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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La La Land. A New Golden Age?

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The Sloth’s two most hated films genres are: 1) Musicals 2) Romances. While the rest of the world swoons at the Golden Age of Hollywood, going gooey over Fred ’n’ Ginge, swishy dresses, big band ‘numbers’, you’ll find The Sloth revisiting the Trainspotting ‘Worst Toilet In Scotland’ scene. La La Land is a musical romance. Oh joy.

No prizes for guessing La La Land is set in LA.  It opens with Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a somewhat precious jazz pianist and Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, stuck in their cars in traffic on the freeway. But this isn’t any ordinary traffic jam. Drivers have emerged from their vehicles in a rainbow of brightly coloured outfits to burst into song and dance in what yes, is best described as a ‘number’.  Not sharing in the festivities, Sebastian honks his horn at Mia who glares frostily back at him.

A few days later Sebastian is grumpily playing Christmas songs to punters in a posh restaurant. Till he throws a hissy fit, launches into one of his own compositions and is promptly sacked, just as Mia walks in. Later still, they meet again at a party, Sebastian now grumpily playing keyboards in a cheesy 80’s covers band to Mia’s sarcastic delight.

No prizes for guessing they get together, united in their ambition to make it big in the City of Dreams. We follow the ups & downs of their relationship and careers as they suffer set backs and breaks in equal measure, sprinkled with a liberal dusting of song ’n’ dance numbers. And that is pretty much it.

We LOVED this film. Absolutely LOVED it. What should be a vomit-inducing cheese-fest is pitch perfect sweet, light and endearing, filled with guileless joie de vivre from start to finish. A lot of this is credit to the clever casting decision of taking leading actors who can sort of sing and sort of dance, making the whole thing feel altogether natural and not over-polished. Add in The Gosling’s recently discovered deadpan comic ability and you have an absolute winner. Role on awards season, it’s about time a proper good ‘un swept the board.

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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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Anomalisa. Virtually Reality.

anomalisa-imageWhat is real? Now there’s a question. Right up there with ‘why are the boy’s loos always so much more disgusting than the girls’? But having watched Anomalisa it left us asking that very question, which can only lead us to conclude it is An Important Film. Are you paying attention at the back?

 

Anomalisa (which for the record derives from a mash up of ‘anomaly’ + ‘Lisa’) is an animated film from the furiously fertile imagination of Charlie Kaufman, who gave us Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, amongst other crazy gems. So you’d think if you let that imagination loose in an animated environment the sky would be the psychedelic limit. Yet Anomalisa is the most prosaic of stories. It follows businessman and customer service guru Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) travelling to a conference where he is to be guest speaker. His plane touches down, he takes a cab to the city centre, the cabbie engages him in small talk, he arrives at his generic large business hotel, he is walked to his room by a bellboy who hovers for a tip, he calls his wife and orders room service. Then he calls an ex-girlfriend and meets her at a bar.

 

Doesn’t exactly sound scintillating, does it? Yet it is. The impeccable attention to every last mundane detail, even down to how US room service cheerfully parrot back the precise and elaborate menu description of the dish you are ordering, is totally hypnotic, lulling you into complete acceptance of how real Michael Stone and his life are. So as we learn more about him, his womanising, his unhappiness with his marriage, he becomes as real as any living character. And if you are still questioning how convincing an animation can be, in Hong Kong Anomalisa was given the strongest possible adult rating due to a sex scene that is more intimate, realistic and emotional than anything normally seen between human actors.

 

Anomalisa is a film about everyday people and their mundane, everyday lives filled with emotion, disappointment and frustration. The sort of things generally considered too dull for Hollywood to commit to celluloid.  Well done Mr Kaufman for doing so, in your typically imaginative and unorthodox way.

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Carol. A Not-So-Average 1950’s Housewife.

Carol-PosterIt’s official, The Season has started. No, DUH, we’re not talking about Christmas, we’re talking about The Awards Season. Although admittedly both involve sparkle, infighting and boozy parties, the awards season just contains more Botox.  And an early front runner is Carol. Nominated for 5 Golden Globes it won Rooney Mara Best Actress at Cannes but, far more importantly, took home the Golden Frog at the Camerimage festival. Now that’s a gong The Sloth would like on our mantelpiece.

 

Carol (Cate Blanchett) is a rich, bored housewife in 1950’s New York. Icily beautiful, she glides around her expensive home, cigarette artfully poised, in cashmere twinsets, perfect red lipstick and immaculately waved hair. Her days are spent shopping, having lunch and occasional playing with her daughter, the product of her loveless marriage. Wafting through a department store she comes across shop assistant Therese (Rooney Mara). Her Audrey Hepburn-esq looks and naive, innocent air capture Carol’s attention and she invites her to lunch. Which leads to an affair, which leads to a deeper relationship. But this is 1950’s America, where such things are not exactly acceptable, not least because Carol is married with a child, and fractious divorce proceedings ensue.

 

At first glance, this is the kind of cool, poised role Cate Blanchett could do in her sleep. But as the film progresses she gives us an increasingly complex character study that often leaves us unsure of Carol’s motives: is Therese just her latest plaything or is she genuinely in love with her? Much has been made of the film movingly exposing the impossibility of being gay in a less tolerant era, which it does, but that almost over simplifies it. Carol is as much about making choices between following your heart versus your head – should true love be pursued at the expense of destroying family? – and is a stronger, more rounded film for it.

 

Impeccably acted and stunningly shot in dreamy, hypnotic visuals that are eye-bogglingly perfect, Carol will lull you into another world. Beautiful, intelligent AND passes The Bechdel Test with flying colours.  Films like this don’t come along too often.  Don’t miss it.

UK release 27 November

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The Fear Of Thirteen. Staring Death In The Face.

