Million Dollar Arm. Tugs At The Hamm-Strings.

MillionDollarArm-PosterDon’t switch off after you read the next sentence, OK? Million Dollar Arm is a movie about baseball. NO, STEP AWAY FROM THE BACK BUTTON! It’s good! And you needn’t be American to watch it. Honest! Now keep reading.

Based on a true story, it follows the fortune of sports agent JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm). Down on his luck and devoid of decent clients, his business is about to go belly up unless he comes up with A Bright Idea, fast. Fortunately he does, from the unlikely combined inspirations of Susan Boyle and Indian cricketers. JB surmises that if cricketers can bowl a cricket ball fast, they can pitch a baseball fast. And that no-one in India watches baseball. Therefore find an Indian cricketer, turn him into a baseball pitcher and x million Indians will start watching baseball. Think of the marketing opportunities!

JB sets about creating ‘Million Dollar Arm’, an X Factor-style competition to find young Indian cricketers with raw pitching potential. Roping in retired, curmudgeonly talent spotter Ray (Alan Arkin), he packs up and heads for Mumbai where, after auditioning seemingly every cricketing juvenile in the land, they pick their naive, impressionable winners and ship them back to the good ol’ US of A for intensive coaching.

This is, if you’ll excuse the old sporting adage, a game of two halves. Part one sees the capitalist, uptight American dealing with the colourful, emotional chaos of India. Part two sees the innocent and unworldly young Indian cricketers dealing with the urban, impersonal culture of the US. But will the two, fish-out-of-water sides come together and learn from each other? There’s the Million Dollar question.

On paper this is clichéd and pulls every emotional string in the book. It even throws in a handy love interest sub-plot for JB. But we enjoyed it. Yes, it shamelessly plunders the Slumdog Millionaire feelgood factor, but the scenes in India have charm and humour. Most importantly, the cast are clearly having such a good time you can’t help but share it. Don’t analyse, just sit back and let it wash over you.

UK release 29 August.

What If. Friends Without Benefits.

What-If-posterWe hate rom coms. They make us want to stick forks in our eyes and run screaming for the nearest Terminator box set. But, because we are dutiful and honorable Sloth, we put personal suffering to one side and committed ourselves to What If.

90 minutes later we still had our sight. So by normal reckoning it was therefore fabulous and you should go see it pronto.  What?  You want more?  Grrr.

Wallace (Daniel Racfliffe, sadly without a canine sidekick called Gromit), is a bit of a geek. Shambling around at a party he strikes up a conversation with the also geeky Chantry (Zoe Kazan). Hitting it off, Wallace walks her home, clearly anticipating a bit of tonsil tennis. Sadly, Chantry chooses that moment to casually reveal she has a boyfriend, the flirtarious harpy. Crestfallen, Wallace tears up the ‘let’s be friends’ phone number she gave him and sulks.

Not for long. Bumping into each other at a movie theatre, they hit it off once again. And this time, stay in touch. For while Chantry’s boyfriend Ben (Rafe Spall, with Canadian accent) is still on the scene, Wallace figures he may as well lust from afar. So begins a beautiful friendship, marred only  by Ben’s suspicion of Wallace’s motives, plus the continual ribbing and derision Wallace’s friend Allan (Adam Driver) pours upon him. But can a man and woman every stay just friends?

Yes, we’ve seen this scenario before and no-doubt we’ll see it again. But, putting our cynicism aside, as rom coms go this is definitely one of the better ones. It’s sweet without being too cutesy and features just enough crudity and low budget indie sensibility to steer well away from Kate Hudson territory.  And we did quite like Daniel as a leading man – all nervous and short and awkward. He’s definitely no chested-waxed hearthrob and that makes a refreshing change.

Now we’re off to watch Arnie blow things up.

UK release 20 August

Lucy. 100% Bonkers.

LUVYThe Sloth loves a kick-ass female lead. The Bride from Kill Bill, Ripley in Alien, you get the drift. So Lucy, a sci-fi-esq tale of a female assassin from the director of Leon (one of the best films EVER), sounded right up our street.

Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is having a bad day, forced to deliver a briefcase with unknown but presumably dodgy contents to notorious criminal Mr Jang (Min-sik Choi).  Mr Jang, who surrounds himself with gun wielding mobsters and splices and dices anyone he doesn’t like, is a drug smuggler who transports his wares inside the stomachs of human mules, of whom Lucy is to be the next.

