A Most Violent Year. A Slippery Business.

a-most-violent-year-posterSome people are too clever for their own good. Take Oscar Issac. Not content with being a supremely talented musician and studying at the revered Juilliard School, he acted a stellar turn as n’er do well Llewyn Davis. ‘Well, that’s OK’, we thought, ‘the role was just an extension of his musical talent’. But now Oscar is back in serious drama A Most Violent Year. If he is good in this too, we will be sick.

It’s early 1980’s New York. Oscar plays Abel Morales, owner of a heating oil company on the brink of signing a deal for a large new storage plant to take his successful business to the next level. Married to coolly glamorous Brooklyn doll Anna (Jessica Chastain) and with two young girls and a stunning new house, all should be well in his world.

But it isn’t. Someone, presumably a rival company, has it in for Abel. His trucks are being hijacked, his drivers attacked and the police are taking an interest in the legitimacy of his profits. Unlike his dubious rivals Abel insists on doing everything by the book but, with his business and family threatened, finds the moral high ground increasingly hard to pursue.

Full of wintry New York skylines, mid-century modern interiors and self-conscious, considered dialogue, A Most Violent Year harks back to the classic gangster movies of the late 70’s. Yet this is an anti-gangster morality drama that asks how far can someone be pushed before their resolution breaks? Oscar, darn it, is stunningly good. Camel coated Abel is by turn a lone, passionate champion of morals and then slick charm personified, his hypnotically charismatic demonstration of how to close a sales deal practically had The Sloth reaching for our cheque book. Smartly scripted and prizing talk over action, this is a serious movie for grown ups.

NB may The Sloth take this time to suggest you go back and You Tube the sublime ‘Please Mr Kennedy’ song from Inside Llewyn Davis? We’re laughing just thinking about it, which reminds us again how good Oscar is. Please excuse us, we’re feeling a touch nauseous…

UK release 23 January

2015 Oscar Nominations – Who Will Win? Mystic Sloth Gazes Into Our Crystal Ball

Allright kids, awards season 2015 is officially in full swing.  Like sneaking a pre-emptive squeeze of an enticingly wrapped Christmas present, Oscars’ official appetite whetters The Golden Globes have been and gone. The BAFTA Awards settle into the Royal Opera House on 7 Feb – will Brangelina be there to support her protégé, Rising Star nominee Jack O’Connell, and will they sneak off early again for a cuzza? Most importantly, the Oscar nominees are finally revealed. Is your favourite horse in the running? Let’s find out. Category by category, The Sloth sizes up the main contenders for the Academy’s major gongs.

Best Actor
Nominees: Steve Carrell, Foxcatcher; Bradley Cooper, American Sniper; Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game; Eddie Redmayne, The Theory Of Everything; Michael Keaton, Birdman.

We wouldn’t want to be a starry male ego this year. Probably one of the toughest categories in recent memory with a slew of big, shouty, LOOK AT ME roles, we predict a lot of tears before bedtime. Michael plays a nutjob in Birdman – always a good tact – just ask Kirk Lazarus in Tropic Thunder. Bradley Cooper stayed in character through the entire filming of American Sniper – always a good tact – just ask Daniel Day-Lewis who was last seen disappearing up the posterior of President Lincoln. Eddie, initially an outside bet, is cresting on a Golden Globes wave and the world, his dog and his dog’s fleas ADORE The Cumberbatch. Tough call. We’re predicting Prof. Hawking will invoke the higher powers of the universe to Eddie’s favour. 

