Talking Movies: The Sisters Brothers, Knock Down the House and Submergence

Spling reviews The Sisters Brothers, Knock Down the House and Submergence as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Listen to podcast.


Good morning – welcome to Talking Movies, I’m Spling…

This week, we’re talking about an dark comedy western, a political documentary and a romance drama thriller.

Starting off with a film now on Showmax…


In 1850s Oregon, the infamous duo of assassins pursue a gold prospector and his unexpected ally across the Old West.

Writer-Director: Jacques Audiard (Rust and Bone, A Prophet)

Stars: John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix and Jake Gyllenhaal

– The Sisters Brothers is based on the novel of the same name by Patrick deWitt
– Directed by the visionary behind films such as Rust and Bone and A Prophet, it’s no ordinary western.
– While it kicks off with a violent shoot out, is punctuated by the odd showdown and the guns have their own fireworks… it’s more in tune with the zany and adventurous spirit of ‘Oh Brother, Where Art Thou’.
– The mercurial western shape-shifts to accommodate nuggets of adventure, comedy, drama and even horror.
– The Sisters Brothers leans on classic western elements such as the gold rush, brothels, bars, small town streets and roughing it in the wild.
– Yet, nothing seems overly cliched, operating with a modern swagger and a dark comedy edge.
– While Phoenix recently garnered acclaim and a slew of awards for his transformative role as Arthur Fleck in ‘Joker’, Reilly is the star of this show, immersing himself in his characters, showing outstanding commitment and dexterous enough to handle comedy, drama or anything inbetween.
– While Audiard keeps ‘The Sisters Brothers’ engaging and constantly evolving, the hot pursuit doesn’t give the film enough structure.
– It’s entertaining enough to keep you watching but almost loses itself at times as if using the map upside down.

A solid 7 on the splingometer

Moving on to a documentary on Netflix…


A look at the people involved with various political campaigns during the 2018 U.S. congressional election.

Writer-Director: Rachel Lears

Stars: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush and Joe Crowley

– she used to be a bartender working a double shift to help her family recover financially and now she’s a US representative for the Bronx and Queens in New York with 6.7 million followers on Twitter alone
– while Knock Down the House follows the stories of four devoted campaigns to dislodge long-held seats of power in the 2018 mid-term elections, the political documentary is mostly centred on the charming, impassioned and beautiful, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
– nominated by her brother as part of a programme to activate future political leaders, her journey is inspirational, echoing her late father’s efforts to make her realise the power of one
– each compelled for personal reasons, their brand of politics isn’t simply strategic… it’s personal, and the ineffectual policies of overarching law-makers drive them to change the system from within
– showing the rise of of Ocasio-Cortez, a woman wanting to represent the will of ordinary Americans, Knock Down the House is triumphant and packed with many moving scenes documenting small beginnings and big pay offs
– tracking with all four exceptional women, you get a real sense of the true grit and sincerity of their noble aspirations without making gender the agenda
– cleverly drawing attention to four major issues facing American politics including: healthcare, environment, policing and housing, this documentary is empowering in the way it shows how regular citizens can make a real and sustained difference

A solid 7 on the splingometer!

And finally a film now streaming on Showmax…


A chance encounter on a beach in France leads to an intense and enduring romance between two strangers who are on very different paths and bound for trying circumstances.

Director: Wim Wenders

Stars: Alicia Vikander, James McAvoy and Jannik Schümann

– Wim Wenders was a major proponent of New German Cinema and has garnered three Academy Award nominations for Best Documentary Feature for Buena Vista Social Club, Pina and one of my personal favourites, The Salt of the Earth
– while he has nothing to prove, his return to narrative dramas has not been as welcome as his documentaries, remaining ambitious but out-of-reach
– this is the case with Submergence, a romance drama turned thriller about a chance meeting on a beach and two divergent lives
– connected by water, which comes to represent the emotional expanse between them, the romance attempts to bridge the metaphysical much like The Fountain
– compelled by equally talented co-stars, Submergence fails to engage its audience who are forced to survive on two captivating yet rudderless performances
– the stunning visuals and locations help coax a surreal feel to the drama, but for all intents and purposes it could have been two separate movies
– Wenders tries to give Submergence a philosophical dimension through slower pacing, spiritual turning points and much navel-gazing
– unfortunately, the dialogue while reaching, lands with a dull thud, the co-lead chemistry is forced and it doesn’t really go anywhere as a story
– McAvoy and Vikander are fine actors who always look good on screen but struggle to connect the dots in this underwhelming and unsatisfying art house drama

A flat 5 on the splingometer

So just to wrap up…

THE SISTERS BROTHERS… good co-lead chemistry, solid performances, dexterous genre play and a refreshing spin on the gold rush steer this walkabout western… A solid 7!

KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE… an empowering, impassioned and entertaining chronicle of four important and influential grassroots political campaigns… A solid 7!

SUBMERGENCE… dazzling visuals and earnest co-stars struggle to overcome this philosophical yet frustratingly slow and pointless art house romance drama thriller… A flat 5!

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