Tag Archives: Ben Affleck

Extract

Chances are, every pantry has a little bottle of pricey vanilla extract on its shelves. It’s practically ubiquitous in baking. Just try to make a cookie without it. But have you ever wondered where it comes from? No. And neither have I. But that’s not going to stop Jason Bateman from trying to tell us.

Joel (Bateman) is one of those classically sad, back-boneless middle aged men who aren’t particularly effective at home or at work. He owns the extract company, but it’s barely profitable and the employees bully him. At home, his wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig) dons her sweatpants in a nightly ritual to thwart his bedtime advances. They’re going through a dry spell. So when Cindy (Mila Kunis), an alluring young woman, comes looking for a job at the factory, can we blame Joel for wanting to give her something else? I mean, yes. We absolutely can. And even Joel is a bit wishy-washy on the whole thing, so it takes the bad influence of his best friend (Ben extract-02.jpgAffleck) to come up with this convoluted plan: they’ll hire a teenage gigolo to seduce Suzie, leaving Joel free to have an affair guilt-free. That’s a legit loophole in the vows, right?

Anyway, turns out Cindy’s a conwoman who’s trying to influence a former employee (Clifton Collins Jr.) to sue Joel for the loss of his testicle. So who, exactly is going to get a happily ever after?

From the mind of writer-director Mike Judge, I expected a lot better from Extract, and I probably shouldn’t have. I mean, it’s funny. And there are a lot of great cast members really selling their parts (David Koechner is a scene-stealer in a part that will infuriate you). None of these things add up to anything significant, but if you can live with some ridiculous, and often ridiculously funny, bits and pieces, you might be able to make this work for you. It’s no Office Space; like the extract itself, a little goes a long way, but if you’ve got a hankering for some ethical flavouring, Extract has the essence.

Advertisements

Justice League

“What movie are you seeing?” the waiter asks.

“Justice League!” I answer with all the enthusiasm of someone who has been waiting for this night and all the sheepishness of someone who is fully aware that this movie is going to suck.

“I didn’t even know that was out yet. Are you a fan of Marvel?”.

“DC,” I quickly correct him.I remind myself not to be offended, that it’s an easy mistake for anyone with a life to make.

“Whatever,” he replies.

That’s the thing though. It’s not whatever. For many comic fans, the rivalry between the two publishers is as bitter as that between Star Trek and Star Wars. And I’m a DC guy. It’s not that I can’t admit when Marvel does something right. I can admit that their movies- especially within their respective shared universes- have generally been much better than DC’s. It’s just that Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and Spider-Man will never mean as much to me as Superman, batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg, or even Aquaman.

I’m such a DC guy that I could even find something to love in the colossal messes that were Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. I have rooted for this universe since it began with Man of Steel and celebrated when they finally did something amazing with Wonder Woman. But there’s something about Justice League that’s hard for even me to defend.

Maybe I’m just getting tired of making excuses for mediocre movies. Or myabe it was just different sitting next to Jay. I couldn’t help putting myself in her shoes and worrying about how painful this must be for her. Because a fan can find lots love if they’re feeling generous but those who haven’t read the comics are sure to have a harder time. Those who are unfamiliar with the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg are counting on this movie to give them a reason to care about them  and it’s here where Justice League fails the most.

Ben Affleck continues to be a much better Batman than I ever would have expected him to be and he’s in most of the film’s best scenes. Wonder Woman continues to feel like a fully realized character mostly thanks to Gal Gadot’s performance and all the good work that she and Patty Jenkins did in her much better stand-alone film. The new characters are a little more awkward. Ezra Miller’s charm goes a long way in making Barry Allen?The Flash likeable (although, for the record, TV’s Flash is better) but his backstory feels vague and rushed and we don’t know nearly enough about who he even is or what makes him special. Aquaman and Cyborg get barely any introduction at all. They’re just there.

