LFF 2018: The Favourite

Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, Emma Delves

UK Release Date: January 1st, 2019

Written by Sarah Buddery

It takes a special kind of director to have already forged such a unique visual style and creative method of storytelling, with relatively few major features under his belt. But Yorgos Lanthimos is one such director and one who has undeniably earned that often used mantle of “visionary” director.

Seconds into a Lanthimos film, you know who the director is, and you also know you’re in for a wild time. His films tend to divide opinion, but it is fair to say that The Favourite is his most accessible film to date. Hopefully, this then opens up the doors into the rest of his filmography and new people can discover the diversity in his films that lies behind it!

The Favourite focuses on three female characters; the petulant Queen Anne (Colman), her devoted friend Lady Sarah (Weisz), and the new servant Abigail (Stone). What follows is a riotous period romp as Lady Sarah and Abigail fight for the Queen’s attention. The Favourite is a film that veers wildly between the grotesque and the sublime, and Lanthimos’ trademark offbeat and jet-black comedy runs right through it.

Lanthimos’ equally unique visual stamp is all over this movie. There are moments of precise Kubrickian symmetry in some of the tracking shots, and it’s full of weird angles, whip-pans and fisheye lenses. The Favourite is a decadent and sumptuous feast for the eyes. This is a playful film, one that toys with you, and also one that feels indulgent, whimsical, and wild. Fans of this director will know what to expect, and The Favourite absolutely does not disappoint in this sense.

It’s possibly the highest possible compliment you could pay, given her career so far, but this is possibly the best performance of Olivia Colman’s career. She is clearly having tremendous fun with the role, but she has a remarkable knack for making the Queen consistently likeable, even in the most outrageous moments. It’s a committed and tremendously physical role for her as well, and she absolutely astounds. Equally, Weisz and Stone give terrific performances and the three of them together have a chemistry that simply lights up the screen.

Where previously his film’s have proved divisive, The Favourite may just be the film that changes people’s minds on Yorgos Lanthimos. Its exceptional A-List cast might be the major draw for some people, but The Favourite has so much more to offer beyond that. Wickedly funny and delectably dark, this is Lanthimos’ strongest film of his career, and one of the best films of the year. Go on, indulge yourselves!

Sarah’s Verdict:

5

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REVIEW: Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

Directed by: Drew Goddard
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, Lewis Pullman, Chris Hemsworth

Written by Rhys Bowen-Jones

Drew Goddard is fast-becoming a household name. Having been on the scene for the last 10 or so years, he now has two directorial efforts under his belt, 2012’s cult hit horror-comedy The Cabin in the Woods and now this, a neo-noir mystery thriller with an excellent cast to support it. As with Cabin, El Royale manages to put an enjoyable spin on a classic genre with an impressively surprising and twisty tale of violence and intrigue.

The El Royale Hotel exists on the state line between California and Nevada. A former hot spot for celebrities, it has seen better days and it finds itself as a late night refuge for a band of lovable misfits from across the land. As the hotel guests arrive, the hotel’s secrets reveal itself alongside the hidden pasts of its new inhabitants.

A film such as this – a dialogue-heavy mystery that relies as much on intrigue as it does on action – needs an onboard cast, and Goddard struck gold with those at his disposal. You have a powerhouse like Jeff Bridges, alongside a relative newcomer like Cynthia Erivo, backed up by a terrific actor who is due a leap into the Hollywood big leagues by now in Jon Hamm. That’s not even mentioning Chris Hemsworth in an against-type villain role and Dakota Johnson, one of Hollywood’s hottest rising stars. Everyone engages fully with their character, and it compliments the film beautifully.

In fact, its characters are the film’s strongest suit in my book. Every conversation is fascinating because it’s delivered with panache and passion, Jeff Bridges’ mysterious priest Daniel Flynn is an easy example of this. He takes a shine to Erivo’s equally mysterious (there’s a lot of mystery going on here, as is becoming clear) Darlene Sweet, a struggling singer from Indiana. The two have a conversation over pie about where they’ve come from and where they go is extremely engaging; Bridges, in particular, is terrific in this scene, managing to make me laugh and then pull at my heartstrings only a few lines of dialogue later. El Royale does an excellent job balancing these conversations with action, and this scene is the first example of this; you won’t see the climax of this scene coming and it made me react in a more visceral way than I would have done to a horror jump scare.

