Black Mass. Johnny Hits New Depp-ths.

Black-Mass-Poster-2Let’s be honest, the words ‘Johnny’ and ‘Depp’ have in the last few years spelt the kiss of death for any movie. Mr Depp’s quirk ‘n’ dreads heyday appeared to have long passed. So when The Sloth heard he was to star in 1970’s gangster epic Black Mass, we didn’t exactly hold our breath.

Black Mass follows the real life exploits of Jimmy ‘Whitey’ Bulger (Johnny Depp), a small time Boston crook who expanded his empire to that of a full sized crime Kingpin. Jimmy was born in Southy, a rough area of South Boston (no!) where blood was far thicker than water and alliances forged by kids on the streets held fast through later life.

So why should Jimmy be of interest amongst the countless other ne’er do wells history has produced? Well firstly because Jimmy had a successful brother, Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch – clearly the casting director was gunning for matching sibling cheekbones), who broke out of his street kid mould to become the State Senator, no less.  Secondly because Jimmy was recruited as an informant by FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who saw him as an asset in the FBI’s attempts to bring down the local Mafia, who were rivals to Jimmy’s own gang.

You know what you’re getting with ‘70’s crime epics and Black Mass doesn’t disappoint. Grainy visuals – check. 18 foot long cars with spongy suspension – check. Characters called ‘Suitcase’ with faces like pigs bladders stuffed with an assortment of spanners – check. Cuddly old ladies who are delighted to see the local violent nutter back home after a stint in Alcatraz – check.

But what about the million dollar question, does Johnny pull it off? We’re delighted and frankly a bit surprised to say, yes he does. Granted, we spent the first 30 minutes gawping at his enormous prosthetic moon-like forehead and receding hairline,  but his usual penchance for tics and quirks are muted, his energy channelled instead into creating a psychopathic character of blood chilling proportions. A scene where Jimmy calmly torments John’s terrified wife Marianne (Julianne Nicholson) had The Sloth squirming in shared fear. Welcome back Johnny. Here’s to a revitalised career in monstrous sociopaths.

UK release 27 November

Steve Jobs. Poison Apple?


Michael Fassbender has not yet won an Oscar.  And it isn’t for lack of trying. The lad bared his soul (and backside) as a sex addict in Shame. Starved himself half to death in Hunger. Wore a giant papier-mâché mask for the entire duration of Frank. But so far, nowt.  Not a sausage. Only a Best Supporting Actor nomination for 12 Years A Slave. Clearly he is rattled, for 2016 sees him take on two more BIG, IMPORTANT, GIVE ME A BLOODY AWARD SHARPISH, YOU TIGHT-FISTED GITS roles, first as Macbeth and now as iconic Apple founder, Steve Jobs.

As if you didn’t know, geeky mates Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniaks (Seth Rogan) created Apple in their garage (kids, this was before tech start ups involved Shoreditch and cold pressed coffee). We first meet Steve when Apple is already successful and clearly leaving him with time on his hands – for he’s also been busy sleeping around and fathering unwanted children whom he now cruelly refuses to acknowledge.

This is the central issue that the film explores – essentially, just how much of a sociopath was Jobs? Structured around three significant product launches at different stages of his career, they form three ‘acts’, checking in with his relationships to the main players in his life: his child; Wozniaks; and his ‘work wife’,  Apple’s Head of Marketing  Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet with impressively eccentric accent).

Steve Jobs is breathtaking in its refusal to sugar coat the man. Fassbender, natch, is amazing, bulldozing his way through every scene. A genius Jobs might have been, but the film makes clear that this was at significant cost. Which is an interesting and brave decision as spending two hours in the company of a borderline sociopath is not exactly a barrel of laughs. But as the film ended and the credits rolled, the audience turned on their smartphones and the cinema was filled with glowing white Apple logos. Like him or not, his genius affects us all.

UK release 13 November

The Lady In The Van. Exemplary English Eccentrics.

2BF430BC00000578-0-image-a-238_1441323313262Aww, who doesn’t get all warm and fuzzy on hearing the name ‘Alan Bennett’? Cuddlier than a teddy bear in an Arran jumper, as quintessentially English as a toasted crumpet with marmalade and more wittily self-effacing than Stephen Fry at an apologists’ convention, Mr Bennett defines the term ‘National Treasure’.  So as The Lady In The Van, perhaps the best-loved play from one of our best-loved playwrights hits the big screen, there’s no sense of expectation. None whatsoever.

