Surfin' Multiplex: Fear, Loathing and Claustrophobia: The Town, The Hole, Buried, DevilThe Town
For a film that starts with title cards full of quotes about how the main location, the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, has produced more bank robbers than any other place in the world, and subsequently makes these antiheroes the main protagonists, it seems a bit insincere when it delivers a dedication in the end titles to all the nice, normal, god-fearing non-criminal folk of Charlestown. The film would do more credit to those residents if it actually contained fully fleshed out characters, a non-hackneyed story, and some evenness of tone.
This film is a strictly by the numbers crime thriller, ostensibly about loyalty amongst the criminal fraternity. Ben Affleck meets his new girlfriend Rebecca Hall, whilst checking her out as a possible witness to determine whether to intimidate or permanently silence her -- meet-not-so-cute. He becomes torn between protecting her, getting out of the life, and his extended criminal family including best buddy Jeremy Renner. The cast is great but has the script's one dimensional characters to work with (where is 3D when you really need it?), and, still worse, they don't seem to exist in the same film. Pete Postlethwaite, sadly in one of his final final roles, obliterates all before him as the hard as Sexy Beast Ben Kingsley and In Bruges Ralph Fiennes combined crime boss, Renner is the suspicious and aggrieved friend who saved Affleck's life and did time for him, Hall is a nervous cipher. Individually their performances with meagre material are fine, but the tone lurches drastically when each is trotted out onto the screen alongside the gormless Affleck. In the end it goes all Michael Mann with an extended show down sequence, but this doesn't save the film from its predictability and uninteresting characters.
Ben Affleck's debut behind the camera, the excellent Gone Baby Gone, may have given me over the odds expectations of The Town, where he acts and directs, neither to his best. This is a step back for him, and maybe he should step back behind the camera. In life where it's difficult to know where your loyalty and talents lie, sometimes you need to choose one side or the other.
The Hole (3D)
Ah, it's nice to have Joe Dante back, if only to have an update on the current health of Dick Miller. This is pretty run of the mill, not one of Dante's best, but thoroughly OK, and more intelligent than a lot of other kiddie fodder out there. There are a few derivative tropes, such as fear of a clown doll, straight out of Poltergeist. Of course, that doesn't matter to the kids who haven't seen Dante the first time round, this would make a good starter point for them (Gremlins, Explorers and Small Soldiers could be next, but leave The Howling to when the BBFC suggests).
The nature of the big bad is a bit uneven as it is different for each of the characters, some of it gets very dark and disturbing indeed. The traumatic culpability of one of the characters is papered over a little too quickly in the resolution. It has the feeling that we've been here before, Dante certainly has, and has done better. I hope the film performs well enough to give him that opportunity again.
Sadly, I didn't connect with the tension in Buried because I started looking too much at the impressive technical challenge it represented (setting the action within the confines of a buried box), I ended up watching it for how it was made rather than watching it. This was a shame, it was clearly well written, acted (apart from the somewhat ludicrous terrorist shouty guy), and directed. The jet black comedy moments worked really well for me, perhaps I need to see it again in a more claustrophobic setting than a multiplex. Perhaps in a Japanese capsule hotel, on an Ipad (I'm open to sponsorship, should anyone want to fund a review of that experience).
Ryan Reynolds does very well for himself as the victim of a buried alive kidnap scenario, showing acting chops beyond his reputation as a Chevy Chase for today's generation (dab hand at comedy bad career choices appearing in extremely variable material). Reynolds might need to fire his agent, unless this film indicates he has. Both he and director Rodrigo Cortés are ones to watch in future.
While not directed by M. Night Shamalayan, this film is produced by and its marketing makes no secret that his grubby, gotta-have-a-twist, mitts are all over it. Like almost all M. Night Shyamalan material, boilerplate weird fiction of the "Hitchcock presents" or Rod Serling mould. As usual, the chief problem is that these stories would work better, be tighter and probably be more enjoyable, if they were developed for TV format in say an hour time slot (43 minutes without commercials and credits). The opening titles announce this as the 1st instalment of the "Night Chronicles", so perhaps Shyamalan should literally follow his inspiration back to the small screen. I'm just not sure how he'll look in the fat suit, intoning the words "Good Evening...."
Devil, like many stories of demonic intervention, makes the mistake of having a voiceover that constantly reminds you that the devil's about, and nasty things happen to those that get in his way. This removes much of the guess work about what will happen to anyone stupid enough to try to fix anything, especially when they insist on going off on their own to do it. It also suggests early on that one of the five passengers in the elevator is the great horned one, so even the stupidest guess has a minimum of 20% success. A notion is floated that the passengers all have some past misdeeds that deserve punishment, but this is neither used as an opportunity to properly flesh out their characters, or to raise a metaphor for the sins and secrets of all mankind.
Finally, both Devil and Buried make extensive use of blackout, which in the olden days was a cinematic taboo, the projectionist might think the bulb had gone. But now that we don't have proper projectionists any longer....