The Sisters Brothers (2019)

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On horseback, from Oregon to San Francisco comes this dark-comedy Western which may not exactly spring out the saloon doors but has enough cinematic artistry to prevent it blowing like some yawn-some tumbleweed in the breeze.

Eli (John C. Reilly) and Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix) are the Sisters Brothers; a pair of assassins who are hired by a wealthy gent to track down and violently extract information from a man named Hermann Warm (Riz Ahmed), who may have a formula to aid finding gold.

It has to be said first of all, that the cast on display in this film are a magnificent bunch. The four main characters are extremely talented and put on a satisfying show, to really lure you into this well-worn world of Western dramatics. It’s a shame then that the film has multiple points where it attempts conflict and humour but doesn’t quite succeed on either.

Co-writers Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain, who worked together on ‘A Prophet’, manage to drop in some nice flourishes though. Be it Eli’s bedtime routine with a red shawl to the weakening state of his horse, it’s the character based details that triumph more than the whole. It’s a finely tuned exploration of connection and strife but the entire film does not quite echo that sentiment.

Glows of orange and yellows in the beautiful cinematography of a country landscape not only add wonder but it provides dusty intrigue to a tale about family. The film is strongest in the contemplative moments and self-reflection from the brothers. Eli and Charlie are a great representation of sibling life; they bicker, fight, laugh and ultimately they support each other. The gorgeous deserts, hills, streams and towns appear almost like painted backdrops for the pair to play in front of.

Even if the film doesn’t hold court from beginning to end, the final short scene is perhaps the most delightful and saves the long wait to get there. We witness a lovely, homely set-up which perfectly demonstrates the relationship of the Sisters Brothers. A use of a near un-edited tracking shot, flowing through this last sequence adds to the calm denouement.

Phoenix is energetic and feels like the Joker of the duo, he is blissfully happy to follow orders, drink and kill whereas Reilly does well in the more thoughtful role, Eli is a man of aspiration and love. Together, the actors provide splendid yin and yang.

Gold shimmers, guns crackle and horses gallop in a story which strides down a much beaten Western trail but thanks to a brotherly bond, the film however long in its journey, is an interesting one.

6.5/10

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91st Academy Award Predictions

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Today is Oscar Sunday, the end of awards season and the annual beginning of people arguing what won shouldn’t have won.

This years ceremony has been beset by a near constant run of back and forths and who knows how the show with no host will run, be it smoothly or not but one thing can be guaranteed, some golden statuettes will be handed out. Here are my predictions on who will take away awards and in capitals to the side are who I’d like to win:

Best Picture – Roma        THE FAVOURITE

Best Actor – Rami Malek       MALEK

Best Actress – Glenn Close     OLIVIA COLMAN

Best Director – Alfonso Cuaron     CUARON

Best Supporting Actor – Mahershala Ali     RICHARD E. GRANT

Best Supporting Actress – Regina King      RACHEL WEISZ

Best Animated Film – Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse      SPIDER-VERSE

Best Original Screenplay – Roma          THE FAVOURITE

Best Adapted Screenplay – BlackKklansman         THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS

Best Documentary – Free Solo         FREE SOLO

Best Documentary Short – End Game

Best Foreign Language Film – Roma          ROMA

Best Original Song – Shallow           THE PLACE WHERE THE LOST THINGS GO

Best Original Score – Black Panther         BLACK PANTHER

Best Sound Mixing – First Man             BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

Best Sound Editing – A Quiet Place         A QUIET PLACE

Best Make-up and Hairstyling – Vice        MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS

Best Production Design – Roma           THE FAVOURITE

Best Costume Design – The Favourite      THE FAVOURITE

Best Cinematography – Roma         ROMA

Best Film Editing – Vice             BLACKKKLANSMAN

Best Visual Effects – Ready Player One        INFINITY WAR

King of Thieves (2018)

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Starring a handful of British talents and directed by the man behind the moving ‘The Theory of Everything’, you’d think this film based on a massive heist in the diamond district of London would be better than it actually turns out to be.

After a personal tragedy, Brian Reader (Michael Caine) is roped back into the underworld of robberies. He brings a team together of former thieves and brings an alarm specialist and new face into the fold, in the shape of Basil (Charlie Cox). The six elderly gentlemen plan to break into a vault in Hatton Garden, which holds over £200 million in diamonds, cash and gold.

This is 100% one of those movies that fits into the mould of the real story being more interesting than the film itself. It’s such a shame because this could have been an interesting look into the men that committed this crime but it descends into a rough and often unfunny thread of bickering and gruff London blokes cracking nasty comments. ‘King of Thieves’ definitely outlives its early charm and whilst there are some doses of alright comedy, they are few and far between a heist that arrives too soon and isn’t as exciting as it deserved to be.

