Love And Friendship. Austen On Form.

love freiedThink ‘Jane Austen’ and several things probably spring to mind: GCSE English; Colin Firth’s damp thighs (down, ladies); smug types waxing lyrical about how funny she is. Then you probably yawn and go back to your Transporter box set (NB that reminds us, one day The Sloth will do a post dedicated solely to the genius that is The Stath). And with every Brit actor worth their salt having appeared in countless versions of Emma’s Pride and Sensibility, has the dainty Austen teacup not finally runneth over?

 

Love And Friendship is based on Austen’s novella Lady Susan. So OK, we don’t think that particular book has been filmed yet – one point to the filmmakers.  It stars Kate Beckinsdale as the aforementioned Lady Susan Vernon, a glamorous, recently widowed social climber par excellence, whose flirtatious and gold-digging reputation precede her. In need of a new, rich husband to keep her in the manner she has become accustomed, Lady Susan has left her preferred London to visit her dead husband’s relations in their substantial country seat, in order to evaluate the local eligible talent. Unsurprisingly, the flurry of excitement she creates amongst the single men is not entirely shared by any women in the vicinity, not least as Susan is not just man-shopping for herself, but also for her young daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark), whose declared intention of earning her own crust as a teacher is met with horror by her mother.

 

Like all of Jane Austen’s work, Lady Susan pokes sly, satirical humour at its characters from the outset, which features headshots of each of the cast of characters with appropriate digs, one man described as ‘A Bit Of A Rattle’. Loaded with wit, the script needs careful attention, Lady Susan in particular firing out superb, zinging one-liners, often to her best friend and confident Alicia Johnson (Chloë Sevigny), all delivered with an entirely straight face. This is the Austen that the literary-types love and rarely is it done so well.  But Love And Friendship also has laugh out loud silliness, delivered splendidly by Tom Bennett as rich buffoon Sir James. Channelling the spirit of Hugh Laurie’s Prince Regent from Blackadder, Sir James bumbles and guffaws his way through this polite, clipped society in a series of hilarious scenes, culminating in his honking, gleeful bewilderment at encountering peas on his dinner plate.

 

Forget GCSE’s and thoughts of 27 Austen adaptations too many, Love and Friendship is an absolute treat.  Smart, funny and a must-see.

UK release 27 May 2016

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What We Did On Our Holiday

holidayWho doesn’t love Billy Connolly? The loose Glaswegian comedy cannon who proved himself a serious ac-toor with a glowering turn in Mrs Brown, simultaneously becoming bezzie mates with Dame Judi, is now a bona fide National Treasure. So we were very much looking forward to seeing him take an increasingly rare screen role in What We Did On Our Holiday.

Doug (David Tenanant) and Abi McLeod (the currently ubiquitous Rosamond Pike – how does that girl fit it all in?) are having marital problems. But, faced with a gathering of the family clan to celebrate Doug’s father Gordy’s (Billy Connolly) 75th birthday, like all good imminent divorcees they decide to hide their situation from the rest of the family. So packing their three children into the car they begin a long, squabbling and bickering journey North.

Not that things calm down on reaching their destination. With Doug’s insuffereable brother Gavin (Ben Miller) and downtrodden wife Margaret (Amelia Bullmore) supervising the party planning, chaos reigns supreme. Oblivious to the chaos is Gordy who, seriously ill, has clear ideas of his priorities in life. Gathering up his grandchildren he sneaks them off to escape the fracas for a day at the seaside. But things don’t turn out exactly as anticipated.

We won’t reveal a simultaeously macabre and joyful twist in this tale. Suffice to say it caught us unawares and elevated what at first seemed to just be a run of the mill mainstream comedy. From the creators of the TV show Outnumbered, it has the same semi-improvised feel, with the child actors ad-libs apparently leading the dialogue. And boy do the kids earn their pocket money.  But for us the most moving element was Billy Connolly’s portrayal of the terminally ill Gordy. Having been diagnosed with cancer in real life, it’s a poginiant instance of art imitating life. Let’s hope he beats it and we get a good few more vintage performances out of The Big Yin.

UK release 26 September

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Fading Gigolo. It’s OK, He’s Kosher.

FADING-GIGOLOThe Sloth hadn’t heard of John Turturro until we watched Fading Gigolo, but he is clearly an extremely smart and forward thinking man.  For not only did he both write and direct this story of a male prostitute who services some of the most stunning women in NYC, he also gave himself the starring role.

