We Are The Best! Abba With Attitude.

we-are-the-best-166468-poster-xlarge-resizedThe Sloth has banged on before about our love of The Muppets and the influence Animal, in particular, had on our formative years. So we approached We Are The Best!, a tale of three youthful girls forming a punk band, with the wry nod of recognition. Ladies after our own hearts.

Set in 1980’s Stockholm it follows 12 year old best friends Klara (Mira Grosin) and Bobo (Mira Barkhammar). Caught at that difficult age between the naivety of childhood and the illicit excitement of the teenage years, they share a love of punk and irrepressible energy. Discovering an all male band have booked out the rehearsal room at their local youth club, they decide to form their own band, primarily to irritate the boys. And despite possessing zero musical talent, our heroines pen a shouty ode entitled ‘Hate The Sport’, whose lyrics will resonate with anyone picked last for the school PE team. The Slits would have been proud.

But enthusiasm can only go so far. Realising their musical limitations, they rope in classmate Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne). A sensible, devout Christian, Hedvig isn’t an obvious partner in anarchy, but she is a demon on guitar.  Fully formed, the ladies set about advancing their musical career with a succession of gigs, self-promotion and becoming groupies to a fellow Swedish punk band.

As an evocation of youthful friendship, it’s a delight. Played with complete naturalism by the three girls, it captures the exuberance and do-or-die defiance of their tender ages. Slyly humorous, it hits just the right tone of gentle irony, observing their foibles without mocking. And with a soundtrack of pogo-tastic and often hilarious punk gems, including the magnificently titled ‘Brezhnev and Reagan, F*ck Off’, what’s not to like? Stick a safety pin through your nose and swear your way to your local theatre.

In the mood for some more music? Try Twenty Feet From Stardom.

UK release 18 April

The Last Days On Mars

marsThe Sloth is a glutton for sci-fi. Give us shots of gloomy, steel spaceship corridors with doors that swoosh back & forth and we’re happy. Add some human crew, stir crazy from being cooped up with no Game Of Thrones or Pinot Grigio for several light years and hey presto – a volatile mix. So we had high hopes for The Last Days On Mars.

Ellis (Patrick Joseph Burns) is head of a space mission that has spent the last 6 months stationed on the surface of Mars. They’re on the cusp of returning home, something they are looking forward to with mixed feelings. Vincent (Liev Schrieber) is dreading the 6 month return journey – presumably the in-flight catering isn’t up to much. Kim (Olivia Harris) is angry about everything, but mostly about not finding any decent scientific data to take back. Until, after a spot of snooping, Kim discovers that sneaky colleague Charles (Elias Koteas) has secretly found evidence of life and has snuck outside on a surface walk to take some last minute samples.

But what goes around comes around. Charles’ little expedition runs into difficulties as he disappears into a steaming void. The alarm is raised, but Charles isn’t to be found. Until Lauren (Yusra Warsama), searching for him, succumbs to the same steamy fate. But then returns.  As a zombie.

Oh yes. Sci-fi and zombies in one fell swoop. How bed-wettingly good can that be? Actually, not quite as bed-wettingly good as its potential.  It is more than a touch derivative and doesn’t quite commit to either being raucous, outrageous fun or scare-the-pants-off-you 28 Days Later style horror. But the cast enter into the spirit with aplomb – the mutant zombies are impressively vicious and we particularly enjoyed Olivia Harris’s snarly Ripley-alike Kim. And frankly, anything featuring an airlock and tersely barked orders to “get him into the hydroponic dome” is OK with us.

UK release 11 April

The Lunchbox. Meals On Chaotic Wheels.

329411,xcitefun-the-lunchbox-posterOh to be an office worker in Mumbai. No soggy, over-priced lunchtime sandwich for them. Instead, they receive fresh, home-cooked meals delivered from kitchen to desktop every day by the legendary Dabbawallahs. Their infinitely complex system of transporting thousands upon thousands of tiffin boxes all across the city famously Never. Goes. Wrong. The Lunchbox explores what might happen if it did.

Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is married to Rajeev (Nakul Vaid) but the spark has gone. Rajeev works long hours and spends home time glued to his phone. Surmising the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, Ila decides to cook up a storm for Rajeev’s lunchbox. But the box is erroneously delivered to accounts worker Saajan (Irrfan Khan), an introverted widower. Figuring out the mistake, lla sends a letter via the following day’s tiffin box to chastise the greedy so and so who happily noshed her husband’s lunch.