There are elements within the robbery which are playful and work on the humour revolving around their senior years and a couple of stronger moments utilise on the tension of them in the act and the possibility of being caught. A Tchaikovsky backed sequence of thieving is a stand out snippet with ‘Whiplash’ levels of editing and a burst of diamond hungry energy. This and the quality of the performers involved don’t outweigh the overly long run-time and a film that doesn’t seem to know what angle it’s going for.

James Marsh directs a bunch of recognisable faces and there certainly seems to be a gentle chemistry between them, the first stages of this film are breezy but then it goes on and on in a way where stylistic choices of gangsters in the past flit into proceedings, grey army treachery bogs down a script laden with tiresome expletives and a police-heavy third act which isn’t as riveting or tense as, again it deserved to be.

Benjamin Wallfisch’s music, at points echoes the bouncy yet dramatic score which BBC’s ‘Hustle’ used so well and in fact this film does have some of the pre-swindling set up and snappy edits of the con itself, which mirrors the lighthearted entertainment of the Adrian Lester TV series but it doesn’t keep to this warmness. That would be fine if the eventual darker notes and masculine aggression weren’t so mishandled, becoming cringey character traits losing all the charm of the film.

‘King of Thieves’ may have acting royalty involved from Caine to Jim Broadbent but that doesn’t keep its crown from slipping away from meaty real events into a doddery, average retelling.

5.5/10

Black Sea (2014)

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When taken with a pinch of (sea) salt this submerging tale of gold, troublesome crew members and a metal coffin isn’t all bad. It has very good moments of thriller tension, the music is all very shadowy and atmospheric building up the suspense of character and of the unknown murky world their sub is entering. Yes, it has flaws of being unbelievable at times and constantly adding threats to cycle drama round and round but the ride is worth the few leaky weaknesses.

After being let go from his job of many years, Robinson (Jude Law) gets the chance to make it big and help fellow people in a similar position when hearing that a sunken submarine in the Black Sea could likely have a heck of a lot of Nazi gold stored aboard. Getting a crew of Brits and Russians to help navigate their rusty vehicle starts trouble in motion as the desire of less men equaling more share of the loot becomes clear. It’s a worrying journey through the deep as personalities clash in the hope of ever reaching the possibility of some gold.

This movie never bursts with vivid life, there’s no ground breaking twist or wow moment concerning the fact it is meant to be a thriller. The reveal that does finally come isn’t spectacular, it serves the story but that’s it really. More of the film’s success comes in the character detail, in the manner of developing the culture clashes that bring about deaths, stand offs and the ever present sense of unease. The ending climax is stuffed with demises, explosions and the like but it never feels like it’s lifting far above 6 or 7 on the sparky scale. (no such scale exists but it should!)

Kevin Macdonald directs with a keen and detailed eye for claustrophobic storytelling. The majority of the film is focused on clanking metal entrapping like the deathly underwater tomb it is. There’s lots of use of close ups on faces or extreme close ups at times to make that small space seem even tinier. A big and effective direction is when Fraser is being coaxed into something and the camera sticks very close to his face racking up that tension in the trapping environment.

Ilan Eshkeri does a fantastic job with the score for this movie. It feels like it’s always there but in a good way. Always brooding as it floats alongside the action on screen. The music is sort of smoky and dark to mirror the creation of dread as reality hits the crew that their lives are getting in worse shape.

There’s a few niggles that I won’t go into because they spoil the plot but one main issue is the constant annoyance and insistent stupidity of Jude Law’s captain, considering how he’s at first built to seem likable, smart and out for the safety of everyone, he goes on to make a series of silly choices endangering everyone, including some 18 year old who he just happens to bring along because the convenience of his presence is there at the right time. It’s a sequence of nautical disasters that makes the film feel like a ‘Gravity’ narrative in there being something terrible following something bad.

Jude Law is a fine choice for the role. He convinces in his every-man persona of down and out hard worker left with no work. The Scottish accent he possesses is one that sounds great to me, at least it doesn’t ever sound like he wavers when speaking. The ferocity in his eyes is a great thing he keeps using as the determined captain he plays starts realising errors but can’t go back. The entire crew, however cliched in places of stereotypical personas to get the dramatic ball of tension rolling are acted really well all doing the job required in the pretty cookie cut script they’ve been handed.

A fine enough film exploring not only the perils of the Black Sea but the consequences of human greed. Perhaps not a movie to overly excite, inspire or go out of your way to see but there’s substantial claustrophobia to swim around in, in this daft but enjoyable thriller.

6/10