Thursday, October 18, 2012

My review of ARGO

Boy, Persians really took it in the shorts this weekend in the US boxoffice. The top two films were TAKEN 2 and ARGO – the adversaries in both coming from the good ol’ Middle East. TAKEN 2 is your basic cry vengeance movie, an updated version of the old Charles Bronson DEATH WISH flicks with better stunts and more exotic locales. Who knew that America’s next action hero would be 60 year-old Liam Neeson?

I haven’t seen TAKEN 2 but I admit I want to. For all the right and wrong reasons I enjoyed TAKEN. Knowing Hollywood, there will be a TAKEN 6 where his pool boy is kidnapped.

The other boxoffice behemoth was ARGO, the new movie directed by Ben Affleck and written by Chris Terrio from an article by Joshuah Bearman. (I thought I would be novel in my review and actually mention the writers.) That movie I did go to see.

And I loved it.

It’s easy sport to make fun of Ben Affleck. When you’ve done PEARL HARBOR, GIGLI, and JERSEY GIRL you’re certainly leading with your chin. But he also did CHASING AMY and lately has proven himself to be quite an accomplished director. (Is the saying “Those that can’t act, direct” or “Those that can’t act, act in Michael Bay films”?) In any event, the saying doesn’t apply to Ben for CHASING AMY alone. And in this film he turns in a nice performance. What I like is that he underplays here. It would have been very easy to chew up the scenery, but Affleck opted for restraint. Good call, Mr. Director.

ARGO somehow manages to be both a taut political thriller and a satire of Hollywood. And if you think blending those two tones was hard, Affleck also had to contend with the idiotic clothes we all wore back in the ‘70s. Those fashions could spoil any reality. If you’ve seen BOOGIE NIGHTS then you know – people in the porn industry and American hostages in Iran all dressed alike.

There may even be Oscar talk for this film, although the fact that it’s entertaining, doesn’t play exclusively in art houses, and doesn’t star Kate Winslet might work against it.

And for all its suspense, there are more genuine laughs in ARGO than the last four Adam Sandler comedies combined – maybe the last six. Alan Arkin and John Goodman pretty much steal the movie. Again, kudos to the director for allowing them that spotlight.

You probably know the story. (Don’t worry – no SPOILER ALERT necessary). Based on a true event, in order to get six American hostages out of volatile Iran in 1979 the CIA concocted a phony movie with the plan to smuggle them out as crew members. To accomplish this harebrain scheme, an actual Hollywood producer was enlisted, there were ads and articles in Variety (the trade paper of choice among terrorists), storyboards were drawn, offices set up, casting sessions, the whole works. This was the kind of project my agent always tried to get me hooked up with.

Some critics have taken issue with the creative license Affleck took in the third act. He apparently fabricated some hurdles and tension. But so what? The last act was gripping. To use the old movie tagline: “You’ll pay for the whole seat but only use the edge.”

For a good yarn, go see ARGO. And judging by the first weekend’s receipts, in a couple of years go see ARGO 2 where Ben rounds up the film company gang again to get Liam Neeson’s niece out of Turkey.


deanareeno said...

Not entirely filmed in L.A., unless you think Istanbul is in L.A.:

link to IMDB list of Argo shooting locations

solid said...

Ken, I agree with you wholeheartedly, with one caveat: I went to a Q&A with Ben A. last night where he said some of it was filmed in Turkey.

OTOH, the famous monument at the traffic circle in Tehran is a combination of CGI and Google Earth!

bmfc1 said...

You'll enjoy Tony Mendez's son's connection to the Orioles:

Max Clarke said...

Ben did a good job in "Shakespeare In Love," also, he played the vain actor Ned. Affleck showed he could do more than just Chuckie in "Good Will Hunting." When I saw his name on the credits, I thought it was a mistake having a contemporary actor. He'd look too modern no matter how they dressed him or changed his look. Happy to be wrong, he fit right in.

J. Allison said...

I'm glad you mention "Chasing Amy." Kevin Smith's best movie. Now that's something of a left-handed compliment, but "Clerks" is hilarious and "Chasing Amy" is just really good. After that, well, Kevin kind of went off the rails a bit.

Ken Levine said...

Thanks, readers. I had been misinformed. One article I read said the movie was filmed entirely in LA. If he did part of it in Turkey then it's not such a miraculous job of making magic. It's just an alternate location. So I have adjusted my post accordingly.

I'm surprised by the incorrect fact. I mean, it was ON the internet.

Thanks again.


Pat Reeder said...

I nearly fell on the floor last night, laughing at Craig Ferguson's dead-on impression of Liam Neeson in the "Taken" movies:

"Listen carefully!

There's no time for a penis-measuring contest!...

Well, all right, let's take five minutes to measure our penises..."

Dan O. said...

Definitely seems like a flick that more people admire for being a really good, true story, rather than being a really good movie. It’s not a bad flick by any means, but not as perfect as many people are praising it as being. Good review Ken.

Chris said...

