DID YOU READ

“The Rum Diary,” reviewed

“The Rum Diary,” reviewed (photo)

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2011 could use Hunter S. Thompson. The greed, the fraud, the hypocrisy; that’s what Thompson’s gonzo journalism was all about. So the timing is certainly right for an adaptation of “The Rum Diary,” Thompson’s 1998 novel about his time raking through the muck of corrupt 1950s Puerto Rico. It’s just the wan execution that’s wrong.

Johnny Depp returns to the role of Thompson, one he played to great comedic effect in Terry Gilliam’s delightfully deranged film adaptation of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” There he was Thompson as cartoon character — a lysergically-fueled tornado of flailing limbs and blistering prose. “The Rum Diary” presents Thompson — a.k.a. Paul Kemp — as matinee idol. He’s looking sharp in period suit and sunglasses, with his hair at its most handsomely Deppiest — either perfectly slicked into a small pompadour or perfectly tousled into a droopy curl. Depp does a little of his signature mugging but mostly he’s the straight man in this story: the incredulous observer of crooked newspaper editors, unscrupulous land barons, and hermaphroditic witchdoctors. Given the time period and the reverence with which Depp and the film hold Thompson’s words and ideals, “The Rum Diary” feels a little like a super-hero origin story. You’ve seen the guy at his apex of his powers. Now see how he got them.

Unfortunately, as is the case in most prequels, the backstory is a lot less juicy than the story. Kemp — who describes his drinking habit as existing “at the upper edge of social” — is the only applicant for a job at a crumbling Puerto Rican newspaper. His editor, Lotterman (Richard Jenkins, hamming it up in an intentionally bad toupée), assigns him to replace the recently deceased horoscope writer (he was, Lotterman warns, “raped to death”). Kemp wants to write about the protests against the island’s wealthy American elites but is rebuffed because bad news is bad for business. So he’s sent to cover bowling alley openings instead. That sort of thing didn’t start with Occupy Wall Street, you see.

Kemp’s writing brings him to the attention of one of those wealthy American elites, a real estate developer named Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) who is clearly evil because he a)dresses all in white and b)smokes big cigars. He wants Kemp to help some shady investors turn a nearby island into the next Caribbean vacation destination. Kemp winds up fighting to keep these rich dudes’ hands off that private Caribbean island, which is kind of hilarious when you remember that in real life Depp IS the rich dude who’s got his hands on a private Caribbean island. Hooray for Hollywood!

For a a while, Kemp does go along with the scheme, mostly because he’s interested in Sanderson’s girlfriend, Chenault (Amber Heard). With good reason; Heard is insanely beautiful in this movie. Her work in “The Rum Diary” makes a very strong case for her as the best-looking young actress in Hollywood.

“The Rum Diary” is a good-looking piece of work from top to bottom. Director Bruce Robinson — the long MIA creator of “Withnail and I” — captures period Puerto Rico with an eye toward the natural beauty and its colorful inhabitants. The details of the 1950s newsroom feel perfect. But for all of Kemp’s outrageous misadventures and Thompson’s outsized journalism, “The Rum Diary” is surprisingly inert. Even with all the thematic resonances to modern protest movements, it doesn’t add up to a whole lot more than a vanity project in which a big-time movie star valorizes a departed friend for no other reason than he can.

One set-piece after another — a car chase, a cockfight, a disastrous acid trip, and, yes, a visit with a hermaphroditic witchdoctor — come and go with very little in the way of comedy or drama. Maybe Depp, despite his dead-on impersonation of Thompson’s cigarette-stained voice and alcohol-soaked persona, is a bit too cool for the film; even when his job’s on the line, he never seems especially invested in anything around him. When Kemp finds his true, gonzo voice he starts ranting about bringing “blasts of rage” against the greedy bastards destroying Puerto Rico. But the movie never comes close to matching its subject’s passion.

“The Rum Diary” opens on Friday. If you see it, tell us what you think. Leave us a comment below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.