Total Recall: We Own The Night and Other Sibling Showdowns

October 11, 2007 at 6:46 pm 1 comment

This week, We Own the Night hits theaters, telling the story of two brothers (played by Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg) on opposite sides of the law. The sibling rivalry is often the basis for compelling cinema, something we’ll explore in this week’s Total Recall.

Sibling conflict has been at the root of many great works of art, be they The Godfather (100 percent), King Lear (50 percent), or the first couple Kinks albums. The reasons are obvious: How can people with such similar DNA turn out so differently? Why, with so much in common, do brothers and sisters disagree, or follow decidedly different paths in life? From uneasy Thanksgiving reunions to Cain-and-Abel-esque showdowns, cinematic sibling dysfunction runs the gamut. Let’s take a look at some memorable family feuds.We can’t imagine someone who was enamored with the dark tone of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (38 percent) being particularly happy when the jokier Secret of the Ooze (35 percent) came out. But for a kid growing up during the grunge era, 1991 was a perfect storm of Turtles mania: An avalanche of merchandise, a great cartoon on the air, and Turtles in Time for the Super Nintendo. And, of course, there was the movie. Secret of the Ooze had new monsters, more interesting human characters, snappier pacing, and with an eminently quotable song from rap-poseur Vanilla Ice, Donna Britt of the Washington Post praises that “it has enough jokes aimed at adults to make for a relatively painless outing for parents forced to take their kids to see it.”

While Splinter dispensed wisdom like the ad hoc parental unit he was, the relationship between Leonardo (the leader) and Raphael (the loose cannon) was always easier to digest for kids. Both devoted to honor and duty but completely different in their approaches, they were your typical squabbling duo that couldn’t stand each other’s presence but would do even worse when separated. The two create the emotional crux of the series, which is further explored in the recent animated TMNT (31 percent).

Along with The Princess Bride (95 percent) and Dead Poets Society (83 percent), 1997’s Gattaca (80 percent) was one of those movies you’d always see for the first time in middle or high school. It’s a great all-purpose movie: a literate script for English class, lectures about DNA for biology class, and the film’s thesis on human worth and potential can be shoehorned into high schools affluent enough to have philosophy classes. Gattaca stars Ethan Hawke as Vincent Freeman, a genetically inferior man tormented by his superior brother and a harsh reality: he can never achieve his dream of being an astronaut through legal means. It’s a thoughtful movie that James Berardinelli calls “a cautionary tale about the dangers of letting scientific ability outstrip ethics and [a] morality play about the irrationality of bigotry.”

Loren Dean co-stars as Vincent’s brother, Anton. The two squabble and compete with increasing severity. Anton eventually leads a shapeless life as a detective, while Vincent pushes himself beyond his supposed genetic limits. Writer-director Andrew Niccol demonstrates with Gattaca that characters don’t necessarily have to be supplanted by special effects and gadgets. Along with his screenplay for The Truman Show (95 percent), Niccol always insists on laying the human touch on science fiction.

In every Wes Anderson movie looms the long shadow of the father figure, but some of the most amusing relationships in his films are between brothers. See Bob Mapplethorpe and his sibling John (aka Future Man) in Bottle Rocket (78 percent). Or the trio on that spiritual bonding journey in The Darjeeling Limited (64 percent). And there’s no shortage of ruined familial relationships in 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums (80 percent), Anderson’s third feature-length effort. The film has endured as one of Anderson’s most beloved, called “a New Yorker cartoon come to life, droll and sad and knowing at the same time” by MaryAnn Johnson of Flick Filosopher.

Amidst the beyond-neurotic denizens that make up the Tenenbaum household are brothers Chas and Richie, played by Ben Stiller and Luke Wilson, respectively.

One of Anderson’s strengths is a knack for casting (Willem Dafoe as a sensitive German oceanographer in Life Aquatic remains brilliant), and here Stiller and Wilson get to take their “shtick” to an extreme. Clashing Stiller’s manic outbursts against Wilson’s lackadaisical demeanor creates the perfect comic contrast.Given the inherent potential for love and conflict in any family, there is no end to the number of stories that can be harvested from the cracks in fraternal or sororal relations. Check out Hannah and her Sisters (92 percent), Rain Man (90 percent), Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (89 percent), or Vincent & Theo (86 percent) for further adventures into the complex lives of siblings.



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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. iconcerttickets  |  October 24, 2007 at 5:49 pm

    Great Blog!


    Brian Anthony
    General Manager
    Concert Tickets Retailer


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