Argo Fuck Yourself

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The premise of Argo is almost as ridiculous as shitty Star Wars knock off in the movie and yet, that’s what makes the movie so brilliant. The fact that this turned out to be based on true events (I’m not going to pretend to know how close the movie was to what actually happened) makes the story something that was begging to be made into a movie, and Ben Affleck really did deliver here.

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Ben Affleck has not had the greatest of careers when it’s come to film choices. WIth a few exceptions, everything between Reindeer Games and Surviving Christmas has been utter crap. His recent decisions to move to the director’s chair has really turned his career around though. Gone Baby Gone, though a bit raw in direction was a very good film, and it was nice to see him write something again. Then he came out with The Town, which he again co-wrote and directed, which most people would agree was the best heist movie since Heat (if not also in many ways very similar to Heat). Now we get Argo, which I have to say is probably his most complete work as a writer/director. WIth this movie, we see a man who has really taken the time to study film and refine his directorial style.

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The plot focuses on the Iran hostage crisis in 1979, but not on the hostages that were stuck in the US embassy. Instead it follows the story of the 6 Americans who escaped the embassy and were in hiding in the Canadian embassy. Simultaneously, the Iranian government has taken all the shredded documents are piecing them together to learn the identities of the missing Americans, and the CIA is frantically trying to find a way to get them out. That’s when Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) comes up with the idea of creating a fake movie, and listing the six americans as part of a film crew, checking out various locations for where to shoot and, surprise, they decide to look into Iran. With the help of academy award winning make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and a Hollywood insider, Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), they create an entire backstory for the fake film, get it into the news, and make it credible enough that Tony can now go into Iran and pull the Americans out. They even have a full press event where they found actors to do a full read through of this horrendous movie to give it more credibility. At one point during the event, Lester keeps getting pressed for a reason that the film is called Argo; is it a reference to Jason and the Argonauts, is it short for something? Having run out of credible answers Lester just replies, “it means Argo fuck yourself.” With the back story now solidified, Tony makes his way to Iran by way of Turkey, meets up with the Americans, and trains them to learn their new identities well enough to get passed Iranian security. So, with some elbow grease and a lot of guts, the Americans all make it out safely under the guise as a Canadian film crew, happy ending for everyone… except the Iranians I guess… and the hostages who were stuck in the embassy for another 400 some odd days.

There’s one part of the film that is stuck so clearly in my head, which perfectly shows how much Ben Affleck has grown as a filmmaker. He just arrived in Iran and is being driven to the Canadian embassy. He looks out the window and the first thing we see is an Iranian KFC with a couple women chowing down on some finger lickin’ fried chicken. Then as the view of the street progresses, we see protestors, and the mood darkens, and the final shot is a man who was hanged on the street, and we see how truly dire the situation is. It’s just such a perfect sequence to set the mood for the rest of the movie, that even when things don’t seem that bad, there’s always something potentially horrible right around the corner.

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My one, very minor, issue with the movie was the take off sequence as the plane carrying the Americans takes off with the Iranian army driving on either side of it, trying to stop its take off. If this is what really happened, then so be it, all the better, but I feel that this was more of artistic license being invoked. The believability kind of dies here, as we have to assume that 1) the children putting the shreds of paper together finally put together all the photos of the six Americans, right as they’re about to leave, 2) it takes almost no time to get that information to the military office and very little time for them to get to the Canadian embassy to check if they Americans are there, and 3) that there was no way for them to contact that control tower and hold the plane once they realized where the Americans were. To make the time seem more realistic they have the Tony and the sic Americans detained at the gate as their story is verified, and tension is added as John Chambers and Lester Siegel are delayed in getting to their producer’s office so they can answer the phone and confirm that Tony is traveling. Lots of gimmicky things going on to delay the protagonists, not that it really helps our villains, as they’re able to get on the plane with little trouble. So instead of contacting the plane via the control tower and telling it to hold its take off, they drive along side it and do virtually nothing as the plane takes off. It’s a little too hollywoodish for what was otherwise such a well made film.

But, don’t let that one issue detract you from seeing the movie, it was wonderful to sit through and the acting was superb. Honestly  how can you say no to a movie that has Alan Arkin and Bryan Cranston in it (and some Kyle Chandler for the Friday Night Lights fans!). On a final note, be sure to sit through at least the first part of the credits, there’s some lovely audio and still photos to enjoy, so don’t miss it by running out of the theater too early.

