Saturday, August 31, 2013

Ain't Them Bodies Saints (2013)


This is Texas; deep Texas.  Folks here have a permanent glossy sheen of sweat on them because there are no air conditioners.  They move at a slower pace down here; they even talk slower.  You wouldn’t last too long in the heat if you moved as if you had somewhere to be.  Bob (Casey Affleck) definitely has somewhere to be, and it is not in his prison cell.

In an opening that skips most of the action to get to the what happens next, Bob and Ruth (Rooney Mara) are in a shootout with the local cops, their accomplice is dead, and Ruth just shot a cop, Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster), in the shoulder.  Bob takes the wrap, goes away for 25 to life, and pregnant Ruth starts to get on as best she can while promising to wait for Bob.

Promises are one thing; actually doing the waiting while raising a baby girl by herself is an entirely different set of circumstances.  After four years, Bob, unable to fathom being away from his girls for the rest of his life, breaks out of prison and as most town folk guess, is on his way back home.  Everyone wants to see Bob disappear; he most likely would succeed too.  However, Bob only wants his girls back.  He is a desperate man who has no plans to return to prison. 

Everyone involved, except Bob, knows how this whole thing is going to end.  I suppose men in prison need a particular amount of hope to get by, but those on the outside are tired.  They see Bob and they see a past they would prefer to forget and leave buried.  There is a sense of inevitability; everybody knows the moves.  Even the cops move slowly and wait for Bob to come to then instead of rushing around to track him down.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a drama, not a shoot-em-up and escape and evasion action thriller.  There are a couple shootouts, but they play out just as they would in real life; they are short and confusing.  Patrick, all better now, takes a shine to Ruth.  He has his suspicions about that day so long ago, but he sees a different Ruth; he sees a poor woman who works hard, goes to church, and raises her daughter right.

Watching over everyone, including Ruth, Bob, and the cops, is Skerritt (Keith Carradine).  Every small town has one of these guys.  He is not the mayor or the town gossip, but he knows everyone’s business and appears to wield more influence than anyone else around.  He watches over Ruth as a father would, bear hugs Bob when he sees him but would just love to see him disappear, and may have one or two other secrets up his sleeve.

Nobody knows what the title Ain’t Them Bodies Saints means; it probably doesn’t mean anything.  Unlike many generic titles though, you’ll remember this strange yet ridiculous title.  We also have no idea what year the story takes place in.  There are no advanced electronics around, but the cars aren’t too old, the early ‘70s perhaps? 

Writer/director David Lowery saturates the film with a thick atmosphere; you can almost feel the oppressive humidity seeping through the screen.  Lowery also landed an extremely talented cast.  Casey Affleck’s Bob is a latter generation Robert Ford who is not too far removed from The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007).  Mara, Foster, and Carradine are all in top form as well; Carradine brings a little of his Wild Bill Hickock from Deadwood with him though. 

The award-winning (Sundance) cinematography by Bradford Young aids the film as much as the cast.  The sunlight is brilliant and almost all of the scenes during the day seem to be in the twilight hours.  Young was anything but going through the motions here; there are noticeable tracking shots of Affleck and Mara which draws the audience in closer when most other crew behind the camera would merely hold the camera in one place. 

Also, the editing jumps around, especially in the beginning while we are trying to figure out where we are.  Lowery edited this year’s Upstream Color and while not cut nearly as challenging as that film, Saints has its fair share of abrupt sequences which try and snatch the rug out from under the audience. 

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is saddled with an awful title, but it is a sweaty and dramatic tale about what happens after the shootout.  Is the girl still waiting for the man she swore she would wait for?  Does the man look beyond his own immediate needs and think about what is best for his girls?  This is not action material which is most likely why it works so well as a drama.

Directed by: David Lowery
Written by: David Lowery
Starring: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Ben Foster, Keith Carradine, Nate Parker

Thursday, August 29, 2013

You're Next (2013)


Evil Dead retains its crown as 2013’s bloodiest film, but You’re Next is something Evil Dead is not; it is a quality horror film.  You’re Next arrives with plenty of blood splatter for the gore fans and a kitchen full of sharp objects with which to maim a human body.  It also has a script full of originality and wit packaged within the old standbys of an isolated house of horrors with cast members dropping one by one.

Celebrating their 35th anniversary, Paul (Rob Moran) and Aubrey (Barbara Crampton) head out to the sticks to their second, and extremely isolated, home.  Their four kids show up one by one with their significant others and soon we have a house full of folks, mostly related, already grating on each other’s nerves.  The opening dinner is so full of tension and unspoken hostilities that when the first crossbow arrow flies through the dining room window we are more than ready for most of this family to bite the dust.

Who are the attackers?  They do not speak, they do not hesitate, and they wear animal masks.  What makes You’re Next so effective as an indie addition to the home invasion genre is not the brutality of the sequential murders, but one character’s reaction to them.  Erin (Sharni Vinson) is the Australian girlfriend of one of the sons, college professor Crispian (AJ Bowen).  Instead of screaming and cowering after the attacks begin, she emerges as the most resourceful asset in the house.

