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Non-Review Review: The Sisters Brothers

This film was seen as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2019. Given the high volumes of films being shown and the number of reviews to be written, these may end up being a bit shorter than usual reviews.

The Sisters Brothers is a charming and deeply unfocused modern western.

Adapted from Patrick deWitt’s novel of the same time, The Sisters Brothers is a tale of two bounty hunters at work on the frontier. Working for the mysterious (and ominous) “Commodore”, Charlie and Eli Sisters are men of violence who stalk the wilderness in search of those who have wronged (or, to quote Charlie, “victimised”) their employer. However, the film is about more than just that. As with so many westerns, it is a story of encroaching modernity and civilisation atop a foundation of brutality and violence, and efforts to navigate the liminal space between the two.

Brothers’ keepers.

The Sisters Brothers works best when it focuses on its core cast, especially the eponymous murderous siblings played by Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly. There is an appealing tragedy to these two men and how they face the changing times. Charlie seems unwilling to acknowledge civilisation and society, revelling in debauchery and indulgence. Eli imagines himself capable of the sort of change that such a transition would demand from him. Pheonix and Reilly layer their performances in contradictions and nuance, suggesting life beneath the archetypes.

However, The Sisters Brothers is simply too unfocused and too meandering to completely work. This is particularly apparent when the film indulges in any number of narrative diversions, or when the film eschews its core narrative altogether to embrace a more philosophical perspective. The Sisters Brothers has great ideas, but those ideas tend to diffuse without a strong narrative structure around them. The Sisters Brothers often feels in need of a tighter edit and a strong script polish, which is a shame considering the strengths that it demonstrates otherwise.

Shore thing.

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Non-Review Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy hits a few bumps along the way, but it works very well.

The key to this would seem to be James Gunn. Like the best of the Marvel comic adaptations, Guardians of the Galaxy is a film that manages to find its own unique authorial voice amid the cross-pollination of Marvel’s vast cinematic universe. Like Shane Black on Iron Man 3, Kenneth Branagh on Thor or Jon Favreau on Iron Man, James Gunn manages to put his own unique stamp on Guardians of the Galaxy – a film that remains compellingly personal amid the apocalyptic 9/11 imagery.

Lighting the way...

Lighting the way…

While the film suffers from some of the structural weaknesses that are typical of Marvel’s blockbusters, its strengths come from the director and co-writer. Although set in a vast universe with epic stakes and impossible odds, Guardians of the Galaxy works best when it focuses on its characters, whether the human Peter Quill (with his “outlaw name” Star Lord), the killing machine Drax, the sentient and sensitive tree Groot, the racoon named Rocket or the prodigal daughter named Gamora.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a film that introduces itself to the image of Peter Quill dancing beneath the logo, to the tune of Fooled Around and Fell In Love by Elvin Bishop, playing from a cassette labelled “Awesome Mix, Vol. 1.” That is all you need to know.

Gotta dance...

Gotta dance…

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Non-Review Review: Wreck It Ralph

Wreck It Ralph is a charming animated film, and one with all manner of interesting ideas. It teases a fascinating take on the archetypal children’s movie narrative – the notion that perhaps roles in stories cannot be so easily devolved into “good guy” and “bad guy” stereotypes. It raises all manner of insightful possibilities, drawing on a diverse cast of characters to offer us what amounts to the story of two outcasts dealing with the fact that they don’t necessarily get to be part of narratives that might make them a hero.

Unfortunately, there’s only so far you can bend this sort of hero’s journey before it breaks – or snaps back in your face, if you’re watching a slapstick cartoon. Wreck It Ralph compromises a bit too much in its final act, undermining a lot of what had been its appeal in order to offer a staggeringly conventional ending. It’s a shame, because it’s willingness to subvert so many narrative norms is a large part of the appeal of the film.

Sometimes life isn't two-dimensional...

Sometimes life isn’t two-dimensional…

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Non-Review Review: Jeff Who Lives at Home

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2012. As the movie’s getting a delayed Irish release this weekend, I thought I’d share it again.

There’s a common misconception about the films of Mark and Jay Duplass. It’s easy to confuse their films with comedies. Just look at the cast they assembled for Cyrus, including Jonah Hill and John C. Reilly (with Marisa Tomei taking home her Oscar for a comedic turn in My Cousin Vinny), or even the one they’ve gathered here. After all, Jason Segel is still most recognisable from How I Met Your Mother or The Muppets or Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Ed Helms’ filmography includes The Office and The Hangover and Cedar Rapids. While Jay and Mark Duplass include a wonderful amount of humour in their work, it tends to distract away from their core themes or ideas. Beneath the awkward triangle in Cyrus, there’s a coming-of-age family drama. Underneath the witty exterior of Jeff Who Lives at Home, there’s a sincere and optimistic romantic drama. And I’m a sucker for romantic drama.

Rub a dub dub, two men in a tub…

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Non-Review Review: Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids is a charming little film, even if it seems to struggle a bit blending its drama and its comedy. Despite unfolding at an insurance corporate conference, there’s a lot of very sincere and very earnest observations contained in the film, as we watch small-town insurance salesman Tim Lippe expand his world view. (Not just figuratively, but literally – the film features the character’s first trip on an airplane, for example.) While the movie’s sincerity and respect for the naive small-town operator lends the movie a bit of weight, the film struggles to balance that earnestness with a very immature sense of humour. The resulting cocktail isn’t always smooth, but it’s always fascinating, and director Miguel Arteta populates the film with a talented cast who help keep it all together.

It never really embraces its drama or its comedy...

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Non-Review Review: Jeff Who Lives at Home

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2012.

There’s a common misconception about the films of Mark and Jay Duplass. It’s easy to confuse their films with comedies. Just look at the cast they assembled for Cyrus, including Jonah Hill and John C. Reilly (with Marisa Tomei taking home her Oscar for a comedic turn in My Cousin Vinny), or even the one they’ve gathered here. After all, Jason Segel is still most recognisable from How I Met Your Mother or The Muppets or Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Ed Helms’ filmography includes The Office and The Hangover and Cedar Rapids. While Jay and Mark Duplass include a wonderful amount of humour in their work, it tends to distract away from their core themes or ideas. Beneath the awkward triangle in Cyrus, there’s a coming-of-age family drama. Underneath the witty exterior of Jeff Who Lives at Home, there’s a sincere and optimistic romantic drama. And I’m a sucker for romantic drama.

Rub a dub dub, two men in a tub...

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Non-Review Review: Carnage

Carnage is pretty much an excuse to watch four very skilled actors ripping chunks out of one another. What’s not to like?

This means Warhol!

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