I could go on and on about the performances in this film. Jon Hamm impresses me every time I see him, and here it’s no exception. He starts off as Don Draper from Mad Men but with the irritating smarm cranked up to 100, but below the surface, he’s far more charming and genuinely funny than you first think. Dakota Johnson is effortlessly charming despite her villainous nature, pulling you in with her demeanour before stabbing you in the back. Chris Hemsworth, like I said earlier, goes against type as the film’s villain, and he absolutely convinced me that he would have young women fawning over him to do his every bidding. I quite liked Hemsworth here, I saw a different side of him that hasn’t been in his filmography thus far, hopefully, this signals the start of Hemsworth going for more alternative roles.

The film’s MVP is surely Cynthia Erivo though, given her relative lack of experience, but her ability to dominate a scene is unrivalled here. There are multiple scenes that showcase not only her acting skills but her singing ability too. Goddard puts her West End and Broadway background to terrific use. What could seem unnecessary is completely captivating because of how good a singer she is. I could listen to her sing for hours, and I’m honestly furious her versions of classic songs aren’t on the soundtrack.

There is so much good to say about the film that I haven’t even touched on yet. El Royale has extremely pretty visuals, gorgeous neon and bright colours surround the slightly garish hotel décor but it works thanks to its clever lighting, particular as fire comes into play at nightfall. Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey is known for his visually compelling style given his experiences on 2014’s Godzilla and 2012’s Avengers Assemble, and it’s put to great use here, managing to make a film set completely within a hotel seem massive at times, sprawling through the dark corridors behind the scenes.

Goddard also excels on both a writing and directing level, for me. As already mentioned, his dialogue is completely engaging, but he has crafted a very delicate story that had to be told in a certain way. Using an easy framing structure of the characters’ rooms split up into chapters, he’s able to delve into the character and develop the story simultaneously. What I found particularly enjoyable was the way the stories overlapped; we’d finish with one character, take a step back in time to follow another character and witness how they affected each other, seeing scenes from different angles that reveal new information. It’s a really impressively design film on that level, and it fits exactly what I like to see in a noir mystery.

The film isn’t without its flaws, however, and that’s largely due to its runtime. I found the story enthralling for 80% of its 140 minutes, but in its final act, it really begins to drag itself out longer than it needs to. I got the impression that Goddard thought he had more loose ends to tie up than he needed to, even though he didn’t but still left a loose end unresolved. The atmosphere in the cinema changed in this final act; the excitable buzz from the people around me had vanished for people checking their watches next to me. It didn’t affect me too badly, but it’s a film that absolutely could’ve shaved 20 minutes off its runtime and it wouldn’t have hampered the film in any way.

Still, for its runtime to be my only real concern, I’d say El Royale is a sterling success. Drew Goddard continues to impress as a young director and I can’t wait to see what he does next. The cast is terrific across the board, hopefully making a star out of Cynthia Erivo and telling the world that Jeff Bridges has a lot of enthusiasm left in him yet. I had high hopes for the film going into it, and though it wasn’t quite the masterpiece I wanted, it’s still a terrific time at the cinema.

Rhys’ Verdict:

4

LFF 2018: Suspiria (2018)

Directed by: Luca Guadagnino
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Doris Hick, Chloë Grace Moretz

UK Release Date: November 16th, 2018

Written by Dave Curtis

For a person that had never seen Dario Argento’s 1977 horror classic (or so I’m told) Suspiria, a viewing of the remake at the London Film Festival seemed like a good idea. I decided not to watch the original beforehand. I didn’t want to compare it. I wanted to see it with fresh eyes.

Right from the start I just want to say this is a film that will divide opinion. Its one of those you are going to love or hate!

Director Luca Guadagnino is a man with vision, that is very clear. He is also a man who has his own ideas. Suspira is achievement of sorts. It has a slow build up and then goes hell for leather in its final act. It’s able to be shocking and tedious all at the same time.  Gone are the flashing red lights that everyone was expecting from the original. Suspiria 2018 uses colours from the darker end of the spectrum. There are some splashes of colour, Dakota Johnson’s red hair sticks out making her the stand out from the crowd and the rest of the dance troupe.

Johnson takes on the role of Susan Bannion a talented dancer who is auditioning in Berlin (a city she is drawn to) at a famous dance company. The company is led by Tilda Swinton’s Madame Blanc. She impresses at her audition and is invited to join. She is even given a room rent free above the rehearsal studio because Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz) another dancer has disappeared (they are told she has quit). Patricia has been visiting a psychoanalyst in the name of Dr Klemperer. He has concerns that the dance school is hiding something.