The reasons behind her skillful dodges and counterattacks are quite silly when explained, but it does not lessen the audience’s enjoyment as she consistently foils the masked attackers and saves her own skin.  Just as the menacing bad guys are adept with crossbows, machetes, and axes, Erin holds her own with nails, a chicken masher, and even a blender.  Writer Simon Barrett’s (V/H/S, 2012) imagination was working on overdrive as dreamed up unique situation after situation to keep the relentless body count from boring and/or numbing the audience.

Director Adam Wingard opens You’re Next with a bang, takes the time to introduce our extended cast, and then mercifully launches in with the bloodbath before the audience gets a chance to check their watch.  Populating the cast with other indie filmmakers is a tongue in cheek move by Wingard.  An early casualty to open the film is horror director Larry Fessenden, Crispian’s jackass older brother, Drake, is played by director Joe Swanberg, and director Ti West plays Tariq, the significant other to the family’s only daughter, Amy (Amy Seimetz).  Recognize the name Amy Seimetz?  She took the indie world by storm this year making a name for herself in Upstream Color

You’re Next scores in part because it’s not another remake or sequel which have bombarded movie screens lately, it’s not ghosts or spirits causing the mayhem, and the writer really took the time to think it through.  Even though heads and limbs fly across the room now and again, there is some laughter involved and an unforgettable scene with a girl attempting to initiate a sensual moment with her boyfriend while there is a noticeable brutally murdered relative sharing the same bed.  Go ahead, enjoy yourself; You’re Next will give you a lot to talk about at the water cooler tomorrow.

Directed by: Adam Wingard
Written by: Simon Barrett
Starring: Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Margaret Laney, Amy Seimetz, Ti West, Rob Moran, Barbara Crampton

Friday, August 23, 2013

The World's End (2013)


I will never forget my college bars.  There was the Irish Emigrant for the pub trivia nights, the All-American for the infrequent wet t-shirt girls, Earl’s for the insanely strong drinks and the aura of being in a filthy, run-down bar, and to top all of them off, there was the College Inn.  I spent way more time at the Inn than inside any classroom.  They had the best jukebox, the best tables, it was dark, it was smoky, and I will never forget the graffiti on the bathroom walls.

Gary King (Simon Pegg) had 12 such bars.  In June of 1990, Gary and his four best mates celebrate graduation navigating the Golden Mile, the 12 pubs in their small town having a drink at each.  Through a very effective opening voiceover, Gary describes that infamous night, his friends, the girls, the booze, and the outrageousness of it all.  It was the best night of Gary’s life.

Life moved on, but Gary did not.  23 years later, Gary pines for that night.  His looks are gone; he has no money, no woman, nothing.  During a group therapy session, most likely an AA meeting, Gary realizes the fellas could try the Golden Mile again!  They never even finished the first one anyways as they were excruciatingly drunk three pubs shy of the goal.  The problem; however, is that his ‘mates’ have moved on.  They have jobs, mortgages, wives, kids, and most of all, responsibility; these are all nouns Gary knows nothing about.

Plus, they are not exactly chums anymore.  Oliver, ‘O-Man’ (Martin Freeman), is a real estate agent with a Bluetooth stuck in his ear, Peter (Eddie Marsan) sells Audis, Steven (Paddy Considine) runs a construction firm and frequently mentions his 26-year-old fitness instructor girlfriend, and then there is Andy (Nick Frost).  Gary and Andy were the best of friends until an event called ‘the accident’ that everyone refers to now and then.  Andy and Gary have been estranged since the accident. 

Through a series of white lies and outright subterfuge, Gary gets the gang back to their hole in the wall town to try and recreate the past.  Unfortunately, the pubs have lost their individuality and morphed into the same washed-out, family friendly entities that the lads call ‘starbucking’.  The night appears doomed.  Then, BAM!  We get the WTF moment.  I will not tell you what the WTF moment is; I beg you to go into the movie blind.  I had no idea what The World’s End was about when I saw it and I am so grateful.

I suppose I should have guessed some skullduggery was afoot knowing that it is from the gentlemen who brought you both Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007).  Directed by Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and co-written by Wright and Pegg, The World’s End concludes a sort of trilogy.  Shaun of the Dead had the average Joe versus zombies, Hot Fuzz had the Neighborhood Watch Alliance, and The World’s End has…well, it’s got something all right. 

It’s got dozens of pints to drink, long ago memories to reminisce about or skip over, life comparisons, and a sharp wit.  Pegg has more than a few biting soliloquies and funny one-liners.  Most of these are in the first half before the WTF moment but they are so good they make up for a fuzzy ending and a film that feels forgettable.  I’ll remember the pub crawl, but as for the rest, it has the feeling it will just be that third Pegg/Wright movie that was better than Shaun of the Dead but wasn’t as good as the Point Break loving Hot Fuzz 

Directed by: Edgar Wright
Written by: Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Rosamund Pike, Pierce Brosnan, David Bradley, Michael Smilely