Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)

Image is property of Netflix

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – Film Review

Cast:  Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Zoe Kazan, Brendan Gleeson, Tom Waits

Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen

Synopsis: A collection of six unique short stories, telling the plights of various people in very different situations in the West after the Civil War.

Review: Beginning, middle and end, a structure that films tend to adhere to. However, every once in a while, a film will come along that deviates from this structure. It may choose to tell the story in reverse order or to jump back and forth.  Hence this latest venture from Joel and Ethan Coen is unique in this respect, as instead of telling one story across two hours and ten minutes to be precise, they fill this by choosing to tell six unique stories charting the lives of a handful of different folk, each of whom are in a variety of different situations in the wake of the Civil War.

To tell six miniaturised stories as opposed to your more traditional three-structured film is an unconventional choice to say the least, but under the assured direction of the Coen brothers, it for the most part works a treat. Though some are much stronger than others, there is enjoyment to be hand in each of the stories that the Coens bring to life. Telling each story through the perspective of a storybook, we jump in with funnily enough Mr Buster Scruggs himself (Blake Nelson) a tootin’ cowboy who likes to play his guitar and sing a song for y’all. But, he is also a dab hand with a pistol, which inevitably leads to some trouble down the line.

Next we move onto ‘Near Algodones’ a nameless-up-to-no-good cowboy (Franco) who finds himself in a tricky predicament when he tries to rob a bank, with some hilarious results. “Meal Ticket’ features Liam Neeson and Harry Melling as a theatre double act, the latter of whom has no arms or legs. Despite putting on a good show, they find their numbers and income decreasing, which puts Neeson’s character in a tricky situation as to what to do with his companion. While there is some intriguing moments with both of these two segments, they do end somewhat abruptly, which is frustrating, particularly in the case of the latter, it really would have benefited with a bit more closure to the story.

The next two stories are where the film really starts to shine. ‘All Gold Canyon’ features Tom Waits as a prospector seeking the fortune of a rather large collection of gold located in an absolutely beautiful valley. Now would be a good time to mention Bruno Delbonnel’s superb cinematography which is on point across every story, but it is here especially is where it shines brightest. Waits is great as this wacky prospector seeking this fortune that, perhaps unsurprisingly has attracted the attention of some other folk looking for this fortune for themselves. ‘The Gal Who Got Rattled features Zoe Kazan as a young woman who after a family tragedy is seeking a new opportunity. It’s more dialogue heavy than the preceding stories, but Kazan’s excellent performance makes it extremely compelling to watch.

Finally, the last segment  ‘The Mortal Remains’ retains the intrigue but being the most dialogue heavy of all the stories, it is considerably not as interesting as the preceding stories. Though the dialogue is well written once again, it is really quite underwhelming as a final chapter to a rather fascinating collection of short stories. All six stories do explore similar themes about the human struggle as we all navigate this small little thing called life that we as human beings all negotiate, and the rather significant matter of death. However, to ensure that it is not all doom and gloom, The Coens, much like we all do with our own lives, fill each of these segments with their signature style of comedy that, for the most part, serves each story really rather well.

The short nature of each story will undoubtedly leave some viewers unfulfilled. Nevertheless, the thought provoking themes that beat at the heart of all six of the stories, plus some exquisite work in the cinematography, production design and costume department give this anthology film some mighty visual splendour. Though this is not on the level of say a No Country for Old Men or True Grit, given the rambling mess that was Hail! Caesar, a return to the Wild West, and indeed a much more coherent film from the duo is a darn good thing y’all.

Combining comedy and some very dark and dramatic moments, with some strong themes that beat at the heart of all six stories, this is a most welcome to return to form for the Coen brothers. 

 

Advertisements
Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

harry-potter-and-the-goblet-of-fire-movie-poster
Image is property of Warner Bros Studios and Heyday Films

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – Film Review

Cast:  Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael Gambon, Ralph Fiennes, Gary Oldman, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman, Brendan Gleeson

Director: Mike Newell

Synopsis: Now in his fourth year at Hogwarts, the school is playing host to the Tri-Wizard Tournament, and Harry is somewhat unexpectedly selected to take part in this deadly contest.

Review: By the time a franchise reaches its fourth instalment, there is a risk that things could start to get a bit formulaic and a bit repetitive, and viewers may soon start to lose interest. Yet in the case of Harry Potter, after coming on the back of the quite brilliant Prisoner of Azkaban, the interest remained sky high, and to counter the argument that things may start becoming repetitive, this franchise has an answer to that: The Goblet of Fire.

After the dramatic end to the last instalment which went all sci-fi on the audience with the time turner adventure, the excitement picks up almost immediately with our key trio of Harry, Ron and Hermione along with members of the Weasley clan off to the Quidditch World Cup. Visually brilliant, it’s all smiles and joyful with everyone having a good time, until it all goes a bit dark and violent as hints of Voldemort are getting louder and louder. This sets everyone off in quite a melancholic mood as they board their train to start their fourth year at Hogwarts, all the while with Harry having some very dark and sinister nightmares.

With this new year, Hogwarts is the stage for something special, the aforementioned Tri Wizard Tournament in which three champions compete in deadly magical tasks, with one champion from the schools of Hogwarts, with the ladies of the Beauxbatons Academy and the fellas of the Durmstrang Institute, all chosen by the mysterious Goblet of Fire. However, this one champion per school situation is made a bit complicated when Harry is also chosen alongside the other champions. Faced with no other choice, Harry must compete in this competition.

After Alfonso Cuaron brought tremendous visuals to the preceding chapter, new director Mike Newell continues this trend, and also bringing perhaps some of the most gripping sequences of the franchise to date. The Tri-Wizard tasks are very well put together and edited supremely well, with excellent CGI to boot. Despite all the magic and danger involved in this chapter, Newell manages to bring something everyone has experienced at some points in their lives, growing up and falling in love. The hormones are raging throughout the story, as our lead characters in particular are having a tricky time displaying their feelings for one another.  The film’s screenplay is far from perfect, but Kloves does his best to squeeze the key elements from Rowling’s novel in just over 2 and a half hours.

As the actors age, their performances improve quite significantly, particularly the core trio of Harry, Ron and Hermione. The bickering between Ron and Hermione is at times funny but also at times sad, because you want them to get together, but with all those teenage angsty feelings they have going on it does make things difficult. The cast for all the movies to this point was perfect, and it remained so with the addition of some colourful new characters to the mix. The best of the bunch being Brendan Gleeson’s Mad Eye Moody. With him, the clue is in the name, he’s a colourful character, but also just a bit mental. Robert Pattinson also does a sterling job as the Hogwarts champion Cedric Diggory.

Yet the most important new piece in this puzzle was Lord Voldemort, who finally makes a full appearance and is played fantastically by Ralph Fiennes. Much like the core trio of Harry, Ron and Hermione, the casting of the Dark Lord had to be just right, and in Fiennes, they had just the actor to bring this fearsome dark wizard to the big screen. With a brilliant closing battle to close this chapter of the Potter saga, it sends a chilling reminder to its audience, the dark times are returning and no wizard that dwells in the world of magic is safe.

Blending the perils of growing up with great humour and adding in really dark terrifying stuff tremendously well, The Goblet of Fire demonstrated that this franchise may have started off as child’s play, but not any more. 

a