The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs (2018)

p15899689_v_v8_aaThree strangers, riding a coach to damnation. A grizzled prospector, mining for gold. A sad young woman, traveling to Oregon. An incompetent bandit, avoiding hanging once, only to be executed elsewhere. A disabled man, forced to read Shakespeare for money. A singing cowboy, laughing as he guns down his foes. What do these people have in common? Nothing, apart from the fact that they populate The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs, a new Netflix anthology film, and the latest flick from the Coen Brothers. Is it a rip-roaring good time? Well… Continue reading

Damsel (2018)

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Parson Henry isn’t a real preacher. He isn’t even a man of God. He’s just a sad widower, looking for a fresh start, who was given a preacher’s clothes while journeying out West. How unfortunate for Henry when young Samuel, thinking that he is a real parson, recruits him to go out into the wild and wed him and his fiancé, Penelope, whom he claims was kidnapped. Henry is reluctant, but, seeing as he’s got nowhere else to go, and Samuel has offered to pay, agrees. When they reach Penelope’s cabin, however, and shoot her supposed kidnapper, Henry realizes that not all is as it seems to be, and things spiral out of control from there, with the line between good and evil, sanity and insanity, getting blurred.
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What Is A Western?

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The Western: once it was king of American cinema. Now it has receded to the back of the popular conscience, only to be brought to the forefront by the occasional remake or parody. But as much as we might ridicule the Western, most of us have very little knowledge of what it actually is. Images of stets an hats, railroads, and the American southwest in the second half of the 19th century might come to mind when you hear the name, but, the truth is, none of those are pre-requisites for a Western. Many films that are widely accepted as Westerns, such as No Country For Old Men, Hell Or high Water, and Logan, take place in modern times. Many famous Western films, such as A Fistful Of Dollars and The Proposition, were shot in other countries, by non-American directors. Hell, some of the most famous Westerns of all time, like The Magnificent Seven, are either influenced by, or directly adapted from, samurai movies. So as much as we might think of the Western as an outdated, easy-to-define, all-American genre, it really isn’t.  Continue reading

Rango (2011)

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When his terrarium is dropped in the Mojave desert, pet chameleon and wannabe actor Rango is left stranded. Upon the advice of a wise Armadillo named Roadkill, Rango makes his way to the Old-West town of Dirt, where, through his quick wit and “superior acting method,” he is able to convince them that he is a tough, gunslinging drifter. This impresses the town’s Mayor so much that he appoints Rango the new sheriff. This delights the latter, and, for a time, he lives in the lap of luxury, feeding off the adulation of the townsfolk. But then, as it always does, reality sinks in. Dirt’s water supply is running low, and, one night, Rango unintentionally helps some thieves steal the reserves. So now, if the town is to survive, he must stop talking the talk, and start walking the walk. Can he, though? Is he up to the task? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.
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The Magnificent Seven (2016)

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A remake of the 1960s Western, which was itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven tells the story of a small town being oppressed by a group of bandits. Fed up with their squalid living conditions, the townsfolk hire a group of gunslingers, led by Denzel Washington, to liberate them. As the seven train and interact with the local community, they grow closer, not just to each other, but with the people they’re defending. In the end, they must stand against the full force of the bandits and their army, and hopefully drive them off for good. This is a story that’s been told a million times before, even in kids movies–seriously, A Bug’s Life is a remake of Seven Samurai–but that doesn’t mean it can’t be entertaining, or well-done,and this version of The Magnificent Seven is both. Continue reading

Firefly

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

I know I’m probably going to catch hell for saying this but, having just sat down and watched every episode of Firefly, I can kind of understand why the show got canceled. This is not to suggest that I think it’s a bad series. I just think it had several things working against it. But, before I go any further, I feel like I need to explain some things to you all.

