Love & Mercy. God Only Knows What Musical Genius Takes

Love-and-Mercy-Poster-2015En route to a preview screening of Love & Mercy, The Sloth was shocked to discover that a junior colleague in attendance “didn’t really know” The Beach Boys. Granted, said colleague was probably born when The Sloth was guzzling K Cider and shoe-gazing to Suede the first time round, but still. Good Vibrations is something babies can gurgle on emergence from the womb, no?

Having given said colleague a stern dressing down, we settled back. Love & Mercy is a dramatisation of the life of Brian Wilson, roundly acknowledged to be the creative force behind The Beach Boys and a bona fide musical genius. Split between his early career in the band and his later struggles with mental illness, it eschews a chronological approach to instead jump back and forth in time, with the younger Wilson played by Paul Dano and the older by John Cusack.

We first meet an older, shaky, ill Brian buying a Cadillac from attractive car dealer Melinda (Elizabeth Banks).  Striking up a rapport, Brian asks her out. But dating Brian is no simple matter. Pumped full of drugs and monitored 24/7 by the oppressive, controlling Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), it soon becomes clear that Brian’s life is not his own.

It’s easy to assume Brian Wilson’s later troubles resulted directly from 60’s ‘excess’ but, as Melinda gets to know Brian, so do we. We see the young Brian, clearly a fragile and sensitive soul to begin with, derided, mocked and tormented by a cruel father. We see the older Brian verbally abused and manipulated by Dr Landy. Fortunately for Brian, Melinda decides to do something about it.

And throughout it all we have the music. Paul Dano is stunning as the young Wilson, doing his own playing and singing in a manner that doesn’t just mimic, but somehow captures his spirit. A semi-improvised scene of a young Wilson on a creative high, frantically directing a wonderstruck studio full of musicians to play in entirely new ways, reminds us just how innovative he was.

Love & Mercy is a captivating, emotional tribute to genius and a warning note to the price it can cost. If you have any interest in music, any at all, go see. Then dig out your copy of Pet Sounds and play it with new reverence. Oh, and my junior colleague? He absolutely loved it. Mr Wilson, your legend lives on.

UK release 10 July

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Kingsman: The Secret Service. We go behind the action scenes with Matthew Vaughn, Colin Firth and Taron Egerton

KSS_JB_D07_00960.tifForgive The Sloth for a touch of heresy but CGI-heavy action films can be more than a touch generic. We’re surely not the first person to yawn and wonder what to have for tea as the n’th building / helicopter / rampaging alien is blown to smithereens. Kingsman instead takes an old-skool, lo-fi, analogue approach to its action sequences and is all the better for it. The Sloth got the lowdown from director Matthew Vaughn and stars Colin Firth and Taron Egerton into what went on behind the scenes.


Matthew Vaughn on his approach to the action sequences:
I think action can be the dullest part of movies ironically nowadays. And I love action movies, but when you see generic quick cutting, I switch, I actually fast forward now. I just tried watching a movie, which made a billion dollars last year, and it didn’t do it for me, the bigger the sequence the more bored I was which is I think quite an achievement in a weird way. I try to do things differently and keep the audience on their toes.


Taron Egerton on the action sequences of the film:
It was the great unknown for me. I had done action of sorts but it’s the stylized nature of action in ‘Kingsman’ that makes it extraordinary and that makes it really demanding. The fighting for example requires a real discipline and very specific choreography. It wasn’t always easy, you know there were times when I really didn’t feel I was getting things, and there were times when I was just so exhausted that you think, “My word, I really don’t know how am I going to get through this, you know?” But I worked with the most extraordinary team of men. One of them built my body with me and the other taught me how to move. They kind of have as much responsibility for what Eggsy is in the film as I do really.


Colin Firth on Matthew Vaughn’s inspiration for creating the character:
Matthew’s preference was always David Niven, saying that he wanted to revert to a kind of original Ian Fleming notion of a rather traditional gentleman spy. One of the reasons he was interested in me was because I was precisely the last person you would ever imagine being able to do any of this, and that’s part of the fun he has, because he loves to subvert people’s expectations. You know because if he had said to me, I want to hire you for your innate butchness, it might have been a very short conversation.


