Magic Mike XXL And The Female Gaze

In the last couple of weeks this (female) Sloth has screened both Entourage and Magic Mike XXL, which to some extent can be seen as companion pieces to each other, being male and female skewed respectively. And our reactions to the two got us thinking.

For those of you who have not seen Entourage, we will summarise: young, male Hollywood hottie cruises around LA with his gang of pals, generally surrounded by pouting, large breasted dollybirds in various stages of undress:

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For those of you who have not seen Magic Mike XXL we will summarise: gang of male strippers go on road trip, making regular stops to gyrate with puppyish enthusiasm in the laps of whooping, cackling women:

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Now bearing in mind we are a female, heterosexual Sloth we should theoretically have lapped up (no pun intended) the oiled pecs of Mike and his crew and been filled with feminist ire at the jiggling cleavages gratuitously displayed throughout Entourage. But instead we found ourselves completely nonplussed by Entourage whilst frequently cringing with toe-curling embarrassment at Mike and co’s dry humping – to the extent of occasionally hitting the fast forward button.

Why so? Can’t be anything to do with the oft-cited theories that women are less reactive to visual stimulation than men – for if that was the case The Sloth surely should have been equally nonplussed by both. We can only conclude our reaction was down to social conditioning. Sexualised images of semi-naked women are saturated in cinema, the media, advertising, TV; omnipresent in all aspects of our culture. Yet to see semi-naked men displayed in mainstream culture purely for the purposes of heterosexual women’s objectification is not just rare, it’s virtually non-existent. So whilst highly sexualised images of women no longer merit even the tiniest raise of an eyebrow, the unprecedented sight of Channing Tatum in a cheesewire thong bumping and grinding to an audience of hundreds of women pulls the rug from under our social consciousness, leaving us confused and uncertain of how to react.

Now the facetious amongst you may be thinking ‘stop being so chaffing uptight and get down to a Chippendales gig already’, but we do think this is a depressing state of affairs. Don’t get us wrong, we’re not calling for men to start dropping their trousers and oiling up en masse, we’d just like a move towards a middling equality, beginning with changes in the depiction of women. If you haven’t done so already, may we urge you to sign the No More Page Three petition, which would be a start. Little acorns…

5 Great Music Films

In a week when both Love & Mercy and Amy go on general release, The Sloth has come over all melodious. We’ve hummed through our DVD collection to bring you our favourite musical films from recent years. If you haven’t yet seen them, get watching, preferably with the volume dialled up to 11.

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It’s not just ‘coz The Sloth is a ma-hoo-sive Joy Division fan. Really it isn’t.  This biopic of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis is simply a sublime piece of filmmaking, being the feature film debut of both director Anton Corbjin and star Sam Riley, who gives an astonishing performance as the twitchy, tortured Curtis. By that logic, The Sloth wonders why more complete novices aren’t out there making BAFTA nominated films. We might give it a shot ourselves, come the next rainy Sunday afternoon.

oscar-isaac-in-inside-llewyn-davis1Inside Llewyn Davis

The Sloth has replayed Inside Llewyn Davis’s scene of Justin Trousersnake singing ‘Please Mr Kennedy’ on YouTube more times than we dare admit. And barked like a seal with sheer delight every single time. Should you have not seen these 100 mins of joy from the dark comic minds of the Coen Brothers, rectify this immediately. Not only is it chock full of bone dry humour, but it also features some beautifully sung folk music from the ludicrously talented Oscar Issac.

Poster_of_the_movie_Scott_Walker-_30_Century_ManScott Walker: 30 Century Man

No doubt you’ll have heard of The Walker Brothers, a 60’s band whose song The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Any More was a global hit. Post hits, Scott Walker went his own musical way. 30 Century Man explores what a way it was. Avant-garde doesn’t even begin to describe it. Revered to the status of legend in musical circles, Mr Walker’s work teetered on the brink of what we recognise as music. An afternoon in the studio, for example, might see him record professional percussionists methodically punching pieces of meat, as you do. Totally Bonkers.Totally brilliant.

