‘All Gold Canyon,’ the fourth segment of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, is the only one in which a main character doesn’t die. It’s also the only one adapted entirely from another source — in this case, Jack London’s short story of the same name.
An unrecognizable Tom Waits stars as a prospector who ventures into the most beautiful, pristine canyon you’ve ever seen and begins digging for pocket gold.
The third chapter of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is by far the bleakest. Following two darkly comic segments, ‘Meal Ticket’ is just plain dark.
Liam Neeson stars as an impresario who travels from town to town with his act, an armless, legless man nicknamed Harrison the Wingless Thrush (played beautifully by Harry Melling, Dudley in the Harry Potter films). While he might look like a carnival side show act, Harrison’s talent is in his oratory. He eloquently delivers poetry, Shakespeare, Biblical verses and famous speeches from atop a stool.
The second segment of the Coen Brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is titled ‘Near Algodones’ and stars James Franco as an outlaw cowboy who can’t win for losing.
This segment is a lot less cartoonish than the opener but it’s the second most comical of the six. The Coens ease viewers into the darkness, which hits with a wallop in the next chapter.
We’re getting close to year’s end, and I have a host of movies left to see that have a shot at cracking my top ten.
Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma leads the pack, followed by (in no particular order) Vice, Mary Poppins Returns, If Beale Street Could Talk, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, The Favourite and Widows. Plus a host of movies from earlier in the year I need to catch up with at home: Hearts Beat Loud, The Rider, The Oath and Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, to name a few.
Here’s a lovely track from Elvis Costello’s 2004 album The Delivery Man, which started as a concept album about a quartet of characters in the deep south but ended up as a collection of loosely connected rock songs and ballads.
Ivy was presumably one of the characters in that original narrative, and her presence is felt in the backing vocals of the wonderful Emmylou Harris, who shows up on a couple of tracks. Lucinda Williams sits in on the raucous ‘There’s a Story in Your Voice,’ delivering a wild and passionate performance.
I was shocked to discover that I’ve posted 3,808 Songs of the Day without once featuring a song from R.E.M.’s 1987 album Dead Letter Office.
This collection of B-sides, outtakes and loose ends was released between 1986’s Lifes Rich Pageant and 1987’s Document, which made an appearance on Random Weekends exactly one week ago.