The Theory Of Everything

The Theory Of Everything

Best Actress
Nominees: Marion Cotillard, Two Days One Night; Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything; Julianne Moore, Still Alice; Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl; Reese Witherspoon, Wild

The wonderful Marion Cotillard, is there any stone she will leave unturned in the quest to subdue her natural gorgeousness? In Two Days One Night she scrubs down in shapeless vests and mum-jeans. Not to be outdone, in Wild Reese dispenses with make-up, displays stomach-churning blisters and even pulls off her own bloodied toe-nail! Hah! Take that, Marion! Ah, but here comes Rosamund, topping both of them with a scene so gruesomely bloody it may as well have been shot in a slaughter house. Whilst these ladies are grubbing it out, let’s consider the delicate Felicity Jones who undoubtedly gives a moving performance as Mrs Hawking but, realistically, there is only one true contender. The magnificent Julianne Moore may as well start her march to the podium now.  And while she’s en route, can we just say it’s about bloody time.

Julianne Moore, Still Alice

Julianne Moore, Still Alice

Best Director
Nominees: Wes Anderson, Grand Budapest HotelAlejandro G. Iñárritu, BirdmanRichard Linklater, BoyhoodBennett Miller, FoxcatcherMorten Tyldum, The Imitation Game.

Well this ought to be a banker for Boyhood. 12 YEARS in the making? Universally loved by all who watch it? With a rich body of previous work including the Before Sunrise trilogy, if it doesn’t bag Richard at least one gong, we’ll re-ingest our own fur balls. Having said that, we’re secretly hoping second time nominee Alejandro G. Iñárritu, should he not go home a winner this time, might take a leaf out of Birdman’s book and shoot his own nose off live onstage in protest…

Best Picture
Nominees: American Sniper; Birdman; Boyhood; The Grand Budapest Hotel; The Imitation Game; Selma; The Theory Of Everything; Whiplash.

Ah yes, let’s get serious. The Academy gets very defensive over the Best Picture gongs.  First rule of Oscar consideration – It’s not just a movie, it’s serious art, don’cha know? So with a slew of very serious, real-life dramas on the cards, the Oscars are spoilt for choice. Which takes us to rule two – protect your own. Far too many British (BRITISH!!!! Bally foreigners…) choices floating around. That takes our remaining US-centric candidates to rule three – be somewhat political, but don’t scare the horses. By that reckoning, American Sniper and Selma will fall at the final hurdle, leaving the tale of a good, clean American Boyhood to romp home the winner.

Boyhood

Boyhood

What would you like to see win? Let us know.

Wild. At Heart.

wild-movie-poster-1The Sloth has never camped in our lives. Why exchange your perfectly comfortable home tree equipped with hot and cold running water and Egyptian cotton linen for damp canvas and a ½ mile trek across a muddy field at 3.00am to relieve your nocturnal bladder? For a HOLIDAY? Having watched Wild, we shall not be changing this situation.

Based on a remarkable true story Wild recounts how Cheryl Strayed (Reece Witherspoon) took it upon herself to hike, alone, the 1,000 mile Pacific Crest Trail, from the Mojave Desert in the south to Washington State in the north. Fit but not overly so, and certainly no Bear Grylls in the survival skills department, it was something of an ambitious undertaking. But, devastated by the recent death of her mother and with her own personal life in crisis, Cheryl had one large advantage up her sleeve – motivation.

At this point The Sloth had happy-clappy, ‘Eat Pray Love’ middle-class angst alarm bells ringing. But (to our relief at least) from flashbacks to her past it becomes clear Cheryl was no angel. A flawed character with a history of drug abuse, she repeatedly cheated on her husband and spiralled into a deep decline involving crack dens of the very worst, stained mattress, Trainspotting-esq kind. Eeew. So exchanging one extreme for another, she undertook the journey as a cathartic new beginning..

Taking one day at a time, diary-style, it brilliantly captures the physical ardor and immensity of the task ahead of her. We watch her struggle laboriously with unknown kit, force down cold porridge for days on end, feel both the threat and camaraderie of meeting the occasional other person out in the wilderness. Cleverly, it doesn’t rush and is all the better for it. From the stunning beauty of a fox in the snow to the (frankly disgusting) sight of Cheryl pulling off her own, bloodied toenail, the minutiae of each day make for more than enough drama. Contemplative and inspiring, Wild is anchored by a great performance from Ms Witherspoon. But you still ain’t getting us nowhere near a tent.