tewneyTwenty Feet From Stardom

Seemingly a case of always the bridesmaid, never the bride, the backing singer can slug away for decades on the cusp of the limelight. But is that through choice, or are they a victim of bad luck? Documentary Twenty Feet From Stardom pulls the lid back on an unseen world where some of these supremely talented ladies have reached legend status amongst their musical peers. With interviews from the likes of Mick Jagger, this is proper, grown up, eye-opening stuff.

pitch-perfect-2-posterPitch Perfect 2

Yes, go ahead and sneer, snobby musical purists! You’re no fun and The Sloth would rather chew our own toenails than listen to you drone on about the influence of Andy Warhol on Leonard Cohen’s early works, blah blah, yawn, zzzz. We love the Pitch Perfect ladies, particularly for their sheer audacity in opening their second film with Fat Amy flashing her lady-bits to The Obamas. What more could you want? Apart from a robotic rival German group called (affect constipated voice) Das Sound Machine. Oh, they put that in too. Magic!

Love & Mercy. God Only Knows What Musical Genius Takes

Love-and-Mercy-Poster-2015En route to a preview screening of Love & Mercy, The Sloth was shocked to discover that a junior colleague in attendance “didn’t really know” The Beach Boys. Granted, said colleague was probably born when The Sloth was guzzling K Cider and shoe-gazing to Suede the first time round, but still. Good Vibrations is something babies can gurgle on emergence from the womb, no?

Having given said colleague a stern dressing down, we settled back. Love & Mercy is a dramatisation of the life of Brian Wilson, roundly acknowledged to be the creative force behind The Beach Boys and a bona fide musical genius. Split between his early career in the band and his later struggles with mental illness, it eschews a chronological approach to instead jump back and forth in time, with the younger Wilson played by Paul Dano and the older by John Cusack.

We first meet an older, shaky, ill Brian buying a Cadillac from attractive car dealer Melinda (Elizabeth Banks).  Striking up a rapport, Brian asks her out. But dating Brian is no simple matter. Pumped full of drugs and monitored 24/7 by the oppressive, controlling Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), it soon becomes clear that Brian’s life is not his own.

It’s easy to assume Brian Wilson’s later troubles resulted directly from 60’s ‘excess’ but, as Melinda gets to know Brian, so do we. We see the young Brian, clearly a fragile and sensitive soul to begin with, derided, mocked and tormented by a cruel father. We see the older Brian verbally abused and manipulated by Dr Landy. Fortunately for Brian, Melinda decides to do something about it.

And throughout it all we have the music. Paul Dano is stunning as the young Wilson, doing his own playing and singing in a manner that doesn’t just mimic, but somehow captures his spirit. A semi-improvised scene of a young Wilson on a creative high, frantically directing a wonderstruck studio full of musicians to play in entirely new ways, reminds us just how innovative he was.

Love & Mercy is a captivating, emotional tribute to genius and a warning note to the price it can cost. If you have any interest in music, any at all, go see. Then dig out your copy of Pet Sounds and play it with new reverence. Oh, and my junior colleague? He absolutely loved it. Mr Wilson, your legend lives on.

UK release 10 July

Strangerland – The Salty Popcorn Review

Please give a big welcome back to What Movie This Week’s Aussie pals Salty Popcorn, bringing you the best of Australian cinema.  Salty Popcorn’s editor, Jason King, takes a look at Strangerland, his hot tip for best Aussie movie of 2015. Fingers crossed it’ll wing its way over to Blighty before too long…

Strangerland_General_poster_A4poster-724x1024New to the remote Australian desert town of Nathgari, the Parker family is thrown into crisis when Catherine (Nicole Kidman) and Matthew (Joseph Fiennes) discover that their two teenage kids, Tommy (Nicholas Hamilton) and Lily (Maddison Brown), have mysteriously disappeared just before a massive dust storm hits the town. With Nathgari now eerily smothered in red dust and darkness, the locals join the search led by local cop David Rae (Hugo Weaving). With temperatures rising, and the chances of survival plummeting with each passing day, Catherine and Matthew find themselves pushed to the brink as they struggle to survive the uncertainty of their children’s fate.