The good news is that Justice League is shorter and more focused than Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad were and is almost never boring. The bad news is that it’s not nearly as exciting as it should be, especially considering what a dream come true this big-screen live action team up really is for me and so many others. There’s just not nearly enough attention paid to what makes these characters great and what’s worse is that there is even less attention paid to their relationships with each other. The Zack Snyder era of DC movies has not ended on a high note.

Harvey Weinstein & Hollywood’s Complicity

So. This is a difficult subject to broach because of its sheer scope. Unless you’ve been hibernating under the proverbial rock, you know now that Harvey Weinstein has been accused of rape, sexual misconduct, and various kinds of inappropriate behaviour that are mind-boggling in their number. Harvey Weinstein is (was?) a producer and film studio executive who co-founded Miramax, which produced several popular indies, including Pulp Fiction, Clerks, and The Crying Game, and 24th-annual-producers-guild-pga-awards-backstage-roamiwon an Oscar for producing Shakespeare in Love. He was recently ousted from his own company because of these accusations, though it should be said that it was likely a form or self-protection for the company rather than any sense of moral obligation. Indeed, many people at said company will have had knowledge of, and helped cover up, the very reprehensible behaviour that got him ousted in the first place.

We know why women stay silent – it’s the same reason the abuse took place in the first part. Men in positions of power take advantage. Weinstein is (was) a king of Hollywood. He did indeed make and break careers. To reject him is to risk your career, your whole life ahead of you. But his power continues to assert itself long after you’ve left the room. It’s something that has clearly haunted dozens if not hundreds if not thousands of women for decades, and now, because of a few brave women speaking up, it’s all come tumbling out. But Weinstein, who clearly has an M.O. as you’ll see below, cannot have done what he did without people knowing. People as in the many, many male colleagues who have attended the same meetings and events. Weinstein, for example, is responsible for the breakout success of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. He greenlit Good Will Hunting and they have remained loyal friends of his. So you know what? Hollywood’s women are calling them out.

Ben Affleck came forward to condemn him (eventually), only the second man in Hollywood to do so (George Clooney was the first). Affleck’s statement:

I am saddened and angry that a man who I worked with used his position of power to intimidate, sexually harass and manipulate many women over decades. The additional allegations of assault that I read this morning made me sick…We need to do better at protecting our sisters, friends, co-workers and daughters.

BUT a) he was then reminded of his own groping incident, for which he has since apologized; and b) Rose McGowan has reminded him that when it happened to her (when they were costarring in Phantoms), he said “Goddamnit! I told him to stop doing that!” Which, you know, kind of sounds like he knew about prior incidents on top of her own. And can I just say: stop branding us as sisters and daughters. We’re human beings and we deserve to not be sexually abused regardless of our relationship to you. You shouldn’t have to be fond of or related to someone before you don’t want to see them get raped.

But Affleck’s not the only one under fire: both Matt Damon and Russell Crowe have been accused of killing one journalist’s report of these incidents as far back as 2004. Damon claims he did call the reporter but didn’t know anything about sex-related accusations in the article, and that may be true, but it’s also sort of damning that he didn’t have anything to say about this until it was to clear his own good name. Just how many men in Hollywood have been complicit with their silence?

 

Trigger Alert: I’m including all the victims we know about so far, and the crimes that were perpetrated against them. These are just the ones we know about, and in cases of sexual abuse, that’s usually the tip of ice berg, which is disconcerting since we’ve already uncovered a land slide. Harvey Weinstein is a bad dude that Hollywood’s been covering for for far too long. And he’s not the only one.

 

Gwyneth Paltrow: recently confessed to the New York Times that Weinstein touched rs_600x600-171010105954-600.Harvey-Weinstein-Brad-Pitt-JR-101017her and suggested having joint massages in the bedroom shortly before filming Emma. She said she told her then boyfriend Brad Pitt about the incident and he confronted Weinstein [Brad Pitt has confirmed].

Angelina Jolie: Jolie told the Times she had to turn down advances from Weinstein in 1998 and chose never to work with him again, after making Playing By Heart. She has been warning other women about him ever since.