UK release 16 January 2015

Testament Of Youth. The Battle Of Brittain.

TestamentOfYouth-PosterIf there’s one thing us Brits do well, it’s a glossy costume drama (and swearing, but not normally together in the same room). Staunchly keeping up period appearances is Testament of Youth, as glossy and dramatic as they come.

Testament is based on the memoirs of Vera Brittain (Alice Vikander) a young, privileged, upper class woman who lived through WW1. Highly intelligent, beautiful and feisty, after a long battle with her traditionalist father (Dominic West) and mother (Emily Watson) she was granted permission to attend Oxford University, whilst simultaneously racking up a slew of adoring suitors of whom Roland (Kit Harrington) eventually won her affections.

Soon after her studies began, the outbreak of war saw Roland, her brother Edward (Taron Egerton) and friend Victor (Colin Morgan) leave for the front line. Frustrated by the comparative frivolity of university life, Vera left to become a nurse on the front line, tending the horrifically wounded on both English and – movingly – German sides with as much compassion as the hellish conditions allowed. Meanwhile, the war began ruthlessly and systematically claiming her nearest and dearest.

Now, we’re going to admit we appear to be in a minority (seemingly of one…) who weren’t over keen on lead actress Alice Vikander as Vera, finding her a touch too frostily regal to full engage with, certainly in the beginning. However we do credit her with growing into the role as the film progresses, as indeed Vera grows.  Aside from that personal gripe, we found this an unexpectedly emotional experience. Its strength is in bringing alive the horrors of an elusively distant past. It doesn’t shy away from the brutality of war and captures the devastation and overwhelming loss of life. Yes it’s glossy, but there is genuine substance underneath that asks whether we’ve learnt our lesson.  Let’s hope so.

UK release 16 January 2015

Whiplash. Faustian Practice.

whiplashThe Sloth can’t recall any other movie so aptly named. Whiplash picks you up, smacks you round the chops and spits you out on the hard shoulder of the M25. Fasten your seatbelts, we’re in for a bumpy ride.

Andrew (Miles Teller) is a talented young drummer, newly arrived at a prestigious music academy that admits only the best.  Dedicated, enthusiastic and ambitious, when he hears that the BEST of the best get handpicked to play in revered teacher Terence Fletcher’s (J.K. Simmons) elite jazz ensemble, naturally he’s hungry to be selected. So imagine his delight when, overhearing him practising alone late one night, Fletcher walks in and offers him the coveted Golden Ticket to Jazz Glory.

Unfortunately, Fletcher is no cuddly Willy Wonka. Rather, he drags the ‘best’ out of his students through verbal, physical and psychological bullying and, in Andrew, has a shiny, new, unwitting victim. Believing “there are no two words more harmful in the English language than ‘good job’” Fletcher justifies his ‘method’ as a tool in his search for artistic perfection – a musician capable of becoming another Charlie Parker, a true all-time great.

It’s an extraordinary film that twists and turns, delving deeper and deeper into the psyches of the two lead characters. First we are overwhelmed by the volatile, unpredictable Fletcher and the excruciating cruelty he unleashes. It would be simple to leave it there, but no. As we learn more about Andrew his deeper, driving ambition comes to the surface – playing till his hands literally bleed, rejecting girlfriends as a distraction from his own quest for artistic greatness. Soon it appears Fletcher and Andrew may be cut, at least in part, from the same cloth.

Grounded in outstanding performances from both leads (a special shout out to Miles Teller on the drums! Unbelievable!), who match each other in manic obsession, Whiplash’s truly unique achievement is to capture and drag you, the audience, into their visceral, hypnotic and exhilarating world of musical greatness. Like a feverish Dr Faustus you know it’s wrong but you just can’t help yourself. Head-spinningly good and The Sloth’s film of the year. Bravo!