I can’t work out what to make of Johnson’s performance. It borders on the edge of greatness, but every time she does some heavy breathing (and there is a lot of that) I’m taken back to her awful performances from the 50-shade trilogy. I try to remember that this is the same actress from Guadagnino’s ‘A Bigger Splash’.  Her use of her body through dance is great. It is clear she is a very talented dancer. Tilda Swinton is as strong as you could imagine, brimming with confidence in every role she inhabits. The support cast are also good. Mia Goth performance is her strongest and Chloe Grace Moretz gives the film a strong opening which the whole film is built on.

The film does have a growing sense that everything is just not right. Over the two hours and 30 minutes (an hour longer than the original), everything is made to unsettle and unnerve you. From the sound effects to the music, it a makes an uneasy feeling. It also seems to never stop raining!

This isn’t a convention horror, there are no jump scares. It depends heavily on the mood and the atmosphere through the use of sound effects, cinematography and the music (Thom Yorke’s first film score). A dance routine paired with a horrible attack on one of the students is Suspiria at its best. It is bone-crunching and eerily beautiful at the same time, an odd mixture for any film to get right. The hardcore third act does rack up the stakes and the gore. Maybe, in this case, less would have been more. It all gets a bit OTT.

Honestly, I was expecting something a little bit out there and trippy. The overly long runtime really does weigh down the film. Technically Suspiria is a spectacle but overall it just lacks that degree of awe from a story that had so much promise. Will it stand the test of time like the original,? Only time will tell. All I know is that I’m still not sure if I liked it. It stays with you, constantly at the back of your mind. That can’t be a bad thing, can it?

Dave’s Verdict:

2-5

LFF 2018: Wild Rose

Year: 2018
Directed by: Tom Harper
Starring: Julie Walters, Jessie Buckley, Sophie Okonedo

Written by Sarah Buddery

With A Star is Born tearing up the box office and its sights set on the big awards, Wild Rose is in many ways the UK’s answer to the Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga fronted film. Very much an underdog movie in more ways than one, Wild Rose’s story may be familiar – a small-town girl with big dreams – and whilst it doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights of the aforementioned crowd-pleaser, it is a wondrous little film that deserves far more attention than it will likely get.

Rose-Lynn (Buckley) is a feisty Glaswegian single mum who, after her release from prison, takes up a cleaning job whilst dreaming of flying to Nashville and pursuing her dreams of being a Country singer. The juxtaposition of the gloomy Glasgow skies and the “bright lights” of Nashville perfectly represent the pull between her role as a mother, and her chance to do what she loves across the pond.

What is so wonderful about Wild Rose is that Rose-Lynn’s dreams are small, she doesn’t necessarily want mega-stardom, and in fact her dreams only really span as far as getting to Nashville and there is something so charming about this. She is also someone prepared to work hard to achieve her dream, and even when the shortcuts to success present themselves to her, she approaches things with a certain degree of humility. Country music for her is her passion, her life, her reason for existing, and she simply wants nothing more than to go to the place that birthed the genre of music she treasures.

In similar stories, a character like Rose-Lynn would run the risk of seeming shallow or one-note, but she is also a person who behaves rather selfishly at times, particularly when it comes to bringing up her children. This means we as the audience feel equally torn between her two lives, much as she does herself. Julie Walters, as Rose-Lynn’s mother, provides the voice of reason in many ways, and the grounding of the character in her home-town. Watching their relationship play out is so beautiful, and the final payoff feels well-earned. There is real earnestness to these characters; they feel fleshed out and genuine, and the excellent performances are to thank for this.

Jessie Buckley as Rose-Lynn is simply revelatory. Her big voice and commanding presence seem to come out of nowhere but yet are also totally believable; her talent coming as naturally to her as breathing. She is head-to-toe “country”, but rather than appearing as if a caricature, there is an innocent quality to her that makes her so endearing. Buckley toes that line between brash and humble so beautifully, and we as the audience feel fully invested in her from the moment the film starts. Julie Walters is an absolute treasure, and as the dependable matriarch, she carries much of the film’s weight and emotion.

Wild Rose is a rapturous, crowd-pleaser of a film with toe-tapping songs and a star-making performance from Jessie Buckley, supported by the always dependable Walters. It might be a little cheesy and predictable in places, but it is a pure and spirited film that will make your heart soar and encourage you to always dream big. A truly underrated musical gem of a movie.

