Archive for December, 2012


It must be the month to watch John Goodman—I guess with a big white beard, he’d make one heck of a Santa, so it’s appropriate! I enjoyed seeing him in Argo earlier in the month, and in Red State, he shines as the ATF agent stuck in the mad and mucky middle between heavily armed religious zealots and equally heavily armed government agents.

images2I’m a big fan of writer/director Kevin Smith’s irreverent work based on astute observation and study. Case in point: Dogma, Smith’s 1999 controversial masterpiece—a satirical, fantasy-filled look at church doctrine—shows that the man knows scripture, politics, pop culture, and even rationalizations, and he’s able to incorporate his scrutiny of any topic into an entertaining package with amazing performances and memorable scenes.

Red State is no different, and it provokes discomfort similar to that of Dogma when it was released. Purposefully, Smith released Red State film himself in 2011 (yeah, don’t ask me why it took me so long to watch and review it—I have no excuse) to ensure full creative integrity. The basic story is like a triptych: “Sex” is a segment in which teens (Ronnie Connell, Michael Angarano, and Nichals Braun) images4are lured by a sex website to visit a woman (Melissa Leo) who promises to sleep with them all but instead drugs them and has her cohorts take them away. This brings us to “Religion,” in which these fundamentalists of the Five Points Church—mostly made up of one big family, led by a blustery patriarch (Michael Parks)—take their campaign of intolerance to the next level, professing that homosexuals are not really people and God wants the righteous to exact their wrath on them. They begin killing the boys. Meanwhile, “Politics” is busy investigating Five Points, without knowing about the ill-fated kidnappings. They show up with the local sheriff (Stephen Root) in tow, who really messes things up and turns the church-ATF standoff into an all-out gunfight. But the true objective here, not embraced by everyone, is to sweep the fanatics under the rug for good.

images3It’s a not a “fun” film to watch. For starters, it’s not nearly as humorous as Smith’s other work. Based on Smith’s longstanding beef with Fred Phelps and the infamous Westboro Baptist Church (the Kansas-based fruitcakes who picket funerals with signs that read “God hates fags”), the film hits nerves straight out of news headlines. Primarily, it point out how people on all sides of issues tend to descend into ideology they convince themselves about and then pervert to various ends.

The best line in the movie kind of sums up the whole point. Goodman’s character, when asked why he disobeyed orders, tells the story of how his grandmother had two bloodhounds from the same litter, inseparable and loving, until the day he threw them a single bone and watched them turn vicious to fight over it. What he learned about human nature from it is “People just do the strangest things when they believe they’re entitled. But they do even stranger things when they just plain believe.”

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Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders: A Writer's (and Editor's) Guide to Keeping Historical Fiction Free of Common Anachronisms, Errors, and Myths
Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders: A Writer’s (and Editor’s) Guide to Keeping Historical Fiction Free of Common Anachronisms, Errors, and Myths by Susanne Alleyn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent, quick, and amusing read … and SOOO illuminating! Medieval Underpants reminded me a bit of reading Bill Bryson’s work, filled with clever quips and tons of factoids. Alleyn does a fabulous job of pulling together examples from literature and film to illustrate the howlers that writers just get “all wrong” about clothing, hygiene, money, food, and myriad other topics when portraying the past in various lands. This is a must-read for aspiring authors of historical fiction, but also a fun read for the rest of us!

People applauded!

(And my always-and-forever admiration for Ben Affleck, this film’s director and star, is affirmed.)

argo-ben-affleck-movie-posters-ggnoads

I was late to the game on this one—it’s been out for over seven weeks now—and yet the audience in the half-filled theater on the day I saw it cheered when the protagonists succeeded (though everyone knows how the based-on-real-events story ends).  That’s pretty rare nowadays, with today’s audiences being jaded and blase about almost everything.

imageArgo is unlike many suspense-filled films today, which are filled with twists, explosions, and chases in an effort to get a reaction out of those jaded audiences. But it also is unlike some thoughtful yet rather boring docudramas that depict important but neglected events. It seems to deftly walk a fine line between eye-opening and heart-stopping.  Its taut atmosphere reminded me of classic political thrillers like All the President’s Men and more recent nail-biters like The Contender. But Argo had something these films lacked for the most part: a perfect smattering of appropriate comic relief, mainly provided by Alan Arkin (one of my favorite stone-faced comic actors EVER) and John Goodman. In fact, Arkin is first to utter what has become the movie’s popular tagline among viewers: “Argo F*** Yourself.”

ArgoMainLike most films based on historical events, Argo plays fast and loose with some of the facts. However, even the most disparaging of critics agree that it manages to recreate the look and feel and happenings of the 1980 stage.  I was discouraged (but not all that surprised, because it seems to be a national hobby these days) that a few critics actually faulted the film for depicting Iranians in a poor light or spouting propaganda. HUH?  And how might you tell the story of a daring and clandestine rescue without showing why it was important—because the American embassy was literally invaded and Americans were being executed in the street?  And to delve into the political wisdom of not returning the shah to Iran back then, well … that’s a few decades too late.  This is what happened, and this is what the film is about.

Ben-Affleck-Tate-Donovan-and-Scoot-McNairy-in-ArgoI think the point of the film is not to reevaluate and judge whether the correct measures were taken in 1980.  I think the point is the one that the applauding audience received loud and clear: This was one of the most impressive and heroic international cooperative efforts for a rescue mission in history; the CIA and the Canadian government truly shined in their roles to pull off a miracle.

Punctuating the film’s re-creation of the past, the ending features a fascinating montage of photos from 1980 juxtaposed with stills from the film. 121018_CB_ArgoMarkLijek.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-largeThis is accompanied by commentary from people who were involved in the event, including a message from then-president Jimmy Carter.

Argo was written by Chris Terrio, writer and director of Heights (2005), based on The Master of Disguise by Antonio J. Mendez and The Great Escape by Joshuah Bearman, and produced by Affleck, George Clooney, and Grant Heslov. In addition to those already mentioned, the cast is wonderfully rounded with impeccable actors including Bryan Cranston, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Christopher Denham, and Kyle Chandler.

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