Tag Archive: John Goodman


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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People applauded!

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

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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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The Xmas Vaca Movie-Watching Post

Over the holidays, I did some movie watching (gee, what a surprise) with the other movie freak in my family, my mom, and went to see a flick at the theater with her and also one with my brother.  It was a banner movie-watching holiday!  Here are some observations about these movies, old and new.

It’s Complicated Is Simply Funny

This is a silly film that could have been a throw-away in lesser hands. But the loads of talent involved in It’s Complicated makes it hilarious and very worth watching. Who would have thought that an older-set romance could be so much fun?  My favorite moment was probably when Meryl Streep, all giggly from realizing she’s having an affair with her ex-husband and even lying to her grown kids about it, catches herself and suddenly realizes how goofy she’s being — priceless facial expressions.  John Krasinski is adorable as the secret-keeping Harley.  B+

The Blind Side Is an After-School Special

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad film. But after all the hype I had heard, frankly I expected more. The Blind Side follows in the tradition of movies based on sports-connected true stories like Rudy and We Are Marshall but fails to inspire in the way that these films did. Why is that? One reason may be the lack of loquacity of its main character. Big Mike doesn’t talk much. It’s part of his character and makes sense, but it also makes it difficult for an audience to connect with him. The lack of connection is aggravated by other characters talking about and to him in simple terms. The after-school special feel of the film comes from its simplistic treatment of complex issues. It surely could not have been quite so easy for Leigh Anne Tuohy to get her family on board and to keep her household in order. Were there really no fights, no ill effects, no resistance? One small glitch is hinted at when Leigh Anne tells Michael he’s ruining the expensive couch he’s sleeping on, so she’ll clean out the guest bedroom for him. Perhaps it would have helped to see this damage and other understandable domestic complications, making the story more realistic at a visceral level. She’s also able to quiet friends and relatives with a “Shame on you” when they worry about “a large black boy” in the house with her young daughter. I don’t know many good friends or real family who wouldn’t storm over to see just how this situation was shaping up. Despite Oscar buzz, I see this as a rental.  C-  Continue reading

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