Interstellar. 2000-Something Space Odyssey.

interstellar-posterWowsers, Christopher Nolan gets a lot of money to play with. Following blockbusters Dark Knight and Inception, his latest cinematic megalopolis, Interstellar, bulldozes its way through the gross domestic product of half of Western Europe. But is it any good?

It’s certainly ambitious. Middle America, sometime in the nearish future. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), an astronaut in the Apollo missions, is now a farmer struggling to maintain his crops in farmland blighted by dust storms and disease. Worldwide food production is declining, putting mankind’s future at risk. Things are Not Good.

Investigating strange happenings around his house, Cooper chances upon a secret NASA base hidden deep in the countryside, headed up by his old boss Dr Brand (Michael Caine). Officially disbanded years ago, NASA are working on a solution to humanity’s imminent demise. The plan? Bundle everyone into spaceships and scarper to another planet. But where? Cunningly, NASA has already sent several missions to research intergalactic property options. Next step? Send a follow up party to review the shortlist piloted by, you guessed it, Cooper.

After a painful goodbye to son Tom and daughter Merv, who is devastated by his departure, Cooper blasts into the unknown accompanied by scientists Amelia (Anne Hathaway), Doyle (Wes Bentley) and Romilly (David Gyasi). Plus vaguely sarky robot TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin). Plan is to spend several years in asleep in stasis, waking up in time to check out the first, hopefully habitable, planet. Inevitably, things do not go to plan.

This sounds simplistic. Interstellar is anything but. It cuts back and forth through huge chunks of time, expounds Einstein’s theory of relativity, mixes in repeated quotes from Dylan Thomas’ Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, explores concepts of three, four and five dimensions and adds emotional family drama for good measure.  All to an alternatively crashing, clunking, electronic score, then periods of total silence. It’s often too much to take in, as if several different films have been poured into a blender and blitzed at warp speed, arguably best when it calms down a little. But full marks, Mr Nolan, for going for it. One thing it certainly isn’t, is dull.

UK release 7 November.

London Film Festival 2014 – Our Top 5

The BFI London Film Festival is finally over for another year. After 2 weeks permanently parked on a movie theatre pew, The Sloth’s eyes are bloodshot and we have callouses around our nether regions. Never mind that, we hear you cry, what was good?  Drum roll please. In reverse order, here’s our top 5 to look forward to in months to come:

kelly-cal-poster5 Kelly & Cal.  WHY DOES JULIETTE LEWIS NOT GET MORE WORK? IT’S A DISGRACE! The Sloth LOVES Juliette, so we were delighted to see her in this bittersweet dramedy of an unlikely friendship between two outsiders. A small film with a very big heart. Seek it out.

 

Foxcatcher poster

4 Foxcatcher. Arriving with more critical fanfare than a trumpeter’s convention, frankly this was never going to live up to the hype. But it’s a cool, mesmeric, understated psychological drama with terrific turns from Channing Tatum (potential contender for The Sloths’ New Favourite Actor – how did Mr Step Up suddenly get so good?) and Steve Carrell.

 

MrTurner_Final3 Mr Turner. A biopic of the acclaimed painter sounds, let’s be honest, somewhat dull. But in the hands of Mike Leigh this is unexpectedly witty, warm and wonderfully entertaining. Add in Timothy Spall’s marvellously bestial, grunting, porcine performance and you’ve got a winner.

 

white god2 White God.  Dog pound strays turn nasty on their human captors. Mad as a bucket of frogs metaphorical critique of state oppression that starts out as Lassie and ends up 28 Days Later meets Planet Of The Apes. Nutty and sublime in equal measures. Deservedly won canine star Hagen the Palme Dog. We’re wondering how the director explained his motivation.

 

whiplash1 Whiplash.  Does what it says on the tin. A thrilling, demonic, whirlwind tale of musical obsession with terrifyingly good (and downright terrifying) performances from stars JK Simmons and Miles Teller. It drew not only applause but cheers at the press screening.  Stonking.

White God. You Ain’t Nothing But A Pound Dog.

white godDoubtless you are familiar with the music concept of ‘a mash up’ – taking two well known, disparate tracks and mixing together to create an all new (and hopefully fabulous) musical lovechild.  Now meet its cinematic cousin, White God, the rebellious, illegitimate son of Lassie and 28 Days Later.  Not only did it win Un Certain Regard at Cannes but its remarkable canine stars won the coveted Palm Dog, a title previously awarded to such four legged luminaries as Uggie from The Artist and Dug from Up.