John plays Fioravante, a reticent chap of few words who is longtime pals with Murray (Woody Allen). Fioravante scrapes a living between working at a florist (where he is a dab hand at Japanese style orchid arrangements) and occasional stints at Murray’s bookshop which, unfortunately, is about to close. But no matter. The ever resourceful Murray muses that Fioravante has always been a hit with the laydeez, so why not turn his talent into a business opportunity for them both?

Yes, before you can say ‘Heidi Fliess’, Murray is pimping Fioravante out to the good women of NYC. And they can’t get enough of him. His vists to the glamorous Dr Parker (Sharon Stone) and her best buddy Selima (Sofia Vergara) start attracting the suspicions of Dovi (Liev Schreiber) a kind of Jewish Guardian Angel keen to uphold the morals of Brooklyn’s Orthodox community. When Fioravante starts consorting with Avigal (Vanessa Paradis) a local Jewish widow he has the hots for, Dovi decides enough is enough.

There is one glaring flaw in this film. We’re sure John Turturro is a very nice man, but he has a face like a bag of spanners. Some suspension of disbelief is therefore required to accept that such glorious Alpha-women would be so desperate for his attentions. Otherwise this is an homage to the Best of Woody Allen  – and we mean that in the most positive way – a witty, quirky celebration of NYC Jewish culture that also isn’t afraid to question the community it celebrates. Surprisingly enjoyable. Mazel Tov.

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We Are The Best! Abba With Attitude.

we-are-the-best-166468-poster-xlarge-resizedThe Sloth has banged on before about our love of The Muppets and the influence Animal, in particular, had on our formative years. So we approached We Are The Best!, a tale of three youthful girls forming a punk band, with the wry nod of recognition. Ladies after our own hearts.

Set in 1980’s Stockholm it follows 12 year old best friends Klara (Mira Grosin) and Bobo (Mira Barkhammar). Caught at that difficult age between the naivety of childhood and the illicit excitement of the teenage years, they share a love of punk and irrepressible energy. Discovering an all male band have booked out the rehearsal room at their local youth club, they decide to form their own band, primarily to irritate the boys. And despite possessing zero musical talent, our heroines pen a shouty ode entitled ‘Hate The Sport’, whose lyrics will resonate with anyone picked last for the school PE team. The Slits would have been proud.

But enthusiasm can only go so far. Realising their musical limitations, they rope in classmate Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne). A sensible, devout Christian, Hedvig isn’t an obvious partner in anarchy, but she is a demon on guitar.  Fully formed, the ladies set about advancing their musical career with a succession of gigs, self-promotion and becoming groupies to a fellow Swedish punk band.

As an evocation of youthful friendship, it’s a delight. Played with complete naturalism by the three girls, it captures the exuberance and do-or-die defiance of their tender ages. Slyly humorous, it hits just the right tone of gentle irony, observing their foibles without mocking. And with a soundtrack of pogo-tastic and often hilarious punk gems, including the magnificently titled ‘Brezhnev and Reagan, F*ck Off’, what’s not to like? Stick a safety pin through your nose and swear your way to your local theatre.

In the mood for some more music? Try Twenty Feet From Stardom.

UK release 18 April

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Muppets Most Wanted. The European Tour.

muppetOh, but this was a hotly anticipated 1 hour and 48 minutes of The Sloth’s life. We’ve loved The Muppets since we were knee high to a grasshopper, so to see them so brilliantly rebooted in 2011’s The Muppets gave us great joy. Would this live up to the same lofty heights?

The Muppets are down on their luck. Their 2011 comeback was followed by a big comedown and they’re out of favour with the public. Enter international tour manager extraordinaire, Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais). Badguy, “it’s pronounced ‘Bad-gee’. It’s French”, wants to turn their fortunes around, promising to take them on a sell out, global tour. Swept up with enthusiasm, the gang accept his offer and are soon off to their first gig in Berlin.

But, blow The Sloth down with a feather, Badguy is not all he seems. Actually in cahoots with master criminal Constantine, aka The World’s Most Dangerous Frog, the two are hatching a plan to bust Constantine out of his incarceration in a remote Siberian jail and embark on a robbery of global significance.

From this point on, you know the drill.  There will be sporadic bursts into song, gleefully silly humour involving explosions and daft accents (most marvellously epitomised by Ty Burrell channelling his best Inspector Clouseau as Interpol agent Jean Pierre Napoleon) and a never-ending roll of blink-and-you’ll-miss-them superstar cameos – we particularly liked P-Diddy holding court at a Muppet poker game.