However, a technical hitch occurs in transit. One of Lucy’s intestinal packages bursts open, flooding her system with Jang’s drug, a wonder-product that allows humans to utilise all 100% of their brain capacity. Cue a cut to The Science Bit: Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) lecturing college students on the heights man could potentially reach if we employed more than the pathetic 20% or so that we actually use. Design self-slicing kebabs, that kind of thing.

Literally pumped full of drugs, Lucy develops an increasing array of astounding human super-powers as her brain capacity steadily rises. Unfortunately, this coincides with a mirrored decline in her empathy and emotional skills. No matter. Wired and intent on revenge against Jang, Super-Lucy still takes time to rope in Professor Norman to study and record her ground-breaking cerebral experience for the Greater Human Good.

Don’t try to make any sense of this. Switching rapidly between high octane action thriller and bonkers pseudo-intellectual scientific theorising, we suspect The Science Bit would hold less water than Rab C Nesbitt’s string vest. But that doesn’t matter. Like spending an afternoon with a toddler high on tartrazine, it’s wildly energetic, hugely entertaining and pays zero attention to conventional logic. Plus which, Scarlett makes a cracking super-human heroine. Enjoy. Then have a lie down.

UK release 22 August

Deux Jours, Une Nuit. Power To The People.

deuxIs there a finer actress working today than Marion Cotillard? Most probably not. Because in the hands of anyone else, Deux Jours, Une Nuit could be mind-numbingly dull. Thanks to her, it’s captivating.

This is a French film. A really French film. For what, apart from a strike or a ripe brie, could be more French than a social realist drama concerning the rights of the workers? Our heroine Sandra (Marion Cotillard), is a factory worker who has been on extended sick leave with depression and is now ready to return to work. However, her colleagues have maintained productivity levels without her. So why should her company pay one more salary than is needed?

Sandra’s colleagues were therefore issued with a vote: i) choose to allow Sandra to return to work OR ii) choose to receive their annual EUR1,000 bonus. Unsurprisingly, colleagues voted to sack Sandra and receive their bonus. But, on discovering misinformation was spread to influence voting, permission is granted for a re-vote, giving Sandra one critical weekend to try and persuade colleagues to choose her, not their bonus. Desperate, ashamed and exhausted, she visits each in turn, listening helplessly to responses across the moral spectrum, from feeble excuses about needing the money for home improvements, to undicided ambiguity, to emphatic support.

We’re no employment lawyer, but surely none of this is legal? Anyway, let’s not obstruct a good moral dilemma. For what could be a dry, heavy handed tract about money being the root of all evil, in Cotillard’s hands becomes gripping, emotional and very human. The film asks a simple question – what is more important, the individual or the greater good? And as Sandra asks this of each colleage it asks the same question of us. Would we spurn our own gain to help another? Vive Le Socialisme! Vive La Cotillard!

UK release 22 August

Into The Storm. A Supersized McFlurry.

movies-into-the-storm-posterNormally we are a cerebral Sloth. But even the most intellectual of mammals need, on occasion, to let their metaphorical hair down and indulge in some movie junkfood.  Into The Storm didn’t just let our hair down, it whipped it thrice round our neck and near-on choked us with a supersized, stuffed-crust, McWhopper.

Pete (Matt Walsh) is a stormhunter and documentary filmmaker. He drives around in a tank, as you do, searching out tornadoes. Pete is assisted by hapless weathergirl Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies) who, after months of not even predicting a storm in a teacup, finally reckons she has found a big one. So grumpy Pete and his young cameramen sidekicks dutifully head out towards the melee.

But this isn’t just a big one.  This is THE Big One. A Biblical storm of the most epic proportions, it’s threatening to take out an entire town in one fell swoop. But obviously just taking out a mere town wouldn’t be enough. We need a bigger stakes than that. Luckily, it’s also graduation day at the local high school and every bright eyed, bushy tailed, A-Grade student with a glowing future is a sitting duck in its destructive path…

Let’s get one thing straight.  This is ridiculous. Utter trash. Complete hokum. Seriously, leave all credibility at the door and forget any concerns of character or script. The screening The Sloth attended preceeded with a dramatic and reverent homage to the technical sonic wonder of Dolby Atmos. This is why you are here, for special effects so tremendously, disconcertingly realistic we were scrabbling for our brolly.  Add to this the results of When Techies Go Rogue, creating CGI people getting sucked into burning tornadoes, and you have the ultimate popcorn cheese-fest. Enjoy the sugar rush. Then detox with a triple helping of Bergman.

