Sunday, October 21, 2012

My Coverage of ARGO

Goodies... and more!... from Ben Affleck
By Raymond de Asis Lo (The Philippine Star) Updated October 18, 2012 12:00 AM Comments (0) View comments

MANILA, Philippines - It is not uncommon for journalists to receive goodies and movie souvenirs during movie junkets but for an Oscar-winning actor to personally hand out bars of chocolates at the end of every roundtable is a surprisingly welcome gesture.

That is what Ben Affleck did last week at the junket for the film Argo, a much admired dramatization of a declassified CIA mission to rescue staff members of the US embassy in Iran who are in danger of being executed during the student-led uprising in the early ’80s. Argo marks the actor’s third directorial feature — and if critics can have their way, this is the movie that will finally net him an Oscar directing nomination that many believe he should have already received with either Gone Baby Gone or The Town.

The sweets that Ben presented to the journalists were produced by the people of Congo with the assistance of the advocacy organization he founded called Eastern Congo Initiative or ECI. The samples are the results of the organization’s goal in building and creating a sustainable and successful society in eastern Congo.

According to the organization’s website, the actor started the group in 2009 as a US-based advocacy and grant-making initiative wholly focused on working with and for the people of eastern Congo. The group envisions a vibrant eastern Congo that’s teeming with abundant opportunities for economic and social development and where a robust civil society can flourish.

“Eastern Congo is one of the worst places to live in the world. In some parts of the country, two out of three women are raped; one in five children dies before the age of five. The country is virtually not functioning so there’s a lot of predators,” Ben explained.

The actor added that the chocolates were produced by cocoa farmers with the help of a Congolese group that receives funding from ECI.

“You can eat chocolate and make the world a better place,” he pitched before thanking the journalists in advance for including his organizations work in the stories we publish about Argo.

You’re welcome, Ben.

Now on to Argo.

Mr. Affleck will be happy to know that this writer found his movie simply amazing. This early, this writer is predicting that this Warner Bros. movie release is going to be the movie to beat at next year’s Oscars. The filmmaking is topnotch. The ensemble cast delivers excellent performances. And the plot is so relevant to today’s tensions in the Middle East that one could accuse the actor of orchestrating the attack on the US embassy in Libya a couple of weeks ago just to generate publicity for his movie.

Ben skillfully tackled the sensitive and explosive subject without going overtly political and without falling into the tempting trap of telling a history lesson to the audience. What he did was one spectacular movie that bears the hallmark of a classic Hollywood masterpiece. Argo is funny and tense, thrilling and wild, wacky and tender. If this writer can count how many times I applauded at the screening, I will gladly do but I did not attempt it because I was totally absorbed by the movie.

At the junket, Ben wore a plaid shirt and blue jeans. He was proudly wearing his wedding band on his finger. The 40-year-old actor is married to actress Jennifer Garner and the couple has been blessed with three children. If you are the type who sits through the entire end credits of a movie, you will notice that Ben has dedicated Argo to his wife and children.

He was particularly happy during the junket and was smiling a lot but avoided questions about his personal life.

But he talked enthusiastically about Argo.

He said he approached the movie “with a very strict discipline about realism: Not allowing anything to be present (in the movie) from the performances to set decorations to anything else that you cannot justify.”

As an actor-slash-director, Ben revealed a particular quirk that annoys most of his actors: He recites the lines along with the actors during every take. “I have a very bad habit of doing that,” he said. “It’s my weakness. I do sometimes get so intent on watching the other performances — seeing that they do what I want them to do — that while they are acting, I move my mouth along with what they are saying. I do it mostly when I am off-camera when I am reading with them and I am also trying to pay attention to them and, so, yeah, I move my mouth with their lines.”

This particular habit mirrors a scene in Argo where one character was instructing another how to properly pronounce “Toronto” without revealing that one is not a true Canadian. One is not supposed to pronounce the second “O,” thus you say: “Tron-to” instead of “To-ron-to.”

If there’s one thing that Ben would like to get very clear about is that politics as portrayed in the movie is just one aspect in the movie.

“One of the reasons why this story is an amazing story is because a guy chooses his integrity over what he’s been told he’s supposed to do and that’s a trait that naturally people really value,” he said.

“It’s a movie that I hate to see politicized. I don’t want it to be exploited and held up to suit up anyone else’s political agenda whether that’s the election here in the United States or internationally where there are a lot of people with a lot of strong feelings about what should happen with Iran.”

“It is about politics. It is about international relations… If I was making a political movie, I would say it.”

“I have never been shy about being political all my life but I came across this movie and what’s interesting about it isn’t the politics in the sense that politics advocates a certain position, it directs you. That’s not what I want.”

Another pet peeve for the actor is when journalists ask him if he thinks he is a better director than an actor. One journalist did ask the question and Ben’s reply was quick and memorable: “No. I don’t think I am a better director than an actor or a better actor than a director or a better writer than an actor or a better writer than a director.”

“I just try to make movies and, to me, these things are all, kind of, co-mingled… They are like the Olympic circles, they all, sort of, overlap although you don’t have to sprint.”

And those wondering if he shouts “Action!” when he is the one on-camera, the answer is no, he does not.

Argo is now showing in theaters now.

(With reports from Anna Pavlova)

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