A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence

A-Pigeon-Sat-On-A-Branch-PosterGotta love the Scandis. They are collectively mad as a bucket of barking frogs. Having taken over most of the known universe with their particularly chilling brand of Nordic noir, they’re stepping up a notch. The Sloth can only assume A Pigeon Sat On A Branch  was conceived during the longest night of the coldest, darkest Nordic Winter, such is the inky, deadpan depth of its comic and philosophical blackness.

Frankly we’re at a loss to explain any kind of plot. Rather, it’s a surreal mix of sketches, vignettes and snippets of life happening around town in 1940’s Gothenburg. We visit Limping Lotta’s Bar, where her loyal customers join in a rousing, impromptu song to the tune of Glory Glory Hallelujah, agreeing to pay for their drinks by a kiss. We follow two morose salesman peddling their comedy vampire fangs and Uncle One-Tooth masks to penniless shopkeepers. And hang out in a cafe where a King’s horseman, complete with prancing steed, enters to shoo all the women out before His Majesty himself descends for a drink.

So what exactly is it about? Well, basically the contemplation of death. Shot in a palette of khaki and beige, its wan and melancholic characters stand immobile, stare into space and wander slowly and ponderously in and out of characterless interiors, mostly in complete silence but occasionally underscored by an incongruously cheery waltz or the occasional song, all searching for meaning in their drab, colourless existences. Gothenburg essentially needs one socking great shot of Prozac.

If this all sounds unspeakably grim, it isn’t (apart from a scene with a monkey which we’ll spare you. Oh, and a scene where us Brits don’t come off too well. But apart from that…). We laughed out loud at several points and quickly succumbed to the hypnotic lull of its stately, measured pace. Granted, it’s not for everyone but if you like your humour of the very blackest persuasion and balanced with a measure of sad melancholy, it might just tickle your fancy.

UK release 8 May

A Little Chaos. Digging Deeper.

a_little_chaos_posterThe Sloth recently read a review referring to Matthias Schoenaerts as the ‘hunk du jour’ and we laughed a lot. For indeed, whilst The Gosling has been off having a baby break, the brooding Belgian has cunningly cornered his market, staring moodily out from the screen of every cinema we’ve wandered into. A Little Chaos sees his reign continue.

Set in the grand echelons of the Palace of Versailles, A Little Chaos follows the gardening exploits of King Louis XIV (Alan Rickman). Not quite content with the magnificence of the Palace alone, Louis decides he wants the gardens to be equally splendid so issues a commission for some new landscape designs. Alongside the great and good garden designers of the day one relative unknown, Sabine de Barra (Kate Winslet), takes up the challenge, proposing a radical design based – gasp – on letting a bit of natural disorder creep into the rigidly regimented style of the time. Louis is not convinced but fortunately head gardener André Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts), buys into Sabine’s vision and convinces Louis to give her a go.

What follows is part cerebral meditation on the meaning and purpose of art and part romantic drama as, needless to say, André isn’t simply enamoured with Sabine’s nifty way with a bit of privet hedging. Similarly, Louis is caught by Sabine’s naive simplicity and earnestness in contrast to the conniving vixens and villains at play within his court.

Kate Winslet, natch, does her pouty corset / messy hair thing with a bit of mud on her skirt for added characterisation. And Alan Rickman was born to be The Sun King – The Sloth can’t think of anyone else so inherently grand and both strangely sexless yet highly camp at the same time. Kind of like a regal newt.

A Little Chaos at times takes itself A Little Seriously but, flippancy aside, it does raise some genuinely interesting questions on how our perceptions of nature, beauty and art have changed over the ages. Ideas and aesthetics we take for granted now were radical, once upon a time. And if that doesn’t do it for you, maybe Matthias Cheesecake will.

UK release 14 April

Good Kill. Pushing Buttons.

good-kill-posterDrones are wrong and should be banned. They are mind-blowingly creepy – Facebook drones? Google drones? Amazon drones? Soon plagues of drones will be sweeping through cities, chewing up postmen, leaving crumpled Argos receipts and disembodied ‘Like’ buttons swirling in their wake. But most disturbing of all are military drones, quietly (and not entirely morally) changing the face of conflict as we know it. Good Kill takes these drones to task.

Tom (Ethan Hawke) is a US military drone pilot. He operates out of a military base in the desert near Las Vegas. Specifically, he operates out of what looks like an innocuous storage container, the inside of which contains enough blinking computer screens to satisfy the most hardened techie. From his position of complete safety, Tom flies weapon-laden drones that cruise miles high in the sky then, at the push of a button, obliterate completely oblivious enemy targets.

