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.

 

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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

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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

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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.

 

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45 Years. The Act of Marriage.

45 yearsThere are few actors who can command a screen solely with their eyes. Charlotte Rampling is one of them. 45 Years was written specifically with her in mind and boy, does she do it justice.

 

Charlotte plays Kate, who is married to Geoff (Tom Courtenay). Geoff and Kate live an unremarkable existence in an unremarkable area of rural Norfolk. Their life is a quiet, unremarkable routine of walking the dog, opening the post and taking trips into town for shopping and coffee. They’re about to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary and are in the middle of planning an elaborate party to mark the occasion. Until a small bombshell drops.

 

Geoff receives news that an ex girlfriend has been found dead. Extraordinarily, she has been discovered in a glacier, perfectly frozen in time, having evidently lain there for years. The shock revelation stirs up long dormant feelings in Geoff that Kate finds increasingly difficult to deal with. Her suspicions aroused, Kate discovers evidence that Geoff and his ex were a lot closer than Geoff ever let her believe. So close that Kate questions whether she was ever Geoff’s true love. Whether she has in fact been second best all these years.

 

From unremarkable beginnings, 45 Years becomes a truly remarkable film. The Sloth can’t remember ever seeing such a totally convincing portrait of a marriage on screen. There is no doubt that these two have been married for decades, so natural and understated is the rhythm of their lives, interactions and conversations that leave as much unsaid as said. We, as viewers, have simply intruded as flies on the wall. Quietly devastating and utterly believable, Kate’s crumbling inner self is painful to watch and completely human. It makes us question how we would deal with such a potentially total betrayal, wondering whether the majority of our life has been a sham. With minimal fuss, this is a film 100% about the actors who both deservedly won Silver Berlin Bears. We doubt you’ll see better performances in a cinema this year. Or next, for that matter. Go see.

UK release 28 August.

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Strangerland – The Salty Popcorn Review

Please give a big welcome back to What Movie This Week’s Aussie pals Salty Popcorn, bringing you the best of Australian cinema.  Salty Popcorn’s editor, Jason King, takes a look at Strangerland, his hot tip for best Aussie movie of 2015. Fingers crossed it’ll wing its way over to Blighty before too long…

Strangerland_General_poster_A4poster-724x1024New to the remote Australian desert town of Nathgari, the Parker family is thrown into crisis when Catherine (Nicole Kidman) and Matthew (Joseph Fiennes) discover that their two teenage kids, Tommy (Nicholas Hamilton) and Lily (Maddison Brown), have mysteriously disappeared just before a massive dust storm hits the town. With Nathgari now eerily smothered in red dust and darkness, the locals join the search led by local cop David Rae (Hugo Weaving). With temperatures rising, and the chances of survival plummeting with each passing day, Catherine and Matthew find themselves pushed to the brink as they struggle to survive the uncertainty of their children’s fate.

The film is spectacular, hands down I do believe this will be my favourite Australian movie of 2015 and comes across as this year’s THE ROVER. It is easily one of Kidman’s best performances from an incredible career and she eats the screen in this one. Also her and Weaving act together is a perfect fit, two actors who not only know each other so well but are so comfortable acting together it is almost natural.

Dealing with grief is a terrible thing to go through, dealing with that grief with the knowledge that your children may or may not be dead and you don’t know where they are, and you can’t do anything is enough to drive anyone insane. In a small town in the middle of the desert when you know there is a survival clock is beyond horrendous. I don’t want to imagine.

For the Parkers, it is incredibly difficult, they moved to Nathgari for the sole purpose of getting away from attention. Attention brought about by their daughter, a truly promiscuous teenager who is bored in this small town and longs for attention. Lily is her mother’s daughter. Catherine needs attention, she is lonely, her husband has withdrawn away from her and they were never right for each other. In Nathgari she is bored, and depressed, and she lacks little in the way of feelings. Lily is basically the same but going through her late teen years. Tommy is younger, the most grounded and least affected by their family situation and someone adapting better but slower, but he also has his own issue and night-wanders through the town.

The film presents as a murder/ disappearance mystery/ psychological thriller, in a small town there can only be a few suspects and the entire town is affected by this tragedy.

As I said earlier Kidman’s performance is just sublime, she appears more comfortable away from the Hollywood studios. Weaving is always amazing and his small town cop, thoroughly enjoyable. I did not like Fiennes or his character and am uncertain if this is due to his bad casting or because it was so good I just loathed the character, the chemistry between him and Kidman was hideous, but at this stage of their marriage it should be. Brown was fine as slutty Lily and Hamilton was superb as Tommy, I loved his character and his lack of connection later in the movie was strong, the compassion and empathy I had for this kid was more powerful than my thoughts for the rest of the family.

