Tag Archive: weird Westerns


Review by C.J. Bunce

Although the first chapter in the anthology film The Ballad of Buster Scruggs will have you thinking the new straight-to-Netflix movie is more of the same from the Coen Brothers, the subsequent chapters may have you think again.  It just may be the most thought-provoking, subdued, and effective film from the entire catalog of Coen Brothers films, and it may even eclipse Bone Tomahawk and the Coens’ own True Grit as this century’s best Westerns–at least in parts (and it’s a leap ahead of Quentin Tarentino’s past two efforts).  Netflix’s Mudbound was nominated this year in major categories (but didn’t win) and the studio brought in one documentary Oscar, but can this new Coens release bring Oscar home to Netflix for a major, large-scale production?

The common thread of the film is classic Americana: 19th century settlers possessed a kind of unique grit, and they paid a steep price, in unique and unglamorous ways, to build a nation.  The film chronicles six fictional fails and near fails that might have happened (mostly), presented as chapters of an anthology dime novel.  The first chapter follows the title character, a goofy but sure-shootin’ singing cowboy played by Tim Blake Nelson, in a story that will have many thinking this movie is another Western parody like 1985’s Rustler’s Rhapsody (it is not).  The next chapter follows a determined thief (James Franco) unsuccessfully robbing a bank in an era before the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment (in a mash-up inspired by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”).  Another story finds a young woman (Zoe Kazan of the famed film dynasty in a masterful performance) on a frontier wagon train just trying to make it to the next town.  The least of the tales comes off more as a one-note Aesop’s Fable, as Liam Neeson‘s character carts a young limbless orator (played eloquently by well-known Harry Potter actor Harry Melling) from town to town carnival style for money.  To round off the anthology, Brendan Gleeson, Saul Rubinek, and Tyne Daly star in a John Ford-inspired stagecoach bit that would be good source material for a stage play.

But the best of the chapters is an adaptation of a Jack London story about an old gold prospector, a character study starring Tom Waits.  His performance could be seamlessly spliced into any of the best classic Westerns.  And it’s the kind of acting achievement that should earn Waits a supporting Oscar nod, if the Academy gets in lock-step with Netflix as a legitimate moviemaking studio.  The other performance worth Oscar contention is Chelcie Ross‘s trapper in the stagecoach segment.  His rambling story and delivery is laugh-out-loud funny, and you can almost see in the eyes of Rubinek and Daly a real struggle to hold back laughs.

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Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Here at borg.com, we’re fans of Westerns.  And ghost stories.  But we haven’t truly appreciated just how much fun they can be together—until Holly Messinger’s lively debut, The Curse of Jacob Tracy, and a prequel novella, The Romance of Certain Old Bones.

Messinger’s books fit in nicely alongside Dead Man’s Hand (reviewed here), Bone Tomahawk (reviewed here), and Dragon Teeth, reviewed recently here, and will appeal especially to fans of All-Star Western’s hero Jonah Hex.  Set several years after the Civil War, The Curse of Jacob Tracy follows the title character, a Confederate veteran cursed with the ability to see the dead.  A former seminarian, Trace is lying low as a cowhand and trail boss, and doing his level best to stay away from hauntings.  He’s joined in his adventures with longtime working partner Boz, his indispensible, skeptical right-hand-man. But the curse keeps cropping up, in a series of fun, episodic adventures strung together by a strong throughline.  You’ll encounter Werewolves on a Train, haunted printing presses, gruesome Bordenesque axe-murders, and men possessed by dinosaurs.  Yes, really.

Trace is a strong, sympathetic, multi-layered lead, with a frank, level-headed, and sometimes downright funny voice.  Messinger’s supporting cast is just as strong.  Female lead Sabine Fairweather, a mysterious, learned gentlewoman who has hired Trace for odd jobs—really odd jobs—is hiding eerie secrets of her own, deep inside her esoteric steampunk laboratory.  As Trace becomes more deeply entwined in Miss Fairweather’s curious work, he begins to tentatively embrace, rather than recoil from, his strange powers.  But the partnership comes at a cost, and as Trace learns more about the supernatural, he realizes his newfound skills are jeopardizing everyone he cares about.  He can’t hide from the curse, but can he learn to control it?

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Wynonna Earp gun

By Elizabeth C. Bunce

We at borg.com have been big fans of several recent series on SyFy, notably those coming from Canadian showrunner Emily Andras (Lost Girl, Killjoys).  Well, Andras is back with an all-new series that we previewed here that looks to be just as fun, once again with a powerful female lead.  Based on the IDW comic of the same name, Wynonna Earp is a paranormal Western, in the tradition of the anthology Dead Man’s Hand, (reviewed here) and borg.com favorite All-Star Western, featuring Jonah Hex (reviewed here).

On her twenty-seventh birthday, Earp family black sheep Wynonna (Melanie Scrofano, Haven, The Listener) returns home to Purgatory (presumably Alberta) to attend her uncle’s funeral, and inherit the family curse: She’s become the Earp Heir, the only person capable of wielding her great-great-granddaddy’s Colt .45 Buntline Special, known as “Peacemaker.”  See, Purgatory and the Earps are haunted by the ghosts–or Revenants–of Sherriff Wyatt Earp’s kills.  And every generation of Earps must hunt down the undead again, until all 77 have been dispatched for good.  The trouble is, Wynonna wasn’t actually the Heir–that dubious honor ought to have belonged to elder sister Willa.  But Willa and their father were killed by Revenants when Wynonna was just a kid, leaving Purgatory, Wynonna, and younger sister Waverly unprotected.

Doc Holliday Wynonna Earp

The series has just aired its third episode (Episode 4 airs Friday, April 22), and it’s off to a fantastic start.  Andras has a great knack for blending excellent worldbuilding, sci-fi and paranormal elements, winning characters, and humor.  Scrofano is sharp-tongued and swaggering, a perfect modern-day gunslinger, and she’s backed up with an excellent supporting cast.  Shamier Anderson (Defiance) plays Agent Dolls, special agent of the Black Badge Division, a sort of Men in Black-style “cross-border” paranormal task force, and Dominique Provost-Chalkley as overeager little sister Waverly is a funny and delightful sidekick.  But the standout is Tim Rozon (Being Human, Lost Girl) as the mysterious Henry, immediately identifiable (though not identified) as the ghost of Doc Holliday, sporting a lazy drawl and unclear motives that make him absolutely captivating–utterly unrecognizable from his vile Lost Girl character.

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