Depp excels in toast to rum writer
The Rum Diary
JOHNNY DEPP'S dedication to the memory of celebrated US journalist Hunter S Thompson seemingly knows no bounds. They were close friends, and having taken the central role in the film adaption of Thompson's best-known work, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Depp also went on to finance the funeral that facilitated Thompson's final wish, that his cremated remains be fired off into the stratosphere from a cannon.
There's a sense that Depp is back in tribute mode for his starring role in The Rum Diary, director Bruce Robinson's (Withnail and I) adaptation of Thompson's semi-autobiographical novel charting his adventures in Puerto Rico.
Depp stars as Paul Kemp, an aspiring novelist who travels there in 1960 to work on an English-language newspaper. With "two and a half unpublished novels" to his name and a booze habit that is the "upper end of social", it won't come as a surprise to those familiar with Thompson's status as the sultan of self-destruction that there follows an extended bender. Throw in a tedious plot that involves the anti-establishment Kemp trying to break a story that will expose a cabal of corrupt local developers whose oily leader is played by Aaron Eckhart and you've pretty much put yourself in the picture.
As you might expect from the director who brought us Withnail and I, the script is peppered with quality one-liners while Depp delivers a strong turn channelling the aesthetic of a writer he obviously rated so highly.
LOVERS of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights will no doubt take issue with much in this grimy adaptation by Andrea Arnold. The likely bugbears will be a potty-mouthed Heathcliff, a dearth of spooky elegance and the absence of half the tale. For everyone else, Arnold's film is an unconventional and often mesmerising piece that is hamstrung by shoddy performances and casting, and a wilful refusal to play it straight.
Plot-wise, you can forget about ghosts and Mr Lockwood; we go straight into the arrival of a dark-skinned stray named Heathcliff who is taken in by Mr Earnshaw at his upland manor. There, he connects with daughter Catherine while skinhead son Hindley seethes at his presence. Heathcliff and Catherine prance through wind and rain out on the moor, giving each other looks and saying very little.
The breakdown in their relationship continues to follow the source novel -- Catherine gets engaged to Edgar, Heathcliff runs off in a huff and then returns out of the blue with gold in his coffers looking to upset Cathy's new life. At this pivotal point, large cracks appear in Arnold's vision. There's nothing linking the appearance of the teenage Heathcliff and Catherine (Solomon Glave and Shannon Beer) with these "grown-up" portrayals (James Howson and Kaya Scodelario). Vitally, there isn't enough of a sense of what the pair mean to each other or what is at stake. First-time actors Howson and Glave are both hopelessly wooden. The opposite is true of Dublin cinematographer Robbie Ryan, whose intimate chiaroscuro evokes Dutch masters and Sigur Ros videos all at once.
A triumph of style over story-telling.
A Great War-era ghost movie released on Armistice Day is the spookiest thing about The Awakening, a "horror film" in which even the most pillow-clutching of wimps will find little to sweat over. Director Nick Murphy's piece works better taken as a tense costume drama with heavy supernatural flourishes and a healthy dash of psychosis.
Florence Catchcart (Rebecca Hall) specialises in debunking hoax seances and is a hardened sceptic concerning the netherworld. A schoolmaster called Robert Mallory (Dominic West) implores her to come to his Cumbria boarding school where students are being "scared to death" by a phantom. Feisty, chain-smoking Florence reluctantly agrees and finds the austere mansion a place of secrets and odd behaviour among pupils and teachers alike.
Florence's scepticism is tested by apparitions during her investigation, but given that she seems to harbour a skeleton or two in her own cupboard, the supernatural and personal demons may be intermingling. Add to this a romantic chemistry with the war-scarred Robert and intimidation by human ghouls on the estate, and it all gets a bit much for our Florence.
The Awakening gets cumbersome and disjointed, especially in the final acts where much is wedged in at the expense of the yarn. It undoes a lot of good work -- the set and costumes are exemplary, the imagery plays with your suspicions and the dysfunction of the era's post-war society is cleverly alluded to. Hall carries the lead with strength and buoyancy, while Imelda Staunton and Joseph Mawle are ominous presences in support roles.
