Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

Notes on The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and The Girl in the Spider's Web

Notes on The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and The Girl in the Spider's Web 
by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

If you like Coen brothers films like we do, you are always ready for the laugh you shouldn't be laughing at and the violence that comes unexpectedly, and sometimes these elements arrive at the same time.  This anthology, combining some of the best features of O Henry and Night Gallery, won the Best Screenplay at the Venice Film Festival.  It was originally meant to play as six stand-alone stories in a Netflix miniseries.  We watched it as a feature length film with a 2:13 runtime, its tales of the Old West transitioned by hands turning pages on a Zane Grey-style volume that introduces and closes each vignette.  Given their ouevre, the Coens love the Western genre, and they have assembled an impressive array of talent to carry it all off.

The stories are:
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs - Coen mainstay Tim Blake Nelson is perfectly cast in the eponymous role as a singing cowboy in the tradition of Gene Autry, but by way of Bugs Bunny.  Innocent and seemingly harmless, he proves to be a hilariously lethal gunhand in this morality tale.
Near Algodones - James Franco is a dim cowboy bank robber who runs across a lunatic bank teller (Stephen Root) and ends up firing off the best, and most literal, example of gallows humor we have seen in a long time.
Meal Ticket -  In a near silent-movie style, Liam Neeson plays a traveling sideshow huckster whose only act is an armless, legless young mand, played by Harry Melling (Harry Potter's Dudley Dursley)  who recites "Ozymandias" and Shakespeare with dramatic aplomb but to ever dwindling crowds.
All Gold Canyon - This Jack London tale features Tom Waits as a prospector who learns to watch his back.
The Gal Who Got Rattled - Inspired by SE White's short story Zoe Kazan is a young woman crossing the Great Plains in a wagon train who finds herself suddenly alone and destitute.  As she and the assistant wagon master fall in love, a lost dog brings a sudden and twist to the tale.
The Mortal Remains - A devout Christian (Tyne Daly), a crusty mountain man (Chelcie Ross), and a Frenchman (Saul Rubinek) share a stagecoach with Brendan Gleeson and Jonjo O'Neill, bounty hunters ferrying a cargo (a corpse) across a twilight landscape in a tale of the macabre.
The stories range from good to excellent, so let's average them out to:
8.0 out of 10

The Girl in the Spider's Web

Having read and enjoyed Stieg Larsson's Dragon Tattoo trilogy, we didn't know what to make of David Lagercrantz's continuation of the series after the author's untimely passing.  Larsson's Lisbeth Salander story unfolded, taking surprising twists and ended in a satisfying way.  Where would Lagercrantz take it?  We didn't read his book, but the movie, while a decent story about stolen keys to a computer program that can set off unilateral nuclear destruction moves the tone from intelligent intrigue to hard-core actioner, and thus it is a letdown for fans of the series.

Claire Foy makes a good Salander (we've seen criticisms of her portrayal, and we conclude that those critics have not read the books).  She is sullen, boyish, and badass.  But while Spider's Web paints the cold, bleak Swedish setting, it doesn't capture the spirit or the body of  Millenium Trilogy.  The plot is pedestrian yet implausible, and the protagonist could be any bright woman with mad computer skills.  The vengeful feminism, integral to the character and the plots, is here just a tacked on, unrelated scene.  It also messes with her back story, and interrelationships we've come to know, most egregiously that of investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason) here a moon-eyed bit player rather than an integral partner, and Vicky Krieps, who needs to have a talk with her agent about the cameo role that is Erika Berger, a secondary but significant character.  New to the scene is Ed Needham (Lakeith Stanfield) American agent and computer expert in his own right who brings his own convenient and implausible skills to the party.
Stream it for a decent action movie, but see the originals.
6.5 out of 10


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