The film is spectacular, hands down I do believe this will be my favourite Australian movie of 2015 and comes across as this year’s THE ROVER. It is easily one of Kidman’s best performances from an incredible career and she eats the screen in this one. Also her and Weaving act together is a perfect fit, two actors who not only know each other so well but are so comfortable acting together it is almost natural.

Dealing with grief is a terrible thing to go through, dealing with that grief with the knowledge that your children may or may not be dead and you don’t know where they are, and you can’t do anything is enough to drive anyone insane. In a small town in the middle of the desert when you know there is a survival clock is beyond horrendous. I don’t want to imagine.

For the Parkers, it is incredibly difficult, they moved to Nathgari for the sole purpose of getting away from attention. Attention brought about by their daughter, a truly promiscuous teenager who is bored in this small town and longs for attention. Lily is her mother’s daughter. Catherine needs attention, she is lonely, her husband has withdrawn away from her and they were never right for each other. In Nathgari she is bored, and depressed, and she lacks little in the way of feelings. Lily is basically the same but going through her late teen years. Tommy is younger, the most grounded and least affected by their family situation and someone adapting better but slower, but he also has his own issue and night-wanders through the town.

The film presents as a murder/ disappearance mystery/ psychological thriller, in a small town there can only be a few suspects and the entire town is affected by this tragedy.

As I said earlier Kidman’s performance is just sublime, she appears more comfortable away from the Hollywood studios. Weaving is always amazing and his small town cop, thoroughly enjoyable. I did not like Fiennes or his character and am uncertain if this is due to his bad casting or because it was so good I just loathed the character, the chemistry between him and Kidman was hideous, but at this stage of their marriage it should be. Brown was fine as slutty Lily and Hamilton was superb as Tommy, I loved his character and his lack of connection later in the movie was strong, the compassion and empathy I had for this kid was more powerful than my thoughts for the rest of the family.

The film captures small town Australian desert/ country-life perfectly, the dust storm was a bonus and the isolation was uncomfortable. Farrant’s direction was a triumph and P.J. Dillon’s cinematography is a marvel that is matched by the fine wine of Keefus Ciancia’s music that smothers the movie in long drawn out tension oozing in melancholy and desperation.

My gripes are two; firstly, already mentioned is my indecision of Fiennes, but this is not his movie, it is Kidman’s, and she owns it. But lastly, the ending was not what I was expecting, it was mostly unnecessary and I felt the film was let down by this, it lacked the gravitas I believed it desired.

Regardless of the flaws the film has way more merits, it plays like a long strummed piano wire and the tension is wonderful.

Salty Popcorn score: 4/5

The Goob. Fear And Loathing In East Anglia.

GOOBVENICE2808AAh, the coming of age film. 90-odd minutes of torture, digging up painful memories of searing hormones, sprouting hairy bits and execrable fashion choices. Let’s sign up for another, shall we? And let’s make it a British Social Realist one while we’re at it. No point doing pain by halves.

The Goob (Liam Walpole) is a teenager. We have no idea why he is called Goob, presumably it’s just more enigmatic. He lives in East Anglia, which is not a good place for teenagers, so we’re already off to a painful start. We meet Goob on his last day of secondary school, dropped off in the middle of a field in the back of beyond, his mates mooning out the back window at him.

Goob lives with his mother Janet (Sienna Guillory), who runs a greasy spoon roadside cafe. Janet hangs out at the stock car racing, where she’s hooked herself up with car racer Gene (Sean Harris). Gene fancies himself as an Alpha male, eyeing up bits of skirt, throwing his weight around and viciously bullying the gawky, sensitive Goob.

What action there is in Goob’s world revolves around the few people who pass through – effervescent gay teen Elliot (Oliver Kennedy), who offers Goob a hand of genuine friendship. Temporary farm worker Roza (Rosa French) with whom he shares a burgeoning romance. But these glimpses of happiness are methodically crushed by the violent Gene.

The Goob comes with the misery prerequisite for any British social realist drama. Impoverished rural community – check. Browbeaten women with Croydon facelifts – check. Violent working class male – check. But it also has moments of sheer joy – Oliver’s marvellously camp dance routine to Donna Summer’s I Feel Love;  the flat farmland of East Anglia assuming a beauty like the Great Plains.

