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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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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.