UK release 16 Jan 2015

Into The Woods

into woodsLet’s examine this on paper: an all-singing, Disney adaptation of a Stephen Sondheim musical featuring a selection of traditional fairy tale characters. We’re not exactly salivating. Rather, we’re plugging our ears and running screaming to the nearest bridge with active plans to throw ourselves off.  But wait, we’ll miss the season 1 finale of Homeland (Yes, we’re 2 seasons behind. And what?). Saved by the Brody…

A baker (James Corden) and his baker’s wife (Emily Blunt) run a little bakery (funny that) somewhere in fairy-tale-ville. Happy with their meagre peasant lot they selflessly give free buns to a little girl in a big red cloak (Lilla Crawford) who needs food for her poor grandmother. The only thing missing from their lives is a baby baker.

Cue flashes and bangs as a witch (Meryl Streep) appears, who reveals Mr Baker is victim of a family curse that prevents the couple having a child. To reverse the curse they must venture Into The Woods (see what they did there) and collect items including a cow, a golden slipper and a big red cloak. In the process they’ll encounter Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Jack and his beanstalk and Rapunzel. Tally ho.

Into The Woods, believe it or not, is a joy.  Visually rich, dark and spookily Gothic, the stuff of childhood nightmares, it’s packed with gloriously OTT frightwigs and corseted tulle costumes. All that’s missing is Helena Bonham Carter.  And the actors wind their lungs round the surprisingly complex songs with gusto. But what really makes it work is the tone, hitting just the right notes of arch and knowing, The Brothers Grimm mashed up and reinvented for 2015.  Cinderella (Anna Kendricks) finds herself nonplussed with her preening, caddish Prince Charming (Chris Pine) who petulantly protests he was “brought up to be charming, not sincere”.  The Big Bad Wolf (Johnny Depp) stalks the shrill, brattish Little Red Riding Hood with a drooling lasciviousness that is deeply disturbing, if not illegal.

Like the best ‘family’ entertainment, most will go over the heads of kiddies, who will have buried their head in their popcorn and / or fainted by the time some of the more violent scenes have passed (an Ugly Sister getting her eyes pecked out by a flock of crows, anyone?).  Welcome to The Disney Dark Side.

UK release 9 January

Foxcatcher. Wrestlemania.

foxcatcher__spanFinished a year ago, such was the studio’s hopes for awards season glory, Foxcatcher’s release was postponed until now to avoid competition with 2013 big hitters 12 Years A Slave and Gravity. That’s a lot of eggs to cryogenically freeze in a basket. No pressure…

Based, incredibly, on a true story it centers around two pro-wrestler brothers David Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) aka The Smart And Well Adjusted One and Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) aka The Not So Smart And Struggling One. Both Olympic gold medalists, they now live in small town anonymity. David is happy, married with kids and running a local wrestling club. Mark, however, lives alone and with limited skills relies heavily on his brother in lieu of a father figure.

But help may unexpectedly be at hand. A phone call out of the blue invites Mark to the home of John du Pont, eccentric multi-millionaire recluse and member of one of America’s most hallowed family dynasties. Alienated by his equestrian-loving mother, John intends to indulge his own passion, wrestling, by setting up his own team housed in a state of the art training facility to gun for glory at the next Olympics and wants Mark as his star athlete. Offered both financial security and the chance to step out from David’s shadow, Mark thinks all his Christmases have come at once. But, kids, we all know i) money can’t buy happiness and ii) if something looks too good to be true, it generally is. Mark soon struggles to deliver so John persuades David onboard, once again relegating Mark back to the sidelines and starting a steady spiral towards destruction.

Shot in muted tones, Foxcatcher is clinically cool, calm and precise with an underlying sense of menace. Often ambiguous – what does du Pont really want with Mark? A surrogate son? Sex? A whipping boy? – and strongly psychological, it deals with themes of family rivalry and parental approval. And boy do the whole cast rise to the occasion. Channing Tatum in particular is heartbreakingly good as Mark, earnest, lonely, desperate for approval and frustrated by his own limitations. The Sloth just wanted to give him a cuddle.