First time writer/director Guy Myhill has creating an emotionally complex and atmospheric drama that builds slowly and oppressively to an inevitable flashpoint conclusion. Coaxing great performances from his actors, not least the bug eyed, skinny, watchful Goob, the occasional cliché can be forgiven. We look forward to seeing what he does next. After we’ve blanked out those queasy age 16 flashbacks…

UK release 29 May

 

Kingsman: The Secret Service. We go behind the action scenes with Matthew Vaughn, Colin Firth and Taron Egerton

KSS_JB_D07_00960.tifForgive The Sloth for a touch of heresy but CGI-heavy action films can be more than a touch generic. We’re surely not the first person to yawn and wonder what to have for tea as the n’th building / helicopter / rampaging alien is blown to smithereens. Kingsman instead takes an old-skool, lo-fi, analogue approach to its action sequences and is all the better for it. The Sloth got the lowdown from director Matthew Vaughn and stars Colin Firth and Taron Egerton into what went on behind the scenes.

Matthew Vaughn on his approach to the action sequences:
I think action can be the dullest part of movies ironically nowadays. And I love action movies, but when you see generic quick cutting, I switch, I actually fast forward now. I just tried watching a movie, which made a billion dollars last year, and it didn’t do it for me, the bigger the sequence the more bored I was which is I think quite an achievement in a weird way. I try to do things differently and keep the audience on their toes.

Taron Egerton on the action sequences of the film:
It was the great unknown for me. I had done action of sorts but it’s the stylized nature of action in ‘Kingsman’ that makes it extraordinary and that makes it really demanding. The fighting for example requires a real discipline and very specific choreography. It wasn’t always easy, you know there were times when I really didn’t feel I was getting things, and there were times when I was just so exhausted that you think, “My word, I really don’t know how am I going to get through this, you know?” But I worked with the most extraordinary team of men. One of them built my body with me and the other taught me how to move. They kind of have as much responsibility for what Eggsy is in the film as I do really.

Colin Firth on Matthew Vaughn’s inspiration for creating the character:
Matthew’s preference was always David Niven, saying that he wanted to revert to a kind of original Ian Fleming notion of a rather traditional gentleman spy. One of the reasons he was interested in me was because I was precisely the last person you would ever imagine being able to do any of this, and that’s part of the fun he has, because he loves to subvert people’s expectations. You know because if he had said to me, I want to hire you for your innate butchness, it might have been a very short conversation.

Colin Firth on his training for the film:
It was pretty rough at the beginning. I didn’t know what I was in for because these guys all have incredibly advanced skills obviously, they are the best in their field. And I think they wondered whether, well, how much ability I would have. You know they knew what my age was, I have no real history of athleticism. I think they gave me points for effort and willingness, which helped us get going. So it started with let’s see if we can get his lower body animated. You know oil some of the hinges and do some squats and lunges and agonizing things, which I just don’t think anybody in the world wants to do, because we didn’t have the choreography for months. That was quite late. In the meantime it was months and months and months of doing the kinds of moves that I was going to have to do just to make sure I was capable of doing them And if you do that, and if you’ve got a team like that, and if you persist and are willing to take a bit of pain, inevitably some progress will be made. So I went from this place of feeling entirely out of my depth, to getting really quite exhilarated to the point where I thought, “This is what I want to do.” And actually I have to confess, going back to doing the routine acting scenes, were a bit of a comedown. You know I just thought, after everything I’ve done, you can just send my suit into work and have exactly the same effect.

Colin Firth on the process of filming the church scene:
Well that’s where the choreography had to be studied and learned… it’s a dance really. Most of the time, wherever I was, I had about five opponents, plus the camera operator who is one of the dancers. When someone’s on their left foot instead of their right, even when you’re dancing conventionally, that can be a problem, but we were also working with heavy objects, and you know all kinds of bizarre props that were being used in that sequence.. And one of the things that was educational about the rules of this, was that you have to act it as well. So if you just learn it very, very fast, it will look mechanical and it will actually loose energy because of that. You know we’ve all seen fast action sequences, which are boring as anything. What’s going on had to be built in as a part of it. And that’s actually what made it so alive.

