The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

A wanted sharp-shooter arrives at a busy saloon. A cowboy attempts to rob a small bank. A young limbless orator travels with his ageing, opportunistic handler. An old prospector searches for a hidden gold pocket. A betrothed woman finds herself travelling alone in a wagon train. Five strangers take a carriage ride together. These six stories make up the latest offering from the Coen brothers, a straight-to-Netflix western anthology of mostly consistent quality and impeccable casting.
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Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a put-upon movie producer for Capitol Pictures in 1951. Over the course of one 27-hour period he must deal with rival gossip columnist twins Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton), a rising western star (Alden Ehrenreich) being reimagined as a dramatic actor, much to the chagrin of his new director (Ralph Fiennes), the unexpected pregnancy of a swimming starlet (Scarlett Johansson), offers for Mannix himself to change to a high powered position in another company, as well as the supposed kidnapping of major star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) by a Communist cell calling themselves “The Future” and the fall-out from Whitlock’s disappearance, which is delaying the production of a lavish epic.
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Cowboys and Aliens

Apologies again for the lack of recent posts. I’ve been in hospital again for the past few days (where I managed to watch this film but do little else). All being well my extended medical excursions are now complete, and I can get back to watching films and writing posts. Hopefully there’ll be a steady slew of posts over the next week or so, as there’s about twenty from the List that I’ve watched recently and haven’t reviewed yet. Right, back to today’s feature:

With a title like Cowboys & Aliens, a certain level of expectation is accrued before watching. Along with approximately equal parts ranch hands and space travellers; their respective genres of horse opera and sci-fi melded neatly together, there surely must be a hefty dollop of fun, because the premise is more than a little ridiculous. Yes, it’s just as plausible as any other alien invasion flick, for why necessarily would beings from another planet arrive in present day, but the very notion of cowboys on horseback, with lassos and pistols, taking on intergalactic creatures capable of space travel and ray guns is just insane. So whilst I’d heard mediocre reviews elsewhere of this film, I at least expected to be entertained and amused throughout.

Chances are, this would have had a better chance of happening with a different cast. Though the film’s marketing and other reviewers have revelled in the idea of Bond and Indy together again (The Last Crusade famously saw Sean Connery, the one true Bond, playing Indiana Jones’ father) what director Jon Favreau doesn’t seem to realise is that an older, eye-twinkle-free Harrison Ford and a stoic, seldom talking Daniel Craig just aren’t funny, and have next to no chemistry together.

Craig’s Jake Lonergan awakes in the desert with nought but a photograph of a lady, a strange wound on his side and an even stranger chunky bracelet clamped to his arm. He can’t remember his name or anything else, so after seeing to a trio of miscreants, he heads into the nearby town of Absolution, terrorised by Ford’s bitter cattle baron Dolarhyde. The first half hour or so is easily the best in the film, setting up what looks like an interesting traditional western – albeit significantly more polished and brighter than others made recently, and even once the aliens attack, in a gripping sky-lasso sequence, it stays on the rails. Afterwards however, once every named character has either been snatched by the creatures or sets out after them, it loses it’s way.

Lonergan and Dolarhyde’s posse – for it is they that lead the hunt – is made up of some nameless alien-fodder, and is joined by a rag-tag bunch of townsfolk, including Sam Rockwell’s meek doctor-come-bartender and Olivia Wilde’s mysterious stranger. Wilde and Craig look entirely out of place in the Old West, their piercing eyes, clear skin and complete lack of cragginess juxtaposing with the entirety of the rest of the cast, including the likes of Ford, Keith Carradine and Clancy Brown, who appear to have been born to wear a stetson and chaps.

The best characters are easily Rockwell’s doc and Paul Dano’s Percy, Dolarhyde’s obnoxious son, so it’s puzzling just why they were sidelined quite so much. Had they been the central pairing, this could have been a far greater, more entertaining and interesting picture. The aliens, too, were disappointing. Their design isn’t anything overly creative – other than a chest cavity that opens up to reveal two small arms for delicate work – and they had a confusing blend of advanced weaponry and primitive pounce-and-flail combat techniques. They also had absolutely no characterisation, and quite frankly the notion that they invaded to steal gold is beyond ridiculous, and was the point at which I gave up on the film.

It’s my own fault for going in with high hopes after reading middling reviews, but I feel this is a great concept that was floundered on the wrong cast. Favreau as a director seemed a perfect choice, but he forgot to bring the funny. Yes, Craig’s impassiveness did cause humour at times, mainly when he caused people pain, but all-in-all this was a missed opportunity for a great film.

Choose life 5/10

The Shawshank Redemption

This is one of the films I’ve seen more times than any other, up there with Armageddon and Die Hard with a Vengeance (criminally, neither of which appear on the list). Shawshank tells the story of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), wrongly convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover. Really though, the film is about friendship, with Dufresne meeting Morgan Freeman’s Red, a man known to locate certain items from time to time, and the two form a firm bond. The film also shows how to make the best of a bad situation, as before imprisonment Andy was in a relationship with an unfaithful women, a successful but passion-less job as a banker and had few, if any, friends (none seem to visit him throughout his sentence), yet in prison he thrives, providing sound financial advice to the guards, making friends and finding peace within himself with the aid of a newfound routine and meaning. Andy never knew that all he wanted was freedom, until what little he had was taken away from him.

Choose film 9/10