Nick YarrisAge 21, Nicholas Yarris was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a woman. He spent the next 20 years on death row, where he continually protested his innocence. The Fear Of Thirteen explores the story behind his extraordinary situation.

 

Director David Sington takes the perhaps unusual step of allowing Nick to tell his own story entirely in his own words. The majority of the 90 minute documentary is simply Nick talking to a point off camera, recounting his life from an early age.  At the start of the film The Sloth found ourselves confused and then disappointed, for this surely was an actor interpreting Nick’s words, not Nick himself, such was the elaboration and emotional range that he puts in, embellishing his sentences with gestures, sounds, the illustration of how someone said this or did that, adding unexpected bursts of humour to the blackest situations. But no, this is indeed Nick. For this film is as much about the concept of storytelling and the redemptive power of words as it is about questions of guilt or innocence.

 

Inevitable comparisons to a one-man play are there to be drawn. Not only from the theatrical nature of Nick’s ‘performance’ but from the dramatic narrative arc of his life. An errant youth spent joyriding and indulging in petty crime escalated into drug addiction and finally the accusation of murder, an accusation that stemmed ironically from lies of Nick’s own devising. Confinement on death row led to self reflection and the discovery of reading, whereupon Nick went from barely literate to devouring 1,000 books in just a few years, learning as much about himself as the world of literature.

 

This is an utterly compelling documentary. Nick is a charismatic and hypnotic protagonist, bringing alive the secretive world behind bars and drawing you in. Simultaneously, The Sloth found ourselves wondering how much of his seductive delivery was a fiction, a testament to the power of his mastery of words, but we were lucky enough to attend a screening that concluded with a Q&A from the director and producer who assured us his story was carefully vetted and was all entirely true. Ultimately, this is a story of redemption and a testament to self-belief against formidable odds. Gripping, life-affirming and, like all the best stories, highly entertaining.

 

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99 Homes. I Feel Bad For You Son.

poster-xlargeHow does a film about the housing market crisis grab you? Whoop whoop! You’re hoiking your trainers on and sprinting down to your local multiplex as we speak! No? Well you ought to, for 99 Homes is easily the most intelligent and gripping film The Sloth has seen so far this year. Trust us.

 

Nash (Andrew Garfield) is a single father in Florida, struggling to make ends meet with dead end, ad hoc construction work. Trouble is, being in dead end, ad hoc jobs, he’s not been able to pay his mortgage instalments and the court has ordered repossession. We meet him as real estate agent Rick Carver (Michael Shannon) is coldly turfing Nash, his young son and Nash’s mother (Laura Dern) out on the street.

 

Relocated to a cheap motel and desperate for money, Nash is offered a labouring job by Carver. Overcoming his aversion he accepts, being careful to conceal from his family the not insignificant fact that he is working for the man who ruined their lives. Before long, the slick, moneyed and predatory Carver suggests he start working for him full time, first as a handyman but then as a repossession agent himself. Nash, with only a modicum of reflection, accepts. Then faces the moral cost of earning cash at the expense of human suffering.

 

99 Homes is so, so much more than a film about the property market.  It’s a morality play with echoes of Greek tragedy, plus a good slice of poetry thrown in. Dr Faustus may be the obvious comparison, but the script (co-written by director Ramin Bahrami) is littered with evocative images and metaphors bordering on the Shakespearean, from Nash’s descriptions of himself as drowning, or Carver’s (whose name is hardly a coincidence) warning that Florida’s “gators never sleep”.

 

This isn’t an easy watch but it’s an important film that is not just about housing, but about human greed. And the actors rise to the same level as the script. Andrew Garfield in particular gives an outstanding performance, his conflicting emotions and desperation written all over his face. Go see it. And be afraid.

UK release 25 September

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45 Years. The Act of Marriage.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

UK release 28 August.

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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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While We’re Young. Hip To Be Square.

OnlineQuad_WhileWereYoungAhh, The Hipster.  Native resident of grittily urban areas undergoing economic regeneration, mostly found congregating in great numbers around vinyl disc emporiums. Skinny of leg with exuberant plumage on chin.  May be omnivorous or vegetarian but will only consume produce labelled ‘organic’ and/or ‘artisan’, preferably grown in lay-by off M25. Now marvellously satirised in Noah Baumbach’s tremendous While We’re Young.

Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are a childless 40-something couple with increasingly little in common with their friends who all have kids. Josh, a documentary filmmaker, finds himself waylaid after a class one day by effortlessly cool young couple Jamie (Adam Driver), a wannabe filmmaker, and his wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried), who are keen to chat.

Flattered by the attention and energised by their enthusiasm, Josh is soon arranging subsequent meet ups with Adam. Then buys a pork pie hat, like Adam. Then ditches public transport to wobble unsteadily down the road on a bike, after Adam. Initially sceptical, Cornelia too soon becomes sucked in, persuaded to join Darby in a Hip Hop dance class (note to aging self: few things are less dignified than a 40-something ‘busting a move’).

Inevitably, their new found BFFs start attracting scepticism from peers of their own age. And after a while, Josh and Cornelia themselves start to question whether there may be ulterior motives behind Jamie and Darby’s attentions. But not before a marvellous succession of events that gently and hilariously mock the narcissistic, self-conscious world of The Hipster and raise questions about what people really want out of life.

The Sloth was lucky enough to attend a preview screening introduced by director Noah Baumbach, in which he described his own awareness of getting older, of recalling something that had ‘just happened’ only to realise it was years before, and wanting to make a film that captured both this and thoughts about relationships he had gathered over time. While We’re Young achieves all this brilliantly. Both timely and timeless, every laugh is spiked with the prick of truth. It feels like an instant classic – don’t miss it.

UK release 3 April 2015

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