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Films I Neglected To Review: Rum If You Want To. . .
by Peter Sobczynski

Smoking, drinking and swordplay--these are just some of the vices to be found in the films covered in this latest round-up of reviews of titles that I didn't have the time or energy to go into at length

"Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life" is French filmmaker Joann Sfar's examination of the life and work of Serge Gainsbourg, who rose from a childhood spent as a Jewish kid living in Nazi-occupied Paris with self-esteem issues regarding his droopy looks to become one of France's most popular singer-songwriters with the kind of outwardly self-confident personality that alternately outraged and entranced his countrymen and allowed him to become the lover of some of the most legendary beauties of his time, including singer Juliette Greco, actress Jane Birkin and the one and only Brigitte Bardot. Those expecting a straightforward biopic along the lines of "La Vie en Rose" or "Walk the Line" will be surprised to discover that Sfar, apparently forbidden by Gainsbourg's family from delving too deeply into the more controversial aspects of his life (sorry kids but nothing about the infamous "Lemon Incest" song that he recorded with daughter Charlotte, now a highly regarded actress and singer in her own right), has instead chosen a more surrealistic approach to the material in which he is followed throughout his life by a giant puppet-like figure inspired by an anti-semitic drawing he saw as a child meant to serve as a sort of alter-ego. It sounds ridiculous but it somehow works and Eric Elmosnino is quite convincing in the lead role with his heavy-lidded eyes and almost effortless charisma. Of course, even if you can't quite swallow the concept, it is still two hours chock-full of inescapably catchy Europop classics to listen to and a bevy of beautiful women (with no less a figure, in more ways than one, than supermodel Laetitia Casta filling in the role of Bardot) to look at--somehow, I suspect Gainsbourg (who passed away in 1991) would approve. One word of warning: if you do decide to seek this film out, make sure you have plenty of disposable cash on hand because the minute it ends, you are going to want to rush home and download as many of his songs as you can.

The late, great Hunter S. Thompson wrote his first and only novel, the loosely autobiographical "The Rum Diary," in the early 1960's, long before he would become one of the most celebrate writers of our time, and when it failed to find any interest among publishers at the time, it went into a drawer and would only see the light of day in 1998, supposedly because he needed the money. However, when people finally got a chance to read this fabled manuscript, which was penned before Thompson had fully developed the singular voice that made his prose so exciting to read, they discovered that it was a more or less typical first novel--sincere and well-meant but a little weak overall--and without his subsequent name recognition to give it a boost, it would have languished in obscurity. Now, after years of false stars, "The Rum Diary" has finally hit the big screen in a version starring Johnny Depp (a close friend of Thompson's who brilliantly played his alter ego, Raoul Duke, in Terry Gilliam's stunning adaptation of "Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas") and the end result is pretty much the same--a fairly ordinary story that has a few amusing moments but which most likely would have never attracted the likes of Depp or director Bruce Robinson (the auteur of the cult favorite "Withnail & I" making his first feature in nearly twenty years) had it been penned by anyone else. The plot finds Depp playing Paul Kemp, a semi-ambitious journalist with an already-heroic capacity for alcohol who arrives in Puerto Rico circa 1960 to work for a third-rate newspaper that is barely hanging on by a thread. Before long, his talents catch the eye of a sleazy American land developer (Aaron Eckhart) who wants to exploit Paul's talents by convincing him to write a series of pieces that will help pave the way for a massive land grab that will force thousands of locals from their homes. For a while, Paul goes along with it, seduced by the presence of easy money and the American's potentially even easier fiancee (Amber Heard) but eventually, his sense of righteous anger is touched and he does what he can to bring the greedheads down, at least during the brief periods of time when he isn't soused on rum or dabbling in a new thing known as LSD.

