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A Note on Argo, Beasts and a Queen…

Illustration by Concepción Studios

ARGO First, I need to address Ben Affleck directly and say, what the hell happened? I thought I knew where our relationship stood. When we first met you were working at the Fashionable Male asking underage girls to call you Donny and I was a burgeoning cinephile that was (and often still am) amused with immature antics. ‘Good Will Hunting’ was great, in fact in 1998 I watched it a handful of times in theaters but according to Seth MacFarlane you just lounged on Damon’s couch smoking all his weed then attached your name to it before sending it to Harvey. So you’re involvement there was dubious, or it was to me then. And I thought we were going to settle in to a relationship where I placate you (and whatever girl I’m dating) by renting Forces Of Nature on DVD and I would simply look the other way as you drift in and out of high profile relationships where you do cutesy things like buy each other matching Bentleys.I did this because you kept a very healthy sense of humor about both your movies and your public relationships. But you had to go and ruin my entire perception of you. With Gone Baby Gone, The Town and especially with Argo I need to respect you not just for your sense of humor but now for a ridiculous amount of talent.

I finally saw Argo while on a shoot in Seattle at a  fantastic little theater, SIFF Cinema Uptown. It was raining, it was cold, I had just been working for about 15 hours and I was practically alone in the theater; it was a prime situation to fall asleep if the movie had lost my interest for even a moment, and yet I found myself so engaged it felt as though I had a second wind.  Affleck, you handled a serious subject matter very delicately while breaking the tension with moments of much needed levity as though you were a veteran, master story-teller. Where did this remarkable sensibility come from? Is it possible to have learned it from time on the sets of BouncePearl Harbor, Gigli and Daredevil? Come the end of the film I knew what was going to happen but I sat with clenched fist saying to myself, “this is stupid, this is so dramatized, I know this isn’t exactly how it happened, God! I hope they get away!” You hooked me! You son of a bitch! I was along for the whole ride. Your use of Goodman and Arkin was brilliant, your casting of the hostages was near perfect, and I admired your direction of the camera. It must’ve been aggravating in your career working for less talented directors thinking “I can direct better than this guy.” Our relationship has changed forever and I give you full respect as a director as I anxiously wait for your next project. (I started writing this before the Oscar nominations were announced, and now that they are I can say, Affleck got shafted!)

Beasts of the Southern Wild Several years back I was incredibly excited for the release of Spike Jonze’s Where The Wild Things Are. I don’t think I was alone in that. Anyone who saw that trailer and didn’t want to rush to the cinema must just hate happiness. And then it disappointed. In fact, looking back at trailer I want to give the movie another shot, but I’ve seen it twice and nothing about it lives up to the trailer.  My recommendation is watch that trailer then see Beasts of the Southern Wild.  Everything Jonze could’ve hoped to achieve was achieve by director Benh Zeitlin and he was able to do it in less time (both in production and on screen). Watching the film I felt nostalgic about my childhood and was jealous of the young as they get to discover the world, uncovering each sound (the sound design was spectacular), investigating how everything links together and where they fit in.  Young Quvenzhané Wallis portrays a strength in character that carried the main arc of the film.  She played a range of raging feelings, conflicting desires and in the end confronted her beast-like emotions and didn’t back down. There is a story of a Hushpuppy and you all need to experience it. (this morning the film was given a handful of nominations and they deserved each one – even deserved ones they didn’t get, like Best Supporting Actor for Dwight Henry)  

Queen of Versailles I was expected to despise the main character in Queen of Versailles, a former beauty queen and model-turned-trophy wife.  In fact, there is plenty to loathe about this character and the lifestyle she represents in the film, but surprisingly there is plenty to admire.  Her motivations are always from her heart and her dedication to her family is something lacking in most households.  However, buying three truck loads of Christmas presents and thousands of dollars on caviar and parties all the while your husband is unable to pay any of his debts goes beyond reckless spending becoming a compulsion to spend that is endemic in our society. Therein lies the true depth of this documentary.  What started out as a documentary of the building of the country’s largest single family home, a small replica of the French palace Versailles, became a larger allegory of excessive greed that caused our nation’s economic collapse. Amazingly, the men who made terrible choice in their excessive spending blamed the banks for getting them addicted to cheap money, like a drug addict blaming his dealer for offering the drugs.  And in the end there was a glimmer of hope that maybe the supposed King of Versailles learned from his downfall.  At the beginning of the film David Siegel (The “King”), says that he’s building this palatial home because he can and by the end he concludes that we shouldn’t be spending money we don’t have. Now that’s a novel idea.

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