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.

bodyp.s. clearly no animals were harmed in the filming of the production, judging by the affectionate smacker Body planted on his director, Kornel Mundruczo, at the Cannes Film Festival premiere…

UK release 27 February.

Still Life. Dead And Not Quite Buried.

still-life-posterWhen you die, how many people will be at your funeral? That’s an uncomfortable question, isn’t it? We defy you to watch Still Life and not come out feeling just a little bit more insecure about your afterlife than when you went in.

John May (Eddie Marsan) works for the London Borough of Kennington, attempting to trace relatives or friends for those who have died unnoticed and alone. Visiting homes of the recently deceased, he searches for photographs, letters, anything that could give clues to a wider life. Sometimes he is successful. More often, he is not. For these people John painstakingly arranges respectful funerals, himself the only mourner, selecting music and writing a eulogy.

A neat, methodical man of small means, we soon realise he is as alone as the cases he investigates. There is no Mrs John, no friends, no relatives. His life is dedicated to putting these fellow lonely souls to rest. Taking instructions for a new case, Billy Stoke, John is perturbed to discover Billy had lived, unnoticed, in the flat directly opposite him. He’s no sooner taken this in when he’s told he is to be made redundant. With his world turned upside down, he lets rip. Well, in John terms.

Realising he needs to start seizing life by the throat, he eschews his usual austere black tea for an illicit hot chocolate. And on tracking down Billy’s long lost daughter, Kelly (Joanne Froggatt), allows himself a shadow of a smile. Rarely has such a seismic explosion registered so imperturbably on the Richter Scale.

Much of Still Life we’ve seen before. The deliberate, slow pace and mannered use of static shots. The slightly quirky oddball character defined by their slightly quirky habits. But Still Life is elevated by a marvellous performance from Eddie Marsan, one of The Sloths’s favourite actors. Through the merest twitch of an eye he hints at the compassion and humanity within the buttoned up John, leaving us rooting for his burgeoning joie de vivre. It isn’t for everyone. It’s a melancholic, sad film, reminding us both of the pain of loneliness and our own impending demise. Watch it alone at your peril. We did and the final scenes had us in floods.

UK release 6 February

Cake. Not So Nice As Pie.

cake-poster-6230

When God / Allah / Buddha / the deity of your personal choice is dishing out talent, how do comic actors manage to accrue the lion’s share? For not only are they blessed with the ability to make us laugh, but they can inevitably turn their hand to serious drama quicker than you can say ‘Billy Connolly’s Bafta nomination for Mrs Brown’. OK, so maybe not that quickly.

Latest case in point is Jennifer Aniston. Like or loathe the phenomenon that was Friends, you’d be churlish not to admit Ms Aniston was gifted with probably the best comic timing of the entire cast.  But underneath the bouncy barnet always lurked a serious actor. Cake sees her let it loose.

Jennifer plays Clare, a chronic pain sufferer.  Divorced, she lives alone attended by her maid Silvana (Adriana Barraza), whose caring nature she shamelessly takes advantage of. She attends a support group run by the touchy feely Annette (Felicity Huffman), who dispenses sugar coated platitudes that sit ill with the naturally acerbic Clare. The group are in shock having just lost a member, Nina (Anna Kendricks), to suicide and after one sarcastic comment too many, it’s brusquely suggested Clare find herself a new group.

At first, the cause of Clare’s pain is unclear. She has brutal scars on her body but her pain seems as much mental as physical. She refuses to cooperate with her physiotherapist and, hooked on prescription drugs, seems uninterested in getting better until curiosity leads her to track down Nina’s widowed husband, Roy (Sam Worthington). Striking up a friendship, they eventually find solace in each other’s company and shared traumatic experiences.

Cake is not a cheery film. It’s slow and the story is hardly original – we’ve seen the painful path to redemption story umpteen times before. What’s interesting are the characters and the performances. Jennifer Aniston is on top form as Clare, taking on a character that is self-indulgent and unlikable and bravely not watering her down.  Films mostly portray those who are suffering in a nobly heroic light.  We found it refreshing to see one more ambivalent.

UK release 20 February

Love Is Strange review

love is strange cover and back coverPlanning on perving over Jamie Pornan’s pecs as Fifty Shades of Grey whip cracks its way into cinemas on Valentine’s Day? No? Then as you are clearly a sensitive and cerebral reader we suggest you check out the smaller Valentine’s release, Love Is Strange, instead.

Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) are an aging couple. They’ve been together for years but, taking advantage of changes in legislation, have just got married.  George is a music teacher, Ben is a painter.  They are kind and well meaning, happy in their jobs and their relationship, they have friends and family, so everything should be peachy.

