Hail, Caesar! Hollywood On Hollywood.

hailcaesarposterHollywood adores a movie about Hollywood, not that La La Land is shallow and self-obsessed or anything. And not, of course, because a movie about Hollywood is dead easy to make, being on its own doorstep. No need to faff about hiring mini-vans to lug all those pesky cameras around. The latest addition to the naval-gazing cannon is Hail, Caesar! the Coen Brother’s tribute to the hand that feeds it.

 

Set in the 1950’s when Hollywood’s Golden Age was in full swing, Hail, Caesar! chronicles the trials and tribulations of big cheese studio head Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin).  Eddie chews cigars in a monstrous office and marches around the studio lot barking orders at his long suffering assistant while trying to keep the egos and careers of his stars in check. We meet DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), an angel on screen and foul-mouthed, fast talking diva off-screen; temperamental director Laurence Laurentz (a fabulous Ralph Fiennes channelling his Grand Budapest Hotel comedy spirit) and the studio’s hottest star, the amiable and ever so slightly dim Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), inconveniently kidnapped by a secret clan of Communist screenwriters whilst filming biblical epic Hail, Caesar!

 

Rambling and rambunctious, it’s less narrative story than a series of comic sketches, jumping around from character to character and back to an increasingly frazzled Eddie. Which sounds somewhat shaggy and unstructured but it fizzes with so much feel good energy you’re happy to go with the flow.  Especially when said sketches include an entirely gratuitous and fabulously camp song and tap dance routine from a back-flipping Channing Tatum in a sailor suit.  Frankly, if that doesn’t bring a smile to your face then you’re just no fun. The Coens have trodden this ground before (see Barton Fink) but never with such silly humour nor with a cast so obviously revelling in their OTT characters. Hollywood on Hollywood has rarely been such a delight.

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Lucy. 100% Bonkers.

LUVYThe Sloth loves a kick-ass female lead. The Bride from Kill Bill, Ripley in Alien, you get the drift. So Lucy, a sci-fi-esq tale of a female assassin from the director of Leon (one of the best films EVER), sounded right up our street.

Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is having a bad day, forced to deliver a briefcase with unknown but presumably dodgy contents to notorious criminal Mr Jang (Min-sik Choi).  Mr Jang, who surrounds himself with gun wielding mobsters and splices and dices anyone he doesn’t like, is a drug smuggler who transports his wares inside the stomachs of human mules, of whom Lucy is to be the next.

However, a technical hitch occurs in transit. One of Lucy’s intestinal packages bursts open, flooding her system with Jang’s drug, a wonder-product that allows humans to utilise all 100% of their brain capacity. Cue a cut to The Science Bit: Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) lecturing college students on the heights man could potentially reach if we employed more than the pathetic 20% or so that we actually use. Design self-slicing kebabs, that kind of thing.

Literally pumped full of drugs, Lucy develops an increasing array of astounding human super-powers as her brain capacity steadily rises. Unfortunately, this coincides with a mirrored decline in her empathy and emotional skills. No matter. Wired and intent on revenge against Jang, Super-Lucy still takes time to rope in Professor Norman to study and record her ground-breaking cerebral experience for the Greater Human Good.

Don’t try to make any sense of this. Switching rapidly between high octane action thriller and bonkers pseudo-intellectual scientific theorising, we suspect The Science Bit would hold less water than Rab C Nesbitt’s string vest. But that doesn’t matter. Like spending an afternoon with a toddler high on tartrazine, it’s wildly energetic, hugely entertaining and pays zero attention to conventional logic. Plus which, Scarlett makes a cracking super-human heroine. Enjoy. Then have a lie down.

UK release 22 August

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

captain-america-the-winter-soldier-uk-poster (1)Marvel aren’t half on a roll. Having perfected a mixture of high octane action and dry one-liners, they’re churning them out quicker than you can say ‘Tony Stark’. Latest to join the family fold is Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Chris Evans buffs up his All-American quarterback looks for his second outing as the good Cap’n. Having acclimatised to his laboratory induced super-strength, he’s now struggling to come to terms with the modern world. Aged 95 (and looking marvellous for it – whatever moisturiser he’s using, The Sloth wants a large vat) he’s been too busy helping his employers, Shield, see off bad guys to have much leisure time, chalking up a cultural ‘To-Do’ list that includes watching the 1966 world cup final and listening to Marvin Gaye.

However his self-improvement has to take a back seat as Cap’n is called up for a new mission by his boss Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson – devoid of Kangol hat but replete with a natty eye-patch).  Despatched with other agents including colleague The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to save the crew of a container ship taken hostage by pirates, Cap’n soon realises the mission may not be as straightforward as it seems.

It packs all the requisite big action set pieces and sly wit we’ve come to expect, along with an unexpected and quite pointed critique of our contemporary, all-controlling society. Add a top supporting cast, including Anthony Mackie as The Falcon and the slickly suited and booted Robert Redford as head of Shield, Alexander Pierce (is there any man who wears a three piece suit with such effortless sartorial flair as Robert?  We’d gladly spend 90 minutes just watching him adjust his snow white cuffs) and we were happily entertained. The fanboy next to The Sloth was quite overcome as the end credits rolled, repeatedly gasping ‘oh wow’ to no-one in particular. We can’t guarantee the earth will similarly move for you, but the 3-D glasses might make you a little dizzy.

