Category: movie reviews

Movie Review: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

I’m a self-confessed Coen Bros. fan. Their kind of storytelling almost always entertains me, mainly because it’s just a bit off from the typical movie you’ll get anywhere else. They embrace the absurd, but not to the extent that you give up on it. It’s more like (for me) that I never know what sort of characters and plots I’ll meet in their films. Heroes might not be that heroic, and they might turn out to be cowards. Villains can do things that genuinely surprise you.

Some of my favorite movies are Coen Bros. affairs. O Brother Where Art Thou is fantastic. True Grit, No Country for Old Men, Big Lebowski, and Miller’s Crossing are all home runs, and I personally love Hudsucker Proxy and Intolerable Cruelty.

This is just to say that when I see a new Coen Bros. movie come out, I’m naturally inclined to watch it soon. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, just out on Netflix a week or two ago, is a bit of a departure for them. Instead of one movie, it’s a series of 6 short films, all of them western themed. Think of it more as an adaptation of a short story collection, and it makes more sense. I’m going to run down my response to each of them in the order they appear in the film.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is classic quirky Coens. A deadly gunslinger who happens to look like a carefree, whistling goof, comes into town. He talks to the camera and sings all the time. It’s quite violent, and completely absurd. It left me wondering what would be coming next, but bemused, at least.

Near Algodones is really well done, but ultimately not as memorable for me. It tells the story of a bank robber and the series of misfortunes that befall him. I enjoyed it well enough, but it didn’t stay with me the same as some of the other tales did.

Meal Ticket was totally brutal. It’s the story of a man who drives a one-cart circus around from town to town. He’s employed a single armless, legless man who happens to give great speeches. But times are clearly tough, and it’s debatable if the operation will stay afloat. This is not a story that will leave you very optimistic about the love of mankind.

All Gold Canyon is a beautifully shot film. The story of a gold digger who’s hoping to strike it rich in a place it seems no man has stepped foot in before. But he’s old, and there’s a chance he might just die before he ever finds anything. I liked this one, though it felt a tad . . . gimmicky. Still fantastic to look at.

The Gal Who Got Rattled was one I really loved, and I’m not entirely sure why. The story of a woman riding west with her brother to seek a possible marriage in California. Except (naturally) things don’t quite go according to  plan. I think I liked this one so much because of how much it got me to invest in the main characters, and their fate is one that made me keep thinking about it long after the movie was over.

The Mortal Remains is the tale of a group of people in a stagecoach on their way to an unknown destination. Full of classic Coen dialogue, though perhaps a bit heavy on the symbolism. A sort of film that after you watch it, you wonder what it meant, and you try to parse it out, even if it did feel like it tried a bit too hard, in the end.

Overall, I gave the movie a 9/10. I enjoyed myself the entire time watching it. It was thought provoking and entertaining, which isn’t something you get every day. I also really liked the general form of the movie, with each sequence introduced by a colored illustration from a book, along with a subtitle that made you wonder what was in store. Some of those intros turned out to be key to really understanding what was happening.

It’s a violent, bloody film, which is the one reason it’s rated R. No real language or sex–but expect to see people die and be harmed in sometimes inventive ways.

A sign of how strong the films are individually is how wide a range of opinions there are on which are the best and worst of the lot. I personally would rank them:

  1. Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  2. The Gal Who Got Rattled
  3. All Gold Canyon
  4. Meal Ticket
  5. Near Algodones
  6. Mortal Remains

But just going through those, it was very difficult to make some decisions. They’re each strong in their own way. 

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.



Movie Review: The Christmas Chronicles

I saw the ads for The Christmas Chronicles pop up in Netflix, and I first dismissed it. Netflix comes out with a lot of different content these days, not all of it of the best quality. A made-for-Netflix movie about Santa Claus seemed like a stretch. I pictured a low budget, bad acting, and a worse story. Yet as I surfed the interwebs, I came across some chatter from folks saying the  movie was actually not just decent, but good.

In the end, it’s just around an hour and a half of my time to check it out. I persuaded the fam we should give it a shot, and we watched it the day after Thanksgiving. It stars Kurt Russell as Santa. How bad could it be?

I think one of the tricks with a movie like this is you’re not quite sure how to approach it when you watch it. It hasn’t had much of a marketing campaign outside of Netflix, so there’s just not that much to go on. In the end, it turns into more of an impulse watch than anything else, which provides a unique opportunity for the film to establish its own rules and expectations as it goes along.

