Spotlight: Ben Affleck

Who is Ben Affleck anyway?

After an early start at the age of eight, starring in the PBS series The Voyage of the Mimi, Ben Affleck didn’t make his big introduction into feature films until 1993 when he was cast in Dazed and Confused. After that, he did mostly independent films like Kevin Smith's Mallrats (1995) and Chasing Amy (1997).

Interestingly, in the same year he made Mimi, Affleck made the acquaintance of Matt Damon, a boy two years his senior who lived down the street. The two became best friends and, of course, eventual collaborators.

In his early years in Hollywood, tired of being turned down for the big roles in films and the forgettable supporting ones he did play, he decided to write his own script. Matt Damon was having the same trouble and together they produced a script with the kind of roles they wanted to play! Good Will Hunting (1997) was the result and it went on to win two Academy Awards (nominated for nine).

Career ups and downs followed with much media attention to romance and rehab. After many flops, he seems to have re-invented himself as a director.

He's has earned critical acclaim for directing films including The Town and Argo so perhaps Affleck's greatest talent lies behind the camera where reviews of his films call him ”a sensitive, thoughtful and collaborative” director.
Here are my choices from a long list of his films:

A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005) PG

A very funny and an interesting plot. The film was brilliant, and it makes me want to read the book by Douglas Adams, A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The science fiction series was originally broadcast as a radio show on BBC radio 4. Watch A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy today.

Source Code (2011) PG-13

I enjoyed Source Code. I would recommend it to anyone who liked Inception (2010) and Eagle Eye (2008). There are a few things that I question about the film, but overall it was entertaining to watch.

Check out a Wired.com interview with screenwriter Ben Ripley.

Hugo (2011) PG

I usually begin my reviews by stating the year of the film and listing the main stars. I briefly describe the plot, perhaps quote a line from the film or describe a scene and emphasize what I believe are some of the high points of the film.

In this case, I decided to write my review as I approached viewing the film. I knew almost nothing about the film. All that I knew was that it won several Oscars, and I had seen a few brief snippets during the Academy Awards ceremony. I chose not to find out anything more about the film, and I would advise anyone who has not seen this film to take the same approach.

If you appreciate art, science, fantasy, a vivid imagination, you will love this film. If you don't appreciate art, if science bores you, if you look at a cloud and that's all you see, you won't like the film.

This film reminded me of what it was like to see a motion picture in a movie theater for the first time. I was amazed and filled with a great sense of wonder. You too can experience this again, if you see this film.

Based on the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. Directed by Martin Scorsese.

Join us on Friday, May 4 at 7:00 for a screening of Hugo. Doors open at 6:30; fresh popcorn will be served. Register at calendar.ippl.info.

Cowboys & Aliens (2011) PG-13

Cowboys & Aliens stars Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, and Olivia Wilde. It is a combination sci-fi/western picture. My initial reaction to the title and to a few previews I saw was, "Give me a break, how silly can you get?" But a few people told me it was a pretty good movie, so I decided to give it a chance. And I am now very glad I did.

This is a fun movie. It works very well as an old fashioned 1950s sci-fi movie set in the "Hollywood West." Daniel Craig gives a wonderful performance as Jake Lonergan, a bad guy turned good who sets out to right past wrongs. It's as though James Bond was sent to the past without a memory of who he was, what his mission is, or any of his special gadgets except one, which he does not know how to use. But he retains his martial arts ability and his ability to "think on his feet."

So sit back and enjoy.

The Getaway

The Getaway (1972) PG
Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw are coupled in this gangster getaway adventure, reminiscent of Bonnie & Clyde. Both characters are in a badly flawed relationship. The story starts when McQueen gets paroled from prison by a dirty sheriff to rob a local bank. Of course, it’s a setup. As the action heats up and everything goes bad, one of the robbers takes two hostages, one being Sally Struthers (All in the Family) who outperforms herself as the unfaithful wife.

There are car chases, shootouts, and a trip to a garbage dump. The acting of McQueen and MacGraw raise the level of the story.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (2011)
From page one, this story of a big pharmaceutical company plunging into the Amazon to investigate the development of drugs and, incidentally, the death of one of its doctors intrigued me. The story gathers momentum as the scene moves from Minnesota to the jungles of the Amazon. The characters are often flawed but so human. For a real thriller offering so much to think about, try Ann Patchett.

To read an expert from the book check this article from NPR here.

Wild Target

Wild Target (2010) PG-13
Bill Nighy plays Victor Maynard, the best hitman in the business. The only trouble is that Victor has no friends and no life beyond his profession. When outrageous thief and conman Rose (Emily Blunt) becomes his next target, Victor just cannot manage to get the job done. Soon Victor, Rose and hapless man-in-the-wrong-place-at the wrong-time Tony (Rupert Grint, Ronald Weasley of Harry Potter fame) are all hiding out from the new hitmen hired to wipe them all out.

If you like black comedy, this movie is laugh out loud funny, right up to the last frame. For another sympathetic hitman, see Pierce Brosnan in The Matador (2005).