The film captures small town Australian desert/ country-life perfectly, the dust storm was a bonus and the isolation was uncomfortable. Farrant’s direction was a triumph and P.J. Dillon’s cinematography is a marvel that is matched by the fine wine of Keefus Ciancia’s music that smothers the movie in long drawn out tension oozing in melancholy and desperation.

My gripes are two; firstly, already mentioned is my indecision of Fiennes, but this is not his movie, it is Kidman’s, and she owns it. But lastly, the ending was not what I was expecting, it was mostly unnecessary and I felt the film was let down by this, it lacked the gravitas I believed it desired.

Regardless of the flaws the film has way more merits, it plays like a long strummed piano wire and the tension is wonderful.

Salty Popcorn score: 4/5

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The Goob. Fear And Loathing In East Anglia.

GOOBVENICE2808AAh, the coming of age film. 90-odd minutes of torture, digging up painful memories of searing hormones, sprouting hairy bits and execrable fashion choices. Let’s sign up for another, shall we? And let’s make it a British Social Realist one while we’re at it. No point doing pain by halves.

The Goob (Liam Walpole) is a teenager. We have no idea why he is called Goob, presumably it’s just more enigmatic. He lives in East Anglia, which is not a good place for teenagers, so we’re already off to a painful start. We meet Goob on his last day of secondary school, dropped off in the middle of a field in the back of beyond, his mates mooning out the back window at him.

Goob lives with his mother Janet (Sienna Guillory), who runs a greasy spoon roadside cafe. Janet hangs out at the stock car racing, where she’s hooked herself up with car racer Gene (Sean Harris). Gene fancies himself as an Alpha male, eyeing up bits of skirt, throwing his weight around and viciously bullying the gawky, sensitive Goob.

What action there is in Goob’s world revolves around the few people who pass through – effervescent gay teen Elliot (Oliver Kennedy), who offers Goob a hand of genuine friendship. Temporary farm worker Roza (Rosa French) with whom he shares a burgeoning romance. But these glimpses of happiness are methodically crushed by the violent Gene.

The Goob comes with the misery prerequisite for any British social realist drama. Impoverished rural community – check. Browbeaten women with Croydon facelifts – check. Violent working class male – check. But it also has moments of sheer joy – Oliver’s marvellously camp dance routine to Donna Summer’s I Feel Love;  the flat farmland of East Anglia assuming a beauty like the Great Plains.

First time writer/director Guy Myhill has creating an emotionally complex and atmospheric drama that builds slowly and oppressively to an inevitable flashpoint conclusion. Coaxing great performances from his actors, not least the bug eyed, skinny, watchful Goob, the occasional cliché can be forgiven. We look forward to seeing what he does next. After we’ve blanked out those queasy age 16 flashbacks…

UK release 29 May

 

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Rosewater. Does Jon Stewart’s directorial debut come up smelling sweet?

rosewaterJon Stewart is a multi-award winning American comic legend, synonymous with satirical stalwart, The Daily Show.  He wouldn’t be The Sloth’s first thought to direct a hotly political, real life drama of a journalist’s imprisonment in Iran, but Rosewater sees him break new ground. Should he have stuck to the day (no pun intended) job?

Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) was born in Tehran to Canadian and Iranian parents.  As a child, successive brutal regimes imprisoned both his father and older sister.  Relocated to London in later life he married a Brit and took a job as an investigative journalist for Newsweek.  With Iran on the brink of elections in 2009 which looked set to topple incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in favour of reformist candidates, Maziar returned to Tehran to cover developments.

Arriving at the airport Maziar chanced upon affable, outspoken taxi driver Davood (Dimitri Leonidas) who introduced him to Tehran’s liberal, pro-reform community.  Interviewing and filming his way around the city, all is going well until the President was re-elected in an apparently rigged vote. The government turned violently on protesters, exposed internationally by Maziar’s camera, and he found himself thrown into solitary confinement in an Iranian jail for the next 118 days. Accused of being a Western spy, he was by turn cajoled, harangued and tortured by his dedicated interrogator, known as a ‘Specialist’.

Filmed realistic stylee, often seen through Maziar’s own camera, Rosewater paints a credible picture of life in day to day Iran, all erratic traffic, tactile male hugging and loud gesticulating. It’s also something of an eyebrow-raiser for a naive audience to see sectors of the Iranian community cheerfully swigging illicit vodka and discussing Grand Theft Auto.

It isn’t perfect. The scenes of Maziar’s solitary confinement and interrogation drag on far too long, but what it does do well, doubtless honed from Mr Stewart’s prior experience, is unexpectedly add black humour into the mix. Maziar’s rejection of a coffee brought by his Specialist receives the growling response “You don’t like my Nescafe?” as comic as it is threatening.  And, whilst we don’t wish to take credit away from Mr Stewart, in hiring the always fabulous Gael Garcia Bernal you can’t really go wrong. All in all, an interesting debut effort.

UK release 8 May 2015

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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

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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

 

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