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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: The Town

At Venice, is 'Contagion' following 'The Town's' awards playbook?

August 31, 2011 |  3:19 pm

Anna Jacoby-Herron and Matt Damon in Steven Soderbergh's virus drama Contagion

When Warner Bros. Pictures premieres Steven Soderbergh's globe-trotting virus drama "Contagion" Sunday at the Venice Film Festival, it will be launching a campaign for a movie that shares many attributes with the studio's hit from fall 2010: Ben Affleck's "The Town," which also made its debut at the starry European fest.

Despite very different subject matters, "The Town" (starring Affleck and Jeremy Renner) and "Contagion" are both accessible dramas with strong ensemble casts. Plus, "Contagion" (which stars Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Winslet, among others) also boasts that critical quality of certain fall releases: strong commercial appeal mixed with potential awards support.

Warner Bros. worldwide president of marketing Sue Kroll sees the similarities between the two films.

“They are similar in that they both have popular appeal, a great mix of cast and a very accessible subject matter told in a really wonderful, interesting way. They are incredibly well-crafted, well-acted, well-directed films but they can broaden out and may end up reaching a much wider audience,” Kroll says.

"Contagion" needs a strong commercial bow before it can be considered an Oscar candidate, and with its stateside opening set for Sept. 9, Venice serves as a strategic launching pad worldwide for the movie. "The Town" opened in the U.S. last Sept. 17 and grossed $154 million worldwide, and Warner Bros. ran a concerted Oscar campaign for the film. The picture missed the cut for the 10 best picture nominees, but Renner was nominated in the best supporting actor category.

"Contagion" has a chance for even greater box office success, considering the film features a much larger geographic scope and a cast with more international stars, including Marion Cotillard, Jude Law and Chin Han.

Plus, who doesn't love a good pandemic?

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-- Nicole Sperling

Photo: Matt Damon and Anna Jacoby-Herron in a scene in "Contagion." Credit: Claudette Barius / Reuters


Hollywood seeks to make bank robbers cool again (maybe even with Andrew Garfield?)

March 3, 2011 |  1:22 pm

Robber
Bank-robbery films are a staple of great cinema. Unfortunately, unless you count “The Town” or “Inside Man,” the best of the lot -- “Bonnie & Clyde," “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," etc. -- were made about 50 years ago. But two new films gaining heat in Hollywood seek to revitalize the genre.

"The Robber," a remake of a well-regarded German movie about a marathon runner who robs banks for sport, has a degree of development momentum at studio Sony. "The Amazing Spider-Man" star Andrew Garfield has watched the original and expressed interest in playing the lead part, said a person familiar with the project who was not authorized to speak about it publicly. ("The Amazing Spider-Man" producer Laura Ziskin is also producing the "Robber" remake.)

An existential inquiry as much as an action movie, Benjamin Heisenberg's original, which is based on the true story of the German bank robber Johann Rettenberger, avoids a lot of personal detail in favor of a more mysterious character approach. Filmmakers on the American version -- producers are currently seeking writers -- would likely add a degree of of backstory to make the film more palatable to  a mainstream American audience, said the person familiar with the project. A Sony spokesman declined comment.

Meanwhile, the producer of “Blue Valentine” is taking a crack at "Electric Slide," a long-developed movie about Los Angeles' so-called gentleman bank robber Eddie Dodson. In the 1980s, Dodson robbed banks all over Southern California to support his trendy Melrose Avenue shop as well as a growing drug habit. But he never shot anyone and, in fact, used a fake gun as he committed his robberies. (Dodson died in 2003; read more about bank robber Dodson here.)

Ewan McGregor is attached to play the bank robber. (Carey Mulligan was at one point playing the female lead but is now off the film.)  Many producers have had mixed results trying to get the project going. But the "Valentine" producer, Jamie Patricof, who also made "Half Nelson," has a history of getting challenging films to the screen. Writer-director Tristan Patterson is set to turn in a new script in the next few weeks.

Bank robbers who have a code of honor -- or at least strange methods and motives -- aren't new in moviedom. Two years ago, Michael Mann took on the peculiar case of John Dillinger in "Public Enemies." But that movie became less of a heist story in favor of something else (a manhunt story, mainly). Ditto for "The Town," which had a significant romance element. And "Inside Man" was a hostage story as much as anything else.

These new films, say those familiar with them, look to get back to the basics of bank robbery.

-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: "The Robber." Credit: Kino Lorber

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Peter Craig goes to town

September 17, 2010 |  5:05 pm

Town
Much of the talk about this weekend's "The Town" has been about Ben Affleck, who wore multiple hats in making the crime drama. But one of the key unsung contributors to the Massachusetts character piece is Peter Craig, the novelist of family-oriented crime novels such as "Hot Plastic" and "Blood Father."