This is no emotional melodrama. Foxcatcher doesn’t pick you up and bodyslam you down on the mat, rather it creeps insidiously into your head, leaving you shaken, not stirred. Commendably restrained.

UK release 9 January 2015

Birdman. Or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance

birdman-clickWhy are briefs such a comical undergarment when displayed on the male form? Put them on any man and they are instant shorthand for ‘pathetic’. A point not lost on the director of Birdman.

Riggan (Michael Keaton) is a washed up actor. In his prime he starred as ‘Birdman’, a movie superhero popular with audiences but disparaged by critics. Like most Hollywood egos, Riggan’s is fragile and the years of critical condemnation have done their damage to his mental state. Depressed and prone to hearing the cantankerous, disembodied voice of his ‘Birdman’ alter ego, Riggan is attempting to claw back some credibility by directing and starring in a Broadway play.

For a successful play you need a great star so Riggan is hiring the preening, volatile, acclaimed method ac-tooor Mike (Edward Norton), plus needy supporting actresses Laura (Andrea Riseborough) and Lesley (Naomi Watts). Add to his plate a daughter Sam (Emma Stone) fresh out of rehab and waspish theatre critic Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan) who has the knives out for Riggan and you could say he’s feeling somewhat stressed. Can Riggan pull his cast, and himself, together to make sure it’s all right on the night? Frankly, it’s not looking good…

Set in the theatre in the run up to opening night, Birdman is a phenomenally clever piece of filmmaking. After a while (Sloths are slow animals…), we realised most of the film is evidently one long, continuous, real time tracking shot. The handheld camera wanders the theatre corridors, emerges onstage to capture a rehearsal, follows an actor exiting off stage, whirls around to enter a dressing room.  We simply couldn’t spot where (surely) one take ended and another began. But this is no realistic docu-drama, rather it’s surreal, darkly comic, satirical and often touching, largely down to Michael Keaton’s tremendous performance – it’s no stretch of imagination to spot the parallels between Riggan’s career and Keaton’s own. To take on a role partially satirising yourself must take courage.

Oh, and the briefs? At points both Ed Norton and Michael Keaton gamely parade themselves in their smalls and yes, both look pigeon-chested, bandy legged, scrawny limbed idiots.  Gentleman, for that alone, The Sloth salutes you.

UK release 1 January 2015

The Theory Of Everything. A Brief History Of A Remarkable Time.

TheTheoryOfEverythingPoster-01He’s been immortalised in The Simpsons and recently commented he’d be ideal casting for a Bond villain as “the wheelchair and the computer voice would fit the part.” And now the inimitable Professor Stephen Hawking is portrayed on celluloid by Eddie Redmayne in biopic The Theory Of Everything.

Beginning with Stephen as a young man at Oxford, it charts how he met fellow student Jane (Felicity Jones) at a dance, leading quickly to romance. So far, so normal for students the world over. But then his college life diverged from the norm. Firstly, he was more than a good deal smarter than average, shamefacedly confessing to ‘only’ solving 9 out of 10 supposedly impossible equations set by his tutors. Secondly, bouts of clumsiness led to a diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease, with a prognosis of a mere 2 years to live.

From there on, we mostly know his story. He completed his PHD, married Jane, produced 2 children, wrote the seminal A Brief History Of Time among other tomes, receiving accolades from around the globe. And he continues to live.

What we may not know, and what The Theory Of Everything captures so well, is the intense emotion and struggle behind his story. The shock of facing death when so young, of being reliant on others for your basic survival, of losing control of your body to the point when even eating is fraught with the danger of choking. Coupled with the selfless early dedication of his wife Jane, it’s part love story, part sublime lecture in the power of the mind and spirit to not just keep going in the most desperate circumstances, but to excel.  You could question why a biopic of Hawking has been made before his death. Having watched it, it is a testament to life and seems perfectly apt. The Sloth recommends you take tissues. Make it a big box.