Louisette Geiss:  Called to a late night meeting with Weinstein in 2008, he emerged in a bathrobe and told her he would green light her script if she watched him masturbate. “He returned [from the bathroom] in a robe with the front open, buck-naked. He told me to keep talking about my film and that he was going to get into his hot tub which was in the room adjacent to his office, steps away. I kept talking as he got into the hot tub. When I finished my pitch, he asked me to watch him masturbate. I told him I was leaving. He quickly got out of the hot tub. As I went to get my purse to leave, he grabbed my forearm and pulled me to his bathroom and pleaded with me to watch him masturbate. My heart was racing and I was very scared.”

Judith Godreche: Weinstein tried to massage her and pull off her sweater after asking her up to his Cannes suite in 1996.

Dawn Dunning: Called to his hotel in 2003, Weinstein presented her with three scripts for his next three movies which he would let her star in, if she had a three-way with him. 

Tomi-Ann Roberts: Weinstein met her when she was waitressing as a college junior in 1984 and told her to meet him at his home. When she arrived he was naked in the bath and told her she would give a better audition if she was nude. 

Rosanna Arquette:  Claims her career suffered after she rejected Weinstein’s advances in the early 1990s – he tried to put her hand on his erect penis during a meeting.

Asia Argento: Weinstein forcibly performed oral sex on her when she was 21. “He terrified me, and he was big. It wouldn’t stop. It was a nightmare.” She documented the alleged attack in her 2000 film Scarlet Diva.

Katherine Kendall: Weinstein changed into a bathrobe and told her to massage him. When she resisted he returned naked and chased her.

Lucia Evans: Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex on him in 2004 at a ‘casting meeting’ in a Miramax office in Manhattan. 

Mira Sorvino: Weinstein tried to massage her in a hotel room at TIFF in 1995. He then went to her home in the middle of the night but she called a male friend to protect her. She claims turning him down adversely affected her career.

Rose McGowan: She’s been talking about being raped by a studio head for years, always keeping his identity secret. Now we know she sued him after he assaulted her in 1997 at Sundance. He paid her off, like he did many others, and she had to sign a non-disclosure agreement to close the suit.

Ashley Judd: During the filming of Kiss The Girls, Weinstein repeatedly asked her to watch him shower. She says “Women have been talking about Harvey amongst ourselves for a long time, and it’s simply beyond time to have the conversation publicly.”

Emma De Caunes: Weinstein offered to show her a script, and asked her up to his hotel room, where he began to take a shower. He emerged naked and erect, asking her to lay down with him on the bed and telling her that many others had done so before. ‘I was very petrified,’ said de Caunes. ‘But I didn’t want to show him that I was petrified, because I could feel that the more I was freaking out, the more he was excited.’

Lauren O’Connor: A former employee of The Weinstein Company, she told executives there in 2015 of the ‘toxic environment for women at this company’ after one of her colleagues told her that Weinstein had pressured her into massaging him while he was naked.

Cara Delevingne:  Weinstein brought up sexual subjects during more than one business meeting and also tried to get Delevingne to kiss a woman in front of him.

Ambra Battilana: In March 2015 Weinstein asked if her breasts were real before grabbing them and putting his hands up her skirt during a meeting. She reported the alleged incident to police, but they did not press charges. Weinstein later paid her off.

Jessica Barth: Pressured her repeatedly to give him a naked massages from 2011 onwards.

Laura Madden: An ex-employee, Weinstein had asked her to give him massages from 1991 onwards. “It was so manipulative.”

Emily Nestor: Temping for the Weinstein Company for just one day in 2014, Weinstein approached her and offered to boost her career in exchange for sex.

Zelda Perkins: An assistant of Weinstein’s, she confronted Weinstein after she and ‘several’ others were harassed and later settled out of court. 

