Kevin Carr’s Weekly Report Card: September 17, 2010

This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr is stuck in an elevator reviewing movies, but he realizes that being in there with the Devil isn’t nearly as bad when you’re also stuck in there with faux-slut Emma Stone. To pass the time, he robs a few banks in The Town of Boston with Ben Affleck and embroiders a scarlet Easy A on his chest. Sigh… if only he had worn a shirt when he did that…

Want to hear what Kevin has to say on the Fat Guys at the Movies podcast? Take a listen below as Kevin and FSR Executive Editor Neil Miller take to the Magical Studio in the Sky to discuss this week’s new releases.

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Studio: Warner Bros.

Rated: R for strong violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use

Starring: Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner and Blake Lively

Directed by: Ben Affleck

What it’s about: In Ben Affleck’s sophomore directing effort, we return to the streets of Boston, this time in a tale about a gang of bank robbers. One of them wants to get out of the business, but he finds it hard to leave his friends and the legacy of crime that his father left him. As the Feds are breathing down his neck, he ends up falling in love with one of the witnesses of his most recent job, and there’s another robbery looming in his future.

What I liked: I’m not going to jump on the bandwagon that many other critics are riding right now by declaring Ben Affleck a better director than he is actor. Hell, I like Ben Affleck. He might not be able to play anything (including the shark from Jaws, as Kevin Smith has declared), but he’s a solid leading man. However, I will say that the guy definitely has talent and is at least as good of a director as he is an actor. (And he’s better at both than his brother Casey.)

Affleck seems to have mastered the trade of gritty urban crime thriller set in Boston with this and his previous effort Gone Baby Gone. The Town is definitely more of an action film, though it is primarily a drama. Affleck can handle both of these genres well. And, he does a fine job directing himself.

The Town is far from a perfect film, but it delivers the same tone as Gone Baby Gone and offers some compelling characters.

What I didn’t: Like I said, The Town is not perfect, though Affleck manages to gloss over most of its flaws, like the disconnect between shoot-em-up action and heavy drama and the fact that it is really just an ego piece featuring him as the handsome hero. The film runs a bit too long, and there’s a lot of extraneous fluff to it while other characters (primarily Jon Hamm’s FBI antagonist) seem very under-developed.

However, a lot of these flaws are forgivable within Affleck’s directing style.

Who is gonna like this movie: Not to sound like a movie poster pull quote, but if you liked Gone Baby Gone

Grade: B

Studio: Screen Gems

Rated: PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving teen sexuality, language and some drug material

Starring: Emma Stone, Stanley Tucci, Cam Gigandet, Amanda Bynes and Malcolm McDowell

Directed by: Will Gluck

What it’s about: In this extremely loose modern retelling of The Scarlet Letter, Emma Stone plays a high school dork who suddenly becomes the talk of the school when she fakes a slutty reputation. Soon, she’s the go-to girl to say you had sex with in order to boost your own street cred. However, her cycle of lies soon catch up to her and people start to really get hurt while she tries to patch things up in her life.

What I liked: There are some funny moments in this film, mostly on a scene-by-scene basis. A lot of this has to do with the cast… well, it has to do with Emma Stone and a few other stars like Stanley Tucci. Stone is adorable and carries the film, bridging the gap between high school nerd and sultry temptress. Even the weak lines are handled well by her style.

Oh, and Aly Michalka’s boobs. Those are awesome. I’ll never be able to watch an episode of Phil of the Future with clean thoughts ever again.

What I didn’t: Like many comedies, there’s just not enough drive to keep things moving through an entire film. Easy A reminded me of films like The Invention of Lying which had a hilarious beginning but fell apart like a disastrous Jenga game in the middle. There’s a scene in this film where things suddenly get really dark and problematic, and the movie just loses all of its charm.

Also, it’s clear that the director is a big fan of 80s teen movies, especially the filmography of John Hughes. Having grown up in the 80s myself, I love those movies. But to believe that 16 and 17 year old high schoolers today hold those up as gospel for teen romance is a bit hard to swallow. It’d be like Bender from The Breakfast Club idolizing Frank Sinatra.

Come to think of it… I’d rather watch The Breakfast Club again.

Who is gonna like this movie: Teens.

Grade: B-

Studio: Universal

Rated: PG-13 for violence and disturbing images, thematic material and some language including sexual references

Starring: Chris Messina, Geoffrey Arend, Logan Marshall-Green, Bojana Novakovic and Jenny O’Hara

Directed by: John Erick Dowdle

What it’s about: On what appears to be an average day in Philadelphia, five strangers enter an elevator in a skyscraper. However, when the elevator mysterious stops between floors and traps them for hours, they soon learn that one of the people is not what they appear to be. One of them is the Devil incarnate to exact punishment for their sins and take hope away from the people outside trying to save them.

What I liked: Just as I didn’t jump on the “Ben Affleck is a better director than actor” bandwagon, I’m not jumping on the “M. Night Shyamalan’s career is over” bandwagon. I’m not doing this because I like M. Night Shyamalan’s films (at least most of them), and I think he still has a lot of good stories in him.

Devil is a fine example of this. He may not be the director, but the story feels very much like his style. As the first part of “The Night Chronicles” (which I will admit sounds overly pretentious, even for Shyamalan), Devil tells a relatively simple and well confined story. It runs a lean 80 minutes, which is the perfect length. Think of it as an 80-minute episode of The Twilight Zone, and you’ll have an idea. In this sense, it is Shyamalan at his best… telling a creepy story about people coming in touch with something sinister and supernatural.

Devil is very atmospheric and has plenty of twists and turns in the plot. It’s not entirely predictable, which is a feat in horror films today, and it does its best to avoid cliches. You’d think a movie about people stuck in an elevator wouldn’t be all that hot, but it works quite well.

What I didn’t: Even though Devil avoids a lot of cliches, there are others it just can’t avoid. So if you see this, prepare yourself for some cheesy moments, some obvious moments and some none-too-original ones as well. Such is the bane of making a movie that isn’t completely original, but not every movie can be Being John Malkovich.

Who is gonna like this movie: Horror fans and anyone who didn’t laugh when M. Night’s name showed up in the trailer.

Grade: A

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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