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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Birdman. Or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance

birdman-clickWhy are briefs such a comical undergarment when displayed on the male form? Put them on any man and they are instant shorthand for ‘pathetic’. A point not lost on the director of Birdman.

Riggan (Michael Keaton) is a washed up actor. In his prime he starred as ‘Birdman’, a movie superhero popular with audiences but disparaged by critics. Like most Hollywood egos, Riggan’s is fragile and the years of critical condemnation have done their damage to his mental state. Depressed and prone to hearing the cantankerous, disembodied voice of his ‘Birdman’ alter ego, Riggan is attempting to claw back some credibility by directing and starring in a Broadway play.

For a successful play you need a great star so Riggan is hiring the preening, volatile, acclaimed method ac-tooor Mike (Edward Norton), plus needy supporting actresses Laura (Andrea Riseborough) and Lesley (Naomi Watts). Add to his plate a daughter Sam (Emma Stone) fresh out of rehab and waspish theatre critic Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan) who has the knives out for Riggan and you could say he’s feeling somewhat stressed. Can Riggan pull his cast, and himself, together to make sure it’s all right on the night? Frankly, it’s not looking good…

Set in the theatre in the run up to opening night, Birdman is a phenomenally clever piece of filmmaking. After a while (Sloths are slow animals…), we realised most of the film is evidently one long, continuous, real time tracking shot. The handheld camera wanders the theatre corridors, emerges onstage to capture a rehearsal, follows an actor exiting off stage, whirls around to enter a dressing room.  We simply couldn’t spot where (surely) one take ended and another began. But this is no realistic docu-drama, rather it’s surreal, darkly comic, satirical and often touching, largely down to Michael Keaton’s tremendous performance – it’s no stretch of imagination to spot the parallels between Riggan’s career and Keaton’s own. To take on a role partially satirising yourself must take courage.

Oh, and the briefs? At points both Ed Norton and Michael Keaton gamely parade themselves in their smalls and yes, both look pigeon-chested, bandy legged, scrawny limbed idiots.  Gentleman, for that alone, The Sloth salutes you.

UK release 1 January 2015

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St Vincent. Everybody Needs Good Neighbours.

o-ST-VINCENT-POSTER-900.jpgThe Sloth had almost forgotten Bill Murray starred in Ghostbusters. How long ago does that feel? For so many years now he’s been the go-to actor for misanthropic anti-heroes. St Vincent is no exception.

Bill plays Vin. Vin is a misanthropic curmudgeon who lives alone with his cat and a permanent glass of bourbon. He gets ‘serviced’ at regular intervals by Daka (Naomi Watts) a Russian ‘lady-of-the-night’ who works at the local girly bar and is also having his baby. Vin’s preferred solitude is rudely interrupted by the arrival of divorced new neighbour Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her school age son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher).  Finding himself locked out of home when he returns from school one day, Oliver invites himself into Vin’s home to wait for his mum. Eyeing him suspiciously, Vin feeds him sardines and crackers whilst mentally totting up a babysitting invoice. Oliver needs an after school babysitter, Vin needs money and so begins a relationship of convenience.

Now you don’t need a crystal ball to figure the grumpy old man and the naive young boy will soon form an unlikely (likely…) bond. And that Vin’s misanthropy is a façade hiding pain at a very deep level.  And that the relationship of convenience will soon become genuine.

On paper St Vincent is hugely clichéd. Take the character roll call. We have: The Grumpy Curmudgeon; The Tart With A Heart; The Underdog Kid; The Divorced Single Mom; all present and correct. And the familiar themes of father figures and growing up. But it also detours down genuinely touching side alleys. Adding in the sheer force of Mr Murray’s marvellous cycnicism – if you cut him, would he not bleed caustic acid? – it quickly sucks you in with sheer watchableness.  What’s not to like about Vin shamelessley forcing a juvenile to mow his woeful excuse for a lawn whilst he reclines with booze ‘n’ fags? When The Sloth grows up, we want to be a foul tempered alcoholic who swears at cold callers and exploits child labour. Much more fun.

UK release 5 December

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