Sunday, February 10, 2019
I’ve always been a fan of westerns. Sadly the genre died out after a long period of TV fare that was almost all westerns. But occasionally a good one pops up in theaters like SILVERADO or DANCES WITH WOLVES. When I heard a new western was coming out called THE SISTERS BROTHERS I was curious as to what that would be.
Eli and Charlie Sisters (John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix) are two hitmen in the employ of a man only referred to as the Commodore (Rutger Hauer). The movie opens with them taking out someone the Commodore sent them to kill and then reporting to him for a new assignment. That job is to find Hermann Warm (Riz Ahmed) and kill him as well, the Commodore claiming he stole something from him.
The pair set out and their differences become apparent as they travel. For one, Eli wonders why so many people would choose to steal from someone as powerful as the Commodore, questioning the tasks they’ve been assigned. Charlie defends their employer. This shows how Eli is the thinker of the two and Charlie more one for action. As they travel another difference is the fact that much of what they do weighs on Eli while Charlie is slowly evolving into a raging alcoholic, drinking and starting fights at night when they hit towns.
The brothers are able to follow the path of Warm with the help of John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal), a writer and investigator for the Commodore. Traveling with a wagon train he befriends Warm while at the same time leaving messages along their trail for the Sisters brothers. He helps Warm purchase a horse and the duo head for Jacksonville. When Warm discovers what Morris is up to he knocks him unconscious and handcuffs him.
But Morris breaks free and takes Warm prisoner. It is then that Warm tells him his story, how he’s developed a formula that will make finding gold easier and that the Commodore wanted to steal it from him. Finding out the truth Morris frees Warm and the two become partners in this endeavor, continuing on west to the gold rush.
The brothers find their prey has left Jacksonville and is on their way to Mayfield and they pursue. When they arrive they’re greeted by Mrs. Mayfield herself who puts them up in rooms in her saloon. It isn’t long before Charlie is drunk and Eli begins wondering if Mayfield isn’t on the up and up. Sneaking Charlie out of their room they’re confronted in the stables by a group of men looking to make a reputation for themselves as the killers of the infamous Sisters brothers. It doesn’t end well for them.
The pair follow more clues taking them closer and closer to Warm and Morris. Along the path Eli continues to try and talk Charlie out of continuing on the way they have and Charlie remains adamant that he enjoys his lifestyle. What happens when they finally reach Warm and Morris takes the movie down a different path with and ending most won’t see coming.
Watching the film the first thing I loved was that the production took the time to get it right. I’ve seen far too many westerns in recent years where people seem to be wearing newly purchased store bought clothes rather than the weather beaten items that would have been worn at the time. It’s a small detail but it shows the depth the film maker is willing to go to make the movie seem real.
This film had a fell that this was the real west, not the manufactured Roy Rogers type we grew up with but not so far into gritty realism it couldn’t be enjoyed. Everything from the aforementioned costumes to the sets combined to make this a western in every sense of the word.
The acting is stupendous with a standout performance by Reilly. Not an actor with the stereotypical good looks one expects he brings life to the character of Eli. Phoenix also delivers a find performance making his character not one to hate but to feel pity for. Fans of Gyllenhaal will be slightly disappointed as his role while important takes a backseat to the main leads.
If your fans of the actors involved, of westerns, of movies that are willing to take a chance of going down a slightly different path than previously seen then this is a movie you’ll want to check out. It was one I enjoyed and know I would have no problem watching a second or even third time.
Most of us have grown up with the music of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” flowing through our minds and in our ears every Christmas season. The ballet around the music has been performed for decades and the story filmed in different ways from filming that ballet to involving Barbie in the mix. So to hear that a new version of the story was coming from Disney was no huge surprise. What is surprising is that rather than retell the story they’ve created their own based not on the ballet but on E.T.A. Hoffman’s short story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King". From that we are presented with THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS.
In Victorian London, England, the Stahlbaum family is preparing for Christmas. It will be their first without Mrs. Stahlbaum who passed away. On Christmas Eve each child is given a present that their mother left for them by their father (Matthew Macfadyen). The gift young Clara (Mackenzie Foy) receives is an ornate egg created by Mr. Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman) with a lock but no key.
The family goes to the annual Christmas Eve party hosted by Mr. Drosselmeyer, Clara’s godfather and stepfather to her mother. Drosselmeyer is a tinkerer, a man who knows how things work and who created many intricate items from clocks to toys. His home is like a museum with myriad rooms to venture in. He has Clara help him with a problematic toy, knowing her penchant to tinker with things much like himself. Before they can discuss the egg it becomes time for him to present all the children in attendance with their gifts.
Each child must follow a string from the garden tree to their gift. As Clara follows hers she finds herself transported to another world altogether. When she goes to take her gift, the key that she seeks, it is stolen by a mouse. She pursues the mouse until it cross the thin ice of a river. Clara goes to a bridge to cross as well and encounters Captain Philip Hoffman the Nutcracker (Jayden Fowora-Knight). When she tells him who she is, he realizes she is the daughter of Marie who was once the queen of the Four Realms. He escorts her to the main land among the four and introduces her to the rulers of 3 of the 4 realms.
They are comprised of the Sugar Plum Fairy of the Land of Sweets (Keira Knightley), Shivers of the Land of Snowflakes (Richard E. Grant), and Hawthorne of the Land of Flowers (Eugenio Derbez). They glowingly welcome her but inform her that the ruler of the fourth realm, Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren) is trying to dismantle everything her mother created. Only with her help can they restart the engine that will allow them to protect themselves. And that engine needs the same key that Clara is searching for.
