#299. Ben Affleck

Have you ever tried to be something you’re not? Do you know someone who has succeeded at one talent, only to try and capitalize on the success by attempting a different talent? While Hollywood is filled with actors who want to be directors and directors who want to be actors, very few of them can succeed in both realms at the same time. Take Clint Eastwood, for instance. He was a great actor back in his heyday, and now he’s a great director, but there wasn’t much time where he was both. Somewhat similarly, Ben Affleck has shown he is an excellent director as of late, but his early acting efforts were not quite as exemplary. Perhaps Affleck has finally found his niche after being lauded for his writing skills early in his career. Of course, he still enjoys his time in front of the camera as well. This week’s two films look at the directing and acting of Ben Affleck.

ArgoArgo
Year: 2012
Rating: R
Length: 120 minutes / 2.0 hours

At age 25, Ben Affleck (along with his friend, Matt Damon) won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Good Will Hunting (1997). While he had acted in a few films before, including two by director Kevin Smith (Mallrats (1995) and Chasing Amy (1997)), none of his roles could ever be taken seriously. Instead of pursuing his writing, Affleck ended up appearing in numerous films, most of which were forgettable or terrible (most still say Gigli (2003) is the worst film ever made). And yet, when he started directing full-length films, his acting seemed to improve almost overnight. Within five years from his directorial debut, Affleck would win his second Oscar, this time for the Best Picture, Argo (2012). While he also appeared in the leading role of this film, his performance was much better than most of his previous attempts.

Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is astounded to learn there are no viable plans to rescue the six escapees of the Iranian hostage crisis. While his exfiltration skills are top notch, he doesn’t have any better ideas. After a phone call with his son, while Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) is playing in the background, he is struck with inspiration. Using the cover of a Canadian film crew performing site surveys for a sci-fi film, Tony heads to Iran to help coach the six individuals through his plan. Even though all the prep work in Hollywood has been done to make the film look like it is real, the hoax only works on the ground if the six diplomats can manage to convince the Iranian security forces that it’s truly what they’re there for. In the moment of truth, the group head to Tehran International Airport and attempt to leave the country the only way they can.

The TownThe Town
Year: 2010
Rating: R
Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours

In 2007, Ben Affleck put on his writing cap and wrote the screenplay for Gone Baby Gone. Despite having directed a short film much earlier in his career, Gone Baby Gone was his first feature-length film as a director. While he did not appear in the film, leaving the leading role to his brother, Casey Affleck, when 2010 rolled around, he was back in front of the camera (as well as behind it) for The Town. Once again, audiences could see that Affleck does have a talent for writing, as he wrote the screenplay for The Town as well. Despite the uproar of his casting as Bruce Wayne / Batman in the DC cinematic universe, this role, along with Nick Dunne in Gone Girl (2014), have shown Affleck takes his acting much more seriously now, perhaps as a result of his directing. Time will tell if his most recent writing and directorial effort, Live by Night (2017) will be as well received as Gone Baby Gone and The Town.

Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) is just one of a group of friends who grew up together and are now partners in crime. Along with Jem Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), Gloansy MacGloan (Slaine), and Dez Elden (Owen Burke), the four friends rob a bank and take the manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), hostage. After they release her, they realize she lives in their neighborhood and could potentially identify them to the police. To find out what she knows, Doug starts following her; but eventually, the two of them develop feelings for each other. Unfortunately, since the four friends are still rooted in the world of crime, they continue to make robberies. Because these heists still occur, they eventually find that the FBI has figured out who they are. The Feds perform a sting at Fenway based on intelligence they received from a jilted ex, with few of the crew managing to escape.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 deftly directed pieces by Ben Affleck

Bacon #: 2 (Shakespeare in Love / Colin Firth -> Where the Truth Lies / Kevin Bacon)

#248. Erased Memories

We all have memories we want to forget. Whether it’s the trauma of abuse from our youth or the stupid thing we said in an important meeting, everyone longs for a simple solution to erase our memories. Memory is such a fickle element of our minds, but it is usually driven by emotions. We are more likely to recall happy memories of a summer day when we smell a sun-drenched field. We are more likely to recall a hurtful breakup when a special song plays on the radio. We are more likely to recall an embarrassing firing when we see a particular business’ building. While just removing the stimulus for these memories is one way to help us forget, the underlying emotions still linger. As scientists research methods of restoring the memories of Alzheimer patients, nobody is performing the corollary research to help people forget. This week’s two films look at the repercussions of erasing one’s memories.

