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“I’ll see you again, on this side or the other.” – A Review of the film “The Town” (contains some spoilers)

I’m going to let you all in on a little secret.  I used to have a massive crush on Ben Affleck.  I mean MASSIVE!  Just to give you an idea of the intense LOVE I had for this man . . . up until very recently, I had a rather large poster over my bed that may or may not have looked something like this . . .

 . . . and a smaller one in my living room, that may or may not have looked something like this . . .

Then something happened.  A little movie came out.  For argument’s sake, lets just call that movie . . . Gigli.

All of the sudden, it was considered less than “cool” to have a “massive crush” on Ben Affleck.  Friends who used to be fairly supportive of my little obsession, started teasing me mercilessly about it.  And whenever I had boys over (not that THEY ever really liked those posters anyway), my fandom was a subject of constant ridicule.

And yet, I stuck with my guns, and hung on to those posters . . . for a little while longer, at least.  Then, shortly after I moved back to New Jersey, I sold them to a lovely gay couple at my Aunt’s Summer Yard Sale.  I like to believe they are in a better place now . . . one free of judgment and Gigli-related abuse.

Now, I have yet to see Ben Affleck’s directorial debut film, Gone Baby Gone . . .

. . . but I’ve read enough reviews and watched enough award shows to know that (1) it was pretty spectacular; and (2) much of its spectacular-ness can be attributed to what I would like to call “Ben’s Mad Directorial Skills.”

So, when the trailers for The Town started showing up in theaters, and I saw that it was, not only directed by, but also starred my former love,Ben Affleck.  And when I saw that the cast included the Dapper Don Draper himself, Jon Hamm . . .

. . . the enigmatic, Jeremy Renner . . .

 . . . and Gossip Girl‘s Blake Lively, playing a strung out, much dirtier, ho bag than Serena van der Woodsen could EVER be . . .

. . . I just knew that I HAD to see this film!  And, let me tell you, I am THRILLED I did!

Based on a novel by Chuck Hogan, entitled Prince of Thieves . . .

(which the publishers have since cleverly renamed The Town, and slapped Ben Affleck’s pretty, but gritty, mug on the cover)

. . . The Town follows career criminal, Doug McRay (played by Affleck), as he tries repeatedly to “go straight.”  But when you live in a town like Charlestown, Massachusetts — which churns out bank robbers and crooks, like Yale University churns out lawyers and politicians — and when your best friends are THESE GUYS . . .

 . . . “going straight” is easier said than done. 

The film begins, as most films of this genre tend to begin, with a “routine” bank robbery.  And it only takes a few minutes, for us viewers to realize just what good criminals, McCray and his crew are.  From the creepy face-obscuring masks they wear on their mugs, to the inside men who disable the security cameras immediately upon their arrival, to the way they torch the place upon leaving, to destroy all the evidence, it’s clear that these are NO amateurs. 

That is one UGLY nun!

Yet, despite all of their painstaking preparation and skill, McCray’s crew runs into a little snag during the heist, and is forced to take a hostage.  They decide on Assistant Bank Manager, Claire Keesey (played by Rebecca Hall).

 They blindfold Claire, and pack her into the getaway car, but, ultimately, let her go.  Afterward, some of the crew express concern about Claire, and her ability to identify them to the FBI.  These concerns are intensified when a look at Claire’s driver’s license (which they stole) reveals that she lives in the neighboring town, just a few blocks away from the crew’s headquarters.  McCray’s best friend, the hotheaded, but loyal-to-a-fault, Jem Coughlin (played by Jeremy Renner), whose idea it was to take Claire as a hostage in the first place, offers to “take care of her.”  McCray, however, doesn’t want to see Claire get hurt (if such a thing could be avoided) and offers to take care of the situation, himself.

So, McCray stalks Claire a bit, and figures out that she leads a fairly solitary life (no quirky “Best Gal Pal” in this movie).  Eventually, he follows her into a laundromat (where all the cutest movie couples meet), charms her a bit, and asks her out for a drink.

