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Hunter comedy fails to hit bar

Ah well, at least some good came from the bloated, mind-numbing indulgence that is The Pirates of the Caribbean money machine. Given the financial clout at his back, Johnny Depp was able to pull this project together as both star and executive producer and it's clearly a labour of love.

Based on an early semi-autobiographical novel by legendary 'gonzo' journalist the late Hunter S Thompson -- which lay unpublished until Depp encouraged him to release it -- The Rum Diary is as intriguing and infuriating as its source material.

Set in Puerto Rico in 1960, we meet Paul Kemp (Depp) as he stumbles, bleary-eyed, to turn up for his first day at work at a run-down newspaper.

Kemp sets about his reporting duties while getting royally smashed until an encounter with a property developer offers the possibility of some serious money, puffing up propaganda for a proposed hotel/marina complex. Falling for the developer's girlfriend Chenault (Amber Heard) doesn't help matters and by the second half of the film we're left floundering as Kemp develops a conscience and tries to put together a scheme to save the newspaper.

Depp is clearly more at ease in the first hour or so, swashbuckling around the beautiful Caribbean island, while the misadventures with his photographer friend have more than a touch of Withnail & I about them. All of which is fine until the plot spirals out of control and we end up with a movie which is something of a shambles -- rather like the book itself. HHIII

THE AWAKENING Horror. Starring Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton. Directed by Nick Murphy. Cert 15A

Set in the aftermath of the losses of World War I and the subsequent influenza epidemic, The Awakening teases the audience with several interesting ideas.

The excellent Rebecca Hall plays Florence Cathcart, a determined young woman who's achieved fame for exposing fake spiritualists. She is approached by Robert Mallory (Dominic West), the headmaster of a boarding school, to investigate claims of a ghost of a former pupil on the premises.

For the early part, Murphy keeps the tension nice and controlled as Florence befriends the matron Maud (Imelda Staunton) and a young pupil Tom (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), who claims to have seen the ghost.

Unfortunately, the director can't keep a lid on the central twist of the story, thereby blowing all the good work he'd done up to then. HHIII

WEEKEND Drama. Starring Tom Cullen, Chris New. Directed by Andrew Haigh. Cert 18

A synopsis of Weekend as 'a gay Before Sunrise set in Nottingham' wouldn't be far off the mark but that wouldn't capture the subtlety of this low-key love story.

Russell (Tom Cullen), a shy lifeguard, hooks up with Glen (Chris New), a brash artist in a bar one Friday night. What initially looked like a one-night stand slowly unveils itself as a deeper look at the desire for love. One of the most unusual and real love stories of the year. HHHHI

WUTHERING HEIGHTS Drama. Starring Kaya Scodelario, James Howson. Directed by Andrea Arnold. Cert 15A

Scottish director Andrea Arnold's naturalistic approach and penchant for casting non-professional actors comes a cropper in this adaptation of the Emily Bronte classic.

Portraying Heathcliff as black may have seemed a radical idea at the scriptwriting stage but it really doesn't make much sense, especially when the film is a bleak exercise in arthouse misery. HIIII


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