And so begins a correspondence between unseen strangers. Both lonely, Ila and Saajan find solace in the daily letters, soon confiding their innermost thoughts and feelings to each other. The older Saajan offers wisdom and advice to the younger Ila, who in turn gives him hope. Growing closer, they start questioning whether their relationship is turning into something more than just epistolary.

This is a beautiful film. Poignant, wistful and understated with perfectly realised characters, it’s emotional without ever being mawkish. It’s also marvellously funny in places, particularly the disembodied voice of ‘Auntie’, an eccentric neighbour who dispenses love life advice and cooking tips to Ila.  But perhaps the biggest character is Mumbai itself, captured in all its hectic, rush hour chaos, deftly circumnavigated by the army of singing, clapping, head wagging Dabbawallahs. If you can’t take a trip to India anytime soon, The Lunchbox is the next best thing.

UK release 11 April 2014

Noah. Life of Brian’s Great Great Great Grandad.

noahWe can only imagine the casting call for Noah. “All growly, bulldog-chewing-a-wasp actors to the floor please. Russell Crowe?” “Yeeh mate.” “Anthony Hopkins?” “Here, by the power of the valleys of Swansea.” “Ray Winstone?” “Go &%$£ yourself, you %$£&* @*&%”.

We know the story. God is cross with man and wants to destroy the world. A starting point which confused us because in Noah the world already looks like a post-apocalyptic wasteland – all volcanic dust, blackened tree stumps and deserted encampments patrolled by gangs of spear-wielding heathens. It’s hardly a hotbed of hedonism, rank with the stench of capitalist greed and Chicken Cottage.

Moot point aside, Noah strides about a lot, shouting things like “The time for mercy has passed!”, shaves off his hair to show he means business and sets about building his ark from a forest magically delivered overnight – easy when you know the right deities. Clearly, this is a big task but he’s aided by an army of Watchers (multiple limbed rock creatures, think of a cross between Iron Man and a lobster) who also help fight off the gangs of spear-wielding heathens, headed up by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone). Luckily, the animals get the memo and start swarming aboard as the flood starts. A few more fights with the heathens and they’re off.

Is it any good? Well, it’s certainly bonkers. If you like 300, you’ll love the blood & guts, action hero Noah. Interestingly, for a religious story, ‘God’ is never mentioned. Instead we have ‘The Creator’, presumably because at Noah’s core is a wonderful, speeded up montage of the beginning of the world. For us, this was where its success lay. Away from the rather silly action (of which we’re ITCHING to see the Monty Python remake), it’s unquestionably well meaning, with a pointed, ecological agenda. At a time when studios will normally only greenlight Transformers 5,479, it deserves credit for taking a risk.

UK release 4 April

The Double. Twice The Man He Wants To Be.

hr_The_Double_2Have you realised how noisy films have become? All that Dolby digital surround sound technology has a lot to answer for. Car chases, shoot-outs, emphatic soundtracks all combine into one amorphous wall-of-sound assault on your eardrums. So The Double came as a refreshing surprise.

Simon (Jesse Eisenberg) lives alone in an unspecified town in an unspecified time. Wherever and whenever he is, it’s depressing. His flat, in a concrete, characterless block of municipal housing, has minimal, utilitarian furniture. He works in a rabbit hutch office for a faceless company. In his quiet, mousey way he has the hots for Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) who, like everyone else, barely registers Simon’s existence.

All is dull and grey until Simon’s life is rocked by the arrival of new employee James. James (also played by Jesse Eisenberg) is Simon’s doppelganger although, inexplicably, all of Simon’s colleagues profess to see no resemblance. James is also everything Simon isn’t – gregarious, popular, witty and manipulative, soon making himself the favourite of both the MD and the lovely Hannah.  At first threatened, Simon starts to fall under James’ spell, offering to complete his work for him in exchange for life lessons. But where jealousy over a woman is involved, there is always the threat of emotions spilling over.

Based on a work by Dostoyevsky, it’s heavily atmospheric, stylised and dark in the most literal as well as figurative sense.  With all scenes set at night or in windowless rooms, we emerged with Seasonal Affective Disorder and had to double dose on Berocca. But it was the emphatic, sparse and very original use of sound that was our lasting memory. Often silent apart from the monstrously oppressive tick tock of a clock or heavy footsteps and undercut with a menacing score, it struck us that blast-your-eardrums technology so often now replaces actual, er, creativity. How marvellously novel.

UK release 4 April. Fancy something else on the arty side? Try Labor Day.

