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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

September 9, 2010 at 3:08 PM

At TIFF: A fine “Town,” a light “Drewe”

TORONTO — The Toronto International Film Festival officially opens to the public tonight, and this city is ready: Today I counted at least three random groups of people with enormous TV cameras, standing at different locations on downtown sidewalks and looking expectant. And I thought I saw Jon Hamm in a hotel lobby (not my hotel, but a fancy one I went to for a screening; more on that later), but in retrospect I think it was just some miscellaneous handsome guy with stubble, of which downtown is full. The movie stars, for the most part, will begin their descent tomorrow.
Meanwhile, I’ve begun my descent on the 27,047 minutes of film in this festival, a number brought to you courtesy of this morning’s Globe & Mail. Seen exactly 241 of those minutes so far today; 130 of which were in Ben Affleck’s “The Town,” his directing follow-up to the (very good) “Gone Baby Gone,” and I have to say that Affleck’s proving himself to be a pretty fine filmmaker, whether or not his movies ever leave Boston. “The Town” is a taut crime drama starring Affleck as the leader of a crew of Charlestown bank robbers, Rebecca Hall as a bank manager taken hostage by his gang and with whom he inconveniently falls in love, and Jon Hamm (the real one) as the FBI agent determined to bring him down. Familiar stuff, but nicely paced, beautifully photographed in a series of vulnerable close-ups (by Robert Elswit, of “Good Night and Good Luck” and “There Will Be Blood”), and always engrossing.
townsmall.jpg
Stephen Frears’ “Tamara Drewe,” based on a delightful comic strip/graphic novel by Posy Simmonds, was more uneven; I think this material works better on the page than the screen. Inspired by Hardy’s “Far from the Madding Crowd” and set at an idyllic farmhouse in the British countryside that hosts a writers’ retreat, it’s at times a bit flat, with characters who don’t seem fully fleshed-out. But there are some lovely performances — most notably Gemma Arterton as a small-town femme fatale and Tamsin Grieg as a wife hiding her loneliness under domestic perfection — and it’s impossible to dislike a film in which someone tries to hush someone else up by saying (truthfully), “For God’s sake, we’re surrounded by novelists.”
The two screenings were, themselves, an exercise in opposites. TIFF, which formerly housed most press screenings in a low-key, dignified multiplex uptown, has moved most press screenings downtown to a cavernous gazillionplex called the Scotiabank, which features an ominously lit, Star Trek-esque strip mall of food service, including a Burger King (to which I haven’t yet succumbed, but the festival is young). The theaters, once you make it through the food obsctacle course, are vast and comfortable — I saw “The Town” in one that seats 557, far too many of whom were checking their cellphones during the movie. At the other extreme, and back uptown, was the Hazelton Screening Room, which is somewhere in the bowels of the very posh Hazelton Hotel, and where you must state your business to not one but two dark-suited gentlemen at the front entrance before you can even step into the lobby — where I was told to wait for a “greeter.” The screening room, which holds maybe 24, is all leather armchairs and free bottles of water and legroom fit for a basketball player (which I am not), I could get used this, but tomorrow it’s back to the Scotiabank. And maybe some fries.
(Photo: Ben Affleck, Slaine, Jeremy Renner and Owen Burke in the crime drama “The Town” / By Claire Folger.)

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