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By midlandsmovies, Dec 11 2018 01:29PM



The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) Dir. The Coen Brothers


A 6-part anthology film that quickly ended up on Netflix, the award-winning Coen brothers are not immune to the modern day perils of the straight-to-streaming phenomena. However, like Alex Garland’s Annihilation, cinematic quality is there from the outset and this easily could have been more widely released in cinemas.


And given its quality it is a huge shame it wasn't.


The multiple, and magnificent, stories themselves are framed within the pages of a book and contain a range of tonally different shorts all set in the Wild West. The Coens’ dark humour and splashes of violence are well and present and the stories include a cocky outlaw played brilliantly by Tim Blake Nelson who sings (and floats) his way to heaven (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), James Franco’s bank-robber hanging by a noose (Near Algodones) and Liam Neeson’s impresario riding through towns with his actor Harrison who has no arms and legs (Meal Ticket).


The eclectic situations continue with Tom Waits’s grizzled prospector searching for riches in the wilderness (All Gold Canyon), a wagon train being attacked by natives (The Gal Who Got Rattled) and finally five people in a stagecoach that refuses to stop as it carries a dead body (The Mortal Remains).


With something for everyone, the yarns each have their own unique style and death and misery appear in all the tales. But the Coens haven’t scrimped on the comedy from annoying dogs, witty songs and characters trapped within their situations to humorous effect.


My personal favourite was The Gal Who Got Rattled with an excellent Zoe Kazan as innocent Alice Longabaugh and Bill Heck as the kindly and gruff Billy Knapp. That story could happily have been part of a longer film and the mixture of deadly attacks and sharp conversation was a highlight.


That said, each story has its own charms and for someone not keen on anthology flicks (see my Ghost Stories review here) the Coens have managed to weave 6 amazing stories into a cohesive and thematic whole.


Where Hail Caesar tackled Roman epics (and musical numbers) amongst its Hollywood setting, the Coens' influences here come from the American love of frontier films - another classic genre linking their modern takes within established cinematic history.


Not diverging greatly from their usual style, the death-obsessed duo deliver another historical romp with a great cast and amazing outdoor locations.


8/10


Mike Sales


By midlandsmovies, Jan 11 2018 12:02PM



The Disaster Artist (2017) Dir. James Franco


As an inexperienced filmmaker, actor, writer and director with over-reaching talent and delusions of grandeur in an attempt to be a master of all trades, James Franco sure does fit perfectly in playing fellow “visionary” Tommy Wiseau.


If you don’t already know, Tommy Wiseau is the writer/director/actor whose 2003 film The Room is regularly considered one of the worst films of all time. Based upon the book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, this adaptation is partly an Ed Wood portrait of a misunderstood genius and partly poking fun at the notorious flop with Tommy’s eccentricity taking centre stage.


For anyone who has seen The Room, the horrid acting, paper-thin sets, nonsensical plotting and endlessly quotable lines are all recognised part of its charm which saw it become a Rocky Horror Picture Show for a new generation. Midnight shows saw the film evolve into another interactive cult classic as crowds repeated its lines and brought in props to interact with during screenings.


Focusing on Tommy (James Franco) via a story framed from the viewpoint of the book’s author and fellow actor Greg Sistero (Dave Franco), the film is a slight look at the two’s fractured and strange relationship in their goal to become successful actors. James Franco tackles Wiseau’s oddball with enough ticks and hair-shaking as Tommy himself without being a pure impression yet strangely even Franco’s facial features have a genuinely uncanny resemblance to Wiseau.


Set in 1998’s San Francisco, Sestero meets Wiseau in acting classes and whilst the conventional teachers and students pour scorn on Wiseau’s peculiar take on the texts, a friendship is born and the two head to LA to pursue their acting dreams. As their efforts prove fruitless, Tommy decides to write and film his own screenplay and Greg reluctantly agrees to star.


From the outset the long script combined with a lack of business nous sees the dim duo buy the wrong equipment, build unneeded sets and audition (then sack) countless actors and crew. For “fans” of The Room (I admit I’ve seen it twice but both times with commentary - from Jaboody Dubs and Red Letter Media) the recreations of the locations, actors and scenes are spot on but if a film was made about Rocky Horror, you may simply wonder why you’re not watching the more fun original.


The Disaster Artist has flashes of genius but the story of the film’s making is simply on screen in the original. This film doesn’t enlighten you to the secrets of The Room as the bad decisions made and the sincerity of the film is already portrayed in The Room itself with its sheer god awfulness.


That said, the scenes are a suitable mix of multiple takes as Tommy forgets his lines as well as ridiculous overacting. And Seth Rogan as the director stares in awe at the garbage that’s playing out in front of him. Yet Rogen gets more laughs as a low-budget director in his similar role in “Zack & Miri”. As Wiseau’s “vision” slowly comes together the toils take their toll on the two friend’s bond and they stumble over the finish line before arranging a premier in Hollywood.


The reception and subsequent reassessment of the film is pure dramatic ‘retcon-ing’ with Tommy stating he intended to make people laugh all along, which I am sure is not the case in the slightest. But that’s part of Wiseau’s charm. Always looking for an angle to break into the “big time” he finally gets a real-life movie to do justice to his efforts and to also, hopefully, encourage more folk to watch his dreadful original.


In the end, James Franco is admittedly great as Wiseau but overall this film is “safe” to the point of humdrum as there’s neither a great in depth analysis of Tommy himself (his background is still unknown today) or a specific directorial style. Franco has stated The Disaster Artist was "a combination of Boogie Nights and The Master” which is pure Wiseau – overblown, hugely ambitious, outlandish and utterly not true.


7/10


Midlands Movies Mike



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