For those of you who don’t know, Firefly is a science fiction TV series created by Joss Whedon. It ran for one, fourteen-episode season back in 2002, before getting cancelled. Despite its relatively brief run on the air, Firefly gained a massive cult following, and to this day, is considered by many to be one of the greatest TV series ever made. In terms of plot, well, that’s kind of hard to explain. Basically, it’s a Western set in space. In the year 2517, human beings have colonized multiple planets beyond this solar system, and some are really rich and technology-filled, and some aren’t. And when I say they aren’t technology-filled, I mean people on them are still using horse-drawn carriages, steam locomotives, and old colt revolvers. Anyway, because of all the inequity, there was this war between rebels from the poor, Outer Rim planets, and the big evil Alliance, which the rebels lost. One of the men who fought for the rebels is Captain Malcolm Reynolds, who now works as a gun-slinger, mercenary, smuggler hybrid with a small crew on his ship, Serenity. If all that’s hard to remember, just think of him as a Confederate Civil War vet with a chip on his shoulder, trying to get by working as a bounty hunter. But, yeah, in the show, Malcolm and his crew get jobs, go on adventures, and usually get into trouble with Alliance officials. And, well, that’s basically it. Oh yeah, and they occasionally run into this zombie Alien things whose origins never really get explained. I watched the series, and here’s what I have to say about it.

It’s wildly imaginative, and I really appreciate that. As good as television is nowadays, most shows stick to basic premises–murder mystery, big city sitcom, political and/or espionage thriller, etc. I can’t think of many other series with as expansive universes as this one. Yeah, there are the Stargate and Star Trek series, but those are well-established properties with decades of continuity and countless reinterpretations to build off of, so its easy to be creative with them. With this show, they literally had to start from scratch, create a whole new universe with rules, and then try to present that universe and those rules to us in a manner that didn’t feel forced. So, again, from a creativity standpoint, I applaud Whedon and his team. And as far as simple filmmaking is concerned, I don’t have any real problems. The show is well-shot, the actors do fine jobs, and the stories for each episode are certainly entertaining. But, as I said before, I can still understand why this series got cancelled.

For starters, when you watch the show, you can tell that it was expensive to make. All the CGI they had to use, the sets they had to build, and the locations they had to go to to shoot, seemed like they cost a pretty penny. And, take it from me, no investor is going to continue to fork over that much cash unless they’ve got some guarantee that all that money is going to come back to them. From what I’ve heard, Firefly didn’t have that many viewers at the time of its initial release, and wasn’t making that much money, so I can see why the investors over at Fox decided to pull the plug. Secondly, as much as I praise this series for its creativity and originality, there are points where both of those things get in the way of good storytelling. Literally every single episode begins with a voice over explaining the premise I gave you above, including the date, the setting, and the civil war. And unlike other series that do that–such as Avatar: The Last Airbender–where the explanation serves as the intro, Firefly has a musical intro ON TOP OF all the information they dump on you. That means you have to wait a good five to six minutes before the actual plot of each episode begins. And finally, as with a lot of sci-fi movies and shows, Whedon felt the need to develop his own brand of futuristic slang. There are points in episodes where characters are talking, and then, out of the blue, they’ll say a random series of syllables that clearly mean something to them, but that don’t mean a damn thing to the rest of us. I hate it when writers do that–come up with weird vernacular and overly complicated names for simple things. You know what I’m talking about–calling kids “younglings” in the Star Wars movies, robot spiders “grievers” in The Maze Runner, and werewolves “lycans” in the Underworld films. There’s no need for this. Just call things what they are–kids, robots, werewolves. Avatar: The Last Airbender had a comparably complex premise, world and plot to Firefly, but didn’t get canceled after one season. Why? Because it didn’t spend unnecessarily long amounts of time explaining things, it didn’t bog down the dialogue with silly slang and odd terminology, and it didn’t let the mythology it was creating get in the way of good storytelling.

So, like I said before, I don’t think Firefly is a bad series, but I do think that it is one that could have been better. That’s why I’ve decided to give it a 6.8 out of 10. It’s not a show that I would want to watch again, but, if you decide to, and enjoy it, more power to you!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, and a Bloody Good New Year to you all!