X + Y

x + yHow are your memories of school maths lessons? Painful? The Sloth shudders at the recollection of Mr Hayes, who operated a shock and awe teaching style, bawling our 12 year old self out in front of the entire class for taking more than a scant 2 seconds to answer a question. We’ve hated anything vaguely numerical ever since.

But not everyone is as maths averse, as X + Y explores. Nathan (Asa Butterfield) is a young autistic boy. After his father Michael (Martin McCann) dies unexpectedly, mother Julie (Sally Hawkins) struggles to raise him alone, doing her best to deal with his difficult condition. Along with the social awkwardness of autism often come gifts, which Nathan demonstrates with a growing affinity for maths. Spotting Nathan’s talent, his school arranges extra tuition from shambolic, MS suffering maths teacher Humphreys (Rafe Spall), whose irreverent attitude and medical difficulties help forge a tentative bond.

Nathan’s prodigious skills eventually land him a place on the UK’s junior maths Olympiad team and en route to a maths training camp in Taiwan, along with the geekiest teammates this side of a Warhammer convention, bless. Thrown in at the deep end, he is forced to either start managing his issues or meet the same fate as teammate and fellow autistic Luke (Jake Davies), whose inability to curb his argumentative nature leads to ostracism from his peers.

X + Y is a small gem of a film. For such an emotional subject it has humour in abundance, supplied by Rafe Spall’s foul mouthed tutor and Eddie Marsan’s dogmatic Olympiad team coach, but is also deeply moving without ever dipping into sentiment or mawkishness. Scenes of Nathan taking tentative steps towards a relationship with Chinese team member Zhang Mei (Jo Yang) and understanding the emotions lurking deep inside him are genuinely touching. Conversely, a virtuoso performance by Jake Davies as tortured fellow autistic Luke are acutely painful to watch. Beautifully scripted, beautifully acted. Don’t miss it.

Oh and there is maths too, if you are interested, but The Sloth stuck our fingers in our ears for that bit.

UK release 13 March

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Still Alice. Forget-Her-Not.

still aliceThe Sloth wants to be Julianne Moore. There, we’ve said it. But seriously, can you think of any other actress as talented / stylish / intelligent / generally amazing? And she’s FIFTY THREE for goodness sake!  Kids, lay off the Botox. Julianne wouldn’t touch it with a three foot long needle, y’hear?

OK, we’ll calm down.

Unless you’ve had your head wedged firmly up your own backside for the last couple of months you’ll know Still Alice won Julianne the Best Actress Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA. Quite the sweep. She plays Alice, an acclaimed Professor of Linguistics at Columbia University.  Fiercely intelligent, confident and gregarious, Alice is happily married to John (Alec Baldwin) with grown up children. But something is awry. She finds herself losing her train of thought in a lecture, forgetting her route when out running. Eventually she seeks medical advice and to her horror is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.  Hard enough for any person, let alone a 50 year old whose entire world revolves around communication skills.

The film wastes no time getting into the decline of her condition. With terrifying rapidity she forgets simple words, forgets where the bathroom is when she is desperate for the toilet, forgets one of her own daughters, Lydia (Kristen Stewart). Desperate to stem the irreversible decline she turns to technology, using her phone to remind herself of simple tasks, setting questions to stimulate her mind each morning. Most morbidly, setting plans for her suicide once she deems her condition unbearable.

If you know a relative suffering from the condition, Still Alice may be a difficult watch. It’s deeply moving, due to the power of Julianne’s performance. She precisely captures the bewildered, grasping expressions of sufferers searching for points of recognition in a foggy world and the desperate need to appear normal to observers. It may sound depressing beyond words and, admittedly, it’s not the cheeriest of subjects, but it’s also a film about love, support and the human spirit. Watching Alice doggedly fight her way through a speech to fellow Alzheimer’s sufferers made us want to cry and cheer at the same time. Watch it. Then go make a donation to the Alzheimer’s Society.

UK release 6 March.

