New Netflix Movies Reviewed — The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and Dumplin’

Netflix is stirring up some controversy this awards season by releasing some films in theaters prior (or simultaneously) to their release online. Here are a couple:

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs came out on Netflix a few weeks ago. I kept putting off watching the Coen brothers latest, because just like Tarantino — their movies used to be great and just keep becoming mixed bags.

The Coen’s No Country for Old Men was like a modern Western, and it was okay but flawed. Their remake of True Grit was awful.

These six stories are packed with an incredible cast, giving us colorful characters, showing various ways of life in the Wild West. It was more entertaining than I thought it would be, but it was also indulgent, uneven, and underwhelming.

The first chapter of this book is the best. Tim Blake Nelson (from the Coen’s O Brother, Where Art Thou) is a singin’ cowboy with some really clever songs and great dialogue. When he shows up at a cantina looking for whiskey, what he says to the bartender and patrons…before shooting them all dead, is classic. Not a better bar shoot-up scene in the Old West since Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven.

The next story has James Franco robbing a bank, and losing the shoot-out with the teller (a Coen regular, the terrific Stephen Root, with hysterical mannerisms). He ends up getting hanged for his crimes. Twice. And yes, the movie is filled with gallows humor throughout (pun intended). That segment wasn’t half bad.

The following story was odd. A bearded Liam Neeson has a new set of skills. Instead of a gunfighter looking for his wife, the “Meal Ticket” is a traveling show, in which he brings a great storyteller, who is missing his arms and legs, to various towns. They collect money, eat around the campfire, and occasionally visit brothels (the only other brothel scene that was more bizarre was when Jack Nicholson takes Randy Quaid to see Carol Kane in The Last Detail). Other than a drunk Neeson singing by a fire in a drunken stupor, and a powerful ending…there’s just not enough there.

In “All Gold Canyon” we get to hear singer Tom Waits croon a bit, as he’s a lone prospector. It’s not that interesting watching him pan for gold, but you do appreciate the gorgeous cinematography Bruno Delbonnel gives us (that’s so good, you’ll even appreciate it on the small screen).

“The Gal Who Got Rattled” stars Zoe Kazan on a wagon journey. It takes too long to get to its rather powerful conclusion. You can’t help but wonder in this day and age of everything PC, will people be up in arms about the damsel in distress character, and the savage Native Americans scalping folks.

The final segment “The Mortal Remains” has the star power of two of my favorites — Saul Rubinek and Brendan Gleeson, as well as Tyne Daly, Chelcie Ross, and Jonjo O’Neill. They have bizarre conversations in a stagecoach.

Perhaps these vignettes would’ve worked better if this were a TV series and you had a new one each week. Overall, it doesn’t bring anything new. The stories feel like ones we’ve seen before, despite the unique Coen whimsy. A few of the monologues are just too long.

The score, by the always terrific Carter Burwell, works nicely (as do the songs in the first segment). It reminded me of Nelson’s other Coen brothers film O Brother, in which I liked the soundtrack a lot more than the film.

I was never bored watching it all, but it was rather underwhelming.

2 ½ stars out of 5.

 

I really wanted to like Dumplin’. I think Dolly Parton is one of the best songwriters of all-time, and the premise that features so much of her music and characters that idolize her…well, it couldn’t be worse than the last Mama Mia movie, could it?

It’s based on a 2015 YA novel by Julie Murphy, and the title is the nickname given to a teenager named Willowdean (Danielle Macdonald, who was great in the upcoming Netflix movie Bird Box).

Her mother Rosie (Jennifer Aniston, who seems miscast) is a former beauty queen, and she’s still involved in pageants. It makes the nickname that much more painful.

Will has to deal with the teenage torment you’d expect in a movie like this, but listening to Dolly Parton helps get her through life. Now, just like how Macdonald was comfortable in her own skin in Patti Cake$ as a wannabe rapper, so is she here.

Of course, there’s a love interest (Luke Benward).

The problem is that this movie is just dumb. The dialogue, the characters. The storytelling is just so uninteresting, too. It’s as if the screenwriter (Kristin Hahn) was trying to tackle as many teen tropes as she could, instead of giving the characters more interesting lives that felt real.

Many said I was tough on the last Rocky movie Creed 2. It’s just…both that film and this, feel like they were done for a 13-year-old kid that’s never seen a movie before and will enjoy the characters’ plights and affirmations, despite how cliche.

1 star out of 5.