Movie reviews

JOHNNY DEPP played an extravagant version of the controversial author Hunter S Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998).

He is more subdued in The Rum Diary (15A), playing one of Thompson’s literary avatars, Kemp, a frustrated novelist who takes a job as a journalist at an English-language newspaper in Puerto Rico.

Set in 1960, against a backdrop of growing Puerto Rican unrest at the corruption that has become endemic under their American overlords, the story has a number of contemporary resonances, including the consequences of American cultural imperialism and the ongoing decline of the printed newspaper.

Bruce Robinson’s film is an entertaining and thoughtful piece of work for the first hour or so, as Kemp’s ethics are undermined by land developer Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), who lures Kemp into his moneyed world, even as the journalist’s conscience is repeatedly pricked by the sights of abject poverty around every corner.

Unfortunately, Kemp is also seduced by Sanderson’s girlfriend, Chenault (Amber Heard), and neither the character nor the actress is strong enough to represent more than an irritating diversion away from the central issues. To his credit, Robinson remains faithful to the original novel; Kemp is depicted as a tragically flawed hero who is complicit in his own downfall, and who just about musters the necessary strength of will to crawl away from the wreckage of his ambitions. That such an ending is necessarily bittersweet means that the final half-hour is somewhat flat by comparison with the more vivid and engaging tale that has gone before.

ARTHUR Christmas (G) represents an unseemly early start to the annual Christmas movie cavalcade, but Sarah Smith, who directs and co-wrote, can be forgiven on the basis that the animated movie is shot through with good old-fashioned festive cheer. That’s despite the initial set-up, which portrays Santa’s Christmas Eve operation as a military-style mission, delivered with computer-guided precision courtesy of a ‘sleigh’ that has evolved into something resembling a spaceship.

Santa (voiced by Jim Broadbent) is little more than a figurehead in this operation, a fact celebrated by his son, Steve (Hugh Laurie), the Santa-in-waiting, and lamented by his more scatter-brained younger son, Arthur (James McEvoy), who pines for the more traditional kind of Christmas, and particularly the days when Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) delivered gifts from his wooden sleigh, pulled by real reindeer.

When the computer system fails and a young girl is overlooked on Christmas Eve, Arthur springs into action. Smart and funny, this Aardman Studios production is chock-a-block with delightful offbeat references and visual jokes, and will reward repeated viewing. Smith never loses sight of her main goal, which is to provide a heartwarming tale for children of all ages, and in this she succeeds handsomely.

SET in the wake of WWI, The Awakening (15A) is a ghost story with more than its fair share of ghosts.

A generation of dead young men stalk the corridors of the boys’ boarding school to which celebrated ghost-hunter Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) is summoned to prove that the boys’ imaginations are simply running riot when they claim that the recent death of one of the young boarders can be attributed to a malign spectral presence. Putting her faith in science, Florence sets out to prove that the boy’s death had more to do with a sinister human hand than that of some supernatural force, but she quickly discovers that even her vast experience is insufficient to deal with a series of inexplicable events.

Nick Murphy’s big screen directorial debut opens well, while Hall is in fine form as the practical ghost-hunter debunking the fears of schoolmaster Mallory (Dominic West) and the school’s matron, Mrs Hill (Imelda Staunton). Murphy is badly undermined by a plot that crumbles under the weight of answering Florence’s questions with increasingly implausible and occasionally hysterical set-pieces.

The Awakening’s early promise is largely wasted in a second half that seems designed to test the credulity of even the most committed believer in the paranormal.

Picture: Johnny Depp stars as Paul Kemp in The Rum Diary

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