SARAH’S VERDICT:

4

LFF 2018: Green Book

Year: 2018
Directed by: Peter Farrelly
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Linda Cardellini, Mahershala Ali

Written by Sarah Buddery

To the surprise of everyone (who was able to avoid social media at least!) the surprise film at London Film Festival this year was Green Book; the Peter Farrelly (Yes, a Farrelly brother) directed film based on the true story of musician Don Shirley.

With the leading roles played by two actors synonymous with awards success – Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen – those in the know were already expecting great things from this film, and to those who perhaps were less aware, this film did indeed turn out to be a surprise in more ways than one.

Anchored by two fantastic leading performances, Green Book is a heartfelt, charming, and endlessly watchable film about friendship, differences, race, music, and family. A possibly strange comparison to make but it comes across as a slightly higher calibre Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, Ali and Mortensen having a natural “odd couple” friendship, and with the plot focused towards making it home in time for the Holidays evoking the spirit of the aforementioned 1987 comedy classic.

What Green Book has that gives it the edge, however, is much greater thematic richness, and whilst on the surface level it is an odd couple-road movie, the issues of race and identity are also explored in beautiful ways. Don Shirley (Ali) is an enigmatic character, but behind the outward displays of wealth is a man whose music is considered “too white” to those of his shared heritage, and the colour of his skin is something which still leads to him being openly discriminated against. The “green book” of the title refers to the guide that Mortensen’s driver to Shirley, Tony, is handed, which provides guidance on appropriate hotels and restaurants that Shirley would be welcomed into.

Initially, Tony is seen as quite prejudiced and it is his journey throughout this film is an incredibly interesting one. Both characters in fact have arcs that are incredibly different, yet they tie so beautifully together in tandem, with a certain musicality that seems fitting for the subject matter. Tony is a tough guy, a family man, but also a man who fails to see a world much beyond his locale. Don, on the other hand, is well travelled, but also incredibly closed off to those around him. He gives off the air of someone who doesn’t want to open up to people and would much prefer to keep himself to himself.

Of course with a film like this there is some degree of predictability. We know the characters are going to see some growth and change throughout the course of the film, barriers will be broken down, and they’ll emerge on the other side as changed men. However, despite all of that, Green Book remains incredibly charming throughout. There is a bounce and an exuberance to the film, with a natural chemistry between the two leads. It really is impossible not to fall in love with this film.

Mahershala Ali, building on his incredible performance in Moonlight, gives probably the best performance of his career so far. There is such preciseness to his movements and facial expressions, and it takes a great deal of skill to make a character which initially seems so cold, to be instantly likeable. Viggo Mortensen is transformative in the role of Tony, fully embracing the brashness and larger than life persona of the character he is playing, and it is simply a joy to watch the two of them together.

Bolstered by incredible performances, wonderful chemistry, and thematic richness, Green Book is one of the best feel-good films you will see all year. It’ll warm your heart and help you to see the goodness and joy there is in the world. And frankly, that’s something we all need right now.

SARAH’S VERDICT:

4-5

LFF 2018: Beautiful Boy

Year: 2018
Directed by: Felix Van Groeningen
Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Steve Carrell, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan

Written by Dave Curtis

Just imagine being a parent to a child that is a drug addict. Beautiful Boy shows meth addiction and its recovery through the eyes of writer David Sheff (Steve Carrell), who watches his talented son Nic (Timothée Chalamet) as he struggles with his addiction. This is adapted from David & Nic Sheff’s memoirs and their real-life experiences.

Beautiful Boy does the hard job and shows the true horror of drug addiction, not only the damage it does to the user but also to their family and friends. It is hard to watch Nic’s plight. This isn’t just a film about taking drugs and the recovery which leads to a happy ending, this is the long and unflinching portrait of addiction.

This is a story of two sides – first Nic’s life with drugs, and the second is his father David’s and his attempts in trying to save his firstborn. The theme is set right from the first scene. David is asking advice about meth addiction and how can he help his son. The tone has been set.

Chalamet continues to show his talents (he really does remind me of a young Leonardo DiCaprio) and is the heartbeat of the picture. His slow and desperate fall is not only subtle but it also shows the respect to those that have been through it in real life. He is never over the top, showing he has done some research into the role. In less prepared hands this could have been a disaster. Steve Carrell offers strong support in yet another serious role. He does his best work when he has minimal dialogue. A terrific scene in a café (a location that means a lot to them both) offers the chance for the film to show its true colours and really show how good the two leads are. Nic clearly high on drugs is begging his Dad for money, and David can longer bring himself to help his son. It is truly heart-breaking.