Colin Firth on his training for the film:
It was pretty rough at the beginning. I didn’t know what I was in for because these guys all have incredibly advanced skills obviously, they are the best in their field. And I think they wondered whether, well, how much ability I would have. You know they knew what my age was, I have no real history of athleticism. I think they gave me points for effort and willingness, which helped us get going. So it started with let’s see if we can get his lower body animated. You know oil some of the hinges and do some squats and lunges and agonizing things, which I just don’t think anybody in the world wants to do, because we didn’t have the choreography for months. That was quite late. In the meantime it was months and months and months of doing the kinds of moves that I was going to have to do just to make sure I was capable of doing them And if you do that, and if you’ve got a team like that, and if you persist and are willing to take a bit of pain, inevitably some progress will be made. So I went from this place of feeling entirely out of my depth, to getting really quite exhilarated to the point where I thought, “This is what I want to do.” And actually I have to confess, going back to doing the routine acting scenes, were a bit of a comedown. You know I just thought, after everything I’ve done, you can just send my suit into work and have exactly the same effect.


Colin Firth on the process of filming the church scene:
Well that’s where the choreography had to be studied and learned… it’s a dance really. Most of the time, wherever I was, I had about five opponents, plus the camera operator who is one of the dancers. When someone’s on their left foot instead of their right, even when you’re dancing conventionally, that can be a problem, but we were also working with heavy objects, and you know all kinds of bizarre props that were being used in that sequence.. And one of the things that was educational about the rules of this, was that you have to act it as well. So if you just learn it very, very fast, it will look mechanical and it will actually loose energy because of that. You know we’ve all seen fast action sequences, which are boring as anything. What’s going on had to be built in as a part of it. And that’s actually what made it so alive.



Kingsman: The Secret Service is out on Digital HD on May 24th and on Blu-Ray and DVD on June 8th from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

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Maps To The Stars – John Cusack Interview

MTTS_BR_3DHe’s been a Hollywood star since his teens and now John Cusack stars in David Cronenberg’s Maps To The Starsa cutting satire about Hollywood players, wannabes and has-beens. Cusack plays Stafford Weiss, a self-help guru who peddles his therapies to the narcissistic and weak-minded and who is also father to the foul Benjie (Evan Bird), a rehab-hopping teen star. But just how like Stafford is he? The Sloth got the lowdown:

Q: You were a young star in your teens like Benjie. Did you relate to him?
A: I was older than him [when I started acting], and I wasn’t in a huge Hollywood franchise. I just got to work as an actor. But just the idea of being that young and having that much pressure on you, and being at the very height of Hollywood, would be terrible to think about.

Q: Do you see a relationship between therapy and acting?
A: I think a lot of actors feel that the act of doing those things is somehow therapeutic for them. You obviously have some things you need to release. So it’s an intuitive thing, to go towards the flame – so we must know that there’s stuff we better get out.

Q: How would you describe Stafford – a charlatan?
A: Yeah, sure – an exploitative charlatan of Biblical proportions!

Q: But are these types very prevalent in LA?
A: Sure. You talk about the California of the Fifties and Sixties; Joan Didion says there is a Chekhovian sense of loss and uneasiness in the air – and this is a loose quote and I’m probably getting it wrong – as if all the people there thought we better make it here, because if not, we’ve run out of continent! So I think that environment leads to all sorts of free, original thinking, but also desert crazies! And all the people that prey on those people. We were just noticing in LA that there were these things – agents and managers. Then I realised there were these things called ‘life coaches’.

Q: Did you know much about them?
A: Well, I knew about Tony Robbins. I loved the ‘personal power’ things. I don’t know much about Tony, but it seems like he has this act of will – like Scientology. These evangelising shrink coaches…it’s got to be only in LA, right? It’s the place where the guy who ran The Source – a health food restaurant – started a cult in the Seventies and they were called the Source Family and he proclaimed himself a divine being and he had followers. It was a cult! So LA’s got something special!

