The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a strange thing. Originally conceived by the Coen Brothers to be a series for Netflix, something happened along the way, and the result is this over 2 hour film made up of 6 vignettes. Side note: to get a sense of how this might’ve played as a series, check out the beautiful to look at, pondering, and pompous The Romanoffs on Amazon Prime Video.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a ponderous thing, too. But it’s more silly than anything, at least at the onset, as the first vignette is so ridiculous (where the titular Buster Scruggs, played by Tim Blake Nelson, merrily goes on a singing and killing spree) I almost turned away from the rest. The second vignette wasn’t much better and equally absurd, though at least we get to watch James Franco get hung…twice. One wonders why they chose to show the weakest vignettes first, but patient viewers will be rewarded with the gold in the middle. Continue reading →
Be forewarned, Lean on Pete might be the name of a horse, but the film, a startling bit of gritty realism about the tough times of a nice kid, is about Charlie. Think of it as a modern-day country song version of Oliver Twist.
Slowly paced, beautifully photographed, and utterly devastating, Lean on Pete starts off as a “lonely boy and his emotional support horse” story that you think is going to turn hopeful and sentimental, but instead takes some shockingly dark roads into tragedy and suddenly morphs into one of those films about the resiliency of children and survival by equal parts misplaced grit and dumb luck. It does reward the empathetic viewer with a satisfying conclusion and sliver of hope…but all along I was riddled with fear that poor Charlie would be eaten up and spit out by this cruel, cruel world.
The early portions of Lean of Pete take place in Portland, and the Pacific Northwest setting reminded me of another film from this year about the resiliency of children, the meditative and earthy Leave No Trace. Continue reading →