Argo Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

Argo (2012)

Starring Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Taylor Schilling, Clea Duvall, Tate Donovan, Christopher Denham, Kerry Bishe, Scoot McNairy, Victor Garber, Sheila Vand, Kyle Chandler, and Philip Baker Hall

Directed by Ben Affleck

Instead of shooting an expensive montage, Argo efficiently uses a prologue of storyboards to contextualize Iranian anger. And even in this business-like decision or omission, the movie still captures the shades that make Americans and Iranians more alike than they think they are. It shows a young Iranian woman spewing the Revolution’s ideologies, even if an American character (most likely Arkin’s) looks at her on television with a cynical distance. It also shows, as I should have expected, that not all Iranians are frothing at the mouth with anti-Americanism. Some want to emigrate to the US, despite possibly being caught by revolutionary guards as traitors. They also risk facing racism, as the movie shows news footage of Americans mobbing on one Iranian in the States. There’s also a maid in the ambassador’s house named Sahar (Vand) who has to decide what to do to her new and suspicious guests. But that’s because her suspicions are right – that the guests are six American workers (including Donovan, Denham and Bishe) trying to hide from the guards instead of being hostages at the embassy.

Argo also renders the Americans with variation. As noticed by other reviewers, the prologue shows American culpability in the Iranian Revolution. The fact that it’s showing the hoorah-ers in a derisive way is evidence to its own healthy national self-deprecation. Those ‘Mericans are the opposite of the upper brass in Washington (including Cranston, Chandler and Baker Hall) who are more balanced, and concerned about the hostages. In fact Argo shows the characters in Washington hating each other more, their infighting and oversights inadvertently letting the Crisis drag on longer than it should have. And besides, while the six Americans in hiding are having dinner with their host, Cora Lijek (Duvall) tells everyone in the table that she agrees with the revolution’s demand to put the Shah on trial.

Thankfully Cora doesn’t have to deal with tense conversations and tense everything. That’s because across the Atlantic, CIA operative Tony Mendez (Affleck) plans to get her and her coworkers out with the best dumb idea ever – for Tony, Cora and the other five to pose as a film crew. Speaking of which, the transitions from sombre political drama to snappy heist movie is as delicate as watching someone walk on water. The people Tony enlists in California (including Goodman) make repetitive jokes but Goodman and Arkin’s delivery of those jokes are subtle enough that they don’t make their side too distasteful nor oppositional in tone compared to the other.

Yes, Argo emotionally manipulates us in telling a story in which we know the ending. Affleck is the perfect person to direct this movie because his earlier ones feature characters with malleable sympathies and can mold from one polarized group to its total opposite. There’s a scene where (spoiler) one of the six Americans, Mark Stafford (McNairy), convincingly argues that a half-naked woman drawn in a storyboard is relate-able to a Revolutionary Guard. His movies also tie sinewy knots instead of bows, refusing to give us perfectly happy endings. I say this particularly because of Sahar’s ending which, and I’m projecting here, makes me worry about her. There’s a part of me that, because of the movie’s endings, thinks Affleck is a sadist but we can argue that he’s also a realist. The brutal honesty in his films is a refreshing feeling even if it gives us equal bouts of discomfort.

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Rock of Ages Review (Nadia Sandhu)

Rock of Ages (2012)

Starring Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Bryan Cranston, and Tom Cruise

Directed by Adam Shankman

Rock on Tommy!

I really wanted to like Rock of Ages – and that might be the problem.   Tom Cruise, 80s Rock, REO Speedwagon?  I was so there.  But that Julianne Hough person ruined the whole damn movie along with her accomplice – the playback chick who does Britney Spears’ auto-tuned singing.

Tom Cruise is the best thing about this film, with his Axel Rose homage and Michael Jackson style pet monkey.  Mary J. Blige gets props too.  But why oh why did Hough have to be inserted  into every single song?  And who thought this girl could carry a movie? Particularly when the far superior Malin Akerman was also cast?  I can’t help but wonder if Taylor Swift might not have been better suited to Hough’s lead role (no, really).

I know this is a musical, but what happened to the dialogue?  Where was it?!  We exist in a post-Glee world, but how can a musical go so terribly, soullessly wrong?  Music is universal people!  Where was the emotion?  Carry the audience away dammit.  Aside from that over-played, over-inflated Journey song, all the tracks were hacked off just when they got going.

And Russell Brand – I will never forgive you for raping my happy song.  NEVER.  My eyes are still bleeding mate.

So many questions.  So many negative emotions.  THE disappointment of the summer. Hands down.

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John Carter Review (Kirk Haviland)

John Carter (2012)

Starring Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Bryan Cranston and the voices of Willem Dafoe and Samantha Morton.

Written by Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon

Directed by Andrew Stanton

Hello All,

John Carter marks the live action film directorial debut of Pixar director and scribe Andrew Stanton. Much like his fellow Pixar alum, Brad Bird, Stanton has chosen a big budget action project for his first foray into live-action filmmaking. Unfortunately for Stanton, Bird hit big with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol while John Carter has stumbled out the gates.

We are introduced to the titular character (Kitsch) as he is followed down the street during the late 1800’s. He drops his tail to deliver a telegram to his nephew, writer Edgar Rice Burroughs (Daryl Sabara). When Burroughs arrives he finds Carter apparently dead with strange requests regarding his last rites and a journal left behind for him to read. This is the backdrop for our introduction to John Carter, a native Virginian who was a Captain in the civil war. By the time we meet him he is a ruff and tumble prospector looking for a “Cave of Gold” which is part of the local folklore. After a jailbreak and a run in with natives Carter does discover his cave. Unfortunately for John, he ends up being transported unknowingly to Barsoom (know on Earth as Mars) by a member of the mysterious “Thern” who have the ability to shift between space with the aid of a talisman. Carter awakes to discover that he can leap miles high and wide due to the different gravity he is under and that Mars is perfectly suitable to sustain human life.

Carter almost immediately stumbles on a nesting ground for the Tharks, a race of gigantic green tusked warriors, whose leader Tars Tarkas (Dafoe) quickly recognizes Carter’s abilities and adopts him as part of his tribe. While Tars Tarkas sees Carter’s abilities as an asset in Barsoom’s own Civil War, John has no desire to fight for anyone as the War took a heavy personal toll on him. Alas, trouble finds its way to Carter as he literally leaps to the rescue of Deja Thoris (Collins), the beautiful humanoid princess caught between two warring factions, as her father (Hinds) has promised her hand in marriage to end the bloodshed. Carter’s actions land him firmly in the middle of all the fighting and once again he must reluctantly choose a side and fight.

If that synopsis seems overlong and overstuffed then you’re absolutely right. There’s about three movies worth of plot and story crammed into this epic, and unfortunately the film feels muddled and rushed because of it. Somewhere I’m sure there is a kickass 3 1/2 hour cut of John Carter that was lost on the editing room floor. That said John Carter still packs enough fun and action to give it a mild recommendation. This film will captivate the kids who are patient enough with it as it packs some great effects work and well staged action set pieces, even if one is directly lifted from Attack of the Clones. Taylor Kitsch does good work here as the titular character; his charisma and likeability center the film and keep us involved. Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, and Bryan Cranston are given little to do though. Collins is fine as the love interest, but ultimately the entire film lands on Kitsch’s shoulders.

In the end, John Carter is a bit of a missed opportunity. This could have been the next great Science Fiction series if they had the patience to let it play out over a series of movies. Instead, it’s a passable film that will have a hard time recouping its cost, and unfortunately that will probably disuade any chance of this becoming that series.

Til next time,

The Movie Junkie TO

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