Q: Your character seems very cynical…
A: That’s what Bruce writes. The first thing he writes is, ‘Say what you want about the Dalai Lama but the man’s a pro.’ He’s not even considering that he might mean it or not. There’s an element that every human interaction is a transaction. It’s all currency. What am I going to get? What’s my angle? And that’s connected to showbiz.

Q: Were you worried about biting the hand that feeds?
A: No! I don’t care about any of that!

Q: You’re very active on Twitter. What do you like about it?
A: What I think is interesting is the idea that you can curate content. If I like somebody’s stuff, I can say, ‘If you think I’m interesting, I’ll tell you who I think is interesting’, and you trust me. And also, it’s impossible to kill art. You can’t do it. You can’t bury anything. So, yeah, I like it – it’s fun!

Q: Doesn’t your publicist tell you to hold back?
A: No, and that’s good. The other thing is, it’s changed the way movies are distributed, it’s changed the way movies are marketed. People are going to have their opinion from the screenings. Critics will do what they want to do, and they’ll sway people, but people are going to listen more to each other than they listen to authority – so it’s kinda cool.

Q: Do you ever re-watch your old films?
A: No. Well, sometimes on TV, I might stop and watch for a while until it gets too painful. I remember one time, The Grifters was on. I’ve worked with Stephen Frears, who is such a great director, twice. And I remember stopping and watching it – it was Annette [Bening] and Angelica [Huston], and I started to watch the story a little bit, and then I came on, and I saw myself differently. And I thought, ‘Oh, that’s good.’

Q: How do you choose your films? 
A: I’m up to do anything if it’s with a good filmmaker and a good script. I think that movies are like dreams; you can play any role in the dream, and there are lots of different dreams. I like to play any version, any role in the drama – it doesn’t matter.

Maps To The Stars is available on Blu-Ray and DVD on 2nd February, courtesy of Entertainment One.

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Into The Storm – How Did They Do That? The Sloth takes you behind the scenes.

INTOSTORM_UK_BD_3D_ORING-0There are certain films you watch thinking ‘how did they do that?’ or, more precisely, ‘how did they persuade anybody to do that?’. Into The Storm, a disaster movie to end all apocalyptic weather disaster movies, is one of them. Frankly, if The Sloth were a Hollywood actor and our agent proposed we shoot a movie involving tornadoes, hurricanes and torrential rain, we’d get ourselves a new agent. Fortunately, star Sarah Wayne Callies and director Steven Quale are made of sterner stuff. Brave or foolish? The Sloth found out…

Stephen, can you take me through what went into creating these massive tornadoes onscreen, in terms of both on-set effects and working with visual effects companies to bring them to life digitally? 

As I did the research for this film, I found that tornadoes can be radically different. There are the really thin and narrow rope tornadoes. And then you’ve got the more traditional tornado, which we’re most familiar with.  And then you have these mile-wide or two mile-wide wedge tornadoes, which are enormous tornadoes that can spin with rotational speeds as high as 300 miles-per-hour.

Then there is a fourth one, actually, the fire tornado, which is probably one of the most spectacular things in the film. It’s an absolutely true phenomenon, and it looks almost exactly like we depict it with our digital simulation.

Then, the difficult part was how do you create all that and do it in a photorealistic manner?  So we took all our reference footage and showed it to the visual effects companies.  These are probably some of the most difficult visual effects to accomplish because everybody knows what clouds look like, and everybody knows what trees look like blowing in the wind.  It took a lot of effort and time, and many passes at watching it and tweaking it, because the way they create these tornadoes is through really complicated math procedures.

The big challenge was trying to use the artistic and the scientific methods, and having those two meld together. What we found was that to make the effects feel as real as possible, we had to have our principal photography shot in an overcast situation. So the solution was to get these giant construction cranes and put these silk screens on them, basically.  Instead of having the silks be white, which you normally would use to bounce light off of, Brian Pearson, the cinematographer, came up with the idea of making the silks dark grey, like storm cloud color, so that dark grey light would bounce and block the sun, and create an overcast look directly over the actors.

Then the challenge for the actors was to endure the high speed of these hundred-mile-an-hour fans that are blowing in their faces.  And when you stand in front of a rain tower that’s pouring rain on you, it’s bearable; you can deal with it.  The problem is when you combine the two, now suddenly those raindrops are like projectiles going a hundred miles-an-hour, hitting you, like little needles hitting your face.’