The Lady In The Van is based on real events in Mr Bennett’s life, for which the phrase ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ could well have been coined. In the late 1970’s Alan, starting to enjoy the spoils of moderate success, moved to up-and-coming Camden. He found his neighbours to be a mix of literary and artistic types, who liked to think of themselves as liberal and tolerant. However upon the arrival of a clapped out old camper van, driven erratically by elderly eccentric Miss Shepherd (Maggie Smith) their tolerance was quickly tested.

Homeless and living in her van, Miss Shepherd hated children, noise, music (the violin in particular) and basically all humanity. She was challenged on the personal hygiene front and the inside of her van resembled less a portable home and more a portable dustbin. Initially intrigued by their new neighbour, the locals brought food and gifts, only to have them thrown back in their faces. So Mr Bennett found himself doing what only someone partially insane would do, he invited Miss Bennett to park her van on his drive. Which is where she lived for the next fifteen years.

It’s impossible to get your head round what an act of humanity that was. Particularly as we see Alan (played by Alex Jennings) stepping in Miss Shepherd’s, erm, ‘human waste’ as he negotiates the steps to his own front door. But in typically analytical Bennett style, this is not seen as an act of humanity. Rather, Alan endlessly questions his own motives. Is it guilt from putting his mother in a home? An attempt to mine her for artistic inspiration? All considered with the wry, acerbic and self deprecating wit synonymous with him.  Add in a typically marvelous performance from Maggie Smith, reprising her role from the stage play, and you have two hours in the company of some of the finest talents the UK has produced. Yes, you know what you’re getting, but that doesn’t stop this being a delight.

UK release 13 November

The Fear Of Thirteen. Staring Death In The Face.

Nick YarrisAge 21, Nicholas Yarris was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a woman. He spent the next 20 years on death row, where he continually protested his innocence. The Fear Of Thirteen explores the story behind his extraordinary situation.

Director David Sington takes the perhaps unusual step of allowing Nick to tell his own story entirely in his own words. The majority of the 90 minute documentary is simply Nick talking to a point off camera, recounting his life from an early age.  At the start of the film The Sloth found ourselves confused and then disappointed, for this surely was an actor interpreting Nick’s words, not Nick himself, such was the elaboration and emotional range that he puts in, embellishing his sentences with gestures, sounds, the illustration of how someone said this or did that, adding unexpected bursts of humour to the blackest situations. But no, this is indeed Nick. For this film is as much about the concept of storytelling and the redemptive power of words as it is about questions of guilt or innocence.

Inevitable comparisons to a one-man play are there to be drawn. Not only from the theatrical nature of Nick’s ‘performance’ but from the dramatic narrative arc of his life. An errant youth spent joyriding and indulging in petty crime escalated into drug addiction and finally the accusation of murder, an accusation that stemmed ironically from lies of Nick’s own devising. Confinement on death row led to self reflection and the discovery of reading, whereupon Nick went from barely literate to devouring 1,000 books in just a few years, learning as much about himself as the world of literature.

This is an utterly compelling documentary. Nick is a charismatic and hypnotic protagonist, bringing alive the secretive world behind bars and drawing you in. Simultaneously, The Sloth found ourselves wondering how much of his seductive delivery was a fiction, a testament to the power of his mastery of words, but we were lucky enough to attend a screening that concluded with a Q&A from the director and producer who assured us his story was carefully vetted and was all entirely true. Ultimately, this is a story of redemption and a testament to self-belief against formidable odds. Gripping, life-affirming and, like all the best stories, highly entertaining.

UK release

Brooklyn. Nowt To Do With The Dodgers. Or Becks Jr.

Brooklyn-Poster-2Normally, anything with ‘romance’ in the synopsis has The Sloth reaching our over- long arms out for the nearest sick bag.  Add ‘period’ into that synopsis and we’re burying our heads in a Tarantino box set. Brooklyn can best be described as a ‘period romance’. We watched it during the recent London Film Festival industry screenings, bereft of both sick bags and distracting violence. Things didn’t bode well.

Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) is an Oirish lass living in a small town in the 1950’s. She’s expected to do small town Oirish things, like get married to a nice local boy and produce numerous sprogs. Funnily enough, Eilis fancies a bit more from life and books a one way ticket on a ship bound for New York City. Surviving apocalyptic sea sickness, she bonds with her dazzlingly ‘fast’ fellow cabin mate who dispenses crucial fashion advice to ensure Eilis arrives in US immigration looking marginally less Pig-In-The-City.

