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James Franco

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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Blu-ray: ‘Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Series’

FreaksGeeksBDFreaks and Geeks: The Complete Series (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray) – Somewhere between Dawson’s Creek and Welcome to the Doll House is this sharp, funny, and surprisingly poignant high school dram-edy (for lack of a better word), which premiered in 1999 and lasted for a single season.

Junior Linda Cardellini (of the Scooby-Doo movies and Mad Men) grounds the series as the former class brain who, in the first episode, is in the midst of a startling identity crisis. Rejecting everything she once took for granted, including her place in the school hierarchy, she gravitates toward the “freaks,” a group of stoners, under-achievers, and minor key rebels, sort of led by rebel without a clue Daniel (James Franco, looking perpetually stoned). Meanwhile her Freshman brother (John Francis Daley) is a Steve Martin-quoting, Dungeons and Dragon-playing, skinny little “geek,” hanging with his friends, pining for a pretty cheerleader, and trying to avoid the mean-spirited pranks and hazing that he seems to be the perpetual butt of.

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Film Review: ‘Palo Alto’

James Franco

We will address the C-word right away: Gia Coppola is the granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola, niece of Sofia, cousin of Nicolas Cage, etc. Just 25 when she wrote and directed Palo Alto, this newest member of the filmmaking famiglia has opted for safe material for her debut: This one’s solidly in the high-school-angst genre. Watching this humdrum movie, I couldn’t help but wish she’d followed her grandfather’s route and chosen to cut her teeth on something less pretentious and meaningful—you know, like a down-’n’-dirty horror picture. Perhaps such a project would summon a little more oomph. (Pause here for a fond memory of Dementia 13, directed by the youthful F.F.C. in 1963 at the behest of Roger Corman.)

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‘Homefront’: James Franco Versus Jason Statham!

James Franco

If I tell you that the ever-unpredictable James Franco plays a villain called “Gator” in a movie written by Sylvester Stallone, I would guess whatever’s forming in your mind right now is more fun than Homefront. This film is spirited—even breathless at times—but lacks the edge of craziness we’ve come to expect from the latest Franco escapade.

Stallone originally wrote the script (adapted from a novel by Chuck Logan) for himself, but handed the property to his Expendables buddy Jason Statham. It’s about an ex-undercover fed trying to lay low in Louisiana with his 10-year-old daughter (Izabela Vidovic); as these things will go, his past comes back in a complicated but violent way. Gator is the local meth-lab cooker with dreams of expanding his operation, but his associates keep letting him down—especially his strung-out sister Cassie (Kate Bosworth, getting Christian Bale–skinny) and his anxious biker-chick girlfriend Cheryl (Winona Ryder).

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