This weeks movies reviewed by Paul Byrne, including Weekend, Immortals, Arthur Christmas, The Awakening and more…

Directed by Andrew Haigh. Starring Tom Cullen, Chris New, Jonathan Race, Laura Freeman, Loretto Murray.
THE PLOT: Nottingham, present, and after excusing himself from house party, Russell (Cullen) heads to a gay bar, where he sheepishly flirts with Glen (New). The latter surprises him the following morning by insisting he record an audio interview with Russell there and then about last night’s experience. Glen is an artist, working on a project, and his anger about society’s continued discomfort with public displays of homosexuality are matched only by Russell’s shyness on such matters. “Are you actually out?” Glen asks Russell, as their weekend together intensifies, and the battle between romanticism and realism rages.
THE VERDICT: The title and its font suggesting a certain New York indie band, writer/director (and editor) Andrew Haigh also throws up a polaroid world. Russell’s 14th-floor flat is all Formica, instant coffee and thrift shop furniture. Tackling the great divide between public expressions of heterosexual love and homosexual love (the latter largely confined to parades, designated drinking emporiums and indoors), Haigh’s intimate film is deceptively slight in its approach. This is no Warhol installation, no political diatribe, but a warm and tender examination of falling in love. And the inner and outer obstacles that can get in the way. It’s no coincidence either that the same Nottingham settings featured in 1960’s Saturday Night And Sunday Morning. RATING: 4/5

Directed by Sarah Smith. Starring the voices of James McAvoy, Bill Nighy, Ashley Jensen, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie, Kevin Eldon, Ramona Marquez.
THE PLOT: As little Gwen (Marquez) posts her letter to Santa into the letterbox of her Potter-esque Cornwall cul-de-sac, up in the North Pole, it’s all systems go. Santa’s camouflage-wearing, muscle-bound elder son Steve (Laurie) has introduced the Andy McNab approach to delivering those two billion presents on Christmas Eve, with a state-of-the-art mission control punching the numbers and the Enterprise-esque S-1 breaking the speed of light. And his Versace-wearing pop (Broadbent) couldn’t be more proud, getting to head off to bed earlier. The bumbling, fumbling, mumbling Arthur (McAvoy), on the other hand, agrees with Grandsanta (Nighy); the old ways were the best. And it’s the old ways the duo secretly employ when it’s discovered a present has been left behind. Gwen’s present.
THE VERDICT: From those claymation masters Aardman Animation (hooray!) comes another CG-animated cartoon (boo!), the Bristol-based funsters having previously inflicted 2006’s Flushed Away upon us. Once Arthur Christmas gets underway though, you can see why they chose the limitless fairy dust of computer-generation, the settings here often coming across as top-of-the-range Christmas cards. The plot, unfortunately, isn’t quite so high ranking, being pretty much Elf Lite.
McAvoy, Nighy and the gang give it plenty of festive cheer, as their slapstick mission gets underway, but the humour often plays a tad forced. The opening scenes inside Santa’s gleaming-white, new hi-tech operation suggests Steve Jobs is now in charge of operations, whilst the rapid-fire, scattershot gags would give Wallace, and Gromit, a headache.
Of course, the kids will quite possibly enjoy it, but that’s more to do with the grand day out than any true magic unfolding here before their uncritical little eyes. The fools. RATING: 3/5 

THE AWAKENING (UK/15A/106mins)
Directed by Nick Murphy. Starring Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Joseph Mawi, John Shrapnel, Cal MacAninch.
THE PLOT: London, 1921, and author and ghost-debunker Florence Cathcart (Hall) is called upon by boarding school teacher Robert Mallory (West) to investigate the case of a young boy apparently being scared to death by the apparition of a young boy. Matron Maud (Staunton) introduces Florence to shy student Tom (Hempstead-Wright), who claims to have seen the ghost, but the culprit proves to be an errant teacher. That just leaves Florence’s own visions of a spectral child, as she begins to suspect that there’s more to this ghost story that she initially thought…
THE VERDICT: Shades of The Others (2001) abound in this spooky British offering, along with more than a tint of Jack Clayton’s take on Henry James’ The Innocents (1961), but writer/director Nick Murphy never delivers on the early promise here. Hall is, as always, highly watchable, and convincing, but the script soon pushes all credulity down a well. And, along with it, any chance of truly chilling the viewer. It’s all gone a little Shyamalan by the closing credits. RATING: 2/5

