Sing Street. ‘Once’ again.

sing-street

Is there any decade more divisive than the 80’s? Actually, no sooner had we typed that then we realised it’s a daft question, for any human being with an ounce of taste and decency generally reviles the decade with a passion normally reserved for mass murderers and Conservative politicians.  Prepare to have your taste and decency challenged.

 

Sing Street is from the same writer/director responsible for Once, the much-lauded, low budget Oirish musical that ought to be infuriating but is actually totally charming. So on paper Sing Street, also low budget, also set in Oirland, sounds like a calculated Once Mk. 2 and should definitely be infuriating.

 

Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is fifteen and the new boy in his Dublin school. He’s also nice, intelligent, naive and wearing the wrong colour shoes, just the thing for attracting the resident school bully who accosts him in the toilets on his first day. He also encounters the gorgeous Raphina (Lucy Boynton), an exotic older (by one whole year, so at least 25 in teen-years) woman who hangs around opposite the school gates, smoking enigmatically, weighed down by hoop earrings and hairspray. To impress her, Conor announces he is starting a band and invites her to star in their music videos. So now all he has to do is actually start a band. And make some videos. Easy.

 

Helped along by his music obsessive older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor), assorted classmates and religious observation of Duran Duran on Top of The Pops, his unlikely venture soon starts to take shape. From rudimentary practising in a classmate’ s front room they sharpen their musical skills, start writing songs and finally hit the big time with a headline spot at the school disco.

 

Sing Street, darn it, is funny, sweet and totally charming. It captures the naivety, innocence and exuberance of being 15, where the school gates, youthful crushes and dressing like Spandau Ballet are the entire world. This is mostly down to the endearing cast, who play their roles with optimism and a total lack of self-awareness.  But it’s also down to the soundtrack, for Sing Street has somehow managed to prove that yes, good music DID come out of the 80’s – The Cure’s In between Days a case in point. A joy from start to finish. Go see.

 

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Eye In The Sky. Somebody’s Watching You….

Eye in the Sky Movie (1)

The Sloth loves Helen Mirren. Partly because at 60+ she can randomly dye her hair pink and look good, not mad. Partly because she’s never had ‘work done’.  But mostly because there are few other actors who can play ‘ballsy’ with anywhere near as much panache, exemplified by her career defining role as Prime Suspect’s D.S. Jane Tennison. So the prospect of Helen as high ranking British Army Colonel Katherine Powell in Eye In The Sky boded extremely well.

 

Colonel Powell is in pursuit of a suspected terrorist cell in a Kenyan village. Having monitored and tracked her suspects for some time, she is desperate to eliminate them before they can carry out an imminent suicide bombing. But despite wearing full combat fatigues, hers is no old-skool, guns ‘n’ ammo military operation, rather it is a war of stealth and technology, waged from thousands of miles away.

 

Having enlisted the help of a high ranking pal in the US Army, Colonel Powell has a US drone, piloted by Steve Watts (Aaron Paul), hovering over her suspects, missiles primed for launch. On the ground she has local intelligence agent Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi) stationed nearby. Having obtained clearance from the British Government, she has the go ahead. But just as Steve is about to push the button, a young local girl appears on the street outside the cell and sets up a bread stall, which puts an enormous spanner in the works. Do they now knowingly kill one child to prevent the terrorists potentially killing multiple children?

 

Eye In The Sky is that simple. One pertinent moral question that asks ‘what would you do?’. Set in real time, it shows the weakness of government ministers who dither and refer upwards to their superiors, the sobering reality of taking a life hitting home to the drone pilot, who till now has been cocooned in a pod. It’s also a frankly disturbing insight into how sophisticated military technology has got (word of warning – that annoying buzzing bluebottle in the corner might not be what is seems…). With excellent performances throughout, including Alan Rickman’s last role before his untimely death, it’s that a rare cinematic beast – one that asks us to engage our intelligence. How refreshing.

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10 Cloverfield Lane. Like Cloverfield. But Not.

10-cloverfield-lane-a-tense-gripping-humorous-and-thoroughly-suspenseful-experience-886948

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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High-Rise. Hiddle’s Bum Hits New Heights.

High-Rise-4

Hardly a day goes by without Tom Hiddlesbum getting his nethers out for the cameras. The Sloth wholeheartedly applauds this.  Not because we are a perv, nor because we have any personal lecherous interest in Hiddlesbum, but because he is single-handedly flying the flag for equality. Discussing Crimson Peak, in which he got naked (albeit fleetingly) whilst his leading lady remained resolutely clothed, he commented “I was happy to do it. In many of these situations it is the woman who is more naked, and we wanted to re-dress the balance”. For doubters who dismissed this as a neat PR hook, last Sunday he was at it again, unleashing The Buttocks midway through The Night Manager, to the sound of tea being spluttered across middle England. Those of you who regularly follow The Sloth’s witterings will know equality is our favourite hobby horse, which we have previously discussed at length here.

 

So a new week, a new opportunity, this time in a late 1970’s tower block. High-Rise is based on the JG Ballard novel that portrays an idealistic social experiment gone horribly wrong. Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) is a visionary architect who has designed a skyscraper apartment building where all social classes cohabit – the poorer at the bottom and the richer at the top, with himself in the grand penthouse. Hiddlesbum plays Dr Robert Laing, a new resident who, being middle class, is allocated an apartment on the middle floors. Meeting his glamourous upstairs neighbour Charlotte Melville (Sienna Miller), Laing is soon introduced to his fellow residents and joins their endless rounds of cocktail parties.