You shot the movie using a variety of cameras, from SteadiCams to security cameras and iPhones.  You even have cameras on the Titus, the storm-chasing vehicle in the film.  What did you want to achieve using this shooting technique? 

‘Interestingly enough, my take on this was that we have cameras and point-of-view shots that would traditionally be considered part of a ‘found footage’ movie.  But I didn’t want that to be distracting for the audience. The irony of this film is that the entire movie was shot handheld.  We didn’t have camera dollies or cranes or any of those techniques that you’d normally use in a movie.  But the audience doesn’t notice.  About halfway into it, you forget about the cameras and the ‘found footage’ aspect; it just becomes a movie.  And we did that intentionally.

The biggest nightmare was trying to keep the cameras dry with all the rain pouring in, but the camera department did a wonderful job.’

Sarah, what was it like for you to work on such a stunt-heavy film?  Did you do those stunts for real?

‘Oh, yeah.  That was a part of the draw of the film for me. I showed up on the first day and they harnessed me up onto the wire and an hour later, we were just playing like children.  The one thing they wouldn’t let me do is the fall just because insurance companies at a certain point stand up and say, ‘You can’t drop our female lead 20 feet onto concrete.  We’re not going let you do it.’  I said, ‘Okay, fine.’

Part of the thing that’s great about that kind of work is there’s just no acting involved.  Somebody puts you on a wire and yanks you backwards, there’s a hundred-mile-an-hour fan and a rain tower in your face, you don’t have to act scared.  [Laughs]  You’re right there.  You’re scared.  It’s pure adrenaline.  And it was fun.  It was really, really fun.  The stunt coordinator and I talked about it afterwards.  I was like, ‘Dude, let’s do a movie like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon where we just fly through the whole thing.’  [Laughs]  I absolutely loved it.’

How about the special effects?  I understand that the rain and the wind machines were there for about half the shoot?

‘Yeah.  I read scripts differently now, which is to say I now look at a script and say, ‘Wait.  I’m wet for how long? There’s how much rain in this thing?’  I just read the script and thought it was a great story and it wasn’t until we were actually in prep and I was breaking it down that I thought, ‘Wait a minute.  I’m going to be soaked to the skin for 45 days out of this filming.’

We had hundred-mile-an-hour fans, which you can’t really fathom.  The first time they turned it on in front of me in a scene it blew me 20 feet off my mark.  You could literally lean your full body weight into it and it would hold you up.  And then they’d throw dirt and leaves into it so there’d be debris flying around.  Then they turned the rain towers on and it certainly wasn’t comfortable, but, again, it saved us the indignity of trying to act like you’re in a tornado.  You’re just there.’

Sarah, looking back at the experience, do you have an experience that was particularly memorable for you? 

[Laughs] ‘Yeah.  It’s not particularly serious but Richard (Armitage) and I were doing a scene in the weather van where we were both indoors but soaked to the skin.  Then I took a deep breath and said, ‘Does it smell like a barn in here?’

He had on a cheap wool suit because his character would wear a cheap wool and when it got wet, he smelled like a wet sheep.  And they can hear this conversation over the earphones.  And the makeup artist came in and handed me a tube of Chap Stick that was bacon-flavored and said, ‘Put this on,’ and closed the door.

So, I was sitting there with my pig-smelling lips.  Richard was here with his sheep-smelling suit and for the rest of the day, every time they cut, he would just turn to me and go, ‘Baaah!’

And we all think actors are overpaid… Now you’ve heard the theory straight from the horses’s mouth, let’s see the reality with a special behind the scenes video clip: 


Into The Storm is available on Blu Ray and DVD on 15 December 214.