The movie has a few plot twists that some will see coming an others will be stunned by. It weaves together the original story that Tchaikovsky created years ago along with the music he composed but in small doses rather than centering the entire tale around it. And the one piece that uses the most of his music tends visually to make one think of MOULIN ROUGE rather than the typical ballet with the style in which it’s presented. It still makes for an eye catching rendition.
But does it work? Well in many ways yes but not always. The movie feels like one I’d have to watch a second time to fully enjoy. There is so much to see here from the opening sequence that takes us on a flying journey of London via CGI to the various locations of the Four Realms. And the film moves along at breakneck speed with little time to stop and consider what is transpiring. There is a lack of depth to the characters with the exception of Clara which doesn’t hinder the film but leaves you wishing perhaps we had more of several of those characters as well.
With the movie coming out on disc as winter is supposed to be dwindling some might not want to purchase the film as the holiday is past. If you enjoyed it that would be a mistake. Or if you love having movies on hand when the Christmas holiday rolls around it would be a mistake not to add this one to it. It entertains and presents an opportunity to introduce the music to children who might not be exposed to it otherwise. And it also gives the entire family a chance to sit and watch an entertaining film together.
The themes in the film, the loss of the mother, the effect it has on not just Clara but her father and more will be things a family can use the film to open discussions to with their children. At the same time the various characters will make some laugh and some cry and some learn from. It’s a movie that is definitely worth adding to your collection.
Back when video ruled mom and pop stores across the country filled the shelves not just with the latest hits but made for video features that came about to fulfill the need for more product. Some of these were terrible and most were low budget but among them were some of the most inventive and interesting films you could find. Among those was the movie NEMESIS, directed by Albert Pyun and starring Olivier Gruner.
The movie takes place in 2027 and the world is completely different. Human beings have had their lives extended by replacing body parts with cybernetic enhancements and androids exist. Alex Raine (Gruner) is an enhanced assassin and bounty hunter who works for the LAPD. Disillusioned by the way the world is going he is wounded during a fight with a group called the Red Army Hammerheads. He takes most of them out but one escapes leaving him food for thought. He later tracks down this last android and kills her before leaving the LAPD and holing up in Baja. While there he is visited by his former lover and android Jaren (Marjorie Monaghan).
Time passes but the force won’t let him lie low and he is kidnapped and brought back for one last mission by his old boss Commissioner Farnsworth (Tim Thomerson). It seems Jaren has stolen classified information about a summit between the US and Japan and is planning to leak that information to the remnants of the Red Army Hammerheads. Farnsworth also informs Alex that during his last reconstruction a bomb was placed inside of him and is set to detonate in 3 days. He has that long to find Jared and retrieve the information.
Alex flies to the last known location for Jared in the south Pacific. There he meets Julian (Deborah Shelton), a friend of Jared’s who tells him what is really taking place. Synthetic androids are replacing the actual people in high government positions and Farnsworth is one of them. Jared was smuggling the information out to prove this when she was killed. But that evidence was stored onto her memory core. Julian injects him with a device to prevent the bomb inside of him from exploding at least until the androids can decode the device.
Attacked by Farnsworth and his team Alex escapes. He now has little time left to find the head of the Red Army Hammerheads and to pass along the information left him by Jared. With Farnworth and his team hot on his heels he sets out to do so, fighting along the way with anyone who attempts to intercept him. Can he make it in time or will Farnsworth and the androids take over?
Made on a low budget you wouldn’t be able to tell from the methods employed by Pyun to get the most bang for his buck. No budget films were his bread and butter and finding a better director to accomplish this is a difficult task. Pyun not only presented movies like this one with a ton of creative energy in them as well as high level production values for the money involved.
The film was only the second for Gruner but you wouldn’t know it. The French actor began learning martial arts when a child, was part of the French version of the Green Beret and was a competing kickboxer before turning to acting. Much like Jean-Claude Van Damme his handling of the English language got better as time passed but the movies he made early on like this one called more for his fighting than his speech abilities. Still he not only makes the character believable but his martial arts and acting skills are perfectly suited for the film.
The movie didn’t get a mainstream theatrical release across the country but did get a major push when it came out on VHS. It was one of the big hits in the direct to video market, enough so that the film was followed by three sequels. Those who grew up wandering the aisles of those mom and pop stores are likely to remember the cover artwork and seeing the film for the first time. Now MVD is releasing the film on blu-ray format as part of their MVD Rewind Collection.
With box art that resembles those old video store titles complete with stickers asking you to “Be Kind Rewind” it is certain to stir up some old memories. But they’re not limiting it to just that, including a number of extras as well. These include a director’s cut of the film complete with commentary track by Pyun, an introduction by Pyun, an introduction by Gruner, an afterword by Pyun, making of featurettes, an interview with Gruner, a making of on the stunts and effects, a making of on the visual effects, “The Saga” featurette, “Killcount” featurette, trailers, TV spots, a collectible min-poster and more.
Fans of the film will rejoice at being able to finally own a grand version of a film that deserved much more credit that it received when released. And those who were too young to be around back then can have fun discovering it for the first time. And if you enjoy it be aware that MVD is planning on releasing all of the sequels as well. Maybe a NEMESIS watch party is in your future.