Micah Bloomberg's Movie Reviews

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Month: November, 2012

Where Have All The Crazy, American Narcissists Gone?

Ben Affleck’s 2007 feature debut Gone Baby Gone made a workmanlike addition to the Boston crime sub-genre booming at the time. It was more fun than Eastwood’s grim Mystic River, more conventional than Scorsese’s The Departed. The Town, a sophomore slumpy follow-up which he also starred in, missed but swung big, going for Good Will Hunting-esque brother-honor and Shawshank Redemption piousness. His new film, Argo, is lighter on its feet and comes out looking smarter.

In all of  his films, Affleck gathers a great cast (drawing especially deep from the episodic TV bench) which he shoots in a straightforward way, highlighting faces and performances. In Gone Baby Gone, Affleck’s unpretentious approach captured Casey Affleck’s weird intensity perfectly, a quality that eluded the usually-deft Michael Winterbottom in 2011’s The Killer Inside Me. Blake Lively’s treacherous, boozy turn in The Town could have easily come off as dress up, but her focused performance, sympathetically shot,  was a high point in the film. A period piece about the 1979 hostage crisis in Iran, Argo‘s design and costumes seem impressively-researched, and there’s some gussied-up “verite” camerawork for flavor, but the talent-rich cast is what impresses most.

Here’s Tate Donovan, letting rip in a bitchy, funny performance that would seem like an easy choice if anyone had ever thought of it before. TV it-boys Bryan Cranston and Chris Messina bitch each other out at the Pentagon. Blink and you missed last year’s TV it-boy Kyle Chandler or world class utility-actor Zeljko Ivanek. Farshad Farahat steals his one scene with no-bullshit Star Power.

For himself, Affleck reserves the thankless, though leading, role of Tony Mendez, CIA “ex-fil” specialist and designated straight man to the parade of talent mentioned above. Introduced in an early-morning pan over discarded take-out Chinese and empty beer cans, a narrative-starting phone waking him from rumpled sleep, Mendez seems ripped from the pages of a 1975 screnplay that William Goldman threw out. After reluctantly blowing some minds in a State Department war room, Mendez is dispatched to rescue six US embassy workers who escaped their compound just before it was overrun, and are hiding out with the Canadian Ambassador (there’s Victor Garber, the captain from Titanic!).

Mendez heads to LA where he watches–amused but calm–while John Goodman and Alan Arkin, Hollywood warhorses playing Hollywood warhorses, slap together a phony science fiction movie, a cover story Mendez needs to smuggle the Americans out of Iran posing as a film crew. In country, Mendez–polite but firm–wrangles his terrified charges (there’s Rory Cochran from Empire Records and Clea DuVall from The Faculty!). The “Director” of the phony film is meant to be Tate Donovan, but it’s Mendez who accepts responsibility for the team, absorbs the freakouts. Affleck, shoring up his movie from the inside, facilitates exposition, smirks at the subtler jokes.

Mendez is all game face at work, but we’re given access to his secret wound, a wife and child he’s estranged from. These scenes are managed with classy restraint, but they’re dull, big-Hollywood trimmings tacked on to help us “relate” to Mendez and they’re out-of-step with the script’s otherwise sharp focus on the next problem and its solution. They’re Affleck’s only moments of self-congratulation, in a way, because his understated performance and direction of them imply that there’s a “right way” to add flaccid back story.

This ends up basically working, though. Mendez is plenty relatable, charming even. But the enthusiasm of the rest of the cast, and the loving way their work is captured, make Mendez’s sensible modesty look kind of joyless. Affleck directs Argo with verve but, as the film’s lead, he keeps the ball on the ground and settles for field goals and well-placed punts.

2010’s Company Men came and went, which was probably as it should be, but it was interesting in that movie to watch Affleck’s scenes with Kevin Costner. Costner’s star has dimmed but, in his heyday, he was a magazine-cover leading man turned big budget director, not unlike where Affleck is now. Costner’s gigantic debut, Dances With Wolves is a well-made, sentimental western elevated by Costner’s eccentric performance. Given full rein over his own brand, Costner subverted his soft-core sex appealthe key feature of movies like Bull Durham and Revenge, and replaced it with a nerdy, clumsy charm. He’s since proceeded to run this persona (sexy but harmless, competent but easily-stunned) into the ground in films he’s directed and produced like Waterworld and Open Range. But fifty years from now, the performance Costner will be remembered for will be in a film he directed.