Twenty Feet From Stardom

20 feetWho doesn’t love a trio of 1960’s do-wopping, shoop-shooping, beehived and mini-skirted backing singers? Watch any vintage footage and these soul sisters generally steal the limelight from the acts (usually male – political correctness wasn’t invented back then, kids), they supported. Oscar winning documentary Twenty Feet From Stardom takes a long overdue look at these fabulous divas.

Working historically, we start back in the 1950’s when pop music was very proper and very white – male and female singers crooning stiffly, looking like butter wouldn’t melt. The racy ones might offer the odd finger snap if you were lucky. But all that changed as a league of women from gospel backgrounds started shaking up the industry, adding free-wheeling energy, zest and spirituality, not to mention their formidable voices, into the mix.

Archive footage from the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s is interspersed with present day interviews from the singers themselves and the major stars who worked with them – many still do. You may never have heard the names Darlene Love, Merry Clayton or Tata Vega, but you’ll have heard their incredible voices on tracks by The Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder and Phil Spector.

History aside, perhaps the most interesting issue raised is that of the complex relationship between artist and backing singer. Are backing singers simply frustrated solo artists? Or are they happier in a less pressured role, devoid of the requisite narcissism to push themselves forward? The answers were not clear cut. For all the protestations that backing singers lack ego, we detected the odd rumblings of hauteur here and there, whilst other immensely talented but reticent individuals struggled through piecemeal careers, never gaining the recognition they clearly deserved.

If you’re interested in music (that’ll be everybody then), warm up with a blast of Arethra before getting down to your local moviehouse and giving these amazing ladies the R.E.S.P.E.C.T they deserve.

UK release 28 March

Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

captain-america-the-winter-soldier-uk-poster (1)Marvel aren’t half on a roll. Having perfected a mixture of high octane action and dry one-liners, they’re churning them out quicker than you can say ‘Tony Stark’. Latest to join the family fold is Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Chris Evans buffs up his All-American quarterback looks for his second outing as the good Cap’n. Having acclimatised to his laboratory induced super-strength, he’s now struggling to come to terms with the modern world. Aged 95 (and looking marvellous for it – whatever moisturiser he’s using, The Sloth wants a large vat) he’s been too busy helping his employers, Shield, see off bad guys to have much leisure time, chalking up a cultural ‘To-Do’ list that includes watching the 1966 world cup final and listening to Marvin Gaye.

However his self-improvement has to take a back seat as Cap’n is called up for a new mission by his boss Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson – devoid of Kangol hat but replete with a natty eye-patch).  Despatched with other agents including colleague The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to save the crew of a container ship taken hostage by pirates, Cap’n soon realises the mission may not be as straightforward as it seems.

It packs all the requisite big action set pieces and sly wit we’ve come to expect, along with an unexpected and quite pointed critique of our contemporary, all-controlling society. Add a top supporting cast, including Anthony Mackie as The Falcon and the slickly suited and booted Robert Redford as head of Shield, Alexander Pierce (is there any man who wears a three piece suit with such effortless sartorial flair as Robert?  We’d gladly spend 90 minutes just watching him adjust his snow white cuffs) and we were happily entertained. The fanboy next to The Sloth was quite overcome as the end credits rolled, repeatedly gasping ‘oh wow’ to no-one in particular. We can’t guarantee the earth will similarly move for you, but the 3-D glasses might make you a little dizzy.

UK release 28 March

Muppets Most Wanted. The European Tour.

muppetOh, but this was a hotly anticipated 1 hour and 48 minutes of The Sloth’s life. We’ve loved The Muppets since we were knee high to a grasshopper, so to see them so brilliantly rebooted in 2011’s The Muppets gave us great joy. Would this live up to the same lofty heights?

The Muppets are down on their luck. Their 2011 comeback was followed by a big comedown and they’re out of favour with the public. Enter international tour manager extraordinaire, Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais). Badguy, “it’s pronounced ‘Bad-gee’. It’s French”, wants to turn their fortunes around, promising to take them on a sell out, global tour. Swept up with enthusiasm, the gang accept his offer and are soon off to their first gig in Berlin.

But, blow The Sloth down with a feather, Badguy is not all he seems. Actually in cahoots with master criminal Constantine, aka The World’s Most Dangerous Frog, the two are hatching a plan to bust Constantine out of his incarceration in a remote Siberian jail and embark on a robbery of global significance.