 

So far, so idealistic. But no prizes for guessing this will all go spectacularly wrong. Failing power supplies lead to unrest on the lower floors which, unchecked, quickly escalates to rioting and anarchy. At the same time, the upper floors ongoing partying descends into an orgy of debauched, Bacchanalian excess. Laing is our calm, rational Everyman, observing the chaos with growing horror as the entire block gradually implodes upon itself.

 

The Sloth hasn’t read the novel, so we can’t comment on how true/good/bad/ugly the film remains to Ballard’s original. It certainly paints a memorable picture with industrial-concrete-meets 70’s-shag-pile interiors (unbelievably fabulous – The Sloth is moving to The Barbican pronto) and captures the tense, fishbowl claustrophobia of living in such close proximity. It’s not easy viewing, the violence and excess reach truly nightmarish levels becoming ritualised and almost abstract, but the portrait of a selfish and volatile society is worryingly relatable to anyone who battles the London rush hour of a morning.

 

So does he unleash The Buttocks? Oh yes. Not only that but he gets fully naked, protected only by a towel clasped over his dignity, leading an impressed Charlotte to comment “you’re lucky, you’re one of the few people who look better naked”. Good effort, Mr H. Female actors the world over should be saluting you.

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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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The Danish Girl. Pretty As A Picture.

the-danish-girl-posterHaving won the 2015 Best Actor Oscar for his brilliant portrayal of Stephen Hawkins, Eddie Redmayne could have been forgiven for taking a few months off to rest on his not inconsiderable laurels. Certainly that’s what The Sloth would have done.  And our laurels would have resided on a beach in the Caribbean, right next to a hammock, Piña Colada and copies of our hastily cobbled together autobiography to sign and fleece to the adoring masses. Kerching.

 

Eddie, bless, is clearly of more earnest mind for he was soon taking on another hugely challenging role, that of Einar Wegener in The Danish Girl. A successful artist living in Copenhagen in the 1920’s, Einar was shy, awkward and uncomfortable in his own skin. On marrying fellow artist, the beautiful and self confident Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander), Einar found himself sitting for her in lieu of a female model she was painting. Fascinated by the stockings, shoes and dress of the absent model, Einar tried them on, creating his own female alter ego, quickly christened Lili.

 

The ethereal ‘Lili’ stimulated a creative frenzy from Gerda, who painted multiple portraits of her which were exhibited to great acclaim to a world oblivious to the fact Lili was a man. And as the world rejoiced in Lili so did Einar, who realised he was far happier as Lili than as himself. So began a traumatic period of medical assessment until he found a pioneering doctor who agreed to attempt previously untested gender realignment surgery.

 

The Danish Girl is visually stunning. As much about art, beauty and perception as it is about transgender issues, each scene is carefully composed in the same muted colours as the paintings Einar and Gerda produce. Will Eddie add another gong to the mantelpiece? We think not, actually. Yes, he’s a very pretty woman with cheekbones to die for, but there’s too much reliance on fey glances and wafty hands for it to be a truly great performance. However Alicia Vikander is fabulous, giving a heartbreaking performance as the utterly selfless Gerda, who was prepared to lose the husband she adored if it meant he was happy.  It doesn’t quite reach the dizzy heights it aspires too, but it’s still a moving tale of devotion and love in the most complex of emotional circumstances. Now go take that holiday, Eddie.

UK release 1 Jan 2016

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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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Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. Warp Speed, Scotty.

MI 5Love him or loathe him, Tom Cruise is box office Teflon, shrugging off sticky questions about his private life with a blinding white grin as the tills keep ringing. His latest, MI5, shows no sign of bucking the trend.

 

You know the drill. Tom is Ethan Hunt – so named long before a certain Tory Culture Secretary became the nemesis of BBC news presenters. Can you imagine John Humphries covering the MI5 red carpet? The Sloth would gladly pay to see the ensuing Wrath of Scientology reign down. But we digress.

 

Ethan pops up in London, specifically in a vintage record store (Kids, people used to buy music in flat black plastic circles. Yes, really), to receive details of his latest mission. Except he’s been duped. Instead, he’s been lured there in an assassination attempt by The Syndicate, a rogue terrorist organisation intent on destroying both Ethan and the IMF. But he escapes, because he can’t get killed in the first scenes, vowing to hunt down and destroy The Syndicate.

 

Back in the US, IMF boss Brandt (Jeremy Renner) is embroiled in a battle with head of the CIA, Hunley (Alec Baldwin), who tries and succeeds to get the IMF shut down. So Ethan has no choice but to Go Rogue himself, taking trusty Scotty, sorry, Benji (Simon Pegg) with him in his pursuit of The Syndicate. So ensues a non-stop, all action romp that takes in Europe, Morocco and the US, a ton of proper, Old Skool stunts which Mr Cruise, looking remarkably spritely for his 53 years, did the majority of himself, including hanging for dear life onto the side of an airborne plane and an epic underwater scene where either his acting skills are superlative or he really was on the brink of drowning.

 

All in all, it flies along at a rollicking pace and is great, popcorn fun. Not least due to being backed up by a smart, supporting cast including Rebecca Ferguson as kick-ass agent Ilsa Faust (at which point forgive us for getting on our high horse but, having given us a strong female character, the producers totally let themselves down by including a completely gratuitous arse-shot. Come on, you’re better than that) and the marvellous Tom Hollander as the UK PM with Simon McBurney as Atlee, his advisor. Yes, UK TV ‘Rev’ viewers, that’s Rev and The Archdeacon together in a Hollywood movie!  Obvs we were waiting with bated breath for Atlee to announce he “can’t stop, I’m late for brunch at The Wolseley with Melyvn Bragg” and were most disappointed when it didn’t happen. Maybe keep it in mind for MI6?

UK release 30 July

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