History buffs will know half of Ireland ended up in NYC during the 1950’s, so Eilis has plenty of help on reaching foreign shores. Friendly Oirish priest, Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) dispenses fatherly (no pun intended) advice whilst lodgings are supplied by friendly Oirish landlady Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters) who rules her roost of young girls with an iron fist and heart of gold. More tenuous Oirish connections land her a job at a posh department store.  The cherry on Eilis’ cake comes with meeting sweet local boy Tony (Emory Cohen). Although Tony, despite having an accent more Nu Yoik than a Bronx cabbie who’s swallowed the script of Goodfellas, claims to be “Italian” because no one in the US will ever admit to actually being American.

The End?  Nope, because Eilis is called back to small town Oirland by some tragic family news, then discovers she actually rather misses it. And that local lad Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson) is actually quite fit. So which bloke and which life will she choose?

On paper this all sounds plodding and dull, but to our immense surprise we really enjoyed it.  It’s an insight into a world gone by and is sweet but not sickly, due partly to the genuine, innocent chemistry between Eilis and Tony and partly to the fabulous supporting cast who supply plenty of humour. Julie Walters steals every scene as the spluttering, permanently outraged landlady…until James DiGiacomo pops up as Tony’s 8-going-on-55 year old, world weary kid brother. He is an absolute star – James Gandolfini alive and living in the body of an 8 year old – you heard it here first!

The Top Ten Bond Cars Of All Time

Version1-Landscape-VerticalbarsWhen The Sloth isn’t holed up in a cinema we are busy with our other passion – cars. Since falling in love with a white Alpha Romeo Spider Convertible aged 15, we’ve had a four wheeled obsession that’s led to us owning a Triumph Spitfire 1500, a Lotus Elise 111S and screeching round Thruxton race track at the wheel of a Supercharged Lotus Exige. Sometimes we think we should be running a motoring blog.

So whilst 99% of the world hotly anticipates Spectre for the prospect of Mr Craig moodily despatching despotic villains whilst casually knocking off a couple of fit birds, The Sloth is instead counting the minutes to seeing the Aston Martin DB10 in action. Yes, the decision to feature a concept car as been derided, but Bond is ultimately about fantasy and when a car looks that good, who gives a monkeys?  Even if it were a production car, it’s not like you’d be sizing it up as a viable alternative to your old Ford Focus, is it? 

Now you may think we are a hopeless case but 2,500 similarly car loving members of the public were surveyed by independent polling specialists Toluna and asked the immeasurably important question “Which is your favourite Bond car of all time?”, which The Sloth soundly applauds as a thoroughly worthwhile use of time, money and resource.

The top 10 cars in reverse order are, drum roll please:



10. Saab 900 Turbo ­ 2.70% (book: multiple) Whaaat??!?! Surely Bond would never drive something so dully prosaic??





9. Lotus Esprit Turbo ­ 2.70% (film: For Your Eyes Only, 1981)  That’s more like it!!! As a fellow Lotus owner The Sloth is only disappointed this doesn’t register higher.




8. The Blower Bentley ­ 3.38% (book: multiple)





7. Aston Martin V8 Vantage Volante ­ 3.38% (film: The Living Daylights, 1987).  Good choice – classy & understated





6. Aston Martin DBS ­ 8.06% (film: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969)





5. Aston Martin DB Mk III ­ 8.14% (book: Goldfinger, 1959) One for the anoraks as it appeared in the book, not the movie. 





4. Aston Martin V12 Vanquish ­ 9.29% (film: Die Another Day, 2002)





3. Jaguar XKR ­ 11.76% (film: Die Another Day, 2002)





2. Aston Martin DBS V12 ­ 15.77% (film: multiple)



1. Aston Martin DB5 ­ 16.64% (film: multiple)








Frankly, could there be any other winner (apart from the amphibious Lotus…)? Introduced in Goldfinger, the DB5 has become so synonymous with Bond it landed as much of a starring role in Skyfall as Mr Craig himself. Certainly a nice job for Aston, with Mark Hill, Head of Business at Aston Martin, musing “that unforgettable image of Sean Connery with his DB5 in the Swiss Alps helped to cement the iconic status of the car and the brand.”  All The Sloth needs to make our life complete is a test drive. Someone??  Pretty please??

