Film Review: THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (USA 2018) ***** TOP 10

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs Poster
Trailer

An anthology film comprised of six stories, each dealing with a different aspect of life in the Old West.

Directors:

Ethan CoenJoel Coen

Writers:

Joel CoenEthan Coen

Made as a Netflix original movie, THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS is the title of the first of six the Coen Brothers stories set in the American frontier.  It is also the best of the six stories.

Written and directed by the Coen Brothers (the name that is synonymous with solid entertainment), the film is comprised of six chapters that present a different story with a different attitude from the wild frontier.  

The odd thing is that instead of the best reserved for the last, the first chapter, and the title of the film is the best of the anthology.  Anthology films, so popular in the past are now not so common.  Each chapter lasts about 20 minutes or so, and stars a complete different cast of actors.

The first episode – The Ballad of Buster Scruggs-  tells the story of a sharp-shooting songster played by an unforgettable Tim Blake Nelson.  It is hilarious, unpredictable and fun from moment one.  Nelson shows up as the fastest gun in the west while breaking into song and dance unexpectedly as well.  Though predictable as to what will happen to him at the end, this is one chapter that one does not want to end.  And to watch again and again!

The second is called “In Near Algodones’, in which a wannabe bank robber (James Franco) gets his due and then some.  The bank clerk the robber has to deal with is someone totally unexpected, coming out a-shooting with his armour of pots and pans.

Meal Ticket is a gothic tale about two weary travelling performers with Liam Neeson.  This is the least strong of the stories and my least favourite.

Al that glitters is definitely gold.  All Gold Canyon is a story about a prospector mining for gold, with Tom Waits as the elderly prospector.  The scenes of him panning the sands for grains of gold nuggets are priceless with Waits eagerly waiting to strike the mother lode.  The next is a wagon trail in which  a woman finds an unexpected promise of love, along with a dose of life’s cruel irony, across the prairies in the chapter entitled The Gal Who Got Rattled. 

Finally, ghostly laughs haunt The Mortal Remains as a pompous Lady (Tyne Daly) rains judgment upon a motley crew of strangers undertaking a final stagecoach ride.  This is the most talky of the stories and clearly shows the film deserving of the Best Screenplay Award it won at the Venice International filmFestival.  The monologue by the uneducated trapper, played by Chelcie Ross in simple but and the superbly well-written prose is unforgettable.  

The common thread in all the 6 movie is the unforgettable central character.  Each story has one that stands out and each are performed by a famous actor trying on something completely different.

One can only wish for more of these priceless uniquely Coen Brothers stamped  stories.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2PyxzSH1HM

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Film Review: SUBURBICON (USA 2017) ***

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Suburbicon Poster
Trailer

A home invasion rattles a quiet family town.

Director:

George Clooney

Writers:

Joel CoenEthan Coen 

 

Written by the Academy Award wining Coen Brothers, Grant Heslov and George Clooney himself, this odd piece of satire on the American dream turning into an uncontrollable monster nightmare has its wicked charm but unfortunately fails.  But better an ambitious failure than a simple minded film with no faults – I always say.

The film is set in the fictitious community of SUBURBICON – of perfectly manicured lawns and white picket fences (as in similar films, FAR FROM HEAVEN, PARENTS), one can tell something is amiss or going to go terribly wrong.  In PARENTS, the boy discovers that his parents barbecue human flesh and in FAR FROM HEAVEN, the husband comes out of the closet.  In SUBURBICON, the father of the family, Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) hires two killers to do away with his wife in a home invasion scenario so that he can be with her sister, Maggie (both roles played with Julianne Moore with blonde and brunette hair).  They plan to go to Aruba with the collected insurance money.  But things get complicated, particularly with the interference of an enterprising insurance investigator (Oscar Isaac) who ends up being poisoned by Margaret.  Their son, Nicky (Noah Jupe) is totally aware of everything that is going on, as he is always snooping or eavesdropping.  Father has no qualms  with doing away with the meddling son, just as the cannibalistic dad would gladly eat his son in PARENTS.  (The film feels very similar to PARENTS at some points.)  A lot of fun in the movie is observing how Nicky discovers what is going on and tries to save his own life.

SUBURBICON’s humour and writing has the distinct Coen Brothers touch, especially in the way events suddenly occur out of the blue and how violence can also suddenly come into the picture (reference: the Coen’ ARIZONA).  But the humour can be so sly and at times so dead-pan, that the humour can be missed.  Also, the film unfolds at a dead slow snail’s pace.  One would definitely fault the film’s direction and editing, though Clooney has directed a few outstanding films in the past.

The art direction of the 50’s idle housing estate is nothing short of perfect.  As the camera pulls back, one can see how all the houses and streets are interconnected.

The film also intercuts into the main story a side-plot of the first coloured family that moves into SUBURBIA.  From initial surprise to full outrage, the neighbourhood finally riots right outside the coloured family’s house.  Ironically the two boys, the coloured boy and Nicky become the best of friends, playing throw and catch baseball, the typical American sport.  The two kids show how adults should behave.

Despite the film that illustrates Murphy’s Law that if anything that can go wrong will and at the worst possible time, the film does end beautifully on an optimistic note, which almost saves the film. One plus of the movie is French composer Alexandre Desplat’s score that includes some suspense music as heard in a typical Hitchcock film.

