The Sisters Brothers


The brothers ride.

(2018) Western (AnnapurnaJoaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed, Carol Kane, Rutger Hauer, Rebecca Root, Allison Tolman, Patrice Cossonneau, Zack Abbott, David Gassman, Philip Rosch, Creed Bratton, Lenuta Bala, Jochen Hägele, Eric Colvin, Ian Reddington, Aldo Maland, Theo Exarchopoulos, Sean Duggan, Lexie Benbow-Hart. Directed by Jacques Audiard

 

You wouldn’t think that Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly would make a great pair of brothers who happen to be bloodthirsty bounty hunters in the Old West, but they do in this gritty, sweaty Western that is so realistic you cn almost smell the smoke from their Colts and the stink from their sweat-soaked shirts.

Eli (Reilly) Sisters and his brother Charlie (Phoenix) are a couple of hired killers who work for The Commodore (Hauer) in the pre-Civil War Oregon Territory. Basically, Charlie is the true gunslinger; Eli is a competent killer but not as natural born to it as Charlie is. Eli is weary of the life and hopes to give it up soon, maybe open a dry goods store. Charlie thinks he’s crazy.

Their latest assignment is to catch up with chemist Hermann Kermit Warm (Ahmed) and get a formula from him that the Commodore claims was stolen from him. They will be aided by Detective John Morris (Gyllenhaal) who will track Warm down and hold onto him until the brothers can get there.

Morris, an educated man, is smart enough to see that the better possibilities for a future rest with Warm and not the Commodore, so he betrays the Brothers and takes off with Warm, hoping to make enough money to open up a Utopian society in the Dallas area. Naturally, the Brothers don’t take too kindly to this, particularly the hot-headed Charlie.

It is almost de rigeur for a Western to have beautiful cinematography and that is no less the case here, with Northern and Western Spain subbing for the American West. The pace is slower than a lame horse, though, and those who like their Westerns action-packed will be disappointed, although when there are gunfights, they are artfully staged, sometimes taking place in pitch darkness where all you can see is the occasional muzzle flash.

The chemistry between Reilly and Phoenix is what saves the day here. Of course, Reilly has made a career out of being the second banana in team-up movies (although he makes a compelling lead when he gets the opportunity) and he has always known how best to play off of his partner’s strengths. He does so here, giving Phoenix a chance to practice for his role as the Joker which he would undertake just a year after making this one.

As Westerns go, this isn’t bad but the languid pacing and overreliance on some really awful events happening to the brothers, ranging from bear mauling to spier bites to chemical burns to amputations. There’s also a penalty for unnecessary vomit; we get that Charlie’s a drunk without it. I suppose though, when you are going to make a gritty, realistic Western it’s going to go along with all the excretions and secretions a body can muster.

REASONS TO SEE: Beautifully acted and beautifully shot.
REASONS TO AVOID: Overly long and ponderously paced.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence, some of it disturbing. There is also some profanity as well as some sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first English-language Western directed by a French director. It is also the first English-language film overall by Audiard.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Hulu, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/20/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 87% positive reviews: Metacritic: 78/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING:  Pale Rider
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Bohemian Rhapsody

The Search for General Tso


A documentary that will make you hungry to see it again an hour later.

A documentary that will make you hungry to see it again an hour later.

(2014) Documentary (Sundance Selects) Cecilia Chiang, Peter Kwong, Bonnie Tsui, Liang Xiao Jin, Philip Chiang, Andrew Coe, Chef Peng Chang-Kuei, Harley Spiller, Tammy Fong, Sue Lee, David Leong, Cyrstyl Mo, Wing Wah Leong, Don Siegel, Ed Schoenfeld, Wing Yee Leong, Renqiu Yu, Fuschia Dunlop, Wang Pinduan, Robert G. Lee, Fred Wong, Susan Carter, Ella Lee, Lily Han. Directed by Ian Cheney

Florida Film Festival 2015

There probably isn’t an American above the age of five who hasn’t had Chinese food of one sort or another during their lives and for a good percentage of Americans above that age, Chinese is a regular cuisine on the menus of our lives. And of all of those, most have at least tried if not fallen in love with General Tso’s Chicken, the most popular dish in Chinese cuisine in the United States, and other than pizza and maybe tacos, the most popular ethnic dish in America.

But how did it get to be that way? Who is General Tso exactly and why did this chicken dish get named for him? Was it General Tso himself who invented the dish or did someone else do that? And how do you make it?

Good questions all and each one is answered in this lively documentary which has a very compact one hour and thirteen minute run time. Cheney interviews a wide variety of subjects from historians and authors on Chinese-American culture to restaurant owners and chefs. Here he paints a vivid picture of a race that came to America’s gold fields in the 19th century and stayed on as laborers. Racial prejudices on the West Coast, which were extreme when it came to Chinese workers, led to the enactment of the Exclusion Act which made it nearly impossible for new workers to immigrate to the United States and made life intolerable for those who were already here, who then spread throughout the country with essentially only two careers available to them; launderers and restaurant owners.

This is much cultural anthropology as it is foodie doc, and while there are some nifty animations that help keep things light, the undercurrent has some surprising depth to it as we see how difficult to achieve the American dream was for Asians even in recent times, as one Missouri restaurant owner calmly explains how his father’s restaurant was dynamited shortly before it was to open and even once it did, there were picketers exhorting him to return to China since the local white population didn’t want Asian business owners, and this was less than 50 years ago.

It also raises the question of authenticity. General Tso’s chicken, which has a sweet and spicy taste to it, is expressly for American tastes; you won’t find the dish in this form in China, particularly in the Hunan province where the real General Tso (yes, there was one) once lived. We also discover that a chef from Taipei claims to have invented the dish, although it was adapted by a more famous New York chef after visits to Taipei and took off in the ’70s to become one of those ubiquitous menu items you find in nearly every Chinese restaurant, take-out place or bistro.

While many purists decry the dish as inauthentic, one has to wonder what authentic really means in a cuisine that varies greatly from province to province in China and has evolved a great deal over the years. Maybe you won’t find this when you visit China but what matters more is whether or not you yourself like it and crave it. It may not be the kind of Chinese food you get in, say, Shanghai, but if you can’t go to Shanghai and check out the real McCoy you can at least taste what you get in Springfield, Missouri and enjoy it just as much.

REASONS TO GO: Informative. Lively. Doesn’t take itself too seriously.
REASONS TO STAY: Lots and lots of talking heads. WILL make you hungry for Chinese food whether you like it or not.
FAMILY VALUES: Nothing that would worry all but the most overly fussy parents.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Originally to have been released in early 2014 by Warner Brothers, when Legendary’s distribution contract with that studio expired and a new one signed with Universal, this was one of the movies whose release date was delayed as Universal took over distribution.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/2/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews. Metacritic: 70/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: McFarland USA