A Most Violent Year. A Slippery Business.

a-most-violent-year-posterSome people are too clever for their own good. Take Oscar Issac. Not content with being a supremely talented musician and studying at the revered Juilliard School, he acted a stellar turn as n’er do well Llewyn Davis. ‘Well, that’s OK’, we thought, ‘the role was just an extension of his musical talent’. But now Oscar is back in serious drama A Most Violent Year. If he is good in this too, we will be sick.

It’s early 1980’s New York. Oscar plays Abel Morales, owner of a heating oil company on the brink of signing a deal for a large new storage plant to take his successful business to the next level. Married to coolly glamorous Brooklyn doll Anna (Jessica Chastain) and with two young girls and a stunning new house, all should be well in his world.

But it isn’t. Someone, presumably a rival company, has it in for Abel. His trucks are being hijacked, his drivers attacked and the police are taking an interest in the legitimacy of his profits. Unlike his dubious rivals Abel insists on doing everything by the book but, with his business and family threatened, finds the moral high ground increasingly hard to pursue.

Full of wintry New York skylines, mid-century modern interiors and self-conscious, considered dialogue, A Most Violent Year harks back to the classic gangster movies of the late 70’s. Yet this is an anti-gangster morality drama that asks how far can someone be pushed before their resolution breaks? Oscar, darn it, is stunningly good. Camel coated Abel is by turn a lone, passionate champion of morals and then slick charm personified, his hypnotically charismatic demonstration of how to close a sales deal practically had The Sloth reaching for our cheque book. Smartly scripted and prizing talk over action, this is a serious movie for grown ups.

NB may The Sloth take this time to suggest you go back and You Tube the sublime ‘Please Mr Kennedy’ song from Inside Llewyn Davis? We’re laughing just thinking about it, which reminds us again how good Oscar is. Please excuse us, we’re feeling a touch nauseous…

UK release 23 January

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Seduced And Abandoned. Those Who Cannes, Do.

seducedThe Sloth loves Alec Baldwin.  Like a fine wine, he gets mellower and rounder and fruitier each year. The spoof, but only part spoof, documentary Seduced and Abandoned sees him reaching probably his peak vintage.

Alec is at the Cannes Film Festival because he wants to make a movie. He has a director, James Caan (the Godfather one, not the Dragon). He has a script, of sorts. What he doesn’t have is money.  Movies don’t get made without money. More importantly, movies don’t get made unless they are going to make money.

Touting his script round the Cannes marketplace like a streethawker, Alec quickly finds that in Hollywood there is a ferocious pecking order. His first choice of leading lady, Neve Campbell, is denounced by all and sundry as C or D-list. But it’s not just Neve that is the problem. Alec himself is dismissed as a very small fish in a very big pond. Interspersed with talking heads from luminaries including Martin Scorsese, Frances Ford Coppola, Diane Kruger, Jessica Chastain and (a wonderfully dry) Ryan Gosling discussing the brutality of the system, it becomes clear there is no time for protecting fragile egos here.

Seduced And Abandoned is two things. Firstly, it is very funny. Furnished with surreal, larger than life characters that you really, truly, couldn’t make up and further embellished with Alec’s droll commentary, it skewers the utter ridiculousness of the movie machine. Secondly, it is fascinating. We learnt more about the slimey, underbelly workings of Hollywood in its 98 minutes than we ever knew before (and probably wanted to). Pour yourself a large glass of movie magic, sit back and savour.

UK release 8 November / UK DVD release 24 February

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