UK release 1 January 2015

Best Movies Of 2014

Another year is drawing to a close, bringing cold sweats and minor existential crises: where is our life going? Is Kim’s bum REALLY that big? Can we ever learn to like eggs when they smell like farts but are such a good source of protein? To distract our feverish (and slightly drunk – it is Xmas party season) mind, we’ve drawn up our traditional Top 10 Movies Of The Year list. Without further ado, in (hic) reverse order:

Deux_jours,_une_nuit_poster10. 2 Days 1 Night. Gotta love the French: “J’ai une idée! We will mek a moral drama about le socialism and les workers rights! In a Belgian factory! Wiv a mother ‘ou is getting ze sack!” “Ah, but zat is not bleak enough, no?” “OK, zen ze mother ‘ou is getting ze sack, ‘ow about she es sick wiv ze depression as well?” “Ah oui! C’est magnifique!”  And then they went and cast Marion Cotillard, so the dullest cinematic prospect ever conceived was amazing.

frank-movie-poster-michael-fassbender-600x4529. Frank. We salute it for various reasons. Primarily for the most ostentatiously cavalier use of Michael Fassbender, ever.  Hire one of the most talented actors of his generation then hide him under a giant papier-mâché heid. For virtually the entire film. Respect.

 

MrTurner_Final8. Mr Turner. Logic says you couldn’t win Best Actor at Cannes with a performance based primarily on grunts. Logic be damned. Timothy Spall channelled his best Gloucester Old Spot to take home the gong in Mike Leigh’s utterly charming, witty biopic.

 

 

20140415153532!Maps_to_the_Stars_poster7. Maps To The Stars. We love it when Hollywood bites the hand that feeds it. Maps To The Stars bares its bleached white teeth and shellac coated claws to swipe mercilessly at La La Land’s narcissism and egoism. All the more cutting with the recent, unfortunate expose of catty emails from Sony execs…

 

under the6. Under The Skin. Scarlett Johansson.  As a man-eating alien. Driving a white van. In Glasgow.  The Sloth can only presume the idea emerged during a game of Boggle. And it was every bit as strange, original, unsettling and downright barking mad as you’d expect.

 

329411,xcitefun-the-lunchbox-poster5. The Lunchbox. We’re not a particularly sentimental animal but occasionally we make exceptions. The Lunchbox was one such sweet, emotional and poignant exception, set against a rich and vivid portrayal of downtown Mumbai. Viewer Warning: overwhelming cravings for curry experienced at your own risk.

 

GOTG_Payoff_1-Sht_v4b_Lg4. Guardians Of The Galaxy. Talking raccoons! Talking trees! Sony Walkmans! Green aliens! This is what we want! Join The Sloth in giving praise and thanks to the someone, somewhere, who remembered that movies are supposed to be fun.

 

 

Boyhood-movie-poster-MAIN13. Boyhood. You’ve heard the critics salivating over this. 12 years in the making…astonishing director’s vision…incredible achievement, yadda yadda. What really got The Sloth was it draws you unsettlingly back on a journey through your own past 12 years.  History flashing before your eyes.

 

nightcrawler-poster2. Nightcrawler. This looked so mouth-wateringly fabulous on paper – Jake Gyllenhaal as a manic sociopath in a dark media satire, with the always-terrific Riz Ahmed on the side – we thought we would only be disappointed. We weren’t. We’ve not watched the News At Ten since. Shudder.

 

whiplash1. Whiplash. We emerged from the press screening with our head spinning and cheers ringing in our ears. Cheers! From miserable, unimpressible, been-there-done-that, grumpy journos! A dark, exhilarating, 100 mins of sheer adrenalin.

 

 

Agree? Disagree? Cor blimey, That Sloth doesn’t have a clue what they’re talking about? Tell us – what made your list?