Well, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what happens next. Of course, they fall in love!  (Duh!)  But what’s interesting about the way this plotline is acted and directed, is that, while certainly cliche, the relationship between Doug and Claire doesn’t seem all that contrived.  Affleck and Hall have a real natural chemistry.  Right away, you can see what appeals to these two characters about eachother. 

Claire is quietly unassuming, and incredibly straitlaced, without seeming judgmental or self-righteous.   She gardens during her spare time, and volunteers at the local Boys and Girls Club.  Doug, for all his tough beginnings, and dark past, is surprisingly shy and sweet.  He listens to Claire when she speaks, and genuinely expresses a desire to take care of her. 

And I’ll be darned if this odd couple didn’t end up having a remarkably normal courtship!  They go out to dinner together.  They take walks in the park.  They go out for coffee.  He buys her a pretty diamond necklace (probably with dirty money).  They have nice gentle sex in Claire’s Pottery Barn-decorated bedroom.  Bank robberies and hostages-takings aside, Doug and Claire are probably a lot like you and your significant other.

Suddenly, Doug’s desire to get out of the “racket,” becomes more than just an empty platitude.  Now, he really means it.  Because, now, he really has something, or, rather, SOMEONE to lose if he fails.  Now, if he could just get through this “One Last Job”  (well . . . maybe two).

It may sound odd, but, believe me when I say this: The Town is the perfect date movie.  It’s got enough action, chase scenes, explosions, and crook versus cop shoot-em-ups to please even the manliest of men.  At the same time, it boasts an intelligent script, complex likeable characters, some VERY pretty faces, and a surprisingly adorable romance, all of which are sure to satisfy even the girliest of females.

In addition to great plotting, exciting action, and a heartwarming romance between its two leads, The Town also offers a very strong supporting cast.  Jon Hamm is wonderful, as the tough-as-nails, gruff, and very-un Don Draper-like FBI Agent, Adam Frawley.  A lesser actor could have made this a very forgetable role.  But Hamm’s charm, intelligence, wit and natural grace, help make the Frawley character more likeable than a cop in a film about a criminal-with-a-heart-of-gold has any right to be.

Speaking of characters that you like more than you should, Jeremy Renner does a remarkable job of making Jem Coughlin a three-dimensional and tragic figure.  In many ways, Renner’s character is very similar to the one Affleck himself inhabited back when he played opposite Matt Damon in the spectacular Good Will Hunting (except Renner’s character is armed and dangerous).  Unlike McRay, Coughlin has resigned himself to a life of crime, running from the cops, and being relatively poor.  And yet, despite his knowledge that his best friend is smarter than he is, and perhaps destined for a better future, Coughlin still remains loyal to McRay.  He would literally do anything for him, even if that meant going to jail or losing his life.  Though you might not agree with his lifestyle choices, you’ve gotta respect a guy like that.

And then there’s Blake Lively, who absolutely impressed me with her portrayal of strung out ho-bag / baby mama, Krista Coughlin.

I’m SERIOUS!  This was NOT an easy role to play.  In the wrong hands, this role could have been at the very least, annoying, and at the worst, positively laughable.  But Blake brings Krista to life.  Her Boston accent is authentic.  Her breathy intonations, and pathetic attempts at seduction, speak to a life spent on one’s backside, screwing crooks, popping pills, and inhaling toxic fumes.  Blake more than held her own, during her scenes with Affleck, Hamm, and Renner. 

And you know what else?  Blake was FUNNY!  A few of her lines had me laughing out loud.  I certainly wasn’t expecting that.

Of course, no crime caper would be complete without Pete Postlewaite, of The Usual Suspects fame.

There’s just something about this guy’s face and demeanor — a hidden menace, perhaps.  Whatever, it is, the dude always manages to scare the stuffing out of me, even when he is doing nothing more exciting than cutting the thorns off a rose.

In short, The Town is highly entertaining and intriguing film.  The acting is nearly flawless, the plotting is tight, the action is high octane, and the directing is commendable.  Its enough to make me almost wish that I never sold those Ben Affleck posters .  . . almost.

