“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” (Joel and Ethan Coen)
“Well ... that ain’t good,” the shooter proclaims of the bullet holes in his hat — and his forehead. Such morose writing would, in any other instance, draw breathless moviegoers to the edge of their seat; consistent to the directors’ natural flair, though, we need only laugh at the existential gag’s matter-of-fact delivery. Yes, Joel and Ethan Coen return to the big screen in Netflix’s (medium screen?) release of their newest film, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.” Tracing the independent anthologies of six vignettes in the American West with grit, irony, tongue-in-cheek humor and a varied cast of peculiar, well-spoken souls doomed to wander the duo’s gifted minds, the two-hour film demands multiple rewatches.
From the heigh-ho frivolities of Tom Waits’ lovable prospector to the sick and twisted tensions in Liam Neeson’s nihilistic entertainer to the Shakespearean folktale of Zoe Kazan’s timid and lovable farmgirl, these oddities and occurrences find themselves amidst the backdrop of mouth-watering vista shots, Carter Burwell’s capacious score and more dryly humored jokes than one can shake a stick at. “Buster Scruggs” is overflowing with meticulousness, and it’s got the visual gags and sarcastically generic narrative that brings you along for a wild ride of laughs, winces, tears and gasps.
Half the beauty is finding no two personal chapter rankings alike, while the other half is unraveling the underlying mysteries behind each seemingly innocent plotline. To summarize it through the words of another Coen character, “The more you look, the less you really know.” -Christian Memmo
“Black Panther” (Ryan Coogler)
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has produced two to three movies every year for the past decade, but only one of those productions has managed to transcend into a cultural phenomenon. From the rolling hills of the African savanna to the technologically progressive nation of Wakanda, "Black Panther" displays an elegant and awe-inspiring depiction of African culture. With a balanced blend of traditional, percussion-heavy rhythms of traditional Africa and experimental hip-hop tracks curated by Kendrick Lamar, the film is able to celebrate the modern and traditional nature of the African experience. Authentic attire and vibrant colors present in the costume design also contribute to the admiration of Africa’s heritage while still allowing the characters to maintain their own identity and unique style. Fueled by a predominantly African-American cast including Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan and Lupita Nyong’o, “Black Panther” still remains in the public sphere by not only making a political statement within a superhero flick but also creating a social awareness for representation around it. -Alex M. Jankovich
“Mission Impossible: Fallout” (Christopher McQuarrie)
A slew of recurring and charming characters return to the action-adventure series for another go at a villainous plot to destroy all, or part, of the world. While it’s become somewhat of a running joke that the franchise frequently returns to the premise of Ethan Hunt and Co. fulfilling protagonist checkboxes with little more than their wit, intellect and oddly specific spy technologies, “Mission Impossible: Fallout” is far from a disappointing film.
The movie utilizes a crisp and bold cinematographic palette of colors and international architecture, along with an easy-to-follow plot line that intersects with the next crazy action sequence and the memetic frenzy of Henry Cavill’s reloading arms. The film is more of that same tried-and-true stylistic formula that demands nothing more than a free evening and a yearning for adventurous eye candy. What’s more, I will argue that the “Mission Impossible” series continues to either sustain or improve its quality with each installment. Sure, that may be a crazy statement, but it’s not HALO-jump-out-of-a-plane-106-times crazy. -Christian Memmo
“A Star is Born” (Bradley Cooper)
“A Star is Born” is 2018’s most nostalgic return to old Hollywood cinema. A remake of the 1937 film of the same name, the film follows a hard-drinking musician (Cooper) as his career crumbles before his eyes, only to discover and fall in love with another young singer (Gaga) as her career is on the rise. Bradley Cooper co-writes (alongside Eric Roth and Will Fetters), directs and stars in the film with an excellent result. Cooper transcends the previous incarnations of the classic romance by taking the audience directly onstage and behind the scenes of the less-than-glamorous realities of these struggling musicians. Although she may not be able to relate to a struggling artist these days, Lady Gaga certainly becomes a star throughout the course of the film. Her performances are some of the best live vocals put on film, as she discards all of the eccentric layers of her expected onstage persona to portray the honest vulnerabilities of a rising star. “A Star is Born” will certainly be remembered as the most successful remake of this romantic tale and hopefully regarded as the turning point of Lady Gaga’s newfound acting career. -Alex M. Jankovich
“Eighth Grade” (Bo Burnham)
Bo Burnham’s artistic career has been all over — in the best of ways. There’s ironic peculiarity to be found in his performative history; after all, it would be hard to predict that the part-time showrunner of a YouTube channel would go on to create a neo-contemporary sensation through one of the most-renowned indie film distributors. “Eighth Grade,” while not the inceptive brainchild of some new cinematic movement, is of prime quality in its own right.
In my review from August, you’d find that the visual style was not exactly astounding to me. Moreover, you’d see this doesn’t necessarily matter in light of Elsie Fisher’s painfully human and endearingly genuine performance, which carries this film into the stratosphere. The film places itself in an especially opportune time frame, whereby the effects of smartphone and technology ubiquity are now making themselves more salient in the adolescent subcultures. With these consequential concerns, though, Burnham employs airtight depictions of anxiety, internalized isolationism — and of course — the gorgeous soundtrack. So, while “Eighth Grade” isn’t the next “Citizen Kane” or other placeholder paradigm, it is a superbly promising debut from a superbly talented artist. -Christian Memmo