Sunday, July 28, 2013

“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” – Movie Review



This weekend in my movie class, we had a bonus screening of “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” starring Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara and Keith Carradine.


When a convict escapes from jail to reunite with his wife and meet the daughter born during his imprisonment, will he be able to see his family before being caught or killed?


Texas couple Bob (Affleck) and Ruth (Mara) see themselves as something of a modern-day Bonnie & Clyde.  Despite the fact that Ruth breaks the news to him that she’s expecting their baby, Bob decides to follow through with his armed robbery plan, risking not only his future, but also that of his wife and unborn child.  After Bob stashes the loot in a beaten-up suitcase buried near their run-down cabin, the law catch up with them and a shootout ensues.  This culminates in the pair being arrested; although Ruth is acquitted, Bob is found guilty of the crime and sentenced to 25 years in prison. 

While Bob is doing his time, he writes frequently to Ruth, who by now has been set up in a new home by Skerritt (Carradine), one of Bob’s former cohorts.  During Bob’s incarceration, Ruth gives birth to their daughter, Sylvie.  Remaining connected to the case throughout the years is Deputy Wheeler (Ben Foster), who was injured during the firefight when the two were apprehended; Wheeler periodically provides Ruth with updates on Bob’s status in prison.  What Ruth eventually figures out, however, is that Wheeler has his own romantic designs on her. 

After several failed attempts over the years, Bob finally escapes from prison.  Carjacking his way across Missouri, he finds his way back to Texas and meets up with an old buddy of his who gives him a temporary hiding place.  While the police are after him, Bob sneaks his way over to Skerritt, who warns him to stay away from Ruth and Sylvie for their safety.  When Skerritt learns that Bob is trying to track down his family, he hires some men to find Bob and kill him before he can locate Ruth.  But will Bob finally be able to meet his daughter before either the police or the killers can catch him?



“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” is either reminiscent of or derivative of similar, earlier films from 30 or 40 years ago (the adjective you choose will certainly depend on whether or not you enjoyed the movie).  Despite being eminently watchable, you can’t help but thinking that you’ve seen this exact same story told before.  Its slow pace makes it feel much longer than its hour and a half length.  Although I’m given to understand it won a cinematography award, I found much of the photography a little on the dark side (trying to resonate the mood of the motion picture, perhaps?) and as such, occasionally difficult to follow.  

The main problem I had with this movie has to do with the number of loose ends that are left hanging in the story.  Who are the men that are hired to kill Bob?  How did Skerritt know that he could hire them for the job?  How did Bob get a change of clothes and clean up by the time he reached Texas?  These are just some of the questions that left me more than just a little bit puzzled as well as quite surprised at the high rating the critics on Rotten Tomatoes gave “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”.  Whether these problems come from the screenplay, from the editing or from a tight budget that prevented the filmmaker from shooting certain scenes is hard to say. 

Lastly, this movie has got to have one of the worst titles ever, which certainly doesn’t help matters any.  What does it mean?  Infuriatingly, this is never explained.  To think that no one could’ve dreamed up a better title is really hard to believe.  While this film may be a darling with the critics and get extraordinarily good reviews, I can’t imagine too many people wanting to actually pay money to see “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”.  I wish the best of luck to whomever is responsible for marketing this thing because they sure do have a tough job ahead of them. 


Ain't Them Bodies Saints (2013) on IMDb 7.0/10440 votes


Thursday, July 25, 2013

“In A World” – Movie Review



This week in my movie class, we saw the comedy “In A World”, starring Lake Bell, who also wrote and directed.


When a young woman pursues her father’s career as a voice-over announcer, she finds that the business is reluctant to hire women – but when she’s being considered for a new job, it turns out she’s competing against other industry veterans, including her own father.


At 31, Carol (Bell) is an underachiever and proud of it – working some occasional freelance jobs as a vocal coach, she doesn’t make enough money in order to have her own place, so she is living with her widowed father, Sam (Fred Melamed). Inviting Carol to leave because his girlfriend is going to move in with him, Sam tries to motivate her to start to take her career seriously by following in his footsteps as a voice-over announcer for movie trailers. Carol’s father is regarded as the voice-over king after the passing of the great Don LaFontaine and might be able to get her foot in the door; despite this, she realizes the business has a strong preference toward using men in their advertisements.

Sam is reveling in the fact that as an acknowledged leader in his field, he will be getting a lifetime achievement award at an upcoming ceremony. Realizing that he must soon pass the torch to an up-and-coming voice-over announcer, the logical pick would appear to be his good friend, Gustav (Ken Marino), a younger man who has managed to carve-out a successful career in this field. In celebration of his own success – and to honor his buddy Sam – Gustav throws a party; in addition to bringing his girlfriend, Sam drags Carol along in the hope that she can network herself. Quite by accident, however, this results in Carol and Gustav hooking-up.