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Kingsman: The Secret Service is out on Digital HD on May 24th and on Blu-Ray and DVD on June 8th from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

Top Five. Stand Up And Be Counted.

top-five.33979What do you think when you hear ‘Chris Rock’? Shouty, fast talking, boggle-eyed, profane American comic and probably not much else? Top Five, written, directed by and starring the man himself, might start to change that.

Chris plays Andre Allen, a stand up comic who found widespread fame as Hammy the bear in a low-brow movie franchise. Fed up with people shouting ‘Hammy’ at him in public, he wants to be taken seriously so has written and starred in a suitably serious movie.  About, err, black people revolting and overthrowing white people. To add to his ‘credibility’, in Kimye stylee he’s engaged to blingy reality TV star Erica (Gabrielle Union) and their every move is documented by a film crew.

To drum up publicity for the impending release of his movie Andre has agreed to be interviewed by reporter and single mother Chelsea (Rosario Dawson). Through the course of a few days they wander the streets together, chewing the fat and slowly bonding. Interspersed, naturally, with a few bawdy comedy set pieces such as the eye-wateringly crude, if admittedly hilarious, scene involving Chris, two prostitutes and that bastion of tasteless US comedy, Cedric The Entertainer.

On paper, the premise of Top Five might sound somewhat dubious. It might also sound very US-centric. But don’t be fooled. It’s smart, thoughtful, funny and has a really rather British sense of satirical self-awareness. It’s also brilliantly acted with Chris Rock and Rosario Dawson playing marvellously off each other in a way that feels utterly naturally and more than a bit improvised. Ironically, the one thing that didn’t particularly zing was a scene when Andre takes to the stage for a bit of stand up.

Mr Rock previously demonstrated stellar straight-man acting skills of a remarkably subtle nature in Francophile Julie Delpy’s Two Days In New York, so The Sloth has a sneaking suspicion he’s actually a closet Europhile itching to broaden his horizons. Someone give the man a role at The Old Vic already. He’s gagging for it.

UK release 8 May 2015

Rosewater. Does Jon Stewart’s directorial debut come up smelling sweet?

rosewaterJon Stewart is a multi-award winning American comic legend, synonymous with satirical stalwart, The Daily Show.  He wouldn’t be The Sloth’s first thought to direct a hotly political, real life drama of a journalist’s imprisonment in Iran, but Rosewater sees him break new ground. Should he have stuck to the day (no pun intended) job?

Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) was born in Tehran to Canadian and Iranian parents.  As a child, successive brutal regimes imprisoned both his father and older sister.  Relocated to London in later life he married a Brit and took a job as an investigative journalist for Newsweek.  With Iran on the brink of elections in 2009 which looked set to topple incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in favour of reformist candidates, Maziar returned to Tehran to cover developments.

Arriving at the airport Maziar chanced upon affable, outspoken taxi driver Davood (Dimitri Leonidas) who introduced him to Tehran’s liberal, pro-reform community.  Interviewing and filming his way around the city, all is going well until the President was re-elected in an apparently rigged vote. The government turned violently on protesters, exposed internationally by Maziar’s camera, and he found himself thrown into solitary confinement in an Iranian jail for the next 118 days. Accused of being a Western spy, he was by turn cajoled, harangued and tortured by his dedicated interrogator, known as a ‘Specialist’.

Filmed realistic stylee, often seen through Maziar’s own camera, Rosewater paints a credible picture of life in day to day Iran, all erratic traffic, tactile male hugging and loud gesticulating. It’s also something of an eyebrow-raiser for a naive audience to see sectors of the Iranian community cheerfully swigging illicit vodka and discussing Grand Theft Auto.

It isn’t perfect. The scenes of Maziar’s solitary confinement and interrogation drag on far too long, but what it does do well, doubtless honed from Mr Stewart’s prior experience, is unexpectedly add black humour into the mix. Maziar’s rejection of a coffee brought by his Specialist receives the growling response “You don’t like my Nescafe?” as comic as it is threatening.  And, whilst we don’t wish to take credit away from Mr Stewart, in hiring the always fabulous Gael Garcia Bernal you can’t really go wrong. All in all, an interesting debut effort.