The Town is in theaters now.  Will YOU see it?

[www.juliekushner.com]

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The Mind is a terrible place to hide (but an awesome place to play): My review of the film “Inception” – [Contains some spoilers]

A few months back, I literally drooled over the awesomeness that was the then-new trailer for Christopher Nolan’s surefire blockbuster film, Inception.  Well, I’ve FINALLY seen the movie itself.  Here’s my review . . .

When it comes to dreams, nothing beats the lucid ones.  You know the dreams I’m talking about.  The ones where, at some point in the dream, you become certain, without a doubt, that you are, in fact, dreaming. 

It is at that moment, that you have all the power. 

You are the Master of the Universe.  You are a god.  There are no limits to what you can do.  Everything is yours for the taking . . . and the making.  You have become the big kid in the playground of your own mind . . .

Party Hard!

At least until you wake up, and have to face your boring, crappy, normal life again.

A lucid dream – that’s what seeing Inception felt like for me.  Because if I could create the ultimate movie in my mind (and was also significantly smarter, and more creative than I actually am), I imagine it would look a lot like this.  Seriously, what more could you possibly want in a movie?  Inception offers (among other things):  

*A brilliant writer/ director (Christopher Nolan). 

* THIS guy . . .

(It pains me to note that he kept his shirt for the ENTIRE film . . . CLEARLY an oversight on Chris Nolan’s part.)

* THAT GUY . . .

(Also stayed clothed.  SO NOT COOL, Mr. Nolan!)

*A major HEIST, the likes of which you have never seen.

No . . not even there.

*Hypnotic and mind-boggling special effects that will shock and awe even the most jaded of movie goers  (I know, because I am one of them.)

*Action sequences that will leave your heart racing, even if you generally have little patience for the “Golly gee, let’s blow stuff up for no reason,” nature of action flicks (Me again!)

*A tight, if slightly convoluted, plot that will hold your interest throughout the film’s entire 2 hours and 22 minutes run time, even if you don’t always understand what the f*ck is going on . . .

*Psychologically mind-bending concepts that will give your brain one big fat “O.” (Lord knows, our brains could all use a good roll in the hay these days.).  The movie will also undoubtedly keep you up all night contemplating the meaning of it all.

“Hmmm .  . . why DID they make Leo and Joseph keep their shirts on?

*A twist ending, whose biggest “twist” may very well be that it is not a twist at all

And romance?  Well, there’s a little of that too . . .

There are some who say that Inception is best experienced by people who know absolutely nothing about it’s plot.  Well, I don’t necessarily think that’s true.  Before I watched the film, I read a few non-spoilery reviews first, because I just couldn’t help myself.  Honestly, I felt that they helped me get a better handle on what I was seeing, while not spoiling any of the film’s big surprises.

What follows is the basic premise of Inception.  So if you are a spoiler phobe / movie purist, this is where I leave you . . .  I mean it, GO!  I don’t want to get yelled at later . . .

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, an expert at navigating the mine field of the human mind through dreams.  He’s a white collar criminal of a very unique kind – one hired by the most dangerous and most powerful men and women in the world to perform a task called: Extraction.  Extraction involves entering into a person’s mind while he is sleeping, and “extracting” from it information that is guarded carefully by the dreamer, when he is awake.  The information in question is typically depicted as a locked safe, hidden in the deep recesses of the Dream World.

“No WAY you’re getting my secrets, Leo!  (Can I still dream about you though?)”

Following a deep personal tragedy in his life involving his wife Mal (played by Marion Cotillard), Cobb and his “partner-in-crime” Arthur (played by Joseph Gordon Levitt, who by the magic of good genes, just seems to keep getting hotter and hotter each year), spend most of their lives on the run.  Cobb and Arthur are constantly being hunted, both by enemies they have made in the field, and by Cobb’s own inner demons, the latter of which literally plague his unconscious as he “dreamwalks.”