While Carol seems to be in no hurry to end her trysts with Gustav, it is really Louis (Demetri Martin) in whom she is most interested – he’s the manager of the recording studio where she works and has made his affection for Carol no great secret. In the meantime, Carol learns that if she is willing to submit an audition tape, she will be considered for a voice-over job in a movie trailer that is bound to have high visibility and the potential for considerable career advancement. But when she discovers that both her father and Gustav are among the more seasoned professionals who are up for the same gig, will Carol have any chance of winning the opportunity?


From strictly a technical standpoint, the screenplay for “In A World” is well-crafted, if not always well-played. It hits all the right notes in terms of act-end turning points and climax as well as sub-plots and well-defined characters. As a comedy, however, it is a bit on the soft side – more mildly amusing than outright funny. Not much in the way of laugh-out-loud jokes, but nevertheless somewhat entertaining in an unthreatening, unchallenging kind of way. While the characters are clearly delineated, I didn’t find them to be terribly sympathetic and some of the scenes were little more than merely movie-convenient contrivances.

Clearly, Bell has called in quite a few favors to some of her colleagues, whose names and/or faces should be immediately familiar to most viewers; there are a number of actors and actresses of some note who at least make an appearance in this movie, if not play significant supporting roles. These include (in no particular order) Jeff Garlin, Geena Davis, Rob Corddry, Nick Offerman and Eva Longoria. So, if you get bored with the film and decide to play “Spot The Celebrity”, this is as good a motion picture to use as just about any other. Of course, the potential danger with these casting decisions is that when you see a star in a movie mostly populated with unknowns (especially in the lead roles), you can tend to get taken out of the story ever so briefly (if not entirely).

One of the things that might be either off-putting or confusing (or both) for some people is the derivation of the movie’s title and its reference to Don LaFontaine. LaFontaine was a real person who was somewhat famous for his ubiquity when it came to performing voice-overs for many movie trailers. One of his more infamous traits was arguably the fact that so many of his voice-overs would start with the phrase, “In a world …”. People unfamiliar with either or both of these facts might find themselves head-scratching throughout much of the film.

 In a World... (2013) on IMDb 7.1/10169 votes


Thursday, July 18, 2013

“The Conjuring” – Movie Review



This week in my movie class, we saw the horror flick “The Conjuring”, starring Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson.


When a family is haunted by ghosts in their new farmhouse, they call in experts to help them – but once it becomes clear that the ghosts want the entire family dead, can the entire family be saved?


In autumn of 1971, The Perron Family moved into their newly-purchased farmhouse in a remote area of Rhode Island. Shortly after their arrival, however, they started to notice certain oddities: their pet dog refused to enter the house, all of the clocks stopped at 3:07 AM and an unusual rotting aroma permeated various rooms. After finding their dog mysteriously dead, things soon get worse when Carolyn (Lily Taylor), the mother of this five-daughter brood, starts developing bruises throughout her body. Between hearing weird noises and seeing inexplicable visions, they are convinced that their house is haunted and they need help. But to whom can they turn?

The Warrens are a couple of some notoriety as paranormal investigators. Husband Ed (Wilson) is a demonologist and wife Lorraine (Farmiga) a clairvoyant. Together, they have spent years looking into sundry claims of possessions and hauntings; in most instances, they have been able to prove that these events are simple coincidences with rational, reasonable causes behind them. Other times, however, they have been forced to put their lives at great risk in order to either rid a home of spirits or drive out a demon from some human form it has temporarily overtaken.

After attending The Warrens’ speaking engagement at a nearby university, Carolyn meets with them to share her tale and implore them to assist with her family’s situation. Following a cursory inspection of the premises, The Warrens find considerable evidence that Carolyn’s story is neither a hoax nor a coincidence, but in fact a genuine haunting, possibly with an attempted demonic possession. They immediately get to work to record and document the existence of the spirits, but when they discover that a demon wishes to possess Carolyn so she will murder her daughters, can they get Vatican approval for a priest to perform an Exorcism on her before it’s too late?


I’m tempted to say that the recipe for “The Conjuring” would be to add one part of “Amityville Horror” to one part of “The Exorcist”, run it on high in a blender, then pour generous servings of this concoction over ice and serve. While I suppose such a remark might be a facile description with which to characterize this rather well-made movie, that certainly doesn’t make it any less apt. For people who are fans of this genre (not I), this cocktail of spooks and devils will be sure to hit the spot – especially now, since there tends to be something of a dearth of horror films during the summer months.