Jolly japes aside, one thing The Muppets have always done fantastically well is subtle satire. So to kick off with a song and dance number lampooning the Hollywood machine’s calculated love of a sequel is marvellous. Now there are those, perhaps South Park fans, who would sniff that this is satire with a small s, not packing sufficient canine incisored bite. To them, The Sloth would argue that without The Muppets there would be no South Park. Long live Kermit and all who sail in him.

UK release 28 March. DVD release 4 August.Keen to revisit more of your youth? Check out The Lego Movie.

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In A World. Of Humidifiers And Lozenges And Vocal Exercises.

world bigThis took The Sloth back to our childhood. Plonked in cinema row F, clutching Butterkist and an Orange Panda Pop, squinting through the fag smoke at the movie trailers. Cue that unmistakable gravelly voice: “In a woooorld…”

Lake Bell is Carol, voice coach and daughter of Sam (Fred Melamed). Sam is one of Tinseltown’s ‘Big 5’ voiceover artists, sexist, selfish, egotistical and with little time for Carol or her sister Dani (Michaela Watkins), preferring to hang out at industry parties making catty remarks about his competitors’ Just For Men hair dye commercials.

All is well in Sam’s world until Carol starts muscling in on his territory. Having recorded an off-the-cuff voiceover, Carol is ‘spotted’ from on high by a producer keen to resurrect the hallowed ‘In a wooooorld…’ movie trailer introduction for an upcoming Quadriliogy (no, that’s not a typo) of epic, female-led action movies. At this point, most fathers would be proud of their daughter. Not Sam. Furious that both he and Gustav (Ken Marino), the younger voice-over artist Sam has already anointed as his progeny, could be passed over by a woman, he sets out to reclaim his vocal-chord turf.

With romantic sub-plots on the side for both Carol and Dani, it veers a little off track into sitcom at times, but overall it’s a sweet and clever ensemble comedy that allows all characters equal weight. More importantly, it makes depressingly astute points about sexism in Hollywood and beyond. Interspersed with a cameo from Eva Longoria channelling a ‘British’ accent to rival Dick Van Dyke, as well as sketchy side stories of a squeaky female lawyer and casual racism from Hollywood big wigs, it shows how much we consciously and unconsciously judge people by their voices. Food, plus a honey & lemon gargle, for thought.

UK release 13 September

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The Way Way Back. You Can Choose Your Friends…

wayAh, the awkward early teenage years. The Sloth for one is glad they’re over. The Way Way Back brings memories of all that gawky ineptitude flooding back, featuring a youth even more pained than most.

Duncan is 14. His mother, Pam (Toni Collette) is well meaning but weak willed. Pam is separated from Duncan’s father with an overbearing, manipulative new boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carrell at his most obnoxious). Our not-so-happy trio, plus Trent’s daughter Susanna, are taking a fake-family trip to Trent’s holiday home, which Duncan is looking forward to as much as a hole in the head. Although we’re elaborating on his behalf here, as Duncan is the most morosely silent screen teen we’ve seen in a while.

Having suffered ‘advice’ from Trent en route on how to stop being a loser, Duncan understandably isn’t keen to hang around the house. Heading out to explore, he encounters Owen (Sam Rockwell), the chirpy chappy owner of the local Water Wizz water park. Owen is a one-man charisma machine, flirting with staff, fist-bumping the regulars and trailing a Pied Piper pack of adoring kids behind him. Duncan is smitten and Owen, who has substance behind the charm, recognises an unhappy soul in need of TLC.

And so begins the classic coming-of-age story. By day, Duncan blossoms, taking a job at the park and learning vital people skills including how to delay girls standing in line for the waterslide to get a better view – the cad! By night, ‘family’ life deteriorates further, with Trent’s true colours coming to the fore and Pam forced to choose where her loyalties lie.

It’s a heartwarming, sweet and frequently laugh-out-loud funny, thanks to Sam Rockwell’s scene stealing turn as the irrepressible Owen. Bond with your date over reliving that youthful angst, then be very glad you’re both adults.

UK release 30 August

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The World’s End. Time Gentleman Please.

worldDoubtless you, like The Sloth, loved Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz. Unfortunately The World’s End doesn’t reach the dizzy Alpine peaks of Shaun, nor the Midi-Pyrénées slopes of Hot Fuzz (The Sloth is currently following the Tour De France), but you’re presumably itching to know more, so we’re putting it out here for you anyway.