Hagen the dog is a handsome crossbreed devoted to his young owner Lilli (Zsófia Psotta).  A product of a broken marriage, Lilli has been sent to stay with her father taking Hagen in tow. Unfortunately, neither Lilli’s father nor the owners of his state controlled apartment are keen on crossbreeds, the ownership of which necessitate paying a government tax. Unwilling to fork out cash to keep a mutt, after much wailing and protesting from Lilli, her father cruelly dumps Hagen by a busy roadside to fend for himself.

Initially finding company among other street strays, Hagen’s naivety soon gets the better of him as he is captured by a tramp who sells him to a dog fighting ring. Half starved, deprived of affection and forcibly exercised, Lilli’s loving pet is soon unrecognisable, methodically transformed into a snarling mass of teeth, claws and agression. But eventually the tables begin to turn as Hagen, plus an army of crossbred pooches imprisoned in the hellish city dog pound, start to rebel against their human oppressors.

An analogy for class oppression, as well as a chilling reminder of the cruelty man can inflect on beast, White God is wildly original, often deeply disturbing and tinged with pitch black humour. We defy you not to suppress (or let out – what the hell) a cheer in the final scenes as Hagen and his hundred strong canine army run amok through city streets in some of the most astounding and arresting visual imagines we’ve seen in cinema.  The proverbial dogs danglies.

Mr. Turner. Grunt Work.

MrTurner_FinalWe have to confess we approached Mr Turner feeling somewhat negative. We’re no philistine, but 2 ½ hours on the life of a painter? Who, to our knowledge, wasn’t in the habit of doing anything particularly exciting like cutting his ear off or harbouring absinthe/opium habits? What we hadn’t taken into account is Mr Turner is written and directed by Mike Leigh.

We meet William Turner (Timothy Spall), the celebrated painter of land and seascapes, at the height of his career. He is moneyed and successful. He lives with his father in a large and comfortable London house and has two illegitimate daughters by Sarah Denby (Ruth Sheen) and a new grandchild, whose existence he publicly denies. Brusque to the point of rudeness, solitary and bumptious, he is a curious individual, evidently damaged by being left by his mother early in life.

So what happens? Well, tangibly not a lot. We follow Turner’s daily life, his visits to the Royal Academy where he insults and taunts his great rival Constable. His trips to Margate where he found inspiration for his seascapes and a rare happy relationship with a widow, Mrs Booth (Marion Bailey). We see him suffer pretentious salons where the great and not so great pompously discuss art and philosophy.

It’s tremendous. Like a cross between Jane Austen and Blackadder, it possesses a marvellously witty script that is somehow both contemporary and period, completely bringing to life the social and artistic circles of the day in all their bickering, hierarchical glory. But it’s not without emotion. His callous, borderline cruel treatment of others is held up for our observation and judgment. Anchored by a memorably eccentric, growling, bestial performance from Timothy Spall, comprising porcine grunts, sagging jowls and disparaging eye rolls, a trip round the Tate Gallery will never be quite the same again.

UK release 31 October

Serena. Plenty Of Clouds. No Silver Linings.

serenaIf we were J-Law and Bradley Cooper’s respective other halves, we’d be getting a bit worried.  Serena is the third time they’ve worked together and Bradley was apparently recruited at J-Law’s special request as they had such a ball on Silver Linings Playbook.  Just sayin’…

This, however, is the first time they’ve done ‘serious’. Set in depression era North Carolina where men were men and women were of little consequence, Bradley plays George Pemberton, wealthy owner of a timber farm and dashing alpha-male. In need of a wife but finding few women of much interest, George is transfixed one day by the impressive skills of horsewoman Serena and sets about woo-ing her, which takes all of 5 minutes.

Soon married and high on a cloud of romance, George brings his alpha-female back to his timber farm where it becomes clear she is a woman of MUCH consequence. Assuming an equal status with her husband, who instructs his begrudging men to accept direction from Serena as if from him, all is joy and happiness. Until it becomes evident that not only can Serena not bear a child to complete their lives, but George is already father to an illegitimate son. Inevitably, jealously and paranoia soon begin to rear their ugly heads.

For the most part, we much enjoyed this slow-burning tale of love and obsession. Brooding and atmospheric, it takes unexpected twists and turns into an increasingly nightmarish scenario. Our only caveat was the overly melodramatic ending, which frankly was a little silly. But with two ever-watchable leads you can’t really go wrong. And did we mention Bradley shares undeniable chemistry with J-Law?  We’re just SAYIN’…

UK release 24 October

Maps To The Stars. Burn, Hollywood, Burn.