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White God. You Ain’t Nothing But A Pound Dog.

white godDoubtless you are familiar with the music concept of ‘a mash up’ – taking two well known, disparate tracks and mixing together to create an all new (and hopefully fabulous) musical lovechild.  Now meet its cinematic cousin, White God, the rebellious, illegitimate son of Lassie and 28 Days Later.  Not only did it win Un Certain Regard at Cannes but its remarkable canine stars won the coveted Palm Dog, a title previously awarded to such four legged luminaries as Uggie from The Artist and Dug from Up.

Hagen the dog is a handsome crossbreed devoted to his young owner Lilli (Zsófia Psotta).  A product of a broken marriage, Lilli has been sent to stay with her father taking Hagen in tow. Unfortunately, neither Lilli’s father nor the owners of his state controlled apartment are keen on crossbreeds, the ownership of which necessitate paying a government tax. Unwilling to fork out cash to keep a mutt, after much wailing and protesting from Lilli, her father cruelly dumps Hagen by a busy roadside to fend for himself.

Initially finding company among other street strays, Hagen’s naivety soon gets the better of him as he is captured by a tramp who sells him to a dog fighting ring. Half starved, deprived of affection and forcibly exercised, Lilli’s loving pet is soon unrecognisable, methodically transformed into a snarling mass of teeth, claws and agression. But eventually the tables begin to turn as Hagen, plus an army of crossbred pooches imprisoned in the hellish city dog pound, start to rebel against their human oppressors.

An analogy for class oppression, as well as a chilling reminder of the cruelty man can inflect on beast, White God is wildly original, often deeply disturbing and tinged with pitch black humour. We defy you not to suppress (or let out – what the hell) a cheer in the final scenes as Hagen and his hundred strong canine army run amok through city streets in some of the most astounding and arresting visual imagines we’ve seen in cinema.  The proverbial dogs danglies.

bodyp.s. clearly no animals were harmed in the filming of the production, judging by the affectionate smacker Body planted on his director, Kornel Mundruczo, at the Cannes Film Festival premiere…

UK release 27 February.

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Whiplash. Faustian Practice.

whiplashThe Sloth can’t recall any other movie so aptly named. Whiplash picks you up, smacks you round the chops and spits you out on the hard shoulder of the M25. Fasten your seatbelts, we’re in for a bumpy ride.

Andrew (Miles Teller) is a talented young drummer, newly arrived at a prestigious music academy that admits only the best.  Dedicated, enthusiastic and ambitious, when he hears that the BEST of the best get handpicked to play in revered teacher Terence Fletcher’s (J.K. Simmons) elite jazz ensemble, naturally he’s hungry to be selected. So imagine his delight when, overhearing him practising alone late one night, Fletcher walks in and offers him the coveted Golden Ticket to Jazz Glory.

Unfortunately, Fletcher is no cuddly Willy Wonka. Rather, he drags the ‘best’ out of his students through verbal, physical and psychological bullying and, in Andrew, has a shiny, new, unwitting victim. Believing “there are no two words more harmful in the English language than ‘good job’” Fletcher justifies his ‘method’ as a tool in his search for artistic perfection – a musician capable of becoming another Charlie Parker, a true all-time great.

It’s an extraordinary film that twists and turns, delving deeper and deeper into the psyches of the two lead characters. First we are overwhelmed by the volatile, unpredictable Fletcher and the excruciating cruelty he unleashes. It would be simple to leave it there, but no. As we learn more about Andrew his deeper, driving ambition comes to the surface – playing till his hands literally bleed, rejecting girlfriends as a distraction from his own quest for artistic greatness. Soon it appears Fletcher and Andrew may be cut, at least in part, from the same cloth.

Grounded in outstanding performances from both leads (a special shout out to Miles Teller on the drums! Unbelievable!), who match each other in manic obsession, Whiplash’s truly unique achievement is to capture and drag you, the audience, into their visceral, hypnotic and exhilarating world of musical greatness. Like a feverish Dr Faustus you know it’s wrong but you just can’t help yourself. Head-spinningly good and The Sloth’s film of the year. Bravo!

