Although he had some childhood acting gigs, Ben Affleck first started getting noticed in Kevin Smith movies like Mallrats. Of course, what really broke it open for him was Good Will Hunting, where he co-starred with lifelong friend Matt Damon and earned an Oscar for co-writing the screenplay. Things were looking great for Ben, and more success followed -- although without the critical acclaim.
He moved forward with financially successful turds like Armageddon, Pearl Harbor and Daredevil. Pretty soon, people started thinking that Damon was the brains of that Good Will Hunting team and that Ben was just some good-looking leading man. But hey, at least his popcorn flicks were still making money.
In Daredevil, Affleck played a superhero who fought crime without the ability to see or choose quality film projects.
And Then ...
In 2003, the ordinarily very talented Martin Brest -- who wrote the great Going in Style and directed Beverly Hills Cop and Midnight Run -- wrote and directed a little film called Gigli. A film so bad, people started demanding their money back simply for seeing the preview. If Gigli were a fetus, Rick Santorum would lobby for on-demand abortions. If Gigli were a superhero, its weakness would be people who have the ability to see movies, and its secret identity would the moisture in your boxers after a burrito fart.
Take all the ill will from Gigli, add it to the sneaking suspicion that Ben was riding Damon's coattails and throw in some nauseating Bennifer tabloid overexposure and suddenly Ben Affleck was not so cool anymore. Jersey Girl and Surviving Christmas certainly didn't help, either.
Things were so bad for Ben that sometime in 2006, he tried to earn extra money by starring as me in the Lifetime original movie entitled Gladstone: Internet Hero of Humanity.
Personally, I don't see the resemblance.
But Then ...
A few years ago, Affleck took control of his career in a way that few actors have or could and successfully shut everyone up. Indeed, Affleck's experiencing more than a comeback; he's working in a way that indicates that perhaps he didn't receive enough credit the first time around. In the last five years, Affleck has gone back to writing, helping to adapt three successful films. In 2007, he adapted and directed Gone Baby Gone, and in 2010, he did the same for The Town. Both films received positive reviews and were modest box office successes. This year, he directed and starred in Argo, which has received glowing reviews for its direction, as well as for Affleck's performance.
Lastly, even his personal life is coming up all aces. While his failed romances with exes Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Lopez painted him as a party boy unable to commit, he's been married to Jennifer Garner since 2005. Meanwhile, at this point Paltrow and Lopez look more and more like dodged bullets. After several years in B- pop culture movie exile, Affleck is at the top of his game.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about works of art that were so great, they destroyed their whole genre, and even though Soundgarden wasn't in that article, they really were the inspiration. Since becoming a die-hard Soundgarden fan in 1992, I haven't been able to enjoy any other hard rock nearly as much. They own the market for me.
Although formed in the mid-'80s, they formalized their lineup in 1990 with Chris Cornell (vocals, guitar); Matt Cameron (drums); Kim Thayil (lead guitar); and Ben Shepherd (bass). For those of you who only know Soundgarden from their biggest hit, "Black Hole Sun," I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that you've completely wasted your whole life up until this point by not listening to Soundgarden. You'll never get those years back. The good news, however, is that you have a ton of great Soundgarden music to enjoy.
In 1991, they released Badmotorfinger, which made good on their promise to be "Black Sabbath without the parts that suck." The album is hard to classify, drawing on classic rock, heavy metal and what would come to be called the meaningless term "grunge." And even though the whole album kicks tremendous ass, Soundgarden was no one-trick pony. Check out the plodding power of "Slaves and Bulldozers" as compared to one of the most badass metal songs of all time, "Jesus Christ Pose."
As ashamed as I am to admit it, Soundgarden rocked so hard, I was almost intimidated and pushed away initially, having been nurtured on the Beatles, Bowie and Pink Floyd. But then Cornell and Cameron from Soundgarden released Temple of the Dog, backed by some members of Pearl Jam, and I saw a whole other side. Cornell penned some of his finest songs, like "Say Hello 2 Heaven," "Call Me a Dog" and "All Night Thing." Seeing that talent, I went back to Badmotorfinger and heard all the melody and solid song construction under the aggression.
Then came Superunknown, the album where Soundgarden expanded its musical palate, seemingly bringing all their diverse talents into one offering and reaching their high-water mark. Only two years later, they broke up unceremoniously after releasing the sporadically brilliant but uneven Down on the Upside.
Chris Cornell's solo career carried on, and with one ginormous exception, that was a good thing. He wrote great songs like "Preaching the End of the World," "She'll Never Be Your Man" and the best James Bond song since McCartney's, "You Know My Name."
And Then ...
The problem, of course, was Audioslave. It sounded like a good idea. After all, it was purportedly Rick Rubin's: Take one of the greatest singers in rock history and have him front the three guys from Rage Against the Machine who lost their Communist Muppet singer.
Blah!!!! Che!!! GRRRR!!!
Here's the problem: Although Tom Morello is a fine guitarist, the rest of the band simply did not have the chops to play Chris' stuff. Yeah, sorry, Rage fans, they just didn't. Listen to all the nuance a drummer like Cameron gives to Cornell's stuff, whether it's four on the floor metal or gospel-inflected blues. Then listen to the Rage rhythm section stomp all over his songs in the same unimaginative way over and over. There was another problem with Audioslave, too: Cornell was clearly phoning it in. For the first time in his career, he was drafting up some pretty forgettable lyrics, too. They released three lackluster albums. But the worst insult to Soundgarden's legacy was yet to occur.
That would be Cornell's 2009 collaboration with Timbaland, Scream. Y'know when you pass an accident on the side of the road, and you're curious, but you also have the good sense not to look directly at it? That would be the best approach to take with this piece of crap, "Part of Me."
But Then ...
Just when all hope seemed lost, Soundgarden reunited, but, frankly, I didn't care. It seemed to be a bullshit reunion to milk money out of the catalog and tour dates. Besides, how excited could I be? Cameron was Pearl Jam's drummer now, fighting a one-man war to divert their attempts to become as boring and mediocre as possible. But then there was talk of a new Soundgarden album. Then there was a new album. Then I bought the new album. And then ...
HOLY SHIT. SOUNDGARDEN HAS A NEW ALBUM AND IT'S FUCKING AMAZING.
It's like Superunknown and Down on the Upside never happened. Instead, King Animal grows out of Badmotorfinger. All 13 songs are tight and powerful. No filler on the album or within the songs themselves. And even though it reflects the band's earlier music, it seems to be infused, somehow, with their diversity of experience. Rolling Stone gave it a good review, and people like me (not affiliated with absurd music magazines that typically get reviews wrong) also like it.
Also notable is that Soundgarden never sound like they're trying to be who they were in 1991, even if they still play with all the same power. Lyrically, Chris Cornell isn't screaming about being a slave to the man, but is wondering where he belongs in his 40s, and even what kind of aspirations he's supposed to have. The music industry has changed, and there is simply no market for King Animal to experience the success of a Superunknown, but with this album, Soundgarden gives its fans a second act beyond their wildest dreams.
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