off as a sincere and honest public servant.  Meanwhile, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti, as competing campaign managers, get into the dirty work of politics.

A key player in the story is Evan Rachel Wood as a political intern who quickly beds Gosling.  When her cell phone rings in the wee hours after a tryst, the plot thickens and Gosling takes several bold, decisive actions.

“The Ides of March” showcases great acting from the entire cast, especially Gosling.  The major plot points of the story occur in quick order, but I will not complain about the movie being tightly written.

Is the story realistic?  Ask somebody who has worked inside a campaign.  As an observer who watches politics from the sideline, “The Ides of March” gets my vote.