Argo F**k Yourself

Some stories are so unbelievable that they can only be true. Argo is one such story.

The film opens in 1979, in the middle of an Iranian revolution. We see angry crowds swarm outside the American embassy in Iran, viciously protesting for the extradition of recently deposed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi – demanding that he be returned to Iran to hang for his crimes against its people.

After days of rioting outside the gates, the US embassy is eventually overthrown by revolutionaries and the inhabitants held hostage. Six American diplomatic staff evade capture , however, and take shelter in the home of the Canadian Ambassador. If discovered, they face brutal and public execution

Back home at the White House, the administration of President Jimmy Carter is running out of time. The best man available for the worst job imaginable is Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), a CIA agent who specialises in “exfiltration” – retrieving ordinary US citizens from extraordinary situations all over the world.

Mendez has an idea and, by his own admission, it’s a longshot. After much deliberation, the proposal gets a green light, largely due to the words of Bryan Cranston’s character – “It is the best bad idea we have”.

The Mendez pitch is this: he will travel to Tehran posing as a Canadian film producer. Once there, he will persuade the newly installed (and radically militant) Iranian regime that the six stowaways are his crew scouting Middle East locations for an upcoming sci-fi production.

There are multiple passports to be forged, and a lot of fast talking to be done. One minor slip-up, and everyone dies. Including himself.

Affleck’s third feature film as a director, Argo is a taut, well-paced suspense thriller with so much palpable tension that it has you on the edge of your seat.

The screenplay (based on a book penned by Mendez) is the key, relaying tons of information while ably carrying in excess of 100 different speaking parts. Sometimes it sticks to the facts. Sometimes it embellishes them. Nevertheless, you will be hanging on each and every word.

The acting of the ensemble cast – led strongly by Affleck – is faultless. No one steals a scene. Everyone picks one up, runs with it a while, and hands it to someone else.

All in all, Argo is a stunning achievement in direction, screenwriting, acting and filmmaking. If this movie doesn’t bag at least one Oscar, I’ll eat my hat.

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Looper: Keeping it simple

Back in 2006, writer/director Rian Johnson made an exceptional début with Brick, a low-budget thriller set in a southern California high school featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a teenage private eye.

Six years later, with the disappointingly mediocre The Brothers Bloom proving but a minor bump in the road, Johnson is back on course with Gordon-Levitt in time-travelling action flick Looper.

The term ‘Looper’ refers to a hitman who kills people sent back in time from the future (so that there is no dead body as evidence). The term is apt because the assassins operate under the knowledge that they will eventually have to ‘close their loop’ by killing their future selves.

The film centres on a particularly efficient Looper called Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who is saving up enough money for a retirement in Paris. His plans are shattered, however, when he fails to close his loop allowing his future self (Bruce Willis) to get the better of him.

Throughout the film, writer/director Johnson cleverly evades the complications that come with time travel. Willis’s character even states, “I don’t want to talk about time travel shit.” Viewers who want to see a true science fiction film may be disappointed by this (the time machine, resembling an old-fashioned scuba diver mask, is also rather lackluster), but the film proves to be perfectly entertaining and well-made overall.

Cinematographically, the film is a work of art. Motifs like close-ups of cigarette smoke and ticking clocks are intricately placed, the camera work while Gordon-Levitt is on an acid trip is breathtaking, and the details necessary to maintain consistency between the future and current Joe are painstakingly accurate. In a diner scene, for example, we see a newly injured, bandaged ear on Gordon-Levitt… and a newly disfigured ear on Willis.

Another near flawless aspect is the casting. Veterans Bruce Willis and Jeff Daniels bring their usual prowess to the screen, while Paul Dano and Emily Blunt successfully transform into roles unlike any they have played before.

The main acting highlight, however, comes in the form of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who supposedly spent hours in make-up having prosthetics applied so that he would look more like Bruce Willis. Though his contrived voice and strangely perfect eyebrows are distracting at first, he is able to capitalize on the disguise and adopt a convincing tough guy persona.

Overall, Looper is the proof we needed that originality hasn’t died in Hollywood. It also reinforces the fact that Sci-fi movies can be smart (Gattaca), imaginative (2001: A Space Odyssey), or just plain exciting (Dredd).

With Looper, we get the pleasure of a sci-fi film that does all three, and does them masterfully.

The Cold Light of Day: missing more than family

The doldrums of September are finally upon us. It’s that time of year when Hollywood gives full expression to its disdain for movie goers by dumping its crappiest tax write-offs into empty theaters. Enter The Cold Light of Day, a movie so bland and forgettable that, despite having seen it less than twelve hours ago, I actually had to look it up on IMDB.com just to recall the title.

The Cold Light of Day is a product-placement travelogue in search of a coherent thriller. A poor imitation of the best Bourne films, it’s confusing and illogical, with plot lapses and continuity blunders.

Bruce Willis and Sigourney Weaver star alongside Henry Cavill in this story of a young man who finds his family abducted by terrorists during a vacation to Madrid. Why is his family kidnapped? Because his dad, Bruce Willis, is secretly leading the double life of a CIA agent.

Never before have I seen a movie where the characters themselves seemed so bored to be in their own movie. The entire supporting cast provides dead-eyed, monotone line readings throughout the film’s torturous 93 minutes.

But the lethargy doesn’t begin and end with the cast; everything about The Cold Light of Day feels sluggish. In one chase sequence, Sigourney Weaver plows a Range Rover into a motorcycle carrying Cavill. The bike skids off the street, but before Weaver can put a bullet in his head, he gets back on the bike and speeds away at a whopping 15 miles per hour. Weaver just stands there as if she’s too sedated to even be bothered to continue chasing him.

In another sequence, Cavill, after being framed for murder, finds himself being chased through a park by one police officer on horseback and another two or three officers on foot. He bolts down a gravel pathway and into a tunnel. Everyone in the scene can clearly see Cavill running for the tunnel. The officer on horseback is thrown from his mount before he can enter the tunnel, and the scene immediately cuts to Cavill washing his hands and face in a public bathroom. What the hell happened to the other half dozen police officers who were chasing after him? Did they just turn around go home after their buddy faceplanted on a sidewalk?

Every aspect of The Cold Light of Day, from the writing to the performances to the direction to the unimaginative title, absolutely reeks of laziness. Avoid at all costs.

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