Sadly, not everyone is onboard with the pace of social change. Having officially ‘come out’ after their marriage, George finds himself promptly sacked from his job at a catholic school.  With the loss of their regular source of income, Ben and George find themselves adrift and unable to pay the rent.  Throwing themselves on the mercy of friends and family they are forced apart – Ben to his nephew Elliot (Darren Burrows) and his wife Kate (Marisa Tomei), sharing a room with their teenage son Joey (Charlie Tahan); George to the sofa of a younger gay couple, whose apartment is 24/7 party-central.

Part fish-out-of water comedy, part emotional drama, Love Is Strange considers how relationships deal with being put under strain. For all the proclamations by family that they will take care of their own, when the chips are down and Kate, trying to work at home, is increasingly irritated by a lonely Ben’s incessant yabbering to her, those proclamations start to run very thin. George and Ben find their own relationship tested, limited to snatches of private phone calls and brief embraces.

Beautifully acted, particularly by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina who are utterly believable as a long-term couple, it’s moving, bittersweet and has far more to say about relationships than Mr Grey ever will.

UK release 13 February

Maps To The Stars – John Cusack Interview

MTTS_BR_3DHe’s been a Hollywood star since his teens and now John Cusack stars in David Cronenberg’s Maps To The Starsa cutting satire about Hollywood players, wannabes and has-beens. Cusack plays Stafford Weiss, a self-help guru who peddles his therapies to the narcissistic and weak-minded and who is also father to the foul Benjie (Evan Bird), a rehab-hopping teen star. But just how like Stafford is he? The Sloth got the lowdown:

Q: You were a young star in your teens like Benjie. Did you relate to him?
A: I was older than him [when I started acting], and I wasn’t in a huge Hollywood franchise. I just got to work as an actor. But just the idea of being that young and having that much pressure on you, and being at the very height of Hollywood, would be terrible to think about.

Q: Do you see a relationship between therapy and acting?
A: I think a lot of actors feel that the act of doing those things is somehow therapeutic for them. You obviously have some things you need to release. So it’s an intuitive thing, to go towards the flame – so we must know that there’s stuff we better get out.

Q: How would you describe Stafford – a charlatan?
A: Yeah, sure – an exploitative charlatan of Biblical proportions!

Q: But are these types very prevalent in LA?
A: Sure. You talk about the California of the Fifties and Sixties; Joan Didion says there is a Chekhovian sense of loss and uneasiness in the air – and this is a loose quote and I’m probably getting it wrong – as if all the people there thought we better make it here, because if not, we’ve run out of continent! So I think that environment leads to all sorts of free, original thinking, but also desert crazies! And all the people that prey on those people. We were just noticing in LA that there were these things – agents and managers. Then I realised there were these things called ‘life coaches’.

Q: Did you know much about them?
A: Well, I knew about Tony Robbins. I loved the ‘personal power’ things. I don’t know much about Tony, but it seems like he has this act of will – like Scientology. These evangelising shrink coaches…it’s got to be only in LA, right? It’s the place where the guy who ran The Source – a health food restaurant – started a cult in the Seventies and they were called the Source Family and he proclaimed himself a divine being and he had followers. It was a cult! So LA’s got something special!

Q: Your character seems very cynical…
A: That’s what Bruce writes. The first thing he writes is, ‘Say what you want about the Dalai Lama but the man’s a pro.’ He’s not even considering that he might mean it or not. There’s an element that every human interaction is a transaction. It’s all currency. What am I going to get? What’s my angle? And that’s connected to showbiz.

Q: Were you worried about biting the hand that feeds?
A: No! I don’t care about any of that!

Q: You’re very active on Twitter. What do you like about it?
A: What I think is interesting is the idea that you can curate content. If I like somebody’s stuff, I can say, ‘If you think I’m interesting, I’ll tell you who I think is interesting’, and you trust me. And also, it’s impossible to kill art. You can’t do it. You can’t bury anything. So, yeah, I like it – it’s fun!

Q: Doesn’t your publicist tell you to hold back?
A: No, and that’s good. The other thing is, it’s changed the way movies are distributed, it’s changed the way movies are marketed. People are going to have their opinion from the screenings. Critics will do what they want to do, and they’ll sway people, but people are going to listen more to each other than they listen to authority – so it’s kinda cool.