UK release 20 August. Want more action satisfaction? Try Non-Stop

God Help The Girl. Cynics Need Not Apply.

GOD-HELP-THE-GIRL-01We’re just going to come right out and say it – we absolutely loved God Help The Girl.  Written by Stuart Murdoch of Everything But The Girl, it features music from the band’s repertoire performed by the actors. And yes, this does mean they are prone to bursting into song in the middle of the street. The Sloth sees half of you are already reaching for your coats and normally we would entirely share your reaction, but wait just one second and hear us out.

Eve (Emily Browning) is a reluctant hospital ward. Anorexic and troubled, she uses music as an escape. Quite literally. Making a break for it one night she heads for a gig in the centre of Glasgow where she meets musician James (Olly Alexander). Angry and alone after a bust up with the rest of his band, James finds solace in Eve and, when she admits she has nowhere to go, invites her to stay in his flat.

Bonding over a shared love of music, Eve reveals some of the songs she has written to James who, already smitten, now falls head over heels. Deciding to form their own band they recruit the ever-cheerful Cass (Hannah Murray) as a third member and our trio set about rehearsing, arguing, canoeing round Glasgow’s canals and playing the odd gig, because that’s what bands do.

What makes this so touching is the relationship between James and Eve. His ever-hopeful, unrequited adoration of her is so painful and true to life it brings back all those memories of schoolyard crushes you’d hoped to have buried forever. Yes it’s whimsical and yes it’s a touch cloying and yes the camera gawps a little too reverently at Emily Browning’s undoubted beauty, but it has so much charm and heart that you’d be churlish not to thrown caution to the wind and soak it all up. Then come out singing.

UK release 22 August. Want more music? Try Begin Again.

The Rover. Fear And Loathing In The Outback.

the-rover-posterSuccess and youth must be a tough combo.  Your life goes one of two ways – straight to rehab á la Lohan, or straight to the dole queue accompanied by ‘What Are They Doing Now?’ TV rundowns. But, founded by the naked gay sex efforts of Daniel Radcliffe in Kill Your Darlings, it seems there is now a Third Way, as followed by latest disciple R-Patz in The Rover.

It’s the Australian outback sometime in the near dystopian future. Something has happened to society. We don’t know what, but it was bad. Order has collapsed, lawlessness reigns and it’s ever grumpy, unwashed outback man for himself. Henry (Scoot McNairy) and a few assorted cohorts are gunwielding hoodlums cruising through the desert. Chancing upon a diner, they steal the car belonging to Eric (Guy Pearce) who’s inside have a spot of lunch. Eric is inordinately angry about this. So angry he throws what appears to be all reason out the window, procures a truck and steams after them in hot pursuit.

On catching them up there is a stand off, shots are fired and in the melee Eric captures Henry’s younger brother Rey (Robert Pattinson). Rambling and dishevelled, it soon seems the shuffling, twitching Rey is not quite all there. But that’s OK because Eric decides Rey is his best ticket to getting his car back, so the chase continues.

Brooding and atmospheric to the point of oppression, The Rover is deliberately opaque, keeping us guessing as to the motives and backstories of its aggressive, haunted characters. Switching between the vast, empty dustbowl of the outback to gloomy, dark interiors, it captures the dystopian bleakness perhaps a little too well, not least through Guy Pearce’s chilling performance as Eric. But it was R-Patz’s vunerable, physical portrayal of Rey that stood out for The Sloth. Seems one more acting fledging has successfully flown the nest and hurrah for that.

UK release 15 August. Something else on the dark side? Frank is dark and funny.

The Inbetweeners 2. Depraved And Down Under.

Inbetweeners_2_Movie_PosterExactly how many slang terms for sexual activity beginning with ‘F’ do you know?  We’re guessing 4? 5? Prepare to learn around 15 more, because everyone’s favourite potty mouthed juveniles are back in The Inbetweeners 2.

Will (Simon Bird) and Simon (Joe Thomas), a.k.a. the less thick ones, have made the break from school to university. Strangely enough, it’s not going well. Will has no friends and Simon is being cyber-stalked by his psychotic girlfriend Lucy (Tamla Kari). Upon hearing from Jay (James Buckley) that he is living it up Down Under in his new vocation as legendary club DJ Big Penis, spinning records to an adoring female crowd and enjoying threesomes with the Minogue sisters, our chums, plus the ever-dopey Neil (Blake Harrison), decide to pay him a surprise visit.

