February 5, 2009
The first time I saw this I enjoyed it in the same way that I enjoy watching, say, Plan 9 From Outer Space-style tat- I enjoyed laughing at it rather than with it. This was my second viewing and I didn’t enjoy it half as much and by the end I was bored to tears. I’m by no means a Tim Burton fan because of his ‘distinctive style’ which is a polite euphemism for lack of variety, but he has made some films I’ve really enjoyed. With this, though, he shows no objectivity whatsoever- more or less everyone is mugging for the cameras as if their lives depended upon it. Perhaps that’s the joke- the relatively huge number of continuity errors I spotted would suggest so- but if so, it wasn’t quite clever enough to pull it off.
Burton’s regular lead Johnny Depp is as irritating as fuck in this, all hyperactive head-shaking and Porky Pig speech patterns, I usually like his hammy style but in this (as in last year’s bloody dreadful Sweeney Todd) he was proper tat. In addition Bill Murray- by 1994 almost completely morphed into the ‘Buster Keaton without the stunts’ that he is today- is miles away from his best form. Add to that a script that gets repetitive and fails to intrigue at all and you’re looking at a proper flop. A shame because the film could have been really good with just a little more care and attention.
What saves the film is the career-best performance of Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi. He is worth the admission price alone and for that I’m thinking 4/10.
January 19, 2009
The problem with making a documentary on a journalist is that the thing he’s famous for doesn’t make a great visual spectacle, hence you spend large parts of the documentary with someone reading out selected chunks of his/her writings. With Hunter Thompson, though, that problem is alleviated somewhat by the colourful nature of his personal life. Get Johnny Depp in to read out extracts from ‘Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail’, show some footage of Nixon and some Hells Angels, add in some clips of the Terry Gilliam film and use interview footage of the man himself- bang. Job done.
It doesn’t quite work out that well, though. The film appears to be made by someone who wanted Thompson to have been the wild, young Dr Gonzo in perpetuity and so we see footage of a broken-down alcoholic absent father surrounded by hangers-on presented as a glorification. When you’re writing about a man who is tormented as he approaches the grave by the waste of his wasted talent, a little more circumspection and a little less back-projected imagery and cutting is in order. On top of this, the similarities between Nixon-era America and today (particularly in light of the futile overseas incursions) speak for themselves- you don’t need footage from Saigon and Basra playing side-by-side to make that point. Or, if you must hammer it home, at least refer to way that the world would’ve benefitted from a peak-era Dr Gonzo taking double-barrelled blasts at the misbegotten ‘war on terror’ when showing the contrasted footage- rather than twenty-odd minutes later. Stylistically, then, the film was a shambles- derivative and dated. But thematically it is a treat. You really can’t make a bad documentary about such a compelling figure no matter what you do, and this isn’t a bad documentary- but it’s a wasted opportunity.
There’s still room in the world for a great documentary (‘Hunter S. Thompson: Genius Writer and Twat of a Man’ would be a great title) and I’ll keep hoping for it. 6/10