Elizabeth Karlsen: The Oscar-nominated producer of Carol and The Crying Game, told of an incident dating back almost 30 years where an unnamed young female executive who had worked at Miramax with Weinstein had found him naked in her bedroom one night. 

 

Liza Campbell: Weinstein summoned her to his hotel room and told her to get in the bath with him.

Lea Seydoux: “We were talking on the sofa when he suddenly jumped on me and tried to kiss me. I had to defend myself. He’s big and fat, so I had to be forceful to resist him. I left his room, thoroughly disgusted. I wasn’t afraid of him, though. Because I knew what kind of man he was all along.”

Lauren Sivan: Weinstein trapped her in a closed restaurant and masturbated in front of her to completion in 2007.

Jessica Hynes: She was asked to audition for Weinstein when she was 19 – in a bikini. When she refused she lost the job.

Romola Garai: Was already hired for a part in Atonement when Weinstein scheduled yet another work meeting in his hotel room and showed up to it in his bathrobe. He asked for another audition so she could be “personally approved by him.”

Unnamed assistant: Weinstein behaved inappropriately toward a woman employed as his assistant in 1990; the case settled out of court.

Another unnamed assistant: In 2015, Weinstein reportedly pressured another assistant into giving him a naked massage in the Peninsula Hotel, where he is also said to have pressured Barth.

Unnamed Miramax employee: At one point in the early 1990s, a young woman is alleged to have suddenly left the company after an encounter with Weinstein. Also settled out of court.

Unnamed woman: Was summoned to his hotel and raped.

 

The truth is, there are plenty more Harvey Weinsteins in Hollywood (and let’s face it- elsewhere, everywhere). Hollywood is built on sexism. It routinely treats women as inferior to men. It exploits the very young, ignores the not so young, denies female directors work, and treats its female audience like trash. Like we don’t exist, like we don’t buy movie tickets, like our stories aren’t worth telling. It’s a boy’s club that has gone on far too long. You’ve heard of the casting couch? Now think about what kind of sick euphemism that really is. And if you’ve read all this and are still wondering why these women didn’t come forward sooner – yeah, you’re part of the problem.

 

The Town

Ben Affleck branded Charlestown the “bank robbery capital” of America in his movie about the neighbourhood, The Town. Neither cops nor statistics actually bear that statement out, but he certainly painted a picture of a rough neighbourhood where its inhabitants (“townies”) scowl at outsiders and steal everything that’s not nailed down. Sean and I have been to Boston a few times so I can’t quite recall which time we ventured out to “the town” for some dinner but I do recall deliberating whether we should. Sure the internet was calling this Moroccan restaurant one of Boston’s best, but did we feel safe?

hero_EB20100915REVIEWS100919991ARClearly things have changed since Ben Affleck last spent the night in Charlestown. When we visited, it was gentrified as hell, Beamers parked up and down the street. It’s also been a while since we last watched the film, so without the benefit of bellydancers or couscous, we gave it a re-watch.

Ben Affleck came on board as director only after someone else bowed out. His original cut of the movie was 4 hours long, and if you’re interested, it’s available to watch on the Blu-Ray. The studio convinced him to cut it down to 2 hours, 8 minutes for our sake, still a lengthy movie, but one that just flies by. Affleck’s character assembles a team of ruffians who brazenly rob banks and armoured trucks. He’s wanting to get out of this life, but neither his friends nor his enemies are willing to let him go. So that’s a complication. Another little wrinkle: the woman he’s currently in a relationship with is a former hostage of his, only she doesn’t know it. So that’s awkward.

You can tell Affleck is an actor-director; the action scenes are electric but the editing slows way down during character-driven scenes. He lingers over them. And he knows a great performance when he sees one. In The Town, the scene stealer was Jeremy Renner, who Casey Affleck recommended when Ben couldn’t get Mark Walhberg. Affleck has since said that Renner’s performance was so strong that he could literally save a scene by cutting to Renner looking down at a napkin.

