Our Kind Of Traitor. (Russian, Old Skool, Quite Scary).

our traitor

 

Mildly interesting fact: The Sloth used to work for the literary agent who represented John le Carré, best-selling author of Our Kind Of Traitor and reputedly an ex-spy, which he never confirms nor denies. We would speak to him on the phone and he was mightily intimidating, which sadly prevented us asking ‘so did you get to use poison tipped umbrellas & stuff?’.

 

Mr Le Carré and his old skool, Cold War thrillers are currently enjoying a field day, what with Putin’s stellar work to re-instigate Russia as Public Enemy Number One.  Most recently with Tom Hiddlesbum’s extended Bond audition in The Night Manager and now Our Kind Of Traitor’s outing on the big screen.

 

Ewan McGregor, in floppy haired ‘dowdy’ mode, plays Perry Makepeace – clearly a random name with no character implications whatsoever. A nice guy and gentleman, Perry is on a weekend break in Marrakech with his lawyer wife Gail (Naomie Harris), to try and boost their struggling relationship (see, totally random name). Except it’s not going too well, so when Gail excuses herself to take yet another work call, a frustrated Perry is invited by Dima (Stellan Skarsgård), a raucous Russian, to join him and his friends for a drink. Which leads to another drink, which leads to a party at a rich Russian’s house, during which Perry stumbles upon a rape taking place and heroically breaks it up.

 

Convinced of Perry’s good guy status, Dima confides he is a money launderer for the Russian Mafia. Desperate to escape his situation, he gives Perry a memory stick to take back to the UK and hand over to the authorities in exchange for safe passage to the West for Dima and his family. Naively Perry accepts, thinking he’s doing a simple civic duty, but receives a suspicious reception from British Secret Service Officer Hector (Damian Lewis). Against their will, Perry and Gail soon find themselves drawn into a dangerous covert operation to expose corruption between the UK and Russia.

 

This kind of film rarely gets made anymore because it assumes a modicum of intelligence from the viewer. Yes, the plot might be a trifle perplexing in places – The Sloth isn’t convinced we would unhesitatingly accept USB’s from the Russian Mafia – but it has an impressive underlying anger, railing against the willingness of governments to turn a blind eye to blood money. Controlled and understated, it’s far less glossy and far more downbeat than The Night Manager and will probably suffer for comparison, although personally we can’t help feeling the former now seems a little pantomime. With an unusually introspective turn from McGregor, balanced with a roaring performance from Skarsgård, it might not be the very best of the numerous Le Carré adaptations, but it’s still worth a look.

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Joy – Bradley Cooper on Acting, Success and Inspirational Women

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Bradley Cooper is rarely off our screens these days, with a string of cinematic hits from The Hangover to his ongoing collaborations with director David O Russell, the latest of which, Joy, teams him up with Jennifer Lawrence for the 4th (count ’em) time. On the cusp of Joy’s DVD release, The Sloth caught up with Sir Brad of Coop to find out about the film, his inspirations and the strong women in his life.

 

Q:  What is JOY (the film) all about?

A: “I think JOY is about a woman who despite many, many obstacles, embraces what her grandmother taught her. She told Joy that she’s special, that what she has to say needs to be heard and that what she needs to do has to be done. It is a great female empowerment story about rising above all the obstacles and the waves of potential failure and coming out on top. It is about Joy achieving the status as a titan in her field, a field dominated by men.

 

Q: From your perspective, are there enough great roles for women in film, like JOY?

A: “Well I’m a storyteller. I love to be involved in stories about men and women that are fascinating. At the dawn of movies, Marlene Dietrich was commanding the narrative of the movies she was in. And I have been lucky that I’ve been in movies where the female characters have been very complicated and strong, women who are forces to be reckoned with. In my career, that started with television, the first job I had was on a show called ALIAS (2001 – 2006) from J.J. Abrams that had a female star (Jennifer Garner), so I grew up working within a structure where the female was the main person.”

 

Q: Joy is a great role model because she is not depending on a man.    

A:  “That’s right. She says, ‘I don’t need a prince’ at the beginning of the film. It’s a great message and a prevailing one. The film FROZEN is all about that message too.”

 

Q: Do you think children are being raised in a different way now, with equal opportunities?

A: “Look, there is still misogyny; it is a fact that we have grown up in a patriarchal society and we can’t escape it. But that said, when I was growing up, in our family everybody was fending for themselves around the dinner table.  We were a family who argued at the table about whatever topic was going on and I loved it. That helped form the way I think and speak and articulate, and that was all because I had a strong father and I have a strong mother and sister. So there was never that disparity between male and female and who gets the podium.”