The Program. Don’t Get With It.

lance armstrong 'the program' biopic movie posterFrom one of the greatest athletes of all time to one of the greatest villains of all time is quite the fall from grace, but full marks to Lance Armstrong for hitting top spots in both categories.  Say what you like about him, but one thing’s undeniable, the lad has competitive spirit.  The Program looks at just how he got there.

You know the story. Starting out as decently talented cyclist Armstrong (Ben Foster) was aware he wasn’t competing on an entirely level playing field. Doping was rife through the sport and if you wanted to take a podium place, well, if you weren’t artificially enhance you could basically forget it. For Armstrong, this wasn’t an option, so a couple of phone calls to notorious Dr Ferrari later he was injecting EPO with the best of them. One cancer diagnosis, recovery and multiple dope assisted Tour de France wins later and his place in history was assured.

Director Stephen Frears has form dealing with real life stories and it’s probably a shame that documentary The Armstrong Lie covered this territory already and stole a lot of his thunder. So what does it tell us that we don’t know? Not much in factual terms, but what it does do is shine a light on the complicit nature of cycling’s governing bodies, the media and perhaps even the audience in allowing Armstrong to get away with what he did. Seen mostly from the viewpoint of sports journalist David Walsh (Chris O’Dowd), it portrays how Armstrong and his team virtually flaunted their illicit underdoings, keeping drugs testers hanging on the doorstep while doctoring blood samples. And how far did we all go in choosing to believe in the fairytale, ignoring the common knowledge that cycling was a very far from clean sport?

With a terrific performance from Ben Foster who transforms himself into an uncanny living, breathing, cycling replica of Armstrong, this is as much a film about performance as it is about performance enhancing. It might not be up their amongst the greatest sports films of all time, but that’s doubtless due to the unsporting nature of its protagonist. Let’s hope we don’t see his like again.

UK release 16 October 2015

99 Homes. I Feel Bad For You Son.

poster-xlargeHow does a film about the housing market crisis grab you? Whoop whoop! You’re hoiking your trainers on and sprinting down to your local multiplex as we speak! No? Well you ought to, for 99 Homes is easily the most intelligent and gripping film The Sloth has seen so far this year. Trust us.

Nash (Andrew Garfield) is a single father in Florida, struggling to make ends meet with dead end, ad hoc construction work. Trouble is, being in dead end, ad hoc jobs, he’s not been able to pay his mortgage instalments and the court has ordered repossession. We meet him as real estate agent Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) is coldly turfing Nash, his young son and Nash’s mother (Laura Dern) out on the street.

Relocated to a cheap motel and desperate for money, Nash is offered a labouring job by Carver. Overcoming his aversion he accepts, being careful to conceal from his family the not insignificant fact that he is working for the man who ruined their lives. Before long, the slick, moneyed and predatory Carver suggests he start working for him full time, first as a handyman but then as a repossession agent himself. Nash, with only a modicum of reflection, accepts. Then faces the moral cost of earning cash at the expense of human suffering.

99 Homes is so, so much more than a film about the property market.  It’s a morality play with echoes of Greek tragedy, plus a good slice of poetry thrown in. Dr Faustus may be the obvious comparison, but the script (co-written by director Ramin Bahrami) is littered with evocative images and metaphors bordering on the Shakespearean, from Nash’s descriptions of himself as drowning, or Carver’s (whose name is hardly a coincidence) warning that Florida’s “gators never sleep”.

This isn’t an easy watch but it’s an important film that is not just about housing, but about human greed. And the actors rise to the same level as the script. Andrew Garfield in particular gives an outstanding performance, his conflicting emotions and desperation written all over his face. Go see it. And be afraid.

UK release 25 September

Me And Earl And The Dying Girl

earlAt the risk of sounding utterly callous, has anyone else noticed the rise of the ‘teenage cancer film’ sub-genre?  When was it decided this was a good subject for not just one, but several movies?  On a happier note, The Sloth is pleased to report that Me And Earl And The Dying Girl is to date, by far the best example.

Greg (Thomas Mann) is an average teenage high school youth. He has friends but isn’t one of the popular kids, nor is he a hopeless geek.  He hangs out with his mate Earl (RJ Cyler) and together they make short, animated parodies of famous films: Senior Citizen Cane, Eyes Wide Butt, etc. You know, the kind of effortlessly creative and quirky thing kids in US indie high school movies do. Unlike here in the UK, where extracurricular activities generally involve glue sniffing and teenage pregnancy.

