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. 

 

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Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

No Country For Old Men (2007)

no-country
Image is property of Miramax Films and Paramount Vantage

No Country For Old Men – Film Review

Cast:  Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Woody Harrelson, Kelly MacDonald

Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen

Synopsis: When a man stumbles across a drug deal that has gone sour and finds a suitcase with a large amount of cash, he finds himself being pursued by a relentless hit-man who will stop at nothing to reclaim the cash…

Review: What would you do if you happened to come across a substantial amount of cash that you found in the desert? Chances are you’d probably take the loot and run as fast as you could for the hills. Yet what if you knew (somehow) that the money was the subject of a drug deal that had gone just a bit awry? Would you think twice? You might well do if you knew that there was a psychopathic man after you, who will stop at nothing to recover the loot from said drug deal.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy, at the centre of this thriller is Llewelyn Moss (Brolin) who upon finding the aforementioned loot does decide to bag the cash and make a run for it, along with his wife Carla Jean (MacDonald). However his pursuer Anton Chigurh (Bardem) is the crazy mofo who is after the cash, and possess machine like determination in order to hunt Moss down and reclaim the cash. Thus this gives the audience a game of cat and mouse, that is brilliantly written and expertly brought to the screen by the Coen brothers. Right from the moment the chase begins, the tension begins and never abates until the credits role. The dialogue is minimal in some scenes but the tension remains high throughout the two hour run time as you watch this chase unfold.

The film is bolstered immeasurably by the performances of its three main actors, all of whom give excellent performances, Tommy Lee Jones is perfect as the gruff Sheriff Ed Tom Bell who becomes involved in the chase between Moss and Chigurh, all the while becoming horrified with what the world has become. Brolin, as the mouse in the chase, is also excellent determined to do whatever it takes to survive, mainly due to the strong love of his wife . Yet, it is undoubtedly Bardem who gives the most impressive performance. Here’s a man who could make the most innocuous conversation sound utterly terrifying, such as a conversation about the toss of a coin. He hunts his prey with Terminator like efficiency with even a terrifying haircut! He will spare no one in his quest to reclaim the cash, and is certainly remains one of the finest psychopathic, menacing villains that has ever been put to the big screen.

chigurh

The Coens masterful writing, lifting McCarthy’s novel from page to screen excellently, and their exquisite direction is aided by the usually flawless cinematography from Roger Deakins, marking his incredible 8th collaboration with the Coens. Both were recipients of Oscar nods for their incredible work, and in the case of the Coens, it was three times a charm as took home the prizes for directing, writing for an Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture, as well as a well earned triumph for Bardem for Supporting Actor. Sadly Deakins did not take home the gong for cinematography, but the sheer quality of his work remains crystal clear. What also remains clear is that this is one of, if not, the finest pieces of work from the Coens. The ending leaves much open to interpretation, as such, it may jar with some, but when you sit down and assess everything you have witnessed, it is absolutely perfect, a word that could be used to describe just about every aspect of this extraordinary film.

Anchored by three outstanding performances by its leads, with brilliant dark humour thrown in for good measure, this is the Coen brothers’s masterpiece, without any question of a doubt.

a

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

True Grit (2010)

True-Grit
Image rights belong to Skydance Productions, Mike Zoss Productions, Scott Rudin Productions and Paramount Pictures

True Grit – Film Review

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Hailee Steinfeld

Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen

Synopsis: A young woman (Steinfeld) seeks revenge for the murder of her father and enlists the help of a US Marshal (Bridges) to help track down her father’s killer.

Review: Remakes and retelling of stories we have seen before tend to have something of a curse upon them. Audiences may tend to moan and whine and say that the new effort to tell a story that has already been told is not worth telling. Well Messrs Joel and Ethan Coen might just have something to say about that, as their retelling of the novel of the same name by Charles Portis, which was first adapted for the big screen in 1969, is well, a remarkable triumph.

The story focuses on young Mattie Ross, a girl of 14 years of age, who after her father is murdered by an outlaw, seeks vengeance on her father’s killer. To do this however, she must enlist the help of the law in the shape of US Marshal Rooster Cogburn and Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, and so begins a manhunt. The Coens certainly showed that they understood the Western genre with the thrilling No Country for Old Men, albeit that was a Western set in modern times. Here however, it’s a traditional western tale fused with good ol’ fashioned revenge, and the Coen brothers absolutely nail it once again with a terrific story and a wonderful screenplay, that is aided in no small part by the phenomenal performances of its actors, and the quality of the source material.

