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Let’s not dance around the dire cir­cum­stances in which this del­i­cately poised com­edy-drama starts out. An es­tranged sis­ter and brother have just re­treated after near­ing the brink of end­ing it all. Back when Mag­gie (Kris­ten Wiig) and Milo (Bill Hader) were chil­dren, their fa­ther took one more step and took his own life. Now here they are in their mid-30s, vir­tu­ally dar­ing his­tory to re­peat it­self.

In spite of its bleak begin­nings, The Skele­ton Twins soon syncs up to an en­gag­ing comic rhythm that will ul­ti­mately pro­pel the film to a brighter, bet­ter place. Mag­gie and Milo have not seen other for a decade. Now they must live to­gether. While this is un­doubt­edly tough stuff to be sell­ing to all com­ers, there is a ten­der­ness and truly earned up­lift to this tale that will res­onate with re­cep­tive view­ers. And given the comedic track record of Wiig ( Brides­maids) and Hader (ex- Satur­day Night Live), it hardly hurts that the film can be very amus­ing when it needs to be. Heart­break is al­ways but a breath away in The Im­mi­grant, an in­tense pe­riod drama that is as beau­ti­ful as it is bleak.

The year is 1921, and two Pol­ish sis­ters have ar­rived in New York to start a new life in Amer­ica. Magda (An­gela Sarafyan) is im­me­di­ately thrown in quar­an­tine, and could be deported pend­ing a fi­nal rul­ing by au­thor­i­ties.

This leaves the older Ewa (Mar­ion Cotil­lard) stranded in more ways than one. A well-dressed stranger of­fers his as­sis­tance. Ewa has no choice but to ac­cept.

Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix) runs a bur­lesque show on the Lower East Side. It is ac­tu­ally a front for a pros­ti­tu­tion ring, but Ewa won’t find that out un­til it is far too late.

Though there is a dis­tinct un­ease to the re­la­tion­ship of Ewa and Bruno as it slowly de­vel­ops, there is a clear con­nec­tion as well. Each sees a lit­tle of who they might have been in the other, had life dealt them a bet­ter hand.

½ The writ­ing-di­rect­ing de­but of Aus­tralian ac­tor Josh Law­son ( Any Ques­tions for Ben?) is an er­ratic episodic com­edy about just how funny (and much more of­ten, un­funny) a fetish can be. Among the saucy-seedy japes pre­sented for your amuse­ment are such thigh-slap­pers as mock sex­ual as­sault (Law­son him­self plays a bloke whose part­ner keeps has­sling him to rape her) and a hus­band who may or may not be in­ter­fer­ing with his nag­ging wife after he drugs her asleep each evening. Isn’t that just lovely? Some sketchy in­ter­ludes do have their mo­ments, such as a beau­ti­fully per­formed vi­gnette about a call-cen­tre op­er­a­tor act­ing as in­ter­preter be­tween a dirty-minded deaf man and a dis­tracted phone-sex prac­ti­tioner.

How­ever, the film as a whole gen­er­ally fol­lows a line of hu­mour where dys­func­tion, dis­com­fort and some­times, even dis­tress, lead only to laugh­ter-free dead ends. ½ Seems Liam Nee­son no longer has the “ma­ture vengeance” de­mo­graphic all to him­self. Den­zel Wash­ing­ton wants his cut of the aged-ag­gres­sion mar­ket, and he wants it now.

In all hon­esty, The Equal­izer is no bet­ter nor worse than the pun­ish­ing pulp Nee­son has been pound­ing out since the sur­prise block­buster suc­cess of Taken in 2008.

The same un­der­ly­ing prin­ci­ples ap­ply here.

Some bonkers bad­sters (Rus­sians!) have irked our worldly, weary hero (Wash­ing­ton’s character works in the Amer­i­can equiv­a­lent of a Bun­nings Ware­house!).

So, in ac­cor­dance with Hol­ly­wood con­ven­tion, this old cam­paigner is quite within his rights to kill his way up the en­emy’s chain of com­mand un­til the movie ends.

Very vi­o­lent and very long, so best seen by hard­line ac­tion fans, and best avoided by those who are not.

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