Tom has a beautiful wife, Molly (January Jones) and two kids. He lives in a nice house and has friends over for BBQs at the weekend. But Tom is not happy. He used to be a ‘real’ pilot and misses ‘real’ combat. He struggles with the ethics of sneaking up on an enemy unseen. And he struggles with his gung-ho, bloodthirsty colleagues, who see war as black and white.

Good Kill is a cerebral, talky film. It has a strong, anti-war agenda and makes no bones about it. Drone warfare is little more than a videogame, combatants literally thousands of miles removed from each other and so removed from any form of empathy. Budget is the key decision maker, hidden behind proclamations about saving American military lives.

For a war film where the ‘action’ is purely viewed onscreen, it’s unsettling and gripping. At times it pushes its point too hard, characters unnaturally trotting out convoluted speeches about policy, but there’s no doubt about its sincerity. And having watched it, there is equally little doubt the points it makes are relevant and important. Amazon, The Sloth will stick to our Postie.

UK release date 10 April 2015


While We’re Young. Hip To Be Square.

OnlineQuad_WhileWereYoungAhh, The Hipster.  Native resident of grittily urban areas undergoing economic regeneration, mostly found congregating in great numbers around vinyl disc emporiums. Skinny of leg with exuberant plumage on chin.  May be omnivorous or vegetarian but will only consume produce labelled ‘organic’ and/or ‘artisan’, preferably grown in lay-by off M25. Now marvellously satirised in Noah Baumbach’s tremendous While We’re Young.

Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are a childless 40-something couple with increasingly little in common with their friends who all have kids. Josh, a documentary filmmaker, finds himself waylaid after a class one day by effortlessly cool young couple Jamie (Adam Driver), a wannabe filmmaker, and his wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried), who are keen to chat.

Flattered by the attention and energised by their enthusiasm, Josh is soon arranging subsequent meet ups with Adam. Then buys a pork pie hat, like Adam. Then ditches public transport to wobble unsteadily down the road on a bike, after Adam. Initially sceptical, Cornelia too soon becomes sucked in, persuaded to join Darby in a Hip Hop dance class (note to aging self: few things are less dignified than a 40-something ‘busting a move’).

Inevitably, their new found BFFs start attracting scepticism from peers of their own age. And after a while, Josh and Cornelia themselves start to question whether there may be ulterior motives behind Jamie and Darby’s attentions. But not before a marvellous succession of events that gently and hilariously mock the narcissistic, self-conscious world of The Hipster and raise questions about what people really want out of life.

The Sloth was lucky enough to attend a preview screening introduced by director Noah Baumbach, in which he described his own awareness of getting older, of recalling something that had ‘just happened’ only to realise it was years before, and wanting to make a film that captured both this and thoughts about relationships he had gathered over time. While We’re Young achieves all this brilliantly. Both timely and timeless, every laugh is spiked with the prick of truth. It feels like an instant classic – don’t miss it.

UK release 3 April 2015

Dior And I. Frock It To Me.

diorThe Sloth has rather a pash for a decent fashion doc. You don’t think we look this good by sheer fluke, do you? Donning our best new season’s look we settled down on the frow (er, OK, our sofa) with a mini bottle of Champagne and lipstick-preserving straw to indulge in Dior and I.

Even if you curl your lip in scornful disgust at the mere mention of the F-word (narcissistic frippery!) you will have heard of the legendary house of Dior. You will also be aware M. Dior carked it rather a long time ago, so Dior has since been helmed by various incumbents. The latest designer to head up the house is Raf Simmons, formerly working in ready-to-wear for smaller label Jill Sander. Dior and I follows Raf as he graduates to Big School and prepares his very first Haute Couture collection.

Filmed in fly-on-the-wall style approach we meet Raf on his first day. We also learn he has a scant 10 weeks to produce the full collection from conception to catwalk, a process which would normally take 4 months. No pressure. Raf and his side-kick Pieter, his “right hand”, work their way through the Dior archives, meet the amazingly talented tailors and seamstresses who actually create the garments and then get down to work.

Dior and I is a fascinating watch as the viewer is put in the same position as Raf and Pieter. We are newbies with them, finding out as they do how the Dior beast operates, meeting the people who make it tick. It’s also a window into one man’s creative process. We learn of Raf’s interest in art, how paintings become direct inspiration for the print on a dress, how the essence of Dior is analysed and captured. We see the mind-boggling craftsmanship, skill and sheer man-hours that go into creating the pieces. Most of all, it captures the personalities. Raf himself, initially reserved and calm, slowly reveals a more tempestuous side that plays against Pieter’s cheery good-cop. And finally we get to boggle at the glorious, OTT fantasy of the final show. If you have even a passing interest in fashion, or art, or both, don’t miss it.

