T2 Trainspotting. Time And Skag Wait For No Man.

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Choose The 90’s. Choose Britpop. Mega-clubs. No social media. No smartphones blurring work & home life. No President Trump. No Brexit. And producer of one of The Sloth’s top 2 favourite films of all time – Trainspotting. So to hear that Danny & Co were planning T2 filled us with a mix of delirious anticipation and outright dread. 21 years on, how can you follow up such an iconic classic?

First and foremost, bearing in mind Renton, Sickboy, Spud and Begbie were skagheads, you’d expect them to now be either 1) dead or 2) reformed and high up the ladder in merchant banking. However that wouldn’t make for a very entertaining film. So instead we find Renton, who has been domiciled in Amsterdam for the past however many years, returning to Edinburgh to track down his old muckers. Sickboy, now known as Simon, is running the dive of his family’s pub but is enterprisingly planning to convert it into a brothel. Spud is still known as Spud and is still struggling with addiction plus supporting an estranged wife and kid.  And Begbie is locked up at Her Majesty’s pleasure, to the relief of the general population of Scotland.

There is a plot. It again involves money and the potential for betrayal. But the plot isn’t really the point. Instead T2 is more an essay on nostalgia and past youth. Which is the right thing to do because can anyone who saw Trainspotting in cinemas the first time round possibly watch T2 without mulling over where the last 21 years has led them? Sickboy accuses Renton of being ‘a tourist in your own youth’. Long held tensions bubble under the surface. Both footage from the original film and echoes of some of its most iconic scenes reappear in T2 – Renton’s manic grin as he tumbles over a car bonnet, the Choose Life speech reworked for the digital age and sounding positively Shakespearean. Stylistically, it bears the same splashy, surreal hallmarks and black humour (watch out for an inspired scene in a Protestant pub) the original practically invented.

Most importantly, the characters are as strong, vibrant and familiar as ever. You know that feeling when you meet a friend you haven’t seen for years and within two minutes it’s like you’ve never been apart? It made us realise how rarely films create truly iconic characters (don’t even think about suggesting anything Marvel or DC Comics related or The Sloth will throw you out of this blog). T2 could have been a train wreck. Pun intended. Thankfully it isn’t. God bless Danny Boyle and all who sail in him.

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Sully. Disaster At Not Many Thousand Feet.

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Never get on any form of mechanised transport with Tom Hanks. He nearly died after the Apollo 13 Mission suffered catastrophic failures. Nearly died after the FedEx plane he was travelling on crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Nearly died after captaining a cargo ship that was hijacked by Somali pirates. And most recently, nearly died alongside 155 passengers after landing a jet on the Hudson river. The man is a walking disaster-magnet.

You know the story of Sully. On 15 Jan 2009, flight 1549 left New York. Shortly after take off both engines failed following multiple bird strikes. Devoid of power and unable to make it back to an airport, Captain Chesley Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) made the unprecedented decision to land on the Hudson River, heroically saving all onboard against inconceivable odds. A classic case of truth being stranger than fiction. 

So why recount a story we know so well? Firstly, it makes for great cinema. Hollywood loves an airline disaster – few things are quite as terrifying on the big screen as the screams of passengers mixed with the screams of failing jet engines. In a previous life The Sloth used to book movies for airlines and it never ceased to amaze us how many feature plane crashes / vomit-imducing turbulence / nutters running amok onboard and threatening to blow everyone up / unlucky punters getting sucked out of windows. True to form, watching Sully’s plane slowly descend to the soundtrack of an automated cockpit warning system barking ‘Terrain! Pull up! Pull up!’ is almost unbearable. 

Secondly, what you may not know was Sully had to fight to prove his hero status. Sully the movie mostly focuses on the long and drawn out investigation that followed the crash, where he and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) were hauled over the coals by a panel of aviation experts. It’s a fascinating story, as much due to the doubt around his decision to land on the river – computer simulations suggested it may not have been necessary. Coupled with a brisk run time and a reliably solid performance from Mr Disaster himself (plus Eckhart sporting a rather fab 70’s trucker ‘tache), if you want to scare yourself reasonably silly it’s a good bet. Just avoid if you’re planning to jet off on hols anytime soon… 

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The Girl On The Train

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The Sloth was lucky enough to attend the premiere of The Girl On The Train – an unexpectedly informative experience. For it revealed a vocation your careers teacher never told you about: Nipple Monitor. Yes, the lovely Hayley Bennet had chosen a red carpet frock so dangerously low cut she required a full time assistant to repeatedly hoik and squash her overflowing bodice into maintaining a PG-13 rating. Surely an inexcusable oversight on the school curriculum when boys now trail girls in performance? A 5 minute overview could eradicate truancy and improve GCSE results overnight.

