This week I watched more movies from the NY Times article “The 50 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now”. Read my reviews for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Jackie Brown, Hell or High Water, from Amazon– Staying Alive!!!
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a collection of six western vignettes. Written and directed by the Coen Brothers, this western collection has both comedic and tender moments. These vignettes give you a taste of everything thing. A notorious slick gunslinger who sings, a bank robber who probably should have thought things through a bit more, a traveling act which cross paths with tragedy (sniff, I actually said out loud “nooo!”), an old gold prospector, a hint into the life of wagon trainers, and a couple of bounty hunters. Life in those days were about surviving, which many of these folks did their best to. Some dark, twisted comedic moments mixed in as well if you follow the Coen Brothers, you’ll know what I mean. Watch the trailer below.
Based on the Elmore Leonard novel and written and directed for the screen by Quentin Tarantino. This is a story about a woman who finds herself in the middle of a situation which could either put her jail or put her in the ground. Pam Grier plays Jackie Brown, a flight attendant for a small time airlines making $16,000 a year. It’s the best job she can get at her age after a poor decision early in life while working for a larger airline. The ATF agents, played by Michael Keaton and Michael Bowen, want Jackie to help them land a bigger fish– Ordell Robbie, played by Samuel L. Jackson. Ordell Robbie is a small time guns dealer and money launderer who considers himself as a much larger, do what he needs to do to get the job done, bad motha f***a type of guy.
Quentin is a master story teller, no question. The way he weaves the story in present and past tense is perfect because just as you begin questioning an element of the story, he shows you the answer. I normally don’t like jumping through time but it works here, mostly because the edits are seamless and it feels like a memory. Jackie is a woman who knows how to take care of herself and she ain’t buying what Ordell or the ATF guys are selling. The only man she trusts is her bail bondsman, Max Cherry, played by Robert Forster. With Robert De Niro playing Ordell’s side-kick, Bridget Fonda playing one of Ordell’s girlfriends, and Chris Tucker playing Ordell’s former employee, the cast is solid and the story is rich. Watch the trailer below.
Hell or High Water
Hell or High Water, written by Taylor Sheridan and directed by David Mackenzie, is set in rural Texas and has a pace like a slow summer day ending in fireworks. Two brothers hatch a bank robbing scheme to save the family ranch from being foreclosed on. Don’t let the old western title fool you. This story is in the present with road trips through the small towns of Texas who’ve seen more prosperous days. The townspeople are gritty, dusty, and just about as down as a person can be. There isn’t much to be hopeful for which is the perfect backdrop for this story.
Chris Pine plays Toby Howard, a divorced oil worker who has been taking care of his dying mother since losing work. Pine’s character has a lot on his mind and plays this with quiet intent knowing this is his last resort of he wants anything better for the two sons he has little connection to. Ben Foster plays Toby’s brother Tanner who has been in and out of jail for various crimes, lives life one moment to the next, and ultimately chooses a path to give his brother a chance at a better life. Pine and Foster have chemistry like brothers and I found, like the supporting characters in the movie, I rooted for them while fearing for them at the same time. By the time the movie was over, I felt like I just watched a boy version of Thelma & Louise. Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham are the Texas Rangers trying to get a step ahead of the two bank robbing brothers. Bridges plays Marcus Hamilton, an old Texas Ranger nearing retirement complete with stereotypical wise-cracks and derogatory comments aimed at his partner Alberto Parker. Played Birmingham, Parker is half Indian and half Mexican (per the dialogue), has a quiet demeanor, and reluctantly goes along with Hamilton’s comments. Parker doesn’t always agree with Hamilton’s decisions to stake out the next possible robbery location but he respects the seniority of Hamilton. Well acted but these roles are stereotypes with cliche dialogue. (There’s a moment when something bad happens–which I won’t tell you–that makes say “aww, dammit…” to the screen. Although this moment is necessary for the next thing to happen, knowing it doesn’t take the sting out.)
As all good stories about the human condition and how we manage to screw it up one way or another nears the climax, it becomes clear the next decision feels like the only decision. Is there an alternative? Yes, but it’s not as dramatic nor does it lend any martyrdom or blaze of glory for any involved. This story does remind me of two very important pieces of advice. 1. Impulsive decisions are generally not good ones. 2. Don’t mess with Texans with open carry permits. Or just don’t mess with Texans. Watch the trailer below.
I cannot get the music out of my head, nor the dancing images…This movie doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Released in 1983, written and directed by Sylvester Stallone–yes, you read that right, Sylvester Stallone–this movie is a gem for dance sequences in slow motion, dance sequences involving two fictional Broadway shows which would NEVER make it in real life, classic Stallone dialogue, and close ups of Cynthia Rhodes‘ face. Oh, and her freakin’ crazy dance ability.
The story picks up with Tony Manero, played by John Travolta, five years later with him working as a dance instructor and a club waiter. He auditions for Broadway shows but never seems to get cast. His dancer girlfriend Jackie, played by Cynthia Rhodes, works at the dance studio with him and sings in a club –hello Frank Stallone! It’s closing night for a show Jackie is dancing in and Tony decides to watch from the wings. He “falls” for the lead dancer Laura, played by Finola Hughes, and all his brain function heads south (if you know what I mean…) After a montage of Tony and Laura spending the day together and a quick romp (which we don’t see, thank you) Laura gives Tony the “thanks for great sex, now time for you to go buddy” talk but then quickly reassures him she’ll see him again at the audition for her next show. Poor Jackie–sidelined for some sparkly girl who doesn’t even dance as well. Tony gets cast in Satan’s Alley—yes, that’s the name of the show–and the rest is drama, drama, drama. Travolta’s Tony is so insecure about his talent, jealous of EVERYONE, and quick to anger except for those moments when he’s like a puppy dog begging for Laura’s approval or Jackie’s forgiveness. It’s like if Tony from Saturday Night Fever was mixed with Danny Zuko from Grease–you’d get Tony in Staying Alive.
Finola Hughes is perfect when she’s bitchy and cold but less than dazzling as a lead dancer. “Everybody uses everybody, don’t they.” No one else could play Tony but Travolta takes Tony to another level with this movie. His body is incredible, his dancing powerful, intense, and solid. Notable quote, “I’m gonna remember that.” The triple threat gem in this film goes to Cynthia Rhodes. That woman is so bendy, dances circles around every person in this film, and can cry while singing with a perfect face. (girl crush) Probably one of the most underrated actress/dancers in film.
If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and watch. It’s free on Amazon Prime. Don’t blame me when Frank Stallone’s music gets stuck in your head. Watch the trailer below. I’ve watched it so many times…haha.