Note: You can check out the Metro Times version of this post (with pictures!) by clicking here.
Not too much to report today besides the screenings (I caught three), so I’ll cut to the chase…
Movie: The Town
What Is It? Four bank robbers from the Boston neighborhood of Charlestown take a beautiful young woman hostage during their latest heist. When the leader of the crew visits her a few days later to try to find out if she knows anything, he begins to fall in love with her.
Director: Ben Affleck—A major Hollywood star since the late 90s, this is Affleck’s second go behind the camera. The first, 2007’s Gone Baby Gone, I picked as one of that year’s ten best.
Notable Cast: Affleck, Jeremy Renner (an Oscar nominee last year for The Hurt Locker), Rebecca Hall (Vicky Christina Barcelona, Please Give), Jon Hamm (star of AMC’s “Mad Men”), Blake Lively (TV’s “Gossip Girl”), and Chris Cooper (an Oscar winner in 2002 for Adaptation).
Notable Crew: Affleck helped write the screenplay, his third co-writing credit after Gone Baby Gone and Good Will Hunting, for which he won an Original Screenplay Oscar. And the film was shot by Robert Elswit, who was responsible for the incredible imagery of Good Night, and Good Luck and There Will Be Blood.
The Grade: A-
Thoughts: I left The Town feeling absolutely certain of two things—1) Blake Lively has breast implants, and 2) Ben Affleck is ready to enter the upper echelon of American filmmaking. The first one needs no explanation, so we’ll concentrate on number two. The Town isn’t going to be getting any Best Picture love or anything, because, at its heart, it’s just an excellent genre film. But excellent genre films don’t grow on trees, and I expect this one to be a critical and commercial success.
As an actor, Affleck has inspired more jokes than praise, but he does an admirable job here, holding his own with a great cast. Renner proves The Hurt Locker was no fluke (he’s great), and the gorgeous and talented Rebecca Hall looks ready for the big time. Hamm, looking like he’s enjoying the chance to sport a bit of stubble, provides reliable supporting work as the FBI agent on the case.
In many respects, The Town is like Michael Mann’s 1995 bank robber epic Heat, but an hour shorter. I would have been the first to argue that Heat couldn’t—and shouldn’t—be any shorter, but at just over two hours, The Town doesn’t feel like it short changed any aspects of the plot. This is only Affleck’s second film behind the camera, but he’s proven with both that he’s got the goods. Other than an ending that veers a little too much towards Shawshank Redemption territory, The Town is without flaws, and Affleck’s natural story-telling ability is incredibly apparent.
Movie: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
What Is It? We follow four related Londoners in committed relationships as they each begin to wonder about meeting someone else. The idea of finding a new romantic interest is followed within each of them to varying degrees, and the outcome of each real or imagined infidelity is explored.
Director: Woody Allen—I’m hoping he needs no explanation, but it should be noted that he’s enjoyed a bit of a resurgence lately since he began setting his films in Europe with 2005’s Matchpoint. 2008’s Vicky Christina Barcelona was his best in almost twenty years.
Notable Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire), Gemma Jones, and newcomer Lucy Punch.
Notable Crew: Allen wrote the screenplay (as usual), and the film was shot by the great Vilmos Zsigmond, who worked on such classics as The Deer Hunter and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
The Grade: B+
Thoughts: The key quality of You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is that it’s not about people having affairs and then arguing about it. In fact, we barely see a single scene of couples arguing about affairs. Instead, we see circumstances and encounters that attract people to the idea of an affair, and then we see how they feel about what decision they made. It’s a new approach to an ancient subject, and it feels quite fresh. All of the actors do well, but particularly outstanding are Gemma Jones as Naomi Watts’ mother, and Lucy Punch (who may find herself with an Oscar nomination) as a vacuous hooker that Anthony Hopkins tries to turn into a trophy housewife. Like many Woody Allen films, we don’t reach a conclusion so much as a stopping point, but it serves the story well and humorously.
Movie: Tamara Drewe
What Is It? After many years away, Tamara Drewe returns to her English countryside home with a new nose that makes her startlingly beautiful. A writer’s retreat is occurring at the neighbors, which she has a profound effect on. Meanwhile, two local teenage girls become very jealous of Tamara’s latest love interest, the drummer of a popular London rock band.
Director: Stephen Frears—One of the most dependable directors of the last twenty-five years, it’s unfortunate Frears doesn’t have more name recognition. Among his many films are The Queen (for which Helen Mirren won an Oscar in 2006), Dirty Pretty Things, The Grifters, Dangerous Liaisons, and High Fidelity—one of my personal favorites.
Notable Cast: Gemma Arterton (Strawberry Fields in the latest Bond flick) plays the title character, and she gets excellent supporting work from a handful of British character actors and newcomers.
Notable Crew: The screenplay was adapted from the graphic novel by Posy Simmonds.
The Grade: B+
Thoughts: Most of what happens in Tamara Drewe defies explanation. The plot involves a ton of shagging, a stampede of cows, a failing American crime writer, and a hilarious teenage girl with a vocabulary that George Carlin would approve of (played by Jessica Barden, she does the best scene stealing work of the year so far; I simply couldn’t wait for her to get back on screen). Sadly, though, without any stars (Arterton isn’t quite there yet, though she will be), I don’t think this little British countryside comedy will be lighting the box office on fire. But if you do get the chance to see it, consider it recommended. It’s an extremely funny film made by a director whose work always has the utmost care and integrity.
On Tap For Tomorrow: The grand opening of the new TIFF headquarters (where my next five volunteer shifts will be), new movies by Danny Boyle and Julian Schnabel, and my last ditch attempt to get in the Black Swan premiere—arguably the fest’s hottest ticket.