UK release 28 March

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Under The Skin. White Van (Wo)Man

under theFor our male readers, we’ll sum this up in three words: Scarlett Johansson naked.  There, you’ve dropped everything and are now sprinting to the nearest multiplex. Female readers, let’s continue.

Scarlett is an alien who has landed on Earth. Specifically, the outskirts of Glasgow. Here we could make all sorts of jokes about her fitting right into The Gorbals, but we won’t. Naked (and refreshingly un-Hollywood skinny), she peels stonewash drainpipe jeans and a fake fur jacket from a female corpse handily knocking around in the gutter.

Suitably kitted out, Scarlett procures herself a white van and cruises the night time streets. On spotting single men she pulls over and, in a cut glass English accent, winsomely proclaims herself lost. On the pretext of helping with directions, she invites them to hitch a ride. Clearly, they never listened to their mothers about accepting lifts from strangers. Cutting to a surreal, blacked-out alternative world, the chosen men follow an alluring Scarlett to their deaths in a pool of viscous liquid. Her predatory path continues until she picks up a badly disfigured man, whose shyness seems to trigger some level of alien compassion.

This may be the most deliberately opaque and out-there film The Sloth has seen. Nothing is explained. We don’t know where she’s come from or why she targets the men – lust? food? There is scant dialogue and an oppressive, menacing score. Visually disjointed, it jumps confusingly from abstract images to the grey, drab, urban Glasgow streets. Evidently concerned with the shady morals of sexual power play, it may be more at home in an art gallery than a cinema, such is its obliqueness. It fascinated us, disturbed us, bored us and annoyed us in equal measures. You may love it, you may hate it, but you will certainly remember it. One thing’s for sure, those male readers now eagerly plonked in their local Odeon are not getting what they expected. Mwah ha ha haaah.

UK release 14 March. A bit too avant-garde? Want something dark, but slightly more accessible? Try Only Lovers Left Alive.

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Her. Computer Says Yes.

herThe Sloth recalls reading a Russell Hoban novel which pondered life “before people walked the streets talking into little telephones”. Recently, we were in Hong Kong where an automated voice on the tube instructed passengers not to stare at their smartphones while riding the escalators. Her, for all its premise of being set in the near future, presents a world only the teeniest step from our technology obsessed present.

Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), yes that really is his name, is employed by handwrittenletters.com to pen emotional, old fashioned correspondence on behalf of clients who can’t be bothered to do it themselves. Separated from his wife he lives alone, with the odd visit from a neighbour for company. Upgrading his computer one day, Theodore installs a new operating system. Step forward Samantha (huskily voiced by Scarlett Johansson), the cyber assistant to cater to your every need. Samantha manages Theodore’s diary, proof reads his work and sorts his emails. But she is far more than a glorified PA. Artificially intelligent, Samantha is programmed to continually evolve in response to her operator. The trouble is, she does this a little too well.

Soon Samantha is filling the void in Theodore’s emotional life. He takes her ‘out’ with him via her inbuilt camera and chats to her through an earpiece. All that’s missing from Samantha being a ‘real’ girlfriend is flesh and blood. Or so you’d think. For after an awkward sexual encounter (The Sloth will leave you to ponder that one), Theodore and Samantha announce, to the nonplussed reaction of Theodore’s friends, that they are officially In A Relationship.

Now this might sound farcically comic, but it’s actually rather touching in the best Blade Runner replicants tradition. The relationship between Theodore and Samantha is sweet, convincing and at times heartbreaking, particularly as Samantha laments her lack of a body. Most of all, it makes a sobering point about how disconnected we are becoming from real human interaction. You can’t say that about your average rom com.

UK release 14 February

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Don Jon. A Contemporary Casanova.

don j 2Picture the scene. A Hollywood mogul’s office. Joseph ‘I’m Not Just An Indie Actor, I Was In Dark Knight Rises and Inception’ Gordon-Levitt is clutching a script in his sweaty paw. Mogul is chuffing on a fat Cuban (cigar, not human) and swilling bourbon.

JGL: ‘So I’ve written this film that I want to direct. It’s about a guy who watches loads of porn and sleeps with Sexiest Younger Woman In The WorldTM  Scarlett Johannson and Sexiest Older Woman In The WorldTM Julianne Moore. Whadday think?”

Mogul: “Sounds great, kid.  Who’s the lucky guy that gets to star?”

JGL: “Er, me?”

Now you may scoff, but this conversation actually happened. OK, maybe not word for word, but in some shape or form because essentially, this is Don Jon.

Don (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a bit of a jerk. He hangs around bars with his oafish mates rating girls from 1-10 and sleeping with those deemed sufficiently attractive. Till one day the divine Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) appears. Don is smitten and, after a hot pursuit, snags the apparent girl of his dreams.  Don also has a guilty secret. Don is addicted to porn and can’t relate his hyper-real internet world to the actual reality of love and relationships. Girlfriend or no girlfriend, Don can’t resist the lure of his computer screen.

Luckily, help is at hand from Esther, an older woman Don meets at nightschool. Accidentally discovering Don’s distasteful habit, Esther finds it hilarious and sets about trying to educate him.

This isn’t an easy subject and the squeamish might find some scenes a little too frank. But it’s impressively honest in its confrontation of a topic generally swept under the carpet, making astute points about the effects of the prevalence of internet pornography. It’s also very funny in places, with JGL and Scarlett launching into the New Joisey twang of their (very pretty but slightly dense) characters with gleeful aplomb. If you’re up for something a bit bracing, give it a go.

UK release 15 November    UK DVD release 24 March

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