It is a shame to report the supporting cast don’t have a lot to work with. David’s ex-wife Vicki (Amy Ryan) and his current wife Karen (Maura Tierney) characters are barely developed. Karen just paints and Vicki gets angry on the phone. That’s it.

Director Felix Van Groeningen has made of a few missteps. Some the editing feels a little rushed, and the timeline is littered with flashbacks and it gets a bit confusing of when its meant to be. It doesn’t help that Steve Carrell never ages. There are also a few pointless scenes, including a shower scene which is particularly odd and out of place. It is uncomfortably long. There are also issues with some scenes which feel like overly long montages with the music turned up to 11.

Sadly the film itself doesn’t match up to the two lead actors’ performances. Steve Carrell and Timothee Chalamet match each other every step of the way. Beautiful Boy is as heart-breaking as it is uplifting. It may not reach the heights it wants but thanks to the chemistry of the two leads it is worth a watch.

DAVE’S VERDICT:

3

 

LFF 2018: Roma

Year: 2018
Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Starring: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey, Carlos Peralta, Marco Graf, Daniela Demesa, Nancy García García, Verónica García

Written by Sarah Buddery

‘Roma’ may just be Alfonso Cuarón’s masterpiece. A bold way to start any review, but ‘Roma’ is a bold film, and the praise being heaped upon it already is thoroughly deserved.

Cuarón’s love letter to his country and his childhood exhibits some of the most exquisite filmmaking from the Mexican director, and the decision to shoot in black and white results in some of the most beautiful shots in any film this year. Cuarón’s camera (he also did the cinematography) travels with the characters with beautiful fluidity, pausing delicately to provide an intimacy with them.

‘Roma’ is a film which transcends normal filmmaking. It is a film which more often than not, doesn’t even feel like you’re watching a film. It feels like watching a story unfold, a story that we are fully invested and involved in. Everything about ‘Roma’ feels real and authentic. It feels like we the audience are not voyeurs on these characters and events, but instead of watching from the outside, we are totally involved and present. This makes the emotions so tangible and involving, that when it is all over you are left feeling totally breathless. ‘Roma’ is an out-of-body experience, and one which you will never want to end.

Seen through the eyes of Cleo (Aparicio), ‘Roma’ is the story of a time and a place, of change and politics, of the divide between rich and poor, and whilst it explores all of these things, it never strays away from Cleo. Because of this, the film remains above all else a testament to motherhood and strong women. In places it is uplifting, and in others it is devastating, but it is consistently authentic, honest, and powerful.

The sound design isn’t perhaps the first thing people pick out in a film, but the sound of ‘Roma’ is absolutely incredible. It feels so immersive and so real, the sounds of the city happening around us, voices and noises coming from all directions causing you to study every inch of the screen. It is hard to describe, but ‘Roma’ does really need to be heard to be believed.

Visually striking, aurally immersive and emotionally captivating, ‘Roma’ is undoubtedly one of the finest films of the year and arguably Cuarón’s best film. It is certainly his most personal film, and the labour of love that this film represents permeates through every single frame. With exceptional performances, beautiful imagery, and the finest sound design in recent years, ‘Roma’ isn’t just a film which deserves to be seen on the big screen, it is one which deserves to be heard on the big screen. It bears repeating: ‘Roma’ is a masterpiece.

SARAH’S VERDICT:

5

JUMPSCARECUT: Defarious (Short)

Year: 2018
Directed by: Chase Michael Pallante
Cast: Janet Miranda, Jason Torres, Sonia Sierra
Runtime: 13m 17s

“A young woman is tormented by her nightmares and they are beginning to manifest so strongly she becomes disillusioned between the world of her imagination and what is truly reality.”

Written by Tom Sheffield

Defarious is the latest short film from R&F Entertainment and is directed by Chase Michael Pallante. This short has just finished it’s incredibly successful festival run, picking up a number of award nominations and wins along the way, and is now available to stream!

The film revolves around Amy (Janet Miranda), who is tormented by her nightmares. After one of her nightmares jolts her awake in a breathless panic, Amy immediately seeks comfort from the framed picture of her mum, followed by her reaching for her phone which was charging down by the side of her bed. Amy realises her phone isn’t where she left it and decides to go look for it, but while she hunts for her phone, something is hunting her and the lines of reality and imagination blur.