The author-cum-screenwriter began developing the script from Chuck Hogan's novel "Prince of Thieves" a number of years ago, when it was still to be directed by Adrian Lyne. ("It was much more of a love story back then," Craig notes dryly.) Craig's screenplay ended up on the Black List, Hollywood's prestigious peer-approved group of the year's hottest scripts.

The writer continued to refine the "Town" script until Affleck joined the project in 2008, then began working on it with him. (The two share writing credit along with Affleck writing partner Aaron Stockard.) The project generated strong buzz in Toronto this week, and for good reason -- as my colleague John Horn wrote Thursday, Affleck drew upon the tales of real-life bank robbers to give his story heft.

As "The Town" script began getting attention, Craig started to cook up some other hot assignments.  He is pretty much finished working on "Bad Boys 3," the next installment in the Will Smith detective action-comedy from the Jerry Bruckheimer filmmaking machine. (It's now waiting for Smith to finish shooting "Men in Black 3.")

Not previously reported is that Craig has recently done a polish on "Horse Soldiers," another Bruckheimer project about the early days of the war in Afghanistan, during the post-9/11 U.S. invasion. Craig came on to do character work on that script after "Silence of the Lambs" writer Ted Tally took a crack at it.

Afghanistan and Iraq movies have struggled commercially, but this story is seen as more straightforward and less tragic for U.S. soldiers, which may help its box-office prospects. "It's like a war movie that doesn't have a lot of combat in it," Craig says, adding, "It's the one moment when we did everything right."

Craig -- who, incidentally, is the son of Sally Field -- is putting pen to paper for the Warner Bros. adaptation of "Septimus Heap," the popular pre-adolescent British fantasy series. That news could mollify fans of the series, who might otherwise be worried that some of the character quirks would get lost as it moved to the screen. Craig is considered a sure hand at the art of character creation.

Finally, Craig is on board to write the English-language remake of "Fathers and Guns." The French-Canadian original, an action comedy about a father and a son, was a sensation in French-speaking parts of Canada, and Sony is hoping Craig, along with uber-producers Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy ("The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," et al.) can turn it into an American hit.

Craig's story is similar to that of many under-the radar writers -- a hot script gets them some good assignments, but their career only really gets supercharged as a movie begins to move forward with the likes of Ben Affleck.

" 'The Town' feels like an indie movie," Craig says. "It's nice that Warner Bros. did it -- and is putting so much behind it."

--Steven Zeitchik

Twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: "The Town." Credit: Warner Bros.


Critical Mass: 'The Town'

September 17, 2010 |  1:39 pm

Affleck-critical-mass1

After a string of starring roles in less-than-stellar movies, Ben Affleck appears on track to recapturing his Oscar-winning glory days. But unlike the success of his former writing partner, Matt Damon, Affleck's comeback isn't so much on camera as it is behind the scenes. His 2007 feature directing debut, "Gone Baby Gone," earned a handful of awards and nominations, including an Oscar nomination for supporting actress Amy Ryan. But Affleck's directing follow-up, "The Town," is earning Affleck even more praise and some of the best reviews of his career.

The Times' Kenneth Turan had nothing but praise for Affleck's bank-robber drama, and singled out the actor's skill behind the camera, both in co-writing and directing, as an improvement over his impressive debut. He writes, "Affleck also seems more confident and at ease in the director's chair this time around and less like the actor with something to prove." He goes on to praise the film's impressive cast, including Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm and Rebecca Hall.

Continue reading »

Preview review: Ben Affleck goes to town

July 20, 2010 |  7:30 am

The Town movie image JON HAMM After years of turning in solid performances as an actor, Ben Affleck tried his hand at directing with 2007's "Gone Baby Gone." His debut was relatively well-received, but his latest behind-the-camera effort, September's crime drama "The Town," looks even more promising.

Based on Chuck Hogan's novel "Prince of Thieves," the movie tells the story of Claire, a bank manager (Rebecca Hall) who is taken hostage during a robbery. As she tries to recover from the trauma, she's comforted by Doug (Affleck), who it turns out was one of her kidnappers. Meanwhile, Doug's buddy (Jeremy Renner) is worried that his new love interest might figure out Doug's true identity, while an ex-girlfriend (Blake Lively) continues to vie for his affections. 

The trailer has an ominous tone, opening with creepy footage from Claire's abduction, before explaining that captors come from the gritty streets of Charlestown, Mass. Boston-native Affleck is clearly comfortable on his home turf, and it shows here. And despite the shooting and violence, awards darlings Hall and Renner ground the film emotionally.

Even Lively, known for her wispy portrayal of a blond socialite on "Gossip Girl," seems to be veering into more serious territory. Better yet, her Boston accent isn't horrible.

--Amy Kaufman
Twitter.com/AmyKinLA

Photo: Jon Hamm in "The Town." Credit: Warner Bros.


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