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Sundance: A Couple Of Reviews Blow In For AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS And HELL BABY

The Kidd here...

As appealing as the thought of freezing my ass off out in the fresh Utah air in January is, I've still yet to make my first pilgrimage out to the Sundance Film Festival. It really is a shame, as there's always an intriguing slate of films to take in, ones that I'll be forced to wait around a little longer for in order to see. But thanks to those dedicated few in attendance, who brave the elements with their scarves and parkas, it makes missing Sundance a little more palatable, as I know they'll be sending in their thoughts and reviews to give me some idea of what to see later down the road, saving me from some of those dreaded misfires that always manage to sneak into the programming.

Today, a pair of reviews have been sent in via a festival goer who calls himself Uncle B(ukkake), giving us some perspective on David Lowery's AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS, starring Rooney Mara and Casey affleck, which is about to be acquired by IFC, and HELL BABY, from the makers of RENO 911, Robert Garant and Thomas Lennon.

Alright, Uncle B(ukkake)... hit us with it...

Greetings AICN,

Uncle B(ukkake) here with reviews of two flicks that could not be more distinct. 

"Ain't Them Bodies Saints" is a slow-burning drama from a promising newbie, David Lowery. An early shot in the film, in which the leads, Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) and Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara) are lead away in handcuffs following an intense stand-off, is beautifully shot (the camera holds as they are abruptly separated into different police cars) and nicely sets up all of the primary characters in this sad morality tale. David Lowery wisely chose to explore the broken aftereffects following Bob and Ruth's stint as bank robbers.  The reasoning behind Bob and Ruth's crime spree is primarily left unexplained (wise decision), although there are moments throughout the movie that provide sufficient exposition and foreshadowing. The movie borrows (sometimes a bit too heavily) from "Badlands," "No Country for Old Men," "Bonnie & Clyde," and "There Will Be Blood," but David Lowery's talent is reflected in the commanding performances from both Rooney Mara and Ben Foster (who steals the show as a sheriff deputy, Patrick Wheeler). Ben Foster continues to surprise me after "The Messenger" and "Here." He turns an otherwise ordinary "law man" role into something quite masterful and not to be missed. Rooney Mara's performance is likewise powerful. She has the tricky task of making the audience connect with a woman who has unabashed criminal instincts (despite clearly loving her daughter). She pulls it off quite flawlessly. Casey Affleck, although left with less screen time than Rooney Mara, continues to select strong material (following Gone Baby Gone and The Assassination of Jesse James) and shares some excellent and telling scenes with both Keith Carradine and Nate Parker. Keith Carradine, playing a surrogate father to both Bob and Ruth, excellently executes a performance that is somehow both paternal and vindictive. The ending, although not entirely unexpected, somehow manages to provide necessary closure and hope. The film was a true find this year.

"Hell Baby" is as outlandish and silly as "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" is poetic. This film is the first feature film directed by the creators of "Reno 911," Robert Garant and Thomas Lennon. Thomas Lennon was present at Midnight at the Egyptian to introduce the movie - and his "Donahue"-like approach to the "question and answer" session afterward (wherein he only "groped" the male questioners) was perhaps the funniest forty-five minutes of material (all improvised) that I have ever witnessed at Sundance. He proudly announced to the crowd that no studio had any "control" over this movie. That lack of "outside influence" was evident and that's not a criticism. "Hell Baby" is an out of control and often times outrageous spoof of horror movies that is funnier in the first thirty minutes than all four (five?) of the "Scary Movies" combined. Rod Corddry and Leslie Bibb, playing a couple seemingly hit by hard times from the financial crisis, begin the movie by moving into a "haunted" house that, as proudly boasted by an unwelcome house guest, Keegan Michael Key (in an amazing supporting role), has not had a death in it "for months." The movie has its share of expected gross-out gags. Nonetheless, Garant/Lennon, perhaps in large part to their improvisational training, have always excelled at dissecting language for all of its typical absurdities and the dialogue throughout is absolutely hilarious. There are sequences in this movie involving a naked/frisky senior, chain-smoking exorcists, and an anaconda (don't ask) that are comic gold. Garant and Lennon have managed to craft more laughs per minute (in sequences that really only take place in two locations) than most studio comedies - some of which were actually written by Garant and Lennon. Thomas Lennon apologized profusely for some of these unnamed disasters during the Q and A. This movie is the perfect mea culpa.

If you're out at Sundance and have been taking in some of the festivities, feel free to send in your thoughts on the films you've seen... and stay bundled up. It's cold out there. 

-Billy Donnelly

"The Infamous Billy The Kidd"

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