At the Movies: The Town, Easy A

I kinda wanted to see that movie about the people who are stranded in an elevator with the devil, but alas there were no screenings. Plus, it is linked to M. Knight Shyamalan, which doesn’t fill anyone with confidence anymore.

Besides, I always figured the devil took the stairs.

The Town

It seems everywhere I turn these days people are telling the Ben Affleck Story. You know the tale: At age 12 young Ben and best friend Matt Damon make a movie and win Academy Awards for the screenplay; Ben goes on to make many big budget movies; Ben gets involved with Jennifer Lopez and his career goes down the drain; Ben makes a comeback as  a director with the critically acclaimed “Gone Baby Gone.”

It’s a lot like my life story except for, well, everything.

The latest chapter in Ben Affleck’s redemption story is “The Town,” a crime thriller which he directed and stars in. It should keep his star rising at least until he does something dumb like leave Jennifer Garner for Lady Gaga.

Based on the Chuck Hogan novel “Prince of Thieves,” “The Town” in question is Charlestown, a neighborhood in Boston which, we are told in captions opening the film, is a veritable hive of bank and armored car robbers. It’s a popular family business.

Doug MacRay (Affleck) leads a four-man crew of thieves alongside his best friend/practically brother James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner). As is often the case in these stories, Doug is the rational one while James is a bit crazy and prone to violence.

During their last bank job, James takes bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) hostage for the getaway. They let her go but after examining her driver’s license discover she lives in the neighborhood. Concerned that she might recognize them if they met on the street, Doug decides to befriend the young woman to see if she could be trouble down the line. James would prefer solving the problem with a bullet.

You can probably take it from here: Doug and Claire have a love connection; Doug wants out of the crime biz; James isn’t happy; the local crime boss (Pete Postlethwaite) gives Doug the dreaded One Last Job; a tenacious FBI agent (Jon Hamm) is closing in.

While it won’t win many points for originality, “The Town” is a smart, compelling crime thriller. The actors all do good work and the action sequences are well done. As with “Gone Baby Gone,” Affleck does a good job bringing a section of Boston to life on screen.

Did it work for me? Yes, “The Town” is one of the better movies I’ve seen in a while.

Easy A

I’m having trouble coming up with an opening, so let’s just cut straight to the plot synopsis.

Emma Stone stars as Olive, a smart but largely unnoticed student at a California high school. In order to avoid spending a weekend with her best friend Rhiannon (Aly Michalka) and her wacky parents, Olive claims she has a date with a boy from the local college.

Monday morning Rhiannon demands to hear the dirty details of Olive’s weekend. To appease her flaky friend, Olive lies about having sex. Her story is overheard by  Marianne (Amanda Bynes), extremist leader of the Christian chastity club.

At the speed of text, Olive’s reputation changes from nice, ignored girl to school slut. Coincidentally, her English class — taught by her favorite teacher (Thomas Haden Church) — is discussing “The Scarlet Letter.” Inspired by the literary classic, Olive changes her wardrobe, accessorized with a red letter A.

Olive’s life becomes more surreal when her gay friend Brandon (Dan Byrd) asks her to pretend to have sex with him so the school bullies will leave him alone. Soon every outcast at school is propositioning Olive for fake sex. Apparently it’s not prostitution because they deal in gift cards, not cash.

“Easy A” relies on a lot of tired teen movie stereotypes but it has enough style and humor to overcome that. But what really sells it is Emma Stone, who gives a wonderful performance. Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci are also delightful as Olive’s eccentric, loving parents.

Did it work for me? I don’t know that I would rank it among the classic teen comedies, but “Easy A” is a fun, sassy film.

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