Film Friday: ‘The Town’ and ‘Easy A’

by W. Andrew Powell

Ben Affleck and Jeremy Renner in The Town

Ben Affleck and Jeremy Renner in The Town

Opening this week at theatres across the country: Ben Affleck stars and directs the heist-thriller, The Town; Emma Stone lends her charm to the high school comedy, Easy A; plus a look at the animated Alpha And Omega, and the horror film, Devil.

The Town
Starring: Ben Affleck, Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Titus Welliver, Pete Postlethwaite, Chris Cooper
Director: Ben Affleck

Rated: 9/10

As we’re told in the opening credits, the neighbourhood of Charlestown, outside of Boston, is apparently the bank robbery capital of the world, and that area has produced more bank thieves than anywhere else in the world.

In writer, director and actor Ben Affleck’s heist drama, The Town, we get a glimpse into that neighbourhood as three friends try to cover their tracks after a particular job goes a little off the plan.

Affleck plays Doug MacRay, a former hockey player turned bank thief who works with his long-time friend Jim, played by Jeremy Renner, to pull jobs for a local thug boss, played by Pete Postlethwaite. Opening the film, Doug and Jim are running another job at a bank when a silent alarm is triggered. Panicking, Jim does something completely unexpected and takes the bank’s night manager Claire, played by Rebecca Hall, hostage.

After they abandon Claire, Jim worries she might be a liability, so Doug follows her to see if she recognizes him. Claire never actually saw their faces since they were wearing masks, and she also doesn’t recognize Doug’s voice, so Doug realizes they should be fine, but against all common sense he starts dating her. Meanwhile, Jim seems to be going off the rails more and more each job, wounding a security guard during one heist, and recklessly talking about killing anyone who gets in their way. Jim also doesn’t realize that Doug is dating Claire, and while Doug wants to get out after the next job, their mobster-like boss has plans for the biggest job of the decade.

As the FBI hunts for the group, led by the very determined agent Adam Frawley, played by Mad Men’s Jon Hamm, Doug will have to decide what to do with his life, and how important Claire really is to him.

Walking out of the film, which screened at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), I was literally shocked by how much I liked this film. Affleck does an impressive job with The Town, not only as an actor, but in leading this perfectly tuned cast of actors. Affleck pulls great performances from Hamm, Hall, and especially Renner, and his team of filmmakers captures the energy of this neighbourhood with a unique approach; the winding streets especially get the limelight through two of the more intense chase scenes.

The Town is a great heist film though because it also inspires you to root for these gritty, smart thugs, and because the film and story also have a lot of heart. Affleck and the screenwriting crew perhaps went a little too far with all that heart, diminishing some of the impact of the crew’s thuggery, but it’s a film you can step in to and never look back.

Emma Stone in Easy A

Emma Stone in Easy A

Easy A
Starring: Emma Stone, Stanley Tucci, Amanda Bynes, Cam Gigandet, Malcolm McDowell, Penn Badgley, Patricia Clarkson, Dan Byrd, Thomas Haden Church
Director: Will Gluck

Rated: 8/10

There were no less than four major high school teen comedies and dramedies at this year’s TIFF, but none were quite so notable as director Will Gluck’s Easy A.

Starring Emma Stone as Olive Penderghast, the film is a send-up of all the angsty teen films that have come before, but with a spark of originality that is fanned and set blazing thanks to its lead actress.

With stand-out performances by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, as Olive’s parents, and Malcolm McDowell and Thomas Haden Church as teachers at her school, the film is based loosely on The Scarlet Letter, which the film references freely and frequently.

Olive is an average, unknown student at a California school, but she gains instant stardom and infamy when a small lie about her weekend leads her best friend, and the rest of the school, to believe she slept with a college student. From that moment on, the school thinks she’s both incredibly cool and maybe a little dirty, and the local chapter of Saved-type Christians are ready to condemn her soul to Hell.

That’s not the end of it for Olive though. When she realizes she can make herself and other people popular at school, she agrees to pretend that she had sex with one of the school’s ostracized closet dwellers, who just wants to get the guys at school to leave him alone.

The lies begin to snowball from there, and among the guys who know the truth, they discover they can make a name for themselves by buying Olive off with gift cards, which she accepts in exchange for a kind of notoriety. At the same time, Olive has dressed the part, taking on the persona people expect of her to become some kind of reviled celebrity at school. Olive may just have to decide if the notoriety is worth it when the lies start to crumble, and the boy of her dreams might not be so far away after all.

Elements of Easy A are unmistakably a little dark and dirty, but the brilliance of Easy A is that it plays all of this up with light-hearted amusement. Everything about the film shines, including Stone who is absolutely radiant as this unique girl with a vision for social freedom that means she can sleep with anyone she wants to, even if she isn’t actually sleeping with anyone.

The supporting cast provides a perfect springboard for Stone, and delivers a range of wonderful performances. In the end though, Stone is the star and there’s no missing her on screen.

Admittedly, Easy A might not be the perfect teen comedy, but it is fun, full of wit and charm, and one of the best comedies to come out this year.

Also opening this week…

Alpha And Omega
Starring: Justin Long, Hayden Panettiere, Christina Ricci, Danny Glover, Dennis Hopper, Larry Miller, Vicki Lewis, Kevin Sussman
Director: Anthony Bell and Ben Gluck

In this animated comedy, two wolves are trying to get back home after they are trapped by park officials and shipped across the continent.

Kate, voiced by Hayden Panettiere, is the Alpha — she’s disciplined and ready to kick butt; Humphrey, voiced by Justin Long, is wise-cracking and fun-loving: somehow they have to work together, get along, and find a way to get home.

Nick Schager of Time Out New York called the film “a dog in wolf’s clothing,” that he says “does little more than reconfirm the preeminence of Pixar.”

Andrew Barker of Variety was somewhat more kind, but just barely, when he wrote that it was “not without charm and bearing easy appeal to very young viewers.”

Starring: Chris Messina, Geoffrey Arend, Logan Marshall-Green, Bojana Novakovic, Jenny O’Hara, Bokeem Woodbine, Jacob Vargas, Caroline Dhavernas
Director: Drew Dowdle and John Erick Dowdle

In this modern horror film, a group of people have to deal with being trapped in an elevator that, and I’m not making this up, is currently being stalked by the Devil.

Since the film has not been screened for critics there isn’t much to say, but it sounds like the ultimate dud, and next to the big two releases this week it should be soundly pummelled at the box office.

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