Thursday, December 14, 2017
Movies

Behind the camera, he joins elite crowd

By Steve Persall

Times Movie Critic

Ben Affleck appeared sheepish for a change, the lone American and only household name on a Telluride Film Festival panel of directors depicting political history on screen.

Much of the open-air discussion amid Colorado mountains focused on terrorism, genocide, Holocaust memories. Then there was Affleck, wincing when the moderator mentioned Pearl Harbor in his introduction. Affleck was "deeply, fantastically humbled" that a crowd pleaser like Argo earned him a place alongside such committed filmmakers.

"These guys make these really heavy, powerful movies," Affleck said. "I have Alan Arkin telling jokes in my movie."

Argo, based on the true story of a bold 1980 rescue of U.S. hostages in Iran, will likely sell more tickets in one day than the other five directors' movies will combined. Affleck did his best to convince the audience — and maybe himself — that he belonged.

"My movie is really just a piece of entertainment," he conceded, "but what I really wanted to do was to shroud inside that — inside the funny stuff, inside the thriller stuff — some themes, like the unintended consequences of revolution."

Argo begins with an animated primer on U.S.-Iran politics before 1980, including CIA efforts to overthrow a democratically elected leader and install a despot. The Shah of Iran's actions sparked a counterrevolution leading to the capture of 52 U.S. Embassy workers, with a half-dozen escaping. Their rescue is the basis for a crackerjack thriller, but that's not all Affleck wants his movie to be.

"Hopefully it raises questions about why we continue to get into the business of getting into business with people," Affleck said, "and how it is that we predict what's going to happen when we organize these group revolutions. This sort of capricious way we tend to ascribe democracy to one and tyranny to another. Of course it's applicable to the Arab Spring, to Tunisia, Libya and Egypt."

In Argo, Affleck plays CIA agent Tony Mendez, whose ambivalence about U.S. actions sparking the hostage crisis complicates the mission.

"The interesting thing about this character was that he was aware of how policies of the CIA had put them in the place they were in," Affleck said. "He still wanted in some measure to try and make it right. This idea of not giving up is noble."

Later, Affleck directed that idea to the other filmmakers, after hearing them speak passionately about their projects and dismally about their prospects of reaching audiences.

"I also would caution the other members of this panel to keep in mind to ward off your cynicism," Affleck said. "There are those of us in America who get our education from movies.

"We know about (John) Adams because we saw Paul Giamatti with his hat on, marching around on HBO. We learn about Lincoln because we see Daniel Day-Lewis in a Spielberg movie, and that's going to form a lot of people's opinions.

"There really is a great deal of information that gets passed to the audience, and we tend to actually be quite trusting. We take for granted that what we're watching must have been somehow vetted. It must, in fact, be true. When people see these films they will believe them."

Big applause from an audience won over by Affleck's candor and humility. He belonged, although the notion was mocked by a wiseguy in the crowd.

"It's an honor to speak to such an esteemed panel," said the man at the Q&A microphone, "and also to you, Ben."

Affleck shrugged, smiled and politely responded: "Have a wonderful night."

Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365.

Comments
Disney buying large part of 21st Century Fox in $52.4 billion deal

Disney buying large part of 21st Century Fox in $52.4 billion deal

NEW YORK — Disney is buying a large part of the Murdoch family’s 21st Century Fox for about $52.4 billion in stock, including film and television studios and cable and international TV businesses, as it tries to meet competition from technology compa...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Now isn’t a good time for Woody Allen to make a bad movie but ‘Wonder Wheel’ is awful

Now isn’t a good time for Woody Allen to make a bad movie but ‘Wonder Wheel’ is awful

Now isn’t a good time for Woody Allen to make a bad movie, while broken silence resurrects whispers of his own alleged sexual misconduct.Wonder Wheel (PG-13) is exactly what the 82-year-old Oscar winner doesn’t need, a reason beyond social outrage fo...
Published: 12/13/17
Star Wars: The Last Jedi has everything The Force Awakens was missing

Star Wars: The Last Jedi has everything The Force Awakens was missing

When The Force Awakens landed two years ago, it was everything Star Wars fans wanted yet not entirely what we needed. It was a rousing tribute missing its own vision, introducing new characters and crises hinting at old ones. Star Wars: The Last Jed...
Published: 12/12/17
13 new movies you have to see over the holiday season

13 new movies you have to see over the holiday season

Hollywood has enough movies left to get everyone through the holidays plus any New Year’s hangover. Many are aiming for awards glory, a few are just here for the party. The really serious contenders won’t open nationwide until early 2018...
Published: 12/12/17
Six places to see a movie and eat dinner at the same time

Six places to see a movie and eat dinner at the same time

Back in my day ...Go on. Say the words. Apply it to the cost of movies. Once a casual weekend outing, seeing a flick can be an enormously expensive experience in streaming-happy 2017. Tickets can climb upwards of $15 these days, depending on the thea...
Published: 12/11/17
Updated: 12/13/17
Golden Globe-nominated movies and when to see them in Tampa Bay

Golden Globe-nominated movies and when to see them in Tampa Bay

Guillermo Del Toro’s romantic creature feature The Shape of Water soaked up seven Golden Globes nominations Monday, kicking off another marathon awards season. The Shape of Water is nominated for best dramatic motion picture alongside Christop...
Published: 12/11/17
Updated: 12/12/17
‘Shape of Water,’ ‘Big Little Lies’ lead Golden Globes

‘Shape of Water,’ ‘Big Little Lies’ lead Golden Globes

Guillermo del Toro’s Cold War-era fairytale "The Shape of Water" swam away with a leading seven nominations from the Golden Globes, while the HBO drama "Big Little Lies" led television nominees with six nods. In what’s being viewed as a wide-open Osc...
Published: 12/11/17
Five offbeat movie choices to get you away from the multiplex this week

Five offbeat movie choices to get you away from the multiplex this week

Hollywood is backloading December, waiting for Star Wars: The Last Jedi to bring moviegoers back to multiplexes. After no major releases last week, only James Franco’s The Disaster Artist is making any new impression at box offices this weekend. (Cli...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/12/17
Olaf is being let go: Olaf short is being dropped from Disney-Pixar’s ‘Coco’

Olaf is being let go: Olaf short is being dropped from Disney-Pixar’s ‘Coco’

Winter is still weeks away but everyone’s favorite snowman is already melting from view.In a cruel twist on Frozen’s showstopper, Olaf is being let go.Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, the 21-minute animated "short" preceding Disney-Pixar’s Coco in theaters w...
Published: 12/05/17
‘The Disaster Artist’ takes us inside ‘The Room’ as it notoriously happened

‘The Disaster Artist’ takes us inside ‘The Room’ as it notoriously happened

James Franco found a kooky, kindred spirit in Tommy Wiseau, The Disaster Artist whose 2003 cine-trocity The Room is hailed as one of the worst movies ever.Like Wiseau, Franco can be accused of stretching his talent way too far. Unlike Wiseau, Franco ...
Published: 12/04/17