UK release 8 May 2015

Far From The Madding Crowd – Too Hot To Hardy

maddingYou may have read Far From The Madding Crowd at school. And you’re thinking, yawn, literary adaptation, some hills & Daaarset accents, wotevs.  Think again, for it feels really rather contemporary.

Mostly, this is due to the fabulous Cary Mulligan as Hardy’s strong willed and impetuous heroine Bathsheba Everdene. We’re not a Sloth prone to gushing, but the girl is simply splendid in everything she does.  And we’re also a big fan of her habitual feminist rants against the omnipresent sexism of the film industry, which still rarely creates proper (i.e. non-totty) roles for female actors. One day soon we will do a post about the Bechdel test, but we digress.

For those of you unfamiliar with the novel, Bathsheba is a surprisingly feminist character. An orphan who inherits a sizeable farm from an uncle, she finds herself in the position to – gasp – not be reliant on a man for income. Not only that but she runs said farm with an iron fist, battling sexism and misogyny till finally winning the locals over.

Being young, rich and attractive, she attracts her share of admirers. Rugged shepherd Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), whose steadfast support and loyalty is compromised by his lack of social stature. Local landowner William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), whose social stature is compromised by being a bit of a dork. And caddish, womanising soldier Sergeant Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge) who she only goes and marries, the fool.

Whilst this might sound like a standard romantic drama, the plot twists and turns through moments bordering on melodrama, like a glossier, prettier and particularly thrilling episode of Eastenders. In fact, the only slight problem is arguably one of sexism. As we have discussed, women are generally cast as totty. However the casting of Cheesecake Hunkmeister du Jour, Matthias Schoenearts, as Gabriel, whom a (straight) male colleague was recently moved to confess he’d had an almighty man-crush on since he starred in Rust and Bone, frankly makes the concept of Bathsheba even considering another suitor completely laughable. But if you can get over that (or hey, just indulge that man-crush and ogle Matthias looking moody and rugged on windswept hilltops whilst, err, deflating gas out of bloated sheep’s bellies), this is a beautifully acted and engaging adaptation.

UK release 1 May

A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence

A-Pigeon-Sat-On-A-Branch-PosterGotta love the Scandis. They are collectively mad as a bucket of barking frogs. Having taken over most of the known universe with their particularly chilling brand of Nordic noir, they’re stepping up a notch. The Sloth can only assume A Pigeon Sat On A Branch  was conceived during the longest night of the coldest, darkest Nordic Winter, such is the inky, deadpan depth of its comic and philosophical blackness.

Frankly we’re at a loss to explain any kind of plot. Rather, it’s a surreal mix of sketches, vignettes and snippets of life happening around town in 1940’s Gothenburg. We visit Limping Lotta’s Bar, where her loyal customers join in a rousing, impromptu song to the tune of Glory Glory Hallelujah, agreeing to pay for their drinks by a kiss. We follow two morose salesman peddling their comedy vampire fangs and Uncle One-Tooth masks to penniless shopkeepers. And hang out in a cafe where a King’s horseman, complete with prancing steed, enters to shoo all the women out before His Majesty himself descends for a drink.

So what exactly is it about? Well, basically the contemplation of death. Shot in a palette of khaki and beige, its wan and melancholic characters stand immobile, stare into space and wander slowly and ponderously in and out of characterless interiors, mostly in complete silence but occasionally underscored by an incongruously cheery waltz or the occasional song, all searching for meaning in their drab, colourless existences. Gothenburg essentially needs one socking great shot of Prozac.

If this all sounds unspeakably grim, it isn’t (apart from a scene with a monkey which we’ll spare you. Oh, and a scene where us Brits don’t come off too well. But apart from that…). We laughed out loud at several points and quickly succumbed to the hypnotic lull of its stately, measured pace. Granted, it’s not for everyone but if you like your humour of the very blackest persuasion and balanced with a measure of sad melancholy, it might just tickle your fancy.

UK release 8 May