Black Mass. Johnny Hits New Depp-ths.

Black-Mass-Poster-2Let’s be honest, the words ‘Johnny’ and ‘Depp’ have in the last few years spelt the kiss of death for any movie. Mr Depp’s quirk ‘n’ dreads heyday appeared to have long passed. So when The Sloth heard he was to star in 1970’s gangster epic Black Mass, we didn’t exactly hold our breath.

 

Black Mass follows the real life exploits of Jimmy ‘Whitey’ Bulger (Johnny Depp), a small time Boston crook who expanded his empire to that of a full sized crime Kingpin. Jimmy was born in Southy, a rough area of South Boston (no!) where blood was far thicker than water and alliances forged by kids on the streets held fast through later life.

 

So why should Jimmy be of interest amongst the countless other ne’er do wells history has produced? Well firstly because Jimmy had a successful brother, Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch – clearly the casting director was gunning for matching sibling cheekbones), who broke out of his street kid mould to become the State Senator, no less.  Secondly because Jimmy was recruited as an informant by FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who saw him as an asset in the FBI’s attempts to bring down the local Mafia, who were rivals to Jimmy’s own gang.

 

You know what you’re getting with ‘70’s crime epics and Black Mass doesn’t disappoint. Grainy visuals – check. 18 foot long cars with spongy suspension – check. Characters called ‘Suitcase’ with faces like pigs bladders stuffed with an assortment of spanners – check. Cuddly old ladies who are delighted to see the local violent nutter back home after a stint in Alcatraz – check.

 

But what about the million dollar question, does Johnny pull it off? We’re delighted and frankly a bit surprised to say, yes he does. Granted, we spent the first 30 minutes gawping at his enormous prosthetic moon-like forehead and receding hairline,  but his usual penchance for tics and quirks are muted, his energy channelled instead into creating a psychopathic character of blood chilling proportions. A scene where Jimmy calmly torments John’s terrified wife Marianne (Julianne Nicholson) had The Sloth squirming in shared fear. Welcome back Johnny. Here’s to a revitalised career in monstrous sociopaths.

UK release 27 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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August: Osage County. Mommy Dearest.

August-Osage-County-PosterWow, this was shouty and intense. After watching August: Osage County The Sloth had to have a soothing cup of green tea and lie down with a wet flannel on our forehead.

Based on a stage play, it follows a period in the lives of the Weston family, who put the deranged in disfunctional. The supposed head of the family is alcoholic Beverly Weston (Sam Shepherd). We say supposed because his authority is somewhat doubtful once we meet Violet Weston (Meryl Streep), a prescription drug addicted matriarchal monster and possessor of an acid tongue that shrivels grown men. No doubt worn down by said tongue, Sam shortly disappears, presumed drowned. And so the rest of the Weston clan return to the family home for his funeral.

Over the next couple of days we meet feisty daughter Barbara (Julia Roberts, wonderfully grey-haired and potty-mouthed), who is separating from husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and argues ferociously with mother Violet about anything and everything. Dippy daughter Karen (Juliette Lewis) arrives, trailing her latest flashy, sports car driving new boyfriend. Completing the offspring is sensible daughter Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), who harbours a secret passion for her hapless cousin Charles Aiken (Benedict Cumberbatch, for once putting a tight lid on his charisma). Bringing up the rear of this female overload is Aunt Mattie (Margo Martindale), a venomous partner-in-crime to her sister Violet.

With the house bursting at the seams, emotions running high and Violet off her head, tensions escalate to boiling point. Allegiances are made and lost, family skeletons tumble out of closets and we wonder how on earth no-one has actually punched anyone. Then they do.

The stage play roots are very evident. Bordering on the melodramatic, it’s undoubtedly an act-oors film. If you want naturalism, this isn’t for you. But if you’re happy to watch a dribblingly delicious cast get their teeth stuck into something juicy, fill your boots. Just don’t have nightmares about mama Violet.

UK release 24 January

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The Fifth Estate. Wiki-Unlikes.

fifthUnless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of years, you can’t fail to have heard of Wikileaks and its infamous founder, Julian Assange. You probably have your own opinions on him and his organisation. Whatever they are, you may be interested to know The Fifth Estate was made most definitely without his blessing.

Benedict Everyone’s Favourite Actor TM Cumberbatch plays Assange. Apparently Mr Cumberbatch and Mr Assange partook in some gentlemanly correspondence before filming commenced (here The Sloth has marvellous visions of B. Cumberbatch Esq resplendent in paisley cravat and maroon velvet smoking jacket, flourishing quill pen by candlelight and sipping contemplatively upon a goblet of mead). Mr Assange (lank, greasy locks hanging in his pallid, bloodless face, hunched over a blinking cursor in a windowless room warmed by the heat of a half dozen servers) chivalrously complimented Mr Cumberbatch on his undoubted talent as an actor, but urged him to reconsider taking part in a film whose script he felt vilified him.

Now admittedly Mr Assange does not come out of The Fifth Estate smelling of roses. Much is made of his rather oddball, megalomaniac persona and ability to make as many enemies as admirers. The Wikileaks story has also been documented extensively in the press, so it’s hard for the story to be approached as new. What it best offers is a recap of the origins and history of the organisation, showing how one individual brought the might of the US government virtually to its knees.

Cumberbatch is superb, natch, nailing Assange’s distinctive Australian drawl and hooded gaze. Equally good is Daniel Brühl as Daniel Berg, Assange’s one-time Wikileaks partner, whom he fell out with over idealistic reasons. Don’t expect to learn any new insights into the Wikileaks story from The Fifth Estate. Instead, approach it as part human drama, part political thriller and remember that truth really can be stranger than fiction.

UK theatrical release 11 October / UK DVD release 17 February

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Star Trek Into Darkness. Who Says Bromance Is Dead?

star trekYes! This is what we want! Star Trek Into Darkness launches straight into Kirk running hell for leather through a forest of trees made of what appear to be strawberry liquorice shoelaces, escaping angry pasty-faced aliens wearing mustard yellow nappies. So far, so homage to the camp kitsch delights of everyone’s favourite sci-fi show.

Kirk’s escapade on Planet Shoelace causes the near-death of Spock and results in Kirk’s removal from Captain duties. Worse still, he’s referred to another Starship crew away from his best buddy. Noooooo! But not for long as firstly, we’d have no movie and secondly, the Starfleet organisation handily comes under attack from an angry ex Starfleet official, Harrison.  No prizes for guessing who are sent to save the day.

This second outing with the new Enterprise crew sees them all settling firmly into the swing of things. Spock and Kirk’s squabbling bromance takes front and centre, bubbling along nicely. Scotty gets a miniature alien sidekick to bounce lines off and Uhura has a lover’s tiff with a half-Vulcan boyfriend who had no feelings to start with.

But best of all is Benedict Cumberbatch as Harrison, shedding his usual geeky, intellectual persona to reinvent himself with gusto as a fist fighting super villain extraordinaire. Genetically modified to be stronger, meaner, smarter and blood-thirstier than, oooh, anyone else ever, he glowers evilly from beneath his brow, spitting lines like “I’ll walk over your cold corpses” and crushing heads with his bare hands, literally, with much squelching and crunching. Eeew.

As blockbusters go, Star Trek has it nailed. The Sloth’s only gripe: we didn’t get a ‘Live long and prosper’. Maybe next time, guys?

UK release 9 May 2013

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