Quick Hit: One of M. Night’s best films.
I remember loving this movie upon first watch as a young preteen. I was hesitant throughout the years to return to it – after all of Mr. Shyamalan’s failures to bring other materials to the screen, I couldn’t help but worry that I would have been viewing it through age related rose-colored glasses. But with the return to form that was Split, I couldn’t help but return to it. And, to my delight, it was just as I remembered it from the early 2000s – a slow thriller that is built on turning audience expectations into something else entirely.
It all starts with the casting of Bruce Willis as David Dunn. By using such a known action hero (see Die Hard, etc, etc.), Shyamalan instantly gives you the feeling that you’re going to be watching a shoot-em up, which is anything but the case. There is very little explicit violence throughout the film, instead choosing to view things as they arise, and simply present them as they are. This all starts with a question – can David Dunn be hurt? He’s never been sick, and he seems to have survived a train crash that left all others dead or fatally wounded. And there isn’t a scratch on him – in the words of Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), he is miraculously unharmed.
Elijah himself is a terrifically formed character. Mr. Jackson plays him as bitter but fiercely intelligent, a man who has risen above his physical ailments but still consistently irked by them. This is never more evident than at a point in the movie where Elijah falls, breaking several bones. It’s shot in a matter of fact manner, with very little glitter on the fact that a man we have spent nearly an hour with has fallen and hurt himself - badly.
That’s something to say about how Shyamalan takes the entire movie – it’s tightly wound, something to be said of all his best films, and moves along quickly, yet seemingly unhurried. The majority of the film’s plot is moved along by conversation, but never once would I say I was bored or hoping that the movie would get to its next point. Like any good mystery, it takes its time, allowing both the hero (Dunn) and the audience time to form conclusions about what is happening.
There’s also a tremendous amount of logic brought to the table, most notably by Price, who posits simple questions with simple answers. If there is someone like him, who is easily broken, why wouldn’t there be someone on the other side of the spectrum, who is hard to break? It’s that intense realism that adds to the plot and makes it feel grounded and real, which is when Shyamalan is at his absolute best.
The side characters add a lot to the film, because they continue to ground us in that reality. From Elijah’s mother, who takes a near bribery approach to get her young morose son involved in the world, to David’s son, who continues to give the story the wonder that it deserves, none of the characters reactions are overly large. Indeed, when you consider the knowledge that Dunn is in a failing marriage to his wife (Robin Wright), and still chooses to go to her to ask whether she remembers him every being sick. This little moment allows the characters to come together, which of course, gives them a flicker of hope. It’s the little moments that build to a thrilling conclusion, and it’s why Unbreakable continues to be one of my favorite films. I’m giving this one a deserved “A+”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Epic barely begins to describe what you see in this film.
I can’t think of a more ambitious thing than what Marvel did in order to build to this moment in cinematic history. The idea of taking 22 films and giving them an overall cohesive story is an incredible undertaking. When you consider the amount of moving pieces in a story that large, it’s hard not to be impressed. What’s more, there’s very few truly bad movies in the whole set. Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World probably skew closest to that line, but even at their lowest points, the films are still entertaining in some sense of the word.
I think (at the risk of this post getting too long, I’ll try to wrap up my general MCU thoughts soon) that the majority of this success is due to the casting. There isn’t a single person that plays a hero in the MCU that isn’t likeable. Even the characters that are purposely written to rub people the wrong way, like Dr. Stephen Strange, are still likeable and well-performed. But that core set of performers that began the MCU – Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner – they all are so well-loved that a movie like this was necessary in order to start the next phases.
For the maybe three people in the universe that haven’t seen this movie yet, Endgame picks up right at the end of Infinity War. The Avengers take their shot at Thanos and fail, and eventually we pick up years after the event. Most are trying to move on – some are handling the failure in their own destructive ways. But eventually, Tony finds a possibility in that he may be able to use the Quantum Realm to go back in time. This allows several teams to go forth and attempt to gather the Infinity stones prior to Thanos being able to gather them. Some of these trips are more emotional than others – particularly when Hawkeye and Widow go in search of the Soul stone. The movie also follows Thanos on a journey of his own related to this.
