Johnny Depp works a familiar, booze-addled angle in Bruce Robinson’s The Rum Diary, a mildly amusing but muddled yarn that evaporates from the memory as rapidly as a high-proof spirit. The film is based on an early semi-autobiographical novel by Hunter S. Thompson, and casts Depp in what is essentially a muted reprise of his Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas role as stand-in for the famous gonzo journalist. The Rum Diary is also a muted reprise of sorts for Robinson, in that it sees the writer-director return to comedic material for the first time in 22 years, but fails to recapture the acerbic bite of his cult favourite ’80s efforts.
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How does one create narrative conflict when choosing to focus their lens on the fastidious perfectionism of concert pianists and the technicians that help them achieve that “perfect” sound? These guys are operating on a different frequency than me, breathing some sort of rarefied air and are maddeningly meticulous about their work. They can’t quite quantify the sound they are trying to achieve with words, as vocal interaction cannot give justice to the minute details of the tonal perfection that they strive to achieve. These are specialists operating at the highest level of their craft, using this craft to create grandiose forms of artistic expression in concert halls that make men small in their monumental extravagance. That is the odd irony behind Pianomania and the idiosyncratic characters that occupy this world. The film ironically implies that these archaic human inventions and our unique ability to express ourselves through artistic abstractions is the very stuff that makes humankind seem small.
For Gosha Hideo’s magnificent debut feature film Three Outlaw Samurai (1964), released by Criterion on DVD and Blu-ray today, he adapted his television series of the same title (which debuted the year before) and cast the three male leads of the series’ first season as the titular samurai: Tamba Tetsuro, Hara Mikijiro, and Nagato Isamu. In a brisk running time of ninety-three minutes, Gosha delivers no less than a kind of searing manifesto on his stance vis-à-vis myths that surround and constitute the samurai—honour, duty, loyalty—and vis-à-vis representations of samurai in cinema. In turn, he directly addresses issues of class, protest, and empathy, only to wrest from them their elevated clothing, wrestle them to the ground, and see what happens to them when they get mud on them, alongside the samurai and the hierarchy he represents, all in glorious widescreen.
Since the 1970s, some 50 young women have gone missing or been found murdered along the stretch of isolated interstate that links Houston, Texas to the Gulf Coast town of Galveston. That grim fact is the inspiration for Texas Killing Fields, the belated sophomore feature from Ami Canaan Mann, which takes its title from an undeveloped tract on the outskirts of Texas City, locally notorious as a dumping ground for decomposing bodies.
If ever there was a question about the relevancy of film as a populist artistic medium that has the power to change the world, it could be answered with a film like Bhopali. I merely hope that by giving this film some attention, I might be able to bring attention to one of the worst among countless human tragedies in the world. Bhopal, India was a site of an industrial accident by Union Carbide (now owned by DOW Chemicals) around twenty-five years ago, and the citizens of the area surrounding that accident are still feeling the impacts of the disaster daily. Let’s take political agendas out of the equation for a moment and think of it from a historical perspective. It is the fundamental duty of any society to ensure that there is safe access to water and air for all of its citizens. If we look at it from that perspective, we can understand the reasons that governments became a part of our evolution as a species, and chief amongst those reasons was to protect the rights of all people, especially those that could not do it for themselves. If this were not the case then there would be no reason for governments, as the strong and able-bodied would simply monopolize the resources and distribute them as they saw fit. The fundamental reasons that governments exist are to ensure that this does not happen. If anarchistic cultural Darwinism is your ethos, more power to you, but the fact of the matter is that governments do exist, and they are essentially responsible for the tragedy in Bhopal. Since governments are an extension of the people, all of humanity is to blame for allowing the tragedy to happen, and each and every one of us are essentially complacent in the contamination of the area that still impacts its population to this day.
I should preface this review with a disclaimer that the punk scene was never one I belonged to, and I have no interest in debating the politics of punk versus poser. What I can do is speak about the film from the perspective of a film critic, husband, and as a father of three children. I have always felt like a bit of an outsider, and I know what it is like to go in to a parent teacher conference and wonder if I would be asked to present my “adult credentials” at the door. My inner torment may manifest itself in different forms of expression, but I can relate to the pain that these punks turned fathers feel the need to express, and the compromises that must be made in service to that “other F word”, fatherhood. So what happens when an anti-authoritarian movement of nihilistic adolescents succumbs to the unyielding march of time? That is the question that The Other F Word asks as it explores the lives of the cultural “revolutionaries” of the punk music of yesteryear. They are a little older, a little greyer, and life on the road just isn’t what it used to be.
For years, I’ve been curious about the Doctor Who universe. What is it about this series – the most successful sci-fi series ever to appear on television – that has warranted such a rabid and loyal following? With the DVD releases for 1964’s Doctor Who: The Sensorites and 1984’s Doctor Who: The Caves of Androzani Special Edition, it was the perfect opportunity to jump into Doctor. Who bandwagon.
In 2001, the Icelandic government allowed for dramatic deregulation of their banking community. The result was a considerable economic boom the likes the country had never experienced with the unemployment rate dropping to a meager 2.3%. The same policies that allowed such an enormous upturn, however, resulted in the bubble burst of 2008. One of the biggest economic downturns in global history ensued, with the three largest Icelandic banks combining for a $62 billion foreign-currency debt. Iceland was first, the world followed. If you’ve seen the excellent Charles Ferguson documentary, Inside Job, you are familiar with the troubles that resulted in the more morbid post-2008 Icelandic economy.
In 1987, two young men from Wisconsin left home in search of the American Dream. They took the obligatory trek westward to California, hoping to strike it rich in gold mining, show-biz, privacy invasion, or whatever it was that drew people west; as though the only benchmark for individual progress was how far west one went or how far away from home one got. They eventually made it to San Francisco and took up residence in a pre-gentrified apartment building that they lovingly referred to as the “Pepto Bismol Palace” on account of some questionable taste in exterior paint colors.
Eames: The Architect & The Painter is a case of a really interesting subject matter told in a rather by-the-numbers fashion. It’s a well-organized look at husband and wife team Charles and Ray Eames, whose influences in architecture and design you are no doubt familiar with, though you may not realize it. Their chair designs became a staple of modern furniture in the 1950s and beyond. They made scores of them. Today you can hardly walk through any airport and not see their influence if not their exact models.