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Brendan Gleeson

Review: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Too bad the title of the new multi-story Coen brothers film is taken from the first of its episodes. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs has the ring of a cartoon spoof, and it’s a perfectly suitable title for the film’s first segment, a Western sendup so broad it reminds us that every Coen brothers film has a little Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner spinning around inside it.

But this movie, taken as a whole, is no spoof, nor a cartoon. Its first two sections are very funny, but gradually the project moves from comedy into something else, something kind of amazing. Exquisitely crafted and relentlessly bleak, Buster Scruggs is a glorious wagon train of dark mischief, a strangely entertaining autopsy on the human condition. Like Joel and Ethan Coen’s Burn After Reading, it pretends to be silly while it slips you the needle.

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Review: The General (1998)

[Originally written for Mr. Showbiz, December 18, 1998]

Set the wayback machine to 1998. Parallax View presents reviews of films released 20 years ago, written by our contributors for various papers and websites. Most of these have not been available for years.

John Boorman has been a great filmmaker for more than thirty years now, but also a most unpredictable one. He’s made such classics as Point Blank, Excalibur, and Hope and Glory, only to turn right around and perpetrate fiascoes like Exorcist II: The Heretic and Where the Heart Is—though all those films have their admirers, and even Boorman’s sappiest endeavors reflect the fervor and grandeur of a true visionary. Following the (undeserved) commercial and critical failure of Beyond Rangoon and the long, fatal illness of a daughter, Boorman reestablished himself with a new, Dublin-based production company and a new family. The General, which he financed himself, is one of Boorman’s winners. Indeed, it won him the Best Director award this year at Cannes.

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Review: Paddington 2

If marmalade sandwiches are back on the menu, it can only mean the Paddington sequel has arrived. The 2014 original, a live-action film with a computer-generated bear, was as warm ‘n fuzzy as its main character. If the sequel has a few odd ideas—Paddington spends almost half the movie in jail?—it still supplies a happy ration of kid-friendly slapstick, grown-up jokes, and a batch of the most recognizable actors in Britain.

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Film Review: ‘Song of the Sea’

‘Song of the Sea’

It didn’t cop the Oscar on Sunday, but the good news is a few hundred million people have now heard of Song of the Sea. The Best Animated Feature category often includes a title or two that—while utterly obscure by Disney or DreamWorks standards—are at least as impressive in the realm of cartoon art. This year Disney’s lukewarmly received Big Hero 6 was a bit of a surprise winner, its triumph perhaps the result of votes being siphoned off by two tiny but acclaimed competitors, Tale of the Princess Kayuga and this one.

Song of the Sea comes from an Irish company, Cartoon Saloon, whose previous feature The Secret of Kells (2009) also snagged an Oscar nomination.

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Film review: ‘The Grand Seduction’

Brendan Gleeson and Taylor Kitsch

During the SIFF screening I attended for The Grand Seduction, the audience was chortling and sighing at all the right moments. The picture went over so big it had me worrying that some people might think this is the sort of movie you should see at a film festival. It’s not. For all its super-nice intentions, attractive players, and right-thinking messages, this thing might’ve come out of a can. It is, literally, from formula: an English-language remake of the French-Canadian film Seducing Dr. Lewis, seen at SIFF ‘04 and written by Ken Scott. He’s becoming an industry at this kind of thing: His fertility-clinic comedy Starbuck had its recent Hollywood remake as a Vince Vaughn vehicle, Delivery Man.

What we have here is some real Northern exposure: A dying Canadian harbor town will see its only shot at landing a new factory shrivel away unless a full-time doctor settles there.

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Film Review: ‘Edge of Tomorrow’

Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise

Earth has been invaded by space aliens, and Europe is already lost. Though no combat veteran, Major Bill Cage (Tom Cruise) is thrust into a kind of second D-Day landing on the beaches of France, where he is promptly killed in battle. Yes, 15 minutes into the movie Tom Cruise is dead—but this presents no special problem for Edge of Tomorrow. In fact it’s crucial to the plot. The sci-fi hook of this movie, adapted from a novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, is that during his demise Cage absorbed alien blood that makes him time-jump back to the day before the invasion. He keeps getting killed, but each time he wakes up he learns a little more about how to fight the aliens and how to keep a heroic fellow combatant (Emily Blunt) alive.

It might sound laborious, and the inevitable comparisons to Groundhog Day are not far off the mark. But the movie is actually ingenious in doling out its herky-jerky storytelling.

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