Notes from the Back Row 

Rum on the rocks

The artist's dilemma: does one pursue the hard-but-satisfying path of doing good, or the rich comforts of evil? Do you keep sticking it to the man, or hang up the hammer and hope you've built enough rungs for the kids to climb over you on their way to the revolution? Does Bob Dylan, at his age, still grind his teeth a little when a mutual funds company uses "The Times They are a Changin'" in a TV commercial? Does Ice Cube cringe when he gets the checque for Are We There Yet 3?

The artist's dilemma is at the centre of The Rum Diary , a movie based on Hunter S. Thompson's long-unpublished novel about a young journalist's life in Puerto Rico at the end of the 1950s.

Johnny Depp stars as Kemp, a still-finding-his-groove journalist thrust into the liquor, women and parasitic American imperialism. Kemp drinks, he befriends the locals, he falls in love with the rich dude's girl and then he has to decide how to report on said rich dude's shady real estate deal. Will Kemp sugarcoat some wrongdoing and live comfortably or tell the truth and start a fight?

Director Bruce Robinson ( Withnail & I, Jennifer 8) has the skills to tell this finding-of-self tale about young misfit in a lawless environment and Johnny Depp has the delivery down pat (despite being a bit old for the character arc). Although The Rum Diary lacks a super-solid narrative line or truly unifying energy, the scenes, characters, humour, supporting cast and plot all deliver at some point or another. It's episodic, but it ain't bad. And playing the Femme Fatale , Amber Heard absolutely sizzles. It's enough to make you want to go re-watch All the Boys Love Mandy Lane or The Informers.

Speaking of selling out, Justin Timberlake takes a lot of slack for abandoning his highly successful music career to doggedly pursue acting. His Saturday Night Live skits gather a lot of praise but serious critics continually dog his movies and even his role in The Social Network was deemed to be one of that film's few weak links. Yet JT soldiers on, and this week he stars alongside the creamy Amanda Seyfried ( Mean Girls) and "It" girl Olivia Wilde ( Tron) in In Time, opening Friday in Whistler and Squamish.

In Time is a PG-13 rated action thriller about an innocent man accused of murder in a (near?) future where time is literally money and the rich can live forever while the poor work as slaves or die young. Somehow, magically, every living person has a kind of Logan's Run -esque holographic timer of their lifespan ticking away in their forearms and when it reaches zero, that is the end. JT gets some free time and uses it to fight the powers, or something. There were no prescreeners for this one (always a bad sign) but it's directed by Andrew Niccol, the guy who made Lord of War and Gattaca, which was one of the cooler sci-fi flicks of the late '90s. This one looks more uneven and I suspect In Time might be better spent doing something else.

Like watching horror movies? It's Halloween this weekend so forget about taking the kids to Puss in Boots. Get them hopped up on candy and download something that will scare the crap out of them - The Shining or Nightbreed or CHUD.

Horror breaks the Artists Dilemma because no one ever gets called a sell-out for making a horror movie. Delving into otherworldly, demonic evil is far more acceptable than making a trite romantic comedy. Hopefully JT and Ice Cube are paying attention.



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