The same is true of Mel Gibson’s performance in Braveheart. In that film, Gibson displayed a once-in-a-generation gift for grand-scale, physical filmmaking, but he also seized the opportunity to perform in a way that transcended his status as a bankable sex object.

Affleck’s temperament doesn’t seem as pitched, let’s say, as either Costner’s or Gibson’s. From what I can gather from TV and magazines, and considering his sturdy but dull performances in The Town and Argo, I doubt he’d succumb to Costner’s bland narcissism or to whatever it is that’s got a hold of Mel Gibson. But Affleck is giving himself lead roles in his own movies. So it might be fair to ask: where is the performance only he can get, from himself? It may be that it takes a truly crazy person, a maniac narcissist like Costner or Gibson or Woody Allen or Orson Welles, to direct and star in a gigantic American movie. Does Affleck have their kind of crazy in him?

And if he doesn’t then who does? It’s been quiet on this front but TV might be giving us a hint. Is it time, finally, for a visionary, generational American movie made by and starring a female maniac narcissist?

Be My Mirror

AMAR (24) and SOLOMON (30) sit at a table in an airport bar. They are having an argument.

AMAR
Why we gotta keep talking about it? It’s done.

SOLOMON
It’s easy for you to take a laid back attitude about this when–

AMAR
The fuck you know about my attitude?

SOLOMON
All I mean is maybe it’s different for you to miss your flight and show up late, when there’s a funeral the next day–

AMAR
And you still talking?

SOLOMON
–than it is for me to do that. It looks different.

AMAR
And why is that?

SOLOMON
Because you’re a member of the family.

AMAR
Exactly. You ain’t a member of the family. You right.

SOLOMON
Come on.

AMAR
Solomon, who said you needed to get on my flight?

SOLOMON
I wanted–I was trying to be polite! I thought we could go together, like as a–

AMAR
(Quietly to himself) Damn, man.

SOLOMON
And I show up and you’re not even packed! I’m sitting down there for half an hour with this guy glaring at me. And then we miss–

AMAR
Dude, Solomon, there’s six million flights to Chicago, every day. You bein’ a little bitch ‘cause we gotta wait an hour for the next shuttle, ain’t even a flight, it’s a shuttle, ‘cause they so many of them. We gonna drink this drink here then we gonna walk over to the gate-

SOLOMON
Just–how could you not be packed? How could you start packing when I show up downstairs in a cab? How was that supposed to work?

AMAR
Shut up, Solomon, a’ight? We done talking now.

SOLOMON
Whatever.

AMAR
(Talks over him, holds out his palm) Ah! That’s it.

Long silence. Both sip their drinks. AMAR looks at his phone.

SOLOMON
How’s it going with your movie?

AMAR doesn’t answer. Sips his drink.

SOLOMON
Whatever.

Another long silence.

SOLOMON
Did Natalia tell you about her paper?

AMAR
Nope.

SOLOMON
It’s pretty cool. That paper she’s writing for her Fulbright? She thinks she can get it published in this journal. She’s really excited.

AMAR
That’s cool. How she like Yemen?

SOLOMON
She thinks it’s interesting. It’s a weird place, they’re hard on women there. But she’s excited about her research. I think she gets lonely.

AMAR
She got a man?

SOLOMON
Ha! I hope not.

AMAR
D’you ask her?

SOLOMON
Why would I ask her that?

AMAR
Would you go a year without sex?

SOLOMON
A year? Yeah. You’ve never gone a year without sex?

AMAR
Nope.

SOLOMON
Never had a dry spell?

AMAR
I never went a year without sex, if that’s what that is.

SOLOMON
How about when you left Evanston?

AMAR
When I came here?

SOLOMON
Yeah, that’s pretty normal, I think, to be lonely at first when you move to New York–

AMAR
Oh my god, dude, I got–do you know how much I had lined up when I came out here? My shit was blowing up. I was at my boy’s place, he at NYU, word got around about me, da ta da ta da, my phone got all fucked up there was so many girls calling me, texting me. So, no, I don’t know whatever the fuck a dry spell is.

