Steve Jobs. Poison Apple?

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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

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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!

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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

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Trainwreck. Sisters Are Crude-ing It For Themselves.

Trainwreck_posterSo when did you last hear a tampon joke in a mainstream Hollywood movie? Here, The Sloth shall resist all urges to say something along the lines of ‘bet you can’t bloody remember’ for that would be cheap and distasteful. Oops. Sorry. Anyway, prepare to have that taboo broken for Trainwreck, in the now time honoured tradition of Bridesmaids et al, seeks to go where no male scriptwriter dare.

 

Amy Schumer, writer and star of Trainwreck, is best known for her work on US comedy stalwart Saturday Night Live, a long running sketch show that counts the likes of Will Ferrell, Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey amongst its alumni.  Amy plays Amy, whose father taught her from a young age that monogamy was unnatural and wrong. Adult Amy now chews through men at a rate of knots, washed down with copious volumes of alcohol and drugs, whilst working as a staff writer at a dubious lad’s magazine.

 

All is well and good, if rather foggy and dishevelled, in Amy’s world until she is given a work assignment to interview leading sports physician Aaron (Bill Hader).  Amy hates sport but decides she likes Aaron enough for a one night stand. Except nice guy Aaron then upsets Amy’s natural world order by calling her the next day and asking for a second date, the weirdo stalker freak. Even more unsettlingly, after first debating whether she ought to call the police, Amy agrees.

 

At its core, Trainwreck is essentially a traditional romantic comedy. Boy meets girl, they fall in love and a few hiccups occur along the way before the path of true love can run smooth. But layered on top is a frequently hilarious script that doubtless owes much to Amy Schumer’s sketch show experience. The joy is in set piece scenes that riff on various subjects – talking dirty in bed, the aforementioned tampon joke, racist older people. It also features a cast of rather fabulous supporting characters, from Tilda Swinton as a ball breaking magazine editor to a scene-stealing, if not entire movie-stealing, turn from basketball legend LeBron James playing a penny-pinching version of himself with tremendous, dead pan comic aplomb. Overall, it’s not quite as ground-breaking as Bridesmaids, but it’s certainly a quality addition to the burgeoning female-raunch genre.

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Far From The Madding Crowd – Too Hot To Hardy

maddingYou may have read Far From The Madding Crowd at school. And you’re thinking, yawn, literary adaptation, some hills & Daaarset accents, wotevs.  Think again, for it feels really rather contemporary.

Mostly, this is due to the fabulous Cary Mulligan as Hardy’s strong willed and impetuous heroine Bathsheba Everdene. We’re not a Sloth prone to gushing, but the girl is simply splendid in everything she does.  And we’re also a big fan of her habitual feminist rants against the omnipresent sexism of the film industry, which still rarely creates proper (i.e. non-totty) roles for female actors. One day soon we will do a post about the Bechdel test, but we digress.

For those of you unfamiliar with the novel, Bathsheba is a surprisingly feminist character. An orphan who inherits a sizeable farm from an uncle, she finds herself in the position to – gasp – not be reliant on a man for income. Not only that but she runs said farm with an iron fist, battling sexism and misogyny till finally winning the locals over.

Being young, rich and attractive, she attracts her share of admirers. Rugged shepherd Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), whose steadfast support and loyalty is compromised by his lack of social stature. Local landowner William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), whose social stature is compromised by being a bit of a dork. And caddish, womanising soldier Sergeant Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge) who she only goes and marries, the fool.

Whilst this might sound like a standard romantic drama, the plot twists and turns through moments bordering on melodrama, like a glossier, prettier and particularly thrilling episode of Eastenders. In fact, the only slight problem is arguably one of sexism. As we have discussed, women are generally cast as totty. However the casting of Cheesecake Hunkmeister du Jour, Matthias Schoenearts, as Gabriel, whom a (straight) male colleague was recently moved to confess he’d had an almighty man-crush on since he starred in Rust and Bone, frankly makes the concept of Bathsheba even considering another suitor completely laughable. But if you can get over that (or hey, just indulge that man-crush and ogle Matthias looking moody and rugged on windswept hilltops whilst, err, deflating gas out of bloated sheep’s bellies), this is a beautifully acted and engaging adaptation.

