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Toronto 2010: “The Town,” Reviewed

Toronto 2010: “The Town,” Reviewed (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival.

When people seemed genuinely surprised that “Gone Baby Gone” was a solid directorial debut for Ben Affleck, I was not among them. Anyone who paid close enough attention would’ve known a guy as sharp as Affleck would have the capability to pull together something that was compelling and naturally well-cast, given he can stock up on actors he knows are underutilized. So it is with some frustration that it appears he’s taken a step backwards with “The Town,” a crime thriller that is good more of the time than it’s not, but suffers from the fact it should’ve been great.

As has been noted frequently, Affleck is back in his hometown of Boston, not in Dorchester where his slow burn adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s “Gone Baby Gone” was set, but in the wild, wild north of Charlestown, which is noted in the film’s first title card as the birthplace of “more bank robbers and armored car thieves than anywhere else in the world.” Once again co-writing with Aaron Stockard, “The Town” is also an adaptation — this time, of Chuck Hogan’s “Prince of Thieves” — and it turns out for the most part, Affleck’s sensibilities are well-attuned to the needs of an action film, which “The Town” is far more so than his last.

With a great sense of how to raise the stakes on any given scene or when to cut the tension with a clever one-liner, Affleck injects a real crackerjack energy into the story of two childhood friends-turned-bank-robbers (Affleck and Jeremy Renner) who attract the attention of an FBI task force agent (Jon Hamm) after one of their scores leaves a witness (Rebecca Hall). “The Town” eventually travels down the relatively well-worn road of having Affleck attempt to find a way out of the criminal life, inspired by a romance with Hall’s bank manager after initially seducing her for information, conflict with the illegal aspirations of Renner, but it rarely feels stale. (In fact, the film’s three robbery sequences are amongst the most gripping this side of “Heat.”)

09102010_JonHammBlakeLivelyTheTown.jpgAffleck amps things up visually wherever possible, rarely holding on a shot for longer than a few seconds unless a character is going through some deep introspection and playing with camera speed whether it’s a slow-mo of a lighter being thrown into a gas-doused van or the sped up overhead location shots that give the film a bit of a ’90s vibe. However, his interest in expediency seems to get him in trouble every now and then, whether it’s a few too many 360 degree pans (one knows it’s a little much when it’s in an office setting) and in getting some of the little things right about his characters.

Hall, who admittedly I recently predicted as one of the actresses expected to do well in Toronto, is handcuffed at times to a character that makes some exceptionally bad decisions, seeming a little too forthcoming to Affleck’s MacRay about the FBI investigation regarding the robbery she has no idea he was involved in, and subsequently doing something that seems less like a character motivation than a plot point in the second act. Likewise, Blake Lively’s turn as Affleck’s longtime friend with benefits is about as out of place as the Jason Derulo song that plays in the background during her introductory scene in a shaggy Boston pub. (While some might suspect this is because of Lively’s abilities as an actress, it has far more to do with an undercooked arc.)

Meanwhile, hopes that Jon Hamm would finally find a role worthy of his talents on the big screen will likely be disappointed to find a variation on Don Draper who is invulnerable almost to the point of parody, despite the fact that he’s basically grasping at straws when investigating McRay’s crew. It is one of the weaknesses of “The Town” that Hamm’s Adam Frawley always seems miles behind MacRay, even though he has the arrogance of Hamm’s “Mad Men” alter ego.

09102010_JeremyRennerTheTown.jpgIronically, the best of the central characters may be the one least developed by the screenplay — while MacRay is saddled with daddy issues (Chris Cooper gets a strong jailhouse scene as his incarcerated pops) and a burgeoning desire to do right by his new girlfriend, his partner-in-crime James Coughlin has no such restrictions. This allows Renner to run wild, delighting in a thick Baw-ston accent and an unpredictability that unsettles even those close around him. It’s a performance that’s thrillingly alive and like the film itself, he prefers to shoot first and ask questions later.

“The Town” opens wide on September 17th.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….


IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.


IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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