                                      Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Year: 2004
Rating: R
Length: 108 minutes / 1.8 hours

One of the most emotional times of a person’s life is during a relationship. There are the highs of the original infatuation, lingering thoughts, and spontaneous romance, but there are also the lows of disagreements, fights, and (sometimes) an eventual break-up. Needless to say, a break-up is one of the most depressing events that can happen in a person’s life (right up there with losing a job). Because the ending of a relationship is such a difficult set of emotions to deal with, all the previous, enjoyable emotions and memories are spoiled by the eventual split. We tend to associate songs, places, and items to our relationships that would otherwise have no emotional link in our lives. In removing our memories of these things, we can completely forget the relationship, were it not for the gaping hole in our heart that is still left behind.

Lacuna, Inc. is a firm based in New York City that can remove memories from a person’s brain. The main application of Lacuna’s technology is to remove memories of relationships. After Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) had her memories erased, Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) followed suit, undergoing the procedure after he learned she erased the memories of their time together. While in his subconscious, Joel attempts to save the good memories of the relationship, while having the bad memories fade away. Of course, Lacuna, Inc. is not above reproach in these procedures, their many employees using the technology to establish relationships with clients and erase their own infidelities. One of the employees learns about this and manages to steal these reports and disseminates them to all of Lacuna’s clients, giving them a second chance to decide their own fate.

Total RecallTotal Recall
Year: 1990
Rating: R
Length: 113 minutes / 1.88 hours

Because neural science is such a delicate field of medicine, little can be done to restore or erase memories. Granted, erasing memories can be easily achieved by blunt head trauma, but restoring them is a bit trickier. Perhaps this is why the idea of erasing and restoring memories is such a good topic for science fiction. Philip K. Dick has two short stories that deal with targeted memory erasure (like in Paycheck (2003)) and targeted memory restoration (like in Total Recall (1990)). Of course, the memory restoration in Total Recall is merely an accident, as the true ability of Rekall’s equipment is to implant false memories into a person’s mind to make them think they had actually done something they never had. Restoring true memories to a person’s mind is much more difficult, mostly due to the numerous variables at play when a memory is created (like in Inception (2010)).

Unlike Lacuna, Inc., Rekall is a company that implants memories of relaxing vacations into its clients’ minds. Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is an unassuming working-man who decides to get the procedure to satisfy his dreams of going to Mars. When the technician encounters a problem, Rekall erases the memories of Quaid’s visit to their facility. However, upon being attacked on his way home, Quaid finds the “secret agent” memories that were supposedly part of his Rekall vacation are still in his mind. In reality, he was a secret agent all along, but the memories of his job were erased after he was no longer needed. Now that his secret agent abilities have been reawakened, Quaid proceeds to take a trip to Mars to fulfill the dreams that had haunted him and provoked him to visit Rekall in the first place.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 missing memories

#161. Philip K. Dick

If there were one author who could spawn some of the greatest stories ever written, it would be Philip K. Dick. This prolific writer wrote almost 50 novels and nearly three times as many short stories in his 30-year career. Even though his life was cut short at 53 due to a stroke, his influence and stories have taken on a new life on the silver screen. In fact, only a few months after his death, the most celebrated of all film adaptations of his works was released: Blade Runner (1982). This first adaptation of the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? paved the way for many other adaptations, even if some of them weren’t as critically acclaimed as Blade Runner. This week, we will examine two films adapted from the prolific works of Philip K. Dick, extending his legacy out decades past his untimely death.

PaycheckPaycheck
Year: 2003
Rating: PG-13
Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours

One of the many themes we see through Dick’s writings is that of the mind. Even though we often consider our memories to be “truth,” we can usually be mistaken based on many factors including our perception of a situation in hindsight. If our memories can be adjusted due to a mere suggestion, what’s to say that memories can’t be removed or implanted? For instance, in We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, Dick writes about implanting memories of a lifestyle different from your own, dreary existence. This was adapted in Total Recall (1990 and 2012). Similarly, what if we can “remember” the future? What if knowing what will happen in the next two minutes could save your life? This is the plot of Next (2007), an adaptation loosely based on the short story, The Golden Man. Finally, the short story, Paycheck (2003), seeks to regain erased memories.

The erased memories of Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck) aren’t helping him out in the slightest. After a three-year job that was supposed to net him an obscenely large paycheck, he instead receives a smattering of random items with a total value under $5. To add insult to injury, the payroll office tells him that he signed away his fortune to replace it with those items a few weeks ago. Furthermore, the government wants to know what he was working on, which starts a game of cat-and-mouse as Michael evades the FBI and tries to retrace his steps to regain his memories. Along the way, the items he received as payment come in handy during crucial events, allowing him to continue to elude the federal agents and infiltrate the company where he worked for three years. Once he finds the machine he helped build, suddenly the items he gave himself make a lot more sense.