In the lead role of Rooster Cogburn, a role that won John Wayne an Academy Award, Jeff Bridges is excellent as he re teams with the directors that brought to life one of the most iconic film characters of all time, that’s the Dude man! His accent is very thick and a little bit hard to understand in places, and while he may have been a bit hostile towards her in the early stages, his relationship with Ross is ultimately what drives the story forward and their chemistry is excellent. Speaking of which, Steinfeld as Ross is also fantastic, in what was an incredible breakthrough performance after she beat well over 15,000 people for the role. Matt Damon also puts in a superb performance as the Texas Ranger but it is the work of Bridges and especially Steinfeld that steal the show, as the two of them ensured Oscar nominations for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress respectively came their way, and well deserved ones too.

As usual with the Coens, the film making here is of a very high quality,  the cinematography by frequent Coen collaborator Roger Deakins is as usual glorious. Night time scenes feel realistic and one can almost feel the cold of winter as the Marshal and his employer set off and encounter some of that pesky snow. Deakins certainly knows how to set up a good shot and there are plenty of these packed throughout the movie, with the Coens once again showing they certainly know how to direct remarkable action sequences that are sure to leave the viewer on the edge of their seat.

The Coens certainly know how to leave their unmistakeable stamp on a project, as they did so in emphatic fashion with No Country for Old Men, and here they do so again. As well as the acting nominations, the film secured eight other nominations, and while it failed to secure any, make no mistake, this adaptation, likes its characters certainly is full of true grit, and of a very high calibre to rank itself as one of the finest films the Coens have ever put to the big screen.

Anchored by two tremendous performances from Bridges and Steinfeld, with a great story stamped with that distinctive Coen brothers seal, top drawer film making. 

a

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Hail Caesar
Image rights belong to: Working Title Films, Mike Zoss Productions and Universal Pictures

Hail, Caesar – Film Review

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

Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen

Synopsis: 1950s Hollywood, and a film studio is in the middle of its big budget production of Hail, Caesar! Yet when things begin to go awry, the studio must battle to keep things afloat.

Review: The Oscar winning Coen Brothers on writing and directing duties? Check. An all star cast including Oscar winners and nominees? Check. A film set in a time that many would consider to be in the Golden Age of Hollywood? Check. With all these combined, you would think that the visionaries behind The Big Lebowski, the superb 2010 remake of True Grit and No Country for Old Men, would strike gold with this unique and original story, as they have done in the past? The answer, is unfortunately, no.

The centre piece of this whole wacky movie is that of Josh Brolin’s Eddie Mannix, the head of Physical Productions and also the man who is there to ensure that the studio’s dirty linen is not aired in public. Yet problems begin to arise here, there and everywhere, most notably the fact that the lead actor on the studio’s massive movie, Baird Whitlock (Clooney) suddenly disappears, after being kidnapped. Yet despite all this, the burden falls onto Mannix to keep everything afloat. The Coens certainly know how to do humour, and do it very well as The Big Lebowski demonstrates, and that humour is on display here and to the maximum with plenty of humorous moments.

Furthermore with a top cast of A list Hollywood talent assembled, all excel in their roles. However some are given more opportunities to shine than others, which is a shame as there are some very entertaining characters who you would like to have been given a bit more screen time. Ralph Fiennes in particular has one absolutely golden moment, but this is not followed up. Many of the talents are vastly underutilised and it is just a bit frustrating to watch as you would like to see them have more scenes.

In terms of plot, it is a bit of a mess to be honest. Mannix is the main man and its his story that is the centrepiece. Yet there are so many different stories running along at the same time, that it is a little confusing to keep up. What’s more, there are several plot points that are just left hanging. It feels like the Coens just thought of a bunch of random sketches, and concocted them together into one film. As such when the big reveal of what is arguably the film’s primary plot occurs, you just don’t care as much as you could, or maybe should as the script is just too messy and all over the place.

What is not out of place though is the detail, 1950s Hollywood has been captured tremendously well and with the one and only Roger Deakins as the cinematographer, you know the film will look absolutely immaculate, and it does. However, despite this incredible attention to detail, this was a real missed opportunity for the Coens to add another top drawer film to their incredible filmography. The film is seen as the Coens love letter to 1950s Hollywood, but it’s a shame that said letter is written in poor handwriting, to the point where it’s almost incomprehensible to read.

1950s Hollywood has been impressively recreated and the Coens pull good performances from their A list cast, particularly from Fiennes and Ehrenreich, it’s just such a shame that it’s all wasted on a weak script.

 C+