NOTHING, including Santa's North Pole operation, is immune to modernisation. The current Santa (voiced by Jim Broadbent) has done his 70 years and is expected to hand over to his son, Steve (Hugh Laurie) who, in preparation, has spent years modernising toy delivery. Much to the annoyance of Grandsanta (Bill Nighy), who feels his years as a hands-on Santa are being dissed, the sleigh has been replaced with a stealth craft, and a million finely tuned elves help it all run like clockwork. All Santa has to do now is turn up. But apparently believing his own hype, the current incumbent refuses to retire on schedule, leaving a disgruntled Steve who refuses to row in when it turns out one child has been forgotten.
With Santa and Steve self-obsessed and lazy, it falls to their dopey son/brother Arthur to save the day through his devotion to Christmas spirit. Grandsanta helps to prove his ways were the best, and they are helped by Bryony (Ashley Jensen), an elf from the gift-wrapping division. Director and co-writer Sarah Smith's background in grown-up comedy, she worked a lot with Armando Iannucci, is evident in parts of the film, which is often fast and clever and will please accompanying adults. It is also evident in the tone of the Santas -- lots of ego but little ho ho ho -- which differentiates it from the average portrayal, and perhaps leaves it too similar to the average human for comfort.
It's complex for very little children, but the visuals should go a long way to holding their attention. There might be some faith issues with older ones, for instance the notion of a Claus dynasty. Overall, it's cute, looks good and the 3D is useful. It's also pleasantly low-schmaltz.
At the IFI
Director Andrew Haigh's involving drama Weekend could double as a masterclass in everything you wanted to know about gay culture. Tom Cullen and Chris New feature as Russell and Glen respectively, two young lovers whose paths cross courtesy of a random pick-up in a gay bar.
Russell is an unassuming lifeguard, while Glen is an artist, more ardent than Russell in his beliefs around gay identity and pride. What starts out as a one-night stand evolves into something much more meaningful as, over substances as diverse as caffeine and cocaine, a connection develops.
Filmed over two consecutive days, Weekend charts the various events that draw the pair together and, in the understated hands of Haigh, the mundane becomes memorable. Glen invites Russell to meet his friends which leads to revelations about the former's previous affairs of the heart. Complications arise as Glen's commitment-phobic world view is compromised by the emotional upheaval experienced as a result of their relationship. Low-burn suspense comes courtesy of the reality that Glen is due to leave for the US on the Monday, possibly forever. Are these two likeable leads destined to be ships that pass in the night or will anchors to be dropped?
Cullen and New are strikingly good in the central roles while the universal aspect to the themes touched upon results in a finished spectacle that will leave fans of accomplished art house fare enthused.
Jack Goes Boating
At the IFI
ADAPTING a play for the big screen is a more difficult transition than it can sound; what works in the intensity of a theatre does not always work in the greater space of a film. Philip Seymour Hoffman starred in Bob Goudini's play Jack Goes Boating and decided to take it to the movies.
He plays Jack, a middle-aged limo driver who hasn't had a lot of success with women (but is only moderately odd). Jack's co-worker and best friend Clyde (John Ortiz) and his wife Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega) set him up with Connie (Amy Ryan) who is quite odd. From not very promising beginnings their romance slowly blossoms. Jack doesn't have much experience whereas Connie's is mostly bad -- something which makes his choice to woo her by improving himself, learning to swim for the boating and to cook so he can make her a meal, a nice change, and his devotion to reggae, albeit mostly one song, good vibes and his half-assed fledgling blond dreads are sweet. Meanwhile, frictions in Clyde and Lucy's relationship become more apparent.
This is Hoffman's directorial debut, and perhaps this, combined with the story's stage origins, and that the playwright wrote the screenplay, mean that he keeps the story field tiny, with close-ups and small spaces. But it might have benefited from some broadening out as a film, a fleshing out of the characters and their stories perhaps.
Although it is a bit slow at times and the dialogue has longueurs that do not always work, there are excellent performances, and the film is sometimes gently funny. There's a great hipster/hippy soundtrack and some bigger shots which lift it into a bigger context. Not for everyone, but if you're in a mellow mood this might hit a spot.
Now on limited release
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