 

Q: Did you always want to act?

A:  “I have wanted to be an actor since I was 12. I didn’t do anything about it, but I always knew I wanted to act after I saw the movie: THE ELEPHANT MAN and that was it for me.”

 

Q: What kind of support did you have growing up in terms of acting?

A: “I didn’t grow up with a family that knew any actors, nobody in my family knew anybody at all in the entertainment industry.  It was a world that was miles and miles away from mine.  I was a hotel doorman taking Leonardo Di Caprio to his room when I was in graduate school, so [acting] was just a completely alien universe, but I always thought about it. There was something very compelling about it for me.
Q: When did acting become a reality?

A: “I went to college and studied literature and then went to grad school to study theater and I started acting. But I didn’t really think about it too much other than the fact that I just knew I wanted to go after it. It helped that I had parents who didn’t stand in my way. Acting is a very scary thing for parents!  I took out a $75,000 student loan out for grad school. That’s very scary, especially for a father who came out of the ghetto and made a living for his family. Then his child is saying that potentially he could be going back into squalor if he’s not successful.”

 

Q:  What were your father’s hopes for you?

A:  “He would have been happy if I had become a stockbroker, but eventually in grad school he saw me in THE ELEPHANT MAN. I did it for my thesis and something clicked for him and he was excited; I think he thought then that there was an opportunity for me to do well.”

 

Q: Do you think success is about talent and hard work or is luck involved too? 

A: “It’s a mixture of hard work and luck I think. I’d be a fool to say I haven’t been very lucky and at the same time I do work very hard, it’s very hard to work hard when you hate what you do. It is very easy to work hard when you love what you do.”

 

JOY IS AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL HD, BLU-RAY AND DVD ON 25TH APRIL, COURTESY OF TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX HOME ENTERTAINMENT

 

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Eye In The Sky. Somebody’s Watching You….

Eye in the Sky Movie (1)

The Sloth loves Helen Mirren. Partly because at 60+ she can randomly dye her hair pink and look good, not mad. Partly because she’s never had ‘work done’.  But mostly because there are few other actors who can play ‘ballsy’ with anywhere near as much panache, exemplified by her career defining role as Prime Suspect’s D.S. Jane Tennison. So the prospect of Helen as high ranking British Army Colonel Katherine Powell in Eye In The Sky boded extremely well.

 

Colonel Powell is in pursuit of a suspected terrorist cell in a Kenyan village. Having monitored and tracked her suspects for some time, she is desperate to eliminate them before they can carry out an imminent suicide bombing. But despite wearing full combat fatigues, hers is no old-skool, guns ‘n’ ammo military operation, rather it is a war of stealth and technology, waged from thousands of miles away.

 

Having enlisted the help of a high ranking pal in the US Army, Colonel Powell has a US drone, piloted by Steve Watts (Aaron Paul), hovering over her suspects, missiles primed for launch. On the ground she has local intelligence agent Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi) stationed nearby. Having obtained clearance from the British Government, she has the go ahead. But just as Steve is about to push the button, a young local girl appears on the street outside the cell and sets up a bread stall, which puts an enormous spanner in the works. Do they now knowingly kill one child to prevent the terrorists potentially killing multiple children?

 

Eye In The Sky is that simple. One pertinent moral question that asks ‘what would you do?’. Set in real time, it shows the weakness of government ministers who dither and refer upwards to their superiors, the sobering reality of taking a life hitting home to the drone pilot, who till now has been cocooned in a pod. It’s also a frankly disturbing insight into how sophisticated military technology has got (word of warning – that annoying buzzing bluebottle in the corner might not be what is seems…). With excellent performances throughout, including Alan Rickman’s last role before his untimely death, it’s that a rare cinematic beast – one that asks us to engage our intelligence. How refreshing.

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10 Cloverfield Lane. Like Cloverfield. But Not.

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The Sloth is reluctant to write about 10 Cloverfield Lane, for to divulge virtually anything would be to spoil things. Yet manfully we must push on for this was quite the most entertaining 100-odd minutes of cinematic goodness we’ve ingested in a long time.

 

10 Cloverfield Lane is related to 2008’s Cloverfield but it’s not a sequel, nor a prequel. Nor is it an episode VII, love child or demon spawn. It’s sort of ‘inspired by’ but shares no characters or story. All clear then?  Excellent, let’s move on.

 

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has had a row with her boyfriend. Storming out of their house, she drives off into the night. Before long, said boyfriend starts ringing, leading her to start fiddling with her phone in movie short hand for ‘she’s about to have an at worst fatal but at best highly injurious car crash’.  Sure enough, one flash of headlights and screech of tires later, it all goes black. Then Michelle wakes up, in a bare room on a dank mattress, shackled and chained to wall.

