Mini-Reviews: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Passion, Hell Baby
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (available now on VOD):
David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints has almost everything going for it. It boasts a stylish look, shot by the talented Bradford Young, which makes the film look and feel like an Old West photo. Its supporting cast is terrific, from Charles Baker (Skinny Pete from TV’s Breaking Bad) and Keith Carradine to Ben Foster, a great young actor better here than ever. It also has one of the best scores we’re likely to here this year, a driving rhythm replete with frequent hand claps; more composers should utilize the art of hand clapping. Why then was I left cold at film’s end? The film’s main characters, played by Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, are unfortunately not terribly engaging, which sweeps the leg on this film’s potential. As the robber who escapes jail to re-unite with his wife, Affleck never achieves that combination of charm and menace necessary to make the part work (it brings to mind how well Ryan Gosling pulled off a similar character in Drive), and Mara, who fares somewhat better, still feels miscast as the caring mother on the Western homestead. There’s enough quality in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints to make me excited for Lowery’s next project, but by film’s end, the higher quality elements are dragged back down to Earth, likely leaving audience members with frustration.
Passion (available now on VOD):
By now, you likely know if you’re a Brian De Palma fan or not. He prefers sweeping operatic music combining with sweeping operatic camera movements; one is tempted to view many of his films as exercises in camp. It’s no wonder he was chosen to make the 1980s remake of Scarface– he probably finds Scarface’s predilection for excess an admirable quality. Passion certainly doesn’t tip-toe into the realm of camp, it yells “CANNONBALL!” and leaps in with great gusto. This tale of two women playing a cat-and-mouse game of seduction and betrayal in an advertising agency begins slowly, with Noomi Rapace and Rachel McAdams doing their best with clumsy dialogue and slapdash characters. McAdams sinks her teeth into her role, a corporate lesbian reprise of Regina George from Mean Girls; it’s hard to tell whether she’s terrific or terrible, but either way, it’s the most watchable part of the first half. Suddenly, out of the blue, there’s a gorgeous, brilliant split-screen sequence, an instant De Palma classic moment, and the movie finds momentary life. From there, we get the prerequisite murder thriller whodunit stuff that De Palma has tackled in many better films– plenty of this film actually seems flagrantly ripped off from his previous work. Your enjoyment is likely to hinge on whether you want more from Passion than a campy Diet Coke rehash of De Palma staples. I did. Still, it’ll always have that split-screen sequence… and an inevitable YouTube supercut of McAdams’ most hilarious lines.
Hell Baby (available now on VOD):
Anyone familiar with Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, most well-known for their work on Reno 911, knows that their sense of humor doesn’t involve subtlety. They don’t want to drop a joke and leave it; they want to extend it, riff on it, and stomp it into the ground. If you find that joke funny, you’re likely to be howling. If you don’t, you’re likely to find it excruciating. Their newest comedy, Hell Baby, is an equally hit-or-miss affair, with segments so funny that I couldn’t catch my breath, and segments so unfunny and lengthy that I was tempted to hit fast forward. Hell Baby is itself an extended riff on plenty of popular horror tropes, from “our new house isn’t what it seems” to “our new neighbors aren’t what they seem” to the classic “something is wrong with my pregnancy.” Leslie Bibb is terrifically game as the possessed mother-to-be, Riki Lindhome appears in a hilarious (and very naked) role as her sister with a connection to the spirit world, and, best of all, Keegan Michael Key made me laugh nearly every time he entered the screen as the neighbor whose sudden appearances are usually jump-scares. However, not everything works here: Lennon and Garant’s roles are irreverent officers from the Vatican drag on far too endlessly, and the film’s finale has only one good laugh in what feels like an eternal battle with the Hell Baby itself. If you’re a fan of Reno 911 (or Key & Peele, considering how funny Key is here), you’ll likely find Hell Baby worth your time for the laughs it provides. However, if you can’t stomach a few long comedic sequences that don’t work, you may be advised to look elsewhere.