The World’s End is a paean to that British institution: The Pub Crawl. Obnoxious idiot Gary (Simon Pegg) wants to reunite his old school chums for another bash at the ‘Golden Mile’ 12 pub showdown they failed at aged 16. Argumentative, immature and pushing 40 but wearing the same Sisters Of Mercy t-shirt and silver Goth jewellery he did as a teenager, if he invited you out, presumably you would decline. However his buddies Andrew (Nick Frost), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Peter (Eddie Marsan) and Steven (Paddy Considine) all reluctantly agree and schlep back to their hometown.

A drunken fight with stony faced teenagers in a pub toilet reveals to our gang that something has gone badly awry in sleepy Newton Haven. Said teenager’s heads unexpectedly pop off, revealing blue blood and mechanical, regenerating limbs. The sensible option would be to run for the hills but, now several pints to the wind, they decide to continue forthwith to the next boozer.

We watched it sober. In retrospect, this was a bad move as the experience would probably be enhanced with some viewer participation. Like a pub crawl, the first half hour drags somewhat as we acclimatise to our fellow drinkers and muse how that idiot from school is still a total waste of space. Then once the first couple of drinks have settled, things start to pick up.

It does have some funny moments – Eddie Marsan’s longed-for revenge on a childhood bully made The Sloth laugh out loud – it’s just not the fitting end that The Cornetto Trilogy deserves. Don’t go expecting too much and have a few bevvies beforehand to get in the spirit(s).

UK release 19 July

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Populaire. Rocky. For Typists.

pop newSweet and fluffy as candyfloss, French comedy Populaire is about as substantial, but it certainly looks pretty while you’re eating it.

Romain Duris is Louis, a proper 1950’s boss. He wears three piece suits, has an excellent, moody glower, chain-smokes and refers to everything female as ‘Pumpkin’. Louis needs a new secretary. Ostensibly she must be a fast typist, but mainly she has to look good when bending over to pick up a conveniently dropped file. Cue Déborah Françoise as Rose. Blonde, ditsy, partial to a flower print frock and cute ponytail, Rose also has a unique typing technique. Using only two fingers she motors through letters twice as quick as anyone else employing all ten.

This gives Louis An Idea. Evidently, in the 1950’s, Speed Typing competitions were as wildly popular as X Voice Factor Academy is now. Who knew? Louis sees championship material in Rose and sets about coaching her. Piano lessons for nimble fingers, running to improve stamina and even, gasp! moving her into his house to maximise her training hours, scandalising the local gossips.

Now it doesn’t take a genius to work out Louis and Rose will soon form a connection stronger than Rose’s well-muscled index fingers. But that’s hardly the point. The point is the kitschy delight taken in everything 50’s retro – chrome cars, winged specs, men in pastel suits singing the Cha-Cha-Cha –  where men were men and women swooned at their feet. Now The Sloth doesn’t for one second condone any of that hideously outdated sexism, but we did have momentary fun putting our imaginary feet up on our imaginary big desk, swilling a large whiskey and declaring “Take a letter, Ms Jones…”

UK release 31 May

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The Hangover Part III. The Designated Driver Road Trip.

hangoverThe Sloth considered getting into the spirit of this review by downing Tequila, frequenting Stringfellow’s Angels, then vomiting over unsuspecting foreign tourists emerging from Singing’ In The Rain, but decided the ensuing headache would negate any additional insight.

We were concerned about Hangover III. Hangover I was funny. Hangover II was identical but not funny. Happily, they’ve learned their lesson and Hangover III is different. And most importantly, funny.

We reunite with Phil, Stu, Alan and Doug, aka The Wolfpack, at the funeral of Alan’s dad. The years have not been kind to Alan, who was hardly an aspirational figure to start with. Still living at home and demanding Oreo milkshakes from Mom, his peers decide to stage An Intervention, taking him off for psychiatric treatment for his own good. But en route to hospital the merry band are run off the road and kidnapped by gun toting gangsters headed up by John Goodman. Turns out Alan’s pal, the notorious Mr Chow, has stolen large wodges of gold from John who figures The Wolfpack can go track Chow down and save him the hassle.

Cue ensuing mayhem. Which strangely enough involves no hangovers whatsoever but does involve Vegas, Thai prison riots, giraffes, angry chickens and Alan finally meeting his match. Playing out like Hangover: The Road Trip Reunion, The Sloth was delighted to catch up with Heather Graham and Carlos the Baby. And even more delighted to see Alan’s barely suppressed homoerotic crush on Phil still smouldering. Enjoy with or without Tequila.

UK release 24 May

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