Seven Psychopaths: A bit of Martin and a bit of Charlie

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I’ve been a huge fan of Martin McDonagh since I first saw Six Shooter, and if there’s one thing he’s really good at, it’s making you laugh at things that would otherwise be quite emotionally disturbing. We saw it in Six Shooter, we saw more with In Bruges, and he delivered once again with Seven Psychopaths. Though, before we get into any substance, the title’s a bit misleading; technically speaking, only one, maybe two of the characters would actually qualify as psychopaths. It should really be called Five Emotionally Disturbed People and Two possible psychopaths, but that title isn’t as catchy. Anyway, I shan’t digress any further.

The story is simple, yet, as Hans noted at one point, it’s got a lot of levels. We have Marty (Colin Farrell), an Irish, alcoholic writer with an eccentric friend named Billy (Sam Rockwell) who, with Hans (Christopher Walken), is in the business of stealing dogs and returning them for a finder’s fee. Eventually Billy steals a dog from a crime boss named Charlie (Woody Harrelson) and shenanigans ensue. Poor Marty gets dragged into all this murder an mayhem when all he wants to do is write a screenplay for a movie called, you guessed it, Seven Psychopaths. Except, instead of creating his own characters, he bases all of them on stories he’s heard from Billy, the news, and other people’s ideas.

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So Charlie, distraught over his stolen dog, tracks down Billy, Hans, and by association, Marty, and they’re forced to flee to the desert to regroup and think of a strategy. While sitting around the camp fire they Help Marty finish his screenplay, with Billy contributing an ending that could fit as an appropriate ending in almost any 80s action movie, and then proceeds to influence events in a way so that he could go out in a big shootout, just like he described.

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What I really loved about this movie though, was its little wink at Adaptation. For those who remember Adaptation, you’ll see the similarity, but for those who haven’t seen it: 1) go see it immediately 2) the plot of both movies is that the writer of the movie you’re actually watching has written himself into the screenplay showing his attempt at writing the movie. And, in both movies, the writer is unable to complete the work on his own and relies on someone else to help finish the story. In Adaptation, Charlie couldn’t find the story in the book he was writing, and gets his twin brother Donald to help write the second half. In Seven Psychopaths, Marty (the fictional stand in for Martin McDonagh) based all his characters on stories he hears through the events in the movie. Psycho 1 – The Jack of Diamonds, who he gets from a newspaper article Billy shows him, of a guy who’s been going around killing gangsters. Psycho 2 – the quaker, based on a story that Billy tells Marty about a guy who found his daughter murdered and followed the killer around everywhere until he drove the killer mad to the point that he slit his throat just to get away from the quaker. Psycho 3 – a Buddhist monk for whom Hans ends up rewriting the ending. Psycho 4 – Tom Waits shows up in the movie as a psycho telling Marty his own story in the hopes that it ends up in the movie (god I love that man). Anyway, I won’t keep going so as not to ruin some of the spoilers, but you guys get the point.

Then there’s the acting, and boy was that fucking brilliant. Christopher Walken really brought something special to his character. His acting as of late has been mostly a parody of himself, and I can’t remember a movie I liked with him since Catch Me if You Can. But here, he really brought real depth to his character. He was funny, he was witty, and he was dark and emotional; there’s a lot that could have gone wrong with Hans as a character, and Walken didn’t falter. Then there’s Colin Farrell, who I really like but think he suffers from some poor career decisions (Alexander anyone?). But when he has a script to work with and a Director who can push him, Farrell really does shine. We saw that before with Minority Report, saw it a little in Crazy Heart, and we definitely saw it in In Bruges. He and McDonagh might have a Scorcese-DeNiro thing going here, and they should really keep working together. Sam Rockwell was great too, and probably had the most difficult character to deal with. He had to make his character both lovable and sympathetic, and at times frightening. It was a lot to take on, and Rockwell delivered perfectly. They really all did a great job, and if I go on tooting everyone’s horns this post will never end, so I’ll just sum it up by say that everyone did a damn good job here.

The movie is dark, hilarious, but dark and it’s definitely worth seeing if you like that kind of comedy. If you’ve previously seen In Bruges or Six Shooter and didn’t like it, then this movie isn’t for you. Of course, if you’ve seen those movies and didn’t like them, you should really reevaluate your taste in film.

