Director: Ken Loach
Fresh from picking up one of the top prizes at the Cannes Film Festival, Ken Loach's latest collaboration with Scottish screenwriter Paul Laverty is a raw, sparky and grittily funny comedy drama filmed and set in Glasgow.
It opens with a variety of reprobates up in court being sentenced, who are then brought together to paint halls and clean up graveyards as part of their community payback. One young man, Robbie (Paul Brannigan), has been spared jail by the skin of his teeth, and is required to do 300 hours of service.
He's also about to become a father, though his girlfriend's father has other ideas about his involvement, her family of thugs making it clear they want Robbie to have nothing to do with the baby.
We're presented with an intriguing character in Robbie, one whom we're asked to side with despite his criminal past. His violent temper is something he needs to learn to control, and in one particularly harrowing scene he's shown the consequences of his actions, as the victim he assaulted describes the senseless attack.
It could have been easy for the audience to lose its sympathy for Robbie at this point, but this is a film about first impressions and second chances, and that chance is given to Robbie by Harry (John Henshaw), his community service coordinator.
Harry is mad keen on whisky, and when Robbie demonstrates a quick knack and knowledge for the water of life, Harry takes him and his pals on a tour of a distillery, the movie's title referring to the amount of spirit, about 2%, that evaporates each year from the casks.
With fatherhood offering Robbie his last chance to pull his life together, the question is whether he can he use his whisky skills to make a better life for himself and his new family, or if his past will catch up to him.
Though it can sometimes seem like two different films, the chummy whisky comedy on one hand, and a dark and dangerous life of violence on the other, both elements come together successfully thanks to Laverty's trademark salty and realistic dialogue that pulls no punches with its language, and Loach's unfussy direction that allows the action to flow freely and naturally.
The authenticity of his casting also helps, with the roles filled largely by newcomers with lived-in faces. Truth be told, some of the actors do more convincing work when they're being asked to be their rough and ready selves, than when they're given lines of plot to recite, but for the most part everyone impresses.
The result is many fine moments, but perhaps just a hint of corner-cutting in the writing. It's a bit of a leap for Robbie to go from ned to whisky loving expert, and it all gets wrapped up a bit too neatly and conveniently, which might be a problem if this were one of Loach's more gritty dramas.
But it's essentially a fairytale, a rather fanciful blend that succeeds partly because it's so funny, but mostly because of the filmmaking skill brought to it by its director and writer.
See it if you liked: Looking for Eric, Sweet Sixteen, Neds
Top Cat – The Movie (U, 90 mins)
Director: Alberto Mar
The fondly remembered Hanna-Barbera cartoon about a gang of lovably roguish New York alley cats resurfaces in this grubby Mexican animation which has been re-dubbed into English. Top Cat (close friends get to call him TC) and his chums including Benny the Ball face off against the bumbling Officer Dibble, until the arrival of a new police chief who cracks down on Top Cat and frames him for a robbery, then unleashes his plan to inflict surveillance cameras and crime-fighting robots throughout the city. The animation is a curious blend of cheap and ugly CGI with hand-drawn characters that kinda looks like it's still the 60s, only with everyone using modern technology. Flat and lifeless and plotted with no real thought or moments of fun, this is instantly forgettable stuff.
See it if you liked: Yogi Bear, Garfield, The Smurfs
Death Watch (12A, 130 mins)
Director: Bertrand Tavernier
Local distributors Park Circus deliver a welcome re-release for this little seen, Glasgow-filmed, sci-fi drama from 1980. Harvey Keitel has a camera implanted behind his eyes, which he will use to spy on a terminally ill woman (Romy Schneider) and the results broadcast on national television in a show called Death Watch. Though set in an unspecified city, the use of a dismal looking Glasgow as a dystopian but not futuristic setting is inspired, and this is a film bursting with ideas and years ahead of the curve when it comes to foretelling the intrusiveness and manipulation of reality television. Unfortunately it falls apart rather alarmingly in the final third, when the careful satire and the compelling relationship between Keitel and Schneider gives way to confused and meandering plotting and a bizarre ending.
Snow White and the Huntsman (12A, 127 mins)
Director: Rupert Sanders
THE second Snow White movie of the spring transforms the fairytale into an outstanding fantasy adventure, taking a Lord of the Rings approach in action and scale, and playing it completely straight to fine effect.
The basics of the story are still there, as young princess Snow White's mother dies and her father re-marries the beautiful Ravenna (Charlize Theron).
But she kills him and takes over the kingdom, imprisoning Snow and plunging the land into darkness.
Theron gives it everything in a fiery preformance that kicks the campy Julia Roberts in Mirror Mirror into touch with a properly threatening turn, as she reveals herself to be a soul-sucking demon obsessed with being the fairest of them all.
But when she discovers the grown up Snow (Kristen Stewart, left) is now fairest, the princess escapes and Ravenna dispatches a huntsman (Chris Hemsworth with a thick Scottish brogue) to bring her back.
Where it goes from there offers rousing thrills, surprises and an unusually strong emotional core. It looks fantastic, but the sumptuousness is not just a sideshow to the story, instead creating a genuine atmosphere of darkness and oppression, particularly in a first half that's so good, you keep waiting for it to come apart.
Yet it continues to add elements of thematic richness, visual originality (which is tough in this genre) and plain old great action.
The addition of the dwarves is an ingenious touch of casting, even the sometimes dull Stewart has a spark to her, and everything is brought together with verve in one of the best films of its type in an age.