The Ballad of Buster Scruggs reviews

Mister Tee
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Re: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Sun Dec 09, 2018 1:58 am

Like all anthology films, its vignettes are of varying quality.

I enjoyed the Tim Blake Nelson opener -- it was jaunty, and full of surprising developments, right up to the finish.

I also got something of a kick out of James Franco's segment. It was just an anecdote, really -- but Franco's "Your first time?" was, for me, the funniest moment in the entire film.

Like many, I found the two middle stories the most problematic. The Liam Neeson chunk didn't really have much to it -- it was just a set-up and punch line -- and it seemed they were trying to push it to more conventional length by repeating the actor's performance way more times than was necessary.

Then the Tom Waits/miner section just went on forever. It had a respectable finale, but the half hour or so it took leading up to that was bearable only because it was the most picturesque part of the film.

Zoe Kazan's adventure on the trail was the most substantial, best-developed of the six stories -- it felt like the centerpiece of the entire film, and had more emotional resonance than anything that preceded it. I note that Kazan has been supporting-nominated at a few of those regional critics' groups, a step I could endorse.

I caught the drift of the closing segment pretty early on, but I still enjoyed it for the obvious delight the actors took in their rich dialogue, as well as some of the images Delbonnel provided.

All tolled, a minor Coen effort, but worth sitting through for the high points.

Big Magilla
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Re: The Ballad of Lester Scruggs reviews

Postby Big Magilla » Wed Oct 31, 2018 3:38 am

Tee must have been thinking of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, the blue grass Foggy Mountain Boys when he started the thread.

It's not as bad as some of my name mix-ups. :|
“‎Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.” - Voltaire

The Original BJ
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Re: The Ballad of Lester Scruggs reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Wed Oct 31, 2018 12:41 am

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (and it is Buster, should anyone want to adjust the title of this thread) is a film that I enjoyed more fully overall than as the sum of its parts. Because I think there are some pretty obvious limitations -- besides the fact that anthology films always sort of feel more like a short film festival than a full feature, I'd say virtually all of the stories here could have been better. A lot of them drag, some build to climaxes that aren't especially interesting, and there's an overall patchy quality to the storytelling throughout.

But despite all this, I just enjoyed being in the environment of this movie -- the Coens' portrait of the American West is richly realized, their sense of humor and grim fatalism is one-of-a-kind, their way with a turn of phrase is consistently memorable, and they get great work from their collaborators, from the often gorgeous photography (courtesy of their Inside Llewyn Davis DP Bruno Delbonnel) to the typically jaunty score by Carter Burwell. Plus, the thematic ties between the pieces enhance their meaning simply by proximity to each other -- death plays a significant role in every story, and the brutality and randomness of life and death on the frontier is portrayed in a manner that doesn't feel repetitive despite being so omnipresent.

I also liked the varied tones of the shorts. The funniest ones lead off the film, with "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" containing one of the most laugh-out-loud sight gags in any Coen film, as well as some amusing musical moments. And "Near Algodones" is, though not the best of the shorts, maybe the most efficient in terms of carrying out its concept and execution (which is basically a build up to a punchline).

The middle section gets quite a bit darker. I liked the bleakness and haunting quality of "Meal Ticket," but did think it dragged on too much to justify the fairly simple conclusion to which it built. "All Gold Canyon" is by far my least favorite -- despite some beautiful visuals, I thought it barely amounted to a story. (I'm aware this one is based on a Jack London short story I've not read -- I'm assuming it amounted to more in literature form.) "The Gal Who Got Rattled" is easily my favorite, and the one that feels the richest and most fully realized as storytelling, but even there, I thought the last act, while compelling, felt totally disconnected from what had come before.

The final short, "The Mortal Remains," is a real departure, and takes us into gothic horror territory. I imagine this one may leave many baffled, but I found it chilling in its best moments, and its existentialist discussions often fascinating. I assume there will be many interpretations of what it all means, but for the moment I'll just say that I thought it was an unexpected yet pleasingly welcome button on which to end this collection of tales.

One other thought: I think the Coens definitely could have done better when it comes to the depictions of Native Americans. In both stories in which they're featured, they're nothing but faceless savages attacking the white characters. Why not a short from a Native's point of view? It feels like a real weakness at this point in history to just be regurgitating the kind of images from westerns that folks have deemed offensive for decades without any attempt to critique them.

As I said, I pretty consistently wanted this movie to be better, but I admired its sensibility and singularity enough despite its weaknesses.

Mister Tee
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The Ballad of Buster Scruggs reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Fri Aug 31, 2018 5:28 pm

Last edited by Mister Tee on Sun Dec 02, 2018 11:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.


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