December 5, 2005
R Te SIC'igtt til
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Anatomy of a backlash
After much media touting and
excessive paparazzi shots
of pregnant actress Jennifer
Garner, the offspring of Ben Affleck
and his beautiful bride finally emerged
into the world amid all the predictable
swarm of media furor that befits the
second coming of Bennifer. The baby
girl is healthy enough.
Her parents are the ones
coasting on dead careers.
But still, there's a celebrity
story in all this some-
And that's odd. J-Gar
took the sexy, kick-ass
lead in a modestly rated
cult show and turned it
into household recogni-
tion. Sure, she follows AM
Sarah Michelle Gellar AND
and Jessica Alba, but that
doesn't make her fame the less illuso-
ry, less hype-based. Her movie career
might prove that - "Daredevil" and
its objectionably unnecessary spin-
off, "Elektra," outweigh the pleas-
antly breezy "13 Going on 30."
But to pick on Jen in this context is
just silly. Because no matter how over-
hyped the chipmunk-cheeked actress,
no matter how many flops she has to
her resume, she's still your basic Hol-
lywood starlet. Overrated? Maybe, but
affable and pretty.
To talk about really over hyped;
to talk about the poster boy for over-
exposure and the perils of public-
ity overkill, we need Ben Affleck.
Because nobody in Hollywood has
accomplished the stratospheric rise
and calamitous crash with quite the
relentless and spectacular flourishes of
Whatever he is now, Affleck was
once a friend to the press. Back in
1997, a movie about a misunderstood
math genius and the life lessons he
learned captivated the nation and
launched a pair of Boston-bred best
friends into the public limelight.
Matt and Ben were sold as a pair,
affectionately and unpunnily labeled
(Menjamin, to the ever-lasting disap-
pointment of one columnist, never
really caught on) as a golden duo.
So high and intense was their wave
of public and industry goodwill,
the pair even won Oscars for Best
Original Screenplay for their draft of
"Good Will Hunting" - an unfor-
tunate circumstance that means the
DVD for last year's slapstick, "Surviv-
ing Christmas" could conceivably be
stamped with the words "Oscar-win-
ner Ben Affleck."
So how exactly did Ben Affleck go
from winning statues to slumming in
schlock that got buried by "Christmas
with the Kranks?" Unfortunately, the
answer is probably very simple: Ben-
Before there was J-Gar, there was
J-Lo. There was the explosive, all-
consuming monstrosity of Bennifer.
The beautiful couple made glamorous
kissy faces to the press, but took it
a step too far cavorting naked in her
fabulously self-indulgent "Jenny from
the Block" music video. As Affleck
sits pensively with his slicked-back
hair, looking every inch the token
bourgie toolbox of an accessory to
J-Lo's astonishing wardrobe, you can
almost hear his salary deflating.
But then again, Tom Cruise is
equally obnoxious these
days, and in spite of it,
people still pay to see his
movies. Ben and Jen did
not suffer from such dubi-
ous luck. Their first collab-
oration was a film about
a mobster and the lesbian
he loves or something.
"Gigli," which incidentally
rhymes with "really," gave
NDA witty film critics an open
RADE license to concoct the
most delightfully scath-
ing reviews. Though sometimes a film
speaks for itself - as more than one
critic put it, "'Gigli' is really bad."
With his relationship making him a
daily coverboy at the National Enquir-
er, with his film career in limp shreds
of faded dignity, Ben Affleck decided
to do the right thing and step grace-
fully out of the spotlight for a while.
Actually, he married another celebrity.
But getting past the jokes, past
the public persona of an oafish,
incompetent frat boy, Ben Affleck is
not entirely to blame for his down-
fall. Yes, the relationship with J-Lo
was ill-considered and I, for one,
never actually made it to the end
of "Gigli." But Affleck as a public
punching bag is simply the product
of a very bad backlash.
As a culture, Americans love to
lash. Perhaps it comes from that need
to establish a unique and individual
identity (which must set in sometime
after high school, just as we get the
knack of being faceless clones) that
makes us hate what's popular - what
the plebeians are buying these days.
Or maybe it's more basic. An emer-
gent celebrity might seem appealing,
but 30 pop-culture magazines will
unfailingly uncover the nasty flaws.
Our shame at originally liking what,
under the microscope, seems so clear-
ly lame might account for the intense,
visceral rejection we feel. Even when
we feel it collectively.
Whatever the source of the back-
lash, Ben Affleck has been on the
receiving end far too long. I'm advo-
cating a frontlash. The man has made
his terrible movies, he's done the diva
girlfriend. Enough is enough. The
Colin Farrells of Hollywood have had
it too good for too long with Affleck
as the easier target, so now it's time to
get past the pink engagement diamond
and uncommitted performances. If
we continue to celebrate Affleck and
his new progeny in the papers, we're
going to have to learn to live with
Bennifer II and "Jersey Girl."
- Andrade thinks they should revive
Colin Farrellfor "Daredevil 2." Join the
fight by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
In an age when the next movie to gross $300 million is only a "Spi-
der-man" sequel away, filmmakers have squabbled to
pick up the rights to any superhero they can find. Even Aeon Flux
though the latest attempt, "Aeon Flux," an adaptation
of an animated MTV TV series, is being released in and the Shoa s16
the middle of awards season, nobody expected it to
compete for an Oscar. But people didn't expect Para- Paramount
mount would lack confidence in the film enough to can-
cel screenings for critics either. Any who are still baffled should go see
"Flux," a shamelessly futile attempt at filmmaking.