A Scanner DarklyA Scanner Darkly
Year: 2006
Rating: R
Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours

A few more themes often seen in the works of Philip K. Dick involve the government controlling our lives, as well as the effects of drugs on society. The adaptation of Minority Report (2002), which was a short story of the same name, shows how criminals can be controlled by a triad of psychics who can predict when and where crimes will happen, thereby allowing law enforcement to intercept the criminals before they commit the crimes. Another short story, The Adjustment Team, was adapted as The Adjustment Bureau (2011). In this story, the government is in control of our lives and will do whatever it takes to make sure we live out our destinies according to their plans. However, perhaps the most harrowing example of governmental control is that of A Scanner Darkly (2006), based on the novel of the same name.

I say that A Scanner Darkly is harrowing because it involves constant government surveillance of American citizens. Sound familiar? Not only is this another take on the surveillance society imagined in George Orwell’s 1984, but the revelations of the NSA spying on Americans makes it almost a prophetic story. Of course, the reasons for the increased surveillance are due to the prevalent spread and use of a hallucinogenic drug known as “Substance D.” Even undercover agents, like “Fred” (Keanu Reeves), have trouble keeping clean from the drug as they try to figure out where it’s coming from. In a bit of irony, “Fred” is tasked to watch the surveillance tapes of a suspected drug lord, Bob Arctor. The irony is that “Fred” and Bob are the same person, even if the drugs have caused him to think otherwise.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 stupendous science fiction stories

#160. “Time Travel”

We all would like to travel to the past. Perhaps we want to fix a problem with the world, or we just want to go back and prevent ourselves from making stupid mistakes. Whatever the reason, we have a desire to relive the past. Similarly, we are obsessed with the future because we can then predict the present. We can also take advantage of advances in technology if we manage to travel forward in time. Even though we all dream of time travel, the fact of the matter is that it is impossible. But what if there was a way to travel through time without physically doing so? What if we could see the future? What if we could influence the past? While there is no way to physically travel through time, some theoretical physics could allow for a few actions that might resemble time travel. This week’s two films examine time travel without actually traveling through time.

Donnie DarkoDonnie Darko
Year: 2001
Rating: R
Length: 113 minutes / 1.88 hours

The idea of a “Reset Button” has been covered in this blog before. While the desire to go back and correct our mistakes can be controllable, like in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010), it can also act outside of our control until we learn a deeper lesson about ourselves, like in Groundhog Day (1993). Occasionally, something that should have happened doesn’t. When this deviation from a predetermined path is created, the world will put its full force toward “fixing the glitch.” In the 2011 film, The Adjustment Bureau, these fixes were performed in real-time to direct the paths of individuals back to their destiny. But what if the new destiny is irreversible? In these instances, the world will rewind and restore itself through the successful execution of the event in question, even if it results in a disaster.

The disaster that begins Donnie Darko (2001) is that of a jet engine crashing into the bedroom of the titular character. Fortunately for Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal), he was sleepwalking away from his house when the incident happened. Unfortunately, during his walk, he came across a grotesque rabbit by the name of “Frank” who told him that the world will end in 28 days. As Donnie returns to his life as a high school student, Frank tells him to commit various crimes that end up revealing the darker side of many other individuals. At the same time, he has befriended Roberta Sparrow (Patience Cleveland), who wrote the book “The Philosophy of Time Travel.” This philosophy refers to an unstable “Tangent Universe” which can only last a few weeks. Donnie’s current universe is a Tangent Universe, which corrects itself with a vortex that consumes a jet engine and places it in Donnie’s bedroom, except with him now in it.

PaycheckPaycheck
Year: 2003
Rating: PG-13
Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours

Considering how much money is spent on “fortune telling,” we all desire to know what the future holds. From palm reading to horoscopes to crystal balls, all these methods do is give you generalities that could happen to anyone. But what if you could actually see through time? What if a machine was built that could bend time so the future could be observed? This predictive machine could easily be used to prevent tragedies; but, if it were to fall into the wrong hands, could actually be used to create the very tragedies it was meant to prevent. Physics can be an interesting beast sometimes, especially in its theoretical constructs. Black holes and traveling at the speed of light are both ways that physics says we could potentially look into the future. However, as it now stands, the only place where this could happen is in the realm of film.

Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck) works as a reverse engineer, but to keep from revealing the secrets he learns during his jobs, he receives a memory wipe at the successful completion of the project. For his time and skills, and the erasure of his memories, Michael receives a large paycheck from the company. However, a new project has emerged that will require a different type of memory wipe, since the project is supposed to last over many years. Once completed, Michael goes to pick up his paycheck, only to receive an envelope with a random assortment of useless items. Feeling like he was robbed, Michael sets forth to figure out where his money is and what he reverse engineered during the last three years. In doing so, he finds the useless items are links to his past and his future and must be used to solve the mystery hidden in his missing memories.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 trippy travels through time