 

Michelle’s captor is Howard (John Goodman), exactly the sort of scowling, heavy weight, slightly sweaty person you do not want chaining you to a wall. Howard glumly informs Michelle he has in fact rescued her, for the world outside has succumbed to some kind of chemical attack and she is now safe inside a bunker. Michelle soon discovers there is a second resident in the bunker, the cheerful and accepting Emmett (John Gallagher Jnr), an employee of Howard’s. But is Howard telling the truth?

 

We’re going to stop there, for anything else would need **SPOILER ALERTS** all over it. Suffice to say this is a twisting, turning, rollercoaster ride. Part psychological, cat-and-mouse thriller, part sci-fi apocalypse, with everything and the kitchen sink thrown in for good measure, it gets away with a script that is often quite gloriously bonkers on the strength of the performances. It’ll also have you singing the old classic ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ in an entirely new sinister tone. Terrific fun. Suspend your disbelief at the door and enjoy.

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High-Rise. Hiddle’s Bum Hits New Heights.

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Hardly a day goes by without Tom Hiddlesbum getting his nethers out for the cameras. The Sloth wholeheartedly applauds this.  Not because we are a perv, nor because we have any personal lecherous interest in Hiddlesbum, but because he is single-handedly flying the flag for equality. Discussing Crimson Peak, in which he got naked (albeit fleetingly) whilst his leading lady remained resolutely clothed, he commented “I was happy to do it. In many of these situations it is the woman who is more naked, and we wanted to re-dress the balance”. For doubters who dismissed this as a neat PR hook, last Sunday he was at it again, unleashing The Buttocks midway through The Night Manager, to the sound of tea being spluttered across middle England. Those of you who regularly follow The Sloth’s witterings will know equality is our favourite hobby horse, which we have previously discussed at length here.

 

So a new week, a new opportunity, this time in a late 1970’s tower block. High-Rise is based on the JG Ballard novel that portrays an idealistic social experiment gone horribly wrong. Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) is a visionary architect who has designed a skyscraper apartment building where all social classes cohabit – the poorer at the bottom and the richer at the top, with himself in the grand penthouse. Hiddlesbum plays Dr Robert Laing, a new resident who, being middle class, is allocated an apartment on the middle floors. Meeting his glamourous upstairs neighbour Charlotte Melville (Sienna Miller), Laing is soon introduced to his fellow residents and joins their endless rounds of cocktail parties.

 

So far, so idealistic. But no prizes for guessing this will all go spectacularly wrong. Failing power supplies lead to unrest on the lower floors which, unchecked, quickly escalates to rioting and anarchy. At the same time, the upper floors ongoing partying descends into an orgy of debauched, Bacchanalian excess. Laing is our calm, rational Everyman, observing the chaos with growing horror as the entire block gradually implodes upon itself.

 

The Sloth hasn’t read the novel, so we can’t comment on how true/good/bad/ugly the film remains to Ballard’s original. It certainly paints a memorable picture with industrial-concrete-meets 70’s-shag-pile interiors (unbelievably fabulous – The Sloth is moving to The Barbican pronto) and captures the tense, fishbowl claustrophobia of living in such close proximity. It’s not easy viewing, the violence and excess reach truly nightmarish levels becoming ritualised and almost abstract, but the portrait of a selfish and volatile society is worryingly relatable to anyone who battles the London rush hour of a morning.

 

So does he unleash The Buttocks? Oh yes. Not only that but he gets fully naked, protected only by a towel clasped over his dignity, leading an impressed Charlotte to comment “you’re lucky, you’re one of the few people who look better naked”. Good effort, Mr H. Female actors the world over should be saluting you.

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Anomalisa. Virtually Reality.

anomalisa-imageWhat is real? Now there’s a question. Right up there with ‘why are the boy’s loos always so much more disgusting than the girls’? But having watched Anomalisa it left us asking that very question, which can only lead us to conclude it is An Important Film. Are you paying attention at the back?

 

Anomalisa (which for the record derives from a mash up of ‘anomaly’ + ‘Lisa’) is an animated film from the furiously fertile imagination of Charlie Kaufman, who gave us Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, amongst other crazy gems. So you’d think if you let that imagination loose in an animated environment the sky would be the psychedelic limit. Yet Anomalisa is the most prosaic of stories. It follows businessman and customer service guru Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) travelling to a conference where he is to be guest speaker. His plane touches down, he takes a cab to the city centre, the cabbie engages him in small talk, he arrives at his generic large business hotel, he is walked to his room by a bellboy who hovers for a tip, he calls his wife and orders room service. Then he calls an ex-girlfriend and meets her at a bar.