SOLOMON
Wow. I’m impressed. (Pause) God, college. I had this threesome, actually. I was in this frat–

AMAR
Which two busted, fucking, goat-women did you have a threesome with?

SOLOMON
They weren’t that ugly. I love how you’re this expert on what I can and can’t do.

AMAR
And Natalia’s a woman, dude–

SOLOMON
That’s your sister. You shouldn’t…

AMAR rolls his eyes. Long pause. Both sip drinks.

SOLOMON
You’re upset about Baba. (AMAR inhales quickly, irritated) She was such a cool lady, you know? I’m glad I got to meet her those couple of times. Natalia’s pretty freaked out. I don’t think she was pre–

AMAR
Why you gotta call her that?

SOLOMON
What? Baba? That’s what you guys call her. What should I call her, your grandma?

AMAR
Yes.

SOLOMON
Why?

No answer.

SOLOMON
Fine. Sorry. (Sips drink) Did you hear back from Cannes?

AMAR
Yep.

SOLOMON
And?

AMAR
They takin’ it.

SOLOMON
Shit, really? Be My Mirror got into Cannes?

AMAR
Un Certain Regard, dude.

SOLOMON
Wow, Amar. That’s so amazing. Congratulations.

AMAR
We gonna be on the beach, wearing tuxedos. Spike gonna be there, David Lynch gonna be there, Terrence Mallick gonna be there.

SOLOMON
That’s so cool. And if it does well you guys might be able to sell it, huh?

AMAR
We already sold it. To Sony. They gonna put out the album too.

SOLOMON
So now you just go to Cannes and hang out, you don’t even have to worry about selling it.

AMAR
We gonna sell the next one. We get to Cannes, Be My Mirror drops, got Sony doin’ all the press, doin’ all the promotion, people’ll be all loosing they shit. Then: ba da! Got the new script right their like: line up, people. And this one for real. It’s ten times better than Be My Mirror. You know how old I was when I wrote that? Eighteen. You know how much better I am now? How much I learned? People see this new script they gonna sit there with they mouths open.

SOLOMON
That’s incredible. And you’re like twenty-four, right? At that age, to have all that going on? That’s so amazing.

SOLOMON sips his drink. Tries to get a waitress’s attention. Fails. AMAR studies his phone.

AMAR
D’you get a job?

SOLOMON
Me? Yeah, I’ve got some interviews. I was talking to this one company, they work in medical marijuana, and they were putting together a legal group. And that’s an area I’ve done some work in–

AMAR
Yeah. Me too.

SOLOMON
Ha! Yeah, no, like the legal parts of it. I wrote about it in school. We need to create a framework for the people who are really, I mean, this is a brand new industry and it’s gonna be a big deal for everyone involved but we need to work out the legal language for it.

AMAR
That sounds good.

SOLOMON
Yeah, but they went with somebody else. It’s competitive. And my dad keeps sending me on interviews for these total corporate zombie jobs where they’d just lock me in a closet with a computer and I have to keep telling him: Listen: I’m not gonna do that.

AMAR
You ain’t got a job and your dad setting you up and you like: No thanks?

SOLOMON
You and me are in different industries.

AMAR
What industry you in without no job? You need money, you got rent, right?

SOLOMON
But I need to be in the right situation otherwise I’ll be miserable. Plus, I’ve been thinking about getting a degree in English, actually? So I could teach. I think that might be a better fit. And–

AMAR
So how you pay your rent?

SOLOMON
From my savings.

AMAR
Savings from what?

SOLOMON
What do you mean?

AMAR
You been goin’ out with Natalia for four years, you ain’t never had a job. So savings from what? You got a trust? Like that?

SOLOMON
No, it’s like–

AMAR
Then savings from what? You get it from your parents right? Lemme see your phone.

SOLOMON
Why do you wanna see my phone?

AMAR
Because I wanna see this savings account. That shit pisses me off. How much you got, right now?

SOLOMON
What pisses you off? That my parents support me because they believe in me?

AMAR
No. You said savings, which sounds like they gave you all this money a long time ago and now you like taking care of it. I seen you. I seen how you spend. How much you got in your savings account, right now?