UK release 16 Jan 2015

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Foxcatcher. Wrestlemania.

foxcatcher__spanFinished a year ago, such was the studio’s hopes for awards season glory, Foxcatcher’s release was postponed until now to avoid competition with 2013 big hitters 12 Years A Slave and Gravity. That’s a lot of eggs to cryogenically freeze in a basket. No pressure…

Based, incredibly, on a true story it centers around two pro-wrestler brothers David Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) aka The Smart And Well Adjusted One and Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) aka The Not So Smart And Struggling One. Both Olympic gold medalists, they now live in small town anonymity. David is happy, married with kids and running a local wrestling club. Mark, however, lives alone and with limited skills relies heavily on his brother in lieu of a father figure.

But help may unexpectedly be at hand. A phone call out of the blue invites Mark to the home of John du Pont, eccentric multi-millionaire recluse and member of one of America’s most hallowed family dynasties. Alienated by his equestrian-loving mother, John intends to indulge his own passion, wrestling, by setting up his own team housed in a state of the art training facility to gun for glory at the next Olympics and wants Mark as his star athlete. Offered both financial security and the chance to step out from David’s shadow, Mark thinks all his Christmases have come at once. But, kids, we all know i) money can’t buy happiness and ii) if something looks too good to be true, it generally is. Mark soon struggles to deliver so John persuades David onboard, once again relegating Mark back to the sidelines and starting a steady spiral towards destruction.

Shot in muted tones, Foxcatcher is clinically cool, calm and precise with an underlying sense of menace. Often ambiguous – what does du Pont really want with Mark? A surrogate son? Sex? A whipping boy? – and strongly psychological, it deals with themes of family rivalry and parental approval. And boy do the whole cast rise to the occasion. Channing Tatum in particular is heartbreakingly good as Mark, earnest, lonely, desperate for approval and frustrated by his own limitations. The Sloth just wanted to give him a cuddle.

This is no emotional melodrama. Foxcatcher doesn’t pick you up and bodyslam you down on the mat, rather it creeps insidiously into your head, leaving you shaken, not stirred. Commendably restrained.

UK release 9 January 2015

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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, SaltyPopcorn.com.au, 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:

final

REVIEW BY JASON KING from WWW.SALTYPOPCORN.COM.AU

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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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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Mr. Turner. Grunt Work.

MrTurner_FinalWe have to confess we approached Mr Turner feeling somewhat negative. We’re no philistine, but 2 ½ hours on the life of a painter? Who, to our knowledge, wasn’t in the habit of doing anything particularly exciting like cutting his ear off or harbouring absinthe/opium habits? What we hadn’t taken into account is Mr Turner is written and directed by Mike Leigh.

We meet William Turner (Timothy Spall), the celebrated painter of land and seascapes, at the height of his career. He is moneyed and successful. He lives with his father in a large and comfortable London house and has two illegitimate daughters by Sarah Denby (Ruth Sheen) and a new grandchild, whose existence he publicly denies. Brusque to the point of rudeness, solitary and bumptious, he is a curious individual, evidently damaged by being left by his mother early in life.

So what happens? Well, tangibly not a lot. We follow Turner’s daily life, his visits to the Royal Academy where he insults and taunts his great rival Constable. His trips to Margate where he found inspiration for his seascapes and a rare happy relationship with a widow, Mrs Booth (Marion Bailey). We see him suffer pretentious salons where the great and not so great pompously discuss art and philosophy.

It’s tremendous. Like a cross between Jane Austen and Blackadder, it possesses a marvellously witty script that is somehow both contemporary and period, completely bringing to life the social and artistic circles of the day in all their bickering, hierarchical glory. But it’s not without emotion. His callous, borderline cruel treatment of others is held up for our observation and judgment. Anchored by a memorably eccentric, growling, bestial performance from Timothy Spall, comprising porcine grunts, sagging jowls and disparaging eye rolls, a trip round the Tate Gallery will never be quite the same again.

UK release 31 October

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