 

Doesn’t exactly sound scintillating, does it? Yet it is. The impeccable attention to every last mundane detail, even down to how US room service cheerfully parrot back the precise and elaborate menu description of the dish you are ordering, is totally hypnotic, lulling you into complete acceptance of how real Michael Stone and his life are. So as we learn more about him, his womanising, his unhappiness with his marriage, he becomes as real as any living character. And if you are still questioning how convincing an animation can be, in Hong Kong Anomalisa was given the strongest possible adult rating due to a sex scene that is more intimate, realistic and emotional than anything normally seen between human actors.

 

Anomalisa is a film about everyday people and their mundane, everyday lives filled with emotion, disappointment and frustration. The sort of things generally considered too dull for Hollywood to commit to celluloid.  Well done Mr Kaufman for doing so, in your typically imaginative and unorthodox way.

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Hail, Caesar! Hollywood On Hollywood.

hailcaesarposterHollywood adores a movie about Hollywood, not that La La Land is shallow and self-obsessed or anything. And not, of course, because a movie about Hollywood is dead easy to make, being on its own doorstep. No need to faff about hiring mini-vans to lug all those pesky cameras around. The latest addition to the naval-gazing cannon is Hail, Caesar! the Coen Brother’s tribute to the hand that feeds it.

 

Set in the 1950’s when Hollywood’s Golden Age was in full swing, Hail, Caesar! chronicles the trials and tribulations of big cheese studio head Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin).  Eddie chews cigars in a monstrous office and marches around the studio lot barking orders at his long suffering assistant while trying to keep the egos and careers of his stars in check. We meet DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), an angel on screen and foul-mouthed, fast talking diva off-screen; temperamental director Laurence Laurentz (a fabulous Ralph Fiennes channelling his Grand Budapest Hotel comedy spirit) and the studio’s hottest star, the amiable and ever so slightly dim Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), inconveniently kidnapped by a secret clan of Communist screenwriters whilst filming biblical epic Hail, Caesar!

 

Rambling and rambunctious, it’s less narrative story than a series of comic sketches, jumping around from character to character and back to an increasingly frazzled Eddie. Which sounds somewhat shaggy and unstructured but it fizzes with so much feel good energy you’re happy to go with the flow.  Especially when said sketches include an entirely gratuitous and fabulously camp song and tap dance routine from a back-flipping Channing Tatum in a sailor suit.  Frankly, if that doesn’t bring a smile to your face then you’re just no fun. The Coens have trodden this ground before (see Barton Fink) but never with such silly humour nor with a cast so obviously revelling in their OTT characters. Hollywood on Hollywood has rarely been such a delight.

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Chronic. Care In The Community.

chronicNever let it be said that The Sloth doesn’t bring you the best of top quality movie entertainment. With that in mind, how’d you fancy one about a nurse who looks after the terminally ill? You’d be all over that like a cheap suit, right?

 

Chronic opens with David (Tim Roth) tenderly washing a naked, painfully thin and clearly desperately ill woman in a bath.  From the gentle, patient care he takes with her, David presumably must be her husband.  But no, we soon find out he instead is a nurse supplied by a care agency who look after the dying in their own homes.  David is an excellent nurse – devoted, kind, utterly dedicated to those entrusted to him.  But perhaps just a little too dedicated.

 

Our initial impressions of David are exemplary.  He shows calm, reassuring professionalism, an easy rapport, chatting quietly, soothing nerves. But slowly things start to seem somewhat ‘off’. Should David be amiably encouraging an elderly male patient to watch porn on his computer?  Is it just harmless fun, cheering an old boy up? Should David be sending away his night time shift replacement, taking on a double shift and sleeping on the sofa beside a female patient?  More alarmingly, should he be telling strangers in a bar that ‘his wife’ has just died, when we know he is in fact referring to a female patient who has just passed away.  

 

The more we learn about David, the more we realise his own life experiences are impacting his work life. An exploration of where professional and moral boundaries start and end, Chronic’s strength is in its nonjudgmental tone, inviting us to consider at what point does personal experience benefit or hinder those in the care professions? It also delves into deeper issues around euthanasia and the right to die. Central to the success of this film is Tim Roth’s exemplary and understated performance as David, as equally sympathetic as he is disturbing.  Chronic is hardly cheery, but it’s extremely intelligent and deals with big issues in a sensitive and thought provoking way. Trust us, you’ll still be ruminating on it months later.