Directed by Andrea Arnold. Starring Kaya Scodelario, James Howson, Oliver Milburn, Solomon Glave, Shannon Beer, Nichola Burley, Lee Shaw, Amy Wren, James Northcote, Paul Hilton.
THE PLOT: Yorkshire, early 1800s, and stubborn kind of orphan Heathcliff (Glave, then Howson) is taken under the wing of Mr. Earnshaw (Hilton) at his bleak, barren hill farm, where the young lad finds a friend in younger daughter Cathy (Beer, then Scodelario) and an enemy in her old brother, Hindley (Shaw) – the latter angry about a “thieving nigger” living in his house. When Mr. Earnshaw dies, Hindley soon demotes Heathcliff to domestic work, and worse is to come – Cathy befriends young neighbour Edgar Linton (Northcote). After overhearing that Edgar has proposed to Cathy, Heathcliff flees, returning years later as a wealthy man…
THE VERDICT: English director Andrea Arnold (Red Road, Fish Tank) takes on Emily Bronte’s classic novel with a stripped-down but true adaptation that brings out the emotional core of this heartbreaking story. Sure, if you’re of a certain age, you might have to ignore the fact that the older Cathy is played by yer one from Skins, but the young cast here are largely first-timers, and Arnold garners some wonderfully naturalistic performances. Arnold brings out the best in Bronte’s story too, once again concentrating on the sensual world, the fleeting moments as much as the grand gestures, bathing her performers in blinding backlight and dark, firelight shadows, lost in that driving rain, that idiot wind. That second half might just make you thankful for the loser you’ve settled for. RATING: 4/5

IMMORTALS 3D (USA/15A/110mins)
Directed by Tarsem Singh. Starring Henry Cavill, Mickey Rourke, Freida Pinto, Stephen Dorff, John Hurt, Luke Evans, Isabel Lucas, Kellan Lutz.
THE PLOT: The evil King Hyperion (Rourke) wants to wipe Greece off the face of the earth (hurrah!) so he can get his hands on the Epirus Bow, a weapon of mass destruction, but our mortal hero Theseus (Cavill) is rallying the troops to make sure that doesn’t happen (boo!). And take revenge for the brutal murder of his father. With a blessing from Zeus (Evans), mentoring from Old Zeus (Hurt), and priestess Phaedra (Pinto) and thief Stavros (Dorff) by his side, Theseus goes into battle. Making sure never to step into bad lighting.
THE VERDICT: Despite the fact that the studio behind this $90m movie have gone out of their way to let us know this film is from the same producers as 300, plus the simple fact that the two movies look darned alike, Immortals director Tarsem Singh has expressed his unhappiness at such a comparison. They is big shoes to fill, after all. Then again, he admitted, was anyone going to rush out to see a movie tagged ‘From the director of The Fall’?. In pitching his latest movie, Singh offered “Caravaggio meets the school of Fight Club”. To which the studio no doubt replied, “Hey, isn’t that 300?”. Well, that’s not what they got, if early, highly dismissive reviews in the US are anything to go by. Here, Universal held showing the film to the press just 24 hours before it opened, so due to a scheduling conflict, we’ll have the verdict Friday afternoon. RATING: n/a

THE RUM DIARY (USA/15A/116mins)
Directed by Bruce Robinson. Starring Johnny Depp, Giovanni Ribisi, Aaron Eckhart, Amber Heard, Richard Jenkins, Michael Rispoli.
THE PLOT: 1960, and, struggling to find his own voice – and keen to let everyone he meets know it – journalist Paul Kemp (Depp) packs his bags and heads for Puerto Rico, where he’s got a job with The San Juan Star. Instructed to write positive pieces, Kemp struggles to satisfy his editor, but an offer of work by dodgy property developer Sanderson (Eckhart) is sweetened by the fact that the man has a hot girlfriend (Heard). When Sanderson snatches Kemp from the clutches of the police – after a drunken fight – the deal is done. And that’s when the going gets rough. And Kemp finally finds his angry, drug-addled voice…
THE VERDICT: Well, every great hero deserves an origins story. Written in the early 1960s but not published until 1998, this prequel-of-sorts to Terry Gilliam’s cult fave Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas (1998) was sexy enough to coax writer/director Bruce Robinson (Withnail & I) out of retirement. Robinson’s first film in 19 years, The Rum Diary died a quick, painful death in the US (managing a mere $5m in its opening weekend there), but the markets outside of America have always been a little more open to any Johnny Depp weird, even when they’re not particularly wonderful. Or just plain dull, like The Tourist (which made over $200m outside the US, but only $67m inside). Thre was no Irish press screening so we will have the review when it opens on Friday. RATING: n/a