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand (2010)
Let me just say up front that I loved Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit. It is probably my favorite nonfiction book. Well, I think, she’s done it again with Unbroken, the biography of an extraordinary U.S. Army Air Force officer, Louie Zamperini, who was shot down over the Pacific. Laura Hillenbrand has presented a remarkable story of human endurance. Zamperini’s story, like Seabiscuit’s, is eternal and inspirational.

On a mission over the South Pacific, Zamperini was the bombardier on a B-24. When the plane crashes, he finds himself floating on a raft with little provision for survival. After more than a month on the raft, starving, thirsty and chased by sharks, the ordeal ends with the survivors being captured by the Japanese and imprisoned in a hellish Japanese POW camp.

Hillenbrand is an historian and biographer who places herself at the service of her subjects; this makes her books a rare combination of writer and story. Though her prose is short and straightforward, her books are written with a rich and vivid narrative voice that keeps you involved through even the worst of Zamperini’s ordeal.

Read an excerpt of the book here.

Jubal

Jubal (1956)
Rancher Shep Horgan (Ernest Borgnine) saves drifter Jubal Troop (Glenn Ford) from freezing to death and takes him to his ranch. Shep is a big happy puppy dog of a man who takes an instant liking to Jubal and hires him on as a ranch hand. Jubal, who has had a troubled past, forms a friendship with Shep and later reveals the only man he ever previously trusted was his father. Eventually Shep promotes Jubal to ranch foreman.

Jubal's immediate future looks good but there are two significant obstacles to his future happiness. One of them is Shep's wife Mae (Valerie French), who has been unfaithful in the past and now sets her sights on Jubal. His other problem is "Pinky" Pinkum (Rod Steiger) a malicious ranch hand who hates everyone (himself included).

Jubal has much to recommend it. The musical score is hauntingly beautiful. The cinematography is gorgeous. And Rod Steiger gives a compelling performance. I was somewhat surprised to discover that this film did not receive any academy award nominations.

I strongly recommend this film. Check back on Friday for our spotlight on other films released in 1956.

Inception

Inception (2010) PG-13
This futuristic thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio operates on the premise that your mind can be hijacked while you are sleeping and your thoughts can be both stolen or changed by dream invasion. This film earned almost $300 million at the box office to prove how worthy it is, but the film falls flat for me (check out Rotten Tomatoes to see what the critics think). Although the special effects are dramatic (and Oscar worthy), the plot is confusing and character development is ignored.

Director Christopher Nolan’s talents are much better displayed in the Batman film The Dark Knight (2008) starring Christian Bale and Heath Ledger or in his groundbreaking film Memento (2000) which is told from a backwards point of view.

The Wrecker by Clive Cussler

The Wrecker by Clive Cussler (2009)
I’ve read many of his books and they’re all such nonstop action that I find myself listening to one of his books on CD in the car during long road trips. I hate to turn off the car in the middle of a chapter!

Detective Isaac Bell makes his second appearance (after The Chase) in this historical thriller. Preview the book--take care you may get hooked!

The Dam Busters

The Dam Busters (1954)
British command during WWII is desperate to disrupt German production in the Ruhr Valley. Toward that end, they devise a clever and complicated plan to blow up crucial dams on the Ruhr River. Eccentric genius B. N. Wallis, played by Michael Redgrave, has devised a bomb that will bounce across the surface of the water and explode as it reaches the exact optimum depth. The only trouble is that the bomb must be dropped at a very precise height from a plane going a very precise speed at a very precise distance.

The first two-thirds of the movie explores the ingenious ways in which these problems are solved and the last third is the exciting mission itself. For those who liked The Man Who Never Was (1956), a movie about another British and American plan to mislead the Germans.

Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park (1993) PG-13Jurassic Park is a classic that gives you a look at what a dinosaur would look like, how it would move, and how it would sound. Some scientists are invited to a remote island theme park with living, breathing dinosaurs. The theme park erupts into chaos and turns deadly.

The dinosaurs are loose because the power goes out and it’s up to these scientists to survive the battle. Adventure awaits in every corner.

The movie is based on the book by Michael Crichton. Two thumbs up!

If you enjoyed this film, you may also like E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Jaws.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) PG-13
Pilgrim (Michael Cera from Juno and Superbad) plays bass guitar in a Toronto garage band. He’s dating a high school girl, but meets his dream girl, Ramona Flowers, a punky American girl closer to his own age. The story is told as an allegory of life as a video game, complete with extra lives and the need to out-fight one’s enemies. Scott soon finds out he must defeat Ramona’s 7 evil exes before they can date. Not just another teen movie, the movie appeals to a much wider range of fans. Watch for an uncredited appearance by Thomas Jane (The Punisher) as one of the Vegan Police.

One of the writers of this film (Edgar Wright) also co-wrote the clever zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead (2004). Bryan Lee O'Malley wrote the graphic novels the movie was based on.