Why I Changed My Mind: Ben Affleck

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My ex-boyfriend and I were at the movies in Reykjavik once when a preview for the film Hollywoodland, which starred Ben Affleck, appeared. The text that flies across the screen in the beginning of films with an authoritative voiceover read: “Academy Award Winner Ben Affleck” and my then-beau, despite hating people who talk in movies, whispered, “What? Ben Affleck won an Oscar?” At the time it was for his co-writing of Good Will Hunting, but seeing this “news” disappointed the guy – how could Ben Affleck win an Oscar? (Long before Argo won for best picture – note the guy isn’t likely to win any acting awards.)

Ben Affleck has long been the butt of jokes – we are not the first to make them, but the joking days may be (at least close to) over. After a lot of poor role and film choices and very public relationships (most notably with Jennifer Lopez), Affleck put his head down, made some good choices, started directing, married Jennifer Garner and had a family. I also would argue that he is not someone who overreaches – I respect actors who choose roles that may challenge some perceptions about them and may challenge their own abilities, but not so far out there that they become totally unbelievable. Affleck never bites off much more than he can chew.

The reason I decided to write about him now, though, is that I read in Mother Jones about his upcoming Congressional testimony on Congo. I don’t really like the way the article defends Affleck’s so-called authority on the subject:

“It’s pretty easy to laugh at the idea of the one-time Gigli and Pearl Harbor star now lecturing senators on atrocities in Central Africa. But the Oscar-winning future Batman knows his stuff. He isn’t some celebrity who just happened to open his mouth about a humanitarian cause (think: Paris Hilton and Rwanda). The acclaimed Argo director has repeatedly traveled to Congo and has even met with warlords accused of atrocities.” (Italicized emphasis mine.)

This kind of statement makes it sound as though just showing up a few times and having a few meetings with warlords imparts expertise. How do we know that these warlords did not just meet with Affleck because they liked Gigli and Pearl Harbor – and they spent their meetings talking about that together? I also don’t want to discount his expertise – I don’t know whether he has any or what the depth of it is.

Compared to a lot of people being named as ambassadors to countries they have never visited (see The Daily Show’s hilarious take on the “diplomat buyers club”) and have no connection to or knowledge of, I’d say Affleck’s got a leg up. I would also venture to say that most of the Congressional members hearing testimony from Affleck or from the line-up of Central Africa/Congo experts know nothing about the subject, if anything, about Africa as a whole. Comparatively speaking, Affleck is bloody well an expert.

Considered, reconsidered – I used to think Ben Affleck was a joke – as an actor, entertainer and, had someone laughably suggested, as a “Congo expert”. As I stated, though, the guy does not overreach when it comes to his acting, seems to have a healthy sense of self and good sense of humor about who he is – and then “does the time” when it comes to serious issues in which he chooses to get involved – and bottom line – he really does not have to. I have a newfound respect for the guy and have come to appreciate some of what he’s done cinematically. Quite honestly, as well, any light we (or he) can shine on atrocities in DR Congo is also welcome.

Me, I am just happy to take a look at the DR Congo passport (again!)

Congo passport

Congo passport

 

Why I Changed My Mind: Carla Gugino

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Back in the late 1990s I watched and enjoyed the show Spin City – preferred the Michael J. Fox era to the Charlie Sheen era, but reflecting on the show, I realize that I really did not like the female characters in the show. Regardless of how much I love Connie Britton today, I was not the biggest fan of her character, Nikki (she was the best of the female bunch, in any case). Most of the female characters just felt pushy and very one-dimensional. It’s been a while since I watched the show; my memories of the female characters aren’t particularly positive.

One of these characters was “Ashley” – played by Carla Gugino. I may have mixed up my dislike for the character with a dislike for the actress. That’s the best I can come up with in reference to Carla Gugino. In looking back over her roles, I found that so many of them in her early career were as annoying as the Spin City role. Once again, it seems to have been a matter of the roles she was in rather than the actress herself. I remember seeing ads, for example, for the TV show Karen Sisco, and I just rolled my eyes. It was based on the character of the same name in the film Out of Sight (the even more annoying Jennifer Lopez played Karen Sisco in the film), and I can very rarely get behind a TV version of something that was a decent film. (Friday Night Lights, film and TV version starring the aforementioned Connie Britton, is the rare exception.)

I also disliked the show Chicago Hope – and Gugino was in it for a while. Not her fault – just didn’t like anything that was associated with the show.

Somewhere along the line, Gugino ended up in a few roles that made me fall in love with her. She comes across as smart and sexy – without overdoing either. It happens that she also showed up in shows I love (or have loved), which helped. I also saw her in the film Women in Trouble, which was not a good film, but it is really what turned me. There is a smart sarcasm and world-weariness (without cynicism) that comes across in her role as porn star Elektra Luxx. These same traits turn up in her other roles, and I am a fan.

Gugino showed up Hank’s attorney in Californication (once a favorite that has overstayed its time on TV). She turned up in an episode of one of my favorites, Justified. Perhaps my favorite role in which I have seen Gugino is the miniseries Political Animals. It was a smart show, with a great cast including Sigourney Weaver, James Wolk, Sebastian Stan, Ellen Burstyn and Ciaran Hinds, but sadly the show was more or less left on the table as a miniseries rather than a full show.

More recently Gugino appeared on New Girl (a funny but not favorite show), but by that time, I realized that I like her. Considered, reconsidered – Gugino has changed my mind.

I am starting to see a pattern. Younger women, in their 20s, are just not that interesting. They become multilayered and fascinating the more experienced they become. It’s almost like you can see the experience and depth come through in their performances. Youth is overrated.