Beats 2019 ****

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After the pioneering work of Bills Douglas and Forsyth, then the bursts of energy created by the Trainspotting/ Braveheart era, the Scottish film industry has had feet of clay every since; a slew of Scottish Screen/Creative Scotland funded duds which not only failed on their own merits, but also stopped any indie scene from developing. Brian Welsh’s Beats feels like the kind of low-budget, high yield drama that could have been made at any point since the millennium; a simple story of friendship between two Scottish boys Johnno and Spanner (Christian Ortega and Lorne Macdonald), this adaptation of Kieran Hurley’s play is shot in a spare black and white, with occasional bursts of colour when the music takes over, notably in an eye-popping rave scene. The spirit of the mid-90’s period is well caught, and the narrative is carefully charted to avoid the clichés that hobble most local films. Beats is the kind of accessible, entertaining film that looks easy to make, but requires considerable skill all round; anyone who ever lost their mind outside a Portakabin in a field goodness-knows-where will know exactly what Beats is all about.

Beats has a UK release on DVD and blu-ray from September 9th 2019. Or Stream Below.

A Man of No Importance 1992 ****

Albert Finney’s career had phases rather than just a highlights; while his 80’s output was something of an anti-climax for the actor who burst into world cinema in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, by the 1990’s, there were increasing opportunities to see the great man giving it both barrels. In Suri Krishnamma’s charming comedy-drama, Finney excels as Alfred Byrne, a gay bus-conductor who feels forced to repress his sexuality due to the mores of the time. His unrequited passion for fellow driver (Rufus Sewell) remains just so, but Byrne sees an opportunity when the striking Adele Rice (Tara Fitzgerald) gets on his bus. He quickly arranges a performance of Oscar Wilde’s Salome with Adele as the star, but emboldened by Wilde’s words, Byrne’s attempts to reveal his true nature end badly for him.  With the atmosphere of 1963 Dublin persuasively caught, A Man of No Importance is one of these lucky films that sees great talent well harnessed; after Finney’s death, this was deservedly mentioned alongside Tom Jones, Under The Volcano and The Dresser as amongst Finney’s best.

The Disappearance of Alice Creed 2009 ***

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Writer/director J Blakeson made the most of a limited budget with this theatrical Uk thriller, a kidnapping drama with twists and turns that would have amused Peter Shaffer. Gemma Arterton is Alice Creed, the daughter of a rich man, who is unceremoniously kidnapped by two men Vic and Danny (Eddie Marsan and Martin Compson). All is not what it seems, but Blakeson does well with a few Isle of Man locations, and strong performances from all three leads keep the momentum going for the full 96 minutes.  The Disappearance Of Alice Creed does contain some strong, disturbing sexual scenes, but they’re justified in terms of the plot, and well-handled.

Hamlet 1996 ***

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William Shakespere’s classic text is usually cut for theatrical or cinema performances, Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 production goes the opposite way, restoring every possible word over a mighty 242 minute running time. Branagh himself essays the student who returns home to find his father dead and his mother Gertrude (Julie Christie) in thrall to his uncle Claudius. Elsinore is depicted in majestic fashion, and the cast, combing Charlton Heston, Ken Dodd, Robin Williams, Richard Briers and Jack Lemmon, is as highly eclectic as it sounds. Casting Brian Blessed as Hamlet’s father typifies the larger-than-life feel of this epic production, one more jewel in a film laden with glittering elements, woven together to create a great record of the definitive revenge story.

Dogville 2003 ***

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Writer/director Lars von Trier created a vivid theatrical experience in this 2003 drama, with Nicole Kidman as Grace, a woman who stumbled unannounced into the Rocky Mountain’ township of Dogville. Rather than use (or simulate) real locations, von Trier sets the action on a stage set, adding a layer to theatricality that’s initially distracting, but strong performances from Kidman and a cast including Paul Bettany, James Caan, Lauren Bacall quickly establish the feel of the small Colorado town. Dogville’s hefty 174 minutes take their time in establishing how Grace relates to the community, but there’s a devastating twist at the end that elevates this claustrophobic chamber piece into the realms of high art.

Sleuth 1972 ****

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Anthony Shaffer adapts his own Broadway war-horse to highly entertaining effect in this ingenious two hander, with Laurence Olivier’s country-house owner Andrew Wyke inviting his wife’s lover Milo Tindle (Michael Caine) for a weekend of one-upmanship and games. Wyke suggests that Tindle burgles his house to claim the insurance money, but the younger man senses he’s being set up for revenge. Joseph L Mankiewicz gives the actors free reign. There’s plenty or red herrings, particularly amongst the cast list, and although Caine switched roles for the 2007 Harold Pinter scripted remake, the original is much more fun, showcasing two great actors enjoying a clash of the cinematic titans.

Equus 1977 ****

 

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Peter Shaffer’s play has been successfully revived with Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe in the lead; in 1977, it was Peter Firth who played Alan Strang, the disturbed boy who comes under scrutiny for blinding several horses. Richard Burton brings all his weight to Martin Dysart, the psychiatrist investigating, delivering straight-to-camera monologues with genuine gravity. How accurately Equus deals with mental health issues is up for debate, but what’s on screen in undeniably compelling, with Sidney Lumet making the best of unfamiliar UK locations and Jenny Agutter excellent is a crucial role.