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These Final Hours – The SaltyPopcorn Review

The Sloth likes to keep you one cinematic step ahead. We’ve therefore asked our Aussie friends,, to start bringing you the best of new Australian cinema. Don’t miss out on great titles that might not make it to UK cinemas, stick them on your DVD list instead. Here’s SaltyPopcorns’s editor, Jason King, to kick things off:



THESE FINAL HOURS is a preapocalyptic piece of joy. Meteors will hit the planet in an extinction level event, everyone will die, the end. Western Australia has about 12hrs left and has mostly come to the acceptance of this. There is no Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck to the rescue with a spiffy Aerosmith soundtrack. There is imminent death and destruction and the end of mankind. These final hours are spent with one guy, James, a normal twenty something party dude (a much hotter version of me in my 20s :).

James is by no means perfect, he has two girlfriends going, one pregnant. He even leaves the pregnant one to go to his other party girl in these 12hrs. He takes drugs, drink drives and does a lot of things someone in this time of their lives does (although drink driving is bad mmmmmkay). But this does not make him a bad person. Given, the drink driving is probably due to impending doom and the fact that most of the planet is in a state of anarchy for the final hours of life. What would you do? James is petrified, he wants to be so messed up he won’t feel a thing, or will overdose prior to the end.

On the way to his “other” girlfriend, James has his awesome car stolen from him and is nearly macheted to an early death. In trying to steal someone else’s car he hears the screams of a kidnapped young girl, Rose, I am thinking maybe 12yrs old. Some dirty, loser pedophiles have kidnapped her and intend to go out in the world off their faces and… (you get it). James’ conscience kicks in and he has to decide: save his ass or do the right thing. And so begins the awakening and salvation of James’ soul. James and Rose form the oddest of couples in a 12hr dash to get Rose to her father and get James to his girlfriend.

This is a wise movie, it doesn’t need Hollywood budgets and huge special effects, it deals with the human condition in a doomed setting. They know they aren’t going to make it, every character you meet is dealing with their own impending death. This makes for an incredible bunch of characters and scenarios. People pray, commit suicide, slaughter, party to death and basically go mental. The visuals of a lady walking down the road with a “god” message painted on her was very striking. The party is incredibly well done, a perfect scenario – the end of days party with no holds barred, everyone off their face, Russian roulette, more drugs than can be imagined, a random shooting – to which 12yr old Rose walks in. What then happens with her there is incredible, I am so glad director Zak Hilditch went there, that would never happen in a U.S. film, but it suited the tone and theme and she got some  life experience in her last day (probably not what you are thinking – see the movie, I have given enough plot away!!)

Director Zak Hilditch (Plum Roll, The Toll) gives us an epic disaster film on a budget and brings more character development and real characters to the screen than most. The budget is used to its last lowly dime to wring out a film that looks like it was made for ten times the cost. The sets are used well and the party got a lot of attention. There is the effective use of coloured filters to just make you swelter with the characters, you can feel the Australian heat mixed with the planet about to burn up and you can almost feel the tyres on vehicles and sneaker tread melting into the asphalt.

The acting is superb, cannot fault anyone. Nathan Phillips (as James) will break onto the international market after this. He was slaughtered in the first WOLF CREEK but I am pretty sure he can give Worthington a run for roles after this one. I will say I had one annoyance from him, I know the world is about to end, and the stress levels are high but his forehead is in stress scrunch throughout, like it is paralysed in a knot

James’ bad boy is perfectly complimented with the pure innocence of youth, naivety and cuteness from Angourie Rice’s Rose. What an incredible little actress. She was amazing, one bad thing that stood out – the epic crying scene – so obviously a fake cry. I know this can be hard to film and get out of a child actor but it was noticeable. Also the supporting actors, all brilliant. Dan Henshall was epic – certain scenes from him had me in stitches, I have seen plenty of people like him at festivals, I am just stoked none of them had a gun. Also Kathryn Beck’s Vicky was great, so unlikable you immediately knew she was one of James’ mistakes in life. 

I could babble on and on about this film. It is one of the best films from Australia in years, it will hold your attention from go to woe. Brilliant!

Australian DVD release 8 December


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Nightcrawler. How Low Can You Go?

nightcrawler-posterThose of a nervous disposition, The Sloth strongly recommends you look away now. Nightcrawler sees Jake Gyllenhaal play Louis Bloom, one of the most memorably creepy characters to hit the screen for quite some time.

