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COENS' WESTERN ANTHOLOGY 'THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS'

Year of Release: 2018
A more fitting title for The Coen Brothers' Western Anthology THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS would be Six Ways to Die in the West. Not only is each vignette about death, but the misleading title refers to the first story and that's it. Maybe if Tim Blake Nelson's singing cowboy was the blanket narrator it would make more sense...

Then again, he's so annoying, maybe not. In fact, SCRUGGS is one of several of the main characters that doesn't only die but deserves death: The hybrid of a THREE AMIGOS style gussied-up Amigo, Pinhead from FREAKS, Jim Varney's Ernest and Kermit the Frog, the entire point of a surprisingly lethal crooner who only looks nerdy steps upon the second story featuring James Franco as a scruffy bank robber, titled NEAR ALGODONES. In this case, Franco's outlaw loner only seems more resilient than a timid and chubby bank teller played by nerd's nerd Stephen Root. There's some potential in the sparse-shot, Spaghetti Western tableau, but like the first story, it ends before it really begins (and concludes with an absolutely gorgeous actress, Grace LeSueur, in a quick but very important cameo)...

Grace LeSueur in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: Near Algodones
Leading to the worst of the lot, featuring Liam Neeson as the traveling manager of a limbless (no arms or legs) British storyteller, who looks and feels embarrassingly contrived and unrealistic. In attempting to be Gothic and eerie, MEAL TICKET is boring, dreary and monotonous, relying on jump cut edits and, once again, ending with a death that lacks meaning or, worst yet as part of a post TWILIGHT ZONE anthology, any kind of irony whatsoever...

Which can't be said for (skipping to) the finale, THE MORTAL REMAINS, an ultra-dark fable that's perhaps intentionally obvious, being spoiled in the summarized description: Three people on their final carriage ride... Seeming to exist merely for the Coens to paint-stroke some good old fashion religious-vs-existential philosophical dialogue, it's overloaded with pointless, meandering exposition... In fact, the images shown from a page-turning hardcover book before each segment are far superior than what follows...

Ballad Rates: ** (separate scores below)
As the quietest story has Tom Waits in ALL GOLD CANYON as an old, gruff, determined and of course, gravelly-voiced miner who thinks he's found "the pocket" on a hill, ascending from a creek between what's the most beautiful scenery. At least this one has a decent twist, somewhat, but it takes too long to pan out (pun intended)...

And the most intriguing entry stars young and homely-cute Zoe Kazan as THE GAL WHO GOT RATTLED: On a wagon train after her vapid brother dies, she's awkwardly courted by a shy yet perfect-looking, potentially cool cowboy who winds up overshadowed by his strong yet mild-mannered wagon master: the closest thing to a heroic, no-nonsense, Indian-fighting John Wayne type: But the nervous, cruel ending is a microcosm of the entire movie: one that painfully looks and feels like a made-for-cable, non-theatrical program before they started to look and feel like the real thing...

Marred by intrusive CGI, sloppy edits, pretentious camera maneuvers, and futile attempts at symbolism, the Coen Brothers really fail at capturing the essence and purpose of The Short Story: So while the worst thing about BALLAD are the endings, the best thing is they do each end i.e. die-off quickly. It's just too bad the characters couldn't have lived and breathed a little beforehand for their inevitable exits to matter. What's here are six Western tragedies without a single ounce of tragedy.
Buster Scruggs: *1/2 Near Algodones: ** Meal Ticket: * All Gold Canyon: **1/2 Gal Got Rattled: **1/2 Mortal Remains: ** 
Death Reps: 1)The New Singing Cowboy 2)Pretty Girl 3)Chicken 4)Owl 5)The Barking Dog 6)Already Built Into Story
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs Grace LeSueur as Pretty Girl at Gallows
Grace LeSueur The Ballad of Buster Scruggs Grace LeSueur Pretty Girl at Gallows
James Franco on the gallows, notices something... someone... in the crowd...
If looks could kill, it's Grace LeSueur in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs who is literally... to die for
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