Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is little more than a New Hollywood pastiche, a loving and careful waxworks recreation of a style and type of cinema that was at one time, a great many years and Hollywood eras ago, the most lively and startling thing to ever happen to American cinema. As a film, David Lowery’s recreation of that style has not one new idea to bring to the table the New Hollywood built out of rustic, unpolished wood and then abandoned long ago. All Lowery is doing is digging through scrap heap, separating out the noble rust from the ignoble variety, and refashioning it into a garage sculpture where the very nature of the metal – falling apart, worn to the point of triteness – is a badge of honor, a reminder of how old this sort of tale really is, and how lively it can still feel when it is carted out after it hasn’t seen the light of day in too long. It doesn’t offer a new idea, but it offers a more humble reminder: in the New Hollywood of the 1970s, we now see not only a scorching fresh breath into the room of Hollywood’s musty old classicism, but a peculiar, well-worn form of old-timey comfort. Those New Hollywood films are now part of the classic American cinematic tradition, and Lowery is merely playing a requiem for them. Continue reading
Steve Cooper’s first film Crazy Heart was more notable for its central performance than the film surrounding it, and with his follow-up, Out of the Furnace, he manages to coax a number of equally taut, truthful performances out of his better-than-fine cast. But the focus on performance belies the real quiet intensity and knowing humanism of Cooper’s sure hand; it drowns out, as it is wont to do for the public’s acting-above-directing central interests, the work keeping those stars sturdy and focused in the first place. To some extent, this is perhaps appropriate; Cooper is not a director that “insists” upon himself. He’s not showy, asking and begging from his material. Instead, he lets his material surround him; he merely coaxes what is already there out onto the screen. He’s a quiet, naturalist director, not the kind of man seeking to wow, but merely to impress. He’s at his best when he’s at his simplest – direct and thoughtful studies of small people struggling to get by in the locations that breed them – and for the first half of Out of the Furnace, he sticks to his guns as an observer more than a pusher and creates something quietly great, if not essential. Continue reading
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a difficult film to review. Usually this means one of two things: the film was mediocre and I find myself struggling to say something substantive about it, or I’m fascinated by it but I have not yet figured out how to unlock its mysteries. Usually the latter means I will love the film for its confounding, maddening tension and hate it for the same reason, at least until I see it again. Neither of those is the case for Andrew Dominik’s second film. I know exactly what I think of this film, and it is far from mediocre. The issue with this review is quite simple: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was all-but made for me. And gushing over something does not a review make, so I must try to formulate my jumping up and down into something coherent. Here we go.