Sunday 15 September 2019

Take a ride back to the Wild West

New on Netflix

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs  6 episodes, available Friday

Tim Blake Nelson stars in ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’
Tim Blake Nelson stars in ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

Once a mainstay of Hollywood, the Western genre seemingly faded away in the late 1960s. In the last few decades, several filmmakers have made concerted efforts to keep the tales of the Wild, Wild West alive, in both traditional and non-traditional ways.

Working very much in the former, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the latest from writer/director duo Joel and Ethan Coen, is a six-part anthology with all the black humour, brutal violence, and gorgeous imagery we've come to expect from the Coen Brothers.

This was initially created as an episodic Netflix television series before the Coens changed that plan and squeezed the six episodes together into one feature, which had a limited release earlier this year.

In fact, on this evidence, TV may have always been its rightful home. Some episodes of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs soar far higher than others, leaving us with a decidedly unbalanced piece of cinema, but, all in all, a perfectly fine piece of television.

Narcos: Mexico 8 episodes, available Friday

Narcos is undergoing a transformation this season, leaving behind the stories of Pablo Escobar for a reboot (of sorts) focusing on Mexico and the rise of the Guadalajara Cartel, led by Felix Gallardo.

The season will explore the roots of the modern drug war in the rise of the cartel in the 1980s, which unified a disorganised collective of independent traffickers into a single empire.

It will also tell the story of DEA agent Kiki Camarena (Michael Pena), who moved his family from California to Guadalajara to investigate Gallardo - the results of which would affect the course of the drug trade for years to come.

What makes Narcos: Mexico work so well is that there's never a lag in Felix or Kiki's stories - both are fascinating. There's a limited use of voiceover to start each episode that rolls through a little history and exposition, which allows the character drama to flourish without having to find ways to explain the nuances of, say, the political background of that era.

This isn't just a gun-and-drug-fuelled look at the early days of the War on Drugs' gangland violence; it's the study of two men who represent each side of it, two examples of the humanity often forgotten amid the headlines.

The Kominsky Method (2018) Available Friday

As Netflix has certainly learned with Grace and Frankie, the allure of a pair of acting titans going head-to-head can be enough to overcome any cynical conventional wisdom about the commercial challenges of building a franchise around actors of a certain age.

Actors over 70 don't face the same stigma as actresses over 70, but chances are good that a Hollywood movie teaming Alan Arkin and Michael Douglas would require them to rob a bank or for one of them to be facing immediately impending death, but actually this series has neither of those.

Instead, it revolves around Sandy Kominsky (Douglas), a disgruntled over-the-hill actor who runs an acting studio in Hollywood, and Norman (Arkin), his longtime agent. Together, in Los Angeles, a city obsessed with youth, Sandy and Norman navigate old age and mortality, paternal woes and romantic dysfunction and the series finds a way to laugh both at and with its central characters while still letting them retain most of their dignity.

The Princess Switch (2018) Available Friday

Admit it, you were wondering when America's telly writers were going to come up with a fictionalised version of Meghan Markle's story.

Well, here you are, with a little early Christmas sugar thrown in. As far as plot goes, it's one week before Christmas and Margaret, the gorgeous Duchess of 'Montenaro', switches places with Stacy, a "commoner" from Chicago, who looks exactly like her.

With the assistance of a magical Santa's helper, Margaret falls in love with Stacy's handsome co-worker, while Stacy falls in love with Margaret's fiance, the dashing prince.

It's the type of corny fun that propelled The Christmas Prince to great popularity for Netflix last winter and if it could be argued that it's a bit early for Christmas movies, a Meghan-themed movie is probably overdue.

Sunday Independent

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