A freewheeling tropical cocktail that serves as, essentially, a romantic Hunter S. Thompson origin story for the uninitiated (the initiated may rightly take umbrage with the gonzo journalist’s prettied portrayal), writer-director Bruce Robinson’s adaptation of Thompson’s long-unpublished novel of the same name bears an infectious sense of liberation. The Rum Diary feels unencumbered by slavish devotion or the pressure to do justice to a seminal work of political and literary significance. Instead, the film plays like exactly what it is – a slick, rather tame lark made accessibly entertaining by the likes of Johnny Depp (far removed from his previous Thompson portrayal in the drug-fueled, emphatically un-pretty Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), Aaron Eckhart and Amber Heard. It may be revisionist, but since when did that get in the way of a good Hollywood yarn? (available now)
Special Features: Featurettes
It’s deeply unsettling how much I identify with Michael Shannon’s Curtis, a family man tormented by the knowledge of his deteriorating mental health. He’s powerless to avoid the apparently genetic life sentence, yet he battles it every way he knows how – by seeking professional help, by securing prescriptions, doing research and, most importantly, speaking up. The quiet devastation latent in writer-director Jeff Nichols’ stunning portrait is that it matters not: Curtis begins having apocalyptic visions, both while awake and sleeping, which usually take the form of tragedy involving his daughter. Eventually, Curtis decides building a storm shelter in the family’s yard is the solution, and down he goes. By tapping into both paternalistic paranoia and fin de siécle anxiety, Nichols and Shannon render a new kind of creature: the understandably tortured man. It’s a crime that this film received no Oscar nominations. (available now)
Special Features: Audio commentary, featurettes
In her debut feature, writer- director-producer Lena Dunham casts herself as a recent film-studies grad living with her mother in Manhattan and surrounded by bored, entitled liberal-arts slackers. The film is a few steps removed from a home movie, immediate though not active in any way; instead, Dunham’s camera is patient and restrained. The titular metaphor never sticks, nor does a weak framing device concerning the passive-aggressive mother’s newly discovered journals. Yet there’s still much to adore here, especially Dunham’s direction, which is inventive and far from tiny and is validated by this straight-to-Criterion release, which comes at an opportune time: Dunham’s upcoming, hugely buzzed-about HBO series, Girls, on which she serves as creator, writer, producer and star, premieres in April. What better way to brush up on her work than with this set’s bonus features, which include a conversation with Ephron? (available now)
Special Features: Interviews, short films, essay
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