"Aeon Flux" is set 400 years in the future in the fictional city of Bregna,
where a corrupt government uses its powers to deceive and manipulate
its people. Aeon Flux (Charlize Theron, "North Country"), an expertly
trained killer and member of an underground resistance force known as
the Monicans, is charged with assassinating the leader of the government,
Trevor Goodchild (Martin Csokas, "Kingdom of Heaven"). While she
undertakes her mission, she comes to the proverbial realization that things
are not what they seem and people are not who she thinks they are. The
premise is actually very similar to 2002's "Equilibrium," but while that
film is both intelligent and thought provoking, "Aeon Flux" is neither.
The quality of the film's action sequences is very mixed. While some
are well-made - such as Flux's storming of the government headquarters
- many are haphazardly constructed through the use of jarring, nonsen-
sical cuts in order to save the characters from reciting any more of their
horrible lines. And man, is some of the dialogue bad. Theron has some
one-liners that would make even Keanu Reeves cringe. The plot of the film
demands a tight, intelligent screenplay, but we are left with incongruous
and contrived explanations for many events and some bizarre attempts
at political commentary. For example, the name of the catalyst that once
nearly decimated the population is the "Industrial Plague."
The movie has banked its box-office hopes squarely on the shoulders
of its star, Theron. Most of it is just a means for the filmmakers to put
her in an extremely tight spandex suit or, as in the case with a particular
scene, a most revealing nightgown that is really little more than lingerie.
Theron started out her career as arm candy in films such as "The Devil's
WITH LATEST FILM,
THERON 'S CAREER
IS IN FLUX
By Christopher Lechner
Daily Arts Writer
Courtesy of Paramount
Thank God for that thighmaster.
Advocate" before moving into serious acting, trading in her irresistible
good looks for such parts as Aileen Wuornos, the psychotic-serial-killer
role that won her an Oscar for the film "Monster." To be fair, she signed
on to play Aeon Flux before her win, but the career comparisons to Halle
Berry, who followed up her Oscar win with such smut as "Catwoman," are
The most disturbing part of "Aeon Flux" really is watching the deni-
gration of respectable actresses. Joining Theron is Oscar winner Frances
McDormand ("North Country"), playing the leader of the Monican rebel-
lion and Oscar nominee Sophie Okenedo ("Hotel Rwanda"), Theron's
sometime-sidekick Sithandra who has hands where her feet should be. Yet
here they are, stuck in one of the most disappointing films of the year. In
this case, Paramount and MTV Films were right to cancel advance screen-
ings of "Aeon Flux" for critics; in fact, it would have been better if they
had canceled every screening altogether.
MIT students seduced by Vegas in new book
By Priya Bali
and Alison Go
Daily Arts Writers
"Make Money Playing Blackjack."
For Semyon Dukach, a Massachusetts Institute of
Technology math whiz who tried to
take on Las Vegas, this slogan was
the "understatement of a lifetime." Busting
Dukach and three other MIT stu- Vegas
dents embarked on an adventure to By Ben Mezrich
"bust Vegas" - or through sheer HarperCollins
intellectual brilliance, bring casino
moneymakers to their knees. And
while the quartet managed their fair share of damage,
the Sin City managed to do a little busting itself.
In his latest, Ben Mezrich, who wrote the critical-
ly acclaimed "Bringing Down the House" about six
other MIT students who also took Vegas by storm,
effectively communicates the corruption inherent
in a gambling career. With a surprisingly smooth
narrative voice, the nonfiction work whisks its char-
acters through city after city and forces readers to
crawl under the skin of the balsy students.
Mezrich makes an important point: that the moti-
vation of the ambitious high rollers stems not only
from the desire for personal wealth, but rather the
desire for power and respect. With the performance
"as routine and choreographed as a Russian ballet,"
as Mezrich describes it, the students tackle the casi-
no system. With three gambling techniques consist-
ing of pure math, the four MIT blackjack players
venture into the gambling territories of Las Vegas,
Trump Plaza and Monte Carlo, where their new-
found skills are put to the test.
Dukach and his partners are unstoppable as they
willingly face dangerous pit bosses and security
guards with one goal: "to bring the casinos to their
knees." Each player creates fake identities. Dukach,
also known as Nikolai Nogov and Zayats Konstan-
tin, hides and loses himself in the false personas so
deeply that he "had to forget everything about him
that screamed MIT."
The story shifts from third to first person in a
break from the students' story, and allows readers
to understand Mezrich's own purpose for writing
Mezrich portrays this struggle well through the
eyes of Dukach and his fellow blackjack players,
who each show us the downside to becoming a king
of the blackjack world. The consequences force
them to give up their thrones, and the lights die out
on the geniuses who made Vegas history.
Through careful and honest writing, Mezrich
conveys the importance of documenting the untold
truths of those willing to do anything for more
money in the blackjack world; he exposes the bru-
tal treatment of the students during their struggle
"against the might evil empire that was and contin-
ues to be the casino industry."
Readers will never tire of Dukach - his enthusi-
asm for not only winning but also beating the sys-
tem is infectious. As he says, "It doesn't matter how
much you win, it's about how much they lose!"
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