Revolution: A Turnover on Fourth Down

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I’ve got a thing for the epic NBC dramas. I watched all of Heroes, even after the show completely fell apart and everyone else abandoned ship. And I watched all of Kings, a show that might have succeeded if it weren’t for the writer’s strike. So when the ads started popping up for Revolution, I naturally got excited, thinking I might get something as epic as the first season of Heroes (say what you will about the rest of the show, season 1 was amazing). So when that first monday night rolled around I excitedly plopped down in front of the tv and started to watch… and it didn’t stick. But I didn’t give up, I figured I’d give it the old “three strikes” try and watch a couple more episodes to get a feel for it before I cast it aside. But episode three went by, and I still wasn’t hooked, but the preview for next week looked promising, so I changed sports to football and decided I’ll give the show four downs instead of three strikes. After last night’s fourth episode however, I just can’t do this anymore. There’s nothing compelling me to watch the show any further, also I can’t think of another sports analogy that would give the show more than four chances.

Cliche after cliche after cliche

Maybe AMC and HBO have spoiled me as far as what I can expect from a drama series, but the cliched feel to Revolution is what’s most disappointing to me. There are too many to count, so let’s just look at some of the big ones from the last few weeks.

Forbidden Relationship

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Combine Romeo and Juliet with a non-vampire non-werewolf version of Twilight and you basically have the generic developing relationship Revolution between Charlie and Nate, or not Nate, who the fuck knows or cares. Two people have learn to have feelings for each other though they should be each other’s natural enemies, and the woman finds herself conflicted as the two male characters she cares about keep wanting to kill each other. I’ve always complained that Romeo and Juliet really doesn’t make sense as a love story as the two characters were 13 and 12 and only knew each other for three days, yet that’s still more believable than the nonsense going on here. She meets the good looking guy who has somehow maintained a perfectly quaffed head of hair (more on that later), he pretends to like her to get close to her uncle, betrays her, rats her friends and family out to the militia who want to kill and capture them, and yet they still care about each other. Obviously I don’t even have to watch another episode to know what happens from here. The guy cares for her, she’ll learn to care for him, his relationship with the militia will make him conflicted during different points on the show and he’ll have to make the decision of whether he’s more loyal to her or the militia. He’ll slip up a couple times early on, but eventually he’ll choose her. “What a great twist!” will say no one ever.

The rogue was once the villain

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Everything, well close to everything about uncle Miles is something that could come out of a book entitled “Loner with Redemption Arc and a Heart of Gold for Dummies”. He’s gone through every cliched twist you’d expect his character to go through so far. First it’s “I don’t know your uncle, I’m just an ignorant barkeep who minds my own business,” which very quickly changed to “Just kidding, I’m your uncle and I’ll naturally trust you because you claim to be my niece, and I’ll reluctantly join your scooby gang even though I know it’ll make everything worse for both of us.” That makes him quickly devolve from mysteriously good fighter and cold-blooded killer to “I’ll reluctantly accept Charlie as my external compass even though I know much more about the world than her, and her decisions will inevitably come back to hurt us in the end. So even though I know I should kill this guy so he doesn’t come back for us, I’m going to listen to a teenage girl who has no worldly or military experience.” Next we get, “I’m actually mostly responsible for everything that’s happening, but I refuse to talk about it, because god forbid something in my past might reveal something helpful to everyone.” And finally, this last episode gave us “I’m the one who secretly took your mom from you, but only the audience will know until there’s a big reveal, followed by an argument in which I’ll rationalize the decision as a hard, yet correct decision that you’ll eventually agree with (these are actually the next two cliches).” Take every rogue, loner, or vigilante out of pop culture, pull out their most generic traits, and you have something closely resembling Miles.

Surprise! Mom’s not dead, she just abandoned you

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I’ll make this one quick, because this was such an expected twist that it doesn’t deserve much comment. Episode 1, mother is dead, father is killed, brother is taken, uncle is found, and they’re chasing after the brother. Episode 2, mom is mysteriously alive, and she’s with the main villain dun dun dun. Oh but wait, she’s not with him voluntarily, so that’s okay. Episode 4, MILES IS THE ONE WHO TOOK HER OMG NO WAY I WONDER WHY HE DID IT! Oh right, because he used to be in charge of the fucking militia, and is obviously partially responsible for most of their actions up until his departure. I mean come on, even if they didn’t show Miles in that last scene taking the mother, we already know that he was second in command of the Monroe Militia, he’s obviously responsible whether or not they show him do his dramatically revealing turn to face her/the camera. Or that Danny saved Captain Neville from being crushed. It would’ve been so much better if the captain said “what would your father do, your father wouldn’t leave me here to die.” and Danny would respond, “He wouldn’t, but I’m not my father,” and just left him there. But no, we have to go with whatever’s most obvious.

