Beginners: Ewan McGregor And Christopher Plummer Shine Outside The Closet

This week you should really watch Beginners where Ewan McGregor finds out he's got a gay dad, while Lars von Trier goes from Nazi to very nasty and Kevin Costner putts from the rough...
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This week you should really watch Beginners where Ewan McGregor finds out he's got a gay dad, while Lars von Trier goes from Nazi to very nasty and Kevin Costner putts from the rough...

Beginners

Young guy discovers his ageing father is gay - it sounds like a tired sitcom plot. In fact, episodes of Friends and Dream On dealt with this very issue. However, in the hands of writer-director Mike Mills a situation that could have been played for cheap laughs proves incredibly touching.

That Beginners feels so heart-felt might have something to do with Mills having first-hand experience of this very predicament. Were this not the case, you could easily imagine the picture playing out along the lines of dire, allegedly homo-friendly pictures such as Adam Sandler's I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry or the late era Paul Hogan vehicle Strange Bedfellows. Mills, however, is keen to address the matter at hand directly. As such, what laughs there are all the more satisfying for not relying on crass wordplay and thinly disguised homophobia.

Mills - whose debut film Thumbsucker is in desperate need of rediscovery - is represented in Beginners by a better-than-average Ewan MacGregor (this is his best film performance since About Adam). The real star of the show, however, is Christopher Plummer as Hal, the septuagenarian discovering new aspects of love. The father of Pulp Fiction star Amanda and arguably the best thing to come out of Canada since ice hockey, the Toronto-born Plummer has made any number of important films. Twelve Monkeys, The Insider, The Last Station, Syriana, Alexander - they're all essential movies and they were all made within the last 20 years. As you might imagine for someone whose career spans six decades, you have to go back some time to uncover our man's very best work. Indeed, it was in 1969 - four long years after he and Julie Andrews halted the march of National Socialism by singing 'Edelweiss' - that Plummer played the Inca chief Atahualpa in Irving Lerner's The Royal Hunt Of The Sun. A performance that's heavy on mime and bird-like vocalisations, it probably sounds every bit as appetising as Jodie Foster's gobbledegook-spouting turn in Nell. But as he's utterly convincing in Beginners, so Christopher Plummer also made for a wholly agreeable Inca.

The Kingdom: Lars von Trier isn't a Nazi. He can be a bit of an idiot, but he's not a Nazi.

A man so keen to shock people one imagines he does it door-to-door on his days off, von Trier's filmography runs the gamut from essential (Breaking The Waves) to unwatchable (Antichrist). At which end of this scale his 1994 mini-series The Kingdom belongs will entirely depend upon your taste. For some people, five short minutes should convince them that this isn't their bag (do the young people still say that, 'bag'?). Others, however, might feel that their life wasn't complete until they paid a visit to Northern Europe's most inhospitable hospital.

Copenhagen's Rigshospitalet is the strangest care facility this side of Darkplace Hospital. The lift shaft is home to a weeping dead girl. The Pathologist is so keen to study a dying patient's liver, he has it transplanted into his own body. And the guys who wash the dishes all have Down's Syndrome.

To say more would spoil the programme for anyone still keen to catch it and revulse those who'd happily leave the country to avoid it. If the above has whetted your appetite, you can rest assured The Kingdom is weird in ways only the insane can imagine. Indeed, if you're one of those people who think that hospital is a place you visit to get better, Lars von Trier will change your attitude forever.

Incidentally, The Kingdom was remade for American television in 2004 by the Garth Marenghi-esque Stephen King. If you've already seen the King-approved TV retread of The Shining, you'll know to steer well clear.

Tin Cup (showing on Sunday July 24 on ITV3 at 9pm): Wow! - who ever knew there was an ITV3?

That the channel is as useful as a desert-bound life buoy is by-the-by, however. For in the week that Darren Clarke completed his 20 year quest to win a major, few films could be more fitting than Ron Shelton's celebration of sporting journeyman. A minor league baseball player himself, Shelton's background has given him a unique take on men and the games they play. From basketball (White Men Can't Jump and Blue Chips) and boxing (Play It To The Bone and The Great White Hype) to the agony and ecstasy of American's favourite pastime (Bull Durham and Cobb), few writer-directors have invested big-screen sport with such passion and understanding.

While Bull Durham remains his best received film, there's plenty to like about Shelton's golf comedy Tin Cup. Kevin Costner is pleasingly sympathetic as Roy McAvoy, a Texas driving range pro who meets the woman of his dreams (the wonderful Rene Russo) only to discover that she's dating his arch rival since his college days (Don Johnson, delivering his best movie performance since A Boy And His Dog). So how is our hero to win the heart of his fair maiden? By winning the US Open, of course!

A film that's happy to obey the rules of rom-com cinema, Tin Cup might seem superficially saccharine, but there's plenty of charm to water down the schmaltz, the bulk of it provided by a bong-less Cheech Marin as McAvoy's long-suffering caddy Romeo. And in Masters winner Craig 'The Walrus' Stadler, Ron Shelton found a very rare animal indeed - a top sportsman who seems to understand movie acting.

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