UK release 27 March

The Voices. Talking Dirty.

voiceGive The Sloth a daft premise and we’re all over it like a cheap suit. So The Voices could have been written with us in mind. It features a talking dog – yes please. A psychopathic cat – like it. And a delusional serial killer – could it get any better? Let’s find out.

Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) is a factory worker.  On the surface he’s sweet and earnest, singing irritatingly cheerful songs  on the production line and contributing ideas for the office Christmas party. But all is not entirely well in Jerry’s world, for Jerry is not entirely well. In fact he’s seeing a psychiatrist and is delusional, convinced his pet dog Bosco and cat Mr Whiskers (both voiced by Ryan) are talking to him. Bosco, in the manner of dogs the world over, is dopey, loving and supportive. Mr Whiskers, in the manner of cats the world over, is evil, vindictive and fond of rude turns of phrase involving back passages. And randomly speaks with a (slightly ropey) Scottish accent.

Fighting these virtual extensions of his good and bad conscience, Jerry unfortunately finds Mr Whiskers becoming more persuasive. Particularly unfortunate for Fiona (Gemma Arterton) the office hottie and distant object of Jerry’s affections. Chancing upon Fiona alone one night, one thing leads to another and Jerry, completely unintentionally, stabs her to death. Oops.  But that’s OK for he salvages her head, stores it in the fridge and lo and behold, Fiona’s head starts talking to him too, demanding Jerry kill again to provide her with a fridge-friend. Can Jerry resist the voices’ demands?.

The Voices is dark. Very dark and often very funny, shot through with a large dose of Little Shop Of Horrors style surreal kitsch and hitting just the right, slightly ‘off’ tone. The Sloths’ good, liberal, Guardian-reading left wing conscience felt bad laughing at the antics of the hapless and naively endearing Jerry. But then our evil, hedonistic, vodka and tonic swilling bad conscience told us to get a ****ing life and stop being so anally uptight. Leave your good conscience at home and enjoy.

UK release 20 March

X + Y

x + yHow are your memories of school maths lessons? Painful? The Sloth shudders at the recollection of Mr Hayes, who operated a shock and awe teaching style, bawling our 12 year old self out in front of the entire class for taking more than a scant 2 seconds to answer a question. We’ve hated anything vaguely numerical ever since.

But not everyone is as maths averse, as X + Y explores. Nathan (Asa Butterfield) is a young autistic boy. After his father Michael (Martin McCann) dies unexpectedly, mother Julie (Sally Hawkins) struggles to raise him alone, doing her best to deal with his difficult condition. Along with the social awkwardness of autism often come gifts, which Nathan demonstrates with a growing affinity for maths. Spotting Nathan’s talent, his school arranges extra tuition from shambolic, MS suffering maths teacher Humphreys (Rafe Spall), whose irreverent attitude and medical difficulties help forge a tentative bond.

Nathan’s prodigious skills eventually land him a place on the UK’s junior maths Olympiad team and en route to a maths training camp in Taiwan, along with the geekiest teammates this side of a Warhammer convention, bless. Thrown in at the deep end, he is forced to either start managing his issues or meet the same fate as teammate and fellow autistic Luke (Jake Davies), whose inability to curb his argumentative nature leads to ostracism from his peers.

X + Y is a small gem of a film. For such an emotional subject it has humour in abundance, supplied by Rafe Spall’s foul mouthed tutor and Eddie Marsan’s dogmatic Olympiad team coach, but is also deeply moving without ever dipping into sentiment or mawkishness. Scenes of Nathan taking tentative steps towards a relationship with Chinese team member Zhang Mei (Jo Yang) and understanding the emotions lurking deep inside him are genuinely touching. Conversely, a virtuoso performance by Jake Davies as tortured fellow autistic Luke are acutely painful to watch. Beautifully scripted, beautifully acted. Don’t miss it.

Oh and there is maths too, if you are interested, but The Sloth stuck our fingers in our ears for that bit.

UK release 13 March

Still Alice. Forget-Her-Not.

still aliceThe Sloth wants to be Julianne Moore. There, we’ve said it. But seriously, can you think of any other actress as talented / stylish / intelligent / generally amazing? And she’s FIFTY THREE for goodness sake!  Kids, lay off the Botox. Julianne wouldn’t touch it with a three foot long needle, y’hear?

OK, we’ll calm down.