But you’re reading a review of the film, so I can set you up a little better than I was. To really enjoy this movie (and let me say that I actually really enjoyed it when I watched it), I think it helps to understand the rules it’s following. First off, it knows it’s kind of campy. The dialogue, the acting, the plot itself doesn’t really take itself too seriously, and you shouldn’t either. It realizes it’s a Netflix movie, and it plays that up in some ways. But at the same time, it also plays it very straight, if that makes sense.

Kurt Russell really throws himself into the role of Santa. He plays it up and has a blast on screen, which is infectious. So he’s taking the part for what it is, even as the movie itself is admitting it’s still just a Netflix movie. And yet they also clearly spent a whole bunch of money on the special effects for the film. Some of them are random, but they’re all very well done. It’s fun to watch a movie that takes the Santa mythos seriously (more or less) and uses lots of money to splash that on the screen.

In the end, I gave this movie a 7/10, which is at least two points higher than I thought it had a chance of getting when I first heard of it. It was a fun movie I could watch with all my kids. We laughed. We rolled our eyes, and we had a good time. Actually decent Christmas movies don’t come out on a regular basis. I could see watching this one again next year, and I suspect it might even play better the second time around.

If you’re looking for some holiday fun, give this movie a whirl.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

What’s the Worst Movie You’ve Ever Seen?

For today’s non-political post, I figured I’d go with something a bit more lighthearted. Just a simple question: what’s the worst movie you’ve ever seen?

I don’t mean a movie that’s intentionally bad. That doesn’t count, in my book. It also doesn’t count if the movie isn’t fully funded. I mean, there are a ton of B-movies out there that were never supposed to be very good to begin with. Anything in the MST3K range of movies, for example. You can’t really hold it against them. They are what they are.

No, I mean a Hollywood movie that was supposed to be all that and a bag of. Ideally, it’s a movie you paid money to see. In theaters would be the best, to prove this was something you were looking forward to. You expected it to be good, and then it was anything but. To me, waiting to catch a movie on Netflix or TV already implies a certain lack of confidence in that film.

So when I think back over all the movies I’ve watched over the years, one film really rises to the top (or is it “sinks to the bottom”). Battlefield Earth, starring John Travolta. It was a movie that I saw the week of release. I was a big fan of the book, and so I was excited to see what was done with the film. It had big name movies stars. A budget of $73 million. It was being hyped as a labor of love by Travolta, who wanted to do his religion proud and make a great adaptation of an L. Ron Hubbard book.

And it was so incredibly awful from start to finish.

It was like they’d taken the novel and passed it through a paper shredder, then glued the confetti together into something kind of resembling a film. It was bad at every level. Plot. Writing. Acting. Camera work. I wasn’t just critical of it as a fan of the novel. I was critical of it as a fan of decent storytelling.

It’s because of Battlefield Earth that I was so wary of Fellowship of the Ring. People look back on Jackson’s awesome trilogy now, but I remember sitting in the theater for that movie opening night, simply wishing as hard as I could that the movie wouldn’t be awful. And the PTSD of Battlefield Earth was strong back then.

I’ve never watched the movie again. I have no desire to. I don’t recommend anyone else ever watch it. Those 118 minutes of my life are gone, permanently. I would have been better served shoving jalapeños in my eyes for that time, instead. I honestly don’t think anyone out there can possibly have a worse movie to nominate than Battlefield Earth. It remains the measuring stick I use to compare all other bad movies. Yes, I realize IMDB only has it as the 16th worst movie ever, but only Disaster Movie and Epic Movie have as many votes (in the 80,000 range). Most of the others have like 24,000. And Disaster Movie and Epic Movie are intentionally bad, so they don’t count.

Battlefield Earth was supposed to be the real deal. And it was anything but.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Five Movie Travel Day

Hello! Remember me? I’m back from vacationland. Busy as all get out today (of course), but it’s high time I posted an entry on ze blog, right? Right. Since I’m swamped, I’m going with something easy today. I traveled back yesterday, and I watched five (count ’em, five) movies on the way. So here are my reviews of the films I watched. (Most telling? Justice League was available to watch. I didn’t even bother watching it when I had nothing else I could be doing at all. That’s how little I really care about most DC franchise films these days. What a sorry state of affairs.)