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Deadpool. The First Super Anti-Hero?

deadpool-movie-poster-20161The Sloth is in cheery mood today – NOT. We’re hopping mad and spoiling for a fight. Specifically with the low down dog of our neighbour’s landlord who is refusing to take responsibility for the roof of his house blowing off and flattening our car. We need some supremely violent, bloody and fervid catharsis.  We need Deadpool.

 

Deadpool is the first Marvel movie to receive a US ‘R’ rating which means at some point a big cheese Marvel exec said “I know, let’s make a movie that our target teenage boy demographic can’t actually watch” and another big cheese Marvel exec replied “great idea!”.  And yet, despite seemingly flying in the face of all logic, Deadpool scored the highest ever opening for an R rated movie at the US box office.

 

On paper, this is a typical Marvel ‘origins’ story, tracing the history of plain Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), a special forces operative happy with his lot and in love with his soulmate Vanessa (Morena Baccarin).  After a cancer diagnosis Wade’s life falls apart and in search of treatment, he agrees to undergo an experimental procedure that leaves him a mutant with accelerated healing powers and a face like ‘an old avocado’. Arise Deadpool.

 

So where does this depart from the Marvel norm and what were those big cheese execs onto?  Two words: Ryan Reynolds.  The Sloth has long championed Mr Reynolds as both cracking dramatic actor (check out the supremely disturbing Buried) and underappreciated comic talent (see The Voices).  In Deadpool he gives a stonking performance as the titular foul mouthed, wisecracking, smart arsed antihero who, rather than fighting for good, is simply the bad guy who beats up worse guys.  

 

What also isn’t so typical are the eye-watering, Tarantino levels of gleeful violence, graphic sexual references and irreverent, anarchic tone.  The opening credits list the clichés of the comic book genre: ‘the British villain’; ‘the hot chick’. Deadpool’s addresses to camera not only break down the fourth wall but bite the studio hand that feeds him, with numerous snarky jokes at the expense of the X-Men movies. And perhaps in deference to the older R rated audience, digs are made at Mr Reynold’s own advancing years, on which note The Sloth would like to commend the use of an age-appropriate love interest – the gorgeous Morena Baccarin is 36 years old – radical casting in HW.

 

Of course much of these claims of subversion are arguably cosmetic for, despite all the posturing, Deadpool does still adhere to the basic conventions it claims to reject.  Yet it still feels fresh, funny, untamed and infinitely preferably to any other ponderously self-important superhero movie we’ve sat through in recent years. The Sloth is already looking forward to the inevitable franchise. Now if only we could persuade Mr Reynolds to nip round & sort out that landlord…

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Youth. Age Before Beauty.

Youth-Cover-Poster-672x372Gotta love the Italians, for they do bucket-of-frogs bonkers so well.  Cool, cerebral Scandi noir has no place in Italy’s cinemas, they like their characters mad and their storylines madder.  Youth, from Oscar winning Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, being a perfect case in point.

 

Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) and Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) are old pals holidaying together in the Swiss alps.  But not just any old pals. Fred, now retired, is a celebrated conductor and composer, Mick is an acclaimed film director working on his latest screenplay. They are also both exceptionally grumpy, especially Fred. So when an obsequious emissary from The Queen shows up with a request from Lizzie herself that Fred conduct his most celebrated work,‘Simple Song’, at a concert for Prince Philip’s birthday, Fred cantankerously refuses.

 

After the emissary returns home, Mick and Fred ruminate on his request and the state of their lives, while we meet other characters staying in the hotel – a grossly overweight Diego Maradona (Roly Serrano); a young, flashy Hollywood actor Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano) desperate to be taken seriously and Miss Universe (Madalina Ghenea), whose spectacular (and very naked) beauty is quite something to behold. We also meet Fred’s daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) suffering a marital crisis as her husband has run off with Paloma Faith, yes, the Paloma Faith, who appears both in person and in a marvellously trashy pop video.

 

Bonkers enough for you? Less concerned with narrative story than with meditating on age, beauty and wisdom, Youth might sound something of a psychedelic mess on paper but it really works. Mad enough to be amusing entertainment, yet smart enough to make astute observations about its characters, its success is undoubtedly down to the terrific central performance of Michael Caine, whose grumpy exterior slowly melts to reveal a sensitive soul inside. Add in a sterling supporting cast, special mention going to a magnificent cameo from Jane Fonda as a mega-diva par excellence, and you have all the hot headed Italian bonkers-ness you could wish for.  Maybe just detox with an episode of The Killing afterwards.

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