Anthology movies are usually entertaining in the movies (despite the repulsive “Movie 43”), and often times, they’re craft with such bizarre and silly humor. Three years ago, I saw “Wild Tales,” a brilliant Spanish comedy, which focused on unpredictable twisted scenes. And this year, at the New York Film Festival, I saw the Coen Brothers’ latest feature “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” which will premiere on Netflix and a few selected theaters next month.
This anthology takes place in the old west, all featuring a death scene or at least a dead body. It practically resonates with some of the Coen Brothers’ previous works, including “No Country for Old Men,” “Burn After Reading,” “Fargo,” and even their 1994 box office bomb “The Hudsucker Proxy.” And its all-star cast includes Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan, and Brendan Gleeson.
Chapter 1: “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”
The movie opens as a goofy romp with Nelson as the quirky outlaw Buster Scruggs, who arrives at two bars, both of which end with his own ways of killing the people he picks fights with, including a surly card player (Clancy Brown). This segment also features some musical numbers, and it ends with a square off.
Chapter 2: “Near Algodones”
Franco plays a bank robber who tries to rob an empty bank, gets knocked out by the teller (Stephen Root), and wakes up on a horse with a rope around his neck.
Chapter 3: “Meal Ticket”
Neeson plays a showman with an armless and legless man named Harrison (Harry Melling), who only talks when he’s entertaining the audience, which starts decreasing on each tour.
Chapter 4: “All Gold Canyon”
Waits plays a gold prospector, who digs up holes by the river in order to find some gold. So far, every dirt-washing leaves him with tiny specks of gold, until digging leaves to the jackpot.
Chapter 5: “The Gal Who Got Rattled”
Kazan plays a sister whose unsuccessful brother immediately dies en route to Oregon. She is comforted along the way by the kind Billy Knapp (Bill Heck), who wishes to marry her. And finally, she ends up caught in an Indian battle with Knapp’s partner Mr. Arthur (Grainger Hines).
Chapter 6: “The Mortal Remains”
We meet a few characters on a cart heading to a hotel. They consist of two bounty hunters (Brendan Gleason and Jonjo O’Neill), an old lady (Tyne Daly), a Frenchman (Saul Rubinek), and a trapper (Chelsie Ross). They have their intentions on why they need to get there.
Out of all the segments in “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” I really enjoyed “Ballad,” “Algodones,” and “Gold.” They’re witty and charming in the ways they present their characters and actors. One uses special effects, another pokes fun at a good old hanging, and the other makes gold washing look zany. Nelson, Franco, and Waits are all delightful in their own unique ways.
The rest are in the mixed process, but they have their moments. “Meal Ticket” is marginally better then the last two shorts, in the ways it allows Neeson and the legless man to express their feelings by facial looks. “The Gal Who Got Rattled” has a great looking Indian battle scene, but its story is convoluting with all the money and proposition talk. And as for “The Mortal Remains,” the actors are top notch, but they talk too much.
Still, I enjoyed the movie for being flexible in its humor, dark tone, and zany characters, all brought to life by the Coen Brothers. It’s no Oscar contender at the level of “Fargo” or “No Country for Old Men,” but it is a rootin’ tootin’ good time.
Premiering on Netflix and a few select theaters November 16. Yee Haw!!!🤠🤠