Friday, October 19, 2012


With something like a 95% critic's rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Argo is another big win for director Ben Affleck.  Pacing can be everything, and this movie rarely, if ever, lags. It is a true-life thriller and a pretty wild story.

I was a teenager during the Iran hostage crisis, and generally avoided news like the plague---a trait which I still possess to some degree. But for those of you who weren't around during this time period, let me tell you, there was no avoiding this. It was a melancholy fog, an unrelenting presence, a cruelty we kids had never seen before. Eerie but true, you could have shown me photographs of all kinds of historical and political figures, and I wouldn't have been able to name them. But show me, or anyone growing up at that time, that face, and we would all say, "the Ayatollah". You just couldn't escape him. His was something like the Hitler-face of our generation. And although we knew all about the hostages, what we did not know, the huge secret of the time, was that six Americans had somehow eluded capture. Argo tells the story of their harrowing escape. And what a tale it is.

Although the movie takes some liberty with the truth, and adds in a couple of extra-harrowing narrow escapes at the end, from what I've read the basic story is still accurate. It sounds like the CIA had a couple of screws loose with this 'unusual' plan, but it worked, so you can't argue with success. I might have preferred that Affleck left off the sort-of Hollywoody scenes like where the main character defies the CIA, or where the police cars chase the plane. But nonetheless, the film version is a tense, edge-of-your-seat adventure that even manages some laughs. John Goodman and Alan Arkin poke a good amount of fun at the world of film-making. The 'seventies' wardrobe adds another dimension of kooky. The script is fairly terse and straightforward. It all mixes together well.

Some random thoughts for you to relate to after you've seen the movie:
  •  How about Mr. and Mrs. Canadian Ambassador and their house staff? What amazingly brave people.
  •  How come no one threw-up in Volkswagon van scene? I would have, for sure. Just scared sick.
  •  What in the hell was Swiss Air even doing in the Tehran airport? I can't imagine any airline running flights to Tehran at that time.     
  • Aren't you worried that some of those Ayatollah-followers still hold grudges and will be pissed-off all over again seeing this film? I think I will feel weird about this for awhile.

A note about Ben Affleck: I'm glad that he is getting well-earned respect for his directorial hits. I always liked him and thought he was under-appreciated as an actor. Want proof? Rent Hollywoodland. 

And to close, I leave you with a truly shuddering real-life news report from just last month:

Calling Iran “the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today,” Canada’s foreign affairs minister, John Baird, abruptly announced Friday that his government had cut all diplomatic ties with the country. 

Canada no longer has an embassy in Iran.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

MUST-RENT MOVIE REVIEW: The Talented Mr. Ripley

Imagine this:  The perfect WASPie girl, her filthy rich, gorgeous, playboy fiance, and some of  the most lush views of Italy ever put to film. Now imagine all that beauty grotesquely marred by a cloying, grasping, and terrifying (but fascinating) guest. I was shocked when (in 1999) this film was not nominated for Best Picture, not to mention the absent nods for director and lead actor.

I have to say that The Talented Mr. Ripley is a rare example of perfect (yes, I said perfect) casting. Gwenyth Paltrow is flawless as the lovely, upper-class young woman of breeding. She is the ideal actress for this role, and she nails it. Matt Damon is 100% spot-on as the way-out-of-place interloper. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, faultless as another somewhat revolting member of the leisure-class. And the creme-de-la creme: Jude Law as the spoiled and irresistible Dickie Greenleaf. Now, Jude was nominated for supporting actor, thank goodness. I swear, I cannot, offhand, think of a more perfect casting nor a more perfect performance. The role requires someone so beautiful and unattainable that you are entranced by him despite the fact that he is vile. The stench of wealth suffocates him, poor fellow. He's so bored and unhappy, lounging around his Italian villa on his father's dime. He's mind-boggling in the way he embodies this character. You can practically smell his money and feel his perfect, pretty skin.

There is a very Alfred Hitchcock vibe to this film, but despite it's circa-1950's setting, there is much more modern edge to the thrill of this thriller. It is pretty gritty. It's better not to get into too much detail, because it's much more enjoyable to just jump out of your seat and cover your eyes. Don't misunderstand, though, there are no cheap shots. Every shocking event is earned with great storytelling, great direction, and great acting.

I think this movie is so worth seeing that I will attach a very interesting scene to pique your interest:

Now the warning: This movie is not, not, not for the squeamish. Nor for the 'happy ending' crowd. It is also not for the Friday the 13th crowd. You'll need to pay attention, enjoy the cinematography, and appreciate the character studies.

In two words : Absolutely mesmerizing.