Anyway, whether or not The Town is an accurate portrayal of the people and criminals who live there, it’s an excellent film, slick and well-paced, and it definitely benefits from great on-location shooting. The Boston on screen no longer exists, if it ever did, but it’s a great cinematic accomplishment for a hometown boy.

Live By Night

It’s possible that Live By Night will give hope to mopey gangsters everywhere by raising awareness of their difficult, stressful lives. It can’t be easy making money hand over fist by preying on the working class, especially when other bad guys are constantly trying to pick fights with you. In that small way, Ben Affleck (a.k.a. the director of Argo and the Town) has done those poor souls a great service by finally addressing this important topic and bringing their suffering to light.  screen_shot_2016-09-08_at_4-54-03_pm

[/sarcasm]

It’s clearly long past time for Matt Damon to stage an intervention. Affleck has lost his way and next on his list of mopey outlaws is the Batman. There can now be no doubt that Affleck will use that movie like he used this one, to share his people’s plight by bringing more one-percenter depression to the silver screen.  I can neither tolerate another bad Batman movie nor refrain from seeing whatever schlock is put onscreen starring a comic book character (I am so far gone I thought the Logan trailer looked good). Help me, Matt Damon, you’re my only hope!

Putting aside my Batman-related angst and focusing on Live By Night, Affleck is the core of what is wrong with the movie, which I suppose is inevitable since he directs, stars and wrote the screenplay. I suspect he’s even disappointed in himself. He should be, becauslead_960e if nothing else the role he has created for himself is a terrible one. The lead character is remarkably unsympathetic and no amount of teary-eyed inner conflict or monotone monologuing in voiceover form (because this character doesn’t like to express feelings aloud) can change that. On top of that, his hats make him look ridiculous, and there are so many hats.

Affleck the writer/director also does himself no favours by all but omitting action scenes from this gangster tale. Worse, the film’s few action scenes are as a jumble of tommy-gun-wielding m_8e517450-d96c-11e6-a260-7aa04c68bc63aniacs shooting at each other that leave the viewer unclear as to who’s on whose side (spoiler alert: the guys doing the killing are the ones on Affleck’s character’s side). Affleck also completely wastes Brendan Gleeson, Zoe Saldana, Chris Cooper, Elle Fanning, and most egregiously Agent Coulson (though Jay took Chris Messina’s bad teeth and pot belly hardest but at least Messina got a decent amount of screen time).

In case you can’t tell by now, Live By Night is not a good movie, not by a long shot.  I should have seen Patriots Day instead. Did you hear that, Affleck? I should have seen a Mark Wahlberg-Peter Berg joint rather than this mess. You’re an Oscar winning writer, dammit! Go think about what you’ve done and get your shit together before you ruin Batman too.

Pearl Harbor

Yesterday, December 7th 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the empire of Japan.

It’s been 75 years since that fateful attack on US soil, and 15 years since Michael Bay made a movie about it, and people are still arguing about which one was worse.

Oof, okay, sorry. No more joking about it. Sean and I are actually in Honolulu right now, visiting the Pearl Harbor site, and that’s a super-somber thing for uss_arizona_memorial_4sure. But beautiful too, in its way. There’s a floating memorial right over top where the USS Arizona lays beneath the ocean. You take a small shuttle boat over to it, and you can walk around on the very spot where it happened. It’s a lovely memorial, sobering as it is built right over the battleship, where 1102 of the 1177 crewmen killed still rest. In aerial shots, you can make out the outline of the ship. Lots of quiet moments to think about this loss of life.