UK release 1 May

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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

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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

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Love Is Strange review

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

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

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

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

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

UK release 13 February

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Wild. At Heart.

wild-movie-poster-1The Sloth has never camped in our lives. Why exchange your perfectly comfortable home tree equipped with hot and cold running water and Egyptian cotton linen for damp canvas and a ½ mile trek across a muddy field at 3.00am to relieve your nocturnal bladder? For a HOLIDAY? Having watched Wild, we shall not be changing this situation.

Based on a remarkable true story Wild recounts how Cheryl Strayed (Reece Witherspoon) took it upon herself to hike, alone, the 1,000 mile Pacific Crest Trail, from the Mojave Desert in the south to Washington State in the north. Fit but not overly so, and certainly no Bear Grylls in the survival skills department, it was something of an ambitious undertaking. But, devastated by the recent death of her mother and with her own personal life in crisis, Cheryl had one large advantage up her sleeve – motivation.

At this point The Sloth had happy-clappy, ‘Eat Pray Love’ middle-class angst alarm bells ringing. But (to our relief at least) from flashbacks to her past it becomes clear Cheryl was no angel. A flawed character with a history of drug abuse, she repeatedly cheated on her husband and spiralled into a deep decline involving crack dens of the very worst, stained mattress, Trainspotting-esq kind. Eeew. So exchanging one extreme for another, she undertook the journey as a cathartic new beginning..

Taking one day at a time, diary-style, it brilliantly captures the physical ardor and immensity of the task ahead of her. We watch her struggle laboriously with unknown kit, force down cold porridge for days on end, feel both the threat and camaraderie of meeting the occasional other person out in the wilderness. Cleverly, it doesn’t rush and is all the better for it. From the stunning beauty of a fox in the snow to the (frankly disgusting) sight of Cheryl pulling off her own, bloodied toenail, the minutiae of each day make for more than enough drama. Contemplative and inspiring, Wild is anchored by a great performance from Ms Witherspoon. But you still ain’t getting us nowhere near a tent.

UK release 16 January 2015

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The Theory Of Everything. A Brief History Of A Remarkable Time.

TheTheoryOfEverythingPoster-01He’s been immortalised in The Simpsons and recently commented he’d be ideal casting for a Bond villain as “the wheelchair and the computer voice would fit the part.” And now the inimitable Professor Stephen Hawking is portrayed on celluloid by Eddie Redmayne in biopic The Theory Of Everything.

Beginning with Stephen as a young man at Oxford, it charts how he met fellow student Jane (Felicity Jones) at a dance, leading quickly to romance. So far, so normal for students the world over. But then his college life diverged from the norm. Firstly, he was more than a good deal smarter than average, shamefacedly confessing to ‘only’ solving 9 out of 10 supposedly impossible equations set by his tutors. Secondly, bouts of clumsiness led to a diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease, with a prognosis of a mere 2 years to live.

From there on, we mostly know his story. He completed his PHD, married Jane, produced 2 children, wrote the seminal A Brief History Of Time among other tomes, receiving accolades from around the globe. And he continues to live.

What we may not know, and what The Theory Of Everything captures so well, is the intense emotion and struggle behind his story. The shock of facing death when so young, of being reliant on others for your basic survival, of losing control of your body to the point when even eating is fraught with the danger of choking. Coupled with the selfless early dedication of his wife Jane, it’s part love story, part sublime lecture in the power of the mind and spirit to not just keep going in the most desperate circumstances, but to excel.  You could question why a biopic of Hawking has been made before his death. Having watched it, it is a testament to life and seems perfectly apt. The Sloth recommends you take tissues. Make it a big box.

UK release 1 January 2015

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