Guy Guys Argo, The Master, Skyfall, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Flight
There are a lot of guys in movies right now. Guy guys. Guys who are strong yet vulnerable. Guys who are cool yet emotionally wounded. Guys who get the job done. It's a good time to be a guy in movies. Even though the going might be rough, the guys usually get through it okay. At the very least, they'll get laid.
Argo is both directed by and stars Ben Affleck. I am not an Affleck hater. I thought he stole every scene of Good Will Hunting, but he was a doomed movie star. He's at his best when he's playing off his fellow actors in a role that doesn't draw attention to himself.
Affleck plays the lead character in Argo, but the other actors are the stars. His character has a job to do (the job is an important guy guy trait). He has to get six Americans hiding in Iran out of the country. To do this, he has to create a fake movie, so that they can pretend to be a Canadian film crew and leave. Will he get them out? We know he gets them out since Argo is based on recent history. However, I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat. How the heck will he get them out?
I saw the film with a Los Angeles crowd who laughed heartily at the Hollywood/fake movie scenes and tour de force performances by John Goodman and Alan Arkin. To me, the film got the most interesting when it focused on the six Americans in hiding. They were really really scared---not horror film scared, real people scared. When Affleck's character showed up to get them out, I worried not for Affleck who was just this guy guy doing his job, but for the six. Did they have it in them to get on the plane? Will they find the confidence to be Canadian?
The Master has a lot of confidence as a film. I liked Paul Thomas Anderson's last film, There Will Be Blood, because it didn't reach out and beg me to like it. It also had Daniel Day Lewis. The Master has the heroic trio of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, and Amy Adams. If you were to reduce it to a formula: (PSH+JP)/AA=DDL/PD with PD equaling Paul Dano.
The Master is a fiction based loosely on the founding of scientology. It has not one but two guy guys. There's Freddie, the younger/son/James Dean-esque guy guy. He's played by Joaquin Phoenix who has so much power in his powerlessness that you wonder why he would need a master. He stumbles into the world of the Master (not to be confused with Master Blaster) the older/father/Orson Welles-esque guy guy. He's played by Philip Seymour Hoffman who should just have his own acting award category.
You will either love or hate The Master. It's audacious and bold. It's a film about a America that looks and feels like no other American film. It takes on a sexuality and man's place in the universe.
But. . .but. . .
Somewhere in the middle, I lost interest. During the some of the Master's exercises, I felt I was watching a bad acting class. I wasn't getting enough variation on the theme of man and his master. Still, I held on until the end. I won't tell you how it ends, but The Master ends well. There are no milkshakes.
Skyfall ends, then ends, then ends. However, this is an ending that involved Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, the great Judi Dench, and lots of explosions and stuff.
James Bond is back. He is fifty (the series is fifty years old). He is old and popping pills. He has failed all his physical tests. He looks like he hasn't seen a carb in months. But M (Judi Dench) believes in him. M knows he can do his job. He might not be qualified but saving the world from an evil mastermind requires qualities not found on a resume.
I love how Daniel Craig's Bond runs---focused like a soldier. He's not a romantic and deals only with the essentials. And yes, he's hot.
Wait, I need a moment. Okay.
I enjoyed spending two hours watching Daniel Craig and Judi Dench do their thing. Of all the women in the three Daniel Craig Bond films, M is not only the only woman who matches him. She dominates him. She knows who he is and lets him be. He is the international playboy super spy. She is the government bureaucrat and (oh yes) his boss. Who says a sexy woman has to be twenty and a super model? What if she's seventy something?
Doris Kearns Goodwin actually admitted that she found Lincoln sexy on the Stephen Colbert show.
Spielberg's Lincoln, played by Daniel Day Lewis (aha! I knew he'd pop up eventually), is tall and listens a lot---most of the time with his back to the camera in silhouette. I could see how he could be a thinking woman's sexy ideal. He's such a presidential guy guy. He's got a job to do---he's gotta end slavery and the Civil War. All he has to do is get the 13th Amendment to pass through congress (spoiler alert: it passed). Meanwhile, his son wants to enlist, his wife has headaches, his youngest son is obsessed with slave portraits, and the White House in winter is cold.
Lincoln---he's just this guy or is he? Spielberg never lets us forget that Lincoln is LINCOLN even with Daniel Day-Lewis doing his best to not be iconic or too actorly.
The film gets really fun when we go to the House of Representatives and get to watch Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens call a right honorable gentleman opposing the Amendment a reptile. That's some crazy democracy.
Films and plays about mental illness annoy me---usually because they are filled with pyschobabble and actors doing their best to act crazy to win awards. All of the characters in Silver Linings Playbook are crazy, but they are all trying to act as normal as possible.
Bradley Cooper (yes, Bradley Cooper, he can act) plays the lead character, Pat, as if he's not crazy at all even though he's popping meds, just came out of a mental hospital, and goes running with a trash bag over himself (it burns more calories). Still, Pat looks at the world and it all makes sense to him. He has a plan. He just has to keep a positive attitude.
When Pat meets a young depressed widow named Tiffany (greatest meeting of name and character in recent memory) played by Jennifer Lawrence, he doesn't necessarily find a kindred spirit but someone who takes him as he is.
Comedy in David O. Russell movies tends to sneak up on me. He takes us into worlds which are slightly off. Like in The Fighter and I Heart Huckabees, I found myself laughing with the characters not at them.
He also is not afraid to show family in all its complex wackiness. There's no it's-all-your-fault-mom-and-dad scene. There's no easy cure. Characters are who they are. And someday the Philadelphia Eagles will win it all.
From Philadelphia, we travel down to Atlanta, the setting of Flight directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Denzel Washington. I usually avoid addiction films because they are self-righteous and filled with actors doing their best to act drunk/stoned to win awards.
But there's something about Denzel Washington. Even when he's stumbling around with eyes glazed over, he is still the most handsome man on film. He plays an airline pilot who manages to land a broken plane and save almost everyone on board. Yes, he is a guy guy. His name is Whip Whitacker. Great guy guy name. One small detail: he had raided the vodka in the drink cart right before the crash.
The crash happens in the beginning of the film and is pretty exciting. Don't worry, we don't get an excess of crash flashbacks with the pilot sitting up in bed in a cold sweat. Instead, Whip must face a government investigation and scrutiny from the press. Fortunately, he gets laid and has a supply of cheap booze.
Someone once told me in a bar that a sign of alcoholism is that you don't taste the booze, and Whip drinks down some atrocious tasting booze. I especially appreciated the Ketel One shown in close up. I've never been a Ketel One fan. By the way, if there was an acting award for inanimate objects, I would give it to the booze bottles in Flight. Denzel Washington looks at them with such love, but they don't love him back.
So who is the guy guy of the year? Well, the year's not over yet. I'm gonna stop here before the hobbit and his gang along with the singing Wolverine and Gladiator show up.