I saw two films this past weekend, "Argo" and "The Master." Loved the Ben Affleck movie and hated, hated, hated the PT Anderson one. I'm pretty sure Alan Arkin will get an Oscar nomination for "Argo," and while I think the film deserves to do well in other categories, it'll be a long shot. Which is too bad considering Anderson's pretentious piece of crap is a lock for multiple noms. I have no doubt Joaquin Phoenix studied everything Jon Lovitz has ever done in order to create his character. It's Great Acting of the Highest Order. I didn't believe a second of it. Which means critics' prizes are sure to follow. Affleck, on the other hand, was incredibly understated. He'll just have to settle for having made a terrific movie.

Brian said...

Thanks for the review. Looking forward to watching it after I read the book.

Sharon said...

Chris, I totally agree! I've been trying to warn everyone who will listen to avoid 'The Master' if they value their time let alone their money. 'Argo,' on the other hand, was terrific storytelling with great performances all around.

As for Ben Affleck, I've always thought he gave good performances even in the not-so-good films. And I really liked 'Jersey Girl.' I mean, it's not the second coming of filmmaking or anything, but I don't think it deserved the excoriating reviews it's received. Remember, these were some of the same critics who think 'The Master' is fantastic.

Dana Gabbard said...

I'm curious how much they used the real background of the movie that was the cover. The CIA bought the screenplay and Jack Kirby's concept art created for an aborted film to be made of Roger Zelazny's science fiction novel Lord of Light, which they renamed Argo. The book has a middle eastern background that was perfect for their purposes. Does any of that info reach the screen?

Anonymous said...

"Definitely seems like a flick that more people admire for being a really good, true story, rather than being a really good movie."

It's based upon a true story but it has Hollywoodized the content to appeal to American audiences rather than acknowledge the true sacrifice and bravery of the Canadians involved- much in the same manner that, according to Hollywood, the US are the only ones who won WW2.

Michael Stoffel said...

Butters on South Park had the same reaction last night.

XJill said...

Glad to see fellow anti-'The Masters'. That movie is still bugging me and I saw it long ago (perhaps that's the point??)

Anyway, Argo is very well made and interesting as well. I wasn't born when all this happened so I must admit I am very ignorant about the hostage crisis in general. Loved the "vintage" WB lot shots - fun!

Alex S. said...

Small thing but there really aren't any Persians in Taken 2. The movie is in Turkey, not the Middle East, and Persian don't populate Turkey. And the bad guys are Albanian.

Dave Arnott said...

ARGO is a clinic on how to underplay things perfectly. Can't remember the last time I saw John Goodman hold back like that - he's so good when he does. And ditto Affleck. (Arkin, of course, is always great). And because Affleck underplays the part, and is so flat (but in a great way) throughout the entire movie, that little eye roll he does at the airport (such a small thing) just BOWLS you over. I knew the story already... and I was STILL tense and worried, willing that plane to take off. That's pretty great film-making, being able to do that.

Mike said...

We get it. You don't like Adam Sandler and you don't like Sarah Palin, and you really hate it that they are popular with the public.

Harold X said...

Dana Gabbard Michael Parks plays "Jack Kirby" in the film. The script is called "Argo" from the moment it appears in the story.

Johnny Walker said...

Dana: No, none of that is really reflected in the movie, and I'd love to know why. The only reference to a real person is the special effects guy played by Goodman. Arkin's character is a fictionised version of the real guy. They didn't mention the other famous people who were involved in real life. They didn't use the original artwork, either the poster or Kirby's storyboards. There's no mention of Light of Light.

Even though "Argo" was a Warner Bros production in real life, the Warner lot has been CGI'd to become "Burbank Studios".

It's all very weird, as this is interesting stuff, but I guess they just simplified it.

Also in the film, Canada's part in the planning and execution of the plan is totally removed, making it look like it was entirely the CIA would masterminded and executed it.

Finally, as Ken said, the third act is entirely fictional, but damn is the whole film entertaining!

I loved THE MASTER, which is getting a tough time from people here. Sure, it wasn't as good or as potent as THERE WILL BE BLOOD, but it was just as hypnotic and engaging. The study of the characters is fascinating, and they stay with you long after the movie has finished. Or at least they did for me.

Also, Ken, another factual error, if you're interested: "Persia" refers to Iran only, not the Middle East as a whole. Taken 2 is set in Istanbul, if I understand correctly.

Mike said...

Not for nothing was it called The Canadian Caper. Though I prefer my version of events:
Pitcher: The film's about a CIA operation to rescue American diplomats during The Iran Hostage Crisis.
Studio Exec: The one where the helicopters ran out of fuel and crashed in the desert?
Pitcher: No, this one worked.
Studio Exec: Worked? Are you sure it was the CIA?
Pitcher: Well, it was the Canucks really. But we can cut them out and give all the credit to Hollywood and the US. It's the ultimate feel-good movie.
Studio Exec: Sounds great. But what really happened?
Pitcher: Someone knocked on the door and asked nicely if we could have our diplomats back.

Matt Patton said...

Actually, I think Charles Bronson was around 50 when he did the first DEATH WISH movie, and he made Liam Neeson look positively fresh and radian by comparison . . .

Mike said...

I would say Iran refers to Persia.