Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

The look, the sound, the mood, the time and the place of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints are classic. The cast is brilliant. The story, though somewhat predictable, has enough layers to keep moviegoers entranced from start to finish.

Ruth (Rooney Mara) and Bob (Casey Affleck) are young lovers in a small Texas town. They steal. They are chased. In a shootout, Ruth shoots a deputy in the shoulder but Bob takes the fall and goes to jail. The scene where Ruth and Bob are being led away from the shootout is one of the year’s best as they hold hands, whisper to one another, then are pulled apart.

Four years later, after Ruth has given birth to their child, Bob escapes. Deputy Wheeler (Ben Foster) breaks the news to Ruth and we see that he has feelings for her. (The deputy does not know that Ruth was the shooter who took him down.) Foster embellishes his performance with a distinctive cop swagger.

Keith Carradine plays a local shopkeeper whose son was an accomplice to the robbery and was killed in the shootout. While he befriends Ruth, he maintains a grudge against Bob. Escapee Bob visits his store and he tells Bob to stay away from Ruth and the girl. Fat chance.

Nate Parker is a local bar owner who provides a place for his old friend Bob to crash while he is on the lam. When deputy Wheeler comes looking for Bob, Parker’s character diverts attention while Bob jumps out a window.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is set sometime in mid-twentieth century. The gas guzzler sheriff’s cars appear to be mid-60’s vintage. The film recalls the 1973 movie Badlands with a young Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek as violent heartland killers. But Ruth and Bob are not so heartless.

Director David Lowery (who also wrote the script) has crafted a film with muted colors, frequent use of sepia tones and many almost monochromatic shots. The toned-down color, combined with some of the wardrobes, gives Ain’t Them Bodies Saints the feel of a Western movie in many of its scenes.

Though set in Texas (and filmed in Louisiana), ATBS looks like it could be anywhere in flyover country. Despite its chases and gunplay, much of the film has a relaxed pace. With its classic feel and strong acting performances, expect Ain’t Them Bodies Saints to show up on a few Top Ten lists at year’s end. Festival prizes already scored may be echoed in a few months by other awards groups.

Top cast members are Rooney Mara as the seemingly weak young woman who manages to gain strength and raise her daughter and Ben Porter as the deputy who finally gets the courage to express his feelings for Ruth. Casey Affleck’s mumbling may play against his chances for awards noms. Keith Carradine’s performance as a man with many motivations could also earn some awards love.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is one of the best movies I’ve seen this year. It has a good story told well and good characters acted well.

The Amazing Spider-Man

Is it legit to retell an origin story that was told just ten years ago? Apparently the 2002 version of how Peter Parker got his powers wasn’t quite accurate, because the new movie changes some of the details.

The rebooted story of “The Amazing Spider-Man” stars Andrew Garfield of “The Social Network” fame. Unlike former Spiderman Tobey McGuire, he’s hunky and does not have a high-pitched voice. It’s much harder to buy Garfield as a weak, meek target of high school bullies. McGuire was a better wimp.

Not that Garfield doesn’t do a good job—he does. Garfield’s Spiderman embraces his new powers more readily than did McGuire’s Spidey. His powers first come into play in a memorable scene in a subway car when Parker is not quite yet aware of all he can do. It’s a fun scene.

His love interest is Gwen, played by Emma Stone. Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane in the ’02 movie took some time to figure out that Parker was Spiderman. Gwen gets hip quick. While there’s nothing quite as sexy as the upside down kiss in the ’02 Spidey flick with Kirsten Dunst’s nipples visible under her wet blouse, there is a bit of heat between Peter/Spiderman and Gwen. Emma’s got legs and they are given good screen time.

Gwen’s dad is a police boss, played by Denis Leary. Leary is leery (sorry!) of Spiderman and his intentions. When Gwen has Peter over for dinner, her dad and the unmasked Spidey have a contentious conversation about the Web-Slinger.

The villain is Dr. Curt Connors, played by Rhys Ifans. Parker’s vanished father had been a research partner of Connors. In an effort to check out the possibility of cross-species genetics, Connors injects himself and becomes a rather violent giant lizard. In lizard mode, he wreaks major civic havoc until our hero saves the day.

Martin Sheen and Sally Field are featured as Peter Parker’s aunt and uncle who raise him after his parents make a quick getaway. Cliff Robertson’s role as Parker’s uncle in the ’02 film was more poignant and meaningful than is Sheen’s. As for Parker’s parents, a post-credits coda teases that their fate may be learned in the next Spiderman movie.

It is true that this movie about a SPIDER man is directed by a man named… WEBB! Marc Webb previously directed “500 Days of Summer,” but has never taken on anything as big as this. He does an efficient job of storytelling and bringing freshness to story elements that have been presented on screen before. The effects are good but they do not “drown out” the plot line as happens in some tent pole type franchise movies.

Why so many comparisons to the ’02 movie with McGuire and Dunst in this review? Well, that first “Spiderman” movie is still #12 on the all-time box office list! It has not exactly faded from our collective memory.

Can the new version even come close to the $403.7 million US box office total of Spidey One? With a favorable opening date, just ahead of Independence Day, and eager anticipation from moviegoers, the outlook is good to go big.