Posts Tagged ‘Hunter S. Thompson’

Johnny Depp moves even further from his old rebel reputation with Mortdecai

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By Richard Crouse – Metro Canada

There are dozens of biographies on Johnny Depp and a surprising amount of them use the word “rebel” in the title. There’s the Passionate Rebel, the Modern Rebel and even Hollywood’s Best-Loved Rebel.

There can be no argument that Depp is a fearless actor, unafraid to tackle tough, challenging roles, but it’s hard to accept the rebel title these days. For 20 years, he wildly threw darts at the wall, making exciting movies with interesting directors.

With Tim Burton, he created the off-kilter Eds — Wood and Scissorhands. With John Waters, he produced Wade Walker, the greaser love interest in Cry-baby. And, with Lasse Hallström, he came up with Gilbert Grape, caregiver to his brother and morbidly obese mother.

Along the way, he was also Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the world’s most successful drug dealer in Blow, and the depraved poet at the dark heart of The Libertine.

Few actors could have pulled off Ed Wood and no one does debauched like Johnny, but the carefully cultivated hip outsider image was never truly accurate. Shrouded in a cloud of Gauloise smoke, he was one of Hollywood’s too-cool-for-school kids, emitting an outsider’s aura, while astutely playing the Hollywood game.

But any remaining traces of Depp’s bohemian status were wiped away with Captain Jack Sparrow’s colourful scarves in the tetralogy of Pirates of the Caribbean movies. They made him a superstar, and wealthy enough to buy Bahamian islands, but also ushered in the damaging wig and makeup era of his career.

The pale makeup of Dark Shadows, Alice in Wonderland’s crazy oversized hat, and the raven headdress of The Lone Ranger overshadowed Depp’s performances, obscuring his character work with props and flash.

This weekend, he hides behind a moustache in the comedy Mortdecai.

As the title character, he’s pompous, bumbling — imagine Inspector Clouseau with an English accent and an attitude — and on a worldwide hunt for a painting said to contain the code to a lost bank account.

Will people be attracted to Mortdecai? Hard to know. Depp’s showy performances have, by-and-large, garnered big box office but profitability, while important to the suits who green light projects like this, is exactly what’s killing Depp’s credibility as a serious actor.

He’s not in Nicolas Cage territory yet — there’s an actor whose Western Kabuki style of acting redefines idiosyncratic — but with Pirates of the Caribbean 5 coming soon, perhaps it’s time to put Depp’s rebel actor image or reliance on props to bed.

ENEMY: 4 STARS. “stylish and sinister with a big tasty dollop of mystery.”

Enemy-2“Enemy,” an art house thriller from director Denis Villeneuve and actor Jake Gyllenhaal, is an intriguing head scratcher that plays more like an existential puzzle than a traditional narrative. 

When we first meet him the “Brokeback Mountain” star plays a history professor named Adam Bell. When not lecturing in class, he leads a normal, if somewhat repetitive life with his girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent). One night while watching a rented movie he is astonished to see someone who looks exactly like him on screen.

After some research he discovers the actor’s name is Anthony St. Claire (Gyllenhaal) and that he lives in Toronto’s west end. Spooky similarities arise. Both have beautiful blonde significant others—Sarah Gadon plays Helen, Anthony’s six-months pregnant wife—but there’s more. Both even have a scar on their chests.

Adam and his doppelganger have completely opposite personalities, but their lives become intertwined when Anthony becomes interested in Mary and duo struggles to discover what connection they have.

“Enemy” is the kind of movie that, if it grabs you, you’ll want to see it twice to try and make sense of some of the more narratively opaque sections. If the slow build of existential dread doesn’t grab you, however, one viewing will be more than enough.

But, as Hunter S. Thompson used to say, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.” In other words “Enemy” is a challenge, a film that revels in its confounding story. Like Polanski on downers, it’s willfully difficult, taking the audience down a rabbit hole deep into the psyche of these unrelated twins. It’s a long strange journey with many rewards for the attentive viewer.

One of those rewards is Gyllenhaal’s interesting and varied work. He plays two parts of one person’s personality, but creates fully formed individual characters that, even though they are identical looking, are much different in the way they tick.

“Enemy” is stylish and sinister (with a big tasty dollop of mystery on the side) that will keep audiences guessing long after they’ve left the theatre.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET: 4 STARS. “almost as excessive as Balfort’s $26,000 dinners.”

theres-a-free-screening-of-the-wolf-of-wall-street-near-goldman-sachs-tomorrow-night.jpgHunter S. Thompson, the great gonzo journalist and observer of American life, had nothing to do with “The Wolf of Wall Street,” but he certainly is one of the film’s spiritual fathers.

Directed by Martin Scorsese and based on the life of hard-partying Wall Street tycoon Jordan Belfort, it is a depraved opera about sex, drugs and greed. It’s the kind of epic story of avarice and excess Thompson would have relished, but are audiences ready for a three-hour drug fuelled romp through the wild side of Wall Street?