Anyway, here we go:

  • The Post. Definitely the best of the five movies I watched. Based on the real events of how the Pentagon Papers came to be published in the Washington Post. Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg. Soundtrack by John Williams. I’d been meaning to watch it since it came out, and I was so happy to have the chance to do so. Very interesting to see the parallels between the Nixon administration and today’s. Plus, I’m a real sucker for a good newspaper movie. (Spotlight comes to mind right away.) 9/10
  • Chappaquiddick. Did not like. It’s about the historical incident in Ted Kennedy’s past, where he drove a car off a bridge by accident, killing the passenger in his car, and then failed to report it at all for hours and hours while he worried more about how to handle the political fall out. It was a film about people behaving abysmally for two straight hours. Well executed, I suppose, but I couldn’t stand the skewed moral compass, and in the end I wish I’d watched something else. 3/10.
  • Tomb Raider. The new one. I watched it to get Chappaquiddick out of my head. It does what it says it will. Probably one of the best video game adaptations I can remember watching, but it’s still an adaptation of Tomb Raider. Much less sexualized than the earlier versions. Some very good action scenes that don’t care too much about plot. “Get Lara Croft into a tomb, then have her raid it.” Add in some backstory here and there, and Bob’s your uncle. Diverting. Probably not best suited for a small airplane screen. (Duh.) 6/10.
  • The Commuter. The one thing I have learned over my time watching Liam Neeson movies is that if I’m ever on a train, plane, or even just see him in public anywhere, I will run (not walk) in the other direction. In this one, he’s just a random commuter (ex-cop, of course) who’s charged with finding a person on a train or else his family dies. (Of course.) It was fine. Predictable, but okay. 5/10. (Probably could have been a higher rating if it didn’t feel like every other Liam Neeson movie out there in that vein.)
  • Logan Lucky. This, on the other hand, was a delight. Of course, it’s already up my alley, since it’s a heist movie about a bunch of hicks who decide to rob a speedway. Played for comedic effect. Starring Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, and Daniel Craig. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. A really fun soundtrack, super plot, and just a blast. An easy 9/10 for me. But at that point, my mind was also mush, so perhaps my grading skewed accordingly.

Anyway, Thanks for reading. Glad to be back!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Movie Review: Solo

The movie news pages are all abuzz with headlines of how poorly Solo performed at the box office this weekend, earning much less than predicted both in the US and internationally. I’ve read some reviews that are mixed to negative, and some that really liked the movie. Having seen the movie myself, I’m happy to weigh in on the matter.

I’ll be upfront about it: I gave the film a 7/10, which means I liked it a fair amount. I was leery about seeing someone else in the Solo role other than Harrison Ford, but I felt like Alden Ehrenreich really nailed it, enough that I stopped thinking of him as someone filling in someone else’s shoes, and just started thinking of him as a young Solo. (His smile seemed particularly on point to me.)

Beyond that, it was a fun movie, with a whole ton of action. The effects were spot on, the fighting was intense. It’s a movie that’s a lot of fun to see in a theater with a group of people.

Was it a Star Wars movie? Well, it had Chewbacca in it. It had cool droids. It didn’t have the Force at all, and it had no one named Skywalker in it. Overall, it still managed to feel Star Warsy, even without the Force (though the Force has always been my personal favorite aspect of Star Wars.)

At its heart, this is a heist movie, which feels natural for a Solo origin story. It tried a bit too hard to explain every tiny bit of back story about Han, right down to his name. Those were the parts that felt weakest to me, as if they were contorting to fit it all in there. That isn’t necessary. It’s also a movie that’s an amalgamation of different directors. Started by two, finished by Ron Howard, though it’s up for debate how much of the original conceit hung around. I would be really interested to know what Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (the original directors, who also did The Lego Movie) had up their sleeves. From what I’ve heard, it was a much more humorous take. Part of me is curious to see what a truly funny Star Wars movie would be like, but at the same time, I can’t fault Disney for ultimately balking. I think they took a risk and then decided the end result wouldn’t be good for the brand they’re trying to build.

Though at the same time, I think it’s inevitable that they will ultimately end up with some pretty crazy Star Wars movies. It’s one of the only things you can do to keep a brand fresh. See Guardians of the Galaxy.

One of the biggest criticisms the movie is getting is about how expensive it ended up, and how hard it will be to make a profit. I’m not sure Disney will view it that way, since a large part of the expense is on their shoulders. They started, stopped, changed directions, and restarted. That costs money. And hoping to have a wonderful end product after all of that is a big ask. I was happy to see it was a solid, enjoyable movie.

I think it was also marketed fairly poorly. All the dollars went to Infinity War, and then it was like Disney figured it would be able to build up steam in about two weeks, just because Star Wars. This proves them wrong, and hopefully they avoid this in the future.

But if you’re looking for a fun popcorn movie, there are much worse movies to see. My kids both loved it. DC especially. I think it did a good job earning its spot in the canon, and I will happily rewatch it again in the future. For what it was intended to be (Star Wars heist movie that fills in Solo’s backstory), it does a solid job.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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