Janet Miranda has only a line or two of dialogue in this film and so the film heavily relies on her physical acting capabilities. Miranda is incredibly talented and her performance here is superb – completely sucking the audience in to this situation and making you shout at the screen to try and help her. Defarious marks a strong directorial debut for Chase Michael Pallante, who also wrote and edited the film. Chase is always very involved with the films he is a part of and has been credited on various projects for producing, sound effects editing, casting, and a handful of other departments – this knowledge and experience will surely benefit Chase on his future projects and we here at JUMPCUT look forward to seeing what he cooks up.

One of aspects I really loved about this short was the music and the sound effects because they both are both used so effectively and really ramp up this psychological horror and take it to the next level. I knew this would likely be the case following how prominently music was used during the short’s marketing. Jonathan Martinez’s score has a familiar and nostalgic sound to it, reminiscent of 80s horrors and slashers that Chase clearly used as influences for this short.

From the word go, the score sets the tone of the film and the tension just keeps on building.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the incredible work from the special effects and makeup department. Jason Torres is completely unrecognisable under the haunting white makeup, and the design of the character as a whole is simple yet terrifying. There is also a scene later in the film that could have come off as incredibly cheesy if the practical effects were half-arsed. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case and special effects make-up artist Greer Gillespie has done an incredible job, both with Torres’ character and the aforementioned scene I won’t spoil for you.

The entirety of this short is set at night in an unlit house, but the film’s cinematographer, Christian Reyes, and Chase have used the night setting to their advantage and have created a truly chilling and claustrophobic atmosphere that will make you leave the lights on in your house. We’re excited to have been given the opportunity to chat with Janet Miranda and some of the cast that worked on Defarious and will be sharing those with you all shortly!

Defarious is an unsettling psychological horror that respectfully pays homage to the classic slashers of the 80s whilst adding an unnerving supernatural twist. Each shot is filled with tension and you’ll find your eyes darting around the screen looking for something that isn’t there.

Turn the volume up, switch the lights off, and prepare for a real scare this Spooktober.

Tom’s Verdict:

4

LFF 2018: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Year: 2018
Directed by: Joel & Ethan Coen
Cast: Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson,

Written by Dave Curtis

Have you ever wondered how many ideas rattle around the inside of Joel and Ethan Coens head? The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is the end product of some of those ideas they could no longer contain. This Netiflx produced film has every thing you love and hate from the brothers, fantastic characters, a host of famous names, snappy smart dialogue, beautiful cinematography and strong bloody violence.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is an anthology of short stories set in the old west. It was once destined for the small screen as a TV series but luckily it has been given the big screen treatment, the landscapes alone deserved it. The film starts with a shot of a book, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. A hand appears and turns the front cover to reveal the first chapter which is accompanied by a carefully drawn picture from the upcoming story. With it is a small section of dialogue, teasing what is about to happen. This happens every time a story ends and a new chapter begins.

First up is Buster Scruggs himself, played by Coen Brothers regular Tim Blake Nelson. First seen riding his horse (named Dan) playing a guitar and singing at the top of his voice. He might come across as fun time cowboy but really he is a crack shot, deadly as he is polite. This chapter is classic Coen Bros. Funny and violent. A full film of just Buster Scruggs would have been all we needed. It is a fun and blistering first 30 minutes, if only The Ballad of Buster Scruggs could maintain that level.

James Franco as a bumbling bank robber in the second short story gets the best line and biggest laugh in the whole film. Over the next few short stories there are a collection of more serious and darker tales. Don’t worry the usual humour is sprinkled about. There is Liam Neeson as a travelling entertainer of sorts. Tom Waits searching for gold. Zoe Karzan who joins a wagon train to search for a new life in Oregon. Brendan Gleeson (sorry no beard) and others in stagecoach journey. In all this the movie takes a slight dip. Each story is different in appearance and tone. The transition between story could have been worked out better. Maybe using a reoccurring character or location would have smoothed it out (but what do I know, the Coen Brothers are masters and definitely know better than me). Apparently this is the longest film the two brothers have made and in some places it does feel that way.

If its one thing that the Coen Brothers do well is Westerns and stunning landscapes. Cinematographer Bruno Delhonnel here working with Joel and Ethan for the second time (The first being ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’) captures the mood and feel for each little story perfectly.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs may not be the Coen Brothers best film, but a bad film for them is still better than most films released today. The problem is when it’s good it is really good and that reflects on some on the slower stories. A strong start and beautiful cinematography enriched by a score by Carter Burwell tides this film together. The cast are just the icing that brings it all together. Tim Blake Nelson is the films VIP.

 

Dave’s Verdict:

3-5