SUBURBICON premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to mixed reviews.  Still, it is an interesting failure, and by no means a dull piece despite its slow pacing.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBezc1S1BAQ

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Happy Birthday: Frances McDormand

francesmcdormand.jpgHappy Birthday actor Frances McDormand

Born: June 23, 1957 in Chicago, Illinois, USA

Married to: Joel Coen (1 April 1984 – present) (1 child)

 

 

 

 

Raising Arizona
1987
dir. Joel and Ethan Coen
starring
Nicolas Cage
Holly Hunter
Miller's CrossingMiller’s Crossing
1990
dir. Joel and Ethan Coen
starring
Gabriel Byrne
Marcia Gay Harden
DARKMANDarkman
1990
dir. Sam Raimi
Starring
Liam Neeson
Frances McDormand
FARGOFargo
1996
dir. Joel and Ethan Coen
starring
William H Macy
McDormand
SwingersAlmost Famous
2000
dir. Crowe
starring
Billy Crudup
Kate Hudson
WONDER BOYSWonder Boys
2000
dir. Curtis Hanson
Starring
Michael Douglas
Holmes
THE MAN WHO WASN'T THEREThe Man Who Wasn’t There
2001
dir. Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast
Billy Bob Thornton
James Gandolfini
Burn After ReadingBurn After Reading
2008
dir. Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring
George Clooney
Brad Pitt
MOVIE POSTERTRANSFORMERS 3
dir. Michael Bay
Stars:
Shia LaBeouf
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley
MOVIE POSTERMADAGASCAR 3
dir. Eric Darnell
Stars:
Ben Stiller
Jada Pinkett Smith
MOVIE POSTERTHIS MUST BE THE PLACE
2012
dir. Paolo Sorrentino
Stars:
Sean Penn
Frances McDormand

 

PROMISED LAND
2012
dir. Gus Van Sant
Stars:
Matt Damon
John Krasinski
MOVIE POSTERMOONRISE KINGDOM
dir. Wes Anderson
Cast:
Bill Murray
Bruce Willis
MOVIE POSTERFRIENDS WITH MONEY
2006
dir. Nicole Holofcener
Stars:
Jennifer Aniston
Frances McDormand

 

Movie Review: HAIL CAESAR! (2016)

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hail_caesar_poster.jpgHAIL, CAESAR! (USA 2016) ****
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Starring: George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson, Alden Ehrenrich, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill

Review by Gilbert Seah

The Coen Brothers remain in top form.  They etch out a film almost annually, with almost each one a critical hit.  Their films are an annual event many moviegoers now look forward to.  Their best films include TRUE GRIT, FARGO, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and BURN AFTER READING, and all their films share the Brother’s keen sense of humour.  HAIL, CAESAR! like BURN AFTER READING is pure comedy and this one is a worthy tribute to the Hollywood dream-making machine.  It has the feel of a farce yet, it total respects the Hollywood studio system, for all its faults and errors.

The lead character is a Hollywood studio fixer by the name of Mannix, subtly portrayed by Josh Brolin, in the kind of role he has mastered.  He is a dead serious character you do not want to mess around with.  Or you will get slapped around like his main star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) did, before being told to then go out and act like a star.  The film begins with Mannix in a confessional box, pouring his heart out to the priest.  Mannix is shown to be a decent man, one that respects other human beings, despite their faults and one who loves his wife and kids.  He is the backbone of America and the one that make sense in the Coen film.  Which is required – or all else will go to nought and the film degenerates into nonsense.  Of all the sins confessed, the one that affects him the most is his cigarette smoking.  He has promised his wife (Alison Pill) to cut down and is unable to do so.  The plot generally follows Mannix around while things in the Studio fall apart, while being offered a smoke most of the time.  Mannix fixes things, hilariously yet credibly, and that is the basic premise of HAIL, CAESAR!  While all these are going on, he is wooed for a better paying, better hours job at Lockheed Incorporated.

The things that can go wrong provide most of the satire and entertainment.  A famous actress, DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) is pregnant and her image is about to be ruined.  A famous cowboy actor, Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) is unable to utter his lines to the satisfaction of his director Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes).  Tabloid columnist sisters (both played by Tilda Swinton wearing different hats) want a scoop trying to dig in dirt about star Whitlock.  The most jarring problem is Whitlock being kidnapped by a groups of disgruntled scriptwriters who want their far share of the dough.  Mannix has to sort them all out.

All these problems provide ample opportunity for hilarity – Coen Brothers style.  And they keep the laughs coming with twists in the story as they know best.  The brains behind kidnapping turns out to be communist Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum).

The Brothers play plenty of homage to old classics.  There is a spectacular swimming Busby Berkley swimming number, Esther Williams style as in MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID, a one-take musical gay-type musical number with no dames to the tune of “No Dames”with nods to ANCHORS AWEIGH and Rogers and Hammerstein’s song “There is Nothing like a Dame” from SOUTH PACIFIC and scenes that could be taken right out of William Wyler’s BEN-HUR, just to name a few.

The Brothers have also assembled quite the impressive all-star cast, though some on the list only appear for a few minutes in a scene or two.  The Jonah Hill character seems present just to utter the line  “It’s all part of the job, Miss.”  Fiennes and Johansson are only present for two scenes while Frances McDormand has only one as a chain-smoking editor who gets chokes by the film reel in the editing room.  For whatever they do, they leave the audience wanting for more.  Relative newcomer Ehrenreich steals the show as the cute cowboy who eventually helps Mannix instead of the other way around.

Great directors have made films about the passion in the making of movies.  Fellini had 81/2, Truffaut LA NUIT AMERICAINE, Almodovar BAD EDUCATION and the Coen Brothers HAIL, CASEAR!.  Everything comes clear as to what the Coens are up to by the end reel.  There are elements that don’t work that well or are overdone, but or the most part HAIL, CAESAR! is quite the movie, especially for the moviebuff.  HAIL, CAESAR is a minor classic but a major delight!  I would see it again.

 

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