 

But Cobb has two children he longs to see.  He desires consistency and the comforts of home.  A powerful business man named Saito (Ken Watanabe) . . .

 . . . knows this, and uses it to his advantage.  He makes Cobb the proverbial “offer he can’t refuse:”  One Last Job. (Where have we heard THAT one before?)

But this one’s a little different . . .

Saito isn’t interested in Extraction, what he desires is Inception.  Saito wants Cobb to put an idea in the mind of his business competitor, Fischer (Cillian Murphy – He of the beautifully chiseled porcelain face, and entrancing blue eyes, who, for whatever reason, always looks a bit evil .  . . but in a good way) . . .

This implanted idea will convince Fischer to break up his empire into little, less monopolistic, pieces.  To do this, Cobb needs a team:  his bromantic buddy Arthur is the hottest  most obvious choice.  But other key players are needed.

His father (played by Michael Caine), a professor of Dream Architecture, suggests that Cobb use his star student, Ariadne (How’s THAT for a name?  No offense to all you Ariadne’s out there, of course), played by Ellen Page.

Coolest.  Girl.  Ever.

Ariadne will build Fischer’s dream world. 

The next addition to the team is a chemist, Yusuf (Dileep Rao).  He will be responsible for crafting a sedative strong enough to put the “Dream Team” and Fischer in “Dreamland” long enough to complete the job.   You see, apparently, even though dreams only last a few minutes at most, our minds work faster when in REM sleep.  Therefore, time seems slower in dreams.  (Who said action flicks weren’t educational?)

“OMG, Leo is SO dreamy!”

And, finally, there’s Eames (Tom Hardy) . . .

 . . . a con artist and master at Deception.  His job is to make Fischer believe that the people and places in the dream are creations of his own mind, and not those of intruders, who are out to alter it.  This is an important job, because our minds have natural defenses to foreign ideas — and, in Fischer’s mind, these defenses are armed and dangerous. 

Get out, you evil Dream Crasher, you!

I had never actually seen Tom Hardy’s work before Inception.  But he stole my heart in this movie.  Aside from looking like THIS. . .

(He’s the one on the left, obviously, with the tatts . . .  and the abs . . . and the gorgeous . . .)

And THIS . . .

But not like THIS . . .

(That’s Thomas Hardy . . . as in, the dude who wrote those lame books you had to read in high school.  Nice try, Google Images, but you can’t fool a fangirl!)

Hardy’s Eames is just so friggin cool!  He exudes masculinity, confidence, and, most importantly, sex appeal.  He’s smart, without being pompous or geeky.  Plus, his subtle rivalry with Gordon Levitt’s straight-laced Arthur, is a joy to watch.  I never thought any male actor would have the ability to take my eyes off of Gordon Levitt or DiCaprio in this film, but Tom Hardy succeeded in doing it for me, BIG TIME!

What follows is a classic international crime caper with one major difference:  None of what is happening is technically REAL, at least not in the way you and I think of as real.  The film also poses some very interesting questions about the origins of our inspirations, and the ways in which our everyday lives are shaped by basic assumptions we hold about what is REALITY and what is FANTASY. 

What makes your waking life REAL, and your dream life FAKE?  And who says you aren’t dreaming right NOW?  (Admit it, I just creeped you out a bit, didn’t I?)

How does Inception end?  Well, let’s just say you’ll be thinking about it, and talking about it, for some time to come . . .

In case it isn’t COMPLETELY obvious by now, I ABSOLUTELY 100% recommend this film to . . . well . . . anybody with a pulse, actually.  (I also recommend TOM HARDY to any girl with a libido, and any producer who WANTS girls with libidos to attend their manly films . . . )

Just in case you forgot what he looks like . . .

Inception is in theaters now.  Have you seen it yet?  If so, what did you think?  I’ve been just dying to pick someone else’s brain about it, since I got out of the theater last night  . . . particularly about the film’s final scene.  Never has such a small and seemingly simplistic object seemed so intriguing . . .

 

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