Does Michael Bay’s movie afford the same opportunity? Not so much. The spectacularly bad dialogue makes it hard to take seriously. And critics derided the love story, though lots of Pearl Harbor-era veterans thought it pretty accurate. It’s maybe not the kind of love story we’re used to today, but if you compare it to a romance from the actual 1940s, it’s not so far off the mark. pearl-harbourPlus, war and love make us do crazy things. Michael Bay, however, is just the worst choice to convey those things. The 40 minute action sequence: superb. Very Michael Bay. Very explody. It’s even in the Guinness book of records for movie with most explosives used. There’s one shot of 6 explosions in “Battleship Row”, which was staged on real Navy ships. 6 ships, 600 feet each, rigged with 500 bombs on each boat, using 700 sticks of dynamite, 2000 feet of cord and 4000 gallons of gasoline. It took 7 months of coordination, a month and a half to rig them, permission from the government of Hawaii, the EPA, and the Navy, plus 100 extras on hand and 6 planes flying overhead, and 14 cameras to film it and in the end, it was a 7 second explosion that was stretched to 12 seconds on screen. That’s how Michael Bay do.

Otherwise it’s bloated and clichéd and weak in both plot and character. Bay has a special kind of super power where he routinely takes 3 hours to say very little, and almost never authentically. But there’s a lot of flag-waving. 1503b4f462b99050922864481f727176Wouldn’t you like to see Michael Bay and Clint Eastwood in a flag-off? Who would drop first? Pearl Harbor manages to make a spectacle out of a profound moment in history, where blood was shed by real people embroiled in their own acts of love, intimacy, bravery, fear, courage, and duty. But those stories never get told. Instead, Michael Bay offended the Japanese by upping the “barbarism” of the whole thing, which also insults American vets, who would be right in thinking the real event was bad enough. A better tribute to those who died, and those who survived, is found at the memorial, where a 23 minute documentary is shown, and manages in those 23 minutes to be more honest and more informative than Bay’s 183.

 

 

 

 

The Accountant

What if Batman was a bean counter? Okay, that’s not exactly what The Accountant is trying to do, but it’s close, closer probably than it intended.

Ben Affleck plays Christian Wolff (not his real name: alter ego), a mild-mannered, socially awkward accountant. And when he whips his glasses off, he becomes a vigilante crime fighter. Sort of. Okay, what actually happens is he keeps his glasses on in order to “uncook” the books for various crime syndicates. Like, for the worst and dirtiest people. But if they break his moral code, he either calls in the commissioner – excuse me – treasury agent (played ben-affleck-first-look-at-the-accountant-socialby JK Simmons, who will indeed play Commissioner Gordon in Affleck’s upcoming The Batman) or goes ballistic on their ass. But not crazy ballistic: he remains very cold and very calm in order to diligently murder everyone in his path. So autism becomes a super power and The Accountant is just Batman without a cowl. Although admittedly when I saw Ben Affleck marking up a window, I immediately though of the role as a little more Good Will Hunting meets Jason Bourne – Matt Damon’s territory, in other words.

In order to play autistic, Ben goes affectless and Affleckless. He turns off the charm and the smirk and the simmering rage but doesn’t quite know what he’s left with. It doesn’t help that The Accountant suffers from its own identity crisis, sometimes darting into the phone booth as an action flick b3dd1dc8b235f1a14730dc81f5cffdfba6e4eae050f66447637fa4e75242f350complete with stalky sniper Jon Bernthal (from Daredevil, just not THAT Daredevil) as the villain, only to emerge as a drama or worse yet, a quirkie indie romance with Anna Kendrick as the Mary Jane, I mean, the damsel in distress\love interest. And if this all sounds like a lot to keep track of, don’t worry, there’s a portion in the middle that’s perfect for taking a 20 minute nap and waking up feeling like you’ve missed nothing at all.

But for all that, I enjoyed The Accountant. It’s not going to make my top 10 this year, and maybe not even my top 10 this week (that’s not a hard knock, I’m just on my way to a film festival), but it was entertaining and fun, even if Gavin O’Connor’s direction is a bit uninspired. Plus, it’s kind of great to see autism as an asset rather than a setback. Affleck manages not to overplay his cards although the story does require us to equate a neurodevelopmental disorder with superior morality – superior even to the law, which has Viola Davis’s voice ringing in my ears – what if the next Superman is an accountant?