Argo: The march toward the new inevitability that Ben Affleck will win an Oscar for directing continues. It may not happen this year or next, but mark my words: dude will have Best Director statuette to go with the Best Screenplay one that I like to imagine he has to share with Matt Damon even though I know that they each got their own within five to ten years. It’s on. After that, maybe he can set his sights on editing or cinematography; it would be kind of amazing if Ben Affleck systematically won major awards for every facet of film production except acting. I don’t say this as a knock on Affleck, who I never really disliked even at his 2003 nadir during which he appeared in approximately forty movies of middling to low quality (in fact, I believe I nominated him for a fake Oscar for his performance in Dogma back in ’99). I’m actually deeply impressed by the way that the Good Will Hunting boys have divided the labor after those mid-career growing pains. Damon will act almost exclusively in smart and adult-and/or-high-minded movies for good-or-better directors, Clooney-style; Affleck will make his own smart and adult-minded movies starring, well, various Afflecks. So far, this strategy has gone beautifully: Gone Baby Gone and The Town are both superior thrillers, and the awards-buzzed Argo sure looks to be in line, telling the semi-true story of a CIA specialist working to retrieve Americans stuck in the middle of the Iran hostage crisis. I’d suggest he try directing a comedy next, but I reckon that’ll depend on whether Argo makes it to the Oscars this year. I’m just saying: the Academy loves giving actors awards for non-acting gigs. Kevin Costner, Robert Redford, and Mel Gibson all have ’em; Affleck seems like he’s next in the actor-turned-director line. Don’t forget to thank Damon and Casey, bro!
Seven Psychopaths: Anyone who loved Martin McDonagh’s first feature, In Bruges, ought to be anticipating this new one; the trailers make it look a bit more manic and nineties-ish than In Bruges, but then, the trailers for that movie made it look more manic and nineties-ish than it actually was, too. Actually, the lunatic-heavy Psychopaths cast brings to my mind McDonagh’s last collaboration with Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell: A Behanding in Spokane, a funny (if somewhat inconsequential) play that gave veteran weirdo-hams Walken and Rockwell plenty of room to do their thing. It’s possible this approach could yield some unchecked actorly indulgences, but on the other hand, Walken has been making himself a little more scarce in recent years, and Rockwell almost certainly won’t be in Iron Man 3, so I’m up for a little ham-off with a side of Colin Farrell doing good acting rather than whatever Total Recall asked him to do (very little). If it comes with some meta-commentary about movie violence, fine.
Sinister: Sliding in between the omnibus found-footage feature V/H/S and the newest entry in the found-footage standard-bearing Paranormal Activity series comes a new horror movie that only has a little bit to do with faux-real shots of terrible things happening on home recordings. Sinister takes both a more classical and more literal approach to found footage: it’s about a true-crime writer (Ethan Hawke) actually, uh, finding footage! In this case, it’s eight-millimeter films of families hanging out, having fun, capering… and then meeting horrible untimely ends. Sinister itself doesn’t proceed with a handheld POV; in fact, director Scott Derrickson favors a smooth longer-take style, creating spaces of dread in the dark corners of the crime-victim house where an opportunistic Hawke has moved his family. The movie’s technical bona fides, then, are solid but, it must be said, don’t deliver the building dread and nightmare gut-punches of The Blair Witch Project or the first Paranormal Activity — high bars to clear, admittedly. As an old-fashioned psychologically-tinged horror movie (Hawke being a writer gives the movie a definite Stephen King shade), though, Sinister is respectable, if more for its filmmaking than horror-story construction; a lot of plot points sort of tumble out in exposition in the movie’s last half hour. Seeing it in close proximity to V/H/S does underscore just how many horror movies might work better as pieces anthologies — either on film, or a good weekly TV series.
Here Comes the Boom: Kevin James has been fully absorbed into the Happy Madison laff factory, and with non-Sandler-associated movies like Hitch and The Dilemma on his resume, I wouldn’t consider it a major loss. I do find it weird, though, that Kevin James slapstick comedy vehicles, like Adam Sandler slapstick comedy vehicles, are apparently run through this creative process where they come out with very little slapstick and not even that much comedy. I mean, Kevin James playing a high school teacher who decides to save his school by becoming an MMA fighter doesn’t sound like a very good movie, but it sounds like a pretty easy recipe for a Chris Farley-ish broad-comedy crowd-pleaser. The James working-class schmoe routine isn’t as endearing as Farley’s better work, but like Farley, he’s a graceful, talented physical comedian. Yet if you watch the trailer for Here Comes the Boom, it barely looks like the lowbrow romp it should be; it’s actually framed as a semi-serious movie about a broken-down school and the inspiring teacher who saves the day. Sure, there are a few pratfalls, but a lot of the laugh lines are what I’d call in-movie jokes — lines that are intended not as jokes to amuse the audience, but to let the audience know that the character in question is amusing everyone around him, and is therefore a pretty great guy. In-movie jokes, which usually include other characters cracking up at the mildness around them, have to be really damn good to work (Judd Apatow does them, although in his movies, the characters are usually too caught up in dialogue to smirk at each other’s lines — an important distinction in selling this type of humor, I think). So instead of funny things happening in Here Comes the Boom, you get the suggestion that things might be kind of funny, but you know, in a relatable, real-world sort of way! It even appears to have dim, washed out, blue-and-gray cinematography like something out of a Lionsgate movie, which is not necessarily what you expect from Happy Madison vet Frank Coraci. Doubtless the movie’s clear choice of sentiment over comedy will make the movie money, just as Grown Ups and Click barely bothering with actual fucking jokes has not ground Sandler’s career to a halt (indeed, That’s My Boy has more laughs than most Sandler vehicles of late, and audiences roundly rejected it). But there’s something kind of perverse about casting Kevin James in a silly, knockout premise, and then deciding what the movie should really do is make stupid people cry.
Atlas Shrugged Part 2: I like to imagine that following last night’s VP debate, Paul Ryan rushed out for his midnight showing of Atlas Shrugged Part 2, truly the Deathly Hallows of the contemptible dimestore-philosophy set. In other news: this movie totally exists, ignoring the market’s mandate that Atlas Shrugged movies cease production as they are unprofitable (seriously: $4.6 million gross on the last one! Even if this is somehow one of those mega-sequels that outgrosses the entire predecessor in a single weekend, you’d still pretty much have a bomb!).