The Art of Storytelling in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

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

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Andy Serkis acts circles around James Franco in new Apes flick.

 
When the trailers first hit the market for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I was not impressed.  Here it seemed Hollywood was yet again rehashing an old franchise that didn’t warrant revisiting.  The effects didn’t look very good, and the story seemed as silly as ever.  Sure, I enjoyed the original films as a kid, but even then I recognized them as high camp, and their lame attempts at social commentary were lost inside of actors in goofy ape suits and Charlton Heston’s comical over-emoting.  But then the film came out this past weekend, and the good buzz was palpable and made me think I should check it out in spite of my misgivings.  I come before you, my readers, willing to admit when I am wrong.
 
The Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the best reboot of any franchise since Batman Begins.  It’s also the most fun I’ve had watching a sci-fi morality tale since District 9.  While it lacks District 9‘s satirically leanings and over-the-top gore, it makes up for it in character development and emotional involvement.  Whereas the original series clumsily drew parallels to the Civil Rights movement, this new incarnation goes back to the age-old warnings against Man abusing Nature and underestimating the power of animal instincts. Continue reading

83rd Annual Academy Awards Predictions and Drinking Game

Anne Hathaway and James Franco are wondering, too, how they got the gig.

The 83rd Annual Academy Awards aired Sunday Night, February 27th, 2011.  Below were my predictions for the winners in the major categories.  The actual winners were filled in after the Oscars were announced.

There were no real surprises this year.  Anne Hathaway did her best, but to no avail, next to lifeless co-host James Franco, who appeared as if he hadn’t even shown up for rehearsal and couldn’t care less that he was there.  Next year, Academy, give us a comedian.  The speeches were nothing special, though who would’ve thought that of the two, Melissa Leo would’ve out “bat-shitted” Christian Bale?  Meanwhile, after batting under .500 in my predictions last year, I rebounded nicely by scoring 16/24 correctly and regained my family Oscar pool crown. Continue reading

127 Hours

Ummm...some help please.

When I first heard Danny Boyle would be directing a film based on Aron Ralston’s true story about being trapped in a crevasse that would be called 127 Hours, my first thought was, “Please, God, don’t let him direct it in real-time!”

I’m not a fan of Boyle’s hyper visual style.  I thought his Slumdog Millionaire was the most overrated film of recent memory and the worst Best Picture Oscar winner in many moons.  But even as a naysayer, I can’t deny he’s become one of the premier auteurs for the “ADD-Hey-Mom-Look-at-Me!” generation that’s grown up on reality shows.  With Ralston’s harrowing true story, Boyle has finally found riveting subject matter to match his out-of-control eccentricities behind the camera.

The film begins in traditional head-throbbing, loud, over-edited Boyle fashion as Ralston (James Franco, excellent in an essentially one-man-show) heads out of town for a weekend of rock-climbing and hiking through Utah’s Blue John Canyon.  After a chance encounter with the lovely Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn, Ralston once again heads off on his own and eventually falls down a crevasse with a rock that crushes his arm.  Thankfully Boyle is not so hapless as to fail to realize that the natural beauty of the setting, the vast expanse of “wilderness” and Ralston’s singular drama should be the focus.  When that focus hones in on one man’s dire predicament, Boyle enters a whole new ballgame.  It becomes a film where silence is golden, and the noises that arise (the sound of Ralston screaming, rocks being chiseled, bones cracking, thunder rolling) evoke an “in-the-moment” jolt to the audience.

Continue reading