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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, May 5 2018 02:05PM



The Commuter (2018) Dir. Jaume Collet-Serra


Liam Neeson never seemed like a likely action hero when his imposing frame appeared in the rather fantastic but ultimately silly revenge flick Taken. Instead of an excellent one-off, the actor has attempted to recapture that glory on multiple occasions (including 2 Taken sequels) and each one worse than the last. And most with Commuter director Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown, Non-Stop, Run All Night).


Here, he plays an ex-cop (yes, really) who has now lost his job at a high flying banking corporation which leaves him unemployed and with large debts. Not wanting to explain the circumstances to his family, he meets Vera Farmiga on his regular train ride who tasks him with finding a person in the carriages on the promise of a large amount of cash.


Along with Farmiga, Patrick Wilson appears as an old cop pal and Sam Neill is a high ranking police captain but don’t let these quality actors lull you into a false sense of security. They all barely appear in the film and are given nothing to work with when they do show up.


With both the premise (and Farmiga) borrowed from Source Code (where she also gave a mission to a man to find someone on a train), the film has a solid 25 minutes of fun action in the middle when it picks up pace. However, it is bookended by large swatches of utter drivel with poor dialogue and drama. It also contains some truly horrific CGI, especially the shots from outside the train, whilst the virtual dolly shots are abysmal.


It’s of course absolute shlock but that middle segment is entertaining to a point. It also has a very similar premise to Neeson's other transit flick Non-Stop with the plane replaced by a locomotive here. Although he’s on the phone a lot on this one, at least he’s not texting! Is that better? Yes, but it’s hardly an endorsement.


A selection of random, and dull as dishwater, fisticuff and train jumping plot points culminate in a ludicrous Speed-like finale with a runaway train. And although the action has lost all believability at this point, with the cartoon-level computer generated loco steaming ahead, it was topped by an “I’m Spartacus” sequence that had me howling with laughter.


But alas, that one giant guffaw aside, any positives are small and this high concept but low budget actioner is not one you want to be travelling on for long.


5.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike


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