Q: Do you ever re-watch your old films?
A: No. Well, sometimes on TV, I might stop and watch for a while until it gets too painful. I remember one time, The Grifters was on. I’ve worked with Stephen Frears, who is such a great director, twice. And I remember stopping and watching it – it was Annette [Bening] and Angelica [Huston], and I started to watch the story a little bit, and then I came on, and I saw myself differently. And I thought, ‘Oh, that’s good.’

Q: How do you choose your films? 
A: I’m up to do anything if it’s with a good filmmaker and a good script. I think that movies are like dreams; you can play any role in the dream, and there are lots of different dreams. I like to play any version, any role in the drama – it doesn’t matter.

Maps To The Stars is available on Blu-Ray and DVD on 2nd February, courtesy of Entertainment One.

Son Of A Gun. Use (A Lot Of) The Force.

son_of_a_gun_posterThe Sloth has been a big fan of Ewan McGregor since he first burst onto our screens in Shallow Grave and the magnificent Trainspotting. Since then he’s not always made the best role choices, in our humble opinion, so we were very excited by the prospect of him returning to ‘edgy’ and ‘Scottish’ in Son Of A Gun.

JR (Brenton Thwaites) is entering an Australian prison for a minor crime. Young, smart and a first time offender, he’s prime meat for the assorted Neanderthals and sexual predators that come with prison territory. Finding himself cornered in the showers in an attempted rape, help fortunately comes to hand from Brendan (Ewan McGregor, in his natural Scottish accent for once), an intelligent master criminal who is alpha dog in the prison pecking order. Realising JR also shares his love for chess, Brendan takes him under his protective wing.

But not for long. Being an intelligent master criminal type, Brendan is planning a jailbreak. A properly good one, with guns and helicopters and suchlike. Wooo! And being a newly paid up member of Brendan’s gang, lucky JR gets to bust out with him. Now you’d presume, once you’re back on the outside, you’d be more than happy with a trip to the pub, but no. Once a master criminal, always a master criminal, so Brendan is soon planning another, final heist to which JR will be getting involved.

Son of A Gun isn’t subtle. It’s full of macho, breast beating characters with tattoos and steroid-pumped muscles doubtless called things like Johnny Five Knuckles. There are obligatory Russian gangsters and ten foot high literal references to chess games / making moves / checkmates etc. But it doesn’t pretend to be subtle. It crashes erratically across the screen in a violent flurry of bullets, veers off temporarily to explore a love interest (Alice Vikander) for JR, then twists through a myriad of double crossings. With decent performances across the board and Ewan transferring his obligatory charisma to The Dark Side, if you’re in the mood for an immoral, blood and guts action thriller, you could do a lot worse.

UK release 30 January 2015

Inherent Vice. Just What The Doctor Ordered.

309431id1h_InherentVice_Teaser_27x40_1Sheet_6C.inddThank the lord for the smoking ban. Watching Inherent Vice took us back to the days when you returned from the pub and dumped all your clothes, right down to your pants, straight in the washing basket, such was their reek.

It’s Los Angeles, 1970. Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is a private eye in a groovy, whiskered, 1970’s LA kind of way. He receives clients at a local medical clinic (hence the ‘Doc’ – geddit?) while smoking dope, chills on his couch with kooky girls in bikinis while smoking dope, drives his car around a bit while smoking dope. Frankly, how he even ties his shoelaces let alone solves cases after smoking all that dope is quite beyond The Sloth, but we are naive in such matters.

Doc’s hazy fug is rudely interrupted with a visit from ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston) who is worried a plot is afoot to wrongly inter her current squeeze, rich (married) real estate tycoon Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts) into a looney bin. Still holding a candle for Shasta Doc agrees to investigate but, before he can even spark up another joint, both Mickey and Shasta herself disappear.

What follows is a rambling, psychedelic, shaggy dog story that meanders merrily through random plot lines, red herrings and dead ends with the shambolic laissez faire of Doc himself. A tip off from a local prostitute that the ‘Golden Fang’ is involved could refer to a consortium of cocaine snorting, tax-dodging dentists, a Chinese sailing boat or a drugs cartel. A dead musician may still be alive and may or may not be a police informant or student activist. Doc himself is being tailed by angry, chocolate dipped banana munching, flat topped cop Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin – a comic delight) whose ire towards Doc may be concealing deeper feelings.

Inherent Vice is an inherently strange thing – a crime thriller with an utterly nonsensical plot, a noir that is baked in California sunshine (and just baked). We suggest you don’t even attempt to make sense of it, instead just sit back and savour the trippy kaleidoscope of surreal and wonderfully comic characters. Groovy baby.

UK release 30 January 2015

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