Thursday 17 October 2019

Film of the week: The Sisters Brothers

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Joaquin Phoenix and John C Reilly in The Sisters Brothers
Joaquin Phoenix and John C Reilly in The Sisters Brothers
Sarah Carroll

Some films are plot driven, others character driven and these latter ones rise or fall on the work of the actors.

Jacques Audiard's wonderful, layered, funny and dark western is a case in point. It does have a plot but that comes second to the characters played by four of the best actors currently working.

Each one of them is excellent in very different roles but this is John C Reilly's show.

The Sisters brothers Eli and Charlie (Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix) are assassins in Oregon in 1851. They're gormless, funny, argumentative and deeply loyal to each other. Charlie seems to enjoy his work and cannot imagine any other life, Eli however appears more conflicted, half hankering over a simpler and more honest way of life. But the brothers are just different shades of ruthless. The plot, adapted by Audiard and Thomas Bidegain from Patrick DeWitt's novel, revolves around their latest job which sees them dispatched by their regular employer, the Commodore (Rutger Hauer), to kill Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed). The Sisters brothers however are just killers, the job of finding Hermann falls to gentlemanly detective John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal).

Naturally, this simple plan does not go smoothly.

It is a traditional western in many ways, beginning with the detailed setting in a Gold Rush country in transition with incipient civilisation and modernity. There is loyalty, family, justice but these traditional themes are taken a little deeper and turned.

It is also incredibly male, but unlike other films where characters might just as easily be one gender or another, the maleness doesn't grate because it befits the time and story. The film is beautifully shot and the details make it really atmospheric, I was grateful I couldn't smell them. It is often funny but gets quite dark at one point. However, the actors really do make it something special, each pitches their part perfectly and Riz Ahmed gives another example of why his career is taking off. Most people should like this, I certainly did. ★★★★ Aine O'Connor



Cert: 12A; Now showing

We can all agree Superman is as boring as superheroes get, something confirmed by DC's recent (and widely panned) attempts to go up against the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Shazam, a superhuman caped crusader who is the alter ego of a teenage boy, could be just the ticket to liven things up, especially given that this update seems designed to speak to today's smarmy zeitgeist.

Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is the tearaway plonked in the umpteenth foster home at age 14 with a motley crew of other orphans.

An encounter with a wizard (Djimon Hounsou) sees him able to transform into a muscle-bound, lycra-clad Adonis (Zachary Levi) with incredible powers following a yelped "shazam".

But Billy is reluctant to take on the mantle, preferring to stay young and reckless rather than learn to wield his powers responsibly.

All that changes with the introduction of Mark Strong's evil doctor who is hell-bent on power.

Blatant nods to Big and Ghostbusters sit amid your usual superhero origins story, and in those places where director David F. Sandberg shows us a kid negotiating high school and indulging in comic fantasy with best pal Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), there is an old-school charm to things.

It all bellyflops however when lightning strikes and we have to put up with the tiresome Levi, whose depiction does not chime sufficiently with Angel's, resembling more a giant clown than a 14-year-old motherless lad.

Shazam! is also not nearly as funny as it thinks it is. By the finale and the customary walloping of CGI monsters, you've had more than enough. ★★ Hilary A White


Pet Sematary

Cert: 16; Now showing

There is an obvious joke to be made about Pet Sematary being brought back from the dead to terrorise a new generation, but reverence is surely more appropriate at this time. Stephen King's 1983 resurrection screamathon is regarded to this day as a landmark in modern horror and arguably the title most associated with the US typewriter demigod. In 2019, its theme of Faustian corner-cutting and gnarly feline action somehow seem tailor-made for the Instagram generation.

Jason Clarke's dour expression is perfect as Louis Creed, the city doctor relocating to the sticks with his family. There is initial bemusement when he, wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz), daughter Ellie (Jete Laurence) and son Gage happen upon a cemetery in the woods where locals bury their beloved animals. In doing so, they also meet grizzled neighbour Jud (John Lithgow), who clearly knows more than he's letting on when the bumps in the night begin.

Directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer and writers Jeff Buhler and Matt Greenberg give King's nightmare a spring clean and the results are grimly effective. Meow! ★★★★ Hilary A White


The Limit Of

Cert: 15A; Now showing 

Sarah Carroll

Mayo man Alan Mulligan had more than just a story in mind when he started writing his debut film feature, he had a whole concept about life, debt and limitations. It is an interesting and ambitious concept and while the independently financed end result doesn't entirely deliver on the promise, it does ask questions and make you think.

James Allen (Laurence O'Fuarain) works in a Dublin bank towards the end of the last recession. It is an institution known for its ruthlessness towards customers and while presumably James has been happy enough to be part of this, a couple of things happen to change his mind, chiefly that his mother (Ally Ni Chiarain) has a stress-induced stroke. Something snaps in James and he hatches a plan, one which his attractive but odd co-worker Alison (Sarah Carroll) tries to get in on.

Mulligan has a clear vision for how he wants his film to look, it's sterile, dark, emotionally restrained, a bleakness stylistically reminiscent of Shame but at times it was style over substance and the brooding silences were too frequent. I could have done with a bit more clarity around some of the plot details and the characters and there was a sexual tone in places that I didn't like, other viewers felt it added something, however, so it is a question of opinion.

The premise of the film is great; who doesn't like a nice bank kicking story? It doesn't always deliver but it does keep you wondering. I look forward to seeing what Alan Mulligan does next. ★★★ Aine O'Connor


Five Feet Apart

Cert: 12A; Now showing

Ireland has the highest per capita proportion of cystic fibrosis in the world.

The thousands of people affected by the disease are best placed to settle the debate about whether using it as the basis for a film plot is informative or exploitative. That debate notwithstanding, the film is a not bad exemplar of the sub genre, teen illness-based love story.

Stella (Haley Lu Richardson) is a 17-year-old CF patient who is meticulous about her meds and lifestyle, she very much wants to be well enough for any lung transplant that could improve her life expectancy. In the hospital which has become her second home she meets CF rebel Will (Cole Sprouse) who has a bacterial infection that makes him, and anyone he infects, ineligible for a transplant.

After a tetchy start, wouldn't you know it, Stella and Will fall in love, but his infection means they must remain five feet apart.

In the grand tradition of Love Story and The Fault in Our Stars this is high emotion stuff with the requisite mopey ballad soundtrack.

It's got a pretty specific target audience of, profile/stereotype alert, teenage girls, and they should be happy. Or happily sad. ★★★ Aine O'Connor


Missing Link

Cert: PG; Now showing

Animation has long needed a hero who is a cross between Indiana Jones and Sherlock Holmes. Or so felt writer/ director Chris Butler, and this is what led him to create Sir Lionel Frost. Butler's belief that a story about companionship would work, too, gave rise to Missing Link, a stop-motion adventure, much lighter in tone but just as visually perfect as Laika studios' previous features like Coraline and Paranorman. Star-studded, funny and beautiful, it's a lovely thing with broad appeal.

Mr Link (Zach Galifianakis) is the solitary Sasquatch who is tired of being alone. Silly, but clever, he dreams of travelling to visit his long-lost relatives, the Yetis, who live in Shangri-La. All he needs is a companion. Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) is finding it difficult to get other people to believe he is the world's most stupendous investigative adventurer. All he needs is a mission. Together they have a quest, and Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana) has a map so off the trio set.

Stephen Fry and David Walliams add their voices, and, although the script is not as good as the visuals, the film works well on lots of levels and has a kind message.  ★★★★ Aine O'Connor

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