An unemployed loner with intense ambition, Louis’ manic stare and spouting of management-speak clichés learnt online lead most who meet him to give him a wide berth. Unable to find normal employment, Louis chances upon lone shark cameramen filming a car crash on an LA freeway, to sell the images to TV networks. Seeing the same footage on the following morning’s news, Louis decides this could be the vocation for him.

Acquiring a basic video camera, police radio interceptor and hapless assistant Rick (Riz Ahmed), Louis is soon hot footing it to accident scenes and jamming his lens into the faces of the dying and injured. Peddling his ill-gotten wares to a local TV station, he encounters hard-bitten director of news Nina Romina (Rene Russo) who, valuing ratings over morals, urges Louis to bring her footage of “victims that are white, well off, injured at the hands of the poor or minorities.” Her wish is Louis’ command and, being a resourceful type, he doesn’t stop there. Being first on the scene means he can ‘dress’ his ‘set’ as he wishes – dead body not quite in the best light? No matter, Louis will move it. And soon he graduates to not just videoing the news but orchestrating its creation – no matter the cost.

Jake Gyllenhaal is extraordinarily good as Louis. Gaunt, haunted and obsessive, we’ve no idea what gutter he crawled out of, but he’s so disconcertingly real it simply doesn’t matter. A timely and deeply, darkly troubling satire, Nightcrawler looks at our increasing appetite for ghoulish news stories and asks just how low can we go in the quest for TV ratings? Perhaps the most disturbing aspect is just how plausible some of it seems.

UK release 31 October 2014

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My Old Lady

my_old_lady_posterThe Sloth finds it very hard to think ‘Kevin Kline’ without picturing him squishing ketchupy chips up a stuttering Michael Palin’s nose. But perhaps that’s just us. My Old Lady contains neither chips, nor ketchup nor a stuttering Michael Palin. Boo…

Kevin plays Mathias Gold, an American who has inherited a Parisian apartment from his recently deceased father. Broke and seeing it as the answer to his money troubles, a bouyant Mathias arrives in Paris to find the apartment comes complete with elderly resident Mathilde Girard (Maggie Smith). For the apartment is subject to the French real estate practice of viager, entitling Mme Girard to live there and receive monthly ‘pension’payments from Mathias until her death. Mathias is no longer bouyant, particularly after reassurances from Mme’s doctor that, whilst in her 90’s, she is in excellent health and certain to live for quite some time.

But Mme Girard is not his only bugbear.  Her daughter, Chloé Girard (Kristin Scott Thomas – duh, who did you expect? It’s set in France, she’s legally obliged to it), quickly arrives on the scene and seizes up Mathias’ less than charitable feelings towards her mother. Upon Mathias’ proposal to sell the apartment, all out war ensues between the two sides.

My Old Lady is based on a play and it shows.  All focus is on the dialogue and the characters, often set in the oppressive dark of the gloomy Parisian apartment. Starting out as a dry comedy, the sarcastic, desparing Mathias trading insults with the school-marmy Mme Girard, it soon develops into a more serious drama as revelations about the characters pasts come to the surface. It’s not perfect, it drags a little in places, but when you have three actors of this calibre, what more do you need to do but put them in a room together? Maggie Smith could read the phone book and The Sloth would be interested. One for a pensive, rainy afternoon.

UK release 21 November

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Get On Up

get_on_upChadwick Boseman is a name we’re not too familiar with on this side of the pond, the topics of his previous cinematic outings Draft Day (football in the American, rugby-with-shoulder-pads sense) and 42 (baseball) being somewhat US-centric. Hopefully that’s all about to change for in Get On Up he proves, yet again, that he’s a cracking actor.

A portrait of legendary soul singer James Brown, Get On Up doesn’t stick to the usual chronological biopic rules, instead it skips about through place and time.  One minute we’re watching him flying into the middle of a warzone to play to troops in Vietnam, dodging bullets and exclaiming “they tried to kill James Brown!” (gotta love a starry ego), the next we’re experiencing his shockingly unhappy childhood  – living literally in a shack in the woods with an abusive father and abused mother – the next we’re with a drunk James, falling apart towards the end of his career, holding a room full of terrified accountants to ransom with a shotgun.