State of our nation aside, was it any cop? Firstly, The Sloth is one of about 24 people in the western hemisphere who have not read the book. To bring the remaining 23 up to date: Rachel (Emily Blunt) is an alcoholic. Her drinking led to the breakdown of her marriage and loss of her job.  Struggling to come to terms with the fact her husband Tom (Justin Theroux) has moved on and is remarried to Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) with a young family, Rachel continues to take the train each day as if to her old job. From the train window, she observes and obsesses over a beautiful young woman Megan (Hayley Bennett) who, unknown to Rachel, is nanny to Tom and Anna’s child.

Megan has troubles of her own. Married, but bored with her life and haunted by a difficult past for which she is in therapy, Megan is sexually predatory. One morning from her train window a shocked Rachel witnesses Megan kissing a man other than her husband. Later that day Rachel embarks on another alcoholic binge, waking the following morning bloodied and injured with no recollection of what has happened and the TV news full of reports that Megan has gone missing.

We will leave it there, to avoid being a spoiler spoil sport. Suffice to say there are more twists, turns, red herrings and sub-plots than Agatha Christie on steroids and this could easily descend into hammed-up melodrama. But it isn’t, primarily due to the fabulous performances of the three leading ladies. The Sloth could virtually smell the stale booze reeking from Emily Blunt’s chapped lips and Hayley has far more to give than just impressive corset (love – sack the stylist). Coupled with tight direction and just-stylised-enough visuals, it’s gripping, relentless and frankly quite exhausting. If you’ve been ruing the lack of decent thrillers since Gone Girl, fret no more.

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David Brent: Life On The Road

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The Brentmeister needs no introduction.  Ricky Gervais’ infamous office manager single-handedly reinvented comedy in the noughties, bowing out after a laudably restrained two series (give or take the odd Xmas special), then travelling Stateside to launch the career of Steve Carell.  Now, 15 years after he first hit our screens, Brent is back. Is it a welcome return?

 

This is not The Office as you knew it. Yes, Brent is still in an office, but not Wernham Hogg.  Rather, he is a rep for a cleaning products company selling items including ladies’ sanitary goods (The Sloth will leave his sales pitch to your fertile imagination) by day, whilst heading up band Foregone Conclusion by night. Bravely, or foolishly, Brent has decided to pursue his wannabe-rock-star dreams, booking a chunk of annual leave plus assorted 3-star hotel rooms, to take Foregone Conclusion on tour in the Slough and Greater West London area.

 

Let’s cut to the chase.  Yes, this leaves a gaping Tim / Dawn / Gareth shaped hole and yes, they are missed. To get over this, we have a new set of peripherals including Brent’s token black friend, rapper Dom (Ben Bailey Smith), regularly wheeled onstage to lend ‘credibility’ and stage manager Dan (Tom Basden) who frets about the damage Brent-association is doing to his career. In a stroke of genius, Razorlight’s Andy Burrows has also been recruited, partly to play Foregone Conclusion’s drummer and partly to co-write the songs, including excruciating delights ‘Please Don’t Make Fun Of The Disabled’ and ‘Lady Gypsy’.

 

Perhaps the years had dulled The Sloth’s memory of how painful Brent can be, but we came out of our screening with knuckles gnawed raw and bum cheeks throbbing from 90 minutes of squirming. Yes, it is frequently very funny, yes our attention never waned and yes, the songs are surprisingly tuneful in a cheesy, MOR way (we defy you not to secretly love title track On The Road’s “foot to the floor, 70 miles an hour, but no more”, chorus). But what really got us cringing was the creeping feeling Brent and Gervais are actually becoming one and the same – see ‘On The Road’ soundtrack CD currently available for purchase at a music retailer near you. Superlative method acting or worrying egomaniac tendencies?  We’ll leave that for you to decide.

 

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The Shallows. Rock On.

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Firstly, manifold grovelling apologies for a long period of Radio Silence.  We could give all manner of excuses – “Nicolas Winding Refn ate our homework”… “We got accidentally blown up on a movie set underneath NYC’s Washington Bridge” (almost true –  whilst recently in NYC The Sloth did chance upon a movie set blowing things up underneath Washington Bridge, yet survived to tell the tale).  But frankly, we just haven’t seen anything that inspired us to put fingers to keyboard. Till The Shallows.

 

Blake Lively, probably best known for being a fashion bunny / sometime actress / Mrs Ryan Reynolds, plays a gnarly surfer chick on a pilgrimage to a secret, hidden beach surfed by her dead mother in her youth. After a bumpy ride through the jungle she arrives, alone, in a beachy paradise, her bessie mate having stood her up due to a monster hangover. This is IMPORTANT because it means Blake is ALONE. After a few texts (From a secret hidden beach? Seriously?  The Sloth can’t get reception in Ealing Broadway Tesco) she hits the surf. And wow, does it look good. You can’t fault the really quite beautiful cinematography.

 

Waving goodbye to the only two other surfers, Blake heads further out to catch ‘one last wave’. Kids, don’t ever do that. Cue one monstrous and very hungry shark who decides a Blake Sandwich would be just the ticket for his tea. Her leg badly bitten and her board smashed in half, Blake hauls herself onto a tiny, rocky outcrop far from land. Can she make it back to shore without being eaten?