When we first meet Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) he has yet to occupy Wall Street. An ambitious newbie, his first day as a broker is Black Monday, October 19, 1987, the date of the biggest crash since the Depression. Forced to reinvent himself he forms a shady company specializing in penny stocks that do little for his clients, but line his pockets with commissions.

With money rolling in Balfort and company (including Jonah Hill as Quaalude enthusiast Donnie Azoff) dive head first into Wall Street’s cocaine and hookers era, forming a brokerage firm with the upstanding name of Stratton Oakmont. “Stratton Oakmont is America,” says Balfort. “It’s the land of opportunity.”

Equating success with excess, Balfort indulges in every debauchery while making everyone around him rich (and himself richer than everyone else) and fending off attention from the FBI.

By the end of “The Wolf of Wall Street” you’ll feel as though you’ve had testosterone splashed on your face. From the film’s opening scenes of DiCaprio and Co. throwing helmeted little people at a giant Velcro target to a wild soon-to-be-classic Quaalude scene, Scorsese has crafted a film that makes Gordon Gekko look warm and fuzzy. It’s muscular filmmaking that takes no prisoners, highlighting unlikeable mostly male characters in dubious situations.

There are female characters. As Belfort ‘s second wife Naomi Margot Robbie does good work, but the movie is a boy’s club. Or rather, a frat house where the Bro Code relegates women to the bedroom or the barroom but rarely the boardroom.

The sexual politics are definitely slanted in toward the males, but the movie shines as a metaphor for all the venal men whose gluttonous appetites for power and wealth ground the US economy into the dirt over the last few decades. Scorsese captures the unhinged spirit of these men, luxuriating in the decadent details of their lives.

It makes for entertaining viewing, mostly because DiCaprio and Jonah Hill are able to ride the line between the outrageous comedy on display and the human drama that takes over the movie’s final minutes. Both are terrific, buoyed by the throbbing pulse of Scorsese’s camera.

With its fourth wall breaking narration, scandalous set pieces and absurd antics “The Wolf of Wall Street” is an experience. At three hours it’s almost as excessive as Balfort’s $26,000 dinners. It feels a bit long, but like the spoiled brats it portrays, it will not, and cannot, be ignored.

THE RUM DIARY: 2 ½ STARS

The-Rum-Diary-4Hunter S. Thompson wrote “The Rum Diary” in 1961 before he became the revered gonzo journalist who penned “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” It’s very loosely based on a period of time he spent in San Juan, Puerto Rico in the early days of his writing career, before, as his alter ego Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) says in the film, he knew “who to write like me.”

So don’t expect the surreal poetry of “Fear and Loathing” or the disjointed charm of “Where the Buffalo Roam.” This is an origin story, the roots of gonzo, but the gonzo spirit of its creator is sadly missing.

Depp plays Kemp using a slight variation on the clipped Thompson accent he made famous in “Fear and Loathing.” He’s a hard drinking, failed novelist who thought he’d try his hand at selling some “words for money” to a newspaper in Puerto Rico. His plan to “lift the stone on the American Dream,” however, is kiboshed by an editor (Richard Jenkins) more interested maintaining the status quo than exposing the country’s ills. Assigned to writing an astrology column Kemp peers into the bottoms of lots of glasses of rum and becomes obsessed with Chenault (Amber Heard), the girlfriend of a shady PR man (Aaron Eckhart).

Kemp is a struggling writer, an artist still struggling to find his voice, which echoes the main failing of the film. Despite a director, Bruce Robinson, who made one of the funniest and best films about boozing (“Withnail and I”) and Depp’s close friendship with Thompson, the movie feels as if it is searching for a purpose. A voice. Despite the presence of a Hermaphrodite Oracle of the Dead, countless ounces of rum, one drug trip and some major movie star mojo from Depp, the movie falls flat.

It’s a story about perception—Eckhart’s PR man is selling one vision of the island, Kemp wants to reveal another—and how gazing into that chasm helped Kemp discover his voice and integrity but in the end it is neither the savage indictment of lazy journalism it should be, or (because of an ambiguous non-ending) the celebration of the power of the written word it couldn’t have been.

As the main curator of Thompson’s cinematic legacy Depp breathes some life into Kemp, although by times the broad performance feels at odds with the tone of the rest o the story.

As for the rest of the cast, Michael Rispoli embodies the boozy spirit of the piece. Giovanni Ribisi goes one swig over the line and will someone please give Amber Heard a job on “Mad Men?” Her face screams 1965.

Of course the film’s main character’s name is Paul Kemp and it takes place before the finely crafted persona of Hunter S. Thompson came into being but a healthier dose of the writer’s “ink and rage” might have given “The Run Diary” the spark it needed to really ignite.