20140415153532!Maps_to_the_Stars_posterAs a subject, Hollywood loves nothing better than Hollywood, but most often in self-reverential terms. With the ridiculousness of La La Land ripe for satire, we can only assume Hollywood doesn’t go down that route too often as all those needy, neurotic actors find playing needy, neurotic actors a bit too close to the bone.  So for David Cronenberg’s satirical Maps To The Stars he did the only sensible thing – call the fearless Julianne Moore.

A warts-and-all dissection of celebrity, Maps To The Stars focuses on seemingly casually interlinked characters. Julianne plays the wonderfully named Havana Segrand, a needy, neurotic actor on the wrong side of the age hill. Havana chain smokes, has massage/therapy sessions with guru Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack) to work through her mother-issues and chases an ever-decreasing pool of parts. In need of a personal assistant to do all the tricky stuff she can’t manage – move pot plants, buy Tampax – she employs Agatha (Mia Wasikowska).

New in town and sporting long black leather gloves to hide scars from a house fire, Agatha is an unnerving presence. Befriending bored limo driver Jerome Fontana (Robert Pattinson), who is at pains to point out he is actually an actor and writer and thinking of converting to Scientology as a career move, she is cagey about her backstory.  And with good reason.

Our final main player is Benji Weiss (Evan Bird), teenage star of a hugely successful sitcom and son of guru Dr Stafford Weiss. fresh out of rehab, Benji is spoilt, brattish and odious to everyone who has the misfortune to meet him.

Inevitably, as more about them is revealed, our cast of miscreants become increasingly intertwined and brought down by their own flaws. Mercilessly skewering the self-obsession, narcissism and selfishness of a town where one person’s personal tragedy becomes another’s career opportunity, it is satirical often to the point of viciousness. And needless to say, Julianne Moore is on predictably magnificent form. Cracking stuff. As long as you’re not an ac-tor…

UK release 26 September

The Imitation Game. Stranger Than Fiction.

imitationThe Sloth wonders at what point the law was passed decreeing that B. Cumberbatch Esq and Ms. K Knightley should have first dibs on all eccentric loner and pouting vintage damsel roles respectively. For in The Imitation Game both are safely in their respective elements.

What do you think of when you hear ‘breaking the Enigma code’? We’re betting ‘Bletchley Park’ and ‘winning WW2’ spring immediately to mind, not ‘Alan Turing’ the mathematical genius who masterminded it. With the allied forces losing WW2 their only hope of victory was to break the supposedly unbreakable Enigma code that the German army used to send operational orders to its troops. Alan (Benedict Cumberbatch) was a Cambridge don recruited by MI6 as part of a team tasked with cracking the code.

Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell Alan there is no ‘i’ in ‘team’. His prickly, borderline autistic personality, fearsome intelligence and devastation at his only school friend dying at a young age isolated him from forming relationships. Fortunately fellow code cracker Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) had the patience to see through his arrogant façade and help him relate to the others. Which was just as well as Alan’s code cracking vision was of essentially the first ever computer, a mechanical monster that systematically chewed through work at a rate no human could.

Part history lesson, part biographical study, this is a fascinating insight into a remarkable event that had unimaginably far reaching consequences – in both human lives and technological progression.  We’d have liked a little more bare facts as to how Turing’s machine actually worked, but that’s a quibble and doubtless we wouldn’t have understood it anyway. Turing’s story, a man victim of gross prejudice despite his achievements, is often heart-breaking and Cumberbatch, as we have come to expect, does him full justice. Oh, and look out for the dashingly suave Mark Strong in a scene stealing role as a super-spook MI6 commander par excellence. Marvellous stuff.

UK release 14 November

’71. Soldiering On.

71-efm-1sheet-lr-1If Idris Elba is the current bookies favourite to be the next Bond, The Sloth is hedging a long range bet on Jack O’Connell being Idris’ successor.  Already a master of Bond’s essential moody, thousand yard stare and no stranger to cinematic violence, squint a bit and he could be Daniel Craig’s little brother.

In ’71 Jack plays young British squaddie Gary Hook.  A newbie recruit, still green around the edges, Gary finds himself dispatched to the Northern Ireland of the early 1970’s – not a good place to be for a British soldier. His regiment are charged with keeping a very fragile peace in an anti-British Belfast, at a time when IRA militant violence was at its peak. Commanded by a naively inexperienced officer who believes a cheerful smile will get the locals on-side, his regiment are sent to patrol the unpredictable streets with minimal defensive kit.