One of the reservations I have about “The Conjuring” is the fact that the filmmakers try to cram in too much within this nearly two hour long movie. Besides the story lines of The Perrons and The Warrens, there are also way too many ghosts inhabiting the story – and they all have their own story line, too. This makes things a little confusing and hard to follow at times. It may have been better to focus on one or two of these supernatural beings than to overcomplicate the story to the point that we wind up forgetting who’s doing what and why. Given the fact that “The Conjuring” is supposedly based on actual people, they may have fallen into the trap of trying to stick a little too closely to actual incidents to the point that the film’s quality is compromised.

Director James Wan – perhaps best known for “Saw” – manages to hit all of the right notes throughout “The Conjuring” that should make horror fans jump and squeal in their seat and generate the kind of physiological reaction in their system to which they seem to have become addicted. For me, arguably the scariest part of this movie isn’t the ghosts or the demons, but rather the emphasis of how religion – specifically, Catholicism – is seen as the cure-all. Seriously, would it be possible for an atheist to either be haunted by ghosts, possessed by demons or work as a paranormal investigator? Perhaps – but then you’d really be called upon to suspend your disbelief even more so.

 The Conjuring (2013) on IMDb 7.7/101,550 votes

Thursday, July 11, 2013

“Still Mine” – Movie Review



This week, the 2nd half of the summer semester for my movie class began and we saw the drama “Still Mine”, starring James Cromwell and Genevieve Bujold.


When an elderly farmer tries to build a new house on his land to better care for his wife suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, he falls victim to his town’s bureaucracy – but will he be able to complete his project or will it be bulldozed before he can finish?


Octogenarians Craig (Cromwell) and Irene (Bujold) have spent the decades carving out a living for themselves the hard way – as a couple of Canadian farmers who have raised seven children.  Unfortunately, old age is creeping up on them and soon, Craig finds his wife is experiencing increasingly frequent incidents of senility.  When Irene almost accidentally burns down their house, Craig realizes something must be done immediately.

After discussing the situation with his children, he quickly dismisses any consideration of putting his wife in a home and instead decides that he can better care for her himself if they lived in a smaller house – with that, Craig decides to build a cottage on a tiny stretch of the 2,000 acres of farmland he owns.  However, in the many years since he built his current house, he finds the local government in the town in which he lives has enacted many new rules, regulations and fees.  Confused and frustrated by all of red tape, he proceeds with construction anyway because he realizes that time is of the essence, given that Irene’s condition is gradually deteriorating, putting her well being at great risk. 

When Craig ignores the town’s Stop Work Order on his new home, that’s when the lawyers are brought in and things get increasingly complicated – not to mention expensive.  Having to meet with the lawyers takes away from time he could be spending finishing the new house.  Meanwhile, Irene is getting substantially worse – after various episodes, she suffers a bad fall and winds up in the hospital with a broken hip, which will result in a long stay followed by weeks of physical therapy as she is trained in the use of a walker.  During this time, Craig’s case makes the town’s newspapers; despite all of the media attention, the town’s building department brings him to court anyway.  Will the judge allow him to finish construction or will the new house be demolished?


A delicate, fragile movie, “Still Mine” can be seen as either a humanistic or political drama – if not both – depending on your perspective.  Humanistic in the sense that it is about dealing with one of life’s many great indignities – aging and the associated resulting problems.  Political in the sense that it is a story about the individual versus the big, unwieldy and uncaring government.  At its core, however, it is above all a love story about a long-time married couple that have grown old together and are still very much dedicated to taking good care of each other.   

That said, some might find a couple of scenes slightly uncomfortable to view – for one thing, Cromwell is briefly nude when entering an outdoor shower; also, husband and wife have a sex scene that could make certain people squirm just a bit (thankfully, however, it’s neither long nor graphic).  But then again, hey, if you’re open minded and aren’t turned off to geezer love, then you likely won’t have any issues with this.  I also found “Still Mine” to be an excellent choice for a title because after seeing the film, you realize it can refer to a great many things that the lead characters would insist are “still mine” – my spouse, my life, my land, my dignity … you get the idea…

Following the screening, our instructor interviewed one of the film’s stars, the great James Cromwell.  If you ever get the chance to hear Cromwell speak or be interviewed, by all means, go for it – he happens to be one of the all-time spellbinding raconteurs, sharing many fascinating stories from his life both in an out of acting.  Cromwell said he was very thankful to Norman Lear, creator of the legendary television situation-comedy “All In The Family”.  Lear gave Cromwell his big break, casting him as Archie Bunker’s co-worker, Stretch Cunningham.  He said that the casting came about as a result of a salary dispute between Lear and the show’s star Carroll O’Connor (who played Archie Bunker); upon reaching something of an impasse, Lear notified O’Connor that they were going to kill off Archie and replace him with a character played by Cromwell – shortly thereafter, there was a resolution.  O’Connor returned to work, but Cromwell still appeared in a number of episodes as his co-worker Cunningham.

Still Mine (2012) on IMDb 7.1/10165 votes