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“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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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Uncle-Buck

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…