Unless you’ve had your head wedged firmly up your own backside for the last couple of months you’ll know Still Alice won Julianne the Best Actress Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA. Quite the sweep. She plays Alice, an acclaimed Professor of Linguistics at Columbia University.  Fiercely intelligent, confident and gregarious, Alice is happily married to John (Alec Baldwin) with grown up children. But something is awry. She finds herself losing her train of thought in a lecture, forgetting her route when out running. Eventually she seeks medical advice and to her horror is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.  Hard enough for any person, let alone a 50 year old whose entire world revolves around communication skills.

The film wastes no time getting into the decline of her condition. With terrifying rapidity she forgets simple words, forgets where the bathroom is when she is desperate for the toilet, forgets one of her own daughters, Lydia (Kristen Stewart). Desperate to stem the irreversible decline she turns to technology, using her phone to remind herself of simple tasks, setting questions to stimulate her mind each morning. Most morbidly, setting plans for her suicide once she deems her condition unbearable.

If you know a relative suffering from the condition, Still Alice may be a difficult watch. It’s deeply moving, due to the power of Julianne’s performance. She precisely captures the bewildered, grasping expressions of sufferers searching for points of recognition in a foggy world and the desperate need to appear normal to observers. It may sound depressing beyond words and, admittedly, it’s not the cheeriest of subjects, but it’s also a film about love, support and the human spirit. Watching Alice doggedly fight her way through a speech to fellow Alzheimer’s sufferers made us want to cry and cheer at the same time. Watch it. Then go make a donation to the Alzheimer’s Society.

UK release 6 March.

One Eyed Girl – The Salty Popcorn Review

Please give a big welcome back to What Movie This Week’s Aussie sibling site Salty Popcorn, who are bringing you the best of Australian cinema, you lucky people!  Salty Popcorn’s editor, Jason King, takes a look at One Eyed Girl, a new addition to the genre of the cult movie (that’s a movie about cults, although give it time and no doubt it will be, er, cult). Stick it on your DVD list!

one eyedONE EYED GIRL follows the journey of Travis (Mark Leonard Winter) a troubled psychologist who loses a patient, fails to answer that he is having issues and turns to medication and alcohol. He starts spiralling downwards and then meets a girl on a train who is handing out brochures, Grace (Tilda Cobham-Hervey. Grace and Travis keep seeing each other on the train and he eventually takes a brochure and attends a meeting, it does not end well and he leaves on bad terms. That night he overdoses and calls the number on the brochure. The next day he wakes tied to a bed, on a farm, with a cult and so begins his healing process. Like all forms of government and society they are perfect in theory, and so is the cult, until cracks start appearing and Travis starts seeing the cult isn’t as glorious as initially thought.

I truly enjoyed this film; another great Australian film added to the canon of Australian cinema that needs to be seen but will find it hard to generate an audience. It is experimental and it is way too dark – it will be loved by critics and while I urge you to see it, I doubt you will, but heed my words, these are the films we should be supporting, we need more well made movies that are made clever and feature great Australian talent. We need to support more artistic films so more can be made, there will always be another TRANSFORMERS!! Hopefully it will get some overseas recognition and box office, recently winning the Dark Matters Award at the Austin Film Festival.

The film has a good structure and while the cult movie has been done a dozen times with similar outcomes this is separated from the pack because of its move towards the psychological trauma and battle Travis faces. It avoids the found footage horror trip into a cult and looks at it with intelligence and characters that are more than two dimensional.

The great strength in this film, besides a remarkable screenplay by Craig Behenna and Director, Nick Matthews, besides the sublime dark and dreary lensing from Jody Muston, besides Matthews’s strong direction is the acting, it is just superb. Mark Leonard Winter is someone to keep your eye on. Steve Le Marquand is a great ex-military cult leader addition to the genre, loved his performance. Likewise Tilda Cobham-Hervey’s Grace. And Matt Crook, his Markus, while a smaller role, is pivotal and possibly the most powerful in the movie.

Two things brought the score down from a perfect 5. I knew Travis was depressed but the overdose was unexpected and kind of threw me – it did make more sense as the movie went on and redeemed itself. But the big one was the ending, I thought it was a great ending but it was dragged out and predictable by this stage – it felt like it was being spelled out. I am also unsure as to the accuracy of procedure in that situation and it very much “one-dimensioned” the police.

Regardless the movie is brilliant, that something so skilfully made and powerful can be created for a mere $1MIL Australian boggles the mind, especially when something like TRANSFORMERS 4: THE AGE OF EXCREMENT cost two hundred and ten times more!! I would much prefer 210 films like this.

Salty Popcorn score: 4/5

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.