From this point on, you know the drill.  There will be sporadic bursts into song, gleefully silly humour involving explosions and daft accents (most marvellously epitomised by Ty Burrell channelling his best Inspector Clouseau as Interpol agent Jean Pierre Napoleon) and a never-ending roll of blink-and-you’ll-miss-them superstar cameos – we particularly liked P-Diddy holding court at a Muppet poker game.

Jolly japes aside, one thing The Muppets have always done fantastically well is subtle satire. So to kick off with a song and dance number lampooning the Hollywood machine’s calculated love of a sequel is marvellous. Now there are those, perhaps South Park fans, who would sniff that this is satire with a small s, not packing sufficient canine incisored bite. To them, The Sloth would argue that without The Muppets there would be no South Park. Long live Kermit and all who sail in him.

UK release 28 March. Keen to revisit more of your youth? Check out The Lego Movie.

Labor Day. Stockholm Syndrome On Warp Speed.

laborThere is a hulking great suspension bridge one needs to cross to watch Labor Day. It’s called The Suspension of Disbelief Bridge. If you’re game and have brought your trainers with you, then read on.

Adele (Kate Winslet) is a single mum. You already know what she’s like, Kate Winslet has perfected this. Frumpy, nervously wiping her hands on her apron and pushing her lank hair back, she’d scrub up well underneath. Adele is desperately lonely and longs for a man to take care of herself and her son Henry (Dylan Minnette) but, being agoraphobic, she seldom leaves the house except for essentials.

On a rare trip to the supermarket they meet Frank (Josh Brolin). Adele notices Frank is HOT. He is also bleeding. Before she knows what has happened, Frank has pulled a gun, forced himself into their car and demanded they drive him back to their house. Turns out he’s an escaped convict in need of a hiding place and Adele’s home will do nicely.

Now we need to cross The Bridge Of Disbelief.

If someone held The Sloth captive in our own home we would hate them. Forever. But not here. Frank, apart from being hot, is quite the man-about-the-house. Explaining he doesn’t intend to hurt them, he sets about cooking a chilli for tea, but his talents don’t stop there. He does some DIY, coaches Henry at baseball and, in a scene reminiscent of the pottery wheel in Ghost, teaches Adele to bake a peach pie. Before very, very little time has passed, Adele realises Frank is the link missing from her life.

If you can get over the situation and time frame it’s sensual, sensitively acted and the chemistry between Adele and Frank is completely believable. In fact, was this a straight up love story it would be heartfelt and moving. It’s definitely worth a watch, just be prepared to come out scratching your head.

UK release 21 March. Prefer to take your date to something less dark? Try Cuban Fury.

A Long Way Down. Near Death Experiences.

long_way_down_xlgIs it just us or is Piers Brosnan ageing approximately 57x slower than the average human? The Sloth was in short trousers when Remmington Steele first graced the gogglebox. Since then we’ve seen the invention of the world wide web, twerking and the Czech Republic, whilst Mr Brosnan has gained but the faintest smattering of grey around the temples.

In A Long Way Down Piers plays Martin Sharp, a depressed ex-daytime TV presenter with his career, marriage and reputation in tatters after an affair with an underage girl. Intent on ending it all on New Year’s Eve, Martin lights a final, contemplative cigar on the roof of a London skyscraper but is timidly interrupted by mousy Maureen (Toni Collette), who politely inquires if he intends to be long as she wants to go next.

However Maureen and Martin are only part of a queue, quickly joined on the precipice by fellow intended suicides, loudmouth Jess (Imogen Poots) and secretive J.J. (Aaron Paul). Soon giving up all hope of consummating the act, the four reluctantly make their way back down, but vow to return in six weeks time and throw themselves off together. 

In the following weeks they, and we, get to know each of the characters and the events that brought them to the roof that night. Bickering and arguing their way into an unlikely bond, the four find solace in each other. But will their newfound friendship be enough to save them?

On paper, a film about a suicide pact suggests either tastelessness, or a Chris Morris style satire. A Long Way Down is neither. Based on the Nick Hornby novel it mixes black humour with moments of outright farce, all underscored with feel-good sentimentality. It may not tackle the darker elements of suicide head on, but it treats the subject with sensitivity, particularly in Toni Collette’s touching portrait of Maureen. Subject matter aside, the main draw for The Sloth was a marvellously cast Piers’ slick, oily turn as the flashy, self-obsessed Martin. Long may his Teflon-like resistance to ageing continue.

UK release 21 March. Not the comedy you were looking for? Try The Grand Budapest Hotel instead.