 

The Shallows is that simple. Blake Lively. On a rock. Circled by an angry shark. For 87 minutes.

 

We know what you’re thinking: “shrapnel from the Washington Bridge explosion has clearly lodged in The Sloths’ frontal lobe, for their can be no other reason for recommending such utter twaddle”. But no, we are of fully sound mind for The Shallows is a cracking piece of popcorn film making. Taut, tense and not a minute over long, it is in no way cerebral but it doesn’t half entertain in a way Hollywood’s lengthy, drearily pretentious superhero movies simply do not – we’d take Blake V Shark over Batman V Superman any day.

UK release 12 August

 

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The Nice Guys. Plus A Nice Girl.

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The Sloth was in LA when The Nice Guys was released. We’d heard little about it, so to see posters of The Crowe and The Gosling with bad ‘taches, plastered above donut shops and Better Call Saul style dodgy US lawyer businesses, well, it didn’t exactly look too promising. First impressions aside, what’s the first thing you think of when considering Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling (keep it clean re: Gosling, ladies)?  We’re guessing ‘comedy’ isn’t it. And yet here they are, two of the moodiest actors in Hollywood signed up for that stalwart of genres The Buddy Cop Comedy. Hmm.

 

Crowe plays Jackson Healy, a grumpy, disillusioned PI who shambles around beating up unfaithful husbands and general n’er do wells to order (not a huge stretch, then…). Gosling plays Holland March, a puppyishly enthusiastic alcoholic PI who cheerily takes payment for jobs he knows he cannot fulfil. Such as the case of Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio), a generously proportioned adult film star who has recently died in a car crash. Except she may not be dead as an old lady is convinced she is alive and begs Holland to investigate. After an inauspicious first meeting where Jackson is assigned Holland as a target and efficiently beats him to a semi-pulp, our duo find themselves thrown together to investigate Misty’s case.

 

It doesn’t take a genius to see where this is going. Neatly opposite characters soon find they complement each other, with sufficient scope for witty banter. Add a ‘70’s backdrop, always a goldmine for silly outfits and bad hair and that’s several comedy boxes ticked. Luckily, The Nice Guys doesn’t leave it there, adding in a third, scene stealing character of Holland’s young daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice). Far smarter than her dad and Jackson combined, while the two of them bumble around Holly is generally several steps ahead, nonchalantly questioning suspects at a porn star party or patiently driving an intoxicated Holland home after another drinking bout. And lo and behold, both The Crowe and The Gosling prove that yes, they can do comedy, Gosling in particular turning in a goofball performance George Clooney would be proud off.  Too clever by half, the pair of them…

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10 Cloverfield Lane. Like Cloverfield. But Not.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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Hail, Caesar! Hollywood On Hollywood.

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

 

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

 

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

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Deadpool. The First Super Anti-Hero?

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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The Hateful Eight

Hateful-Eight-posterDemonic peddler of violence and profanity or visionary saviour of modern cinema, Quentin Tarantino is nothing if not a divisive figure. Your enjoyment of his latest, The Hateful Eight, will probably be tied to whichever side your personal opinion rests. So if you’re a delicate flower of Jane Austen sensibilities, we suggest you either dig out the smelling salts or look away now.

 

Being arguably the biggest movie geek this side of a grindhouse double bill, Mr Tarantino does nothing by halves. Except here he does, for the all singing, all dancing ‘roadshow’ version of The Hateful Eight is quite literally a film of two halves, split by a 15 minute ‘Interval’ and preceded by an ‘Intermission’. Which is just as well, seeing it runs to a bum-numbing 182 minutes and a Sloth’s bladder is only so big. An homage to the classic western, he also shot it on 77mm film, presumably because that is obtuse and difficult.  Geekiness aside, is it any good?

 

Set just after the American Civil War, we meet three of our eight during a blizzard in Wyoming. Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L Jackson) is a bounty hunter adrift in the snow, who catches a ride on a stagecoach occupied by fellow bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) who is transporting his captured bounty Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) cross country to claim his reward. En route they pick up several more waifs and strays before sheltering from the storm at a mountain inn which already holds several other dubious characters including Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) and  Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) to make our eight. The next few hours are spent sizing each other up as it becomes clear they may all have vested interests in the fate of Daisy Domergue.

 

The first half is a slow burn. Talky, hypnotic and highly theatrical, our characters bandy the n-word around with typical controversial Tarantino abandon, pushing each other’s buttons over the recent civil war. The second half sees tensions boil over and the inevitable bloodbath ensue. And that, essentially, is it. A chamber piece stretched over 182 minutes. Is it indulgent? Sure. Is it offensive? Doubtless. Is it interesting? Absolutely. Tarantino is famously allowed huge amounts of creative freedom by his producers, which is rare due to movies being subject to commercial pressures so, most of all, it’s fascinating to see what comes out when these constraints are lifted. Would we be calling this indulgent if it were performed on a theatre stage, rather than a cinema? Perhaps not.

 

UK release 8 January

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