Friday, October 19, 2012

Argo Eff Yourself

Ben Affleck is at it again, directing and starring in yet another interesting and entertaining picture, and proving that not only does he actually have some skill at a director, he gets a better performance out of himself than other directors!

Almost five years ago, one of this blog's first movie reviews was Gone, Baby, Gone. The Town came out when I was working the three jobs and doing the weekend commute thing, so I don't think I have a review of it here, but it was also solid.

Argo is probably the best work he's done to date. And except for the opening narrative, which explains how the Iran hostage crisis was all our fault, and the closing voice-over from Jimmy Carter, it's actually a pretty pro-America movie.

The story, for those of you who weren't around in 1979, is centered around the Iranian hostage crisis, when terrorists stormed the American embassy and captured everyone and held them for 444 days. It probably didn't cost Carter the election—he was going down hard anyway—but it sure didn't help him to have Ted Koppel making his career and establishing "Nightline" as a serious news show by harping on it night after night.

Hell, Howard Hessman did a thing on it as his opening monologue on "Saturday Night Live".

Yes, children, there was a time when the leftist media would criticize lefty politcians.

I digress. Argo concerns six Americans who weren't in the embassy who found refuge in the Canadian Embassy, and the CIA planning to get them out. Ben Affleck plays Tony Mendez, master spy, whose specialty is extraction, and who quickly dismantles the proposed plans for getting the hapless Americans out of Iran.

The plan they hit on—and it helps to emphasize that this is based on a true story—is to pose as a Canadian film-making team in Iran to film a sci-fi epic called,  you guessed it, Argo!

This may offend or shock some of you but, in fact, Mr. Affleck takes some liberties with the truth. And there have been a lot of Monday-morning film-producers bitching about this. For example, the Canadians were far more active and important than the film shows.

But this is the sort of thing film-makers do all the time to create focus. (Steven Soderbergh probably wouldn't have done that.) Similarly, the ending is a nail-biter race against the bad guys that never happened. But it's a great climax.

Affleck gave Mendez personal and profesisonal problems he doesn't seem to have had, which was probably gratuitous, but since it was his ass on the line, Affleck can be excused for making more time for ACTING. It's not the strongest part of the flick but it would be churlish to begrudge him that.

The acting is wonderful: John Goodman plays makeup artist emeritus John Chambers, whom he strongly resembles; Alan Arkin is an archetypal (fictional) producer past his prime; Bryan Cranston, Clea DuVall, Tate Donovan, and lots of other hard-working actors who always seem to turn in good work and enliven a movie.

The hostages have plenty of drama to act out, of course, with Goodman and Arkin providing comic relief—and great chemistry—as Hollywood old-timers. Bonus: An abundance of porn-staches and feathered hair.

Double-secret-super-bonus: Adrienne Barbeau as a sexy space queen!

Adding to the fun, if you were there, is all the 1979 references, even if slightly discombobulated. Like, "Battlestar Galactica" had been canceled by the time of the hostage crisis, but there are Cylons on the movie lot. I guess, arguably, they could have been from the short-lived "Galactica '80" series but mostly, I think they were there to emphasize the popularity of sci-fi post-Star Wars. (Said presence is strongly felt, of course.)

They even matched the color scheme to '70s. Not just interior design stuff, but the film itself had a bit of that ugly brown/yellow palette that was favored in the "realistic" movies of the day. (But without the ugliness, happily.) All that was missing was a score that was brass-heavy.

Anyway, overall, a thriller that manages to be tense and fun and warm. Quite an achievement really.

The Boy liked it a lot. The Flower liked it a lot. I liked it a lot.

I just wish they hadn't tried to pin this whole thing on the USA. The narrative glibly refers to how the US and Britain interfered with a legitimately elected rule who "nationalized" the country's oil wells, returning the oil to The People.

Seriously? "Nationalize" is just another word for "steal". And after being "nationalized" wealth ends up being squandered. Damn little of it gets to the people. And I can't help but think, from the spate of Iranian movies we've seen, that things haven't been so rosy for Iran even though it's been free of evil Brit and US control for over 30 years.

But, like I said, that only bugged me a little.

5 comments:

  1. I love your reviews. I agree with this one, too. I liked the side story of the Candians [is Victor Gerber ever bad?] and their housekeeper. Affleck makes movies I bed he'd like to see.

    And I loved the Animal House American Graffiti-esque updates at the end.

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  2. Heh. Damn typos.

    Actually, the Canadian involvement was much greater than shown in the movie. They were aggressively working to get the Americans out, got the tix and visas, etc.

    Fun fact: A producer suggested to Josh Bearman that he write an article about the incident, and that might help kickstart a film project:

    http://www.wired.com/magazine/2007/04/feat_cia/all/

    That's the article. And the producer who made the suggestion was part of the "Argo" team.

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  3. John Goodman seems to have found sobriety. I have a buddy who went to college w/ Goodman in Springfield, Mo. A party animal, a bit flaky, but good guy. It's always good on a personal level when someone faces substance abuse, but sometimes it hurts their career. Goodman has lost some weight, but not a step.

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  4. That's interesting. Whatever his drug or alcohol issues may have been, I've never heard anyone say he was unprofessional (which is the real killer in Hollywood).

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