Within minutes, things take a turn for the worse.  A mob of aggressive locals surround the young soldiers, taunting and baying for blood. Tension and panic mounts and the soldiers find themselves under attack, pelted by missiles and molotov cocktails. In the confusion, they beat a chaotic retreat, leaving Gary behind to the fate of the vengeful mob. Fortunately, an older woman takes pity, saving him from the worst of their violence and he makes a run for his life. But what are his chances of survival in such violently combative streets?

We rated Jack O’Connell’s ultra-disturbing turn in Starred Up and he continues to impress here, a master of maximum conveyance with minimal dialogue. Gripping and shot with frightening intensity and immediacy, it captures the terror and animalism of the gang mentality – whether in Northern Ireland or any other political hotspot.  Just don’t get so traumatised that you forget to stop by Paddy Power for a quick flutter on the way home

UK release 10 October. More in the same vein? Try Starred Up.

Soul Boys Of The Western World. Communication Let Them Down.

spandaKids, let The Sloth sit you on our knee and tell you a bedtime story. Once upon a time Steve from Eastenders was a popstar who sang songs about Olympic medals while wearing a tea towel on his head. Don’t believe us? Check out Soul Boys Of The Western World.

Comprised partly of historical footage and partly of current day interviews, it traces what has now become a depressingly familiar pop career trajectory. Spandau Ballet were formed endearingly from a group of school chums who hung out at the now legendary Blitz Club (did ANYONE from an 80’s pop band NOT hang out there?), taking cues from the cool club kids and dressing like pirates. Suitably swathed in enough tartan to fuel the entire Scottish tourist industry, their big break came with the impossibly catchy To Cut A Long Story Short and chart domination soon followed.

Inevitably, as the royalties came flooding in primarily to songwriter Gary Kemp, tensions surfaced and Spandau eventually imploded in a messy and very public court battle. The brothers Kemp went off to be actors and the rest got jobs down Lidl or something. One thing clear from the present day interviews is very little love was lost.

Much has been made of the 80’s revival. Hoary old one-hit-wonder popstrals are dusting down their shoulder pads and troweling on the eyeliner for the delectation of middle class festivals across the country (OK we’re being sniffy but we’d secretly quite like to see The Durannies belting out Hungry Like the Wolf one last time). Spandau Ballet, who for so long held out, have finally also succumbed and are taking the stage once more to coincide with this film’s release.  Money hungry publicity stunt or genuine attempt to reconcile?  Soul Boys Of The Western World, by going more for nostalgia than the jugular, would suggest perhaps a bit of both. And it’s certainly fun gawping at the 80’s fashion excess while you ponder.

UK release 30 September

What We Did On Our Holiday

holidayWho doesn’t love Billy Connolly? The loose Glaswegian comedy cannon who proved himself a serious ac-toor with a glowering turn in Mrs Brown, simultaneously becoming bezzie mates with Dame Judi, is now a bona fide National Treasure. So we were very much looking forward to seeing him take an increasingly rare screen role in What We Did On Our Holiday.

Doug (David Tenanant) and Abi McLeod (the currently ubiquitous Rosamond Pike – how does that girl fit it all in?) are having marital problems. But, faced with a gathering of the family clan to celebrate Doug’s father Gordy’s (Billy Connolly) 75th birthday, like all good imminent divorcees they decide to hide their situation from the rest of the family. So packing their three children into the car they begin a long, squabbling and bickering journey North.

Not that things calm down on reaching their destination. With Doug’s insuffereable brother Gavin (Ben Miller) and downtrodden wife Margaret (Amelia Bullmore) supervising the party planning, chaos reigns supreme. Oblivious to the chaos is Gordy who, seriously ill, has clear ideas of his priorities in life. Gathering up his grandchildren he sneaks them off to escape the fracas for a day at the seaside. But things don’t turn out exactly as anticipated.

We won’t reveal a simultaeously macabre and joyful twist in this tale. Suffice to say it caught us unawares and elevated what at first seemed to just be a run of the mill mainstream comedy. From the creators of the TV show Outnumbered, it has the same semi-improvised feel, with the child actors ad-libs apparently leading the dialogue. And boy do the kids earn their pocket money.  But for us the most moving element was Billy Connolly’s portrayal of the terminally ill Gordy. Having been diagnosed with cancer in real life, it’s a poginiant instance of art imitating life. Let’s hope he beats it and we get a good few more vintage performances out of The Big Yin.

UK release 26 September