Greg is happy in his average life until his mother (Connie Britton) announces his classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke) has been diagnosed with cancer. Greg’s mum, being a well-meaning, emotional sort, insists Greg (who barely knows Rachel) spend time with her to cheer her up. Cue awkward visitation by a cowering Greg to a imperious Rachel, who insists she doesn’t want anyone’s pity.

Inevitably, the pair strike up a reluctant bond, soon hanging out in a happy gang of three with Earl. Inevitably, this leads to self discovery and character development on all sides. Inevitably there is a sad conclusion. Yes, on paper this all sounds derivative and a path that has been trodden umpteen times before. But Me & Earl is way better than it sounds on paper. It has real, genuine warmth and charm. Greg and Rachel are sweet and well meaning leads, but the real joy comes from the peripheral characters. Earl is an utter delight, a cryptic bundle of charisma in a hat, full of snappy witticisms and gnomic observations. Greg’s parents are the eccentric, hippyish counterfoils to their son’s straight-laced normality. And the whole thing is interspersed with Greg & Earl’s very own witty short films. The term ‘indie gem’ is somewhat overused but in this case, well deserved.

UK release 4 September

Holding The Man – The Salty Popcorn Review

 Please welcome back The Sloth’s antipodean sibling site, Salty Popcorn, bringing you the best of Australian cinema. Editor Jason King reviews Holding The Man. Jason is the owner and editor of Salty Popcorn, a member of the Film Critics Circle of Australia and has been in the Australian movie industry for 25yrs. 

holdingIn 1976, Timothy Conigrave fell in love with the captain of the school football team, John Caleo. Thus began one of the greatest love stories ever told, HOLDING THE MAN, spanning fifteen years in a time when it was unacceptable to be gay. They went through hatred, disapproval, separations, immense guilt, disease and then death. When I look at this couple that is the love I long for in my life, regardless of their fates, it would be better to experience that love and live a short life than to not live that love at all. HOLDING THE MAN is the seminal gay coming of age fiction that every gay man in Australia has probably read.

The love story is incredible and the performances in the film are epic, besides the superb, but too brief, appearances of the supporting cast of Guy Pearce, Sarah Snook, Geoffrey Rush, Anthony LaPaglia and Kerry Fox, we have two leads that just smashed into the acting world, both Ryan Corr and Craig Stott have a few roles under their belts but this movie will bring international recognition and many job offers. They overcame being actors in this movie and became Tim and John, the scene on the beach where John looks into Tim’s eyes, doesn’t need to say anything and just conveys everything.

I do now have a crush on Ryan Corr and I truly hope we also see great things from Craig Stott, his latter scenes when he got sick were remarkable and soul destroying but we all know at that time you couldn’t stop HIV and its destruction, it was the tragedy of inevitability that overwhelmed my emotions. And the lethal fact that Timothy believes he killed the one person he loved more than anyone else on the planet. There are no words to describe the pain that must have caused him.On an uplifting note, the soundtrack is remarkable and a MUST BUY, it is a veritable history collection of superb tunes from the times with songs from Dragon, Bronski Beat, Rufus Wainwright, Rockmelons, Bryan Ferry, Dave Mason and Pete Shelley.

Sadly there are two things that lose half a point from my score, this movie will be in my top 10 of the year but two things really bugged me. 1) The wigs at the beginning, I get it, they kept the same actors to play the characters through the 15yrs and it kept a sense of love and continuity that really worked, but those wigs, especially John’s at the start of the movie just didn’t work for me. Or was this just because I have always loathed the mullet? 2) The set up and opening, it moved too quick and I didn’t get it.

The truly horrendous part of this story is that it is all true. On John’s deathbed he gives Timothy a tool to help him write his story, and he does, he writes this love story of epic proportions for John and to John. One month after the completion of the book Timothy passed away from HIV related complications. John never got to read the epic beauty of Tim’s love for him and Tim never got to see the epic love the world had for their story, nor how the world changed and is still changing (no help from our idiot PM) nor will they ever see how it has now become a beautiful movie.

In a time when change and equality is needed for Australia and the rest of the world and a time when Australia is sadly creeping back to the dark ages, this movie, if nothing else, shows how love is love regardless of your sex, sexual orientation and that the world should stand up for what is right. This country deserves the equality so people like you, me and the Tims and Johns of the world can be accepted as they are, equals in this world.

I bloody love this movie and its book from Timothy Conigrave. Director Neil Armfield (CANDY) has done a superb effort in bringing this story to the big screen, he maintained the heart of the story and gave the tale its delicate and required respect. Thank you.