This article will have short reviews for the following films in this order: Slice, The Yellow Birds, Spring Breakers, Outlaw King, and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
When you make a film that is set in an alternate universe, you have to make sure that everything in that universe makes sense, which wasn’t the case in Slice. Outside of some trivial questions involving the film’s setting, its main premise doesn’t make a whole lot of sense considering the universe it takes place in. Why, in the first place, would murder even matter? Not a lot changes; you just become a ghost, but in Slice that doesn’t really seem to be that big of an inconvenience. I don’t really get the big deal they make out of it, though that isn’t the only problem Slice has. The narration is useless, characters are sloppily introduced, and it takes a while for the film to find its footing. There are quite a lot of bad lines and a few actors weren’t all that great either, much like the sound design. The humor’s a bit on and off and while there were a lot of characters, I never felt like I knew them or cared about them, and since dying had no impact, there was no fear of consequence. You couldn’t care for them dying, because even if they did, it wouldn’t matter, because they’d still continue to be in the film; there’s no real tension. There are even characters that do not impact the overall story in the slightest, even though the film devotes a lot of time to them. They themselves are impacted by the story but in no way influence it. I did like the director’s vision, ideas and tone he set up. He tried to make something different and original and he somewhat succeeded. Outside of the film’s flaws, there’s still some fun to be had. It’s campy, different and pays homage to 80’s shlock. The soundtrack’s great, and it’s basically just dumb fun. It could’ve been better, but it’s just fine in the end.
War films are hard to make; there are plenty of good ones, but there’s also an overabundant of bad ones. The Yellow Birds is one of those war films that falls somewhere in between. There are things to like, though also things to dislike. For example, I didn’t buy the friendship between Alden Ehrenreich and Tye Sheridan, even though their performances were both pretty good, much like anyone else in the cast. They just didn’t have any chemistry. The dialogue wasn’t all that great as well, as it often tried to be more philosophical than it actually was. The way the story was told was interesting, but pretty much all of the plot points fell flat due to it. The film really lacked power, both emotionally, but also in the sound design, especially for the guns. However, the cinematography was absolutely gorgeous. It’s one of the best shot war films that I’ve seen in recent years, which is why, regardless of its flaws, I’d still recommend it. I was also a big fan of the director’s approach to certain scenes and the editing style he chose made for an interesting contrast between events taking place back home and at the battlefield. And finally, how certain things were handled in the third act felt very unrealistic.
If Terrance Malik had directed a trashy satirical film that parodies films like itself, Spring Breakers would be the result. It’s very unique, funny, sad, somehow kind of poetic, and it works on different levels. You can approach the film from multiple angles and get something new out if it every time. If you go in expecting a comedy, it works like a comedy, if you go in expecting a drama, you’ll be getting a drama, if you’re going in expecting a thriller, it serves as a thriller. It’s a film you can get more of with each viewing and it is proof of some excellent filmmaking. The cinematography was gorgeous, with vibrant colors and shot compositions that actually meant something, the performances were excellent, especially James Franco who could both be seen as hilarious and scary, the editing was brilliant as it really helped to give the film a dreamlike quality, and the film constantly manages to constantly subvert your expectations. One of the only things I didn’t like, was a conflict that’s set up in the third act that felt like it was thrown in there just so that the film would follow a more film-like structure, while it would’ve been totally fine if it didn’t.
Even though I was expecting a bit more from David MacKenzie’s Outlaw King, especially after his last two efforts, I still thought that it was quite good. The cinematography was great, the action sequences brutal and enthralling, the performances excellent, and the directing could be really good in quite a lot of scenes, though I do have a few issues with the film. The side characters are severely lacking, mostly Robert’s brothers whom I didn’t care about in the slightest, which is a shame because there are scenes in the film where we’re supposed to feel emotions for them, while that’s far from the case. Often I didn’t even realize that it was supposed to be his brother in the scene taking place until a few moments later. The editing’s quite lackluster as well; it frequently felt choppy and there were moments where you could clearly see they cut out certain lines of dialogue. But then again, the costuming, sets, and special effects were all done extremely well.
While the first two short stories were excellent, the latter four slightly dropped in quality. Those four had their ups and downs, though some had more downs than ups. The last one wasn’t all that interesting, for example, but it did paint colorful characters, and Meal Ticket might have been a bit boring, but the way it ended was brilliant. As a matter of fact, the way every story ended was quite brilliant, as it often subverted my expectations and brought each story to a satisfying and fitting conclusion. Every story also had gorgeous cinematography, beautiful locations, and a distinct visual look. One could use very saturated colors, think of All Gold Canyon, while the other could be very grim looking, like Near Algodones. It made segments stand out more from each other and added a layer of visual interest. Even though the latter four were slightly less entertaining than the two before, they were still quite funny, while also being dark, and they all featured fantastic performances, an excellent soundtrack, and used techniques/story tropes that paid homage to old westerns.