Friday, December 14, 2012

Worth Mentioning - Affleck Yourself

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody likes Ben Affleck.

ARGO (2012)

I've been a fan of Ben Affleck's for almost twenty years now, ever since I first saw him as the bullying O'Bannion in Dazed and Confused. It was his collaborations with Kevin Smith that really endeared him to me, as he seemed to be, in the interviews for and commentaries on Mallrats and Chasing Amy, a really cool, smart, funny guy. Academy recognition came when he wrote and co-starred in Good Will Hunting, which in my opinion deserved to win Best Picture that year in addition to the Best Screenplay Oscar Affleck and Matt Damon won. With the spotlight shining on him, Affleck was suddenly launched from indie dramas into the world of blockbusters and superstardom. I continued following his career as he worked in smaller films and further Kevin Smith collaborations between blowing up asteroids with Bruce Willis or fighting at Pearl Harbor or putting on the costume of a Marvel superhero. He was one of the biggest names in Hollywood now, the tabloids went on and on about his life and loves, and the overexposure and some questionable film choices soon brought about a backlash. He became the subject of mockery and derision from members of the online film community, but I still liked him, I was rooting for him. I knew there was more to him than celebrity and action movie paychecks. So I've enjoyed seeing him re-invent himself as a director and earn a whole new respect with his well-received projects.

Argo is Affleck's third feature directorial effort, following Gone Baby Gone and The Town, and tells the true story of a mission conducted by CIA specialist Tony Mendez to rescue U.S. consulate employees from a dangerous situation in Iran in 1980.

An opening sequence that mixes real stock photos with comic book style drawings gives us the background on the situation, reaching back to 1953, when the US and UK backed a coup in Iran that replaced a democratically elected leader with a Shah, all over oil. The Shah grew increasingly unpopular during his reign, until he himself was overthrown in 1979. Seeking asylum and dying of cancer, the Shah went to the United States for treatment. In retaliation to the US aiding their hated former leader, outraged Iranians stormed the embassy compound. Fifty-two Americans were held hostage in the embassy for 444 days. Six escaped during the siege and found refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador. It is those six who Mendez is tasked with rescuing, as it is believed that if they're discovered they will "die badly".

Many ideas are floated around for how to extract the six, none feasible, some nonsensical, like the idea of delivering bikes to them that they can use to ride three hundred miles to the border of Turkey. It's the method of extraction Mendez comes up with that makes an already interesting and suspenseful story even more ripe to be turned into a movie. The idea comes to him while he's talking to his son and watching Battle for the Planet of the Apes on TV. Use a fake movie production as a cover and present the six American refugees as Canadian crew members, in Iran on a location scout for the desert scenery the film requires. To make the production seem as real as possible, Mendez finds a makeup artist, has storyboards drawn up, attaches a producer, and in a time when the movie studios are scrambling to cash in on the recent success of Star Wars, he finds the perfect project in a stack of unproduced scripts. A science fiction script titled Argo.

The gravity of the situation allows Affleck to craft some very tense sequences, but the movie is far from deadly serious, there's plenty of humor throughout, provided by some fun characters.

Affleck takes the lead role of Tony Mendez and surrounds himself with an excellent ensemble cast. Bryan Cranston, Victor Garber, Kyle Chandler, Titus Welliver, Bob Gunton, Richard Kind, Philip Baker Hall, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall. Adrienne Barbeau makes a quick appearance. He cherry-picked three cast members from his old pal Kevin Smith's movie Red State; Kerry Bishé as one of the refugees, John Goodman as Planet of the Apes makeup designer John Chambers, and Michael Parks, who unfortunately only has a two word cameo in his role as comic book legend Jack Kirby, who draws the Argo storyboards. I wish Parks had a bigger role because the guy is amazing, directors should be making it a goal to get him an Oscar. Affleck also gives a role to his Dazed and Confused co-star Rory Cochrane, who I didn't even recognize beneath his big mustache, shaggy hair and glasses until almost the end of the movie. Alan Arkin really shines and entertains as longtime producer Lester Siegel, a character who's a composite of multiple people who were involved with Argo in real life. Arkin has said that he styled his performance after Jack Warner.

Thirty plus years after the rescue mission, the title Argo has ended up on a very good film. Affleck is now three for three behind the camera, and I look forward to seeing more from him as director. As his career continues, I'll keep watching, like I always have.

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