SOLOMON
Well I just paid rent.

AMAR
Right, so how much?

SOLOMON
(Swallows)
Eight hundred dollars.

AMAR
Exactly. And now they gonna send you a check right? You ain’t got a job so how else you gonna pay rent next month? They gonna send it to you. That’s your savings. Like you got some plan. Like I ever seen you not get dessert.

SOLOMON
Any time I want I can take some shit job and have more money than I know what to do with. I want to do something that matters. Is it crazy if my parents are behind me on that?

AMAR
They just stupid. If you were gonna do something that matters you’d do it. You thirty years old, dude. You gonna start gettin’ shit done all the sudden, next month? Why you ain’t doin’ it right now?

SOLOMON
Because right now I have to be with Natalia.

AMAR
No you don’t.

SOLOMON
Her grandmother died. She needs me.

AMAR
She may think she do, but she don’t.

SOLOMON
You and I see different parts of her personality. If I wasn’t there for her this weekend, it would be hard for her. I’d be there right now but we missed the plane because of you.

AMAR
That ain’t right.

SOLOMON
Fine. Because we had a miscommunication and you thought, when I said I’d pick you up at 12:30, I meant you should start packing at 12:30.

AMAR
No. That ain’t right about Natalia. You know what she thinks about you bein’ there? That’s a nice thing.

SOLOMON
Right. We’re nice to each other. Because we love each other. Good point.

AMAR
No. That ain’t what I said. I said she thinks that’s nice. But that don’t mean she need you. She don’t. And that don’t mean she love you, either.

SOLOMON
Man. You’re just never gonna drop it with me, are you?

AMAR
I’m responsible for her.

SOLOMON
No, you’re not, Amar. And you don’t have the final word about every last thing that happens. You’re upset about Baba, or you’re bored, so you’re trying to fuck with me in this really mean way because I happen to be sitting in front of you.

AMAR
She and you are different.

SOLOMON
I know that’s important to you. It’s an important thing and I respect that. Sometimes I wish I was black so she wouldn’t have to deal with all that. I’ve tried acting more black around her friends, around you guys. I tried being one of those white guys who gets a pass. But, to be honest, and you’ll never find a person who admires or is just more into African American culture than I am, there’s just something embarrassing about a white guy trying to act like that. And anyway, I can’t do it. So I have to say fuck it. Just like when my parents are being backward, racist assholes and Natalia has to say fuck it to that. For some reason, the way things are set up right now, we have to pay a price to be together. But the fact that you’re her brother, and you love each other, and you’re the one who sometimes makes it hardest… I’ve always had trouble understanding that.

AMAR
That don’t answer what I said.

SOLOMON
What time is it?

AMAR
We got time.

SOLOMON
Like you’re the person to ask.

Silence. Both their drinks are empty. SOLOMON rattles the ice in his glass.

SOLOMON
Then what, Amar? What did you say? Blow my mind.

AMAR
(Shouts) I will!

SOLOMON
(Tries matching him) Jesus, relax!

AMAR
She different from you because inside, Natalia’s like me. We gifted. And because of that, the world gonna give us everything we want. They ain’t gonna be any other choice for people. They gonna know our name: Rousseau. We gonna bend the future how we want it to go because that’s how God made us to be. Strong. Who are you to that? You think I don’t hear what you sayin’, but I do. A’ight, she may think she need you now. Ya’ll are separated. She got an idea of who you are in her head. But she wrong. And pretty soon she comin’ home for good and you gonna be dirt off her shoulder. Believe me about that.

SOLOMON
You just don’t know her at all.

AMAR
She don’t know herself. But that’s just a matter of time. Three years? Five years? Think about that. Think about who she gonna be in five years? Talent like she got. Drive. Think about who I’m gonna be? We gonna own New York City, man. Who you gonna be? An English teacher? Maybe?

SOLOMON
In five years she’ll be my wife and you’ll be my brother.

AMAR
You gonna be where you belong, is what, and her name gonna be Natalia Rousseau. Until a man come along got a name that can stand up to that. That ain’t you. Think about who you are, Solomon. Think. Don’t lie. Tell me what your name is worth.

END OF PLAY