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

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs Poster

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


Ethan CoenJoel Coen


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.


Film Review: THE BIG SICK (USA 2017) ***

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the big sickA couple deals with their cultural differences as their relationship grows.

Director: Michael Showalter
Writers: Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani
Stars: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter

Review by Gilbert Seah
When Kumail sees the girl he is dating, Emily in a coma in the hospital, he tells himself that if she ever gets out of this, he would marry her. It would be difficult for one not to feel for this romantic affair, especially when the incident is true. This is what differentiates THE BIG SICK from most romantic comedies. THE BIG SICK is based on the real-life courtship between Kumail Nanjiani and his now-wife, Emily V. Gordon. Nanjiani plays himself using the same first name in the film while Emily is played by Zoe Kazan. Hi real wife co-wrote the screenplay with her husband for the film.
The film project began when producer Judd Apatow (KNOCKED UP) met Nanjiani after he did his stand-up comic routine. So, there are a lot of stand-up routines in the film. In fact, a lot of the dialogue spoken during the film would be typical of what comes out of the mouths of a stand-up comic. This is here a good thing, as the film is pleasantly funny from start to end – dialogue-wise.

Despite the film based on true events and a real life Kumail, the romantic comedy falls into the same trap that most fall into. THE BIG STICK is a predictable Harlequin romance paperback type story complete with awkward first meeting, the necessary obstacles, in this case Emily finding out about Kumail’s other dates from the photographs in his box, not to mention her coma and his objecting parents. These obstacles are conveniently overcome for the couple to live happily ever after.

The film’s story is simple enough. While Kumail is performing stand-up comedy on stage, he is heckled (though she insists is a good heckle) by Emily, there as a spectator. An affair slowly develops. Meanwhile Kumail’s mother keeps setting him up for a Muslim bride. Kumail keeps this from Emily, though she finds out. Emily goes into a coma due to a rare decease and Kumail meets her parents forming a bond with them. It does not take a genius to figure out what happens in the end.

The film’s funniest parts come from Kumail’s Muslim parents. The mother is constantly trying to matchmake her son to marry a Muslim girl. The father is more tolerant but no less funny. Emil’s parents are funny too but they bring a more serious side to the film. The unexpected bonding between Emily’s parents and Kumail add a nice unexpected twist to the story.

The film’s humour is also heightened by having several other standup comics deliver their stand-up acts during throughout the film.

The film ends with shots of the real couple Kumail and the real Emily during the closing credits. THE BIG SICK is one of the better romantic comedies, credit to producer Apatow who seems to have the knack of discovering new comedy talent.


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Happy Birthday: Zoe Kazan

zoekazan.jpgZoe Kazan

Born: September 9, 1983 in Los Angeles, California, USA

[on playwriting] I think action should be revealed through character, so if you have a plot problem, it’s probably a character problem. It’s fun and easy to write language, but there were things I loved that I had to get rid of because they are no longer carrying their weight.

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