It’s a really interesting take, and of course, it has plot holes (very few stories centered on time travel don’t have some sort of plot holes). But what it manages to do is bring emotion to the story, and build it higher and higher to an epic conclusion. And what a conclusion it is. It’s exahalting watching things on screen that you never would have thought possible outside of the pages of a comic book. Some of them may have been a bit telegraphed, but even those moments are leap-out-of-your-seat worthy. And we’re finally shown some real stakes to the world that these characters inhabit – and the way those stakes could be overcome if the timing (and the $$$) was right.
I really loved the movie – quite a bit more than Infinity War actually. There are a few things that detracted it for me – while I liked the Ronin side-plot, the fact that he only seemed to go after non-white characters is a bit of an issue. I also realize that while you can’t really have the other Marvel characters (Black Panther/Captain Marvel) playing huge parts in the story (it’s huge enough already), their characters feel severely underutilized. But these are rather small critiques in a story that ended in a satisfying manner. I’m going to give this one an “A-“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Brotherly bonding despite differences is a movie I can get behind.
It’s interesting to note two things that occurred to me throughout this movie. The first is that I consistently thought of my brothers throughout it (more on this in a bit). The second is that it works interesting to look at The Sisters Brothers through the lens of one of John C. Reilly’s other films, Stepbrothers. It essentially took that concept and spun it into a hilarious film, whereas the Sisters Brothers puts it into a Western context and makes it far more dramatic and dangerous. Part of this is the casting (comparing Will Ferrell to Joaquin Phoenix kind of makes me cringe, but I just did it), but part of this is just further evidence that John C. Reilly is possible of starring in almost any film.
Anyways, let me hop off the soapbox and start talking about the movie. Set against the background of the U.S. gold rush, The Sisters Brothers follows two brothers Eli (Reilly) and Charlie (Phoenix) as they chase a man across the west coast, presumably for the money. They’ve been hired by the boss (named The Commodore) to kill a man named Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), for reasons that turn out to be that he has discovered a solution to make gold appear in the water. He was first tracked by a man named John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal), who was supposed to hold him for the Sisters. But Morris was swayed by the allure of gold as well as Warm’s consistent portrayal of a man who wants to better the world.
The film serves to be a character study of the relationship between Eli, who is softer and starting to contemplate a life beyond killing, and Charlie, who is a drunk and seems to really enjoy the attention that being a killer has brought him. You also get a comparison between the brothers with Morris and Warm – the brothers immediately seem less sophisticated and less educated, but who is in the right overall? It’s really fun justification, and it’s where it leads me to my discussion of my own family. I have two brothers, and I think each of us reflects one of the characters in this movie. I’m not going to define who is who, but it’s clear that we each have our own benefits, and the movie shows that as well. It’s beautifully done, mainly through quite moments of discussion throughout the movie.
This does lead me to a different discussion – the movie proceeds fairly slowly and unhurried, with moments of extreme violence and even some body horror to break the monotony of the normal. Some of these slow moments, like the one Eli shares with a prostitute near the middle of the movie, are beautifully done. Some, mainly those that feature Charlie, are extremely anxious. It’s usually reflected in the cinematography as well throughout the film, which gives some beautiful shots throughout the film that are indicative of the best westerns have to offer.
The acting throughout the film is fantastic, and at times truly amazing. Phoenix gives a performance that is wild as an untamed horse, frequently showing that he is one of the best in the business at performing people with a short fuse. Gyllenhaal gives a quieter performance that he voices with one of the best character voices of his career. Ahmed brings a curiosity and a playfulness to the role that few could have brought, and Reilly, as mentioned throughout this post, shines. He makes the film by arguably bringing all the moments together – at times violent, others quiet and longing, and still others riotously funny.
Some viewers may be turned off by the aforementioned body horror – others will be misled that made it seem like Stepbrothers set on horses. But those that are willing to sit and watch and truly contemplate some of the questions that The Sisters Brothers asks will be in for a treat. I’m giving the film an “A-“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"