Dipping about here and there might be disorienting but it does highlight how, regardless of place or time, that starry ego was always fully functioning. There clearly was one thing at the center of James’ world and that was James. Oh, and music, but primarily James. One thing Get On Up doesn’t do is shy away from his rampant, strutting, preening, selfish narcissism. Whether regally referring to himself in the third person or viciously verbally abusing his long suffering band, it made us wonder what comes first, the star or the ego?

Anchored by an extraordinary performance by Mr Boseman in the title role, Get On Up makes for striking viewing. When biopics often present their subjects in a hallowed light, it’s good to see one that doesn’t pull any punches. Mr Brown may have indeed contributed some astounding music to the world, but that genius came at a bit of a cost.

UK release 21 November

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The Imitation Game. Stranger Than Fiction.

imitationThe Sloth wonders at what point the law was passed decreeing that B. Cumberbatch Esq and Ms. K Knightley should have first dibs on all eccentric loner and pouting vintage damsel roles respectively. For in The Imitation Game both are safely in their respective elements.

What do you think of when you hear ‘breaking the Enigma code’? We’re betting ‘Bletchley Park’ and ‘winning WW2’ spring immediately to mind, not ‘Alan Turing’ the mathematical genius who masterminded it. With the allied forces losing WW2 their only hope of victory was to break the supposedly unbreakable Enigma code that the German army used to send operational orders to its troops. Alan (Benedict Cumberbatch) was a Cambridge don recruited by MI6 as part of a team tasked with cracking the code.

Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell Alan there is no ‘i’ in ‘team’. His prickly, borderline autistic personality, fearsome intelligence and devastation at his only school friend dying at a young age isolated him from forming relationships. Fortunately fellow code cracker Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) had the patience to see through his arrogant façade and help him relate to the others. Which was just as well as Alan’s code cracking vision was of essentially the first ever computer, a mechanical monster that systematically chewed through work at a rate no human could.

Part history lesson, part biographical study, this is a fascinating insight into a remarkable event that had unimaginably far reaching consequences – in both human lives and technological progression.  We’d have liked a little more bare facts as to how Turing’s machine actually worked, but that’s a quibble and doubtless we wouldn’t have understood it anyway. Turing’s story, a man victim of gross prejudice despite his achievements, is often heart-breaking and Cumberbatch, as we have come to expect, does him full justice. Oh, and look out for the dashingly suave Mark Strong in a scene stealing role as a super-spook MI6 commander par excellence. Marvellous stuff.

UK release 14 November

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The Drop

the_drop_posterThe Drop features Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini and an UNFEASIBLY cute puppy. Do you need to know any more? Really? Are you sure? We were about to nip off for a coffee… Oh all right then.

Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) is a barman in Brooklyn in the slightly seedy kind of bar where slightly seedy kind of men toss down bourbons at 3.00pm and food is definitely not served. The bar is owned by dodgy Cousin Marv (James Gandolfini) who has been forced into running it as a ‘drop’ by Chechen gangsters – a kind of illicit gangster banking service where money is collected and deposited by assorted ne’er do wells.

Marv is rather fed up of this so, unknown to Bob, is planning to try and beat the gangsters at their own game by staging a fake robbery of the drop money. Unfortunately, cirumstances don’t pan out quite as intended, leaving our Chechen gangsters more than a touch peeved and baying for Marv and Bob’s blood.

In the meantime Bob, walking home one night, discovers a whimpering, shivering, injured pitt bull puppy inexplicably dumped in the trashcan of a house belonging to Nadia (Noomi Rapace). Evidently a softhearted soul, Bob ends up taking the puppy, an adorable bundle of velvety fur and ears, home with him, a welcome distraction from the troubles at the bar.

The skill of The Drop is in making seemingly disparate events slowly reveal themselves to have significance. Plot lines converge and interlink, slowly building towards a genuinely shocking conclusion. Events reveal personality traits that add depth and complexity to the characters, in a world where nothing is black and white. Instead most things, like the puppy, are a hazy shade of grey. Anchored by yet another extraordinary performance from Tom Hardy (is this man capable of anything less?) The Drop is far more than just a gritty gangster movie.

UK release 14 November

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