With the potentially volatile combination of Thompson, Depp and Robinson, you wouldn't think that anything they could come up with could possibly be dismissed with an indifferent shrug and a "meh" and yet, that is precisely the case with "The Rum Diary." The basic story is nothing particularly fresh or original and Robinson's screenplay and direction are both curiously flat and fail to properly convey even the trace beginnings of Thompson's voice in cinematic turns. As yet another Thompson alter ego, Depp is good but all he is doing is essentially giving us a dialed-down version of his amazing turn in "Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas" and the sight of him playing a younger version of the writer despite the passing of more than 13 years since that initial performance--call it "The Curious Case of Hunter S. Thompson"--is distracting at times: although it was his clout that finally got the film made in the first place, it might have been more effective if someone else had taken the part and he instead grabbed one of the supporting roles instead. And yet, while I can't really recommend "The Rum Diary" by any means--it is just too familiar and insubstantial for its own good and its attempts at emulating Thompson's later weirdness (such as the LSD trip or the overly colorful supporting performances from the likes of Giovanni Ribisi and Michael Rispoli)--I can't say that I was bored with it and it does contain enough amusing moments to keep it from sliding away into complete disposability. However, unless you are a hard-core Thompson fanatic, there is really not much of anything to see here and if you are, there is nothing on display here that you haven't seen or heard before.

Over the years, "The Three Musketeers," Alexandre Dumas' classic tale of swashbuckling derring-do has been brought to the screen in vehicles featuring the varying talents of the likes of the Ritz Brothers, Don Ameche, Gene Kelly, Tom & Jerry Oliver Reed, Charlie Sheen, Keifer Sutherland and Peter Hyams and more or less survived. Now it has returned to the screen in the hands of the redoubtable Paul W.S. Anderson featuring a cast including a bunch of relative no-names as the titular heroes, Milla Jovovich, Christoph Waltz and Orlando Bloom as the villains, a steampunk-influenced reimagining that allows for scenes involving slightly anachronistic flying warship doing battle in the skies over Paris and the miracle of 3D. In this somewhat revised narrative, the slightly over-the-hill musketeers--Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Porthos (Ray Stevenson) and Aramis (Luke Evans)--join up with cocky newcomer D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman) and are charged with defeating a plot devised by the crafty Cardinal Richelieu (Waltz) to usurp the French throne by utlizing the treacherous femme fatale Milady (Jovovich) to plant evidence falsely accusing the Duke of Buckingham (Bloom) of canoodling with Queen Anne (Juno Temple), a move that will send France and England to war and hopefully convince the French to overthrow the young and ineffectual King Louis XIII (Freddie Fox) and put him in charge.

The best scenes in the film are the ones featuring Milady and/or Richelieu--watching Jovovich kissing and jumping and drinking and, well, you know, across the screen with obvious glee and enthusiasm is a blast and Waltz is also clearly having a lot of fun chewing the scenery as Richelieu. The problem with the film is that not much of anything else besides their performances really work. The musketeers are bores, Lerman is so obnoxious and unlikable throughout as D'Artagnan that he makes Shia LeBoeuf seem almost tolerable by comparison and Bloom's performance is so wildly overscaled that even his hairdo could be accused of overacting. In fact, Anderson seems so disinterested in the exploits of his titular heroes that one wonders why he didn't just pull a "Mary Reilly" and shift the entire focus of the film from them to the endeavors of Milady and Richelieu because those are the only parts that have any real juice to them. Beyond that, Anderson's only real contribution to the proceedings is to shoot all of the action sequences in the same stuttery and overly edited manner that he has utilized in the past in the "Resident Evil" movies and while that approach works for battles against hordes of zombies, it doesn't fit particularly well when deployed in the service of swordfights that rely more on fancy choreography than fancy editing to get their magic across. In the end, "The Three Musketeers" isn't the worst version of the story that you or I will ever see but it is about as good for you as the candy bar that shares its name, though it is nowhere near as substantial.

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originally posted: 10/28/11 13:16:12
last updated: 10/29/11 03:38:19
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