Shockingly, it turns out Jay’s actual lifestyle doesn’t quite live up to his billings. We’ll pause here a second and let you pick yourself back up off the floor. But no matter. A chance meeting between Will and his first crush from his old school leads to our hapless foursome heading out across Australia to do a spot of sightseeing, tagging hopefully along behind a band of too-cool-for-school backpacker trustafarians.

If you are familiar with the ‘work’ of The Inbetweeners you will know exactly what to expect. And it doesn’t disappoint. Yes, the crude factor is dialled up to 11.  Just when you think there is no anatomical / digestive / sexual / bestial depth left to plunge, they inevitably find one.  But behind the ick factor is a consistently sharp, witty and frequently hilarious script that skewers every cliché of both the teenage backpacker experience and, more importantly, the underlying naivety of youth. Strangely sweet, as well as stomach churning and vocabulary expanding to boot. What more could you ask?

UK release 6 August. Not had your fill of crude? Top up with Bad Neighbours

Lilting. Love’s Labour’s Lost In Translation.

LILTING POSTERNow that The Cumberbatch is bigger than God, the world is in need of a New Favourite Actor. May The Sloth suggest the superb Ben Whishaw fill these boots? From nekked and mute in Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer, to working Q’s speccy glasses in Skyfall, he is always sublime, which happily continues in Lilting.

Richard (Ben Whishaw) is mourning the recent death of his partner Kai (Andrew Leung). Happy and in love, the only thorn in their relationship was Kai’s unwilllingness to come out to his mother, Junn (Pei-Pei Cheng), who had a suspicious, jealous dislike of Richard. Of Vietnamese descent, Junn lives alone in sheltered accomodation for the elderly, unable to properly interact with the other residents as she speaks no English.

With Kai’s death now truly isolating her, Junn is sinking into a lonely depression. Her only companion is Alan (Peter Bowles), an aging ladies man and fellow resident who has taken a shine to her, sending her flowers and attempting to romance her, despite being unable to converse. But Richard has a plan. Realising Junn is his last link to Kai, Richard enlists the help of translator Vann (Naomi Christie), so he and Alan can reach out to her.

But it turns out their new ability to communicate generates more problems than it solves. Junn’s suspicions and defensiveness rise to the surface, compounding Richard’s desperation at losing his partner, whilst Alan realises the demure Asian beauty of his imagination is perhaps not so docile.

This is a beautifully touching film that raises questions about pride, jealousy and the pecking order of relationships. Yes, the device of using translator Venn may at times seem contrived, but it cleverly highlights how we filter what is said and what is left unsaid. Quiet, understated and emotional, it relies solely on the strength of the actors who deliver marvellously.  If you’re after something thoughtful and original, give it a whirl.

UK release 8 August

Boyhood. They Grow Up So Fast.

Boyhood-movie-poster-MAIN1Is there anything more evocative of time and place than music? Boyhood, famously shot over a 12 year period, opens with Coldplay’s Yellow and The Sloth immediately was shot back to a time before they were completely uncool.

Richard Linklater’s wildly ambitious plan of signing up Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, child actor Ellar Coltrane and his own daughter, Lorelei Linklater, to play the lives of a family of four from junior school to college graduation must have stemmed from genius or insanity. Aside from the logistics of getting them all together each year, how could he have predicited Ellar Coltrane, playing Mason whose boyhood we are following, would still be willing to be filmed age 15?  We can only begin to imagine the reactions of the Hollywood media lawyers: “You want to do what?” At least Richard could threaten disinheritance to sway any grumblings from Lorelei.

Logisitics aside, what actually happens? Well, life. Marriages break up, renew, break up. Children gain friends, lose friends, enter puberty with all the messy baggage that brings. Houses are sold and bought, jobs are sought. Nothing dramatic and yet it is utterly compelling. The minutiae of 12 years compounded into 160 minutes against the backdrop of history – the Iraq war, the demise of Bush, the rise of Obama, all set to the musical soundtrack of the past decade.

In a time when we’ve grown used to actors being aged, usually badly, by makeup and prosthetics, watching genuine aging before our very eyes is both fascinating and a wildly uncomfortable memento mori. Boyhood is an astounding achievement not so much for the story it follows onscreen, but for how it makes us pause and reflect on the past 12 years of our own lives. Did yours pan out how you wanted?

UK release 11 July 2014