Convenient Flash Backs

We remember this from Lost all too well. Current events reach a dramatic point, and right before the climax, boom, flash back to something that is somehow relevant and might conveniently fill what otherwise would be a plot hole. Again, it’s not even worth talking about, it’s just bad direction. In episode 3, Miles knows the militia commander coming after them, so let’s flashback and explain that he’s one of the founders of the militia. Miles knows Monroe, so let’s flash back and have Monroe reveal himself as the car passenger by showing the “M” mark on his forearm.

There are so many more cliches but you guys get the picture. There’s the asthma that only conveniently kicks up when the brother needs to be hindered in some way. There’s the Heroes-style secret villain lurking in the background (Sylar) who knows more than the other characters and will make a dramatic entrance at one point forcing the scooby gang to join up with the militia in order to stop the secret villain. Anyway, I’m done with cliches, let’s move on.

The Writing

The writing ranges from average to truly horrible on the show. The dialogue is never great, and the cast isn’t strong enough to carry the dialogue the way it is. Even when you expect good acting, it just doesn’t come through, which we see most clearly in the interactions between Rachel and Sebastian. We know Elizabeth MItchell from Lost so we hope to expect some level of acting ability from her, but her talents aren’t enough to redeem the poor writing. Perfect example is in episode 2, when we see her for the first time at the end. The door to Rachel’s room opens, clearly on its own as Sebastian’s arms are behind his back. Sebastian comes in and says “Rachel, they treating you well? I told them anything you want. Wine? Ice?” They start off coyly (I’m using the term loosely) acting like she’s a guest who he hasn’t seen in a long time, but no she’s his prisoner. From episode 4 we know she’s been his prisoner for a good majority of the time since the power went out, Sebastian obviously visits her on a regular basis to try to get the information he needs out of her. So to have that silly banter in the beginning is just ridiculous, realistically serving no other purpose than to try to confuse the audience one last time before we know whether she’s there volitionally or not. We see bad writing like this again in the latest episode in the scene between them. This time he manages to open the door by himself. She asks him what he wants. He says, “Rachel as if you don’t know, as if you haven’t known what I’ve always wanted.” She responds, “We really have to play this game?” Her response really doesn’t make any sense, it’s not a game, it’s a point of fact, he’s saying he’s there because he wants the same thing he always wants when he comes over: the information. Having her reply with “We really have to play this game?” is the writer’s attempt at what I guess passes for wit on this show. We then have what looks like a torture expert come in and apologize in advance as he pulls out his various torture tools, yet she doesn’t have a single mark on her face the next time we see her.

Or we can look at the the writing in the captured Charlie scene, I’m picking on episode 4 because it’s freshest in my mind, but it’s the same in all the episodes so far.

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So, Charlie and her rough riders killed one of this guy’s dogs. So he hunts them down, traps them in a diner, sneaks into the diner, pulls her out of the diner, with no one remaining in the diner being able to follow a guy who’s carrying someone, and evading Miles both coming in and going out. So Charlie is tied to a chair, with a crossbow aimed at her head and tied to the door, set to go off if the door opens, and the guy claims he’s doing all this because they would kill him first if they had the chance. There’s absolutely nothing about the scenario that makes any sense. First, they have no idea where he lives, if he’s afraid they’re going to kill him, why would a preeminent strike make more sense than just staying indoor until they pass. Second, the crossbow scenario doesn’t make sense. Is the crossbow there to kill her as vengeance in case they kill him first? Is it there as a warning for no one to enter? If the former, then the crossbow should be aimed at her chest, bending her head to the side would have probably done just as easy a job of saving her than ripping the chair off the bolts enough to move to the side. If it’s to preempt her friends from coming in as a warning, then how the fuck would they know not to come in. There are numerous instances like this that make no logical sense or are just surrounded by poor writing, I won’t burden you with the rest of them.

Miscellaneous issues

There are a bunch of other little tid bit issues I have with the show. Like, if we’re in a post-apocalyptic world, how does everyone have the time and products necessary to be so perfectly made up and have such perfect hair. Charlie and her crew have been trekking through the wilderness for days, yet the women still have perfect hair and make up, clothes are still clean; they want us to accept the reality of this world, but the characters don’t adhere to the rules of that reality, it’s ridiculous. There’s some pretty bad casting going on. With the exception of Giancarlo Esposito, none of the main cast can really carry this show, and Esposito can’t do it on his own, the show is just too bad for that to happen.

Point being, I gave this show more than a fair shot, and it flat out fails. The show does nothing but leave me saddened that I’ve wasted 4 hours of my life watching it, but better to have learned late than never. If you were wondering whether to watch, then just move along, there’s nothing to see here.